Good News in History, April 13

501 years ago today, the final masterpiece from the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael was hung on display at the Vatican one week after the artist’s death.

The culmination of his career, The Transfiguration became one of the most famous oil paintings in the world.

Commissioned by a Catholic cardinal for a French Cathedral, Raphael worked on it until his death on April 6 at age 37—and it stood (13 feet-tall) at the head of his casket.

Unusual for its simultaneous depiction of two separate stories from The Bible (Jesus’s transfiguration and the healing of a possessed boy in the lower part of the painting), it stands as an allegory of transformation. It can now be seen in the Pinacoteca Vatican museum in Vatican City. (1520)

MORE Good News on this Date:

  • George Frideric Händel’s Messiah performed for the first time in Dublin (1742)
  • Roman Catholics in the United Kingdom gained the right to vote and sit in Parliament with the Royal Assent of the Roman Catholic Relief Act (1829)
  • Let’s Stay Together soul singer, Al Green, who now preaches as a reverend in a Memphis church, was born (1946)
  • Sidney Poitier became the first black man to win an Oscar for best actor — for Lilies of the Field— after growing up in poverty in the Bahamas and spending his first months in New York sleeping in a bus station men’s room (1964)
  • The longest doubles table tennis match ended after a 4-day marathon between four Americans—Lance, Phil, and Mark Warren and Bill Weir—that lasted an absurd 101 hours 1 minute 11 seconds (1979)
  • Harold Washington was elected the first African-American mayor in Chicago’s history (1983)
  • Tiger Woods (the first black golfer ever to win a major) became the youngest player ever to win the US Masters Tournament at Augusta, Georgia, leaving his opponents far behind and smashing every record in the book with a margin of 12 strokes (1997)

Also, 54 years ago today, the spy comedy film Casino Royale hit movie theaters.

Loosely based on the first James Bond novel by Ian Fleming, the satire features Peter Sellers and David Niven both playing 007, who is forced out of retirement to investigate the deaths of international spies with a plan that has six agents pretending to be James Bond. Also starring Orson Welles and Woody Allen, the farce, co-directed by John Huston, was a financial success, grossing over $41.7 million, with a musical score by Burt Bacharach that earned him an Oscar nomination for the song “The Look of Love”. (1967)

And, 151 years ago today, The Metropolitan Museum of Art was chartered by the state of New York. The new institution started with nothing, unlike other world-famous museums born from royal collections. Today The Met is the largest museum in the world by area, at 2.2 million square feet, and owns some 1.5 million objects covering 5,000 years of art history.

Temporarily closed down last month amid the COVID-19 pandemic, The Met had planned to celebrate its anniversary with a year-long roster of events. The centerpiece is an immersive, thought-provoking journey through 250 superlative works of art of nearly every type.

This postponed exhibition, Making The Met, is set to be organized around the transformational moments and visionary figures that propelled the evolution of the Museum’s collection, buildings, and ambitions from 1870–2020. Though the space is not physically open this month, many of The Met’s offerings are available on their website, including The Met 360° Project, which allows viewers to virtually explore the iconic spaces of its building at 1000 Fifth Avenue. (1870)

And, on this day 278 years ago, Thomas Jefferson, the American Founding Father, principal author of the Declaration of Independence and third U.S. President, was born. As a scientist, philosopher, farmer, self-taught architect and inventor, he was especially proud of his three years of legislative work to pass the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia.

thomas jefferson

He was conversant in French, Greek, Italian, Latin, and Spanish, and founder of the University of Virginia, unique in his time for being centered around a library rather than a church to reinforce the principle of separation of church and state.

Jefferson doubled the size of the US during his presidency, orchestrating the acquisition of the vast Louisiana Territory from France, and sent out the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the new west. Though considered the greatest US president, he did have his flaws, one being personal money management, another being slavery. As long as he lived, he expressed opposition to slavery, yet he owned hundreds of slaves to run his 5000-acre farm, and freed only a few of them, which Ken Burns highlighted in a documentary. (1743)

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