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Domestic Tom Turkey Gobbling (Photo by WildImages--Charlie Summers)

It has been a long time since I put up a turkey post.  In a way this is appropriate, since people other than hunters and farmers usually only think about the majestic fowl around holiday time when the sharp axe comes out (or–more likely—when one wanders over to Krogers to check out the price of Butterballs).  Meanwhile live turkeys have been slogging away through the long winter.  For farm turkeys this has meant dull days perched in dark coops huddled together for warmth while living on daily water and grain hand-outs from the farmer.  For wild turkeys the winter is more like a Russian war novel.  The wind, ice, and snow are enlivened by desperate hunger and by fear of omnipresent predators stalking through the bare trees of the frozen forests.  The cold nights are filled with the howl of the wind and the coyotes while the days are filled with desperately scraping the dead ground for remnants of food.

But that was winter–spring is here, and with it, mating season.  This time of year highlights one of the signature features of turkeys wild and domestic—gobbling.  In fact today’s post is really an auditory one.  Here is a movie of a Tom turkey gobbling!

The gobble is rightfully the most famous turkey vocalization.  It is similar in nature to the humpback’s song or the deafening yodel of the siamang: a magnificent declaration of self which proclaims dominance and health to females. This ululating yodel alerts all nearby hens to the fact that an alpha male tom turkey is in the area and is at the top of his game (it also lets rival males know where to go for a fight and hunters where to go for a meal, so it is a true and heartfelt declaration of bravery and lust on the part of the issuer).

Gobbles are hardly the only turkey vocalizations.  Turkeys both wild and domestic are extremely garrulous characters and produce many different calls for a variety of reasons.  Here is a list of the more common turkey vocabulary from the national Wild Turkey Federation.  By using a variety of tools and the full range of the human voice a tiny number of truly expert hunters can produce most of these noises, however turkeys are clever enough that they don’t usually fall for such guile.

Common cuttlefish - Sepia officinalis (photo by David Nicholson)

When I was a child, my family went to the invertebrate house in Washington, DC.  Upon entering the building, there was a very beautiful aquarium which contained the most alien creature I have ever encountered.  It was a beautiful glistening red…and then it instantly changed color to bright white with pale dun spots.  Next the strange being sank through the water column and changed color and texture. Its smooth skin knotted up into ropey bumps.  The speckled white tuned to wavy deep brown lines.  Intelligent eyes with W-shaped pupils regarded me from what suddenly seemed to be a hunk of rock. I had encountered my first live cuttlefish.  In fact there were two in the tank, as I discovered when a patch of unremarkable sand changed shape and color and jetted to the surface while flashing rainbow colors.  They were worked up because they were about to be fed and, when eating their suppers, the cuttlefish put on a particularly good show.  They changed color like digital screens and waved their eight arms about and then ZAP!  elongated feeding tentacles shot out from under their mantles to grab the anchovies from across the length of the tank. Then they rocketed around with uncanny torpedo speed.

Cuttlefish by Doug Deep

Cuttlefish are cephalopods like octopuses, argonauts, squid, and nautiluses.  Across the long ages they have descended from those magnificent nautiloids and othocones who ruled the world during the Ordovician era.  Cuttlefish are one of the most intelligent invertebrates: their brains make up a substantial portion of their body mass, and their behavior when hunting, hiding, and courting is complex. The unusually shaped eyes of the cuttlefish are among the finest in the animal kingdom.  Their blood makes use of copper rather than iron to fix oxygen so it runs green.  All cuttlefish possess poisons in their saliva.  In fact the Pfeffer’s Flamboyant Cuttlefish is as toxic as the Blue-ringed octopus.

Camoflaged Cuttlefish

But why am I talking about these extraordinary mollusks during a week devoted to blogging about color? First of all cuttlefish are “the chameleons of the sea.” As I observed at the zoo, they can change color with a speed and facility unrivaled by any other creature. They use their mastery of color to camouflage themselves, to hunt, and to communicate with each other.  The animal’s existence literally hinges around the color-changing chromatophores in their skin. But the association of cuttlefish and color doesn’t stop there. Cuttlefish produce a dense ink which they squirt into the ocean to disguise their movements when frightened. This sepia ink, collected from the ink-sacks of common cuttlefish destined for the table, was prized for writing and for drawing during the classical era.  Many of the great histories and literary masterpieces of Greco-Roman thought were first penned in sepia ink. Although other inks took the place of sepia for writing, it maintained its place in the artist’s studio up until the late nineteenth century when it was supplanted by synthetic pigments.

