History

Section



Design History

Recently Digitized Journals Grant Visitors Access to Leonardo da Vinci’s Detailed Engineering Schematics and Musings

September 5, 2018

Kate Sierzputowski

Codex Forster II , Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. Forster MS.141. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Codex Forster II , Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. Forster MS.141. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London recently published scans of two of the Leonardo da Vinci notebooks so website visitors can digitally zoom and flip through the drawings and musings of the Italian Renaissance painter, architect, inventor, and sculptor. Jumbled together in the delicate journals are thoughts on both science and art—detailed charts and speculations contained on the same pages as observational sketches of hats or horse hooves.

Da Vinci is believed to have started recording his thoughts in notebooks during the 1480s while he was a military and naval engineer for the Duke of Milan. The writing included in the notebooks was produced in 16th-century Italian “mirror-writing,” which one reads right to left. Scholars have debated the reasoning behind this style, believing it was either a way to code his thoughts, or simply make writing easier as a left-handed artist. “Writing masters at the time would have made demonstrations of mirror-writing, and his letter-shapes are in fact quite ordinary: he used the kind of script that his father, a legal notary, would have used,” an article on the V&A’s website explains. “It is possible to decipher Leonardo’s curious mirror-writing, once the eye has become accustomed to the style.”

The collective title for the five notebooks in the V&A’s collection is the Forster Codices. This digitized set contains his earliest (1487-90, Milan) and latest (1505, Florence) notebooks in the museum’s collection. The name for the journals comes from John Forster who bequeathed the valuable works to the museum in 1876. The V&A plans to digitize the three other notebooks found in the two volumes Codex Forster II and III, for the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death in 2019. You can learn more about the series of notebooks in the collection on the V&A’s website. (via Boing Boing)

Codex Forster II (page 10 verso), Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. Forster MS.141. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Codex Forster II (page 10 verso), Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. Forster MS.141. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Codex Forster II (page 123 verso), Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. MSL/1876/Forster/141/II. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Codex Forster II (page 123 verso), Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. MSL/1876/Forster/141/II. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Codex Forster III (page 23 recto), Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. MSL/1876/Forster/141/III. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Codex Forster III (page 23 recto), Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. MSL/1876/Forster/141/III. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Codex Forster II (page 75 recto), Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. Forster MS.141. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Codex Forster II (page 75 recto), Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. Forster MS.141. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Codex Forster II (page 91 verso), Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. MSL/1876/Forster/141/II. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Codex Forster II (page 91 verso), Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. MSL/1876/Forster/141/II. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Codex Forster III (page 9 recto), Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. Forster MS.141. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Codex Forster III (page 9 recto), Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. Forster MS.141. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Three Volumes of Codex Forster, Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. MSL/1876/Forster/141. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Three Volumes of Codex Forster, Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. MSL/1876/Forster/141. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 



History Photography

A New Book by Alison Nastasi Looks at the Affectionate Relationships Between Writers and Their Cats

August 20, 2018

Laura Staugaitis

In a follow-up to her best-selling book Artists and their Cats (previously), Alison Nastasi has penned Writers and Their Cats. The new book features photographs of writers past and present with their feline companions. Ranging from Elizabeth Bishop to Haruki Murakami, Nastasi’s book looks into the domestic lives of forty-five renowned novelists, poets, and journalists from around the world. Each short and sweet profile includes reminiscences on the roles writers’ cats have played in fueling creativity, providing comfort, and even getting interview subjects to open up. Writers and Their Cats will be published by Chronicle on August 21, 2018, and is available for presale in The Colossal Shop.

