Artistic Responses to Napoleon: Beethoven, Goya and Goethe

Hope and Change could have been Napoleon’s election campaign themes had he been required to submit his leadership to a vote. But reality set in quickly enough, as is revealed by artistic responses to Napoleonic times: Beethoven in music, Goya in art, and Goethe in literature. Beethoven’s disillusionment is legendary, as is his music inspired by the Emperor. Goya’s politically incendiary depictions of war, considered the tortured psychological visions of an isolated recluse, revealed his struggle to deal with a chaotic and rapidly changing world. German writers from Goethe to Kleist and Adele Schopenhauer wavered between admiration and horror, like Tolstoy, revealing the ambivalence of many writers and artists of the times.

Friday, May 1, 2020 / 7:30-9:30 pm

Lecture and Performance: Beethoven and Napoleon: Extraordinary Music and Mixed Feelings! / Robert Greenberg (Composer, Lecturer, Performer).

Ludwig van Beethoven and Napoleon Bonaparte were kindred spirits. Both children of the Enlightenment, they each rose from humble roots to the very heights of their respective professions thanks to their own genius, ambition, and perseverance. Beethoven, in suicidal despair over his hearing loss, reinvented himself at the age of 32 (1802) based on a Napoleonic ideal: that of a hero, empowered by genius, fighting and rising triumphant against tyranny, fate, and darkness. Then, when Napoleon declared himself Emperor in 1804 Beethoven rejected and despised him for becoming a tyrant himself. Beethoven’s mixed feeling towards Napoleon did not preclude him from writing some extraordinary music in response to Napoleon and the Napoleonic Wars that shredded Europe between 1803 and 1815. Among those works are Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”); the Piano Sonata in E-flat major, Op. 81a (“Les Adieu”); the String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95 (“Serioso”); and Wellington’s Victory. This session will explore the seminal impact of Napoleon on Beethoven the man and his music. Featuring Lino Rivera on piano.

Saturday, May 2, 2020 / 10 am – noon & 1:30 – 4 pm

Ingenious Tyrant: The Representation of Napoleon by Goethe, Kleist, and German Women Writers Elisabeth Krimmer (Professor of German, UC Davis)

Among German writers of the early 19th century, Napoleon was a highly polarizing figure. Some admired his military genius and his legal and administrative reforms, others saw in him a tyrant who enslaved Germany. Heinrich von Kleist, for example, called Napoleon “a despicable human being, the beginning of all evil and the end of all that is good.” In contrast, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who had met Napoleon in 1808, considered him a guarantor of order. While Kleist called for a total war against the French, Goethe encouraged cooperation. This talk traces the various German responses to the French emperor in the works and correspondence of Goethe, Kleist, and a select number of women writers.

Goya’s Dog: Life Among the Black Paintings / Alexander Nemerov (Chair, Art History, Stanford)

Near the end of his life, living outside Madrid in the Quinta del Sordo (Villa of the Deaf Man), Goya painted a number of enigmatic pictures (the “Black Paintings”) directly on the walls of his home. One of these, a painting of a dog looking up into a golden emptiness, is uniquely haunting. Is the dog drowning, or buried, or just looking up. Goya, of course, does not say, or know. He only painted the picture. In this lecture, Alexander Nemerov considers Goya’s Dog in relation to the Romantic era of culture and politics.

Performance (with Projections) / Music in the Time of Goya:  Reflexión y Revolución: Musica en Tiempos de Goya (1746-1828). Embracing the ideals of the French revolution, yet despising the tyranny of the new Emperor Napoleon, Francisco Goya y Luçientes was a man of contrast and conflict. Braggart, court painter, war journalist, and political, as well as religious, satirist, he lived much of his life in the shadow of the Inquisition, yet enjoyed the patronage of a conservative Catholic king. In his paintings he depicted all aspects of late 18th- and early 19th-century Spanish life: the leisure class enjoying a day on the banks of the Rio Manzañeras, a traditional bullfight, a tavern brawl, common people dancing a bolero or fandango, poverty, military might, royal majesty (albeit sometimes as a parody) and, most deliberately, the horrors of war. This multi-media program will trace Goya’s life with projections of his paintings accompanied by the Spanish music of his time. Featured composers will include: Soler, Courselle, Boccherini and Sor. Richard Savino directs the ensemble El Mundo.

