Monday Night at the Movies

©Marvel Studios 2018

Black Panther marks the first time that a major studio has greenlit a black superhero movie with an African-American director and a primarily black cast, including Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright as Shuri, the princess of the fictional African country Wakanda. Angela Bassett described the film as an example of “beautiful, talented black people in one place, this black nation, coming together — technologically advanced, uncolonized with so much swag and brilliance.”

Martin Freeman (Everett K Ross) and Andy Serkis (Ulysses Klaue) – the only two major white characters in the film – were told by Ryan Coogler at one point that it was the first scene he directed with two white actors in it.
Danai Gurira (Okoye) on set with Director Ryan Coogler
©Marvel Studios 2018

When Disney acquired Marvel Entertainment in 2009, the first mandate was to create a world for the most popular characters, like Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk. However, fleeting references to Black Panther were made in the earlier films, even if we didn’t see him. It wasn’t until Captain America: Civil War that Marvel producers had an entrance for the character. They needed a neutral figure who wouldn’t side with either Captain America or Iron Man.

Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther
©Marvel Studios 2018

As executives huddled, they thought of only Chadwick Boseman for the role of Black Panther, based on his prior on-screen transformations. “I think it was 24 hours between saying his name in a creative story meeting and talking to his agent and getting on the phone with him,” says Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios. Although Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pratt all originally had to audition for their Marvel parts, Chadwick Boseman got his offer on the spot without a reading. He accepted via speakerphone from Zurich, where he was doing press for Get On Up.

The film is expansive, action-packed and effects-heavy. Which you will have to see for yourself.

Talon fighter over Wakanda
©Marvel Studios 2018

The story’s fictional setting of Wakanda is a prosperous, technologically advanced African nation – a marked contrast to previous, stereotypical depictions of the continent. Wakanda is an example of what could have been for black people. It is beautiful, modern, powerful and filled with all of the complexities — the human treachery and weakness and strength and honor — that modern societies must bear.

The women shine just as bright in Black Panther. T’Challa is surrounded by women who cushion him in maternal, military, sisterly and scientific support. A female general (Danai Gurira) stands by his side; his baby sister (Letitia Wright) provides gadgets and withering asides à la Bond’s gadget guy. Angela Bassett swans in as the royal mother, while Lupita Nyong’o, as a spy, makes the case for her own spinoff.

Danai Gurira, stars as Okoye and is the second most imposing person in Wakanda behind Black Panther. She leads the royal guardswomen and truly believes in Wakanda forever. She is the best fighter in the nation that’s not the Black Panther. Okoye also carries a lethal stick, a spear, that she uses in the film in various, impressive ways.

Letitia Wright, previous winner of a Bafta breakthrough award, steps in as brilliant scientist and younger sister T’Challa, Shuri. As the head of the Wakandan Design Group, she uses her genius to help her nation and creates gadgets that aid her brother as the Black Panther. In a film packed with breakout characters, Shuri is managing to stand out — and already has fans asking if down the road she could take up the mantle of Black Panther, as the character does in the comics.

Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia) and Letitia Wright (Shuri)
©Marvel Studios 2018

Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o plays the love of Black Panther’s life, Nakia, but, of course, that’s not what defines her at all. Nakia is devout in crusading the world and helping others. And while she has no spear or superpower, she’s willing to risk it all to be a hero in her own right.

Oscar winner Angela Bassett plays T’Challa’s mother and widow to the late king of Wakanda, who died in Captain America: Civil War.

Angela Bassett (Ramonda)
©Marvel Studios 2018

Ultimately, it’s the strength of the women in the film that helps the Black Panther get through some trials and tribulations in this hero’s journey. Little bears approve 🙂

Five paws from little bears 🙂 Now, when are the Black Panther beary size costumes going to be available?!? Just like this one please!

A Window on Renaissance Florence

Little bears are very excited 🙂 There are only six sleeps left until the exhibition The Corsini Collection: A Window on Renaissance Florence opens at the Art Gallery of WA.

They have their Renaissance outfits ready 🙂

The Corsini collection, saved from the Nazis, has left Italy for the first time.

Sandro Botticelli and Workshop, Madonna and Child with Six Angels circa 1500, tempera and oil on board, Florence, Galleria Corsini

‘Madam, your collection is not worth my life,” said the terrifie­d servant to Donna Elena Corsini in August 1944 when she asked him to drive a truck filled with the Florentine ­family’s artworks away from the advancing German army to her family’s country villa.

When the servant refused, a resolute Donna Elena clambered behind the steering wheel and drove the Corsini family’s precious works to safety. At the villa, she ordered the hasty installation of a false wall; behind it, the precious paintings were hidden and sealed in.

Portrait of Princess Elena Corsini (detail), by Pietro Annigoni, 1950

A large oil painting of Saint Andrea Corsini, the family’s beatified relative, was hung on the inside wall as a kind of talisman to protect the collection.

“They created a false wall before the German army passed through and occupied the farm for a couple of days,” says Stefano Carboni, ­director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia, where the saint’s image will go on display from February 24 as part of The Corsini Collection: A Window on Renaissance Florence.

