History

Section



Art History

Watch as a 17th Century Portrait Emerges From 200 Years of Discolored Varnish

November 7, 2017

Kate Sierzputowski

Art historian, dealer, and BBC television host Philip Mould recently posted a video to his Twitter that reveals a gleaming 17th century painting hiding underneath two centuries of yellowed varnish. The protective finish is applied to protect paintings from wear, but over time will begin to discolor. In the short video Mould gently paints a solvent to remove this layer from the work’s surface, slowly brushing it away in circular strokes.

The only details known about the mysterious lady in red is from an inscription on the painting that notes she was 36 when the work was completed in 1618. You can watch Mould remove the last bits of varnish from the subject’s face in the short clip below, and follow more of his painting adventures on Twitter. (via Twisted Sifter)

 

 



Art Food History

The Wines of Gala: Salvador Dalí’s Surrealist Wine Guide Republished for the First Time in 40 Years

November 2, 2017

Kate Sierzputowski

Last published in 1978, The Wines of Gala is Salvador Dalí’s eccentric guide to wine grapes and their origin. Filled with over 140 appropriated artworks and collages collected and created by Dalí, the book is an equally surreal follow-up to TASCHEN’s reprinting of the artist’s cookbook Les Diners de Gala. In addition to Jean-François Millet’s The Angelus, which was a constant point of reference in Dali’s works, visuals include a Bacchus-like kitten, and a sort of tableau vivant featuring Dali himself.

In keeping with Dalí’s efforts to create artwork based on his emotions, memories, and dreams, the artist chose to organize the wines in the book by how they influenced his mood. The groupings are appropriately imaginative classifications including such section titles as “Wines of Frivolity,” “Wines of the Impossible,” and “Wines of Light.” A section in the book also outlines Dalí’s method of ordering wine by emotional experience, quoting the artist’s famous credo: “A real connoisseur does not drink wine but tastes of its secrets.”

The 296-page wine bible published by TASCHEN is now available for pre-order. (via It’s Nice That)

 

 

 



History Illustration

Digitally Explore a 1,000-Year-Old Illustrated Guide to Plants and Their Medical Uses

September 25, 2017

Kate Sierzputowski

Cotton MS Vitellius C III is the only surviving Old English illustrated book describing plants and their uses. Recently the British Library, along with the Bibliothèque nationale de France, digitized the 1,000-year-old illuminated manuscript. The ancient book features illustrations of plants and animals alongside various bodily issues that can be treated by their use or consumption. For example, a snake is illustrated by the passage on sweet basil, an herb that has been known to help fight poisonous bites.

Despite the manuscript being an extensive guide, there have been questions posed by several scholars regarding the piece’s exact use.

“Although it might seem like a practical guide to finding plants and preparing remedies, this manuscript’s uses are debated,” explains the the British Library’s Alison Hudson. “First, the illustrations are not always very useful for identifying plants and animals in the wild: take, for example, these depictions of strawberries and elephants [seen below].”

You can flip through the entirety of the guide’s illustrations on The British Library’s website. (via Open Culture and Hyperallergic)

 

 



Design History

The Ornate Bird Palaces of Ottoman-Era Turkey

July 28, 2017

Kate Sierzputowski

Several photos courtesy of Caner Cangül

An important element of Ottoman architecture in Turkey was the addition of birdhouses affixed to the outer walls of significant city structures, a safe space for regular avian guests to nest outside of mosques, inns, bridges, libraries, schools, and fountains. The birdhouses were not simple concrete structures, but rather elaborate feats of miniature architecture that ranged from one-story homes to multiple-story bird mansions. Each was designed with a similar design aesthetic to the country’s larger buildings, simultaneously providing shelter to sparrows, swallows, and pigeons while preventing bird droppings from corroding the walls of the surrounding architecture.

