A Gesamtkunstwerk (German: [gəˈzamtˌkʊnstvɛʁk], translated as "total work of art",[1] "ideal work of art",[2] "universal artwork",[3] "synthesis of the arts", "comprehensive artwork", "all-embracing art form" or "total artwork") is a work of art that makes use of all or many art forms or strives to do so. The term is a German word which has come to be accepted in English as a term in aesthetics.

The term was first used by the German writer and philosopher K. F. E. Trahndorff in an essay in 1827.[4] The German opera composer Richard Wagner used the term in two 1849 essays, and the word has become particularly associated with his aesthetic ideals.[5] It is unclear whether Wagner knew of Trahndorff's essay.

In the twentieth century, some writers applied the term to some forms of architecture, while others have applied it to film and mass media.[6]

Tassel House stairway
Stairway of the Hôtel Tassel, an early example of Gesamtkunstwerk

Before Wagner

Some elements of opera, seeking a more "classical" formula, had begun at the end of the 18th century. After the lengthy domination of opera seria, and the da capo aria, a movement began to advance the librettist and the composer in relation to the singers, and to return the drama to a more intense and less moralistic focus. This movement, "reform opera" is primarily associated with Christoph Willibald Gluck and Ranieri de' Calzabigi. The themes in the operas produced by Gluck's collaborations with Calzabigi continue throughout the operas of Carl Maria von Weber, until Wagner, rejecting both the Italian bel canto tradition and the French "spectacle opera", developed his union of music, drama, theatrical effects, and occasionally dance.

However these trends had developed fortuitously, rather than in response to a specific philosophy of art; Wagner, who recognised the reforms of Gluck and admired the works of Weber, wished to consolidate his view, originally, as part of his radical social and political views of the late 1840s. Previous to Wagner, others who had expressed ideas about union of the arts, which was a familiar topic among German Romantics, as evidenced by the title of Trahndorff's essay, in which the word first occurred, "Aesthetics, or Theory of Philosophy of Art". Others who wrote on syntheses of the arts included Gottfried Lessing, Ludwig Tieck and Novalis.[7] Carl Maria von Weber's enthusiastic review of E.T.A. Hoffmann's opera Undine (1816) admired it as 'an art work complete in itself, in which partial contributions of the related and collaborating arts blend together, disappear, and, in disappearing, somehow form a new world'.[8]

Wagner's ideas

Wagner used the exact term 'Gesamtkunstwerk' (which he spelt 'Gesammtkunstwerk') on only two occasions, in his 1849 essays "Art and Revolution" and "The Artwork of the Future",[9] where he speaks of his ideal of unifying all works of art via the theatre.[10] He also used in these essays many similar expressions such as 'the consummate artwork of the future' and 'the integrated drama', and frequently referred to 'Gesamtkunst'.[11] Such a work of art was to be the clearest and most profound expression of folk legend.

Wagner felt that the Greek tragedies of Aeschylus had been the finest (though still flawed) examples so far of total artistic synthesis, but that this synthesis had subsequently been corrupted by Euripides. Wagner felt that during the rest of human history up to the present day (i.e. 1850) the arts had drifted further and further apart, resulting in such "monstrosities" as Grand Opera. Wagner felt that such works celebrated bravura singing, sensational stage effects, and meaningless plots. In "Art and Revolution" Wagner applies the term 'Gesamtkunstwerk' in the context of Greek tragedy. In "The Art-Work of the Future" he uses it to apply to his own, as yet unrealised, ideal.

In his extensive book Opera and Drama (completed in 1851) he takes these ideas further, describing in detail his idea of the union of opera and drama (later called music drama despite Wagner's disapproval of the term), in which the individual arts are subordinated to a common purpose.

