When it was built in 1897, the US Library of Congress was the largest and the most expensive library building in the world.

"To read good books is like holding a conversation with the most eminent minds of past centuries and, moreover, a studied conversation in which these authors reveal to us only the best of their thoughts."

René Descartes, Discourse on the Method, 1637

The Secret Catholic Queen

Anne of Denmark, wife of James VI and I of Scotland and England, was a renowned beauty who gave her (famously unfaithful) husband three children. She was also a secret Catholic. Her husband was a great Reformist, aka a Protestant, whose Catholic subjects frequently plotted against. Anne's background was also Protestant; her grandfather had heard Martin Luther speak, and made Denmark and Norway officially Lutheran. Yet despite all this, Queen Anne had decided Catholic sympathies.

While it is unknown if she officially converted -- if she did, it was of course a secret -- Queen Anne had gathered about her an enclave of intimate Roman Catholic bedchamber attendants. Among their number was Jane Drummond who facilitated the queen’s private Catholic worship. This included smuggling priests into court and disguising them as her personal attendants. The Spanish ambassador reported that “Mass was being said by a Scottish priest, who was simply called a ‘servant’ of [the queen’s] lady-in-waiting, Lady Drummond.”

The Largest Ziggurat in the World

Choga Zanbil is one of the few ziggurats that lies outside Mesopotamia. And it is the largest ziggurat left, too. Choga Zanbil stands at the site of the ancient city of Elam, in today’s Khuzestan province in southwest Iran. Choga Zanbil was built around 1250 BCE by the king Untash-Napirisha to honor the great god Inshushinak. But before the ziggurat could be completed, King Untash-Napirisha died and construction of the complex was abandoned. When the Assyrians attacked Choga Zanbil 600 years later, there were still thousands of bricks stacked at the site, waiting for building to resume.

The ziggurat is only a part of the complex. There are also temples, a total of eleven, dedicated to the lesser gods at the site. It is believed that King Untash-Napirisha originally planned twenty-two temples, which some scholars believe was an attempt to create a new religious center, possibly intended to replace Susa. And the ziggurat used to be much taller than it stands today, almost twice as tall in fact, and covered with glazed blue and green terra-cotta. Although it is shorter and less colorful than it once was, Choga Zanbil became Iran's first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

New Discoveries About the Origin of the World

L'Origine du Monde, an 1866 painting by French artist Gustave Courbet, has been controversial since it debuted. To be blunt, it depicts a nude woman's private parts and torso. Even today the painting is considered risque. Facebook recently shut down a French teacher's account when they posted a picture of the painting. Which is why this post does not contain it -- you'll have to go to the linked article to see.

The reason L'Origine du Monde is in the news now? The woman it depicts may have been identified. Or re-discovered, to be more accurate. Constance Queniaux had retired as a ballet dancer at the Paris Opera in 1859. She was known at the time to be the mistress of Turkish-Egyptian diplomat Halil Sherif Pasha. The man who commissioned Courbet's painting. But all this has been known for a long time, it is not news.

But further evidence recently turned up in letters between the writer George Sand and the son of writer Alexandre Dumas. Of all things. You'll have to go to the article to get the specific wording, but basically, Dumas was gently criticizing the painting and in the process, he delicately alluded to Ms. Queniaux's privates. Dumas therefore had seen the painting, and believed for whatever reason that it was of Constance Queniaux.

That's not the only new evidence. When Ms. Queniaux died in 1908, she bequeathed a painting by Courbet of a bouquet of spring flowers and red and white camellias. Camellias were the flowers most closely identified with courtesans. And they would have made sense, if a painting for Ms. Queniaux was commissioned from Courbet by his Ottoman patron, to have painted those specific flowers. It all goes together neatly.

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    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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