In the early 18th century, publisher, bookseller, and apparent fish enthusiast Louis Renard compiled the seminal compendium of color-illustrated ichthyological studies. The volume contains more than 450 species rendered in vibrant hues that, while somewhat anatomically accurate, feature embellishments in color and characteristics. From beak-like mouths to extraordinarily patterned skins, the vast illustrations of marine life are unusual, bizarre, and sometimes psychedelic. One of the most fantastical illustrations even depicts a mermaid (shown below).
A digital copy of Renard’s work—which officially is titled Fishes, crayfish and crabs, of various colors and extraordinary figures, which one finds around the Moluccas islands and on the coasts of the Austral lands—is available in the Biodiversity Heritage Library, an incredible open-access digital archive. Overall, the library estimates that about 9 percent of the illustrations are fabricated, a detail that’s unsurprising considering the Dutch publisher never traveled to the East Indies to complete his studies. Instead, he copied 460 hand-colored copper engravings from other artists, many of which were contributed by soldier and painter Samuel Fallours who was based in Ambon, Indonesia. In a similarly duplicitous manner, the library also believes that Renard identified himself as a secret agent to the British crown as a way to sell more copies of his work.
The tome was published in three editions, and only 16 of the initial printing, which happened between 1718 and 1719, are known to exist. Thirty-four copies of the second version from 1754 remain, which is also the iteration shown here. There are just six books left from the third printing in 1782.
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Throughout the early 19th century, naturalist, illustrator, and mineralogist James Sowerby published 718 color renderings of minerals, which he accompanied with their characteristics, classifications, and other names. A Chicago-based designer recently reproduced those centuries-old illustrations in an expansive interactive arrangement. Nicholas Rougeux (previously) color-coded Sowerby’s depictions—a tedious process that required the designer to restore each mineral to its original hue and took four months to complete—from two compendia, British Mineralogy and Exotic Mineralogy, which were published between 1802 and 1817. The result is a magnifiable exhibit that captures the incredible diversity and detail of Sowerby’s geological studies.
Check out the eye-catching display on Rougeux’s site, and for those who want a physical copy categorizing the diverse materials, the designer is selling posters, too. Keep up with his contemporary approaches to historical scholarship on Twitter, Behance, and Instagram. (via Kottke)
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Earlier this year, photographer Mathieu Stern discovered a time capsule dating back to the early 1900s in his family home. The 120-year-old box held a little girl’s cherished possessions, including a paper doll, seashell, and two glass plate negatives. Stern decided to develop the photographs using Cyanotype, one of the earliest printing processes that was prevalent well into the 20th century, and revealed images of the child’s pets. The photographer chronicled the entire endeavor in a video, which you can find on his YouTube and Instagram, and check out the finished prints of the furry companions below. (via PetaPixel)
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Evoking a bit of time-travel, NeoMam (previously) recently animated a series of gifs that restore impressive, human-made structures around the globe to pristine condition. Although the six landmarks are now in some form of decay and have made UNESCO’s list of endangered world heritage, the short clips digitally reconstruct the sites to show what they’d look like had they not faced the ravages of time.
Included in this round of restoration are a remnant of Hatra, a large fortified city that was capital of the first Arab Kingdom, and the hundreds of islets that make up Nan Modol in Micronesia. UNESCO designated these landmarks in danger because of natural and human-generated threats like earthquakes, military conflict, and urbanization. Dig into the history behind the six restorations, which were completed in partnership with BudgetDirect and architect Jelena Popovic, in addition to other at-risk locations on UNESCO’s site.
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In collaboration with Vogue, Magnum Photos just launched a massive print sale with half of all proceeds being donated to the NAACP. Included in the collection of archival photographs are Philippe Halsman’s iconic portrait of Angela Davis, Thomas Hoepker’s shot of Muhammed Ali, and dozens of other images that fall under the theme of solidarity. Many of the pieces explore the power of human bonds, about which organizers say:
While acknowledging the daunting divisions and fault-lines running through society, the selection will examine a simultaneous human yearning for commune and connection, aiming to explore the strength of both the individual and collective, as well as the interdependence of peoples around the world in the face of adversity and oppression.
All 6 x 6-inch prints are signed or estate-stamped, museum-quality, and available for $100. Find some of Colossal’s favorites below—which includes Ernest Cole’s glimpse into South African life under apartheid and Cristina de Middel’s piece that captures a Tijuana pole vaulter mid-air—and shop the full collection before the sale ends at 6 p.m. EST on August 6.
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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.”
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.
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.
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Editor's Picks: History
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