“But a German lieutenant could smell that the plaster was still wet, which was odd,” says Carboni, “and in frustration he shot a couple of bullets into the false wall.” One of the bullets pierced the painted forehead of the saint, ­although, according to family lore, he saved the rest of the collection.

The Corsini collection survived the ravages of World War II and is making its first journey outside Italy to New Zealand and Australia for exclusive showings in Auckland and Perth.

That single bullet was a shock to the Auckland Art Gallery when it took temporary custody of 60 Corsini paintings and objects for display late last year.

Nobody had informed the gallery staff that the wartime damage to the canvas remained; when he gingerly removed the Saint Andrea Corsini portrait from its travel case and saw the bullet hole, one unpacker nearly had heart failure.

Barbieri’s Saint Andrea Corsini (1630), with bullet holes where it was shot by Nazi soldiers.

The Corsini collection has embarked on its Antipodean tour in a deal brokered betwee­n the family, the two Australasian galleries and a Rome-based art exhibition broker, Mondo Mostre.

It is a gift that gives both ways. A suite of privately owned paintings by Renaissance artists of the calibre of Botticelli, Mantegna and Caravaggio will be seen outside Italy for the first time.

In return, the family benefits from the curatorial expertise of its partner galleries, which have researched some undocumented work and footed the bill for conservation work on a few canvases.

There’s also an intimate side to this curious cultural exchange. According to Corsini countesses Livia Branca and Elisabetta Minutoli Tegrimi­ — who will attend the exhibition opening in Perth — Australians and New Zealanders are worthy recipients of the show.

Countess Livia Sanminiatelli Branca on the left and Countess Elisabetta Minu

The women’s earlier attendance at the Auckland opening was an emotional one. They recalle­d vividly how the allied forces that forced the Germans out of their part of Italy included Australian troops and the 28th Maori Battalion. “We have a duty to send the collection,” they observed, “we owe [you] a debt.”

So what does this niche collection offer in the way of insights into Italy’s Renaissance and baroque art? It’s a rich array of paintings that begins­ with portraits of the Florentine family itself over seven centuries — from medieval banker to family saint, pope, rural scion and 20th-century female art patron.

That last image, of Donna Elena herself, is a handsome picture painted by popular 20th-century portraitist Pietro Annigoni. The severe-looking matriarch is posed in a lustrous grey cape, sitting on a rock in hilly Tuscany, where the family has owned vast properties. It encapsulates the Corsini family’s history of rural conquest, textile-derived wealth and lofty noblesse oblige.

Hanging in pride of place in the exhibition is the bullet-damaged saint’s portrait, dated 1630, by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri; another prominent work, from 1710, is Hyacinthe Rigaud­’s extravagant portrait of a brocade-clad Don Neri Corsini.

Art Gallery of Western Australia director Stefano Carboni.

AGWA director Carboni, an Italian native and expert on the medieval art trade between Italy and the East, says the Corsinis were as prominent as the Medici family in the 15th and 16th centuries.

“If you go to the Trevi Fountain in Rome and you look at the crest at the top, that’s the Cor­sini family crest,” he says.

Crest on top of Trevi Fountain

At certain times, the Corsinis eclipsed the more ruthless Medici powerbrokers, who sold their Florence palace to the Corsini family in 1457 and had virtually run out of heirs by 1837.

“The exhibition is a little gem that tells the story of collecting in one family,” says Carboni. “Because there are so many key periods rep­resented, it’s like taking a course in Italian ­History 101.’’

The Corsini family owes much to those members who wrote themselves into the history books, Tim Parks writes in his 2016 article One of Florence’s Oldest Families and its 600-year-old Archive in The New York Times Style Magazine. Park says the family archive began in 1362, when merchant Matteo Corsini vowed to write down “everything of mine and other facts about me and my land and houses and other goods of mine”.

He adds: “Again and again, huge old books of accounts begin with an invocation to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then proceed­ to list endless incomings and out­goings, profits and losses. But mainly profits. By the 17th century, the Corsinis would be among the richest families in Florence.”

The family stayed close to the source of polit­ical power. Having initially made money in the textile trade and early banking operations in London, in 1730 it installed one of its own as pope Clement XII.

Bust of Pope Clement XII after 1730 by Francesco Maria Queirolo

With his nephew Neri Corsini, who was elevat­ed to the rank of cardinal, Clement oversaw the ­acquisition of Palazzo Corsini in Rome, and proceeded to fill it with precious art and books. Says Park: “Whether it was business or religio­n, the goal was always to enhance family prestige.”

Clement’s descendant Tommaso Corsini donate­d the Roman collection to the state in 1883. It now forms the main body of Italy’s Nationa­l Gallery of Antique Art, which houses priceless masterpieces such as Rubens’s San ­Sebastian Healed by Angels, Andrea del Sarto’s Madonna and Child and Caravaggio’s St John the Baptist.

But the family history unfolds predominantly in Florence; as mayor, Tommaso Corsini laid the foundations for the University of Florence.

Auckland’s curator and Italian Renaissance expert Mary Kisler says the Corsinis gifted their Rome collection into public hands, but the one in Florence remains a private collection that is open for viewing and limited loans.

Auckland Art Gallery curator Mary Kisler

“Not every painting is a famous one, but every one has something fascinating about it.” She says the collection acts as a mirror of successive Italian eras, and the tastes, collecting habits, accomplishments and downfalls of a family dynasty.

