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National Geographic History

National Geographic History January/February 2020

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United States
National Geographic Society
6 Issues

in this issue

1 min
from the editor

Think fast: Who was the first person to trek to the North Pole? Some may think it’s American Robert Peary in 1909, but more than seven decades later, a reexamination of Peary’s records by the National Geographic Society revealed he hadn’t made it as far north as he thought. For most of the 20th century the world believed the surface approach had been achieved by Peary. Others later reached the North Pole by air and by submarine, but the overland approach had been largely abandoned—until the 1960s, when a joke between friends inspired a ragtag group of Minnesotans to brave the Arctic. One night over beers, insurance man Ralph Plaisted was raving about snowmobiles, and a friend kidded that if Plaisted loved them so much, he should ride one all the way…

2 min
the mysterious menhirs of central france

Thirty standing stones, a female form sculpted in rock, and the grave of a late Stone Age skeleton are raising new questions in central France. These remnants are the first of their kind to be found in this part of the country. Unearthed near the village of Veyre-Monton in the Auvergne region, the stones—known as menhirs—measured three to five feet tall. They once stood erect, but like menhirs found in northern France, the Veyre-Monton stones were knocked over and buried long ago. Archaeologists still aren’t quite sure why. The site was excavated by France’s archaeological institute (Inrap). Stretching for about 500 feet, a line of these stones—arranged from largest to smallest—stretch across the site from north to south. Studies of the menhirs suggest they were brought from nearby places associated with prehistoric…

1 min
the stones came tumbling down

SIGNS THAT the menhirs at Veyre-Monton had, at some later stage in their history, been knocked down, remind archaeologists of similar destruction at other megalithic sites in France. Some of the menhirs discovered at Belz, on the Brittany peninsula in northwest France, are believed by archaeologists to have been deliberately toppled sometime in the late Neolithic. The practice is termed “neolithic iconoclasm” by scholars. Although sites were disturbed to repurpose stone for newer monuments, in other cases there may have been more destructive intentions. Vandalizing a monument, or making it invisible in the landscape, may have been a way of expressing a local change of beliefs. One of the most dramatic of all toppled menhirs is the Grand Menhir Brisé, also in Brittany. Some 64 feet long, it was believed…

1 min
a life in art

1593 Artemisia Gentileschi is born in Rome, daughter of Orazio, a respected painter. She will hone her artistic talent in her father’s studio. 1611 Gentileschi is violently assaulted by a family friend and teacher. She endures torturous examinations at his trial. 1616 Living in Florence, ruled by the Medici, Gentileschi becomes the first woman admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts. 1638 Invited to the English court by King Charles I, she travels to London. Her father will die the following year. circa 1652 Gentileschi dies in Naples after several years of financial hardship.…

6 min
the baroque brilliance of artemisia gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi was an artist who knew the pitfalls of being a woman. As she wrote to her patron, Antonio Ruffo, in 1649, “I fear that before you saw the painting you must have thought me arrogant and presumptuous … You think me pitiful because a woman’s name raises doubts until her work is seen.” At age 56, she had achieved something close to impossible for a woman in 17th-century Italy: She had become a highly accomplished and successful painter. Yet, as admired as she was in her profession, she could still be wounded—as the letter to Ruffo shows—by prejudices arising against her gender. There were other troubles from the past to contend with, the legacy of which found expression in her greatest works. Artemisia Gentileschi was born in Rome in 1593.…

1 min
a different point of view

GENTILESCHI’S 1620 “Judith Beheading Holofernes” portrays an Old Testament story of the Israelite widow Judith who saved her people by assassinating the Assyrian general besieging her city. This work is Gentileschi’s second known representation of the biblical story; an earlier version of Judith’s revenge was begun in 1612, the year after the artist had been raped by an instructor. Although the Judith legend was a popular subject with male artists of the period, the decisiveness and strength of Gentileschi’s Judith, as well as the solidarity of her female accomplice, provides a unique feminine perspective of violence and revenge in the early 17th century.…