Category: History

How the British Library Digitized One of the World’s Largest Books 

The Klencke Atlas published in 1660 is one of the most famous objects in the British Library's cartographic collection, a towering book that stands nearly 6 feet tall and reaches over seven feet wide when open. For over three centuries the atlas was the largest in existence, surpassed only five years ago by Millennium House's gigantic publication Earth Platinum.

The collection of maps was named after Johannes Klencke (1620-1672), the leader of a collection of Dutch sugar merchants who presented the atlas to Charles II as a hope to gain favorable trade agreements with Britain. The object was subsequently placed amongst the king’s most prized possessions, and stayed tied to royalty for the next 150 years.

“The Klencke atlas is important both in itself, and for its constituent parts,” said Tom Harper, lead curator of antiquarian maps at the British Library in an article about the atlas. “As an object, its scale and conception recalled Renaissance ideas relating to the symbolic power of a book which contained the entire world’s knowledge. It would have provided Charles with intellectual authority, an authority which enforces its intimidating presence even today.”

The Klencke Atlas went on public view in 2010 after considerable restoration, and was digitized by the British Library just last month. It took several hands to transport and mount the ancient work onto an XXXL book stand for high resolution photography, and digitization took several days in order to capture each of the included maps. You can view this online version of the atlas on the British Library’s website, and watch a time-lapse video of the digitization process supported by Daniel Crouch Rare Books. (via Hyperallergic)

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The Guggenheim Museum Shares Over 200 Free Art Books Through the Internet Archive 

Over the last few years, the Guggenheim Museum has slowly released an impressive library of modern and historic art books in collaboration with the Internet Archive. The rare and out-of-print titles include books about Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, Paul Klee, Jenny Holzer, Joseph Cornell, as well as several exhibition catalogs and books about the museum itself. You’ll also find publications on wide ranging topics from the Russian and Soviet avant-garde movement to collections of Chinese and Aztec art.

Many of the books first books appeared online in 2012 and the collection has grown to include over 200 titles that can be viewed online or downloaded in PDF or ePub formats. You can see the full collection here. (via The Creators Project, My Modern Met)

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The Vanishing Stepwells of India: A New Book by Victoria Lautman Documents the Fading Relics of Subterranean Wells 

Van Talab Baoli. Amer, Rajasthan. c. 1600/19th Century.

Scattered across India’s vast landscape of ancient architecture including temples, mosques, and palaces are an often overlooked relic of historic infrastructure called stepwells. These subterranean buildings, once numbered in the thousands, were originally dug into the landscape so residents could easily access water. Over time, stepwells grew increasingly elaborate in their construction, morphing from modest rock-cut holes into fully functional Hindu temples with ornate columns, stairwells, and shrines. Each well now serves as a fading structural fingerprint, diverse and unique as the communities that designed and built them.

Chicago journalist Victoria Lautman first peeked over the edge of a stepwell some 30 years ago and was immediately transfixed at the idea of staring down into an architectural wonder as opposed to looking up. She has since dedicated much of the last five years criss-crossing India over several years to locate and photograph as many wells as possible. We first mentioned Lautman’s discoveries back in 2015, after which she resumed trips to India to locate an additional 60 wells, bringing the grand total to over 200 sites she’s personally visited and documented.

“Descending into the earth is a profound experience, one in which sweltering heat turns to enveloping cool, and noises become hushed,” she writes about encountering the wells.

After centuries of neglect some stepwells are in perilous condition or have vanished altogether, while others have been thoughtfully maintained by surrounding communities or governments who recognize their significance and possess the will (and funding) to restore them. In an attempt to preserve their legacy, Lautman has gathered a visual tour of 75 of the more unique and interesting wells in a new book titled The Vanishing Stepwells of India. The book includes not only her original photography, but also her impressions about each well and the precise GPS coordinates of their locations.

It remains to be seen if the renewed interest in stepwells, as well as the accompanying tourist dollars, will drive the change to save them. “In the long-run,” Lautman tells Colossal, “I think the most helpful thing for stepwells is simply acknowledging their existence in history and guidebooks, through classes and specialized tours, and finally just seeing them up close, embedded in the landscape.” Another way to explore the wells is through the Atlas of Stepwells, a website where enthusiasts can share their own discoveries.