Kisler undertook detailed research into the Corsini artworks for the catalogue, after dis­covering that few works had been reliably documented and even fewer appeared in the comprehensive Oxford Collection of Art.

One of the more celebrated early Renaissance works was produced by Sandro Botticelli and his workshop about 1500. Madonna and Child with Six Angels depicts Christ in his mother’s lap surrounded by angels; he trustingly looks up at her and she looks away, as if ­weeping.

Botticelli was an ardent follower of Domin­ican friar Girolamo Savonarola, a hectoring priest who urged Florentines to transform their debauched city into a pious “city of God”. ­Savonarola staged “bonfires of the vanities” in which precious books, artworks and other “decadent” objects were burned.

His own life also ended on a bonfire, depicted in The Execution of Savonarola and Two Companions at Piazza della Signoria.

Painted by an unknown Florentine artist in the 16th century, it is a portrait of a handsome city, with belltower, cathedra­l dome and wide public square. But in front of the stately palace is a long platform ending in a large bonfire; dang­ling above the licking flames are three hanged figures, including the hapless priest.

Florentine Painter after Francesco Rosselli, The Execution of Savonarola and Two Companions at Piazza della Signoria 16th–17th century, oil on canvas, Florence, Galleria Corsini

Among the strongest works are baroque paintings that sought to re-elevate Catholic sentiment after the revolt against the papal church in 1517 by Protestant leader Martin Luthe­r, and the Sack of Rome in 1527.

Art’s role became that of a devotional aid, says Kisler, a medium through which to engage personally with the suffering of Christ.

“Barbi­eri’s painting of Saint Andrea shows a single tear rolling down his cheek at Christ’s suffering on the cross, which reflects Counter-Reform­ation beliefs that art should create empathy in the viewer.” One of baroque’s greatest exponents was Caravaggio who, in 1598, was commissioned to paint a close associate of the Corsini family.

Scholar Maffeo Barberini, who played a role in the canonisation of Andrea Corsini, is bathed in the dramatic light and shadow made famous by Caravaggio.

Another arresting image comes from artist Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio. His Portrait of an Unknow­n Man, circa 1540, could be a modern portrait of a man looking out with a direct and intense gaze.

“His unembellished hat and costume suggest a person who places the intellect over worldly possessions,” observes Kisler, “and the stubble on his chin and the shadow under his cheekbone imply a man of ascetic tastes.”

Prometheus and the Eagle shows a helpless young man being disembowelled by an eagle. The gruesome painting is attributed to Sir Anthon­y van Dyck, a Flemish Baroque artist who became the leading court painter in Eng­land, but Kisler says he is widely considered not to be the artist responsible.

She put the puzzle to her research students, who discovered another version of the same picture in Antwerp by Theodore Rombouts, an artist who studied under Caravaggio.

“He also worked with Van Dyck and Rubens and, if it’s a Rombouts original, it has a special place in the art hierarchy.”

Another chance discovery she made relates to Madonna and Child with Saint Joseph and Saint John the Baptist, from 1527. A work in the style of Mannerist painter Andrea del Sarto, it shows a madonna in a striped headdress and unusual double-strand gold chain. A double chain in another painting from the era led Kisler­ to identify the work as the product of two different studios.

The Corsini family bears a heavy responsibility for the upkeep of the paintings, sculptures, drawings (including a large hand-drawn portrait­ by Raphael) and the Florentine palace building that houses them.

As part of Italy’s cultural heritage, and despit­e being in private hands, the collection is subject to close scrutiny by Italy’s Ministry for Cultural Heritage, which intervenes to protect artworks against neglect and thwart the kind of looting and export that saw many of the ­nation’s prized artefacts lost during wars.

Yet the most recent threat came from nature, not looters. In 1966, floodwaters from the Arno River rose and threatened to ruin the Palazzo Corsini and its art collection. Fortunately the water subsided before it could reach the first-floor galleries where valuable works were housed.

Anton Domenico Gabbiani, Glorification of the Corsini Family: Sketch for the Ceiling Fresco of the Presentation Room of the Palazzo 1694–95, oil on canvas, Florence, Galleria Corsini

Today the Corsini family has branches in London­, Florence, Rome, Milan, Belgium, the US, The Philippines and Brazil, says Kisler, with the Italian Corsini branch still farming for olive oil and wine on its estates. It was ranked among Tuscany’s richest families in the 19th century, but the current heirs struggle to keep up with the job of conserving their material past.

The massive family archive, dating back to 1357, was moved 18 months ago from Florence to Villa le Corti, half an hour’s drive away, but it remains uncurated. “Bundle after bundle of raw papers are tied together with string and squeezed into shelves, from floor to ceiling,” observed Park when he visited. “To digitise here would cost a fortune and take an age.”

Kisler says when she met the two countesses and their Italian curator to work out how to frame the exhibition, “we decided to focus on the family, and I think people have loved that”.

The exhibition begins with an elaborately drawn family tree and includes a few personal items, from costumes to furniture and kitchen implements.