Wagner's own opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, and specifically its components Das Rheingold and Die Walküre represent perhaps the closest he, or anyone else, came to realising these ideals;[12] he was himself after this stage to relax his own strictures and write more 'operatically'.[13]

In architecture

Stoclet Palace Hoffmann Brussels 1911
Stoclet Palace, 1905-1911

Some architectural writers have used the term Gesamtkunstwerk to signify circumstances where an architect is responsible for the design and/or overseeing of the building's totality: shell, accessories, furnishings, and landscape.[14] It is difficult to make a claim for when the notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk was first employed from the point of view of a building and its contents (although the term itself was not used in this context until the late 20th century); already during the Renaissance, artists such as Michelangelo saw no strict division in their tasks between architecture, interior design, sculpture, painting and even engineering. It has been argued by historian Robert L. Delevoy that Art Nouveau represented an essentially decorative trend that thus lent itself to the idea of the architectural Gesamtkunstwerk. But it is equally possible it was born from social theories that arose out of a fear of the rise of industrialism.[15]

However, evidence of complete interiors that typify the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk can be seen some time before the 1890s. There was an increasing trend amongst architects in the 18th and 19th centuries to control every facet of an architectural commission. As well as being responsible for the structure they tried to extend their role to include designing (or at least vetting) every aspect of the interior work as well. This included not only the interior architectural features but was extended to the design[16] of furniture, carpets, wallpaper, fabrics, light fixtures and door-handles. Robert Adam and Augustus Welby Pugin are examples of this trend to create an overall harmonising effect which in some cases might even extend to the choice or design of table silver, china and glassware.

Vienna Lines houses by Otto Wagner are great example of Gesamtkunstwerk with everything designed by the architect and in same style.[17] Stoclet Palace is another great example, even fashion of inhabitants was considered there in order to create complete harmony and not clash with interior.[18]

See also


  1. ^ Millington (n.d.), Warrack (n.d.)
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Gesamtkunstwerk
  3. ^ ArtLex Art Dictionary Archived 2016-08-14 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Trahndorff (1827), Ästhetik oder Lehre von Weltanschauung und Kunst
  5. ^ "Richard Wagner's Concept of the 'Gesamtkunstwerk'". Retrieved 2016-05-08.
  6. ^ For discussions of architecture as Gesamtkunstwerk, see the relevant section of this article. For discussions of film and mass media, see for instance Matthew Wilson Smith, The Total Work of Art: From Bayreuth to Cyberspace. New York: Routledge, 2007; Carolyn Birdsall, Nazi Soundscapes: Sound, Technology, and Urban Space in Germany, 1933–1945. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2012. pp. 141–72; and Jeongwon Joe, "Introduction: Why Wagner and Cinema? Tolkien Was Wrong." In Wagner and Cinema, edited by Jeongwon Joe and Sander L. Gilman, 1–26. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2010.
  7. ^ Millington (n.d.)
  8. ^ Strunk, Oliver (1965). Source Readings in Music History: The Romantic Era. New York. p. 63. Archived from the original on 2005-05-02. Retrieved 2008-05-10.
  9. ^ Wagner (1993), p. 35, where the word is translated as 'great united work'; p. 52 where it is translated as 'great unitarian Art-work'; and p. 88 (twice) where it is translated as 'great united Art-work'.
  10. ^ Warrack (n.d.), Gesamtkunstwerk is incorrect in saying that Wagner used the word only in "The Artwork of the Future"
  11. ^ Millington (n.d.)
  12. ^ Grey (2008) 86
  13. ^ Millington (1992) 294–95
  14. ^ Michael A. Vidalis, "Gesamtkunstwerk – 'total work of art'", Architectural Review, June 30, 2010.
  15. ^ Robert L. Delevoy, 'Art Nouveau', in Encyclopaedia of Modern Architecture. Thames & Hudson, 1977.
  16. ^ "Home - GESAMTKUNSTWERK". GESAMTKUNSTWERK. Retrieved 2017-12-28.
  17. ^ Architecture as Language in the Habsburg Empire and Its Aftermath, 1867-1933.
  18. ^ Intimus: Interior design theory reader. Taylor, Mark, 1955-, Preston, Julieanna. Chichester: John Wiley, 2006.

