A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
This print has been hanging here and there at home for many years--it has always been amusing, and somehow warming.
"A _M of A, and Dealer in Curiosities" was "published as the act directs 30 July 1839", is an etchign which depicts,
I guess, a lettered/educated man who winds up as a seller of scientific and intellectual bric-a-brac and interesting bits, perhaps wonderful natural history/physics materials, perhaps trivialities. He seems satisfied to me, regardless of the little man over his shoulder making a face, a reminder perhaps to not take the curiosities too seriously. [There's also another face off to the right, peering into the image (see below).]
The Record of Arts & Science that our dealer is reading has some interesting parts to it:, including something on new mechanical flight and a new diving bell--it would've been more interesting historically if it had mentioned the brand-new Daguerre invention.
Changing the Mind's View of Simple and Complex Ideas via Different Image Perspectives
I’m always very interested in curious things, or standard, “average” things pictured in non-standard ways, as the
change in perspective can lead to entirely new observations and discovery. Seeing this illustration in an article by J. Norman Lockyer (Nature 1881) I was shocked by its clarity and usefulness—Lockyer was simply showing the arrangement of his apparatus for his solar spectrum experiments but the angle of observation (being at such an oblique angle as is normally found) was just, so, well, “correct”. The image I thought was perfect for the reader—not only that, it was designed artistically and with grace, and one can see exactly what Lockyer was up to. Diagrams would’ve worked almost as well, but there is just something so extraordinary here that you could just about work from the image if there was no description.
Looking at things differently is hard work—that’s why I think it is always good to refresh the neuronal sap and look at great examples of unusual , insightful imagery.
Sometimes it works to read the description of what the image is before actually viewing it to see the differences of the image that you form in your brain before seeing the thing itself. For example, when reading about the Dogon, a cliff-dwelling people of the plateau of Bandiagara, south of Tombouctou, and how they would make houses and then towns out of the rocks fallen from cliffs, you get what is probably a pretty benign image. When you see photographs of these structures it seems as though the brain just simply isn’t ready for their impossible nature, though you quickly, instantly, recover (once you convince yourself the photo is real) and—voila—your mind has been expanded. (This photo is from an expansive work by Bernard Rudofsky, Architectures without Architects, Doubleday, 1964.)
The (internally) spectacular Etienne Boullee can greet us in the same way with some of his eye-popping architectural
creations (unbuilt architecture by an architect, in this case, compared to the built architecture of the non-architects above). Boullee’s “Plan du Cenotaphe de Newton”, a gigantic memorial to Newton that was dancing with necessary privacy in Boullee’s brain during the French Revolution (and also during a particularly un-Newtonesque time in on-your-knees-to-Cartesian-principles France) is another superior example. Reading the description of the structure just doesn’t quite do, and it seems whatever grand comes of that is tarnished and stripped away by the obesely florid sentiment of none other than Ledoux’s poetic sentiments “…O Newton! Sublime Mind! Vast and profound genius! I conceived the idea of surrounding thee with
thy discovery…”. Oy. Boulle adds to this inspirational atrocity by saying of the sphere: “…we must speak of a grace that owes its being to an outline that is as soft and flowing as it is possible to imagine…” And once the demand of “oh dear god just please show me the picture” is met, we are left with a turned-around brain and another heavenly exaltation, or profanity. The Cenotaph is just Grand-Canyon-Spectacular.
Complex can turn on the simple in this way, where we can have those “a-ha” moments from, say, early efforts at picturing the fourth dimension or non-Euclidean geometry to a new perspective of looking at Roman ruins. The arrival on the non-Euclidean geometries in the 19th century posed new issues, not the least of which was representing the ideas. Our saintly Hermann von Helmholtz believed –contrary to most elevated opinions—that the human mind could indeed intuit complex space and figures of these geometries. (The difficulty not only from the obvious intellectual hardships in picturing the concepts but also because the geometry of Lobachevsky http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Lobachevsky.html was called somewhat into doubt when some of its results were cast in doubt by contemporary astronomical observations.—and this even though so far as the great Gauss was concerned there was no deviation in Euclidean values.) Helmholtz did this by employing the three-dimensional pseudosphere model of Beltrami. (Reluctance to these ideas would end soon enough, for, as Linda Dalrymple Henderson points out with such sotto voce, “the convenience of Euclidean geometry would prove inadequate once Einstein” hit in 1905.)