Corsini family tree 1271-1995, by Giuliana di Emanuele Corsini, 1995

A formally arranged dining table is set out with a banquet identical to one held at Palazzo Corsini in March 1857. The menu included fish with shrimp hollandaise, fillet of beef in madeira sauce, chicken breast and woodcock in aspic, roast guinea fowl, lobster and garnished ham.

“It was exciting for the countesses to come out and see the collection displayed publicly outside the palace for the very first time,” says Kisler. “The Italians have felt it is a rich ­exchange.”

As the collection’s showing in Auckland drew to a close last month, an Englishman living­ in New Zealand came forward to tell Kisler­ he owned four letters dating back to the 1600s by Bartolemeo Corsini, written in London for his family in Florence.

“A good exhibition doesn’t end the day it goes up but the day it comes down,” she says. “You keep discovering new things.”

Original article by Victoria Laurie in The Australian.

Guo Nian Hao

Chinese New Year is here, along with a host of superstitions that will apparently dictate how the next twelve months will play out.

Cleaning clothes, using scissors and sweeping floors are some of the easier omens to sidestep, however parents might find it difficult to dodge crying children and – on the more extreme end of the scale – women might find it difficult to avoid leaving the house all day.

According to Chinese superstition, doing any of these today, February 16, will lead to bad luck for the entire coming year. However it isn’t all doom and gloom: 2018 is the Year of the Dog, an animal which symbolises luck.

One lucky dog 🙂

In the Chinese zodiac, the dog is a symbol of loyalty, responsibility, courage, sincerity, strength, trustworthiness, determination, perseverance, friendship, tenderheartedness, valiancy and heroism.

Dogs symbolise luck to the Chinese: if a stray dog approaches a house, it is said to show the fortune is coming to the family. The animal is incredibly loyal to its owner, whether or not the owner is wealthy. Plus, dogs bark to warn people if an intruder is nearby; centuries ago, the Chinese would predict good or bad luck according to the amount of times a dog barked.

The dog is seen often in Chinese mythology: Erlang, a popular supernatural stock character, has a dog in the novel Journey to the West. Over the course of the story, Erlang’s dog rescues him on several occasions, including by biting his master’s adversary Sun Wukong on the leg and attacking a nine-headed insect demon.

A dog is also integral to the legend of Panhu. The Chinese sovereign Di Ku’s dog Panhu killed an enemy army general in the tale, helping him win the war. The dog was then rewarded with marriage to the emperor’s daughter, whom he carried to the south of the country. Panhu has since been worshipped by the Southern Yao and She minorites – often referred to as King Pan – and is the reason the eating of dog meat is forbidden in their communities.

There are many superstitions surrounding Chinese New Year. These are to be avoided on the first day of the festival:

  • Medicine: Taking medicine on the first day of the lunar year means one will get ill for a whole year.
  • New Year’s breakfast: Porridge should not be eaten because it is considered that only poor people have porridge for breakfast – and people don’t want to start the year “poor”.
  • Laundry: People do not wash clothes on the first and second day because these two days are celebrated as the birthday of Shuishen (水神, the Water God).
  • Washing hair: Hair must not be washed on the first day of the lunar year. In the Chinese language, hair (发) has the same pronunciation and character as ‘fa’ in facai (发财), which means ’to become wealthy’. Therefore, it is seen as not a good thing to “wash one’s fortune away” at the beginning of the New Year.
  • Sharp objects: The use of knives and scissors is to be avoided as any accident is thought to lead to inauspicious things and the depletion of wealth.
  • Going out: A woman may not leave her house otherwise she will be plagued with bad luck for the entire coming year. A married daughter is not allowed to visit the house of her parents as this is believed to bring bad luck to the parents, causing economic hardship for the family.
  • The broom: If you sweep on this day then your wealth will be swept away too.
  • Crying children: The cry of a child is believed to bring bad luck to the family so parents do their best to keep children as happy as possible.
  • Theft: Having your pocket picked is believed to portend your whole wealth in the coming year being stolen.
  • Debt: Money should not be lent on New Year’s Day and all debts have to be paid by New Year’s Eve. If someone owes you money, do not go to their home to demand it. Anyone who does so will be unlucky all year.
  • An empty rice jar: A depleted receptacle may cause grave anxiety as the cessation of cooking during the New Year period is considered to be an ill omen.
  • Damaged clothes: Wearing threadbare garments can cause more bad luck for the year.
  • Killing things: Blood is considered an ill omen, which will cause misfortunes such as a knife wound or a bloody disaster.
  • Monochrome fashion: White or black clothes are barred as these two colours are traditionally associated with mourning.
  • Giving of certain gifts: Clocks, scissors, and pears all have a bad meaning in Chinese culture.

Decorations are typically red because in the Chinese culture, the color can bring happiness, wealth and prosperity by warding off evil spirits and bad luck. The tradition may have come from the story of the Nian. This fierce and cruel creature eats livestock and children, but it is scared of the color red, along with fire and noise. People celebrate with red decorations and fireworks to drive away the Nian.

Nobel Museum

The Noble Museum is a small museum on the ground floor of the beautiful 18th century former stock exchange building in the heart of Stockholm old town. The rest of the building is used by the Swedish Academy that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature. A Nobel Centre will be built on the Blasieholmen peninsula, at Nybroviken, an inlet of the Baltic Sea in the heart of Stockholm, next to the National Museum. The Nobel Centre is still a few years away. The Nobel Museum will probably have room to expand in the new location.

