Dying Gaul
Leonardo da Vinci – Vitruvian Man (ca. 1492)
Ink on paper. 34,4 × 25,5 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice.
I don't usually blog about my occupation and readings as a nephrologist. Yet I'll make an exception with the present blog, that deals with a topic I have discussed for years with colleagues from the USA: the concept of 'human races'.

I read an article today in the medical review Kidney International that expresses a feeling shared by many European doctors: discomfort at seeing the word 'race' used with such a light heart in the international medical literature in English.

The average people will not use the term 'race' in Europe as they commonly do in the USA. In the mind of everyone, for obvious historical reasons, the notion of 'human races' is closely linked to racism, slavery, and the Shoah.

In medical literature though, particularly in articles from the United States, the word is still of current use.

Kidney International

I was very pleased then to read an editorial by Eberhard Ritz from Heidelberg and Sarala Naicker from Johannesburg, entitled "Race: A call to change nomenclature", in which the authors provide strong argumentation for making a systematic change in all scientific communications from 'race' to 'ethnicity'. 
             [Kidney Int 2009; 76: 807-808. doi:10.1038/ki.2009.356]

Here are some lines of their article:

In scientific meetings and literature, the term ‘race’ is still widely used to characterize the genetic background of specific cohorts. This term has become completely anachronistic with modern genetic insights and should therefore be abandoned.
It makes no sense to categorize individuals according to skin colour — the density of the skin melanocortin receptor, likely selected to provide protection against skin damage induced by ultraviolet light, bears little relation to the diversity of the genetic codes of respective individuals. Dark skin is seen in populations as diverse as African populations and Australian Aboriginals, the latter of whom have a quite different genetic background.

The use of terms that refer to distinguishing traits such as skin colour, body shape, and hair texture leads the scientific community to magnify differences and ignore similarities between groups of people. Also, these traits are no more accurate in making distinctions between human groups than any other genetically inherited characteristics. We are an extremely homogenous species genetically; all humans today are 99.9% genetically identical. 
The concept of ethnicity is related to the Greek concept of ethnos, which refers to the people of a nation or tribe, and ethnikos, which stands for national. Hence, ethnicity refers to the ethnic quality or affiliation of a group, which is normally characterized in terms of culture.
The International Society of Nephrology is a global professional society of nephrologists and renal research scientists with a multicultural and multiethnic constituency. Its goals include the development of nephrology and prevention of chronic kidney disease through education, training, research, and public awareness in both the developing and the developed world. In view of the above facts, the executive council of our society finds it is appropriate to use the term
‘ethnicity’ rather than ‘race’ in our scientific communications.

Some will think this is nothing but political correctness. I disagree. Words matter. Besides, it certainly is not merely coincidental that the article was written by citizens of Germany and South Africa, two countries where History has shown that 'race' is not an innocent word.

Thirteen at the Table

Leonardo's Last Supper
Il Cenacolo (The Last Supper)
by Leonardo Da Vinci (1495-1498)
Refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie (Milan).

Last may, I went to Italy twice. I spent five days of vacation in Florence, then attended a Conference in Milan. Due to lack of time, I wrote only, and .

I do love Italy, and Italians. There is a lightness, a Joie de Vivre in the air of most Italian towns, you will hardly find anywhere else. Also, Art is everywhere.

In Florence first, then in Milan, I was stunned by frescoes. There's always a difference between looking at a reproduction and seeing an artwork for real. named this specificity of artwork, which is unique, linked to a special place, and part of history.

Il Cenacolo by Ghirlandaio
Il Cenacolo by Ghirlandaio (1448)

Frescoes certainly have an aura, because they are part of the place on which they were painted. Also, frescoes are impressive because they are very large. Characters painted are taller than you sometimes. You may feel as if you were a witness of the scene.

It was the case in particular in — the city with 70 museums — with frescoes by Filipino Lippi and Domenico Ghirlandaio, in and the , famous for the great Last Supper fresco, Ghirlandaio painted in 1488.

Santa Maria Delle Grazie (Milan)
Santa Maria Delle Grazie (Milan)

It was the case also in in Milan, a red brick church and monastery built in the 15th century where Leonardo da Vinci painted his Last Supper, Il Cenacolo, in the refectory of the monastery from 1495 to 1498.