The work of Beltrami and H.P. Manning (Geometry of Four Dimensions, 1914), and Jouffret (Traite elementaire de geometrie a quarte dimensions, Paris 1903) in illustrating these complex ideas (the titles of which were in themselves daungting as with Jouffret’s “plane projections of the sixteen fundamental octahedrons of an ikosatettrhroid”) would in themselves prove to be entirely irresistible to the world of the arts. Charles Howard and Maurice Princet I think had as much to do with the creation of cubism and abstract art and the imaging of time than anyone, including the painter (I shudder to say his name) of Les Demoiselles (1907) or the lovely Georges Braque (Houses at Estaque, 1908) or Jean Metzinger or even the sublime comedian Duchamp’s Nude Descending(1914). The hypercube starts to show up a lot in some Bauhaus genres and even into the palette of Frank Lloyd (“Stinky”) Wright (with his St. Mark’s Tower plan, NYC, 1929). I can only imagine the shock to the brains of these creative geniuses in seeing the display of such a novel idea. (For the ultimate treatise on this see Linda Dalrymple Henderson’s The Fourth Dimension and Non Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art, Princeton 1983). And no the art didn’t come first.
But coming back to the simple, and in the same frame as the first example that we mentioned in Lockyer, we have the unlikely find of Giovanni Piranesi. In my opinion his most spectacular work is found in his frammeni (the diverse bits and pieces of architectural and sculptural bric-a-brac found objects that are collected together on one stage) and in his archaeological detail. His attention to new perspective in showing the crucial aspects of structure and building in Rome is tremendous and
unexpected—as an example we see here the child’s-eye-height view of three steps of the reconstruction of the theatre of Pompey. I must say that I’ve seen a lot of architectural images in my time but nothing quite comes to me so surprisingly as this step-level view of the reconstruction of a Roman theatre, This happens throughout the lesser-known Piranesi, with great details of tools, and cross sections of the very deep
footings of bridges, and so on. It is really refreshing, lovely, unexpected work.
We’ll return to this subject from time to time as I have hundreds of interesting examples to draw from—for example, the remarkable Emily Vanderpoel’s Colour Problems (which has surfaced in this blog from time to time) which is ostensibly an undecipherable attempt to quantify color arrangement in art but through the lovely examples displaying this attempt pre-date the modern re-invention of non-representational art by at least a dozen years. Stay tuned!
This is a simple tally of American patent numbers and the years in which they appeared. I've found this list handy from time to time and thought to repost it here. It is a lot easier to have this series posted here than have to wrangle he data out of the occasionally labyrinthine U.S.P.T.O.:
I cannot think of another illustration by a scientist or philosopher who attempts to explain their own, literal, view of the world and then offer what this looks like to the reader from inside his own head, looking out through his own eye. That's exactly what Ernst Mach is doing right here on page 15 of his influential book Die Analyse der Empfindungen, the fourth German edition ("The Analysis of Sensations and the Relation of the Physical to the Pyschical", published in Jena in 1903).
There is nothing in this world for Mach that is not admissible to the human brain that is not empirically verifiable--that is, the world is nothing but awash in sensation and that sensation itself forms part of the experience of, well, experience. I've actually never been interested in the philosophy of science, and this is one of the reasons why. Nevertheless I boldly break through my own prejudices to enjoy this phenomenally original image, drawn from the inside of Mach's working mind, looking out through his eye socket, over his mustache, under his eyebrow, around his nose, out across his body and then leaping into the rest of the world. I think he does make his point about the essential
nature of the observer. And much like the classic Steinberg New Yorker cartoon of the world view of the New Yorker (of course this includes only Manhattan), I know some number of people who have transposed their bodies much like Herr Mach into the Steinberg map--except that their worldview ends basically at the Hudson River (Mach's feet) with the rest of the world being the sliver out there beyond the river (Mach's window) until you go 359 degrees around the world to get back to the East River (and back inside Mach's noggin). It is an unusual world view to have, but someone has to have it so that we can at least identify it so.
