A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3 million hits| History of Science, Math & Tech | Press & appearances in The Times, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
This small engraving, Slagh in Vlaenderen (Battle in Flanders or thereabouts), is about 3x4 inches, a tiny engraving (on copper, I believe) depicting a large action between what I would guess to be the Dutch, or the army at Flanders, and the Spanish, sometime in the late 15th century to the early/mid 17th century. There were a number of different years in which this action could have taken place, so I'm not sure what this image actually depicts. The print was made sometime in the mid 17th century, possibly earlier. (The original is available for purchase at our blog bookstore.)
What attracted me to this print was the minuteness of the figures in the background--the horse depicted here is not a millimeter long in the original, but we can see that the artist took enough care and had the imagination to make the horse run. (There is a long thread on this blog, "Prints--Looking Hard/Deeeply at" that takes a micro cruise along teh surface of large and complex prints into their perhaps seldom-scene embedded small worlds.)
Ditto for the soldier just to the left of the horse and out of formation--even when you hold the print close, you really can't see that there's a figure there unless you use a magnifying glass. This sample was scanned at 1000 dpi and represents a section of the print that is maybe 8 mm across.
The next sample shows an island that in the original is about an inch across, and as you can well see the sub-detail from the image above is just a fragment of this detail.
And the print in all of its glory, appearing on your monitor at about full scale.
I am constantly amazed at the precision and care and artistry of these early engravers, and how much they cared to include interesting details that were all but invisible to the majority of its viewers. But that's not the point.
The tale of the Garden of Eden is told in the Old Testament, and although it described, its location is left to mystery1, even though its legend is ground zero for the Fall of Man, the eternal disgrace for which humanity still pays. I suppose it would be nice to have a tombstone for the grave. Over time—and particularly in the Middle Ages and then in the Renaissance—the location was fixed in the eastern reaches of the known Euro-world, and then in and about Mesopotamia.
The map Tabula Paradisi Terrestris justa Systema Auctoris incisa a P. Stark-Man was printed late in the 18th century, probably around 1775, and locates the GOE far in the north country, near the Dead Sea, deep in old Armenia, near Mount Ararat (where Noe and his family were supposed to have landed after the creator flooded the world killing everything, where everything else, young and old, infant younger, men women children, beasts and ants, were killed by a wrathful OT maker.). (We offer the first two maps for purchase at our blog bookstore.)
The very finely engraved map by A.R. Fremin, Carte du Paradis Terrestre, printed 1839 (in Paris, by Félix Locquin et Cie, for l'Atlas de la Sainte Bible)., again locates the Garden much further north than the great majority of other maps that I have seen, coming (as with the map above) nearly to the Dead Sea.
This image is a detail from:
Joseph Moxon's Paradise of the Garden of Eden with the Countries circumjacent inhabited by the Patriarchs, printed in 1690, shows the GOE as just to the east of Babel and not far due north from the Persian Gulf, just on the Euphrates in the Land of Nod, which is quite different from our two samples above. (This map is expandable.)
The polymathic and semi-problematical Jesuit genius Athanasius Kircher suspected the location of Eden to be along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in southern Iraq, and published his idea in this map Topographia Paradisi Terrestris in his book Arca Noe in 1665. It is of course a highly idealized map, Eden taking up a disproportionate amount of land, larger than life, bigger than legend almost, a monstrous overstatement of the lost land. Eden is shown here with four gates guarded by angels, but it does its occupants little good, as we can see that Adam and Eve are already stepping up to Satan in the tree of knowledge, and that outside Cain is killing Abel, all harm already being done.
There continue to be differences of opinion on this matter of location, particularly in the modern age, when there are many laying claim to the position of Eden, including a number of half-hearted attempts to locate the place or its idea/ideal in the United States. There are at least 14 Edens in the U.S.-- Eden City/Isle/Town/Valley/Prairie/Village/--in twelve different states (Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, o0rth Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming and thankfully Hawaii),but for some reason they are fairly sparely populated, eight of them having populations of under 1000 people. I don't know what that means.
Then there is this terrific example, coming from Florida (which does not seem to actually have anyplace in the state named Eden), in 1898, being a transorbital bird's-eye view of the east coast of Florida receiving pure holy light, announcing yet another newish Eden.
1. "And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates."(Genesis 2:10-14 KJV)
The Iconographic Encyclopedia of Johan Georg Heck (printed 1851) turns out to be perhaps one of the best designed books of its type in the nineteenth century. Seemingly no matter how much diverse information is hosted per page, whether the items number in the dozens or over a hundred, the artist managed to distribute them with such grace and apparent ease that it is an absolute pleasure to see it all arranged before you.
Take for example the following two engravings of artillery fabrication of the early/mid 19th century. There are 49 complex images on this first piece of 11x8-inch paper (above), and yet there seems to be also a lot of white space. It is a full but not crowded display of superb craftsmanship--it is also all very interesting. (Both are available for purchase from our blog bookstore.)
