Thursday, May 15, 2008

Catharina Hooft and Her Nurse

To the National Gallery in London to see Dutch portraits. Rembrandt and Frans Hals. A strange thing, they couldn’t paint children, they made them look like little adults. I was aware that medieval painters did this, but I was surprised to find that the Dutch masters still hadn’t mastered it. This one’s Frans Hals, Catharina Hooft and Her Nurse, around 1620.

Is the baby's head big enough? I'm not sure. Has the artist has made the head to body ratio that of an adult? But Betsy Wieseman, a curator at the National Gallery, points out that the picture is interesting in another way, that the nurse is not in a subservient role, and is just as much the subject of the painting as the rich child. In 17th century Netherlands, she says, if you encountered someone walking down the street or at market, you might not be able to distinguish from dress or demeanour whether they were servant or master. As portrayed in the film of Girl with the Pearl earring, she said.

The exhibition catalogue says that in the seventeenth-century the rising Dutch merchant class was eager to record its newly-found prosperity by commissioning an unprecedented number of portraits, of which this is a sample. It is now thought of as the golden age of Dutch Baroque portraiture.

Betsy Wieseman mentioned this picture on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week in August 2007.

Image courtesy of (art history)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Muslim students and creationism

Harun Yahya - idiocy
I was dismayed by a Muslim meeting about creationism.

It was at University College Cork, held by the Muslim Cultural Society, on 18th Feb, and was billed as “The Atlas of Creation - a nightmare for Darwinism”. Never was an event more aptly named. The blurb said : “This conference will present the collapse of the theory of evolution because this theory constitutes the basis of all anti-spiritual philosophies. Since Darwinism rejects the fact of creation—and therefore, God's existence—over the last 140 years it has caused many people to abandon their faith or fall into doubt. This talk will focus on scientific refutation of Darwinism through fossil record and palaeontology.”

The extent to which my worst fears were exceeded, exceeded my worst fears.

It was a 4-hour event with two lectures plus Q&A. The audience consisted of 60 Muslim students and me. This must have been a very high proportion of the Muslim students at the college. What dismayed me, was not just that the event took place at all, but that the audience evidently lapped it up. Not a glimmer of dissent or debate.

Harun Yahya was the main speaker and you can get a flavour of his idiocy from his website . Here's a sentence plucked at random: "Harun Yahya is well-known as an author who has written very important works disclosing the imposture of evolutionists, the invalidity of their claims and the dark liaisons between Darwinism and bloody ideologies." 

I got my question in first, hoping that others would come in behind me. But none did so. I said I was disappointed the Muslim Cultural Society had chosen to make anti-science their theme, and asked, why didn’t they focus on the story of Arab and Muslim science being the foundation of European science?

Afterwards they were all very polite about it, thanked me for coming, and tried to convert me!  Jim al Khalili is the man they should be inviting, I suggested to one of the organisers.  I don’t think they will.

Are the Muslim students at UCC unusual?