History

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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)

 

 



Art History

Text SFMOMA Your Favorite Emoji and Receive an Artwork From Their Vast Collection

July 11, 2017

Kate Sierzputowski

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's newest tech tool allows any smartphone user to gain access to the artworks hidden behind their archive doors, a collection so large that it would stretch 121.3 miles if you placed each artwork end-to-end. With only 5% of this collection on view, the museum decided to create Send Me SFMOMA, a texting service that delivers an artwork to your phone based on a sent emoji or phrase. For example, the first emoji I decided to text was a goat, for which they return Takuma Nakahira's 2008 Untitled image of—you guessed it, a goat.

To participate, text the number 572-51 the words “send me” followed by either a keyword (such as a color, emotion, or type of art) or an emoji. A quick response will bring your phone an image of an artwork from SFMOMA’s vast collection, in addition to a caption containing the artist, artwork title, and year. Within the first four days of the program over 3,000 artworks were generated, a larger number than the amount of works currently on view.

The system isn’t perfect, more of my inquiries came back with an error message than an artwork, however the intrigue of seeing a piece that has been tucked away from the public is quite addicting. I especially loved seeing what some of my most used emojis resulted in, such as the single eye which brought Tomoko Sawada's Early Days (1996) to my inbox. (via Hyperallergic)

 

 



Art History

A Replica of the Parthenon in Germany Constructed from 100,000 Banned Books

July 5, 2017

Christopher Jobson

The Parthenon of Books, 2017.
 Steel, books, and plastic sheeting.
 19.5 × 29.5 × 65.5 m. Commissioned by documenta 14, with support from the Ministry of Media and Culture of Argentina.

South American conceptual artist Marta Minujín has just installed a towering new architectural installation in Germany called The Parthenon of Books, a scaffold replica of the famous Greek temple clad in 100,000 copies of banned books. The piece is currently on view in Kassel, Germany as part of a 100-day art exhibition called Documenta 14.

Minujín worked with students from Kassel University to identify 170 titles that have been historically banned worldwide by various institutions, and then sought help from the public to obtain donated copies. The books were then wrapped in a protective plastic coating to shield them from the elements while allowing visitors to easily identify each title.

An earlier version of The Parthenon of Books was first installed in 1983, referencing an event in Minujín’s native Argentina where books where confiscated and locked up as part of a military junta. This new iteration rests on a site where Nazis burned books by Jewish and Marxist writers in 1933 as part of a broad campaign of censorship.

The Parthenon of Books will be on view through mid-September and you can see more photos at the Instagram hashtag #parthenonofbooks. (thnx, Alice!)

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