Historical Figures® News

Visit the Gallery!

Monday, April 18, 2016

"Diamonds Are Forever" Monolog now on YouTube

Did you miss the fabulous "Diamonds Are Forever" Exhibit? Now you can view George Stuart's accompanying monolog on YouTube. He describes the origins, oddities and odyseys of several priceless diamonds and their famous owners. 
Louis IV wears the French Blue mounted
in the stunning Golden Fleece badge.
In this two-part presentation, Mr. Stuart takes you back 500 years to ancient India and details the history and mystery of many of the world's most important diamonds. 
Part One: The Mirror of Portugal, The Russian Orlov and The Beau Sancy.

Inline image 1 
Part Two: The Regent, The French Blue and The"cursed" Hope.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Shah Jahan: The Blood Behind the Glitter

A history resource article by  © 2014 reprinted with permission 

George Stuart's multimedia sculpture of Shah Jahan
admiring the 56-carat Blue Table Diamond embedded in an
ornamental pin designed for his turban.
 Photographed at
the Museum of Ventura County in Ventura, CA
A few months ago when I visited the "Diamonds Are Forever" exhibit at the Museum of Ventura County in Ventura, California, it was a treat to see George Stuart's latest 1/4 scale sculpture of Shah Jahan, the ruler of the Mughal Empire at its zenith in 1627 CE.  The sculpture, modeled after a miniature painting of the fabulously wealthy Shah serenely contemplating the beauty of the 56 carat Table Diamond,  belies the ruthless nature of this warrior king, however.

Yes, Shah Jahan is the ruler famous for building the breathtaking Taj Mahal as a memorial tribute to his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.  This is the same Shah Jahan who reveled in wearing a special velvet brocade from Ahmadabad (that only he was allowed to use) and a qaba made of gold with blossoms fashioned from jewels  and fastened with pearls.  This Shah also ordered the interior of his palaces to be decorated with mosaics made from pieces of mirror so candlelight in the evening would produce a shimmering, hypnotic effect and ordered the construction of over a thousand gardens. His elegant palaces were embellished with delicate floral motifs embedded with jewels .  But, love was hardly a hallmark of his rise to power, thanks in part to his fierce Mongol and Turkic forefathers and the complex machinations of the Mughal royal court.

Shah Jahan's ancestry was no ordinary birthright. He was descended from the merciless Mongol invader, Ghengis Khan, on his mother's side and on his father's side the infamous Amir Timur, known as Tamberlane to the Western world. Scarcely less notorious for his barbarism than the Mongols, the Turkish ruler had invaded Hindustan in 1398, massacred its inhabitants and brought back riches beyond his wildest dreams: trays of gold and carved ivory and mounds of jewels – rubies, pearls, emeralds, turquoise, topaz and cat's eye, and diamonds said to be so valuable they might have fed the world for a day. - PBS, The Mughal Dynasty

To gain the Mughal throne, Shah Jahan, originally Prince Khurram, third son of the fourth Mughal emperor, Jahangir, and grandson to the legendary emperor Akbar the Great, would need every ounce of his ancestors' fierce resolve as he ordered the deaths of two (possibly three) brothers, two nephews and all remaining male Timurid cousins to remove any possible contenders to the throne by the time of his succession.

This familial bloodshed was a direct result of Shah Jahan's father, Jahangir, not naming an heir before his death and the lack of primogeniture (succession determined by birth order) in Mughal culture.

The first of Shah Jahan's siblings to fall was his eldest brother, Khusrau Mirza.  Prince Khusrau is said to have had an amiable disposition that endeared him to his grandfather, Akbar, and the liberal party within the Mughal court.  As his father, Jahangir's excessive indulgence in wine and opium became increasingly debilitating, powerful factions within the Mughal court favored Khusrau as the successor to his grandfather, Akbar, instead of Khusrau's father, Jahangir.

Mughal Emperor Jahangir receives a prisoner. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
The tension at court became so intense  that Khusrau's mother, the Hindu princess Man Bai (later called Shah Begam), her heart torn between her husband and her son, committed suicide on May 16, 1604.  Meanwhile Jahangir reconciled with the aging Emperor Akbar, who then appointed Jahangir his official successor shortly before Akbar's death on October 17, 1605.  This left Prince Khusrau flapping in the wind so to speak.

Now Emperor Jahangir placed Khusrau "under strict surveillance" (imprisoned) in Agra.  But the young prince escaped and fled to the Punjab with only a small contingent of horsemen.   However, on April 27, 1606, Prince Khusrau was recaptured and, after another abortive escape attempt, was blinded by order of his father.

According to Mughal tradition, the blinding of an heir to the throne symbolically blocked the heir from succession.  Normally, this would have protected him from any future heirs fighting to ascend the throne.  But, Jahangir, feeling remorseful for the punishment, asked his physicians to restore Khusrau's eyesight.  According to court sources, the physicians were only partially successful.

