Guillaume Le Gentil

Guillaume Joseph Hyacinthe Jean-Baptiste Le Gentil de la Galaisière was a French astronomer who discovered several nebulae and was appointed to the Royal Academy of Sciences. He made unsuccessful attempts to observe the 1769 transits of Venus from India. Guillaume Le Gentil was born in Coutances and first intended to enter the church before turning to astronomy, he discovered what are now known as the Messier objects M32, M36 and M38, as well as the nebulosity in M8, he was the first to catalogue the dark nebula sometimes known as Le Gentil 3. He was part of the international collaborative project organized by Mikhail Lomonosov to measure the distance to the Sun, by observing the transit of Venus at different points on the earth. Edmond Halley had suggested the idea, but it required careful measurements from different places on earth, the project was launched with more than a hundred observers dispatched to different parts of the globe, for observing the transit coming up in 1761. A part of the French expedition, Le Gentil set out for a French possession in India.

He set out from Paris in March 1760, reached Isle de France in July. However, the Seven Years' War had broken out between France and Britain in the meantime, hindering further passage east, he managed to gain passage on a frigate, bound for India's Coromandel Coast, he sailed in March 1761 with the intention of observing the transit from Pondicherry. Though the transit was only a few months away, on 6 June, he was assured that they would make it in time; the ship was spent five weeks at sea. By the time it got close to Pondicherry, the captain learned that the British had occupied the city, so the frigate was obliged to return to Isle de France; when 6 June came the sky was clear, but the ship was still at sea, he could not take astronomical observations with the vessel rolling about. Having completed the trip from Paris, he stayed for the next transit of Venus, which would come in another eight years. After spending some time mapping the eastern coast of Madagascar, he decided to record the 1769 transit from Manila in the Philippines.

Encountering hostility from the Spanish authorities there, he headed back to Pondicherry, restored to France by peace treaty in 1763, where he arrived in March 1768. He built a small observatory to view the transit. On the day of the event, 4 June 1769, the sky became overcast, Le Gentil saw nothing; the return trip was first delayed by dysentery, further when his ship was caught in a storm and dropped him off at Île Bourbon, where he had to wait until a Spanish ship took him home. He arrived in Paris in October 1771, having been away for eleven years, only to find that he had been declared dead and been replaced in the Royal Academy of Sciences, his wife had remarried, all his relatives had "enthusiastically plundered his estate". Due to shipwrecks and wartime attacks on ships, none of the letters he had sent to the Academy or to his relatives had reached their destinations. Lengthy litigation and the intervention of the king were required before he recovered his seat in the academy and remarried.

He lived for another 21 years. During the time he spent in India, Le Gentil examined local astronomical traditions and wrote several notes on the topic, he reported that the duration of the lunar eclipse of 30 August 1765 was predicted by a Tamil astronomer, based on the computation of the size and extent of the earth-shadow, was found short by 41 seconds, whereas the charts of Tobias Mayer were long by 68 seconds. Le Gentil is the subject of a play by Canadian playwright Maureen Hunter. Transit of Venus was first produced at the Manitoba Theatre Centre in 1992, it was subsequently made into an opera of the same name with music by Victor Davies, presented by Manitoba Opera in 2007, Opera Carolina in 2010. A detailed account of Le Gentil's expedition was published in a series of four articles by Helen Sawyer Hogg Le Gentil's own account was published in Voyage dans les mers de l'Inde, fait par ordre du Roi, à l'occasion du passage de Vénus, sur le disque du Soleil, le 6 juin 1761 & le 3 du même mois 1769 par M. Le Gentil, de l'académie royale des sciences.

