Saturday, November 16, 2019 9:00 am - 12:55 pm
William Wallace / Washington University in St. Louis
We recently celebrated the 500th anniversary of the unveiling of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling. If any work of art demonstrates artistic genius, it is this well-known masterpiece. No matter how familiar the images, no matter the trials of that crowded space, few visitors have not felt awe standing under this titanic achievement. Like a handful of timeless monuments – the pyramids, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China among them – the Sistine never fails to astonish us.
In many ways the ceiling is a compendium: of Michelangelo's art, of the Renaissance, and of Christian theology is a transcendent work of genius that is never exhausted through looking or describing. In the words of German writer, Johann Goethe: "Until you have seen the Sistine Chapel, you can have no adequate conception of what man is capable of accomplishing."
William Wallace is the Barbara Murphy Bryant Distinguished Professor of Art History at Washington University. He has published “Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting, Architecture”, which was awarded the 1999 Umhoefer Prize for Achievement in the Humanities. Professor Wallace has received numerous awards and fellowships, including stays at the Villa I Tatti (Harvard University’s Center for Renaissance Studies in Florence) and the American Academy in Rome. In 1990 Professor Wallace was invited to the Vatican to confer about the conservation of Michelangelo’s frescos in the Sistine Chapel. He also appeared in a BBC film, “The Private Life of a Masterpiece: Michelangelo’s David.”
Craig Wright / Yale University
When Thomas Edison died on October 18, 1931, the lights went out. In his honor, President Herbert Hoover asked Americans everywhere to turn off their Edison lightbulbs at 10 p.m. on the evening of his funeral. "Thomas Edison—Genius Inventor—Dies at 84" screamed the front-page headline in the New York Daily News. When Nikola Tesla died in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel on January 7, 1943, the lights went out for him alone. Tesla was surrounded, not by a family, but by his pet pigeons (among his eccentricities were Columbophilia and Triphilia—look at his room number). The obituary in The New York Times did not call Tesla a genius. Instead, its final paragraphs implied he was a crackpot: Tesla had conceived of a "death beam" powerful enough to annihilate an army of 1,000,000 soldiers; and he was certain of intergalactic messaging that would allow communication with Mars. The Times obituary implicitly posed this question: Was Tesla a visionary genius or a lunatic?
Edison and Tesla (Edison's one-time employee) were arch-enemies with competing visions as to how to electrically empower America. Their hostility played out in the infamous War of the Currents, which culminated in the electrocution of Topsy the circus elephant in 1903, orchestrated and filmed by Edison, but intentionally using Tesla's controversial AC current. Radio, television, robots, electric cars, self-driving cars, solar heating, the internet, and the cellphone were on the mind of one or the other of these geniuses. Which one ultimately proved to have the more accurate and enduring vision for the world? Who is in the news today and why? Come and find out the answers.
Professor Craig Wright is the Henry L. and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Music at Yale. Professor Wright’s courses include his perennially popular introductory course “Listening to Music,” his selective seminar “Exploring the Nature of Genius” and other specialized courses ranging from ancient Greek music theory to the music of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, Bach and Mozart. He was awarded the International Musicological Society’s Edward J. Dent Medal and the American Musicological Society’s Alfred Einstein Prize and Otto Kinkeldey Award – making him one of the few individuals to hold all three honors.
Julia Greer / California Institute of Technology
The brilliant Polish physicist and chemist Marie Curie lived a life of profound personal courage. Her experiences illuminate a culture of "pure science" now long gone, and they help us understand some of the continuing issues for women scientists. She and her future husband Pierre worked ceaselessly under what turned out to be very dangerous and unwise conditions: they isolated radium and polonium, launched the entirely new science of radioactivity, and basically founded a scientific empire. Curie defended her doctoral dissertation in the spring of 1903 and a few months later she and her husband were awarded the Nobel Prize. After her husband died, she continued her demanding scientific work, going on to win another Nobel Prize for chemical work with radium. She served heroically at the French front during World War I, when Curie and her teen-aged daughter Irene drove an X-ray truck she had outfitted herself, to help doctors assess the brutal wounds of the First World War.
When Curie died in 1934 of a form of anemia brought on by exposure to radiation, she was one of the most famous women in the world. Austere, reserved, and powerful, she became a symbol of female genius, the only female scientist commonly included in children's books and other popular sources. In this lecture, we will explore her astonishing life and work and its implications for women in science today.
Julia Greer is a Professor at California Institute of Technology. She has won numerous teaching and research awards, and has been named one of Fast Company Magazine’s “100 Most Creative People”, and CNN’s “2020 Visionaries”. Along with her scientific, career she also performs as a concert pianist.