 “The World-Spirit On Horseback”: Napoleon and the German Sense of History / Adrian Daub (Professor of Comparative Literature and German Studies, Stanford)

“The world spirit on horseback” — that is how the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel termed it when he saw Napoleon ride by in the streets of Jena in late 1806. His Phenomenology of Spirit, completed that same year, in many ways inaugurated a century-long obsession with history and historicity in Germany, one that seized the human sciences, literature and the arts. This lecture investigates how Hegel, Goethe and others responded to the new and transformed sense of history during and immediately after the Napoleonic era.

Discussion with Presenters,  George Hammond, Moderator (Humanities West)

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Etruscan Italy: Life and Afterlife

The Etruscans were major contributors to some of Western civilization’s greatest achievements in architecture, engineering, and art. A sophisticated and wealthy people living in central Italy between the 8th and 2nd centuries BCE, the Etruscans leave us much of their past through their material culture, namely, tombs, temples, habitation sites, and more. By the 7th century BCE the Etruscans had created a broad network of commercial and artistic trade routes throughout the Mediterranean and were avid importers of Greek and Near Eastern art. Their artistic legacy lives on in their tomb paintings, bronze and clay sculpture, vase paintings and gold jewelry. In fact, since their literature has not survived, it is from their material history that we learn about their fascinating culture.

Friday, February 28, 2020 | 7:30-9:30 pm

Etruscan Life and Afterlife Revisited / Lisa C. Pieraccini (History of Art, Ancient History & Mediterranean Archaeology, UC Berkeley)

The Etruscans were major contributors to some of Western civilization’s greatest achievements in architecture, engineering and art. A sophisticated people living in central Italy in the first millennium BCE, the Etruscans leave us much of their past through archaeological remains, namely, tombs, temples and towns. Their artistic legacy lives on in tomb paintings, sculptures, vase paintings and gold jewelry. Since their literature has not survived, we rely on their material culture to provide insight into their fascinating culture. What new perspectives and insights have broadened our understanding of Etruscan life and afterlife and why do scholars refrain from describing them as ‘mysterious’?

Performance: Etruscans at the Opera:  Highlights from Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia / Introduced by Clifford (Kip) Cranna (Dramaturg Emeritus, San Francisco Opera)

Tradition holds that the rape of the Roman noblewoman Lucretia by the Etruscan Prince Tarquinius sparked the overthrow of the Roman monarchy and the birth of the Republic. Benjamin Britten’s eloquent chamber opera tells the story in music of haunting beauty. The cast of four talented singers features Chantal Grybas as Lucretia, Eugene Brancoveanu as the Etruscan Tarquiniusand Hope Briggs and Christopher Colmenero as the Female and Male Chorus (Narrators), with Kevin Korth, piano.

Saturday, February 29, 2020 | 10 am-noon & 1:30-4 pm

Etruscan Development of Organized Government & City-States / Hilary Becker  (Assistant Professor of Classical Studies in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies, Binghamton a University (SUNY))

This talk traces the political development of independent city-states in Etruria by examining archaeological evidence that provides clues about Etruscan public life. Since we lack secure evidence for identifiable political buildings in Etruria, this makes it more difficult to reconstruct the extent of Etruscan power and the places where it was exercised. However, important evidence for the daily civic life of the Etruscan communities can be gleaned by examining artifacts such as the Pyrgi plaques (three golden plaques inscribed in the Etruscan and Phoenician languages), a legal contract, a weight, and 100 broken cups, all of which provide insight into the nature of Etruscan political power. Studying such artifacts allows us to understand new aspects of Etruscan political ritual and symbolism, as well as to gain insight into what Etruscan city-states could have provided to their citizens in terms of administration, public works, and law.