Shah Jahan must have surely remembered the reconciliation of his father, Jahangir, with his grandfather, Akbar.  So, in 1617 when a rebellion broke out in the Deccan region of the empire and Jahangir, urged on by Nur Jahan, ordered Shah Jahan to lead a relief army to the area, far from his father's court, the prince refused unless Jahangir agreed to let Shah Jahan take Khusrau with him, claiming his request was a result of "the tender affection he held for him."
Mughal Emperor Jahangir and Prince Khurram entertained by Nur Jahan.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

"Shah Jahan was worried, and rightly so, that in his absence, at the very least, various factions would consolidate their power behind his back and, at the most, he would lose what he thought to be the just dessert of his labors.  And so he pressed for Khusrau to accompany him to the Deccan, in the hopes of depriving Nur Jahan of his popular brother as a candidate for the throne." - Ellison Banks Findly, Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India

In 1621, Shah Jahan received word that Jahangir was seriously ill.  Perhaps fearing a death bed declaration of succession, Shah Jahan had his eldest brother secretly strangled (or stabbed through the heart depending on the source) on January 26, 1622 and reported to Jahangir that Khusrau had contracted an illness and died.  The Empress Nur Jahan's father subsequently "died suddenly" in January of that year as well.

 Emperor Jahangir received a second letter, though, from a noble in Burhanpur indicating Khusrau's death may have been planned.

"Upon receiving this second letter, Jahangir became furious and wrote back to the nobles in Burhanpur 'a very angry letter...enquiring why they had failed to write to him the truth...' It was then that Jahangir ordered Khusrau's body exhumed and brought to Allahabad and committed Khusrau's surviving family to the care of his still living father-in-law." -  Ellison Banks Findly, Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India

Jahangir then ordered Shah Jahan to return to court and give a personal account of Khusrau's death to the emperor.  (This would indicate that the exhumation did not reveal any obvious wounds - so much for the "stabbed through the heart" source)  Instead, Shah Jahan gathered his forces and prepared to march against his father.

But in March of 1622, Shah Abbas I of Persia besieged and captured Qandahar fort.  This direct challenge to Mughal supremacy required a swift response.  Empress Nur Jahan urged her husband to order Shah Jahan to lead a relief army to Qandahar.

Detail from painting of Shah Abbas I of Persia at court.  Image courtesy of
"...we assume that Nur Jahan intended these orders to place Shah Jahan in a difficult situation;  if he refused to go, he would be denounced as a rebel and crushed, most likely, by the imperial armies; but, if he left the Deccan for Kandahar he would lose the base of power he had spent so long in cultivating.  Moreover, if he was far off in Kandahar fighting and Jahangir died, Shah Jahan might miss his chance for the throne."  -  Ellison Banks Findly, Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India

Rather than incur his father's wrath again, Shah Jahan simply delayed using the monsoon season as an excuse.

Shah Jahan feared that in his absence Nur Jahan would attempt to poison his father against him and convince Jahangir to name Shahryar the heir in his place. It was this fear which forced Shah Jahan to rebel against his father rather than fight against the Persians." - Vidya Dhar Mahajan,  Jahangir. Muslim Rule in India (1970: 5th ed.)

17th century painting of a Mughal couple.  The prince in this painting resembles
Shah Jahan's youngest brother, Prince Shahryar.  Prince Shahryar married the
daughter of the powerful Empress Nur Jahan who hoped to have a grandson that
would eventually rule the Mughal Empire.
 Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

But to test his brother's influence at court,  Shah Jahan petitioned his father for ownership of a "jagir" (lands awarded for military success) assigned to Shahryar, now son-inlaw to Nur Jahan and Jahangir's latest favorite son, and sent a force to procure them. Shahryar sent a force to defend his lands and the two forces fought, resulting in many deaths on both sides.  Jahangir was so enraged that he awarded the disputed lands to Shahryar and appointed Shahryr to command the Qandahar expedition, declaring Shah Jahan "unworthy of all the favours and cherishing I had bestowed on him."

In response, Shah Jahan marched toward Agra, the location of the Mughal treasury.  But his father anticipated this move and had the fort of Agra reinforced then ordered his second eldest son, Parviz (also spelled Parwez or Parvez), and the emperor's trusted and experienced general Mahahbat Khan to lead the imperial armies against Shah Jahan.  The imperial armies routed Shah Jahan's forces at Baluchpur and Shah Jahan was forced to retreat.

Once back in the Deccan, Shah Jahan began to cultivate alliances with the Golconda Sultanate (not under the control of the Mughal) and representatives of the new English factories of the south.  Reinforced and rearmed, Shah Jahan marched northeast and conquered the Mughal province of Orissa.  He then turned his sight on Bengal governed by Ibrahim Khan, Nur Jahan's uncle.  Following a bloodbath known as the battle of Rajmahal, Shah Jahan's forces hunted down and killed Ibrahim Khan on April 10, 1624.

In this detail of a hunting scene from the Jahan Nama, Shah Jahan is depicted firing a matchlock rifle, a weapon widely
used in Mughal warfare.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
When Shah Jahan advanced to take Allahabad, however, the imperial forces under Prince Parviz and Mahabat Khan intercepted him and Shah Jahan fled back to Golconda where he was once more reinforced.  Shah Jahan and his allies laid seige to Burhanpur but they were again thwarted by the forces of Prince Parviz and Mahabat Khan.  Then Shah Jahan fell seriously ill.  Fearing his cause lost, Shah Jahan appealed to his father for forgiveness.