Further reading

External links


The Staatliches Bauhaus (German: [ˈʃtaːtlɪçəs ˈbaʊˌhaʊs] (listen)), commonly known as the Bauhaus, was a German art school operational from 1919 to 1933 that combined crafts and the fine arts, and was famous for the approach to design that it publicized and taught.The Bauhaus was founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar. The German term Bauhaus—literally "building house"—was understood as meaning "School of Building", but in spite of its name and the fact that its founder was an architect, the Bauhaus did not initially have an architecture department. Nonetheless, it was founded upon the idea of creating a Gesamtkunstwerk ("'total' work of art") in which all the arts, including architecture, would eventually be brought together. The Bauhaus style later became one of the most influential currents in modern design, Modernist architecture and art, design, and architectural education. The Bauhaus movement had a profound influence upon subsequent developments in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, and typography.The school existed in three German cities—Weimar, from 1919 to 1925; Dessau, from 1925 to 1932; and Berlin, from 1932 to 1933—under three different architect-directors: Walter Gropius from 1919 to 1928; Hannes Meyer from 1928 to 1930; and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe from 1930 until 1933, when the school was closed by its own leadership under pressure from the Nazi regime, having been painted as a centre of communist intellectualism. Although the school was closed, the staff continued to spread its idealistic precepts as they left Germany and emigrated all over the world.The changes of venue and leadership resulted in a constant shifting of focus, technique, instructors, and politics. For example, the pottery shop was discontinued when the school moved from Weimar to Dessau, even though it had been an important revenue source; when Mies van der Rohe took over the school in 1930, he transformed it into a private school and would not allow any supporters of Hannes Meyer to attend it.

Die Nacht (film)

Die Nacht ("The night") is a 1985 West German installation film directed by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg. It consists of a six hours long monologue performed by Edith Clever, who reads texts by Syberberg and many different authors, such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Heinrich von Kleist, Plato, Friedrich Hölderlin, Novalis, Friedrich Nietzsche, Eduard Mörike, Richard Wagner, William Shakespeare, Martin Heidegger, Samuel Beckett and chief Seattle. The film was screened out of competition at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.Die Nacht has primarily been shown as an exhibition at art galleries, where viewers have been welcome to come and go as they please. Syberberg has said: "The gesamtkunstwerk I formerly strove for, now [with Edith Clever] became a theater of the world within one person ... where film and theater came together for me. The film on the stage, and the theater in the film." The film won the Deutscher Filmpreis for Best Direction and Best Actress.


Dopplereffekt is an electronic music act from Detroit which has been active since 1995, and whose main member is Gerald Donald. While the musical style and the act's image changed radically during a non-release period from 1999 to 2003, two steady characteristics are the display of a thematic affiliation with science and the obvious use of pseudonyms and the hence rumoured but unconfirmed identities of the members.

The main member is producer/artist Gerald Donald, also one half of the band Drexciya (with James Stinson). Another member is To Nhan Le Thi. The group released a compilation album, Gesamtkunstwerk, in 1999, and were inactive until 2003; since then three albums were released.


Gnod is a British rock band from Salford, Greater Manchester, England. Formed in 2006, the band was described in a review of its 2011 release Ingnodwetrust as "a collective from Manchester with an ever-rotating list of members". Its current lineup is Paddy Shine, Chris Haslam, Marlene Ribeiro and Neil Francis. In addition to releasing its work on Rocket Recordings, the band's own Tesla Tapes label serves, according to its Bandcamp page, as "an outlet for musical projects and meanderings by Gnodheads past, present & future and friends of Gnod all over the world".As part of its residency at the Islington Mill Art Academy, the band curated "Tangent", an installation by sound artist Callum Higgins. According to the academy's website, the event "transformed our club space into a fully immersive, light reactive environment. Using the PA system and light sensitive noise creating circuits people were directed into to the room in small groups equipped with only a torch to guide them around. Their very presence and behaviour in the room manipulated and shaped their unique experience. The band also participates in a recurring shared club night at Islington Mill called Gesamtkunstwerk, (German for "whole arts work".) Reviewing a Gnod performance there, New Musical Express said, "this band are crazy good ... see them live now."According to founding Gnod member Paddy Shine, Tesla Tapes takes its name from Nikola Tesla; band members cite such other non-musical influences as Kurt Vonnegut, David Simon, Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake. Asked what the band would like to tell the world, Chris Haslam responds "Rebel! Rebel! We are many, they are few!"