To start, the main figures at top-center shop the plan and elevation of a workshop for casting canons, and we can clearly see the main furnace ("A") for the big guns, surrounded by smaller auxiliary furnaces for smaller pieces. Off to the side we see "K", which is the drawing room and also the place where the director of the plant would live. Underneath it all in section we see various pipes and drains used to take away water and ash. The structure on the lower right is for forming the business end and the purpose of the canon or mortar--namely, the ammo, and in particular, the pattern mold of a 50-lb mortar. The long vertical pole at left used to place he liquid metal under pressure in the hearth, the ball being at the very bottom center.
I've enlarged figures 4 and 5 to show the particulars of a canon (dry sand) mold, #4 being the exterior of the mold and #5 showing a cutaway so that one could see the six-ponder canon that was being formed inside.
There is just so much in this image that a more knowledgeable person could easily go on for pages describing each and every bit.
The second image displays cartridges and (in general) fireworks--military pyrotechny. What strikes me right away in this image are the five architecturals in the running vertically down the middle of the sheet. They show what to do with gunpowder once it has been manufactured, which is an important consideration on handling and safety prior to it being used in battle--the first plan shows a field magazine, while the other four show the disposition of the construction of a permanent magazine, which show plenty of ventilation as well as massive walls which are in turn sunk into the earth and surrounded by ramparts. It also seems that the roofing is huge, built no doubt to accommodate an earth filler. Each of the barrels carried a hundred pounds of powder, so there was considerable interest not to allow the magazine to blow up, and if it did, to have the blast go mainly skyward.
Some other items of interest in the second engraving include the incendiary devices (at bottom, #s 29+30), signal rockets (#s 32,33,34,35), and the Congreve rocket, (#40 and #52, which is much bigger and meant to be fired on the enemy, it being an incendiary); #53 is another Congreve, but this one scatters grenades as it is in flight.
There's a lot that can be described here but it goes a little beyond what I wanted to do with this post--it is also a lot beyond what I know about the subject.
There are 1500 or so of these news service war photographs here, and one of the remarkable things that I've discovered about them--trivial things to be sure compared with their overall message, ephemeral bits of semi-nothing--is that in many of the very-large-group images that there is sometimes just a single person who is doing something that no one else is doing, and it has been captured almost forever in the photo. There are photos of thousands of troops, all facing east, with on solitary soldier facing west; there's the solitary waver; there's the one bare-headed man in a sea of a thousand men with hats; there's the one person raising his hat to the photographer in a sea of people looking at the camera but not raising their arms. Then of course there's the group photo of a mass of German WWI POWs, with only one soldier without a hat or helmet, and he looks just like me.
Here are two other examples--the first is a detail from a photo showing British children cheering their American allies in 1917, showing one man clearly reacting to the hundreds of screams by covering his ears. And is the only one doing so. The second detail shows a large contingent of American soldiers leaving for Europe on a steamer--there is only one man who turns to the camera and waves.
Both original photographs are available from our blog bookstore, here.
The second detail:
The entire first image, showing the children cheering the raising of the two flags:
And the second, showing a group of hundreds of soldiers waiting to leave Hoboken, New Jersey, for the fight in Europe, 1917. Most are pulling themselves inside their coats as much as possible; I suspect being right there on the harbor--and seeing the floating bits of ice in the water--that it was wet and very cold. Our one adventurous Doughboy gives the camera a spread-fingered wave....he also seems to be quite tall. He is the lone waver. There also seem to be a lot of smiles in the crowd.
Resting comfortably in-between this blog's Cross Sections and Looking-At-Things-Straight-On series is this straight-on cross section of the midship section of the HMS Olympic.
This cross section appeared in the 14 August 1909 issue of The Illustrated London News, just six months or so after she was laid down. The Olympic was finished in 1911 and sailed through until 1935, a considerably much-longer career than her two sister ships, the Titanic and the Britannic. The Titanic of course was launched in 1911 and went down on 12 April 1912; the Britannic lasted a little longer, though this ship never really had much of a career, launched just before the beginning of WWI and then used immediately as a hospital ship, striking and being sunk by a mine in 1916. The three ships were beasts, about 882 feet long and about 53,000 tons displacement. The viewer certainly gets a good idea of the scope of the ship from this image. [The original image of the Olympic and also of the Mauretania are available for purchase from our blog bookstore.]
Third class looks pretty rustic, a no-bones approach to ocean travel, stuffed into the space next to the squash courts and under the gym.
Next comes the HMS Mauretania, again form The Illustrated London News right at the time of its record-setting speed attempt to cross the Atlantic in November 1907. The ship was long (almost 800 feet) and about the fastest ocean-going ship in the world,. crossing and re-crossing the Atlantic in 12 days.
Printed images are interesting in that they exist at all, at least in pre-modern (ca.1900) times. When you think of the total amount of time that humans have been thinking--like the possibilities of all total ideas for all people for the past, say, 10,000 years—and think about the 10x10^9 neurons firing for everyone all the time, and the numbers of books and pamphlets and journals and such printed before 1900, the access to the archive of the human condition looks a little paltry compared incomprehensible amount of good thinking that has gotten away. (Humans haven't helped themselves all that much in this regard, given the deep, long, wide history of the planned destruction of libraries throughout time.)