I just like the picture.
(Section 10, describing this image, with translation by C M Williams and Sydney Waterlow from the blessed Dover people in 1959):
"The considerations just advanced, expressed as they have been in an abstract form, will gain in strength and vividness if we consider the concrete facts from which they flow. Thus, I lie upon my sofa. If I close my right eye, the picture represented in the accompanying cut is presented to my left eye In a frame formed by the ridge of my eyebrow, by my nose, and by my moustache, appears a part of my body, so far as visible, with
its environment. My body differs from other human bodies - beyond the fact that every intense motor idea is immediately expressed by a movement of it, and that, if it is touched, more striking changes are determined than if other bodies are touched - by the circumstance, that it is only seen piecemeal, and, especially, is seen without a head. If I observe an element A within my field of vision, and investigate its connexion with another element B within the same field, I step out of the domain of physics into that of physiology or psychology, provided B, to use the apposite expression of a friend of mine made upon seeing this drawing, passes through my skin. Reflexions like that for the field of vision may be made with regard to the province of touch and the perceptual domains of the other senses."
I've been involved in this blog at retrieving and tabulating antique images that look straight down on something. Today I imagine that we all take these sorts of views for granted, what with satellite images and Google Earth and airplanes and all. But in the pre-heavier-than-air era, seeing a published image that looked straight down from a height was quite rare. (And it needs to be strait down, not a bird's-eye view. Things are very different between looking obliquely from an airplane window onto a cityscape than skydiving directly down on top of it.)
Benjamin Franklin had long been thinking about waterspouts, going back at least to the early 1750's, though he did not have an article about them in print until the appearance of "Physical and Meteorological Observations: Conjectures and Suppositions" in the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions, LV (1765). The first image that I've been able to find of the waterspout occurs in 1774, though a prettier version of it is reworked a little, but with sharper delineations, in 1818:
Here's the full image (with a magic square that related to another article in the volume):
This is a continuation of sort of this morning's post, "Massive 500-Daguerreotype Mosaic", though this one concentrates on the sumptuous ruination and decay that has occurred within and to some of these photographic images. I've looked closely at only five of these images, and within each of these five images there are five more. And, if you manipulated the largest downloadable file of these (which range up to about 150 megs), there are five more within the five within the five. And all that before you start to imagine the artistic fantasies int he non-representational forms, and that before adding color. So five is all that will be here, for the present.
This blog has long hosted a series of posts on "accidental" or "unintended" works of pre-modern modernist art found in displays of information and statistics in the sciences and mathematics, and even occasionally in art and design. One such work--a 1904 triumph of accidental art issuing from an usunal work on color theory--belongs to an aesthetician named Emily Vanderpoel. It is extraordinary in a narrower sense, and that extraordinary might not actually be positive for its original intent--the extra-intent of the book, what has come out of it for me, was something that was unintentionally accomplished by the author. The images that she used to illustrate her color theory ideas--the basis of which are not really omprehensible to me--turn out to be artwork in themselves, a found art, the artistry of the images taking over the original intention for the arrangement of their color. She had introduced (though to no one, not really) a concept of beautifully arranged spatial color, artwork without a subject that could be recognized as any sort of natural object--non-representational art, finding publication several years before what is seen as the first inentional attempt at that genre, by Vassily Kandinsky in 1911. (Images below.) And when one strolls through the history of scientific illustration it becomes easier and easier to find such things, fabulous precursors to non-represnetational art, and Dadism, and Cubism and Surrealism.
These elements seem to be most populous in the illustrated sections of early encyclopediae, and dictionaries, and even encyclopedic dictionaries, where a number of different elements are displayed on the same page, different and generally unrelated images on the same engraved sheet, references for articles found in different parts of the book.
