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Leaver connects art with afterlife

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Associate Professor of Art History Jon Leaver presents his lecture “Progress in Ruins: The Great Exhibition and Victorian Eschatology” in the President’s Dining Room. Leaver spoke of John Martin’s romantic painting series “Belshazzar’s Feast” from 1821. The Monday lecture was part of the weekly lunchtime faculty lecture series./ photo by Emily Bieker

Associate Professor of Art History Jon Leaver presents his lecture “Progress in Ruins: The Great Exhibition and Victorian Eschatology” in the President’s Dining Room. Leaver spoke of John Martin’s romantic painting series “Belshazzar’s Feast” from 1821. The Monday lecture was part of the weekly lunchtime faculty lecture series./ photo by Emily Bieker

Alejandra Aguilar
Assistant Editor

Jon Leaver, associate professor of art history, presented “Progress in Ruins: The Great Exhibition and Victorian Eschatology” where he connected art and architecture to the study of life after death.

Victorian eschatology is part of theological science concerned with individual afterlife during the period where Queen Victoria ruled England from 1837 to 1901.

Individuals believed heaven and hell would be the result of scientific and technological advances during the Victorian Era.

The presentation began with an image of the ruins of the Crystal Palace, which was built in exactly one year in 1851.

The Crystal Palace covered 18 acres of land, was made solely from glass and iron and was home for The Great Exhibition, the first international exhibition of manufactured products.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert sponsored the fair, which became influential for the progress of technology, science and industries.

“This project is part of an ongoing interest I have in worlds fairs and exhibitions,” Leaver said.

Leaver said how many people were against the construction of the Crystal Palace because they had religious concerns regarding the structure.

“The expectations towards this kind of architecture represents progress,” Leaver said.

“The architecture is about British civilization and what the British Industrial Revolution had managed to produce in terms of manufactured objects, technology and scientific development.”

Individuals believed that the Great Exhibition would be viewed as a celebration of material objects and it would lead to a catastrophe.

Other images in the presentation were “Paddington Station” by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and “Morning View of Coalbrookdale” by William Williams, which also created similar religious concerns for individuals.

He connected the paintings to similar concerns individuals had with the Crystal Palace.

Leaver compared “Morning View of Coalbrookdale” and “Coalbrookdale by Night.” The image of Coalbrookdale’s morning view was serene and calm while the one of night emulated hell.

“Coalbrookdale by Night” was a painting after industrialism had taken place.

He also presented various paintings by John Martin, English romantic painter. He was most famous for his apocalyptic paintings “The Fall of Babylon” and its sequel “Belshazzar’s Feast.” The paintings described panic, which related to the panic industrialism was causing.

The paintings caught people’s attention because they related to the fear at the time.

“It’s very interesting to see that this type of eschatology is actually still present today,” Tanner Long, sophomore biology major, said.

“I want to emphasize the connection between industrialism and the apocalypse,” Leaver said.

Progress meant anxiety during the Victorian Era. Some individuals believed technological advances would doom civilization but they were still curious about the industrial advances and continued with it.

“What (Leaver) presented today is similar to the dilemma we face today with our own apocalypse,” Robert Neher, biology professor, said.

“It seems like the artists he presented today, understood that.”

Leaver concluded his lecture by returning to the Crystal Palace, which eventually was destroyed by fire.

There are conspiracies as to why and how it happened.

He also said his presentation was a work in progress and that he will continue to add to his research.

Alejandra Aguilar can be reached at alejandra.aguilar@laverne.edu.

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