There are more stars than books. Lots more—10^22 stars versus 1.3x10^8 books (or the stuff that an odd Google study classified as “books” for their scanning and advertising appetites). There's also bacteria and other microorganisms alive in/on the human flora than books (and blood cells too for that matter). Until the 18th century (and really into the 19th) the practical means of producing a book were set to restrictive, upper-class access. For most of human history the ability to even record a thought on transportable material was a deep issue; getting it reproduced somehow was extraordinarily difficult, especially if you belong to the not-yet-existent working class. Even if we just consider works that are 1455-1800 era the illustration was not a common thing, which is odd to me since it seems the image could show in less space what was being described in the text (and for argument's sake here we'll just say that production facility for the illustration and a page of text were equal). I have a funny feeling that if you weighed all of the pages of text against all pages of illustration in all books published from1455-1800, illustration would be enormously, fabulously outweighed.
Which is why in my mind “pictures” are so interesting—they are rare, and so that when they were published they were deeply considered objects.
All this changes though in the nineteenth century when production facilities increase, costs go down, the finished product is available more cheaply to a growing class of people who work for a living and have a disposable income. Newspapers and magazines begin for real in this century, paper costs go down, ability to print at high speeds goes up, and suddenly there exists an addition to the concept of “disposables” —information commodities. For the first time a mass of material is produced to be replaced in the next day or week, disposable reading material. There are more images reproduced and distributed in this century than in the entire history of man on earth. Of course all of this look like nothing, today, now that almost everyone in the U.S. (at least) can be their own publisher/producer of original or found work, which means of course that people in 2086 will look back oat our abilities as we do on the 19th century. And so it goes.
This is why I like pictures—they're comparatively rare, and the tell as much of a story as you will allow. I enjoy scientific and technical images as much as anything, for their dreamy amount of detail and revolving possibilities of 3-D display and such; maps too, for pretty much the same reasons (and that one usually doesn't memorize them, at least not the detailed ones). Of particular interest on this blog has been maps-with-a-purpose, particularly cartographic propaganda, like this 1937 Nazi-published map showing the "danger" posed by the Czechoslovakian air force to Germany. It is a graphic representation of the Big Lie, an element of design intended to transmit an idea to a reader who really doesn't need to do so, being able to get the idea of the the data being presented in the map in one quick visual.
The scientific images demand that you see the difference with what came before to truly appreciate them—one of my favorite examples of this is Robert Hooke's engraving of a magnified flea. The microscope was brand new, and this image, which appeared in Hooke's magisterial,epochal work Micrographia1, presented as much of a new world to people in 1665 as Galileo's reporting in Siderus on the massive number of new stars that he had seen with the telescope he used to look up rather than just across. People would have had no idea that such a magnificently detailed creature such as this flea existed, as they simply couldn't see it. Same too for the stars, which (with the exception of Brahe's Nova and such) had been seen to be “perfect”, an harmonious fixed number, though a relatively simple innovation using materials that had been around for centuries brought a new world to bear. (One is tempted to say that in his new, massive book that Hooke included "only" 38 images; but one has to remember that Hooke did all of the drawings by himself, and actually rushed the book into print as he sensed a market for it which combined nicely for his need for money..Hooke was correct about the market for the book.)
The purpose of some scientific images are difficult to identify when faced with them for the first time and out of context, but once rectified they can be beautiful renderings of complex relationships, like Ernst Chladni's patterns of vibration revealed to us via sand on metal plates (in his Discovery of the Theory of Pitch, 1787), and the Weber brothers' exacting drawings of wave forms (from 1825) (and shown below, respectively).
Adding mercury to mercury: the sensational drawings by the Weber brothers as they observed the changing wave fronts made by a drop of mercury into a pool of mercury:
Rene Descartes depicted the interpretation (in his Principles of Philosophy of 1644) of light and its physiological reaction in the brain in this iconic image, as follows:
the lines of sight depicting binocular vision, observed (and compressed) by the eye's "particles" and processed by the pineal gland which in turn manipulate the "fluids" in the control of nerves and muscles.