"At the instance [insistence] of Nur Jahan, Jahangir replied in March of 1626 that if Shah Jahan surrendered Rohtas and the fort of Asir and sent his sons Dara Shikoh and Arangzeb to court, he would give him full forgiveness and the province of Balaghat."   Ellison Banks Findly, Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India

Mughal painting of Prince Paraviz with a holy man c. 1610

In October 1626, Jahangir was notified that Prince Parviz had died of delirium tremens (the DTs - according to one source or alcohol poisoning according to another source) in Burhanpur.

The DTs are triggered by the withdrawal of alcohol from a severely addicted alcoholic.  (Before modern medical interventions were developed, the DTs resulted in death in about 35% of the cases.)  Although Prince Parviz was known to be a longtime alcoholic, it would be highly doubtful that the prince would have refused alcohol himself.   He was superior in rank to anyone else at Burhanpur since the prince's co-commander Mahabat Khan had been sent to govern distant Bengal by the constantly scheming Empress Nur Jahan.  So, who would have forcefully withheld alcohol from him?

Alcohol poisoning, on the other hand, would have been more logical, but it would also have been easy to imitate with other available concoctions.

Shah Jahan's "exile" province of Balaghat made Shah Jahan the geographically closest member of the royal family to Prince Parviz.  So, this is why some historians think Shah Jahan could have been instrumental in accelerating this brother's demise as well.

Anyway, this now left only Shah Jahan's youngest brother, Shahryar, as the remaining impediment to the throne.

By now badly enfeebled, Emperor Jahangir died October 28, 1627 while returning to Lahore from Kashmir.  Neither remaining heir apparent were present, but Shah Jahan's father-in-law, Asaf Khan, quickly confined Nur Jahan (his sister) and dispatched a messenger to Shah Jahan.  In the meantime, Asaf Khan got the majority of court nobles in the emperor's camp to proclaim Dawar Bakhsh, the young son of the ill-fated Khusrau, emperor, solely as a place holder for Shah Jahan.

Then Asaf Khan gathered his forces and marched on Prince Shahryar at the palace in Lahore.

Painting of a Mughal commander approaching a fortified city.

"Shahryar used the seven million rupee treasure in Lahore fort to mibilize a large, disheveled, army of hastily assembled mercenaries.  He was easily defeated by Asaf Khan just outside Lahore.  Captured alive in Lahore Fort, Shahryar was made to submit formally to Dawar Bakhsh and then imprisoned and blinded." - John F. Richards, The Mughal Empire

Within twenty days Shah Jahan received the news of his father's death and set out for Agra.

"On the way to Agra, Shah Jahan sent a firman to Asaf Khan, written in his own hand, to do away with all potential contenders to the throne - Shahryar, Dawar Bakhsh and his brother Gahrasp, and Daniyal's two sons [Daniyal was a deceased brother of Jahangir]." - Abraham Eraly, The Mughal Throne: The Saga of India's Great Emperors

So, on the night of February 2, 1628, all of the remaining Mughal princes were seized and put to death.

Sadly, the Shah's own offspring took this lesson to heart and in turn Shah Jahan's second son, Aurangzeb, ended up defeating and ordering the executions of his three brothers as well.

A poignant watercolor of Shah Jahan's son Shah Shua as a child.  Image courtesy
of Wikipedia.

When Shah Jahan was a youth, his grandfather, the famous Akbar the Great, had insisted that Shah Jahan study Turkic language and culture. In the case of the Ottoman Empire that meant Mehmed II's law, passed in 1477 that codified fratricide:  "For the welfare of the state, the one of my sons to whom God grants the sultanate may lawfully put his brothers to death."

Mehmed II only had to slaughter an infant half brother and its mother since the rest of his brothers were already dead by the time he ascended the throne.  But when Mehmed III became Sultan, the law justified his slaughter of 19 brothers by strangulation with a ritual bowstring.

Apparently, Shah Jahan was a very good student.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fabulous Diamonds Are Forever Exhibit
Opens May 3 in Ventura

For the first time ever, replicas of the world's famous historical diamonds will be exhibited with their equally famous owners. Dispersed among the Figures will be the Koh-i-Noor, the Hope, the French Blue, the Orlov, the Beau Sancy and many more. Why Figures and diamonds? 


Over the last four centuries, thousands of powerful rulers, clergy and rich have wielded great political power. George Stuart has spent a lifetime studying these characters, and bringing many to life as Historical Figures. Then he brings their personalities with his entertaining monologs. No one is as dedicated to representing so much of history in such a realistic way. Well, perhaps one other.

While assisting Mr. Stuart with research for a monolog in 2013, we encountered another artist doing great work in visualizing history. Scott Sucher of MuseumDiamonds.com sculpts, but not historical characters. Rather he researches, and then painstakingly cuts precise replicas of history's famous diamonds.
Scott Sucher, "Stone Cutter" Extraordinaire  
The two artists have much in common with each other and other no-nonsense historians. Each are exhaustive researchers and each make every effort to attain historical and visual accuracy. Interestingly, both have extracted resources from resources worldwide. They receive acclaim by their peers and appreciated of the public. Both have seen their work featured in major TV documentaries.
Louis XIV sporting the French Blue diamond.
What is truly amazing is that the works of Stuart and Sucher have crossed paths frequently on the historical timeline. For centuries,famous diamonds have been owned or controlled by the same characters Stuart has so carefully documented. His Historical Figures filled their treasuries, adorned their loved ones, bought, sold, stole, hocked, and gifted diamonds. They paid for wars, bought brides, pleased lovers and too often paid for wars, debts or ransoms.
The recorded history as well as many tales surrounding these events and transactions are mostly true, usually audacious, sometimes earth-shaking and always interesting.