The Exchange (Börsen) currently housing the Nobel Museum

The museum has a section dedicated to the life of Alfred Nobel, a section for the growing collection of artefacts donated by various Nobel laureates and a section for the Nobel Prize ceremony at Stockholm Town Hall. Then there is a display area for information on all Nobel Prize Laureates and an area for exhibitions.

Nobel Museum
Nobel Museum – 2017 Nobel Laureates in Physics, Chemistry and Physiology or Medicine
Nobel Museum – 2017 Nobel Laureates in Literature, Peace and Economics Science

When little Puffles and Honey visited, the exhibition was Literary Rebellion – Images of Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature by Kim Manresa and Xavi Ayén.

Nobel Museum

In Literary Rebellion, twelve Nobel Laureates in Literature are depicted in the Spanish photographer Kim Manresa’s gripping and beautiful images. The authors have in different ways used their writing as a way to question, create change and make resistance. Through their literature, they have in different ways worked to create and maintain spaces for the free word.

The Nobel Laureates in Literature whose authorships were highlighted in the exhibition are: Svetlana Alexievich (2015), Dario Fo (1997), Nadine Gordimer (1991), Imre Kertész (2002), Doris Lessing (2007), Toni Morrison (1993), Herta Müller (2009), Orhan Pamuk (2006), Kenzaburo Oe (1994), José Saramago (1998), Wole Soyinka (1986) and Wisława Szymborska (1996).

Toni Morrison (b. 1931)
Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993
José Saramago (1922-2010)
Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998
Doris Lessing (1919-2013)
Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007
Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012)
Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996

Winning a Nobel Prize is considered one of the world’s greatest honours. The laureates for Literature have caused quite a stir at times.

The Swedish Academy’s selection of British writer Kazuo Ishiguro as its 2017 literature laureate was well-received, but this has not always been the case.

The Academy’s decision to bestow its distinguished literary award — and the accompanying $1.1 million (€937,000) prize — to Bob Dylan in 2016 unleashed a storm of criticism, with many arguing the American musician and songwriter did not deserve an award that was typically bestowed on novelists, dramatists, and writers of non-fiction. Dylan’s reluctant acknowledgement of the award and his decision to be absent at the official award ceremony only added fuel to the fire.

Other individual recipients have led to outcry and insults, such as Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, the 2010 literature laureate who was said to focus more on politics than prose. And Russian dissident author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s decision not to attend his 1970 Stockholm prize ceremony due to fear of Soviet repression escalated to the point that he said the Swedes’ conditions for acceptance were “an insult to the Nobel Prize itself”.

In addition, the Academy itself has been accused of Eurocentrism and gender biases. Critics of the literature award, in particular, argue it is highly subjective.

Based on the will of philanthropist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, the award should go to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Yet there is no unanimous consensus on what constitutes this “ideal”.

Giant of American letters John Steinbeck beat the British authors Robert Graves and Lawrence Durrell to win the Nobel prize for literature in 1962, but he was not a popular choice. The names of 66 authors were put forward for the prize that year, with the shortlist consisting of Steinbeck, Graves, Durrell, French dramatist Jean Anouilh and Danish author Karen Blixen (author of Out of Africa, rendered herself ineligible by dying that September).

Although Steinbeck was praised by the committee “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception” when his win was announced, the declassified documents show he was actually chosen as the best of a bad lot. “There aren’t any obvious candidates for the Nobel prize and the prize committee is in an unenviable situation,” wrote committee member Henry Olsson. How about not awarding a prize then?!?

The choice was heavily criticised, and described as “one of the Academy’s biggest mistakes” in one Swedish newspaper. The New York Times asked why the Nobel committee gave the award to an author whose “limited talent is, in his best books, watered down by tenth-rate philosophising”, adding; “we think it interesting that the laurel was not awarded to a writer … whose significance, influence and sheer body of work had already made a more profound impression on the literature of our age”. Steinbeck himself, when asked if he deserved the Nobel, replied: “Frankly, no.”

Moving on… to the display on Alfred Nobel.

Nobel Museum

Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm on October 21, 1833. His father Immanuel Nobel was an engineer and inventor who built bridges and buildings in Stockholm. In connection with his construction work Immanuel Nobel also experimented with different techniques for blasting rocks.

Alfred’s mother, born Andriette Ahlsell, came from a wealthy family. Due to misfortunes in his construction work caused by the loss of some barges of building material, Immanuel Nobel was forced into bankruptcy the same year Alfred Nobel was born. In 1837 Immanuel Nobel left Stockholm and his family to start a new career in Finland and in Russia. To support the family, Andriette Nobel started a grocery store which provided a modest income. Meanwhile Immanuel Nobel was successful in his new enterprise in St. Petersburg. He started a mechanical workshop which provided equipment for the Russian army and he also convinced the Tsar and his generals that naval mines could be used to block enemy naval ships from threatening the city.