Here is a good example of that, with unintentional Surrealist images found in the image refernce pages of Horace Benedict de Saussure's Voyages dans les Alpes....(published in Neuchatel in 1803):
[There are a number of other examples that I've written about on this blog: here, for example, in "On the Paper Sculpting of Nothing".]
And then there are examples like Vanderpoel, where the entire image from one sheet is the pre-modernist image in question--to my experience this is the more uncommon occurrence.
Which brings us to today's installment: the infographic displays found in Francis Walker's Statistical atlas of the United States based on the results of the ninth census 1870 with contributions from many eminent men of science and several departments of the government, which is the atlas of data to accompany the 9th Census of the United States, published in 1874. This is a beautiful work, and a pioneering challenge. Walker was one of the earliest to produce a statistical atlas, and was perhaps the earliest to display this huge and broad amount of data in so many different ways--it must have seemed a semi-miracle to see the information displayed so, like going froma black & white television to color, or color to infared, and so on. It may well have represented anentirely new way of looking at data.
The first image (above) in this post is from the illustration showing proportions of the white/non-white population, and the following image shows a detail of that, offset against Mark Rothko's 1959 Black on Maroon.
Francis Walker's statistical mapping, above, 1873; Mark Rotko,
[Black on Maroon (1959) by Mark Rothko, part of the Seagram mural series, via Tate Modern.]
The first and third images are details from this full-page illustration:
It is easy to see the similarities between the data display and the Rothko, though it would really not be within anyone's power to identify the Walker diagrams as "art" in the modern sense for another five decades. But it certainly seemed there, ready to be of influence and service, though I'm not aware offhand of artists being influence by these images as they were with, say etienne Marey's photographs. I'm not sure that these statistics images ever came into the service of art in the beginning of the modern era. And maybe that's the biggest question here.
[My thanks to Patti Digh for providing the idea for the Goedel part of this adventure into Playtex and Logic--she did so because (a) they fit together and (b) girdle/Goedel sounded almost identical to a woman who once lived in Munich!]
In the long history of Holding Things In, perhaps the newest of its
members was upon us only recently. In the long, deep past we have held
our breath, hidden our anger, stowed our emotions, and so on, but it was
only recently that we began to hold our bellies in. One of the masters of Holding Things In for this period turns out to be the sublime logician and re-inventor of modern mathematics (by putting one piece of the great Hilbert to sleep), Kurt Goedel, who towards the mistakenly-self-engineered end of his life, held on to everything, virtually--he organized and filed almost very piece of paper that he came into contact with at any level, became ever more reclusive, and at the end (due to his theories of people/institutions wanting to kill him) refused food and, of all things, water. Surrounded by the smartest people on the planet (including his friends Einstein and von Neumann) up there at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, Goedel withered away until he had almost no shadow. It is a bad irony that he could be so inconceivably unmovable and restrained while at the same time, and in the same life, offered such incredible newness to the maths--both ends of the mountain at the same time.
1951, the year in which these girdle advertisements appeared in Life magazine, was also the year that Goedel present us with the Goedel metric, and also in which he received (with Julian Schwinger) the first Albert Einstein award (and of course delivered his famous Gibbs lecture "Some basic theorems on the foundations of mathematics and their implications").
The popular introduction of the girdle I think that
this happened at about the same time for the sexes, only these
conveniences were much more often advertised for women than they were
for men. Slender and non-existent waistlines for women were more of a cultural identifier
than a slim-hipped man, and the ads for his cheaters appeared far less
frequently than those for women.
The first widespread appearance of the girdle for the sake of vanity must have occurred during the 19th century, or perhaps a little later is my best guess--but the first time the device began to appear for the common woman must've come around the time when there was time for leisure, or shopping, or of being seen in public in short intervals. And that I believe is a Victorian-age invention.