The Exhibit

What Ariane Karakalos, Curator at the Museum of Ventura County is planning for the exhibit is spectacular, yet quite precise. Figures and full life-sized diamond replicas are grouped to tell stories. Most Figures will be adorned with quarter life size diamond replicas cut by Sucher and mounted in jewelry by Stuart. In all, about eight stories will be told.

There is Elizabeth I wearing the Mirror of Portugal diamond. How the Virgin Queen came to own several important diamonds from Portugal's royal jewels is a very interesting story.

How did the French Blue diamond become the Hope diamond, and end up in the Smithsonian? Three French rulers Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI all treasured the diamond, but fate was not kind.

Did a discarded lover of Catherine the Great really try to get back in her good graces by giving her the magnificent Orlov diamond that bears his name? Or, was he really on a secret mission for his empress?

What was Prince Albert's involvement with the splendid Koh-i-Noor diamond, that adorned his Queen Victoria and was displayed at the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace.

The balance of Sucher's magnificent collection, more than 30 historical diamond replicas in all will be exhibited for the first showing ever west of the Mississippi.

Beau Sancy Diamond worn by
Queen Marie de Medici.
If you just can't wait to read about historical diamonds, see Mary Harrsch's Passionate about History blog, GIA article or many dedicated websites and books.

The Presentations 

Where were these stupendous gems mined? How did they make their way to the palaces of Europe from the mines of India, Brazil and South Africa? How did diamond cutting techniques evolve over the centuries? All of these questions and more will be addressed in the exhibit and presentations by the artists and guest speakers.

Please see the Museum website for details.

The Museum of Ventura is planning many special events during the Diamonds are Forever exhibit. Here are those confirmed:

Opening Reception on May 2 from 5pm to 8pm
Speak with artists George Stuart and Scott Sucher

Exhibit Open May 3 through August 24, 2014 from 11am to 5pm, Tuesday through Sunday

French Blue Diamond - intriguing story spans 400 years.

Scott Sucher Presentations on May 3 from 2pm to pm
 Tracking the Hope Diamond, and
 The Evolution of Diamond Cutting

Free First Sunday program by Scott & Karen Sucher on May 4 from 10 am to 12 noon.
Be Rocked and Be Dazzled, 
a hands-on experience for children of all ages.

Free First Friday on June 6 from 5pm to 8pm
Jewels & Jewelia
a social gathering, book signing and jewelry sale.

Free with Museum Admission Wednesday, Curator Ariane Karakalos & Historical Figures Foundation Ex. Dir. Leroy Becker on June 18 at 1pm and Saturday, June 21 at 1pm
Learn about the jewelry enhancements for the Historical Figures

  *George Stuart Monolog on Sunday July 13 at 2pm
     Little Known Stories of Famous Diamonds
Learn how the famous diamonds connected with their famous owners.

*George Fox of Fox Fine Jewelry, presentation on Sunday, July 27 at 2pm

Cuts, Color & Conflict: 

How the Diamond Industry Has Changed

NOTE: Small ticket fees may apply to some events with “*”.

Special Invitations

The general public of all ages will likely find Diamonds are Forever a delightful and educational experience. For aficionados of world history and diamonds, the exhibit promises a special resonance. From amateur rock and gem enthusiasts to precious stone collectors and jewelry trade professionals, the exhibit is truly a once in a lifetime experience.

For More Information

Contact the Museum of Ventura County at (805) 653-0323 or email the Historical Figures Foundation at info@galleryhistoricalfigures.org.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Versailles Model Part 2