Imprimé par ordre de sa Majesté, two volumes, Paris 1779 and 1781. Works by or about Guillaume Le Gentil in libraries Voyage dans les mers de l'Inde. Tome 1 Tome 2

Martelli Annunciation

The Annunciation is a painting by Fra Filippo Lippi hung in the Martelli Chapel in the left transept of the Basilica di San Lorenzo, Italy. There are several paintings by Lippi of this same name; this piece is about six feet by six feet. There is little known information about the painting's origin, although it is that it was commissioned for use in its current location; the dating is based on the presence of St. Nicholas in the predella panels; the patron for this piece was notably Niccolò Martelli, a rich Florentine citizen who supported the reconstruction of the basilica and other parts of town. The painting is considered the first known example of a squared altarpiece, without any traditional gothic decoration like pinnacles or cusps, in order to better match the simple architecture of the church, by Brunelleschi; the panel is divided in two by a central column. It uses a geometrical perspective to show a complex architecture including several edifices and an open loggia. There are several elements suggesting the influence of Flemish painting, by which Lippi was influenced during his stay in Padua.

These include the glass ampulla in the foreground. In this piece there are three angels with wings. Gabriel is in front of two other angels kneeling, he is holding a lily, symbol of purity. The dove flying above is a symbol of holy spirit; the other two angels are looking off into the distance and not at Mary. The one closest to the audience is looking directly at us, as if acknowledging our presence, they wear woven red socks. Under this red drape they wear light grey outfits tied around their waists by a rope. Mary is wearing a darker grey garment with a light-colored headwear, she is motioning her hand toward him. She might be reaching her hand out to receive the branch from him, though he doesn't appear to be extending it out to her. There is an object to the right of her which appears to be a placeholder for other text, they all have golden halos above their heads with teardrop-like patterns inside. These don't seem to be floating, but rather just placed on their heads somehow, without obeying laws of gravity.

Their robes are all shown with exaggerated drapery and wrinkles, which gives this piece depth and adds movement to the figures. This is a style of painting clothing, popular during this era of the Renaissance; the architecture painted displays a classic Italian Renaissance style. There are two arches on either side of the subjects, we look in through the arches to see the scene. Behind the figures there seems to be a garden of small trees and one, as tall as the buildings surrounding it; this tree is positioned in line with Gabriel, standing directly in front of it. This may have been used to signify his importance and to make him a main subject, separating him from the other angels; the whole courtyard exhibits symmetry in the rows of buildings that are on either side. The cityscape continues on in the background with churches and tall buildings poking above the skyline; the churches can be noticed by their pointed tower tops. A white bird flying behind the angels is wearing a golden halo as well.

It appears to be emitting golden rays from its beak towards Mary. By Mary's feet is a cutout in the flooring just big enough for a vase of water to fit in it; the position of this vase creates a straight vertical line with the palm of Mary's hand. This brings the viewer's attention back to Mary; the buildings and architecture have a great level of realism in this painting, but the figures' faces aren’t realistic. Their bodies show contrapposto, which makes their stance more natural; the three scenes in the predella are similar to those in the Barbadori Altarpiece, from 1438. When Lippi was a member of the Order of Carmelites, it is told by Vasari that he was captured by barbarian pirates during his travels; some did not believe this story. He was getting many commissions from the church and they would lock him in dimly lit rooms to complete them, he escaped, though he always owed a debt to the Carmelite Order. These feelings of having his freedom stripped by the church by locking him away may be portrayed in this paintings by having Gabriel not hand the branch, which according to Old Testament references symbolizes freedom, to Mary, despite her reaching out for it.

"The Early Renaissance in Italy." 2005. In Arts and Humanities through the Eras, edited by Edward I. Bleiberg, James Allan Evans, Kristen Mossler Figg, Philip M. Soergel and John Block Friedman. Vol. 4, 363-376. Detroit: Gale. Fossi and Filippo Lippi. 1989. Filippo Lippi. Florence: Scala. Y.: Riverside, c1989. Holmes, Megan. 1999. Fra Filippo Lippi: The Carmelite Painter. New Haven. Partridge, Loren W. 2009. Art of Renaissance Florence, 1400-1600. Berkeley: University of California Press, c2009