Five Reasons for Catching Up With the ‘Vikings’ TV Series

I’ve kept the promise in my post from last October and have given Vikings a chance. After watching three seasons I’m definitely happy with History’s TV series, and particularly with the passion actor Travis Fimmel puts into the role of Ragnar Lothbrok. Indeed his dedication to the character could sell the historical drama on its own.

So here is my personal (and spoiler-free) list of the reasons why I enjoyed Michael Hirst’s show and why you should ‘join the raid’ too.

Story-world: 5/5. No doubt Norse mythology has a lot to offer, and it’s not all limited to Valhalla. The series treads the fine line between supernatural elements and human relationships without really becoming a fantasy.

Ragnar, Floki and the Viking warriors (Photo credit: Bernard Walsh).

Characters: 4/5. Vikings is not all about the bromance between Ragnar and Athelstan nor the relationship between the king and his former spouse and ‘shieldmaiden’ Lagertha. The core here is the conflict between Christians and pagans, embodied by Floki above all. As the narrative explores a range of main and side roles, it gives plenty of space to strong female characters as well.

Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick).

Plot: 2/5. The series is pretty straightforward, although a couple of times it can genuinely surprise you, especially when it gets rid of some of the key characters (but bear in mind that this is not Game of Thrones).

Blood: 3.5/5. The intrinsic level of violence reaches a few peaks, most notably during rituals and pagan sacrifices (see the blood eagle), but again we are far away from HBO’s adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy novels, as well as from Spartacus.

Athelstan and Ragnar (Photo credit: Jonathan Hession).

Design: 5/5. If you think that this is all about a bunch of guys fighting in the middles of nowhere with basic props, or sailing on a couple of messy ships in a faraway sea, wait for the siege of Paris.

What about the historical accuracy? I personally never mind it. No matter how many consultants are attached to a film or a historical drama: as these remain creative projects, and the creators are free to play with historical events as much as needed to entertain their audiences. I’m not the kind of person who watches Oliver Stone’s Alexander to really learn about the life of the king of Macedon. Just saying.

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Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime

It’s cool, free, and the closest experience to a proper crime scene investigation that you can (legally) get. A few years ago, when I was researching the impact of death in the media for my Ph.D. project, Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime would have been a gold mine, given the fact that it provides really invaluable insights and avoids the morbidity that usually surrounds such topics.

Maggots from the bodies of Ruxton’s victims, Moffat murders: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum.

On display at the Wellcome Collection until 21 June, the exhibition is focused on a set of areas that span forensic medicine by considering the science behind violent crimes. The investigative process tries to shed light on death by leveraging the meticulous procedures on the crime scene, the scientific methods behind the closed doors of laboratories and autopsy rooms, and the evidences showcased in the courtroom.

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death: © Image courtesy of Corinne Botz and Benrubi Gallery.

I have attended Forensics a few weeks ago and I can guarantee that this is a must-see for everyone interested in procedural, people addicted to the legend of the infamous Jack the Ripper or passionate about Weegee’s street photography, and all the die-hard fans of the TV series Bones and the C.S.I. franchise.

Top tip: although it might seem a bit creepy, don’t miss the chance to listen to the sounds of a real autopsy.

‘Inventing Impressionism’: How Dealer Paul Durand-Ruel Created One of the Most Enduring Trends in the Art Market

When you’re an artist who’s desperately trying to make it, no matter in which discipline, there is something more important than having good press coverage, your own space to create, the budget to set up your first show, or even the money to pay the bills. All of these are key success factors for sure, but they come as a second step. Because that ‘something’ that has to be there when you start, is actually ‘someone’. Someone who sees potential in you that maybe not even you see at the beginning of your career.

These people have a unique gift, which is a talent in itself: they can foresee how the qualities of an artist can be translated into a concrete business. Even more importantly, they can project this potential into the future and build a business around it, and they’re ready to invest and commit themselves to this enterprise. If we think about the film industry, these individuals are called producers and financers. If we look instead at the art market, they’re of course the art dealers.

Paul Durand-Ruel in his gallery in Paris, c1910.

Looking at trends in the art market is very interesting, but usually the perspective from which we consider them is focused on the artists, and less on who’s operating behind the scenes. Yet, behind each and every artist there is a merchant that allowed him or her to express their talent and meet their first client or commissioner. Too often these players have been denied their proper recognition. This is why an exhibition like Inventing Impressionism, which I recently saw at The National Gallery, is so enlightening.

As exhibition co-curator Christopher Riopelle points out in this video, Parisian art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel might not be widely known to the general public, but his role in launching the Impressionists on the market was nevertheless crucial. And I would dare say that there would have been no Impressionism without Durand-Ruel (or at least not in the form it successfully came to be known).

Poster for the exhibition 'Inventing Impressionism', on display at The National Gallery until 31 May.

This is a story about passion, obsession and, of course, business. Shunned by the art establishment at the beginning of their careers, painters such as Renoir, Courbet and Monet found a friend, a collector, an ambassador and a merchant in Durand-Ruel, whose effort to establish the new movement on the market was paired by his innovative approach to the profession of the art dealer. He adopted a mix of instinct and methods borrowed from the world of finance: networks of galleries, lectures, solo exhibitions, smart PR campaigns and illustrated art reviews were just a few of the techniques he exploited and that, later on, became a standard in the field.

Inventing Impressionism is on display for a few more weeks. If you want to know how Durand-Ruel reluctantly joined his family’s business, got to the verge of the bankruptcy and finally managed to build an empire while pushing the boundaries of the art market, you have until 31 May. Don’t miss the chance to discover his history and the legendary birth of the most sought-after masterpieces of painting.