Best Rooms of Europe

The entire process of building my Versailles model lasted less than ten years, during which time it was my main obsession. It started in my early teens and ended when I went off to college. My poor academic record (attributable to dyslexia, I realized years later) resulted in my being very much self-educated. The building of the palace model was a learning process of the most basic level. In the beginning I was ignorant of most everything historical, but at the same time, fascinated by everything historical. I pushed ahead, stimulated by my early exposure to the buildings of Europe. I was an immature youth inflamed by the beauty of the Old World, and historical consistency had little place in my model. Whereas the exterior was in conformity with the original, the interior became a playground for my passion for lush surroundings, and I used rooms from other palaces as my inspiration. In the 1930s and 40s there were no do-it-yourself kits to help you make miniature pieces. There were fine hobby stores full of raw materials, but you had to be your own draftsman and carpenter. I used pictures to replicate these furnishings and interiors. Remember that my first view of Versailles had been many years before, and I was now depending on the descriptions and photographs of others. I would never again actually see the actual buildings that so sparked my earliest interest.
My overall scale for the model continued to be one half-inch to the foot, which I scale of standard miniatures. One inch to the foot is now the standard, which would have meant that my model would have been twice the size. A larger scale would have been so much more gratifying, but only had so much space to work in, and was not aware of this standard.
Louis XV Bedroom, the first interior room of Stuart’s model of Versailles.
 The first room finished was Louis XIV’s bedchamber, in the very center of the building. Keep in mind that the Versailles I saw in the 1930s was rather different than it appears today. France was in a depression after World War I, and the palace I saw was rather shabby and the furnishings makeshift. Even so, everything looked splendid to me, and that was the image I sought to replicate. Today the French have spent fortunes bringing the rooms back to their original, stunning detail.
Making furniture with bits of balsa wood and tiny pieces of fabric was painstaking, and the results were very crude, but I forged ahead. So many rooms, so many chairs, tables, draperies and chandeliers!
Finding the appropriate glass drops for the chandeliers, or the door hinges, or mirrors, or some kind of clay to make the gilded wall decorations, was an endless adventure in research and experimentation. Through it all there was Dr. Kasten, guiding, making suggestions, searching out sources for me, and putting me in touch with people who could help move the process forward. As I’ve stated before, Dr. Kasten was my muse, and an absolute saint. None of this project could have taken place without her constant participation. In fact, I owe it to her for having reinforced whatever creative awakening and artistic applications I have employed throughout my life.
Music Room in  Sanssouci  Palace at Potsdam.
The exquisite rococo music room in Frederick the Great’s Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam was a must for me to include. The wall decorations for this room were of special concern, and they were complicated raised stucco and wood carving, gilded with gold leaf. I labored over these moldings until I was as close as possible to the original. To my youthful eyes, the completed effect was marginally successful.
The paintings in the rooms were an eclectic assortment. I couldn’t remember or find images of each and every painting in all the rooms, but what I could see in photographs I copied in oils. I enjoyed painting in miniature, and by the end of my time with the model, I had developed a modest ability for it. This part of the project was great fun.
Red Room in Windsor Castle.
My efforts to reproduce the endless sculptures that populated Versailles inside and out were less successful. I ended up using a modeling clay developed by the Marblex company. I continued to use this product until they discontinued it in the 1950s.
When dried and varnished (to protect the water-based clay from damp), the little figures were dark brown or black, not the pale colors of the marbles I was
copying. Some of the interior sculptures I painted white to match the rest of the decorations. The flooring of the model was actually slabs of marble from a monument maker near by. They would cut the slices for me to fit the rooms. The famous “marble court” in the center of the palace was a single sheet of white marble, as can be seen in the photos.
Because the whole structure was built directly on the ground, the lower or ground floor was too low to actually see inside the windows, so we placed blinds inside those windows and only finished and furnished the second floor. One could kneel down and peer into the windows at that level.
Inspired by a room in the Doge’s Palace in Venice.
When we finished as much as we could, we lighted the rooms of both floors with Christmas tree bulbs, hidden in the ceilings. At night, it was quite impressive, as you can see in the photos. Only much later did I find tiny “rice grain” light bulbs. What an effect it would have been to use those and actually have the chandeliers lighted!
French Boudoir in Versailles.
 Looking back at the photos of this project now, as I have not done for many years, I see how crude, clumsy, and inaccurate it all was. At first glance it was rather impressive, and certainly it was unlike the pastimes of most American teenage boys. It was a demonstration of focus and energy that would have been remarkable had I devoted it to my academic education. My life would have been entirely different!
The Versailles project led to painting in oils, and eventually to the Historical Figures, with a strong period of time in the theatre. My firm will and my total lack of influence from society brought mixed results, not all of which were negative. I’ve spent a good deal of time pondering 
G. S. Stuart

EDITORS'S NOTE - Versailles Model Part 3 will present structural details, furnishings and the "people."

