Camille Claudel: Madwoman, Muse

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“I have fallen into an abyss. I live in a world so curious, so strange.  Of the dream that was my life, this is the nightmare.”

— Camille Claudel to Eugène Blot, Montdevergues Asylum

The late 19th century sculptor Camille Claudel is best known for her relationship to the sculptor Auguste Rodin. But whereas history has painted her as Rodin’s muse (and indeed she was), she was a top artist in her own right and many scholars believe that it is her work that shaped Rodin’s even more than she influenced his.

Claudel met Rodin at the age of 19 when she was studying at the Academy Colarossi in Paris with the sculptor Alfred Boucher. When Boucher returned to Italy, he asked Rodin to take over Claudel’s instruction.

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Hagar and the Well of Zamzam: how a woman discovered one of the holiest sites in Islam

 

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Hagar and Ishmael in the Desert by François Joseph Navez (Belgian, 1787–1869)

 

The Well of Zamzam is located near the Kaaba (Cube), the holiest place in Islam. Both the Kaaba and the Zamzam Well are inside the Holy Mosque (Masjid al-Haram) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

One of the Five Pillars of Islam is the Hajj pilgrimage to the Kaaba. During the Hajj, pilgrims drink from the Zamzam well. To understand why Zamzam water is so important to Muslims, a bit of religious history is in order.

It begins with the story of the biblical patriarch, Abraham, and his wife, Sarah. Slightly differing versions of the story appear in the Bible and the Koran (Quran). But the essentials are:

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Jeanne de Clisson — the Lioness of Brittany

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Noblewoman… mother… prostitute… widow… pirate.   In the 14th century, Jeanne de Clisson – the “Lioness of Brittany” — was all these, and more.

Actually, no one really seems sure about the prostitute part.  What is true beyond doubt is that the Lioness of Brittany was as vicious as any male pirate.  The reasons for her rage, however, are perhaps a bit more compelling.

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The “Cleveland Massacre”: how John D. Rockefeller created a monopoly and Ida Tarbell helped bust it

Ida in fur coat around 1925

 

John D. Rockeller, the founder of the Standard Oil Company, was one of the most powerful men of the Gilded Age.* Yet he was no match for journalist Ida Tarbell, the “muckraker“** who discovered and revealed Standard Oil’s unethical business practices.

The last 30 years of the 19th century in the United States (the “Gilded Age”) saw a huge growth of industry and wealth. But that growth was fueled by economic and political corruption.  No one represented both the highs and the lows of the Gilded Age better than Rockefeller and Standard Oil.  And not even Rockefeller could predict that his worse nemesis would turn out to be not his competitors, but a woman — and one born in a log home .

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Gertrude Bell: the “Uncrowned Queen of Iraq”

From left to right, beneath the face of the Sphinx: Winston Churchhill, Gertrude Bell, and T.E. Lawrence, Cairo, Egypt, 1921.

T.E. Lawrence — best known as Lawrence of Arabia — gets all the press.  But Gertrude Bell — who worked with Lawrence in Cairo – was, like Lawrence, an archaeologist, intelligence agent and author.  Like Lawrence, her sex life – or lack thereof – has been the subject of much debate.  And like Lawrence, Bell – who has been called the “Uncrowned Queen of Iraq — for better or worse helped define and shape the modern Middle East.

Bell was born in England on July 14, 1868 to a wealthy family.  After earning a degree in history from Oxford University, she began to travel.  She established a reputation as a skilled mountain climber, and is credited with 10 first ascents in the Bernese Alps. These include the Gertrudspitze, which was named for her.

Bell’s greatest fame as a climber, however, came from a failed attempt.  It was to have been a first ascent of the northeast face of 14,000-ft. Finsteraarhorn.  But an unexpected blizzard trapped Bell and two companions on the mountain.  Through freezing temperatures and lightning storms, they survived roped together for 53 hours.

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