History

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Art History Photography

The Descendants: Photographer Drew Gardner Recreates Portraits of Historically Significant Figures

July 10, 2020

Grace Ebert

Thomas Jefferson, by Rembrandt Peale, 1800. Shannon LaNier, Jefferson’s sixth-great grandson. All images © Drew Gardner, shared with permission

To prepare for a recent portrait, Shannon LaNier pulled a black coat over his head and wrapped a thick, layered collar around his neck, a costume to match what Thomas Jefferson wore in an iconic 18th-century painting. The Houston news anchor was participating in an ongoing series by British photographer Drew Gardner that recreates photographs, paintings, and other images of historical figures by styling their descendants in similar garb. LaNier’s photograph is particularly significant, though, because he’s the sixth-great grandson of Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, who the third U.S. president enslaved and forced to bear his children, a story that’s long been left out of historical narratives.

Titled The Descendants, the project is a visual excavation of Western history that questions what remains after generations pass. The relatives of historically significant people are, for the most part, out of the spotlight, but as the photographer notes, their ancestors’ “DNA is walking down the street.”

 

Irina Guicciardini Strozzi, the 15th great granddaughter of Lisa del Giocondo. The Mona Lisa by Leonardo DaVinci

The project began about 15 years ago when Gardner’s mother mentioned that he resembled his grandfather. Although the current project has diverged from simple likeness—the photographer notes that similar features are not a requirement when searching for descendants—he hopes to inspire questions about people’s legacies. “I am not saying they look like their forebears,” he notes. “I’m encouraging a debate. I want to provoke a conversation that makes people curious about history.” Since its inception, he’s photographed relatives of Frederick Douglass, Lisa del Giocondo, Berthe Morisot, and Napoleon.

Gardner’s criteria for choosing subjects is strict: the historical figure must be widely known to the public and have made a significant impact that goes beyond simple celebrity. The next step involves tracking down paintings, photographs, and other realistic representations of the person, which eliminates a considerable number of prospects—originally, Gardner hoped to recreate an image of Pocahontas but soon realized that only a woodcut existed. The photographer then searches for living family members, sometimes working through more than a dozen generations to find someone within 15 years of age of the forebear. Often with the help of museums and other institutions dedicated to historical preservation, he contacts the relative to ask if they’ll pose for a portrait.

 

Frederick Douglass. Kenneth Morris, Douglass’s third-great grandson.

To maintain the integrity of the original image, the costumes and props are vintage, when possible. Some elements, though, like the massive, rusted chains forming the backdrop of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s portrait from 1857, don’t exist anymore. When the authentic items aren’t available, Gardner recreates them in physical or digital form.

For LaNier’s portrait, though, the situation was different. While he is dressed similarly to Jefferson, he diverges because he chose to forgo the wig his sixth-great grandfather wore.  “I didn’t want to become Jefferson,” he told Smithsonian Magazine. The result is a striking set of portraits that explore historical truths. “Jefferson may have been a founding father, but I am an image of what his family has now become,” LaNier says in an interview about the experience. “You look at my family and you see every color in there, as you will see from many family’s that have come from slavery.”

Although the pandemic has changed his immediate plans for upcoming recreations, Gardner is hoping to release more pieces in 2021, which you can follow on Instagram. For those interested in a behind-the-scenes look at his process,  Smithsonian Magazine has released videos of the Douglass, Jefferson, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton shoots.

 

Lucie Rouart, great granddaughter of Morisot. Berthe Morisot, by Edouard Manet, 1872

Isambard Thomas, Brunel’s third-great grandson. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, portrait by Robert Howlett, 1857, © National Portrait Gallery

Gerald Charles Dickens, Dickens’ great, great grandson. Charles Dickens, portrait by Herbert Watkins, 1858, © National Portrait Gallery

Tom Wonter, Wordsworth’s fourth-great grandson. William Wordsworth, portrait by William Shuter, 1798, © Cornell University

Helen Pankhurst, Pankhurst’s great granddaughter. Emeline Pankhurst, women’s rights activist.

Hugo de Salis, fourth-great grandson of Napoleon. Napoleon in his study, by Jacques-Louis David, 1812, © National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

 

 



History

Descend into the Elaborately Decorated Tomb of Pharaoh Ramesses VI Through This 3D Virtual Tour

July 10, 2020

Grace Ebert

A stunning 3D virtual tour from the Egyptian Tourism Authority takes viewers deep into the heavily detailed tomb of Pharaoh Ramesses VI. Named Tomb KV9, the underground structure has a long corridor leading down to the now-broken sarcophagus, and both walls and the ceiling are inscribed with writings from ancient Egyptian texts and astronomical renderings. The fifth ruler of the Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt, Ramesses VI’s reign lasted for about eight years in the 12th century BC. In 1898, his tomb was cleared by Georges Émile Jules Daressy who stole a portion of the sarcophagus, which then was acquired by the British Museum. (via Twisted Sifter)

 

 

 



History

Page Through This Incredibly Detailed Sino-Tibetan Book Printed in 1410

June 24, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images courtesy of Incunabula

An ancient-book collector is offering a rare glimpse into a Sino-Tibetan book that’s believed to have been printed as early as 1410 in Beijing. A self-described bibliophile known as Incunabula, the collector shared a thread containing dozens of images showing inside spreads full of red ink drawings and Ranjana script, a writing system developed in the 11th century. The Gutenberg Bible, which was printed with movable metal type, dates back to 1454, nearly 45 years after this woodblock-produced text.