But the binder doesn't come into fabulous presence until the distribution of mass population illustrated magazines, or I should say the advertisements that made these magazines possible: production like LIFE (from which these 1951 images come) reached far more women than the popular older periodicals like Harper's Weekly or other polite mid-19th century journals for women. The advertisements were certainly more enticing, the possibilities more rewarding, and the girdle comfort levels far higher than their predecessors, and the availability of disposable income for women far greater--and so incidentals like the girdle became more greatly commodified, and moved into the "essentials" category.
The idea of these ads seem horribly revolutionary: on the one hand, the badly-named and hyphenated Playtex product "Pink-Ice" squeezed women into new tight but malleable molds, while at the same time promised some sort of ballet-like freedom because of it. Like the creeping ("two steps forward and one step back") communism of the time, Playtex promised the possibilities of enhanced freedom through restrictive clothing (in a "peace through strength" vision). In any event, and in spite all of what I just wrote, the pictures are kind of amazing.
[I'm well aware that this may be one of the worst things ever written about Kurt Goedel--the Renault Dauphine of Goedeliana. But it doesn't matter, because in all of his powers, Goedel could absolutely prove that g_d existed, and that I don't.]
This of course is not a story of ancient spacecraft, but it is about Very Large Things being manipulated in space in the days of steam and pre-steam engineering. It is hard to escape the "rocketship" interpretation, as some of the images, sculpted slightly out of context and cleansed of any identifying text and viewed with a squint, look as though they might be large booster rockets being readied for flight. They are of course images of some great and famous pieces of engineering--moving massive obelisks, and moving them in the 19th century and before. And in the case of the Romans, and the original Egyptians, moving them way before our last millennium, moving 200- and 900-ton objects without benefit of very much at all.
Two of the great examples are the pair of obelisks that the Romans moved from Heliopolis to Alexandria, where they stood for another 2000 years. Over time there was only one standing, and that one wasn't doing so well by the end of the 19th century. The fallen obelsik was taken to London in 1877; the other, the standing obelisk, was given to the United States by the Khedive of Egypt two years later, in 1879. The man in charge of this second operation was Lt. Commander Henry H. Gorringe, U.S.N., who had the very tricky job of lowering the monolith, bracing it for transport by sea, fitting it out for a ship, and then transporting it to Central Park and raising it again. He was able to accomplish this feat with the "fragile" 100-ton object in just a year.
This next image is more classical and probably iconic, at least in the history of science world, and is found in the superb book by Domenico Fontana, Della Transportatione dell'Obelisco Vaticano (published in Rome in 1590 and again in 1604):
They really do have a certain modern taste for interplanetary access, at least to me. That aside, it is interesting to consider what this vastly heavy movement must've looked like to people long ago, when big machines with enormous powertrains (like this 1,200 ton capacity 300'-tall mobile crane)could be hauled into service to do their end in manipulating highly problematic and very heavy things in space. To think of moving these very heavy objects with steam (or less) was a daunting task, and to see these images showing the progression of movement of these things must have been enormosuly satisfying.
Where is the center of the Earth, of religion, of the United States, of the universe, of art, of consciousness, of seriousness, of complexity?
The center of stuff throughout history has been an almost entirely shifting matrix, a collection of vortices coming from Jupiter’s strongbox–a three dimensional representation of the location of their shifting centers over time would make an interesting Fibonacci-like display, I think.
The question may seem meaningless at first, but people have long asked it of nearly everything within their experience, trying to find the center of their world and universe, of their selves, of their religion, of their country, of politics, of art and music, and on through the Encyclopedia of Things that Could Have a Center.
Take for example the questions of where the center of the Earth, or solar system, or galaxy, or universe might be? There have been answers to these question more often than not over time, though the answers have been shifting. The center of the Earth has certainly stayed more-or-less constant over thousands of years, though the stuff in the center has been swarming with change, from being hollow, to being filled with magma, to being a solid magnetic core, to being occupied by Mole Men, to housing the seat of the Inferno, or to be simply located on the surface of the sphere at Jerusalem (as the old T-maps have shown for hundreds of years), and on and on. Working backwards, the center of the universe has drastically changed over time–for thousands of years, it was assumed that the Earth was the center of all things, until it wasn’t (that beginning mostly with Copernicus, and then challenged with Galileo’s use of the telescope and his discovery of an order of magnitude more stars, etc.). And then William Herschel beautifully represented the shape of the galaxy in 1782, placing our solar system in a far from central location. The center of the universe’s fate changed along with that of the Earth, incredibly so beginning with the Big Bang and then with the possibilities of their being a universe without boundaries. And then of course there’s multiple universe theories, and worm holes, and the space time continuum, which complicates things even further, making the discussion of a “center” pretty much nonsensical.