Friday, December 06, 2013

Stuart’s Versailles Palace
Part 1:  Overview of the Project

My love affair with great architecture did not begin with the Versailles Palace but rather in Bavaria southwest of Munich. There at about the age of ten, I vividly recall my first visit to Neuschwanstein. I was thunderstruck. It personified a boy’s mental image of a castle. Later Walt Disney made Neuschwanstein the prototype for his Disneyland castle.
Color image, full view of Neuschwanstein castle.
Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany
The setting of Neuschwanstein was perfect; everything about this building was pure heaven. I knew nothing of the history surrounding it and it didn't matter, it was love at first sight. For the next eight decades this castle has held a grip on my aesthetic spirit. However, my architectural spirit was won over by another, more historically famous royal site in France.
I believe it was in the early 1930s that I saw, for the first time, the Palace of Versailles, which stands about 12 miles west of Paris.  The palace had been the seat of Bourbon rule for hundreds of years, and essentially the crossroads of European royalty, politics, art, science and economics. 
Thanks to my early mentors, I had a budding appreciation of the power and grandeur of Versailles. I was hooked, fascinated by the buildings, their inhabitants and activities. 
I have always been singularly blessed with the support and encouragement of a number of remarkable people. My maternal grandmother was an intellectual, very political and widely read. She stimulated my interest in history and politics, and she encouraged my study of painting. During her lifetime, she had supported and promoted a handful of painters. She had no interest in architecture as far as I can recall, but she did introduce me to fine literature at a very early age.
A Village to Make a Castle
All my thoughts were on building Versailles in miniature. It will sound odd to contemporary young American men, with their obsession with cars, sports and girls, to hear of my ecstasies over architecture. But there it was.
My parents had no interest in my activities, other than to insist on my focusing on school work. Of course this was a completely lost cause and the source of much despair. For the next fifteen years, my school and social life meant virtually nothing to me. 
b/w image head-and-shoulders of Dr. Irma Kasten
Dr. Irma Kasten, muse, patron.
Luckily I had wonderful supporters, including my grandmother’s companion, Dr. Irma Kasten.  I refer to her as my “muse,” commonly understood to be someone who encourages and inspires creative activity.  Dr. Kasten  saw my fascination with building and sculp-ture, and encouraged these leanings by seeing to it that I had all the resources I needed to pursue my ambitions. She taught me the metric system so I could read the measurements and helped me choose a scale for the structure. I hadn't a clue about any of these processes, and was always an abysmal math student, so her guidance was crucial and has stood me in good stead ever since.
I should add, that during this period I also had an intense fling with oil painting, attending art school and working with a local “master.” I was also captivated by theater and was drawn to production and performance throughout the period of high school and college. All these artistic disciplines helped in the Versailles project.
Construction Begins
Although my family’s property was no park, I was given a comfortable space in the garden in which to express my boyish desires to build. As an untrained architect, I knew nothing about the construction of anything, but ignorance is bliss!
First, I needed to acquire the plans of the Versailles Palace. It was Dr. Kasten who discovered a French source for the architectural plans of the Palace of Versailles.
Early on I realized I had to trim my expectations considerably. The Palace of Versailles is an enormous structure with vast wings and multiple stories covering more than one-quarter square mile of land. We selected the scale of one-half inch to one foot as our standard, but even then the footprint would have been way beyond the garden area allotted to me. 
The actual Palace of Versailles went through many expansions, alterations and re-models between the 1660s and 1700. I selected the period of the 1670s for my model, for to me it was the most exquisite form the building had taken. The grander, more imposing additions came later, but they never completely eclipsed the beauty of the 1670s building.
Color painting of Versailles in the 1670s.
Painting of Palace in 1675
Architectural drawing, floor plan of Chateau Versailles circa 1670s.
Actual plan for early Chateau at Versailles circa 1676-80
Concrete Solution
No pasteboard and paperclip castle this time--we were serious!  “Our” model was to be constructed of concrete, wood, and some marble. Mixing and casting concrete was my first big challenge. My hands rapidly split and bled from working the caustic mixture. Once more, I was saved from immediate failure by a blessed old gentleman who lived on a tiny property next to our garden wall. His name was Mr. Cox (I never knew his first name in all the years we were acquainted). 
b/w image of Mr. Cox, concrete advisor  to George Stuart
Mr. Cox offered concrete suggestions.