The Vanishing Stepwells of India with a foreword by Divay Gupta, is published by Merrell and is available now.

Ramkund. Bhuj, Gujarat. Mid-18th Century (c. 700 CE).

Mukundpura Baoli. Mukundpura, Haryana c. 1650.

Ujala Baoli Mandu. Madhya Pradesh. Late 15th/early 16th century.

Chand Baori. Abhaneri, Rajasthan. c. 800 ce/18th Century.

Batris Kotha Vav. Kaoadvanj, Gujarat c. 1120.

Dada Harir Vav. Asarwa. c. 1499

Navghan Kuvo. Junagadh, Gujarat. 4th/6th/Mid-11th Century.


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Found Photographs Embroidered With Colorful Thread by Julie Cockburn 

“The Conundrum” (2016), hand embroidery on found photograph, all images courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

London-based artist Julie Cockburn transforms vintage photographs by embroidering across their surfaces, adding bright pops of thread to portraits that are either black and white or have faded over time. Using found images from eBay and flea markets, Cockburn obscures the faces of strangers, layering the portraits with multi-colored dots, geometric patterns, or ovals in varying gradients.

Cockburn will exhibit work with The Photographers’ Gallery at The Photography Show presented by AIPAD March 30 through April 2, 2017 on New York City’s Pier 94. You can see more of Cockburn’s embroidered images on her Instagram and Facebook. (via Hyperallergic)

“Quizitive” (2016)

“Honeydew” (2013)

“The Secret” (2012)

“Point of View” (2014)

“The Orthodontist” (2014)

“Viewpoint” (2012)

“Morphine” (2014)

“Troublemaker” (2015)

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The Rise of the Image: Every NY Times Front Page Since 1852 in Under a Minute 

The New York Times published its first issue on September 18, 1851, but the first photos wouldn’t appear on the cover until the early 1900s over 60 years later. This visual timeline by self-described data artist Josh Begley captures the storied newspaper’s approach to layout and photography by incorporating every NY Times front page ever published into a single one-minute video. The timelapse captures decades text-only front pages before the newspaper began to incorporate illustrated maps and wood engravings. The liberal usage of black and white photography begins a century later and finally the first color photo appears in 1997. What a fascinating way to view history through image, over 60,000 front pages in all. If you liked this, don’t miss Farewell — ETAOIN SHRDLU. (via Kottke)

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Delicate Sketches of the Original Peace Symbol to be Exhibited in London 

Sketch of nuclear disarmament symbol, by Gerald Holtom. © Commonweal Collection.

Stretching back over a half century, one of the most iconic symbols adopted by the international community has been the peace symbol. Utilized by millions of activists, organizations, and artists across the globe, most people are probably unfamiliar with the design’s unique origins and the meaning behind the multi-pronged symbol.

Artist Gerald Holtom created the symbol for the first Aldermaston March in 1958, part of a series of anti-nuclear weapon demonstrations in the 1950s and 1960s. The symbol was next adopted by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and soon peace groups around the world displayed it in a variety of configurations. But what exactly does it mean?

Holtom designed the peace symbol around the visual language of flag semaphores, a telegraphy method for communicating with flags at a distance, combining the letters “N” and “D” standing for “nuclear” and “disarmament.”

Flag semaphores for the letters “N” and “D” and an overlay. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Holtom’s original 1958 sketches are now in extremely fragile condition and are rarely seen in public. However, a few of them, along with 300 objects from a century of anti-war activist campaigns in the UK, will be on view as part of People Power: Fighting for Peace at the Imperial War Museum in London from March 23 through August 28, 2017. You can read more about the peace symbol’s history over on Hyperallergic.

Hey art and design teachers, here’s a fun project idea: have students create new symbols for ideas important to them using flag semaphores or some other symbolic alphabet as a starting point. Send the results to [email protected] by March 20, 2017 with the subject ‘Peace Project‘ and we’ll share our favorites here on Colossal.

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