Gillian Flynn, photography credit: Peter Hoffman/Redux

Left: Jirō Osaragi, photography credit: Akira Ishii/Courtesy Osaragi Jirō Memorial Museum. Right: Helen Gurley Brown, photography credit: Bettmann/Getty Images

Ray Bradbury, photography credit: Topfoto

Alice Walker, photography credit: Peter Hoffman/Redux

Left: Jorge Luis Borges, photography credit: Ferdinando Scianna/Magnum Photos. Right: Judy Blume, photography credit: Bettman/Getty Images

Mark Twain, photography credit: Underwood & Underwood/New York Times/Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

 



Art History

A Friendly Octopus Found Within Ancient River Pebble Mosaics in Greece

August 14, 2018

Laura Staugaitis

Photos: Ephorate of Antiquities of Arta

Pebble mosaics dating from the 4th century BC have been unearthed in Arta, Greece. During excavations at the Small Theatre of Ancient Amvrakia, the floor of a 12-foot wide bathhouse was revealed. Archaeologists discovered carefully laid mosaics of swans, octopuses, and winged cherubic figures  surrounded by a spiral border. Each design was formed using smooth river pebbles in white, off-white, and dark tones, with amber and red pebbles acting as accents. The dig was conducted by the Ephorate of Antiquities, in the town of Arta, which has been occupied on and off since ancient times.

According to Archeology News Network, “the pebble floor is linked with a similar one located in an earlier excavation in the 70s and partly covered by the east part of the Small Theatre’s koilon/auditorium. This pebble floor had been removed from the site during the 1976 excavations. It depicts similar scenes with flying cupids, swans and dolphins and at present is in the storerooms of the Archaeological Museum of Arta.” (via The History Blog)

 

 



History Photography

Hole Punched Voids Transform Rejected Photographs From the Great Depression

July 23, 2018

Anna Marks

Russell Lee, Untitled photo, possibly related to: Mr Tronson, a farmer near Wheelock, North Dakota, August 1937, Photograph: Library of Congress

Russell Lee, Untitled photo, possibly related to: Mr Tronson, a farmer near Wheelock, North Dakota, August 1937, Photograph: Library of Congress

In an untitled photograph from 1937, a black disc surreally floats upon the subject’s face, obscuring the features hidden beneath the circular void. In another, a black circle hovers next to a tilted house, creating an eerie scene pulled straight from science fiction. At first glance, you might think a contemporary artist had altered the images, drawing jet-black voids as an intervention with photographs from rural Depression-era America. In reality, these images are discarded photographs from a bygone project that produced a pictorial record of American life between 1935-1944. The photographs, which are currently exhibited in The Killed Negatives: Unseen Images of 1930s America at Whitechapel Gallery in London, produce a snapshot of the crippling poverty and backbreaking jobs lower class Americans faced during the Great Depression

Paul Carter, Untitled photo, possibly related to: Tobacco fields devastated by the Connecticut River near Northampton, Massachusetts, March 1936, Photograph: Library of Congress

Ben Shahn, Untitled photo, possibly related to: Family of rehabilitation client, Boone County, Arkansas, October 1935, Photograph: Library of Congress

The story of these photographs begins in 1935, when Roy E Stryker, the head of the Information Division of the Farm Security Administration (FSA), undertook a photographic project that commissioned famous American photographers such as Russell Lee, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans to photograph farmers and farmland during the Great Depression. The FSA aimed to encourage poverty-stricken Americans to partake in self-sustaining programs where they could gain farm loans to buy seeds, equipment, livestock, and partake in homestead schemes which provided both education and healthcare. The project was to demonstrate the results of financial assistance that the FSA offered, in addition to outsourcing images of America life during this time.

Each photographer was given specific directives, for example, “farmer dumping milk at home,” “worried farmer,” or “federal government shot.” Over 270,000 photographs were produced during the project, yet only a few were picked to be part of the final collection. This included imagery featuring transient families, the unemployed, and drought-stricken fields. One of the most famous images was Lange’s 1936 Migrant Mother, which became a popular portrait long after the project’s conclusion.

Carl Mydans, Untitled photo, possibly related to: Mud bath, Prince George’s County, Maryland, August 1935, Photograph: Library of Congress

Theodor Jung, Untitled photo, possibly related to: Rehabilitation client worrying over his accounts, Jackson County, Ohio, April 1936, Photograph: Library of Congress

Arthur Rothstein, Untitled photo, possibly related to: Sharecropper’s wife and children, Arkansas, August 1935, Photograph: Library of Congress

Stryker deployed a specific editing process where himself and his assistants would choose photographs they believed were true to the brief; the other images were rendered unsuitable and punctuated with a hole puncher. These ruthlessly “killed” photographs were left unpublishable. Today the found works appear to have black discs floating upon them, a visual mark of rejection which accidentally focus the viewer’s attention.