sketches for "The Last Supper" (Leonardo da Vinci, 1495, sepia ink on paper)

This means that many of the masterpieces of draftsmanship were also created with sepia ink.  A particularly effective and pleasing style was to sketch something in watered down sepia washes and finish the details with black india ink. Like chartreuse, magenta, and vermilion, the name sepia itself has become synonymous with a color.  This reddish brown is famous in old masters pen-and-ink drawings, antique photos, and memory-hazed movie flashbacks.  Not only has this ink provided some of the most beautiful drawings in history, recent studies have shown that cephalopod ink is toxic to certain cells—particularly tumor cells, so we may not have written the last concerning sepia ink.

Giant Grave by the Sea (Caspar David Friedrich, 1806-1807, sepia wash and graphite on paper)

The Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii

Since prehistory, cinnabar (mercury sulfide) has been sought after for its brilliant red-orange hue. Crushed into a pigment, this mineral becomes vermilion, and it is one of history’s great colors.  The bright red-orange of vermilion is unmistakable and takes pride of place in many—maybe most–of the great paintings created prior to the introduction of modern cadmium paints. The villa of the mysteries in Pompeii was painted with vermilion. Medieval illuminators made extensive use of vermillion to color the bibles, codexes, and prayer books of the times.

Michael Battling Demons (from the Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves)

In the 8th century, Chinese chemists discovered how to artificially synthesize cinnabar.  The alchemists of medieval Europe mastered this trick later in the 12th century (after which both painting and chemistry made great strides forward).  The brightest reds in the great masterpieces of Renaissance art are vermillion as are the brightest reds in the masterpieces of Baroque, Rococo, and Romantic painting.

Portrait of Cardinal Pietro Bembo (Titian, ca. 1540, oil on canvas)

Because of its high mercury content cinnabar is very toxic to humans. People affected by mercury poisoning develop tremors, violent mood swings, and tunnel vision.  They lose first their hearing, then their eyesight, and ultimately their sanity and lives. The Romans knew these problems were associated with cinnabar mining and so they sent criminals and war slaves to man the mines of Spain and Slovenia.  Such wretches had an average life span of only three years.

Powdered Cinnabar

Because of its magnificent red color, and because it could be refined to yield liquid mercury (which was regarded as a magical regent of life) cinnabar was thought to be one of the keys to the fabled elixir of life.  Taoist charlatans and magicians made extensive use of raw cinnabar for allegedly rejuvenating cups, trinkets, and potions. Contrasting this paragraph with the one prior to it yields an obvious irony: the magical life giving elixirs quaffed by Taoist mystics were toxic.  Many Chinese emperors, aristocrats, and elites probably greatly shortened their life by becoming too enamored with the deadly beauty of vermilion

Carved cinnabar lacquer gourd-shaped ewer with floral design Mid Ming Dynasty (c. late 15th-early 16th Century)

Continuing on with our festival of colors, we come to another brilliant hue–magenta.  Although I think this is one of the loveliest and most spectacular of all colors, it also has a pedestrian office existence at odds with its singular beauty (a situation which is familiar to many of us). The tone is known to administrative drudges everywhere as one of the three ink cartridges which must be constantly supplied, at huge mark-ups, in order for the colored printer to run.  Damn you Lexmark! But magenta’s story is far more interesting than the humdrum world of three-color printing.

Magenta is a bright and brilliant combination of red and blue, color wavelengths which are on the opposite ends of the visible electromagnetic spectrum. It is named after the Battle of Magenta which was fought in June, 1859 during the Second War of Italian Independence.  The battle took place in Lombardy between the Franco Sardinian troops of Napoleon III and troops of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Afterwards the battlefield was stained red with the blood of defeated Austrians, which glowed brilliantly in the sunset (or something).  Perhaps the famous poetic imagination of the French was responsible for the name, since we all know that Magenta is not red (in fact French chemists had just synthesized a fuchsine dye and were looking for a catchy name which reflected their nationalistic ambitions).