Hohenhof is a 1908-built Art Nouveau villa, located within Gartenstadt Hohenhagen in the city of Hagen, Germany. The villa was designed by Belgian architect Henry van de Velde as a Gesamtkunstwerk - incorporating shell, accessories, furnishings, landscape and all into the building's design.

The client, German industrialist and arts patron Karl Ernst Osthaus, used the building as his family home until his death in 1921. His children sold the estate to the city of Hagen under the condition to maintain the overall design character. Already beginning in the early 1920s and until the late 1970s, the mansion underwent a number of use-changes. Since then it has been renovated and today houses a publicly open museum.

Installation art

Installation art is an artistic genre of three-dimensional works that often are site-specific and designed to transform the perception of a space. Generally, the term is applied to interior spaces, whereas exterior interventions are often called public art, land art or intervention art; however, the boundaries between these terms overlap.

Jaime Gili

Jaime Gili (born 1972, Caracas from Catalan parents) is an artist based in London since 1996. He studied in Prodiseño, Caracas, his degree and a later PhD at Universitat de Barcelona (1990–1995 and 1998–2001), and an MA at the Royal college of Art in London (1996-1998), city where he has since settled. His main tutors through the years include Eugenio Espinoza in Caracas (1989-1990), Joan Hernández Pijuan and Joaquim Chancho in Barcelona (1992–1995), Claude Viallat in Paris (1994), and Peter Doig, John Dougill, Jo Stockham and Paul Huxley in London (1996–1998).

Throughout his career, Jaime Gili has developed the universal abstract language of the mid-20th Century into contemporary painting. More specifically, his work has been contextualised as a revision of Latin American abstraction, especially the Venezuelan optical and kinetic work of artists such as Carlos Cruz-Diez and Alejandro Otero, with an input from popular art and London's energy.

Critic Fisun Guner wrote in 2003 about his show at the Jerwood Space: "What do you get when you mix Pop Art, Minimalism, Vorticism, Futurism and graffiti art? The answer may well resemble the work of (...) Jaime Gili." Venezuelan Curator Jesús Fuenmayor wrote in 2006 for the catalogue of Gili's show at Periférico Caracas that his paintings were "as if someone had thrown a bomb at a work by Carlos Cruz-Diez". Swiss curator Oliver Kielmayer, wrote in 2009 "Jaime Gili seems to combine the wilderness of the jungle with a formalist and reductionist artistic language; the result is a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk, a crystalline pulsating organism that almost comes alive."He completed a PhD at the University of Barcelona in 2001 with a thesis on "Repetition and Serial art since the 1960's". Speed and Repetition in painting have been his main research subjects throughout his study years but they still show in his paintings.

He has shown work internationally in many exhibitions including '6 Bienal do Mercosul' in Porto Alegre; 'Expander' at the Royal Academy of Arts in London; 'Las tres calaveras' at Periferico Caracas in Caracas; 'Jump Cuts' at CIFO in Miami; 'The Complex of Respect' at Kunsthalle Bern; "Bill at Pittier" at Kunsthalle Winterthur and 'Indica', a show recreating the 1960s Indica Gallery at Riflemaker in London.

Apart from his exhibitions, which have recently happened mainly in Miami, Caracas and London, he has also been invited to make several permanent works integrated into architecture. In Venezuela he completed "Diamante de las Semillitas", a work in Petare, a very high density informal city with a colonial core in the East of Caracas. He was also chosen to create a site-specific design for 16 large industrial storage tanks, in what would become one of the world's largest public art projects 260,000 square feet (24,000 m2). Entitled "Art All Around", the event and work was produced by Maine Center for Creativity. The site is located along the Fore River in South Portland, Maine.

Kunststätte Bossard

Kunststätte Bossard is an expressionist Gesamtkunstwerk, sometimes also referred to as a visionary environment, located in the town of Jesteburg in Lower Saxony, Germany. It was created by Swiss artist Johann Michael Bossard (1874-1950) and his wife, Jutta Kroll-Bossard (1903-1996). It combines architecture, sculpture, painting and garden design.