Because it was a long-term work, Leonardo did not paint on wet plaster but on a dry wall. Strictly speaking, the painting is not a fresco then. It is a mural painting. Unfortunately, because of the method used, the work deteriorated quickly and its restoration has been a never-ending task.

If you want to see the painting, you must book in advance, and arrive on time. You will then be admitted among a small group of visitors (around 25 people), one group at a time, every 15 minutes. You must go through a double entrance door first, for sake of constant temperature and humidity. You wait there a few minutes, then you enter the refectory at last.

Il Cenacolo
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci (click on the picture for a larger scale)
Here it is, painted on the wall on the right side of the refectory. Awesome, huge — about nine meters wide — painted with a perspective that continues the walls of the refectory

The characters are approximately life-sized, a little taller. Although the work is damaged,you feel as if you were there, standing at about eight meters from the table. All 13 character are in front of you, on the same side of the table. Unlike Ghirlandaio and others, Leonardo did not paint Judas apart from his colleagues.


Jesus has just announced that one of those sitting at the table will betray him. The twelve apostles react with various degrees of shock, denial, and anger.

Jesus is in the middle of the painting. Precisely in the middle. In fact, a small hole in his right temple was used by Leonardo to help define the vanishing point of the whole perspective of the painting. Around him, on his right and left sides, the apostles are grouped in four groups of three, and each of the three figures in each group reacts its own way.

Bartholomew, James the Younger and Andrew
On the left side,  Bartholomew, James the Younger and Andrew appear stunned by Jesus’ declaration. They look at him with stupefaction. Andrew raises his hands before him in a gesture of horror and incredulity — yet an apostle can hardly be incredulous, can he ?


Peter, Judas and John

In the second group, a knife in hand, Peter is ready to punish the traitor. He leans towards John, the boyish, almost feminine apostle seated beside Jesus: "Ask the Master, John! Who is it?" He pushes Judas forward, who holds a purse with thirty pieces of silver inside.


Thomas, James the Elder and Philip

On Jesus left-hand side, Thomas, James the Elder and Philip are assuring Jesus of their obedience. James the Elder expresses his indignation, and we can almost hear Philip protesting his loyalty: "You know me, Master, you know I did not do that".

Matthew, Jude Thaddeus and Simon

The last group on the right is made up of Matthew, Jude Thaddeus and Simon. They are involved in an animated discussion, and don't look at Jesus. "One of us? How is it possible?" Matthews asks Simon, while Jude Thaddeus seems to be about to clap his hands in a "didn't I tell you?"


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Note: You cannot fully appreciate such a masterpiece in less than 15 minutes. There's so little time, you must hurry, you can hardly have a look at every character. It is frustrating. If you ever go to Santa Maria delle Grazie and see The Last Supper by Leonardo, here is my advice then: book for it twice, half an hour apart. I will do that, the next time I go to Milan.

The Twelve Labours of Hercules

Herakles enters Olympus
Amasis – Heracles entering Olympus
Attic black-figure olpe — ca. 550-530 BC

I have been an affiliate of (Friends of Le Louvre) for years. It is a patron of the arts foundations, which aims at increasing art collections in the in Paris. Also, it gives free access to the Museum, permanent collection and temporary exhibitions as well.

I probably visited the Museum more than a hundred times, I have not yet explored the whole of it though. In particular, I visited the department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities on rare occasions only.

Because I read an article about Attic pottery lately, I decided to follow two in that department of Le Louvre: Hercules trail and Greek pottery trail. More than 2500 years after they were made,   are still fascinating. I especially valued so-called black-figure paintings on Attic vases.

A couple of vases displayed Hercules (Herakles in Greek), one of which is displayed above. After I followed both trails, I enjoyed myself seeking on the Internet twelve Greek ceramic that illustrate the twelve labours of Hercules.

Here they are (click on the pictures for bigger view and more details).

The Nemean Lion
The Nemean Lion
The Lernean Hydra
The Lernean Hydra
The Cerynean Hind
The Cerynean Hind
The Erymanthian Boar
The Erymanthian Boar
The Augean Stables
The Augean Stables
The Stymphalian Birds
The Stymphalian Birds
The Cretan Bull
The Cretan Bull
The Mares of Diomedes
The Mares of Diomedes
The Belt of Hippolyte
The Belt of Hippolyte
The Cattle of Geryon
The Cattle of Geryon
The Apples of the Hesperides
Apples of the Hesperides
Blogging by Numbers #12
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