The Battle of Magenta (19th century engraving)

Not only is magenta not red, in fact, to the consternation of Isaac Newton, magenta initially did not seem to exist. In days long prior to the Battle of Magenta (and the new marketing name), Newton was performing experiments with prisms.  He quantified the wavelengths of electromagnetic light in a familiar pattern: Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet “ROYGBIV” (indigo might be a bit of a fudge because the great man was fascinated with the mystic properties of the number seven, but that is a story for another time).  One thing you will not notice in ROYGBIV is an M for magenta.  The color does not exist when white light passes through a prism: magenta is “extra-spectral” (if that’s a word).  Poor Newton was flummoxed until he combined the blue violet wavelengths of refracted light with the red wavelengths of light to form a very beautiful magenta.  Some people are nodding thinking that blue and yellow combine to make green or red and yellow make orange, but that is not the point.  Orange and green are in the rainbow.  Magenta is not.  To quote a helpful article from Liz Eliot at Biotele, “color perception is not in a one to one correspondence with the physical world.”

The combined refracted light from two different prisms

Even if it only exists because of a quirk of our brains, magenta is singularly lovely. Just beware that whenever you see someone clad in robes of fuchsia silk driving a fandango Maserati and proffering lovely magenta roses, you are being beguiled by your faulty human perceptions.

Paphiopedilum King's Forest 'Kate's Peridot' (Photo by Ken Jacobsen)

Pigments, hues, colors!  The way light bounces off objects and shines into our primate brains is rife with emotional and moral meaning.  Each color has historical dimensions and conveys allusions to different times and places. Colors evoke feelings and thoughts in a way that almost nothing else can.

In continuing celebration of Holi, the festival of colors, I’m writing about some of my favorite colors starting today with chartreuse.  Half way between green and yellow, chartreuse plays tricks on the brain–sometimes looking like one or the other. It is a quintessential color of spring, appearing in the first buds of willow and the tip of the crocus as it pokes up from the ground.  However a summer field glowing in the sunlight is also chartreuse as are aspen leaves when they begin to change in fall.

Weeping Willow in Spring

The historical roots of the word are as colorful as it is. Chartreuse is named after a delightful herbal liquor made by Carthusian Monks.  Wikipedia tells the story as follows:

According to tradition, a marshal of artillery to French king Henry IV, François Hannibal d’Estrées, presented the Carthusian monks at Vauvert, near Paris, with an alchemical manuscript that contained a recipe for an “elixir of long life” in 1605. The recipe eventually reached the religious order’s headquarters at the Grande Chartreuse monastery, in Voiron, near Grenoble. It has since then been used to produce the “Elixir Végétal de la Grande Chartreuse”. The formula is said to call for 130 herbs, flowers, and secret ingredients combined in a wine alcohol base. The monks intended their liqueur to be used as medicine. The recipe was further enhanced in 1737 by Brother Gérome Maubec.

Just why the artillery marshal had a magical longevity elixir is unclear. Twice the monks have been evicted from their monasteries and deprived of their properties (in 1793 because of the revolution and in 1903, thanks to an anti-monastic law).  But even in exile, they kept the secret recipe and they have always come back to distilling stronger than ever.  Because it is so well known around the world, their delightful (and extremely alcoholic) concoction has loaned its pretty name to the lovely color.

Perhaps it is appropriate that chartreuse bears the name of a spirit.  Despite the fact that it is a color frequently seen in the natural world there is also something otherworldly about it.  Think of how many ghosts, aliens, and mystery substances are colored a crazy yellow-green and you will immediately see what I mean.

Beings beyond human comprehension....

You can probably tell that Chartreuse and similar yellow greens are among my favorite colors.  Nothing combines the feeling of vibrant, thriving life with a hint of mystery and ineffability like chartreuse.  That’s enough writing I am going to go out and revel in a world of golden-green shoots!

The Garden of Earthly Delights (Hieronymus Bosch, ca 1510)

Holi Celebrations

Yesterday, March 20th, 2011 was the Hindu festival of Holi, the festival of colors. According to myth, Hiranyakashipu, a king among the demons, was granted a boon by Brahma after undergoing a long period of intense asceticism.  Brahma decreed that Hiranyakashipu could not be killed “during day or night; inside the home or outside, not on earth or in the sky; neither by a man nor an animal.”  Emboldened by his apparent invulnerability, Hiranyakashipu initiated an evil scheme to supplant the gods (because of his wickedness, I am going to include him in my “deities of the underworld” category as I customarily do whenever I write about the Asura).  He demanded that all beings worship him instead of the rightful deities and he visited hideous torments upon those who disobeyed.  The demon’s own son Prahlada was one such protestor. Prahlada maintained stalwart and absolute devotion to Vishnu, despite his father’s threats.  In order to make an example for the rest of the world, Hiranyakashipu poisoned his son, but the poison turned to nectar.  Enraged the demon ordered Prahlada put to death by being crushed by elephants, but this too went awry.  After several other attempts to kill Prahlada also failed, Hiranyakashipu decided to burn his son on a great pyre.  In order to ensure that nothing went amiss Hiranyakashipu decreed that his sister Holika, who had her own boon of fire resistance from Brahma, would hold Prahlada in the flames.  However when the fire was lit Holika, despite her gift of being completely flame resistant, was burnt to death and her nephew Prahlada was spared.