The Etruscans in the Roman Imagination / Christopher Hallett (Professor of History of Art and Classics, UC Berkeley) By the late 1st century BCE the old Etruscan cities of central Italy had all been absorbed by the Romans, and Etruscan culture lived on only in memory. The language was moribund, inscriptions less and less frequent; Etruscan literature—mostly works on religion—translated into Latin. But at the beginning of the reign of Augustus (ca. 30 BCE) there was a great revival of interest in the Etruscans. What did Romans of Augustus’ generation choose to remember about their great predecessors in central Italy? What did they make of the legends, the art, the buildings that survived?

Quintessentially Etruscan:  Art and Architecture from the Villanovan to the Etrusco-Roman Period / Alexandra A. Carpino (Professor of Art History, Northern Arizona University)

From the 9th century on, Etruscan and immigrant artists and craftsmen created temples, tombs, vases, jewelry and more for individuals eager to communicate statements about their wealth, families, beliefs and traditions. While foreign influences are undeniable, Etruscan art stands out for its sophisticated mastery of terracotta and metal, its vividly expressive style and its memorable content, which includes both local stories and tales from the Hellenic repertoire rarely if ever visualized in the classical world. While assessments of meaning can be challenging, given the absence of their literature and histories, Etruscan art brings to life a remarkable Mediterranean culture.

The Rediscovery of the Etruscans: A Retrospective / Lisa C. Pieraccini (History of Art, Ancient History & Mediterranean Archaeology, University of California Berkeley)

The question here is, where did the Etruscans go? This presentation traces the reception of certain aspects of Etruscan culture over several centuries to the present. Examples of Etruscan reception, including monuments, forgeries, borrowings of imagery, collecting and subjects of literary works illustrate the varying motivations through the ages for appropriating the Etruscans. Dr Pieraccini seeks to illuminate where the Etruscans have gone and suggest where they still might be going.

Discussion with Presenters / George Hammond, Moderator (Humanities West)

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Greenberg Among Friends: Mozart

We worship the great composers as gods, thanks to the magnificent musical gifts they have given us.  But that same worship can put their all-too-human music at arm’s length by rendering it as something divine.  This series will explore the lives, times, personalities and music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms in an effort to understand the living, breathing people behind their music, people who were – and remain – utterly indivisible from their music. In this first in a new Humanities West series, Robert Greenberg lectures and Lino Rivera plays Mozart on piano.

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Mexico’s Artistic Revolution

One of the most dynamic chapters in the modern arts occurred in Mexico from 1910–1960. The 1910–1920 political revolution ushered in an artistic revolution reflecting its values and resulting in the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. A vibrant literary scene was dominated by Nellie Campobello, Juan Rulfo, Octavio Paz, and Carlos Fuentes. Visual arts ranged from the intensely political to the abstract and the surreal. Paintings were monumental in scale. While these new art forms served political goals, they also provided artists with a way to re-conceive modernism as a populist art form. Artists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros expressed themselves on a grand scale, but there were also expressions of intimacy in the portraits of Frida Kahlo and in the pure abstractions of Rufino Tamayo.

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2019 | 7:30 – 9:30 pm

The Politics of Culture in Post-Revolutionary Mexico, 1910-1940 María Eugenia Vázquez Semadeni (Visiting Professor of History, UCLA)

Professor Vazquez will discuss the political and social environment existing during and after the Mexican Revolution of 1910. She will analyze how and why the post-revolutionary government viewed the development of a national identity as critical to achieving the unification and pacification of the country. The government promoted artistic production in order to create a nationalistic, visual and literary discourse to legitimize their rule as well as their political and social goals. In brief, she will demonstrate how post-revolutionary Mexico supported arts and literature to create a national identity among all Mexicans.