Agricola's De Re Metallica (from the first Latin edition f 1556) displays many interesting cross sections of Renaissance mines:
There is so much more, and it may be possible that there were millions of pages of illustrations during our time period. Harvey's demonstration of the flow of blood in the human body pictured by fingers and a forearm (in his On the Motion of the Heart and Blood, 1628), Descartes' analysis of how the human eye "sees" (An Analysis of the Eye, 1637), Agricola's cross sections showing how to construct mines (1556), Scheiner's illustration of the apparatus he built to observe sunspots (1611), Borelli's study of the mechanics of the human body (1680), Rosalind Franklin's x-ray photograph of DNA (used by Watson and Crick to depict the structure of DNA), Thomas Young's illustration of light-wave interference (1803)
Then there are the pictures of the interior of the Fizeau apparatus as it captured the velocity of light so:
Classifying images, like this of Porphyry's (logic) Tree and Raymond Lull's diagrams of life and decision, are in constant appearance for centuries, excellent ways to provide method and organization to large quantities of information and for problem solving. While not exactly a generator in the sense of Jorge Borges' Library of Babel or Jonathan Swift's take on Lull's writing machine, the antiquarians did produce very interesting, elegant, beautiful ways of story information and ordering information. The Tree of Porphyry is far more concise–an abbreviation--compared to the infinitely expanding hexagonal rooms filed with books and attendant librarians in Borges' universe. The Ars Magna/Thinking Machine of the 13th century Lull (also known as Ramon, Raimundo and Raymond, Raimundus and Raymundus Lull, Lully and Lullus and Lulio), was the ultimate organizer of how sentences can be made and knowledge produced/uncovered (particularly if you want to please the logic of the church and the Creator), and which was also written about, described and worried-over by Borges. There are many other early figures in this category to be sure (Lewis Carroll, William Jevons, and even in a way Mr. Venn, not to mention Leibniz and his calculator, and all of the changes in scientific method and (English/Dutch) mathematical concentration on applied mathematics of the 17th century that made thinking about the industrial revolution possible.
Images of ebb and tide, of cause and effect, of bones inscribed in clouds and solids manufactured of gas, of the steps of discovery, of the integral drawing of the integral pieces, of cross sections detailed enough so that you too could build your own locomotive, or guide yourself through a paper transverse dissection of the human brain--this is the great essence of images. It is interesting to look at these things forensically, to identify all of their components and articulate the symbolism, to look at the image cautiously, judiciously--sometimes this just results in insights into the artist who may have been tired and was working through just another piece of drudgery and tried to make their work a little more entertaining. This doesn't add much to the understanding of the event, but it does give the scene a fullness, like, for example in this image of the killing of Archimedes from Histoire Universelle published by the ubiquitous Peter van der Aa in Amsterdam at the turn of the 18th century--it falls in line with many of its comrades of this event in that it depicts the tragedy in the second before it occurred. One thing it has that other scenes do not--a barking dog. Maybe it belonged to Archimedes, maybe not. But there was a dog depicted here, and it was barking at the scene, probably barking at the man about to stab the mathematician, which means it would've been the mathematician's dog. But Archimedes certainly didn't hear the dog if he couldn't be interrupted by the battle outside his door or the Roman who yelled at him to turn.
This blog is written and illustrated around the very loose idea of "the history of ideas", and is quite image-driven--there are probably about 5,000 pictures reproduced here now, a wide selection of illustrated thinking in the sciences and many other fields. This includes one classifications of an image series that really don't exist—I mean they were images intended for one purpose but for the passage of time (and sometimes removing them from context) they become something completely different, entirely new, providing unintentional insights into their artists and times. I find exploring in images this way to be fascinating, noticing the semi-hidden and/or unnecessary, extravagant, extra-necessary bits that were intentionally placed by the artist, as in this example of Archimedes' dog, or with the characters that are sometimes found as "filler" and which are basically wholly unrelated to the intention of the illustration. For example in this application of the imaginary forensic arts microscope, we see this series of pictures of a standard view of the town hall of Antwerp; but what we see advancing under magnification is a very interesting set of occupations displayed in absolutely minute detail.
First, the majority of the engraved image, followed by a close-up of the center of the building (the three doorways), and then by a closer view still of doorway three:
The truly interesting bit here is barely observable in the original; but, under magnification, we see a very rich and minuscule "engraved photograph" of a slice of daily commerce and street life in Antwerp. If you look at the central entrance to the town hall you can see three main (and large) doorways, and if you look closer still, you'll see something leaning against the portal at right.
Extraordinarily, what the artist snuck into the original is a tiny (2mm) figure watching over several tables of her (fruits?/vegetables?) ware, waiting for a customer. There doesn't seem to be much interest in her stuff, currently, and she has allowed herself a little relaxation, leaning against the doorway. I've found this sort of extremely minor subject matter and its ephemeral connection to the larger work at hand to be just fascinating. I wonder why such detail would be added--why would the artist, or engraver, take such care and interest in such minor visions. Perhaps this is just what was at hand on the days the artist fleshed out his work; perhaps it was the work of the engraver, alone, incising yet another semi-boring architectural image; desperate for a little artistic activity, adding some interesting, almost-invisible touches, here and there. Perhaps no one would ever really notice them, but whoever was responsible for adding such incredible, extra-dimensional details would certainly enjoy knowing they were there, recognized or not.
Another good example is found in Guiseppe Zocchi,Veduta della Piazza della SS Nunziata Statua Equeftre di Ferdinando Primo, Fonti, e Loggie Lateral,shows more good work with the possibilities of ephemeral populations, where among the many details we see an invalid being pulled in a small cart, and a half-obscured man with a staff leaning against the back of the monument. And of course there's much more--you just need a little magnification to see the human element of the artwork.