Lord Narasimha Killing the Demon Hiranyakashipu

Vishnu, the demon-slayer (who from time to time assumed mortal shapes such as human, pig, or turtle) then came to Hiranyakashipu as a lion avatar, Narasimha.   Narasimha attacked the demon king at twilight as the latter was on the steps to his dwelling. Vishnu in his Narashima avatar-form clawed the renegade demon to death while holding him (the demon) on his (Vishnu’s) lap.  The conditions of the boon were met because a god incarnated as a lion monster is neither man nor animal and Vishnu was holding the demon above the ground but not in the sky. Additionally twilight is neither day nor night and steps are neither in nor out of a dwelling.  However, what exactly went wrong for Holika and caused the utter failure of her special power still remains a topic of debate among Hindu theologians

Holi with old-fashioned color squirt guns

These fateful events are celebrated on Holi which also celebrates the passing of winter and the coming of spring. Holi is the festival of color and the first day of the festival (which is always a full moon) is celebrated by all manner of dying, painting, and friendly pelting of family and friends with colorful pigments. As an artist I love the idea of a festival of color and spring is clearly the perfect time for such a celebration. I have tried to fill this void in my life with Easter-egg dying but the color has been leaching out of Easter as it loses its preeminence among Christian festivals.  So, to celebrate Holi, and the return of color to the world after the austerity of winter, I am going to devote the rest of this week to some of my favorite colors and pigments.  Feel free to chime in with your favorite colors of any sort, this is a topic which I love dearly.

I haven't been to India yet, but I think I'm going to love it.

An artist's rendition of NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft

Yesterday NASA’s spacecraft MESSENGER entered orbit around Mercury, the least explored of the Solar system’s rocky inner planets.  This is the first time a spacecraft has been in orbit around Mercury and it represents a tremendous engineering achievement. Since gravity becomes more intense the closer one comes to the sun, Messenger had to slingshot back and forth among the inner planets for some time in order to accomplish the tricky feat. The spacecraft had to undertake a 4.9 billion mile (about 7.9-billion kilometer) journey to enter orbit around the closest planet to the sun. Of course that hefty mileage only is equal to 0.00083 light years!

Having survived the grueling trip, the spaceship must now carry out its mission in the blistering bath of solar radiation.  To survive next to the star, Messenger is equipped with a large sun visor which prevents the little craft from frying like a quail egg.

NO! The Messenger spacecraft is not an old lady playing golf!

Messenger will try to determine the planet’s mineralogical composition and learn about its geological history (the surface of Mercury is reckoned to be one of the oldest in the solar system).  The robot probe will fully map Mercury and analyze the planet’s composition.  Like Earth (but unlike Mars and Venus) Mercury has an internal magnetic field.  Additionally, the tiny world is incredibly dense. In order to learn more about the planet’s core Messenger will measure the extent to which the planet wobbles on its rotational axis.  Studying the partially molten interior of Mercury should provide clues about how the planet formed which will help us better understand the creation of all planets (especially in conjunction with the flood of data regarding exoplanets which we are beginning to receive).

Since the craft will be trying to learn the secrets of Mercury’s molten interior, it is worth reflecting on the deity whom the planet is named after.   Although he was worshipped as a messenger, a herald, and a god of commerce, the Greco Roman god Hermes/Mercury was also quietly worshipped as a god of the underworld. The Greeks and Romans regarded him as a psychopomp who guided souls down to Hades with his magical staff. Because (like the somewhat similar African traveling god Eshu) Hermes was able to go anywhere at will he was one of the only entities in the Greco Roman pantheon free to enter and leave the underworld.

Although we are not capable like Mercury of going everywhere at our whim, I think it is a tremendous accomplishment to navigate a robot spacecraft into broiling orbit around the innermost planet.  That we are using the craft to learn the secrets of the fiery underworld of the swift planet seems like a fitting tribute to the god who was slayer of Argus, giver of charms, messenger, schemer, luck bringer, and patron of travelers and wayfarers (even those voyaging to their last end or to places the ancients could never dream of).

