April 9th 1492: Medici dies


Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449 – 1492)


On this day in 1492 the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici, died aged 43. The Medici family had run the largest Florentine bank, the Medici Bank, for some time, but eventually came to rule the republic itself. Lorenzo de’ Medici was one of the central figures of the Italian Renaissance as a leading statesman from Florence, a city which was the hub of the cultural movement. A primary legacy of the Renaissance is its astounding art, and Medici was well-known in Florence for making considerable contributions to the art world. The famed artist Leonardo da Vinci even held a place in the Medici court, and Michelangelo was a family friend.



Tomb of Lorenzo de’ Medici in Sagrestia Nuova, San Lorenzo, Florence (source: http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/m/michelan/1sculptu/medici/index.html)


However Lorenzo did not rule unopposed: he faced challenges in Florence, from the Pazzi familly; from the Vatican, who excommunicated Lorenzo; and from the King of Naples who went to war with Florence. When Medici died, Florence mourned their leader, and eventually the fragile peace he had established with fellow city states fell apart. I must admit, once again my knowledge of Renaissance Florence comes primarily from playing the Assassin’s Creed games, in which Lorenzo de’ Medici is a central character. Clearly, some artistic liberties are taken with certain characters (especially the Borgias), which I have written about before. However I would still recommend these games, especially Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood. As you roam around the Italian countryside and cities killing Templars, you can read about the locations and characters in their historical context. Then at least you can feel you’re doing something educational while playing videogames!


March 30th 1853: Van Gogh born


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Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) – self-portrait


On this day in 1853, the artist Vincent van Gogh was born in Zundert in the Netherlands. The young van Gogh had a keen interest in art, and continued to draw and paint into adulthood. As an adult van Gogh traveled extensively throughout Europe, exploring the different art scenes and becoming especially affected by the French Impressionists.



The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh (1889) – perhaps his most famous work


Despite his talent and distinctive art style, van Gogh was unappreciated in his lifetime. The struggling artist also suffered from mental health issues, infamously cutting off his ear and eventually shooting himself aged just 37. In his tragically short life van Gogh left an impressive selection of work, with over 2,000 pieces of art attributed to him.


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Sunflowers by van Gogh (1888)


When he died, van Gogh was a little known name; today he is a household name. His art was rediscovered after his death, and found an appreciation in a new audience who praised his unique style. I should say right off the bat that I am no art expert, so what I have to say about his work is from the perspective of an amateur! That being said, it seems to me that Van Gogh’s style is marked by the boldness of his brush stokes and choice of colours, but especially the pure emotion he brings to his art. It is a tired cliché that tortured souls make the best artists, but this certainly seems to be true in van Gogh’s case. He was plagued by mental illness issues throughout his lifetime, and translated this poignantly into his art. The images I have selected do not do justice to the full emotionality of his work, as I decided to include his two most famous pieces in a celebration of his life and legacy. However from my limited knowledge there are many other works of his which reflect the broad range of his skill. So let’s take his 161st birthday to remember the art of Vincent van Gogh, and spare a thought for the other hundreds of struggling artists whose work is not appreciate in their time.

February 20th 1872: Met opens


The Met’s opening reception at 681 Fifth Avenue in 1872

On this day in 1872, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened in New York City. The museum was founded in 1870 by a group of American businessmen and artists who wanted to bring art to the American people, and was originally located in a building at 681 Fifth Avenue. The museum initially held a Roman stone sarcophagus and 174 paintings. As the museum expanded it had to move locations, finally settling on the eastern edge of Central Park. It now stands as one of the most renowned art museums in the world, housing over 2 million works.



Exterior of 681 Fifth Avenue – the original museum

“We have something to point to as the Museum, something tangible and something good.”
– The Museum’s first President John Taylor Johnston describing his happiness the day the museum opened

July 27th 1890: Vincent van Gogh shoots himself

July 27th 1890: Vincent van Gogh shoots himself

On this day in 1890 artist Vincent van Gogh, aged 37, shot himself in the chest with a revolver in Auvers-sur-Oise in northern France. The shot did not cause serious damage to his internal organs, but van Gogh died two days later from infection in the wound. Throughout his life van Gogh suffered from anxiety and poor mental health. At his funeral his body was surrounded by his paintings and sunflowers. He died a little-known artist, but since his death his work has been fully appreciated and he is now regarded as one of the great artists.

“The sadness will last forever”
– van Gogh’s last words