He was a retired concrete builder. He had been involved in building some of the great dams in the west. He noticed my struggles with trying to mix cement, build forms and put things together. He saw my misery when I showed him my poor hands that were rapidly being destroyed by exposure to wet cement. Mr. Cox told me that I should always wear gloves and never handle the wet cement bare-handed. When I asked for a cure for my ragged hands, he said, “I know you’ll never do it, but it works right off, and will fix you fine.” I insisted on knowing, and he said, “Well, you have to do it thoroughly, and you won’t like it.” “Tell me, please,” I insisted. “What you do is piss on ‘em” he revealed. “I WHAT!” I sputtered. “I said you wouldn’t like it, but it’ll do the trick,” he said. As soon as I was alone, I did as he advised, and within a day or two my hands were healing over, and a week later, wearing gloves this time, I was back working the concrete. He knew the chemistry – acidic urine neutralizes the caustic lime in concrete. Indeed! So it always pay attention to those with experience! Mr. Cox explained the fundamentals of pouring concrete into forms and constructing the forms so they don’t collapse under the weight. It didn’t take me long to learn the basics, and pretty soon the walls of the palace began to rise.
b/w image of raw concrete walls of 1/48 scale of Versailles
Raw concrete walls of our model. Things were moving forward.
Raising the Roof, Moldings, Statuary . . .
Once the concrete shell of the model was complete, we constructed the mansard roof with pine bracing and a skin of thin mahogany plywood. My father, who was in the aircraft business, supplied the plywood. World War II was on, and the aircraft industry was moving rapidly away from wood-sheathed fuselages to aluminum-covered aircraft, so I had an unlimited supply of plywood.
b/w image of Versailles model with mansard roofs in place.
Basic"mansard" roofs are up and some of the exterior decorations have been put in place. Much more has to be done, however.
One of my greatest challenges with the model was how to produce and attach the many intricate exterior moldings, urns, and statuary. We settled on hard dental plaster, which we planned to paint white to allay water damage, or so we hoped. These architectural details had to be cast in this plaster, so Dr. Kasten found a mold maker. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a mold maker! Using the rubber molds he made for us, we cast all the door and window frames and roof decorations. This was a tedious and never-ending process, as you might imagine.
Functional Windows and Doors
In addition to all those details, we were faced with glazing all the doors and windows. I was insistent that we use real glass, and that all doors and windows open and close. Once again Dr. Kasten came to the rescue by finding an architectural firm that would make them for us. This was another project that took many weeks, and I struggled to install the finished products.
b/w image of Versailles 1/48 Palace Model with glazed windows, doors, roof decor, railings.
View of our progress with glazed windows and doors. Also, much of the fancy roof decorations, railings and so on, are appearing.
And a Million More Details
Anyone who has overseen the building of their home or other buildings can easily understand that there are a million and one things that go into construction besides what I’ve discussed here. Of course, our palace model was not to be plumbed, thank goodness, but it did have to be lighted from within. During the first years, while I was laboring over interiors, we would occasionally light small birthday candles inside the model, to see the effect. Later, when the interiors were finished, we wired it with Christmas tree lights. Miniature light bulbs were just being developed, too late for our palace, what a pity!
b/w image Versailles 1/48 model basic exterior with vehicles and people.
This view shows that most of the basic exterior construction has been completed. It seemed appropriate to "populate" the building, so vehicles and people were added to make the palace appear alive.
b/w image of Versailles Palace forecourt with grills, gate and guard blocks.
Notice that the forecourt with grills and gate, also the "guard" blocks with massive sculpture were also in place.
b/w image of Builder G.S. Stuart accesses rooms through removable roof.
In this view you see the builder is accessing one of the upper rooms. 
Our only method to get at the interiors was to make the roof removable. Then we could lift out the ceilings and gain access to the rooms below. I was already frustrated by the one half inch to the foot scale and wishing we had gone at least  to one inch to the foot. Bigger would have been better . .  and only cost a few thousand more to construct!
My enthusiasm overtook my undeveloped sense of precision, accuracy, and historical correctness. Versailles of the 1670s did not yet have the famous Hall of Mirrors, but I included Louis XIV’s bedroom, and oeil de boeuf (the bull’s eye window room) and attempted the Hercules Salon.
color image Versailles room model replicated by G. S. Stuart
At 19, my youthful impression of this famous room. Since then the French government has spent millions restoring it to its original 17th century grandeur.
Some of the other interior rooms were modeled on rooms in other palaces that had caught my fancy over the years. One came from San Souci in Potsdam, another from Windsor Castle, one from a grand English manor house, and one from the Doge’s Palace in Venice.
A Door Closes, Another Opens
Leaving my home and my still-unfinished model of Versailles to go off to college was a difficult transition, to be sure. During my first year away at college I was still making statuary. 
b/w image of replica of Versailles gate block sculptures by G. S. Stuart
This is an attempt at the statuary that topped the "guard blocks" at either side of the
forecourt grill. This is our "best effort" at allegory from descriptions and poor photographs.
However, by the time of my sophomore year the palace was behind me. It had been covered to protect it from the elements, but work on it had stopped for good. By the 1950s, I had moved to the east coast to finish my studies, and I intended to enter the Foreign Service. Theater, portrait painting, and the palace model were apparently behind me forever.  
Reports from home indicated that the palace had not weathered well and was rapidly falling into decay. By the 1970s my parents had moved to another home. My father had tried to have the palace moved with them, but it crumpled into ruin instantly. He did manage to remove all the interior walls and furnishings and store them for me.
b/w image of Versailles model showing weathering and deterioration
The weather quickly took its toll on the palace and occupants. 
It was always a race to keep up with repairs. Water leakage and rodents made quick work of the interiors until they were removed to save them. The exterior walls suffered also. Ah well, dust to dust! 
Years later, after moving to Santa Barbara and then to Ojai, my wife and I opened a small gallery in our home for the Historical Figures. It was then that the remains of the palace were brought to Ojai and put in display cases in our gallery.
I have never lost my passionate love of Versailles, but the overwhelming obsession with my building architectural models has faded. Given enough funding, however, Versailles just might return, and result in a fabulous folly in my present garden.

color image of signature of G. S. Stuart.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Double Dowagers or The Emperor Has Two Mothers

portrait of Chinese Emperor Hsein-feng (Xianfeng)
Emperor Hsien-feng (Xianfeng)
In 1861 Imperial China was in chaos. Foreign armies were invading. The Manchu Emperor Hsien-Feng (Xianfeng) was dying. He and the court had fled north to refuge in Manchuria. His empress Tzu An had born him no sons. If the Emperor died without an heir, the Ch’ing (Qing)* dynasty would fly apart. In the winter of 1862 the Emperor died.

Concubine Yehenara portrait by George Stuart
Concubine Yehenara, later Tsu Hsi (Cixi) 

 Back in 1856 one of his second wives, or concubines, had born him a son! She is known to history as Yehenara. At the last moment, Yehenara, seeing the significance of her situation, forced the dying Emperor to recognize her son as the heir. He did so with his dying breath, and he announced Yehenara as regent for the boy. 

Portrait of Prince Kung by George Stuart
Prince Kung (Gong)
However, there was a group of reactionary warmongers, including the dead Emperor’s younger brother Prince Chun (Yixuan), who were preparing to seize the baby emperor so they could control the government. They also planned to do away with Yehenara!

Their plan was foiled when Prince Kung (Gong), the middle brother, and the smartest of all the line of imperial brothers, arranged to hurry the widow and little Tung Chih back to Beijing. The funeral procession bearing the body of the Emperor would shortly follow. Time was of the essence. Kung quickly gathered support for Tung Chih and his mother Yehenara.