It has been a while since I wrote a post concerning mascots.  That’s because…well, frankly there is something a bit grotesque and disorienting about the entire topic.  The bilious cartoony figures speak of the snake oil which lubricates our consumer culture.  And most of the characters are teetering right at the edge of nineteenth-century jingoism and ethnic stereotypes.  If Aunt Jemima, Chief Wahoo, Uncle Ben, the Gordon Fisherman, and Ole’ Miss don’t make you a bit anxious, then they aren’t doing their jobs.

All of which is why this subject is entirely perfect for Saint Patrick’s Day!  This holiday has long since dismissed any semblance of reasoned discourse. The downtown of every major city in the United States fills up before noon with intoxicated teens garbed crown-to-toe in Kelly green and red-faced, red-haired firemen wielding bagpipes!    So bring on the leprechaun mascots.

Traditionally leprechauns were members of the aes sídhe, supernatural beings who dwell in a mythical land beyond human kin. This unseen realm may be across the western sea, or in an invisible world parallel to ours, or in an underground kingdom accessible only through the pre-Christian burial mounds and barrows lying throughout Scotland, Ireland, and the ancient places of Western Europe.  The aes sídhe tended to be impossible beautiful and strange in such a way that they could only be apprehended by dying people, insane people, or William Butler Yeats.  Leprechauns were the money-grubbing cobblers and grabby tricksters among the lofty fairy folk.  The first mention of leprechauns is found in a medieval epic: the hero recovers consciousness from a dreadful wound only to discover that he is being dragged into the sea by leprechauns.  Yeats writes of the leprechaun “Many treasure-crocks, buried of old in war-time, has he now for his own.” In folklore Leprechauns originally wore red coats.

In America today all of this has been somewhat bowdlerized: leprechauns are small bellicose Irishman garbed completely in green. They ride on rainbows, possess pots of gold, and never quite grant wishes.  Anyone who says otherwise is liable to get punched in the mouth by an electrician from Jersey City.

Lucky the leprechaun, the spokesbeing for Lucky Charms cereal since 1964,  is probably the most famous of these contemporary leprechauns.  His ancient bog sorcery has been condensed into the trademark phrase “magically delicious” and six talisman-like marshmallow shapes calculated to best please the discerning six-year old palate.

Sports teams also like leprechauns.  The most famous sports-leprechauns are the pugnacious fighting Irish leprechaun of Notre Dame and the slippery dandy leprechaun of the Boston Celtics.

However an alarming range of other leprechaun mascots exist.  They have different waistcoats from various historical eras, sundry prankish expressions, and wear a rainbow of different greens but they are all instantly recognizable.

I don’t know…I was going to be more cynical, but just look at them up there, drinking and hoarding and dancing away.  There is something appealing about the wee folk.  Shameless stereotype or not, t’is all in good fun.  There’s a bit of a March hare in all of, longing to run wild after the long winter.  If our culture chooses to exemplify this spring atavism through images of a little irrepressible green man, then so be it.  Sláinte, dear readers! Have a happy Saint Patrick’s Day, a merry March, and a glorious spring.

An anachronistic portrait of Bolesław the Brave wearing the Crown of Poland

According to legend, the first Polish monarch, Bolesław the Brave, received his crown from the hands of the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto III, in 1000 AD when the two commanders met during the Congress of Gniezno.  Bolesław was one of the greatest kings of Eastern Europe.  His sword was allegedly presented to him by an angel and he famously notched it by striking the Golden Gate of Kiev as that great fortified city fell to his army.

An anachronistic picture of Bolesław notching his sword on the gate of Kiev (Jan Matejko)

Unfortunately the crown of Bolesław was lost only a generation later.  History has speculated that it was carried off to Germany by the Queen of Poland, Richeza of Lotharingia, in 1036.  Whatever happened, the Polish monarchy remained crownless until 1320 when a new crown was crafted for the coronation of King Ladislaus the Short.  Because of this latter monarch’s unfortunate epithet, the new crown was also known as the crown of Bolesław the Brave.  This second crown was carried off by Louis I of Hungary in 1370 but found its way back to Wawel (the seat of Polish royal power) in 1410.  During the Swedish Deluge of the mid seventeenth century, when Poland was invaded and occupied by their cold northern neighbors, the crown was hidden away in Spiš.