In addition to providing shelter, the birdhouses fulfilled a religious vision. They were thought to grant good deeds to those that built the tiny homes. Through their abundance and care, the structures encouraged a love of animals in the Turkish public, citizens who adopted several nicknames for the homes over the years including “kuş köşkü” (bird pavilions), “güvercinlik” (dovecots) and “serçe saray” (sparrow palace).

Only some of these bird mansions remain today, however their place is firmly rooted in Turkish history. Nearly every city in the country contains examples of the bird homes, the oldest example, a 16th-century house attached to the Büyükçekmece Bridge, still surviving in Istanbul. (via Jeroen Apers)

 

 



History

Archeologists Unearth Ancient Smiley Face on a 3,700-Year-Old Jug

July 25, 2017

Kate Sierzputowski

A team of Turkish and Italian archeologists working on a site in southern Turkey discovered an interesting object recently, an ancient smiley face drawn on the side of an off white jug. The faded face is simplistically drawn, two black dots hovering over a crooked arch just below, and is so subtle it was not noticed until it had been transported to a lab for restoration.

“The smiling face is undoubtedly there (there are no other traces of painting on the flask) and has no parallels in ancient ceramic art of the area,” said Dr. Nicolo Marchetti of Bologna University, who led the excavation.

The crew had been at the site of its discovery for the last seven summers, an area that was once the ancient Hittite city Karkemish. The object is unlike anything else they have encountered in the area, however it was not the only important thing unearthed. The team also found 250 clay bullae, or tokens that would have been attached to legal documents, a large basalt relief of two griffons, and the remains of both a fortress and grain silo.

The architectural site will be open to the public next year as the Karkemish Ancient City Archaeological Park. You can visit the ancient smiley close by when it goes on display at the Gaziantep Museum of Archaeology. (via The History Blog)

 

 



History Music

Notation Knives: Listen to Cutting Edge Music From the Renaissance

July 18, 2017

Christopher Jobson

Notation Knives, c. 16th century. Artist unknown. Fitzwilliam Museum Collection, Cambridge. Photo by Johan Oosterman.

It’s not exactly musical chairs, but this Renaissance-era cutlery can carry a tune at any table setting. Dating back to the 16th century, these extremely rare knives are engraved with musical scores complete with lyrics. On one side is a benediction that may have been sung before a meal, and then a grace on the reverse side that was sung after eating. For instance the knife below reads: “The blessing of the table. May the three-in-one bless that which we are about to eat.” And the other side reads: “The saying of grace. We give thanks to you God for your generosity.”

Left & right views of an etched, engraved and gilded steel knife with ivory, brass and silver handle, by an unknown maker, Italy, 1500–50.

What isn’t clear to historians is how this may have all played out in actuality. It would be uncommon for a wealthy Italian family who might have possessed such opulent knives to cut their own meat, the task instead performed by a squire. But perhaps they were reserved only for special ceremonies or holidays. Kristen Kalber, a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum where some of these knives are kept, lays out a few theories in the video below.

Luckily for us the V&A’s Medieval & Renaissance Galleries approached the Royal College of Music to create recordings of what the music on the notation knives sounds like when performed by a choir. Here are examples of a benediction and grace from one knife, but you can hear additional recordings on the V&A website. (via My Modern Met, Open Culture, WQXR)

 

 

 

 



Art History

Salvador Dali Answers ‘Yes’ to Almost Every Single Question on the 1950s Game Show ‘What’s My Line?’

July 13, 2017

Christopher Jobson

This clip of artist Salvador Dalí appearing on the game show “What’s My Line?” in 1957 is both charming and quite funny. A group of blindfolded panelists ask round after round of yes-or-no questions to help reveal the identity of the special guest. Due to the breadth of Dali’s work, and perhaps a bit of mischievousness, the surrealist painter finds himself answering “yes” to nearly every single question, much to everyone’s total confusion. With millions of views on YouTube this has probably crossed your path, but if you haven’t seen it, it really is a fun bit of TV. (via Mental Floss)