At the end of the day one of the most enjoyable of all image classifications for me are the classifications of image series that really don't exist—I mean they were images intended for one purpose but for the passage of time (and sometimes removing them from context) they become something completely different, entirely new, providing unintentional insights into their artists and times. They are also on the outer-edge of being pre-Outsdider Outsider art. One of my favorite examples in this genre is this 1941 pamphlet which isn’t so much “interesting” as it is interestingly illustrated, where all of the semi-coherent interest resides, the text having left coherence far behind, somewhere, in it own intergalactic dust. WHen IO first encountered it this was the only instance that I had ever seen of New York City floating in space with the Earth floating
happily in the background--now I've collected at least three other extra-New-York-City's-in-space in the last few years. This is also a nice example of extra-NYCs, where there are several other instances, balancing out the larger collection of the opposing missing-NYCs, like this 1902 example showing the city sunken and out-of-sight, disappeared under its own weight:
There's also the sub- or supra-category of extra-Earths department, where I have at least five other examples, including this remarkable effort by Victor Segno of Los Angeles, who in 1929 published this fantastic image depinting extra-human empty alien souls being dropped on the earth to repopulate the place after it had been cleared out by "brain waves".
And so I guess that would be the perfect place to exit this short appreciation of pictures.
1. As Hooke states at the end of the 28-page introduction to the work: …"it is my hope, as well as belief, that these my Labours will be no more comparable to the Productions of many other Natural Philosophers, who are now every where busie about greater things; then my little Objects are to be compar'd to the greater and more beautiful Works of Nature, A Flea, a Mite, a Gnat, to an Horse, an Elephant, or a Lyon.”.
This image (from the The Engineer for 30 October 1874) shows a plan of the top floor of a revolving battery designed by M. Baltard in 1831 (and which is available at our blog bookstore). This idea is probably ancient, though it really only had major technological legs by the 19th century. Even though Baltard is given some fair credit for the modern rediscovery of the revolving turret--and in this short article he is given premier status--there were earlier engineers at work before him. For example, in the earliest part of the 19th century Col. John Stevens designed a saucer-shaped floating battery that was supposed to be able to fire in any direction; T.R. Timbly--slightly after Baltard--applied in the U.S. Patent Office in June 1843 for a device he called a "metallic revolving fort". Then came the great John Ericsson--very long on accomplishments but very short now in modern memory, he is also one of those memorialized men in marble in DC for whom people have almost no modern recognition--who in 1854 produced an "impregnable battery revolving cupola", which led to his great innovation on the Monitor. And as we recall, the Monitor's defeat of the Merrimack in Hampton Roads in 1861spelled the coming end of the wooden ship of the line--metal ships with mounted revolving turrets fore and aft would prove entirely too far superior to the 19th century wooden ship.
What we are seeing in the first engraving is the top floor of a two-story fortification--roof removed--showing the floor plan of the battery. The walls and roof were stationary; the floor was not. The two cannons were located on a revolving floor and were moved by turning the floor (basically) to one of the open firing windows (embrasures) a detail of which is above. When the barrel of the canon was pulled out of this opening, it was turned closed to prevent any fire coming into the fort.
The engraving below shows a cross-section of the two-turret land structure.
The engraving below shows the idea of the land fortification shipboard, one revolving turret fore and aft. It turns out that the engine for the vessel was human, the engineer calling for "either" convicts (forcats) or soldiers to row to move and position the boat
And a detail we can clearly see the long sweep oars:
And the turrets on the ship, the pre-Monitor-style ship:
I assume that the boat was being used for coastal or harbor defense, or at least something very close to land, and was really more a floating, positioning battery than a boat. Seems to me though that after everything was said and done, after all the work was accomplished and the boat built, that making the whole thing dependent on sticks of wood was a fatal flaw.
Horace may have said "Pulvis et umbra sumus" (“We are but dust and shadow")- and meant it, but the artist working here on this ship would definitely have replaced "dust" with "metal and wood". The details above and below are two very small bits (each about a half-inch long or so) from a 15-inch long engraving of a Spanish torpedo boat, and published in The Engineer on 21 October 1887. The workmanship is superb and the sense of design to me is absolutely glorious--the entire image of the plan of the ship is below. [The original is available from our blog bookstore.]
Jean-Jacques Scheuchzer's Physique Sacree (published 1732-1737) is an enormous, plumply illustrated thing, an extraordinarily diverse work on the Old Testament and the antique sacred and its relationship to the panoply of natural philosophy. Its 759 illustrations are usually given overly-encrusted decorated borders by a diverse and at times bizarre selection of themes from biology, geology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and whatever else seemed to work. It is a production of the High Baroque and high imagination, working within the very definite confines of ecclesiastical squareness and scientific roundness--and somehow the pegs all seem to fit, for Scheuchzer.
The image that I latched onto [and which is available at 200% if you click through it] illustrates Genesis I 26, 27:
"26: And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 27: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."
