The Wallpaper That Killed the Emperor The Wallpaper That Killed the Emperor
Illustration: Marek Raczkowski

The Wallpaper That Killed the Emperor

Szymon Drobniak
time 9 minutes

Few sights are as iconic as the menacing monolith of a woman draped in a long dress, overseeing a nearby busy metropolis that could just as well be the world’s capital. Nobody questions her choice of attire. Her dress’s bright, cyan-tinged greenness has become a brand on its own.

Walking along the ever-buzzing streets of the metropolis, one can find the iconic green silhouette crowned with a wreath of rays on fridge magnets, keychain pendants, posters, and stickers.  

But the modern appearance of the Statue of Liberty, guarding the mouth of the Hudson River as it enters the Upper Bay, is far from how she was designed and imagined in the late nineteenth century. The green—as iconic as it is nowadays—was born from the boring dullness of dark metal plates of which the monument is made, slowly interacting with water and air. Some colors seem to abound in nature, providing hues to rocks, soil, stones, and gravel. In most cases, however, these are the less exciting brown, grey, and beige tones. On the other hand, green, quite similarly to other more brilliant and conspicuous colors like blue, red, or yellow, emerges reluctantly, usually harboring some specific metals’ color-producing powers. 

Greenwashing the Green 

Try to visualize a lush, dense forest pierced by the rays of the morning sun. Few images evoke the feeling of calmness and the sensation of connectivity with nature and the living world. Green is the color most commonly associated with life. The greenery of tree leaves of a tropical forest, with its canopy stretching to the edges of the horizon, is almost archetypically wild and alive. No wonder companies and institutions worldwide


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Florence in the Ascendant Florence in the Ascendant
Donato Creti, "Astronomical Observations: The Moon", 1711, Vatican Pinacoteca; photo: public domain
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Florence in the Ascendant

Tomasz Wiśniewski

The greatest minds of the Italian Renaissance, such as Giordano Bruno and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, were on the side of magic and astrology. The belief in a deep dependence on cosmic forces was the foundation of understanding the world, and on the other hand, it was a source of great controversy. 

The stereotypical image of modern history presents the European Middle Ages as a time of civilizational stagnation, an “irrational” and “dark” epoch, followed by a kind of breakthrough: the Italian Renaissance—a time of renewal initiating true modernity and everything that is characteristic about it including scientific and technical discoveries, the development of the arts and the beginnings of secularism, and the new position of human beings in the cosmos. The Florentines are partly responsible for this stereotype of the epoch—Petrarch wrote about the Middle Ages as a time of “barbarism” that followed the great Greco-Roman culture. This view was taken up and popularized by nineteenth-century historians, especially Jules Michelet. 

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