Simpler things can be as complicated–where is the center of the United States? If we measure the center for the lower 48 states, it will be different than if we included the two far-flung states, or protectorates like Puerto Rico. The geographical center is one thing; another might be where the population center might be–that has made a beautiful map published over time by the U.S. Census Bureau (Department of Commerce), showing the star of the center moving not-so-slowly westward into Ohio over the last 20 censuses or so. And where is the heart of the country? Where is the heart of the West? Better yet, where is the center of the West (or North, or South, or Mid-West)? To answer where the center of these places might be you’ve got to first locate where those geographical ideas begin and end, which for many is a tricky subject, making it a matter of opinion as to where the center of these places might be.
The center in art had been a findable thing for some time, though more recently people like the Impressionists and Kandinsky have shown that the center might not exist, and it might not exist along with anything that is recognizable as a form of nature, representation and the center falling away completely. Perhaps this is like finding the center of a decade or year or month, or week or day or second. The parameters keep getting both smaller and larger, the ability to measure halves of things or the center of a second growing almost incalculably small, small enough to reveal that in this Zeno-paradoxical way, that there is no center because there are no boundaries; getting half-way to something into infinity doesn’t tactually get you there.
The center of balance, the center of levity, of concern; the center of emotion–another center that has been mapped all over the human body, from the heart to the head to the limbic system to a confusion of freudian desires to an inelegant and intractable collection of stimuli and response. The center becomes more of a belief-but even there, center can have no more a constant than change. The center of Christianity may be Christ (though it wasn’t always so, witness the Mary Cults through the first few centuries of Christianity), but then you have to understand which Christ it is coming from which Bible, the center becoming more a concern of interpretation and spread over many Christian groups than one solid center. And when you spread the field to include all religions and you expand the center notion to a primum mobile or collective or whatever, then the center gets very big—and in some religions, it is nothing but the center.
It seems to me that if the issue of finding the center of big and small things alike is difficult, then why does it seem so easy for people to determine and adhere (and sometimes to believe in at all costs) to expansive ideas like “normalcy”?
A history of normalcy is one that looks at the things deemed to be “normal”, or standard, or acceptable at one time that became not so over the course of time. Buying and selling human beings, women and their children being property of the husband, Chinese immigrants in America not have (any) legal rights, classification by skin color or sex or financial status or political belief are a few good candidates (among thousands) for this history. It is an interesting proposition to think about—what things around you, or better yet, what thing you think or say or do, that look good and acceptable today might look embarrassing and unacceptable thirty years hence. In 1935 one issue might’ve been accepting the codified behavior of treating women as less than equal of men, deserving less in the workplace (if they were in the workplace), less rights in the courts, less deserving of equality in general; by 1965, this viewpoint may have well been in the minority; by 1995 it begins to look fossilized; by 2025 it might well be unbelievable. What are the issues of 2010 that could be the equivalent of the 1935 issue?
I'm just wondering why it is that even when people cannot find the center of almost everything that has ever been, that a strict and damningly judgmental regimen of "normalcy" can be so easily instituted, and enforced? This especially since part of the code of adjudicated normalcy for one generation seems mostly gone by the next, that the important becomes trite, and the socially disgusting becomes acceptable. Just as the concept of the center becomes elusive, so too does the standardized idea of normalcy become vaprorous over time.