The naval mines designed by Immanuel Nobel were simple devices consisting of submerged wooden casks filled with gunpowder. Anchored below the surface of the Gulf of Finland, they effectively deterred the British Royal Navy from moving into firing range of St. Petersburg during the Crimean war (1853-1856). Immanuel Nobel was also a pioneer in arms manufacture and in designing steam engines.

Successful in his industrial and business ventures, Immanuel Nobel was able, in 1842, to bring his family to St. Petersburg. There, his sons were given a first class education by private teachers. The training included natural sciences, languages and literature. By the age of 17, Alfred Nobel was fluent in Swedish, Russian, French, English and German. His primary interests were in English literature and poetry as well as in chemistry and physics. Alfred’s father, who wanted his sons to join his enterprise as engineers, disliked Alfred’s interest in poetry and found his son rather introverted. In order to widen Alfred’s horizons his father sent him abroad for further training in chemical engineering. During a two-year period, Alfred Nobel visited Sweden, Germany, France and the United States.

In Paris, the city he came to like best, he worked in the private laboratory of Professor T. J. Pelouze, a famous chemist. There he met the young Italian chemist Ascanio Sobrero who, three years earlier, had invented nitroglycerine, a highly explosive liquid. Nitroglycerine was produced by mixing glycerine with sulphuric and nitric acid. It was considered too dangerous to be of any practical use. Although its explosive power greatly exceeded that of gunpowder, the liquid would explode in a very unpredictable manner if subjected to heat and pressure. Alfred Nobel became very interested in nitroglycerine and how it could be put to practical use in construction work. He also realized that the safety problems had to be solved and a method had to be developed for the controlled detonation of nitroglycerine. In the United States he visited John Ericsson, the Swedish-American engineer who had developed the screw propeller for ships.

In 1852 Alfred Nobel was asked to come back and work in the family enterprise which was booming because of its deliveries to the Russian army. Together with his father he performed experiments to develop nitroglycerine as a commercially and technically useful explosive. As the war ended and conditions changed, Immanuel Nobel was again forced into bankruptcy. Immanuel and two of his sons, Alfred and Emil, left St. Petersburg together and returned to Stockholm. His other two sons, Robert and Ludvig, remained in St. Petersburg. With some difficulties they managed to salvage the family enterprise and then went on to develop the oil industry in the southern part of the Russian empire. They were very successful and became some of the wealthiest persons of their time.

Alfred Nobel (1833-1896)

After his return to Sweden in 1863, Alfred Nobel concentrated on developing nitroglycerine as an explosive. Several explosions, including one (1864) in which his brother Emil and several other persons were killed, convinced the authorities that nitroglycerine production was exceedingly dangerous. They forbade further experimentation with nitroglycerine within the Stockholm city limits and Alfred Nobel had to move his experimentation to a barge anchored on Lake Mälaren. Alfred was not discouraged and in 1864 he was able to start mass production of nitroglycerine. To make the handling of nitroglycerine safer Alfred Nobel experimented with different additives. He soon found that mixing nitroglycerine with kieselguhr would turn the liquid into a paste which could be shaped into rods of a size and form suitable for insertion into drilling holes. In 1867 he patented this material under the name of dynamite. To be able to detonate the dynamite rods he also invented a detonator (blasting cap) which could be ignited by lighting a fuse. These inventions were made at the same time as the diamond drilling crown and the pneumatic drill came into general use. Together these inventions drastically reduced the cost of blasting rock, drilling tunnels, building canals and many other forms of construction work.

The market for dynamite and detonating caps grew very rapidly and Alfred Nobel also proved himself to be a very skilful entrepreneur and businessman. By 1865 his factory in Krümmel near Hamburg, Germany, was exporting nitroglycerine explosives to other countries in Europe, America and Australia. Over the years he founded factories and laboratories in some 90 different places in more than 20 countries.

Nobel Museum – map showing location of Alfred Nobel’s factories

Although he lived in Paris much of his life, he was constantly traveling. Victor Hugo at one time described him as “Europe’s richest vagabond”. When he was not traveling or engaging in business activities Nobel himself worked intensively in his various laboratories, first in Stockholm and later in Hamburg (Germany), Ardeer (Scotland), Paris and Sevran (France), Karlskoga (Sweden) and San Remo (Italy). He focused on the development of explosives technology as well as other chemical inventions, including such materials as synthetic rubber and leather, artificial silk, etc. By the time of his death in 1896 he had 355 patents.

Alfred Nobel’s laboratory in Bofors, Sweden

Intensive work and travel did not leave much time for a private life. At the age of 43 he was feeling like an old man. At this time he advertised in a newspaper “Wealthy, highly-educated elderly gentleman seeks lady of mature age, versed in languages, as secretary and supervisor of household.” The most qualified applicant turned out to be an Austrian woman, Countess Bertha Kinsky. After working a very short time for Nobel she decided to return to Austria to marry Count Arthur von Suttner. In spite of this, Alfred Nobel and Bertha von Suttner remained friends and kept writing letters to each other for decades. Over the years Bertha von Suttner became increasingly critical of the arms race. She wrote a famous book, Lay Down Your Arms and became a prominent figure in the peace movement. No doubt this influenced Alfred Nobel when he wrote his final will which was to include a Prize for persons or organizations who promoted peace. Several years after the death of Alfred Nobel, the Norwegian Storting (Parliament) decided to award the 1905 Nobel Peace Prize to Bertha von Suttner.