Within its accordion-fold pages, the ancient book contains impeccably detailed “Sanskrit dhāranīs and illustrations of protective mantra-diagrams and deities” and a collection of Tibetan Buddhist recitation texts. It has more durable, black covers that are covered in gold-paint drawings featuring “20 icons of the Tathāgatas,” which roughly translates to “one who has gone.” All text is printed twice on each side of the paper to allow for right-to-left and left-to-right readings in both the Indo-Tibetan and Chinese styles, respectively.

“During the early Ming, close relations were established between Tibetan monks and the imperial court in Beijing. Although not directly part of the Buddhist canon, this work relates closely to the manner of woodblock carving employed for the production of the Sino-Tibetan Kangyur,” the collector writes.

Check out more of the inside pages in Incunabula’s thread, and follow the collector’s archival work on Twitter. (via Open Culture)

 

 

 



History Illustration Science

Vintage Natural Science and Astronomy Illustrations Adorn Face Masks by Maria Popova

June 24, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images courtesy of Society6

Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings, has released a series of face masks that bring a dose of history to the modern-day essential. Each fabric covering is adorned with a vintage natural history or astronomy illustration, including Ellen Harding Baker’s solar system quilt, Ernst Haeckel’s renderings of jellyfish, and irises and other medicinal plants originally painted by Elizabeth Blackwell in the 18th century. “Because of the mask’s particular folding pattern, some of the artwork came alive in a wholly new and unexpected way,” Popova writes in a post.

My personal favorite — the original design I made for myself and my most beloved human — is the total solar eclipse mask, evocative of the opening line of astronomer and poet Rebecca Elson’s magnificent “Antidotes to Fear of Death”: “Sometimes as an antidote, To fear of death, I eat the stars.”

Explore some of the collection on Brain Pickings. You also might enjoy these artist-designed masks.

 

 

 



Art History Photography Science

Cabinet of Curiosities: A New Book Opens Centuries-Old Collections of Fossils, Sculptures, and Other Oddities

June 22, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © Taschen, shared with permission

In a span of more than 350 pages, Italian photographer Massimo Listri captures some of the most wondrous and bizarre collections gathered throughout history. Cabinet of Curiosities, a new XXL edition from Taschen, is comprised of countless artifacts from the Renaissance to modern-day. Including massive fossils, excavated coral growths, and impeccably preserved sculptures, Listri’s photographs capture treasures of natural history, art, astrology, biology, and design. Many of the eccentric collections were maintained formerly by aristocrats, such as Grand Duke Francesco I de’ Medici, Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, and Archduke Ferdinand II of Habsburg.

Dive into the historical troves by picking up a copy of Cabinet of Curiosities from Taschen or Bookshop. Check out Listri’s stunning compendium of global libraries, too.

 

 

 



Art Design History

Prominent Figures of the Harlem Renaissance Featured on New USPS Stamps

June 3, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © USPS

For those who aren’t keen on emblazoning their rent checks or letters with an American flag, the United States Postal Service recently released a stamp collection dedicated to one of the most influential periods in the nation’s history. The new set features pastel renderings of four prominent figures of the Harlem Renaissance, a profound artistic and intellectual movement that spanned the 1920s. This year marks a century since the period began and became a turning point for Black culture.

Nella Larsen is recognized most often for her two novels Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929), which explore race relations at the intersection of gender, sexuality, and class; Educator, poet, and avid gardener Anne Spencer exemplified the far-reaching effects of the Harlem Renaissance by hosting artists and intellectuals at her home in Virginia; Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was an Afro-Latinx historian dedicated to furthering recognition of Black artists, writers, and intellectuals. His collections now are housed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City; and writer, philosopher, and educator Alain Locke is one of the most prominent thinkers of the period. He also edited and contributed to the foundational text, The New Negro.

Designed by art director Greg Breeding with art by Gary Kelley, the 55-cent forever stamps are available for purchase in sheets of 20 from USPS. (via Hyperallergic)

 

 

 



Art History

Archaeologists Excavate a Stunning Roman Mosaic That’s Untarnished From an Italian Vineyard

May 29, 2020

Grace Ebert

Images via Myko Clelland

Archaeologists made an extraordinary discovery this week when they uncovered a pristine mosaic that’s been hidden underneath feet of soil since the 3rd century. Situated in a private vineyard in the town of Negrar di Valpolicella, the tile flooring is believed to be part of an ancient Domus, the style of home owned by wealthy residents. Since October of 2019, excavators have been working to outline the building’s perimeters and dig for notable artifacts. Town officials say they’re working to make the discovery available to the public as more is exposed.

Locals have thought the vineyard contained Roman ruins since at least the 19th century, and archaeologists have unearthed similar mosaics since the 1960s. The site is near Verona, which boasts many of the civilization’s ruins, like the Piazza delle Erbe, Arena, and Piazza Bra, is believed to contain more hidden artifacts, architecture, and infrastructure underneath its soil. (via The History Blog)

 

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