Indeed. We can see the pure holly light (appreciably wide as it gets to its subject than when it started, where it is also degraded) extending diagonally across the image to a surprised/fearful Adam, who is popped into a landscape of the newly-created. But it is the border illustration that is most extraordinary to me--it is an 11-segment depiction of the birth process, told almost exclusively in baby skeletons. The story begins at top-right corner, with perhaps a hint of conception, and then through developmental stages II (embryonic) and then III/IV (taking us through the third month) and then V through VII (showing perhaps through the seventh month or so), displayed in a top- and bottom-middle display, and not in order. I really don't know enough of developmental anatomy to say what is depicted in images VIII through XI, except to note that--of course--they are all skeletons, and the last is weeping.
Spermatozoa seem to be missing in images I and II, or at least Scheuchzer didn't make an attempt to show them at work, even though he must've been aware of their existence, discovered fifty years earlier (in 1677) by Leeuwenhoeck. But this discovery certainly didn't get in the way of maintaining the theory and belief in the homonuclus--the tiny, preformed person carried completely within the sperm and implanted in the woman who served basically as an oven, a receptacle. Scheuzcher believed on the other hand that the homonuclus was located in the ovaries--still part of the preformationist camp, but getting closer to elevating the importance of woman in embryological development.
[All that said I don't know the reason for the weeping skeleton; or, for that matter, what the things are that the two skeletons at upper left are holding.]
The homunuclus, famously illustrated in Nicolas Hartsoeker's Essay de Dioptrique in 1694:
Raymon Lull is perhaps the most famous Catalan given to the world--he is also one of the most famous people in history with the most names. (He was also known as Ramon, Raimundo and Raymond, Raimundus and Raymundus Lull, Lully, Llull, and Lullus and Lulio, among others.) Seriously though, he was a very interesting thinker who went far beyond the norm, and then some, his creativity overmatching the possibilities of the parenthetical sciences of his time, and stretching timeless logic as well as he went along. But so it goes, as they say; he did do aggressive work and at the very least it was for the most part quite pretty-sounding. And as he pushed up and against existing thinking it was up to that confronted thinking to push back--which sometimes happened and sometimes didn't. He studied the law, alchemy, botany, religions, and may well have written the first novel ever to appear in Europe (at least it was the first in Catalan)--I think that you could say, overall, that he was a rationalist.
This engraving is one version of many that I've seen online, and may be the original--this is a pure guess on my part, my reasoning is so mainly because there is so much more added detail than in any other versions of the engraving. the added bits in the corners, and of course the scene revealed by the pulled-back curtain. The engraved lines are also very sharp, very pronounced, not like some of the other version which look a little less defined...this one is razor sharp. (The image is available for purchase from our blog bookstore.)
The word balloon (and by the way I wrote a post here two years ago on the history of word balloons) coming from Lull's mouth is Lux mea est ipse dominius "My light is that of the Lord", a claim for divine inspiration, guidance, fortitude. Beyond all else Lull was a Christian, and a Christian to some severe fault--he was very involved in the conversion of Muslims, and was also an (utter) expulsioist in regards to the Jews. The Christian philosophies of Lull are clearly shown in this 17th century portrait of the man.
And in the scene that is not seen in the other reproductions of this portrait online we see a small host of interesting sci-philosophical instruments cluttered around what seems to be a giant working with an astrolabe. (This fellow is a head taller than the other people gathered around him, and he is most definitely sitting down on a high stool, making him taller still.) We see dividers and various measuring devices, plotting instruments, and even a pair of specs, which would've been very uncommon in in the 13th century. I'm happy to see a dog sleeping through the ruckus.
In the sky in place of the sun is a triangular collection of burning candles, or they seem like candles, which continues a very old tradition of symbolizing unity, and in this case, in a Christian theme, a god surrounded by the holy trinity... related symbols appear frequently in images depicting the Old Testament creation cycle.
Continuing this theme, if you look in the right upper corner of the engraving there is another interesting symbol--a hand issuing from a cloud with a book, sourounded by three fleur de lis. This is in obvious reference to the balloon statement, the hand of god issuing a book, or knowledge, to the recipient (which would be the reader or Lull); the fleur de lis, a French lily, was often used in Renaissance and Baroque imaging as a representation of the holy trinity, and of purity and chastity, spirituality. Or perhaps it was just a flower.
My own interest in Lull--aside from the great beauty in which his ideas were encapsulated and presented--is in his idea generator, and the possible influence it had on later thinkers like Leibniz who may have built on his interesting breakthrough to produce one of the earliest arithmetical calculators. Lull's own calculator (which I wrote a little about here) is simple and elegant, and may actually be powerful for some--it was a series of discs that when turned would relate ideas and letters and numbers which were by serendipity intended to generate unexpected ideas to think about. For the 13th century this was a major idea, and I like it even today.