Bertha von Suttner

When Alfred Nobel died in 1896, he bequeathed the bulk of his fortune to create five annual prizes honouring ingenuity. He wrote his will in Swedish a year before his death while he lived in Paris, and the portion dealing with the prizes was one long paragraph. It named the groups to make the awards: the Karolinska Institute (medicine), the Swedish Academy of Sciences (chemistry and physics), the Swedish Academy (literature) and the Norwegian Parliament (peace). Nobel named these institutions without consulting them first! And the prize money was to come from a non-existent foundation that his executors had to create posthumously! He bequeathed his fortune to this foundation, that would then provide the funds to the various institutions.

Nobel said in his will that he wanted to reward those “who during the preceding year shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind” in five categories. The economics prize was created later, after an endowment from the Swedish central bank (Sveriges Riksbank) in 1968 “in memory of Alfred Nobel”. The Economic Sciences prize has been awarded every year since 1969.

The Nobel prizes almost never came to be, largely because of the unsophisticated way Nobel drew up his will. It was flawed and legally deficient because he lived in many places and never established a legal residence. Nobel resided for many years in France, made intermittent visits to a home in Sweden and amassed assets in many countries before dying of a stroke at his villa in Italy.

To secret Nobel’s French assets to the Swedish consulate in Paris before claims might be made on them there, the will’s principal executor literally sat on Nobel’s millions as he rode a horse-drawn cab through Paris. “I sat with a revolver at the ready in case of a direct attack or a prearranged collision with another vehicle, a trick not unusual among thieves in Paris at the time,” the executor, Ragnar Sohlman, wrote in The Legacy of Alfred Nobel, which was published in English in 1983.

Ragnar Sohlman

Large philanthropic gifts to science were rare in Nobel’s day. Moreover, establishing annual international prizes in any field was novel. And controversial. News of Nobel’s plan sent shock waves through Sweden with the intensity of a dynamite blast.

Bitter members of Nobel’s largely disinherited family fought the will in court. Scorn was heaped on Nobel’s gift, the equivalent of $9.5 million and one of the largest fortunes of his time, by the king of Sweden, Oscar II, newspapers, political leaders and other Swedes.

Nobel’s earnings came from his 355 patents and factories in many countries. Swedish leaders vehemently opposed dispersing a Swedish fortune to the rest of the world. Among their reasons: it was immoral, particularly at a time when many Swedes were impoverished.

King Oscar II changed his mind after the Nobel Foundation was established in 1900, in part because he thought publicity about the prizes might benefit Sweden. He was too ill to attend the first ceremony in 1901. Starting in 1902, Oscar II and his royal successors have handed the prizes to the laureates on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death.

Alfred Nobel never explained his choice of prize categories. Chemistry and physics seem obvious choices because he was a trained chemical engineer.

The medical prize appears to reflect his heritage and interests. A 17th century ancestor, Olof Rudbeck the Elder, a professor of medicine at Uppsala University, was a discoverer of the human lymphatic system. With other researchers, Nobel discussed experiments in blood transfusions. While alive, he gave generously for research at the Karolinska Institute and at Ivan Pavlov’s laboratory in Russia.

Nobel often relieved his depression by writing fiction, drama and poetry, which probably explains his interest in the literature prize.

The reason for the peace prize is less clear. Many say it was to compensate for developing destructive forces. But his explosives, except for ballistite, were not used in any war during his lifetime.

Swedes were astonished that Nobel prepared his will unaided and without consulting the executors of his estate and the institutions that he entrusted to make the awards.

Ragnar Sohlman had to persuade the Swedish institutions to overcome many objections before agreeing to administer the prizes. The new demand was costly and added to the workload of academicians whose salaries were meagre. No blueprint existed to guide the prize juries. Those “who during the preceding year shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind” was a rather non-specific and subjective directive. Sweden had produced leading scientists, but insecurity existed about whether a small group of scientists in a small country could effectively judge claims for the discoveries made worldwide.

If any institution that Nobel named in his will rejected his charge, there probably would be no prizes. But by 1900, Mr. Sohlman had gained their cooperation.

The Karolinska Institute decided to primarily reward fundamental biomedical research, not clinical research. That action is credited for linking medicine to the emerging wave of laboratory science illustrated, for example, by Louis Pasteur, a chemist and bacteriologist. Pasteur, who died the year Nobel wrote his will, was ineligible for a prize because the Nobels are not awarded posthumously.

There were many competitors for the first awards, which went to well-recognized scientists: a German, Emil von Behring, for developing a diphtheria immunization; a German, Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen, in physics for the discovery of X-rays; and a Dutchman, Jacobus H. van’t Hoff, for discovering the laws of chemical dynamics and osmotic pressure in solutions.

No more than three individuals can win in any science category. The system to choose Nobel medical prize laureates is costly. About $700,000 is spent for the research into the medical prize, now worth about $1.4 million.

The winners are announced in October, over consecutive days. But the nomination process for the next year’s prizes begins a month earlier. The Karolinska Institute asks 3,000 scientists and administrators to nominate by January 31 researchers who they believe have made the most prize-worthy discovery for consideration in that year’s competition.