Lakeuden Risti Church

Lakeuden Risti Church (Finnish: Lakeuden Ristin kirkko; "Cross of the Plains Church") is a Lutheran church located in Seinäjoki, Finland. The church was designed by Alvar Aalto and built between 1957–1960. It was the first finished building of the larger administrative and civic center also planned by Aalto, consisting of Seinäjoki town hall, a library, a theater and a state office building.The cathedral-like building seats 1200 people in the hall and 124 in the organ gallery. In the Gesamtkunstwerk spirit Aalto also designed silverware, antependiums, altar cloths and two stained glass paintings for the church.The cross-shaped bell tower from which the church gets its name is 65 meters high and a local landmark. A parish center by Aalto, consisting of white one-storey and two-storey buildings, was built next to the church in 1964–66. Aalto also planned the surrounding park.National Board of Antiquities has listed the church as a nationally significant built heritage site as part of Aalto's administrative and civic center. Docomomo has also selected the center as a significant example of modern architecture in Finland. The church was protected in 2003 by a degree from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland central administration.

List of works for the stage by Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner's works for the stage, representing more than 50 years of creative life, comprise his 13 completed operas and a similar number of failed or abandoned projects. His first effort, begun when he was 13, was a prose drama, Leubald, but thereafter all his works were conceived as some form of musical drama. It has been suggested that Wagner's wish to add incidental music to Leubald, in the manner of Beethoven's treatment of Goethe's drama Egmont, may have been the initial stimulus that directed him to musical composition.Wagner's musical education began in 1828, and a year later he was producing his earliest compositions, writing words and music, since lost, for his first opera attempt, Die Laune des Verliebten. During the subsequent decade he began several more opera projects, none of which was successful although two were completed and one was staged professionally. His first commercial success came in 1842 with Rienzi, by which time he had completed Der fliegende Holländer, in which for the first time he used the device of the leitmotiv, a characteristic that became a feature of all his later works.After accepting the post of Kapellmeister at the Dresden court of the King of Saxony in February 1843, Wagner continued to compose operas and plan various large-scale projects. His political activities forced him to flee the city in 1849, beginning a long period of exile. In Zurich, his first refuge, he wrote the essay Die Kunst und die Revolution ("Art and the Revolution"), in which he introduced the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk, or "drama-through-music". This idea was developed in the extended discourse Oper und Drama ("Opera and Drama"), 1850–51. A different form of verse-setting, which Wagner termed Versmelodie, was proposed, in which the music would grow out of the verse, this unification overriding such traditional operatic considerations as display arias written as showcases for the talents of individual singers. According to Wagner historian Robert Gutman: "The orchestra with its many tongues would take over the traditional operatic tasks of the chorus". Beginning with Das Rheingold (1853–54), the principles of Gesamtkunstwerk became the basis of all Wagner's stage work, in which, quoting Wagner chronicler Charles Osborne, "the drama presented on a conscious level by the words [...] would be pursued on a deeper, unconscious level in the orchestra."

Lutherkirche, Wiesbaden

The Lutherkirche (Luther Church) is one of four main Protestant churches in Wiesbaden, the capital of Hesse, Germany. It was built between 1908 and 1910 in Jugendstil (Art Nouveau style in Germany) and in accordance with the Wiesbadener Programm, to a design by Friedrich Pützer. With two organs and good acoustics, it is also a concert venue.

Michelangelo Pistoletto

Michelangelo Pistoletto (born 23 June 1933 in Biella) is an Italian painter, action and object artist, and art theorist. Pistoletto is acknowledged as one of the main representatives of the Italian Arte Povera. His work mainly deals with the subject matter of reflection and the unification of art and everyday life in terms of a Gesamtkunstwerk.


Musikdrama is a German word that means a unity of prose and music. Initially coined by Theodor Mundt in 1833, it was most notably used by Richard Wagner, along with Gesamtkunstwerk, to define his operas.