The Partitions of Poland

Unfortunately Poland has never lacked for bad neighbors: in 1793 Russia and Prussia arranged the Second Partition of the Commonwealth of Poland which divided Polish territory between the two nations. Poland, which had already been stripped of substantial territory by Austria, Prussia, and Russia back during the partition of 1772, effectively ceased to exist. This situation was unbearable to Tadeusz Kościuszko, the American Revolutionary hero (famous today for the delicious mustard which bears his name).  In 1794, Kościuszko lead a great peasant uprising against the armies of Prussia and Russia.  Kościuszko’s rebellion failed gloriously.  Poland was completely divided by Austria, Russia, and Prussia.  The Polish crown was stolen by the Prussian army (as were the rest of the Polish crown jewels).  These treasures were held by the Prussian king until 1809 when he had them melted down and made into coins.  The jewels were given away to the Directorate of Maritime Trade in Berlin.

The Modern Reproduction of the Crown of Poland

A restoration of the crown of Bolesław the Brave was constructed in 2001 out of Prussian gold, imperfect emeralds, synthetic rubies, and cultured pearls.  This new (third?) crown of Bolesław is kept with the one original item from the crown jewels, the notched sword, Szczerbiec, which has somehow survived the tumultuous history of Poland. The sword was owned by a series of Western European collectors during the nineteenth century, returned to Poland by the Soviet Union in 1928, and kept in Canada from World War II until 1959.  Interestingly Szczerbiec is not the original item either. Bolesław’s original sword was lost in the middle ages (carried off by a disgruntled queen as well?) and the ornamental coronation sword which exists today was commissioned by Ladislaus the Short in the 14th century.  The sword still remains controversial: Ukrainians revile the object as a symbol of hatred used by Polish nationalists to whip up anti-Ukrainian sentiments.

Szczerbiec, the notched sword

Still Life with Turkey Pie (Peter Claesz, 1627, oil on panel)

Here is a painting of a turkey pie and oysters created by the Dutch still-life master Pieter Claesz in 1627. The original is in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (which provides high quality digital images of the works within its collection—so if you click above, you will be rewarded with a much larger picture).  The painting is small and was painted from a muted palate but Claesz employed a variety of subtle techniques to arrest the viewer’s attention.  The overall meaning of the painting is clear—it highlights the owners’ good taste and wealth.  It also symbolizes the success and growth of the Dutch Republic which were then at an all-time apogee.

This sort of painting is called a “banketgen”—literally a banquet painting. This example is exceptionally realistic.  Notice how the pewter jug reflects the rest of the feast and how the wine in the glass römer throws a yellow shadow over the table.  Protruding from the plane of the table, the lemon plate subconsciously invites the viewer to prevent it from tumbling onto the floor.  With consummate skill, Claesz has put his initials and the painting’s date on the blade of the knife as if they were engraved there.

The individual components of the feast form a picture of seventeenth century globalism.  The still-living oysters may have come from the coast of Holland but the lemons and olives were not native and could not survive the harsh northern winter.  They are the literal fruits of Dutch success at trade as are the Chinese porcelain kraak and the Persian table weave.  The twist of printed paper from the almanac contains salt and pepper, expensive commodities in the early seventeenth century but not as rare as the overseas spices in the pastry which has been broken open with a silver spoon.

New Amsterdam

Towering above the rest of the composition is the remarkable turkey dish, a large meat pie ornamented with the plumage, wings, and head of a wild turkey from the New World.  The exotic nature of the turkey and the rich gold and jewels of the nautilus goblet are the focal point on the composition.  Any Dutchman of the time would have instantly understood the meaning.  Manhattan had been purchased by Peter Minuit in 1626, only a year before this painting was finished.  New Amsterdam was growing across the Atlantic.  The maritime merchants of the Dutch republic were setting their table to gobble up the world itself. It is almost a shame that Claesz did not include a bowl of Indonesian sugar or a tank of Shell petroleum to perfect the picture.

Although we don't know what is in the shell goblet...

Of course there is a final element to this painting.  Tiny black spots of rot are forming on the apples inside the Chinese bowl. Did the artist foresee the ruinous colonial wars with France, Spain, and England?  Did he notice the growing tension between Royalists and Republicans or the schism between Dutch churches? Could he see that the banquet was about to be spoiled by events of the wider world or were the first touches of rot merely a visual flourish to convey a lesson about the limits of our little lives?

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