Los Cenzontles  “both honors and upends traditional Mexican music, tapping deep roots as it flowers into something completely new, and distinctly American.”   – The New York Times

Before the Revolution, Mexican music was divided between a rural “ranchera” mariachi tradition that began before the arrival of the Spanish and a high-art European tradition that gained currency in the late 19th Century. After the Revolution, Mexican governments encouraged a unified national identity by promoting new, urban, large-scale mariachi music, first on radio and later in films. Los Cenzontles (Nahuatl for “The Mockingbirds”), fronted by the dynamic vocal dueto of Fabiola Trujillo and Lucina Rodriguez, will present traditional, rural mariachi music to accompany dancers, including tunes from their CDs El Chivo and El Toro Viejo, as well as “El Sepulcro de Zapata.”

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2019 | 10 am – noon & 1:30 – 4 pm

A New Nation: Mexican Modern Art in Context / Mark Castro (Independent Art Historian / Curator)

In the wake of Mexico’s violent revolution from 1910-1920, artists played a vital role in the construction of a new national identity. The works of the famous mural painters José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros epitomized this transformation, depicting scenes from Mexico’s past while also imagining its future. These monumental works, though of critical importance, cannot be understood apart from the broader history of Mexican modern art. This lecture offers a glimpse of the complex history of innovation and debate within Mexican art that helped shape the nation and in turn influenced modern art across the globe.

The Novel of the Mexican Revolution. Or the Anti-Novel? / Maarten van Delden (Professor of Latin American Literature, UCLA)

A critic once wondered whether it would be more accurate to speak of the “anti-novel” rather than the “novel” of the Mexican Revolution. Unlike the muralist movement, which offered a celebratory view of the Revolution, the literary works treating the turmoil of the period from 1910 to 1940 were often skeptical and unfavorable in their depictions of the revolutionaries. In this talk, Professor van Delden will trace some of the assessments of the Revolution—ranging from fascination to a kind of horror—developed by authors including Mariano Azuela, Martín Luis Guzmán, Nellie Campobello, Rosario Castellanos, Carlos Fuentes and Elena Garro.

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo: Harnessing Tradition in the Service of Avant-Garde Art / Adriana Zavala (Professor of Art History and Latino Studies, Tufts University)

Professor Zavala will discuss the lives and careers of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Rivera and Kahlo were among revolutionary Mexico City’s most dynamic artists. As a couple, their lives were intimately intertwined in the cultural politics of their day, and as artists they cultivated an intensely creative conversation with one another. Rivera once declared Kahlo’s art the “best proof” of a rebirth of Mexican art, and she, in turn, called Rivera a “marvelous painter and honest revolutionary.” Together they championed Mexican traditions but always with an eye toward creating a resolutely modern Mexican art.

Themes from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema / Audrey Harris (Spanish and Portuguese, UCLA)

This lecture will begin by tracing Mexican film back to 1896. The Mexican public imagination was set on fire by early newsreels depicting President Porfirio Díaz’s state visits throughout the country, beginning Mexico’s lasting love affair with film. Along with Porfirio Díaz, another star of early Mexican cinema was Pancho Villa, who signed an exclusive contract with the Mutual Film Company in 1914 to film his battles in the Revolution. Díaz and Villa’s starring turns prefigured two important themes of Mexican cinema of the Golden Age (1933-1964): the comedia ranchera, which idealized life in the Mexican countryside (during an era of mass rural-to-urban migration), and the filming of the Revolution. The burgeoning cine negro (film noir) genre took a dark look at mid-century life in the big city; and rumbera films contrasted their gritty subject matter with sultry song and dance numbers. The presentation will include clips of classic films by representative directors and cinematographers, including Emilio ‘el Indio’ Fernández, Roberto Gavaldón, Gabriel Figueroa, and Spanish émigré Luis Buñuel. 

Discussion with the Presenters / George Hammond, Moderator (Humanities West)

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