“...with his blood he confused the lines of his art”--On the death of Archimedes, in Valerius Maximus
"....Bark, bark bark!"--Archimedes' dog
I came across this unusual and not-web-reproduced image of an infamous scene in the history of mathematics, the murder of Archimedes.(The original is available for purchase from our blog bookstore.) There have been a number of depictions of the event, a few dozen artists it seems--including Daumier and Delacroix and others whose name do not begin with "d"--who have chosen to try and capture the moment. (The website at NYU reproduces some of them; Drexel also has a very good space devoted to Archimedes and is a great source for quotes dealing with the event.) This one comes from (I think) Histoire Universelle published by the ubiquitous Peter van der Aa in Amsterdam at the turn of the 18th century, and falls in line with many of its comrades in that it depicts the tragedy in the second before it occurred. One thing it has that other scenes do not--a barking dog. Maybe it belonged to Archimedes, maybe not. But there was a dog depicted here, and it was barking at the scene, probably barking at the man about to stab the mathematician, which means it would've been the mathematician's dog. But Archimedes certainly didn't hear the dog if he couldn't be interrupted by the battle outside his door or the Roman who yelled at him to turn. (I believe Roger Clemens when he says that he didn't realize he was throwing that bat fragment at someone, saying he was in the zone. It happens.)
And a detail of the dog: shows him barking from a reclined position. Jarred awake by the intruder, he sees the action just before the critical motion--not quite awake, no time to stand, the dog (snarling with teeth barred) tries its best. (I am romanticizng the dog part of course. My own dog, Bluey, now 14 or so, simply stared at the people who walked into my house last night with their luggage, thinking that mine was the bed and breakfast where they had their reservations. He sat and stared, and they stared at him. Missing their destination by one house, how disappointed they must've been to think that their retreat was filled with an old dog, kid toys, a dead Christmas tree, and the rest of the jumble.)
I'm not aware of any artist who steals the moment quite so graphically at Jost Ammon (below) does, though. He also makes no effort to remove the millenium-old event from his own Renaissance environment.
Seldom do we see a maxim so vividly depicted as with these lines from Valerius Maximus: Archimedes trying to hold a thought in his head while a Roman soldier comes tugging at him, Archimedes pushing the soldier away to protect the geometrical work that he was scribbling in the sand, and then having his head full of thoughts spilled onto the drawing he was trying to protect. What we see in the detail is almost exactly (or on the verge of being exactly) from the Valerius quote fragment “...with his blood he confused the lines of his art”: Archimedes has spoiled his geometry in the moment before his cleaved head releases the control of his muscles. It is a nasty image, the pissed-off Roman soldier—who theoretically was just looking for spoils in the looted city of Syracuse—having had enough of the three-second hesitation by the old man and reacts badly, beheading him the hard way. (I've written about this pirnt earlier in this blog, here.)
This is definitely the great CSI moment in the history of mathematics, so far as Mr. Ammon is concerned. There is no chance not to see that there is no heraldry to the moment, no faint-away moment, just blood in the sand.
And for some reason--except for the dog part--all I can really think about here is the anatomy of the machines that were shown by the great Precisionists of early 20th century art, the artists who depicted the modern industrial landscape and its tools with fantastic precision and modern-Gothic-y grace.
The artists who found modernity--a modernity found mostly in America--in massive factories, and shining metal, and spokes and gears and all of the other components of factories. There was of course the Marinetti manifesto preceding all of this, and the 1913 69th St Armory Show, and the coming of the French (Duchamp and Picabia & Co.) in 1915 and the Tzara/Huelsenbeck/Ball Dadaist 1916 movements and the rest....but what I'm reaching for is the slightly later work, the early 'twenties, with Hartley and Stella and Sheeler And Demuth and Schamberg (and even the early O'Keefe). This is where I think we see machine art, an oddly realistic semi-cubist something, depicting the power and form and grace of the machine itself rather than the expression of its dynamism.
But what happens (for me, anyway) is this--that when the guts of the machines are revealed, that when we see inside to the components, the very anatomy of modernity, we see a clean, rustless, oil-less, greaseless, world. Big and heavy, massive things of terrific density, and they smell like nothing except their own immobility, which so far as I know smells like nothing. As much as I find these artworks beautiful, I miss that their core wasn't represented--I'd would've liked a little more mess. This is antithetical I'm sure to the message, but it is the essence of the machine.
[Charles Sheeler, Stacks in Celebration, 1954.] And humans didn't often make it into these images--as much as I like the artwork of Louis Lozowick, I like it more when he peoples-up his ultra-tech/urban images. That's another story.
This remarkable photograph is part of an archive of World War I Underwood & Underwood News Photo Service photographs I purchased many years ago. It shows a pile of German soldiers' uniforms--thousands of them--taken from German prisoners, the clothing headed for "cleaning and repair".
[This photo, along with mnay others, is available for purchase from our blog bookstore.]
I didn't know before this that the uniforms were repaired--I can imagine the cleaning part, since the prisoners must wear something, and deep into the fifth year of the war it seems hardly the case that they would be given anything at all to wear except for what they were captured in. the cleaning part sounds logical too, especially as the cleaning was being done by the prisoners themselves (pictured here). Clean clothing makes for more sanitary conditions in mass compounds for thousands of prisoners, and lowers cost for the health maintenance for the prisoners in the short and long run. And so far as repairing goes: attached buttons make for closed coats; closed coats allow prisoners to have a better chance at staying healthy in the coming cold months. Just ask Napoleon about the cost of thread on the buttons of his army's overcoats in the march towards Moscow. (The thread that wasn't used cost very little; the cheaper thread that was used cost everything.)