Portrait of Empress Tzu An by George Stuart
Empress Tzu An (Ci'an )
The imperial council was pressured into declaring Yehenara and Tzu An Co-Dowager Empresses as well as co-mothers of five-year-old Tung Chih! They had gained control of the imperial seals before leaving Manchuria, so the coup d’├ętat had an air of legality.  

When the reactionaries (referred to as the “Iron Hats”) arrived for the funeral, they were confronted by a fait accompli. At the direction of the wily Prince Kung, the Dowagers issued a decree condemning the Iron Hats for attempting treason by going against the will of the dead emperor. With exception of the weak-willed Prince Chun (Yixuan), the ringleaders were all executed within hours of the decree accusing them. Prince Chun was easily bullied into complete cooperation with the Dowagers and Prince Kung. The Dowagers, by the way, were also now joint regents of their “mutual” son Tung Chih. 

Portrait of Jung-Lu aka.Ronglu by GeorgeStuart
Baron Jung-Lu (Ronglu)
Prince Kung was to remain the principal manipulator of the central government for many years: he had the support of General Jung Lu (Ronglu), a close friend of Yehenara, now Tzu Hsi (Cixi). Furthermore, he had the assistance of the insidious Li Hung Chang (Li Hongzhang). Li was to become the major figure pulling the strings behind the scenes of the Manchu court for decades to come. The foreigners loved him, by the way!

Portrait of Li Hung-Chang aka.Li Hongzhang by George Stuart
Li Hung-Chang (Li Hongzhang)
The idea that the former concubine Tzu Hsi was controlling the affairs of state is, of course, a myth created by British and American journalists. She sold many more newspapers as a monster. We now know that she and her sister Dowager Tzu An were little more than pawns in the vast scheme of things.

While it is true that Tzu Hsi and Tzu An managed to get along most of the time, there is an understanding that there were many contentious moments over the young emperor Tung Chih. One rumor claims that Tzu Hsi played the disciplinarian and occasional punisher, and little Tung Chih would run to his “other” mother Tzu An, who would comfort him and spoil him with treats. Even this lacks credibility, because Prince Kung was the primary dictator of the Emperor’s education and upbringing, not the Dowagers.
Portrait of Tung Chih Emperior aka.Tongzhi Emperor by George Stuart
Tung Chih  (Tongzhi) Emperor

As Tung Chih grew to his teenage years, he became a willful degenerate just like his father. The Dowagers had to step aside when Tung Chih became sixteen. However, they did help select a wife for him. In 1875, his weakened physique succumbed to disease and he died – apparently childless.

Tzu Hsi was always the more assertive of the two Empress Dowagers. With the death of her emperor son, she now promoted the succession of her own nephew. Prince Kung and the council agreed to this, and the two dowagers were again Co-Dowagers, Co-Mothers, and Co-Regents. 

The nephew was just three years old. Tzu Hsi thus embarked on her second regency. Tzu An was likely bullied into cooperation, as she usually went along with Prince Kung and Tzu Hsi. 

Portrait of Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi aka. Cixi by George Stuart
Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi (Cixi)
It should be pointed out that at the beginning of their joint rule, the Dowagers were given equally lavish apartments in all royal residences, equal servants, honors and incomes to go with it! Tzu An was never belittled or pushed aside. Regardless of how they felt about each other, they always manifested an air of mutual respect and courtesy. When Tzu An died in 1881, she was accorded all the honors due her – and Tzu Hsi wept, suitably.

All through the 1870s, 80s and 90s, the Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi gradually became the more assertive of the two women. She was pushed forward by Prince Kung, and later by Li Hung Chang. The public came to see her as their ruler, even though she was acting as regent for the actual ruler, the Emperor. 

Portrait of Kuang Hsu aka. Guangxu Emperor bu George Stuart
Kuang Hsu aka. Guangxu Emperor
When her nephew came of age as the Kuang Hsu aka, Guangxu Emperor, Tzu Hsi continued to be the central figure at the Manchu court. 

The real controllers of China’s destiny in this era were the European Powers. Li Hung Chang was the negotiator-in-chief between Beijing and the foreigners. While he was telling the Empress Dowager of his undying loyalty to the Manchus, he was allowing the foreign press to believe the very worst of her. 

 PuYi aka. Xuantong Emperor
By the time of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, Tzu Hsi was perceived an absolute monster by the western press. Although the perception was false, she indeed did loath the Europeans and Christians for understandable reason. The only exposure she had to westerners was of foreign armies raping, pillaging and destroying everything they could get their hands on in China. What else could she think?

By the time of her death in 1908, Tzu Hsi had named the child Puyi, son of Prince Chun as Xuantong Emperor, and the last emperor of imperial China.

At the end,  public opinion in the west had changed somewhat. The Chinese subjects of the Manchus were calling her “Old Buddha,” and looked upon her as their ruler. During the last decade of her life, Tzu Hsi  had done her utmost to change the miserable image she had been given by western reporters around 1900. 

Nevertheless, it is only in our time that the truth of her life and times has been told with any accuracy. The real story is every bit as thrilling and dramatic as the sordid tales of yesteryear. The Dowager Empress of China has become an icon for all time to come.

             - G. S. Stuart

For more information see the Chinese Group on our website - HISTORICAL FIGURES FOUNDATION