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow is a 2010 Sophie Fiennes documentary about the German industrial artist Anselm Kiefer's creation of a gesamtkunstwerk in an abandoned factory complex outside Barjac, France. Kiefer moved to the South of France from Germany in 1993 and began creating his art installation, "La Ribaute" on 35 acres of land belonging to an old silk factory. The film begins with a lengthy silence to show the tunnels and spaces the artist created before showing the artist and his process in creating the installation and a large landscape painting. The film opened at Cannes in 2010 as a special screening.

Richard Wagner

Wilhelm Richard Wagner (; German: [ˈʁɪçaʁt ˈvaːɡnɐ] (listen); 22 May 1813 – 13 February 1883) was a German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor who is chiefly known for his operas (or, as some of his later works were later known, "music dramas"). Unlike most opera composers, Wagner wrote both the libretto and the music for each of his stage works. Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works in the romantic vein of Carl Maria von Weber and Giacomo Meyerbeer, Wagner revolutionised opera through his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk ("total work of art"), by which he sought to synthesise the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, with music subsidiary to drama. He described this vision in a series of essays published between 1849 and 1852. Wagner realised these ideas most fully in the first half of the four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).

His compositions, particularly those of his later period, are notable for their complex textures, rich harmonies and orchestration, and the elaborate use of leitmotifs—musical phrases associated with individual characters, places, ideas, or plot elements. His advances in musical language, such as extreme chromaticism and quickly shifting tonal centres, greatly influenced the development of classical music. His Tristan und Isolde is sometimes described as marking the start of modern music.

Wagner had his own opera house built, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which embodied many novel design features. The Ring and Parsifal were premiered here and his most important stage works continue to be performed at the annual Bayreuth Festival, run by his descendants. His thoughts on the relative contributions of music and drama in opera were to change again, and he reintroduced some traditional forms into his last few stage works, including Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg).

Until his final years, Wagner's life was characterised by political exile, turbulent love affairs, poverty and repeated flight from his creditors. His controversial writings on music, drama and politics have attracted extensive comment, notably, since the late 20th century, where they express antisemitic sentiments. The effect of his ideas can be traced in many of the arts throughout the 20th century; his influence spread beyond composition into conducting, philosophy, literature, the visual arts and theatre.

Role-playing game theory

A role-playing game theory is the ludology of role-playing games (RPGs) where they are studied as a social or artistic phenomenon. RPG theories seek to understand what role-playing games are, how they function, and how the process can be refined in order to improve the gaming experience and produce more useful game products.

SOH-States of Humanity

SOH is an abbreviation for States of Humanity and is an initiative of multimedia artist Alex Vermeulen, which led to an interdisciplinary Gesamtkunstwerk.

Stoclet Palace

The Stoclet Palace (French: Palais Stoclet, Dutch: Stocletpaleis) is a mansion in Brussels, Belgium. It was built by architect Josef Hoffmann for banker and art lover Adolphe Stoclet between 1905 and 1911 and is located in the Sint-Pieters-Woluwe / Woluwe-Saint-Pierre area of Brussels. Considered Hoffman's masterpiece, the Stoclet's house is one of the most refined and luxurious private houses of the twentieth century. The sumptuous dining and music rooms of the Stoclet Palace exemplified the theatrical spaces of the Gesamtkunstwerk, celebrating sight, sound, and taste in a symphony of sensual harmonies that paralleled the operas of Richard Wagner, from whom the concept originated. In his designs for the Stoclet Palace, Hoffmann was particularly attuned to fashion and to the Viennese identity of the new style of interior, even designing a dress for Madame Stoclet so that she would not clash with her living room decor as she had while wearing a French Paul Poiret gown.The mansion is still occupied by the Stoclet family and is not open to visitors. It was designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO in June 2009.

Wiener Werkstätte

The Wiener Werkstätte (engl.: Vienna Workshop), established in 1903 by Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffmann, was a production community of visual artists in Vienna, Austria bringing together architects, artists and designers working in ceramics, fashion, silver, furniture and the graphic arts. It is regarded as a pioneer of modern design, and its influence can be seen in later styles such as Bauhaus and Art Deco.Following World War I, the workshop was beset by financial troubles and material shortages. Attempts to expand the workshop's base were unsuccessful, and ultimately it was forced to close in 1932.

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