This is the fourth installment in as many days (starting here) on the artwork of the great proto-Surrealist, J.J. Grandville. Today's quick post (again from his Un Autre Monde, 1844) isn't so much fantastical as the other work pictured here, but it is subtly unusual. It is my experience in looking at prints and other artwork for the last 30 years or so that antiquarian images looking straight and directly down froma height are very unusual--so too for the next thing closest to it, looking down from a slightly oblique angle. Grandville does this often in his work, and I think gives another insight into a brain that was just seeing (most) things differently. [Here's a link for some posts on looking straight down, here and here, for example.]
JF Ptak Science Books Post 1788 Johann Geiler von Kayserberg’s Navicula Penitentie (Augsurg, printed by Johann Ottmar, and printed in 1511) is a remarkable book in many ways, but what I’m concerned with here is the fantastic woodcut illustrating the title page. The book itself is a collection of penitential sermons against moral corruption in his Strassburg community—the sermons won him wide respect and some considerable fame as an orator, writer and theologian—but it is the woodcut of the ship (I’m sorry to reveal) that distracts me more. It is evidently the earliest depiction of a fully-rigged and outfitted ship, with great and accurate detail, far beyond what had been published in the previous 50 or so years of movable type printing. Presumably what we are seeing is Geiler preaching to ship full of what seem to be clerical/clergy folks rather than sailor—clearly Geiler is approaching the upper class here in the ship and not the working man.
I think that Geiler had Sebastian Brant’s 1494 Ship of Fools in mind when the great Hans Burgkmair (the “H.B” who signed this work of art) produced this seafaring image for him. Also Geiler’s publication date of 1511 is shared with Erasmus’ fantastically influential (and leading-to-the-Protestant-Reformation) book The Praise of Folly. (It was written very quickly, in about a week, and centered around conversations he had with his good friend Sir Thomas More; the Latin title of the book is a bit of a wink and a nod to More, Moriae Encomium.) The Fool, the Feast of the Fool, the Feast of the Beasts and so on were all very old institutions that allowed and tolerated the caricature and criticism of church and power structure officials—and this at a time in the Middle ages and Renaissance when such free speech by non-Fool types was strictly unacceptable. In the same work by Brant (“Of Useless Books”, thankfully found with all 117 of the images from the work at the University of Houston library ) we find the following image of the sage Fool.shorn of his headdress, sitting in the library, wearing glasses, and reading, surrounded by disheveled books that were clearly being used and consumed by the supposed clown. To me it shows the substantiation of the wisdom of the free-thought folly speech of the Fool, who, although clothed ridiculously, was a thoughtful, careful, well-read individual whose message much resembled the messenger.
The images in Brant's book are so singular and many of the titles so captivating I've included many from the list from Houston's table of contents, below:
Of Useless Books the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Beggars Albrecht Dürer Of Good Counselors the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Bad Women Albrecht Dürer Of Greed the Gnad-Her-Meister Power of Fatuity Artist unknown Of Newfangled Ways the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Star-Gazing Albrecht Dürer Of Old Fools the Haintz-Nar-Meister Wanting to Know All Regions the Gnad-Her-Meister Of Training Children Albrecht Dürer Not Wanting to be a Fool Albrecht Dürer Of Trouble-Making Albrecht Dürer Not Understanding Raillery Albrecht Dürer Not Following Good Advice Albrecht Dürer Wanting to Escape Consequences of Evil Albrecht Dürer Of Bad Manners Artist unknown Not Providing in Advance Albrecht Dürer Of True Frienship Albrecht Dürer Quarreling and Going to Court Albrecht Dürer Disdain of the Holy Scriptures the Gnad-Her-Meister Of Crude Fools Albrecht Dürer 12 Of Hasty Fools Artist unknown Of Becoming a Cleric Albrecht Dürer Of Wooing Albrecht Dürer Of Great Boasting the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Arrogance Toward God Albrecht Dürer Of Gamblers the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Foolish Plans Albrecht Dürer Of Oppressed Fools Albrecht Dürer Of Gluttony and Rebelling Albrecht Dürer Highwaymen and Lawyers Albrecht Dürer Of Useless Death the Haintz-Nar-Meister Foolish Messengers