The first prizes were awarded in 1901, five years after the death of Alfred Nobel. One hundred years later, the Nobel Museum was opened, as a fascinating homage to geniuses and their pathways to their Nobel Prize.

That took a while to read about… 🙂

Nobel Museum

And it’s time for lunch! At Bistro Nobel, located in the same building. We want this table!

Nobel Museum Café

Being on the short side 🙂 little bears easily found the chair signed by Barry Marshall.

Nobel Museum Café

In 2005, Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren were named joint winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of “the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease”. Professor Marshall is based at UWA and The Marshall Centre was founded in 2007 to celebrate the award of the Nobel Prize.

Love this photo from the Marshall Centre!

Merry Christmas from the Marshall Centre!
15 December 2017

In the artefacts collection, we found the item donated by Professor Marshall, the sample jar that he used to drink the bacterium Helicobacter pylori in a broth solution. He contracted an infection, thereby proving that the bacterium causes gastric ulcers.

Nobel Museum

Next time you stop for a coffee or a meal at Bistro Nobel don’t forget to turn your chair upside down and see if it has been signed by one of the Nobel Laureates.

Nobel Museum Café

There is a more formal guest book for the laureates 🙂

Nobel Prize guest book for 2017, signed by all Laureates

Suitably fed, little Puffles and Honey went to explore Stockholm City Hall where great Nobel banquet is held.

Nobel Museum

Stockholm City Hall, with its spire featuring the golden Three Crowns, is one of the most famous silhouettes in Stockholm. It is one of the country’s leading examples of national romanticism in architecture. Designed by the architect Ragnar Östberg, the City Hall is built from eight million bricks. The 106-meter tall tower has the three crowns, which is the Swedish national coat of arms, at its apex. Behind the magnificent facades are offices and session halls for politicians and officials, as well as splendid assembly rooms and unique works of art. Stockholm’s municipal council meets in Rådssalen, the Council Chamber.

Stockholm City Hall

After dinner in Blå Hallen, the Blue Hall, Nobel Prize laureates, royalty and guests dance in Gyllene Salen, the Golden Hall, with its 18 million gold mosaic tiles.

The Blue Room (Blå Hallen)
Stockholm City Hall
The Blue Room (Blå Hallen)
Stockholm City Hall
The staircase to the Blue Room (Blå Hallen)
Stockholm City Hall

Nobel laureates walk down the stairs to join the great Nobel banquet held in their honour. If they have stage fright 🙂 a star has been provided on the wall to help them focus!

The Blue Room (Blå Hallen)
Stockholm City Hall

The Blue Hall, with its straight walls and arcades, incorporates elements of a representative courtyard. But, not so blue! For a long time the architect, Ragnar Östberg, wanted to paint the brick walls in the Blue Hall blue, but he changed his mind when he saw how beautiful the red brick was. Although the hall remained red, he kept the name “Blå Hallen” (Blue Hall) because it was already in general use among Stockholmers. The Nobel Banquet takes place here in the City Hall’s largest ceremonial hall on 10 December every year. The actual prize award ceremony takes place at the Stockholm Concert Hall. The Blue Hall also houses one of the largest pipe organs in Scandinavia, with 10,000 pipes and 135 stops.

Organ keyboard
The Blue Room (Blå Hallen)
Stockholm City Hall
The Golden Room (Gyllene Salen)
Stockholm City Hall

The walls of the Golden Hall are decorated with mosaics created by Einar Forseth, depicting the history of Sweden from the 9th century to the 1920s. The images consist of more than 18 million mosaic pieces made of glass and gold. The Queen of Lake Mälaren, that is, Stockholm in human form, sits on a throne and beside her there are figures and buildings from the rest of the world. The balls after the Nobel Banquet always take place in the Golden Hall.

The Queen of Lake Mälaren mosaic
The Golden Room
Stockholm City Hall
The Golden Room
Stockholm City Hall
The Golden Room
Stockholm City Hall

The City Hall of Stockholm can only be visited with a guided tour. Little bears went walkabout 🙂

The Council Chamber is where the 101 members of Stockholm Municipal Council meet. The meetings are open to visitors, who are welcome to sit on one side of the gallery. On the opposite side there is a gallery for journalists. The painted opening in the beamed ceiling is designed to resemble a Viking longhouse.

Council Chamber
Stockholm City Hall
Council Chamber
Stockholm City Hall
Beamed ceiling in the Council Chamber
Stockholm City Hall

The walls in the Oval Room are covered in tapestries which were woven at the end of the 17th century in Beauvais, France. On Saturdays civil weddings take place here.

The Oval Room
Stockholm City Hall
The Oval Room
Stockholm City Hall
The Oval Room
Stockholm City Hall

From the Prince’s Gallery you can see the view over Lake Mälaren and Stockholm’s shores. On the other side of the room you can see the same motif in a painting by Prince Eugen. The black pillars are made of diabase rock. By the windows facing the water there are reliefs featuring male and female characters from Norse and classical mythology.

The Prince’s Gallery
Stockholm City Hall
Mural in the Prince’s Gallery
Stockholm City Hall

That was fun!

The Three Crown (Tre Kronor) Symbol

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