And the detail:
And closer still:
And the text that was provided by the photo service company to be used along with the photo wen (or if) it was published.
The cleaning and repairing went on, the prisoners kept coming in--even for those involved, the scent of the end of the war was in the air, though I doubt that the majority felt that it was only a week away.
And I know a little about him; but when I looked closely at this wood engraving of the man hard at work something struck me as very unusual to my Santa experience.
The image is from 31 December 1871--coming after Christmas for some reason--and it is one of the very earliest depictions of the most universally recognized form of Santa. It was created (his image that is, of course) by the incredibly prolific and almost-entirely socially responsible (except for Catholics and the Irish) Thomas Nast. Nast created this standard, iconic image of Santa--plus the Republican elephant, the Democratic donkey, the Tammany tiger, and many more iconic public images.
In fairly famous and often used images I had never noticed that the letters that Santa is reading are being taken from the piles on his desk--but the letters are not written by children, but rather were sent by the parents.
Is this end-of-the-year grading? Were the “naughty” children being ratted out by their parents? Does Santa really need to be told all of this? And who on earth really is deserving of a lump of coal, anyway? I'm guessing though that this was simply a warning cartoon to children, saying to them that they'd better well be good or a letter will be going out from Mom and Dad to Santa in the afternoon mail
This might make more make more sense if the cartoon wasn't published five days after Christmas but appeared before the holiday. Perhaps it is perfectly placed--tis would've been the first issue of the weekly magazine after the holiday, so reminding children to be good after a Christmas in which they might not have received what they wanted may have been caused by their behavior. And since part of Nast's social power came from depicting events that were of interest to the working class and the poor and making them intelligible to the illiterate, where the cartoon/caricature could speak without words and make themselves understood, it might've been the case where parents would show the image of Santa to the kids and then tell them about the letter part to try and codify a different behavior in the new-coming-Christmas season.
These questions aside, the lesson yet again for me is to look very closely when looking at complex images like this—especially when you think that you already know what you’re looking at...
There are some combined image/narrative displays that are quietly spectacular, soaringly spectacular in very not-provocative, subtle ways. Here are two that popped up last night.
The Sparton TV ad (from LIFE 1954) dares us to believe that it will get us to the thing that we are watching–a tremendously invasive lie, a Big Lie, buffeted by placing the TV in the middle of a desert from the scene it was/is projecting, along with the toys of a child. And in glorious black and white. We can obviously see that the television can’t get us there, not really, not at all, not better than a book (an enormous creative implement compared to the television), by the tv-set’s absurd appearance in the desert. Plus, well, the TV isn’t getting “you” to the place, it is getting itself there.
Now, Kaiser Wilhelm II–looking like quite the entry into the Anglosphere in this photo, which came easily for him since he was the grandson of Queen Victoria–was depicted in this image (appearing in the Illustrated London News for 7 November 1908 as a great peacemaker. Or at least a man who had extended himself to find solidarity with Great Britain–so much of himself in fact that he could extend no further, that he could do no more, hence the question “what more can I do than I have not done?” IT has the quality of a post office “wanted” poster, which may actually be sort of true, what with what would happen in the next six years and all.
By 1918 the Kaiser was hiding in the neutral Netherlands, caught unawares out-of-town in Belgium when things went to hell in Berlin for him. And after the war with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Wilhelm II found himself in early 1919 facing Article 227 of that treaty, "for a supreme offence against international morality and the sanctity of treaties". But he wasn’t extradited by a friendly Queen Wilhelmina (hint) in spite of the international call to do so. Well, “International” except for the United States, where President Wilson sought to infringe on Lincoln’s post-bellum treatment of the Confederacy by letting Wilhelm go, not prosecuted for the larger hope of keeping alive a chance for peace. Wilson should’ve looked a little harder for peace than in the Kaiser’s direction, as the Treaty really didn’t end the war as much as it started the next one.
When I look at something like this--an advertisement for a company that produced precision instruments--I think instantly of industry, automation, Dada and Duchamp, who along with Cubists and Precisionist and Futurists whobrought out the extreme beauty of industrial, technical, instrumental form. At the same time its probably possible to unthink Engels and Marx who thought that the new coming art form of Communism would be purely functional, to be used in design and implementation only. And I'm not talking about the way that the Victorians added their Victorian crowns and laces and altars in the design of machines and machine parts, worshiping as they did at the shrine of tech science. Marx and Engels had something different in mind, a non-art of simple, employable, straightforward applied design.
This ad is just beautiful.
Which is a detail from this image (available from our blog bookstore, here):
Ball bearings are exceptionally important and have a long history, I mean, long stretching back more than 2000 years (in its most primitive form), finding formative articulation in the Renaissance, and then their first patent in 1869--long and off the point for right now, just long and a little complicated. I just want to say--I find this image to be quite lovely.