Artist unknown Of Serving Two Masters the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Cooks and Waiters Albrecht Dürer Of Much Babbling the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Peasants' Squandering Albrecht Dürer 2 Of Finding Treasure Albrecht Dürer 7 Contempt of poverty Artist unknown Not Practicing What You Preach the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Persisting in Good Albrecht Dürer The Teaching of Wisdom Albrecht Dürer Not Preparing For Death Albrecht Dürer Of Overestimating One's Fortune Of Too Much Care the Haintz-Nar-Meister r Of God's Plagues and Punishments Albrecht Dürer Of Unnecessary Wishes the Haintz-Nar-Meister Of Foolish Trading Albrecht Dürer Of Useless Studying Albrecht Dürer Of Jabbering in the Choir Albrecht Dürer He Who Judges Others Albrecht Dürer Of Overbearing Pride Albrecht Dürer Of Seeking Postponement Albrecht Dürer Expecting Inheritance Albrecht Dürer Of Guarding Wives Albrecht Dürer Giving and Regretting It Albrecht Dürer Fools, Far, Near, and Forever Albrecht Dürer
It is intriguing to see ideas are communicated when drawn as a series of events on a single piece of paper--a single-panel, progressive illustration showing the sequential development of an idea. This thought struck me while looking at some of the work of J.J. Grandville (above, "Les Metamorphoses du sommeil", from his book Un Autre Monde, a proto-surrealist work printed in 1844) ) and caused me to think about how old this idea might be, how far back it stretched into the sciences and literature. And right now, I really don't have the answer.
Again, what I'm thinking about is a single-sheet describing an action or thought--not like what might be the earliest example of the "comic book" the Histoire de M. Vieux Bois (1827) by Rodolphe Toepffer (Geneva, 1799–1846) but more like Little Nemo in Slumberland, by Winsor McKay (the following example from 1905). The difference between the two in composition is simply that McKay in his Sunday comics efforts would develop the story on a single sheet of paper, so that you are in a way watching the story unfold as a motion picture would; and in the case of Toepffer, the story is told more in a conventional graphic novel way--in a book over dozens or hundreds of pages, with one illustration per page. (I wonder about including Egyptian and Mixtec hieroglyphics, but I don't think that they apply.)
What seems like an early ready-made example of the sequential imaging of an idea on one piece of paper might be from the great William Harvey's De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus (On the Movement of the Heart and Blood in Animals), which was printed in 1628, and which in an iconic display shows Harvey's demonstration of blood operating in a closed system, and circulated by the heart, and undergoing a "a motion in a circle".
Is this detail a peek at the boundary of The Modern?
Are we seeing the boundaries of the new art? I'm not saying that this is the boundary, or the outermost, or the inner--but it is there, somehow, marking a line between the old and the revolutionary new, a line in the sand in the history of art.
The 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt almost seems to be among the earliest images of a synthetic human, a human no longer solely interacting with its environment, but also now becoming a part of it, the subject losing a part of itself to be a segment of design. The painting was also moving away from solely representational work, with Klimt allowing the expression of his painting to take over the recognizable subject. The subject and the idea of representational painting would disappear completely in just a few years' time with the appearance of Kandinsky's watercolor (Untitled) (1910). Klimit himself would continue his experimentation with The Kiss, which he worked on from 1905-1908.
It is interesting to me to see how the subject and environment of a painting become one, as in the work, for examples of Ferdinand Leger, like his Nudes in the Forest (1909/10):
and Jacques Villon Soldiers on March (1913)
and Umberto Boccioni, States of Mind I (1911)
annd Michael Lerionov Blue Rayonism (1912)
Lyonel Feininger Umpferstedt I, 1914
These more so than the earliest non-representational artists, like Franz Kupka's Noctures (1911), or Gino Severini Hierogyphic of the Bal Tabarin (1912); and not in the very suggestive work of Vlaminck's La Partie en Campagne (1905) or Matisse's Joie de Vivre (1905) or even Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907). The Klimt just seems to me a blending of subject and the rest of the painting, and not in a Cubist or Constructivist or non-representational sort of way.