Killed Negatives at the Whitechapel Gallery runs up until August 26, 2018 and exhibits some of the photographs, photographers’ personal records, and FSA administration documents associated with the project. You can learn more about the exhibition, including information about associated events, on the gallery’s website

Russell Lee, Untitled photo, possibly related to: Surrealistic, window display, Bergdorf Goodman, New York City, January 1938, Photograph: Library of Congress

Walker Evans, Untitled photo, possibly related to: Lily Rogers Fields and children. Hale County, Alabama, Summer 1936, Photograph: Library of Congress

 

 



History

Dig into an Incredible Compendium of Objects Excavated from the Bottom of Amsterdam’s Amstel River

July 9, 2018

Kate Sierzputowski

During a nine year period in the early 2000’s a new metro line was excavated along the banks of Amsterdam’s Amstel river. The urban waterway had to be completely pumped, which gave archeologists a rare opportunity to examine the full spectrum of everyday and extraordinary objects which had fallen to the bottom of the prominent river. Below the Surface, a website created by the Department of Archaeology; Monuments and Archaeology (MenA), the City of Amsterdam; and their Chief Technology Officer, serves as an interactive compendium with access to images and information of 19,000 of the nearly 700,000 findings from the excavation site.

On the website you can explore the findings by date or dig into Below the Surface’s selection of object stories which provide context to specific pieces pulled from the river. An historical background is provided for select buttons, tokens, pottery segments, stamps, books, and other findings such as a 19th-century pipe cover decorated by a portrait of the Dutch navel lieutenant Jan Carel Josephus van Speijk or a 16th-century belt which bears the inscription: “Ik bin en ieger nu ik hebbe dat mi behaget” (or “I am a hunter and I now have what delights me”).

Meticulously divided display cases of the found objects are installed in the new metro line’s Rokin Station and can be visited by the public. A short documentary of the project can be found on Below the Surface’s website, with English subtitles coming soon. (via Kottke)

 

 



Design History

A Modern Solar-Powered Home Built Within the Ruins of an 18th-Century Farmhouse

May 9, 2018

Kate Sierzputowski

Architects Nathanael Dorent and Lily Jencks recently collaborated to build a sleek, modern home within the existing ruins of an 18th-century farmhouse. The home is built on a hill that overlooks more than 50 miles of Scotland’s pastoral fields and combines elements of both the old and new world. The structure features white, futuristic walls that wind throughout the length of its interior, which is completely powered by exterior solar panels. Although there are some updated elements, the structure still sits within the original stones of the farmhouse, and is topped by a pitched roof similar to the one that would have sheltered the old Scottish house.

While building the structure, Dorent and Jencks used their admiration of specific views seen from the farmhouse as inspiration for custom windows. One particular oval opening in the wall looks directly onto a nearby field of cows perfectly set against a backdrop of rolling hills. You can learn more about the new home and the philosophy behind its construction on Dorent’s website. (via Fubiz)

 

 



History

Century-Old Film Footage Edited to Present a More Dynamic View of New York City Life in the Early 1900’s

May 1, 2018

Kate Sierzputowski

Videographer Guy Jones edits century-old film to more accurately match the video standards of the present day. For the black and white clip of New York City in 1911 shown above, Jones slowed down the film’s original speed and added ambient sound to match the activity seen on the city’s streets. The subtle additions allow for a more engaging experience when viewing of the 20th-century footage, and presents the urban milieu in a more realistic light.

This particular film print was created by the Swedish company Svenska Biografteatern during a trip to America, and remains in mint condition. You can see more of Jones’s edits of films from the late 19th-century to mid-1900s, like this video of Victorian street traffic galloping down the Champs-Élysées, on his Youtube channel. (via Twisted Sifter)