Archive for the ‘Modern(ish)’ Category

Two WWII B-25 bombers found off Papua New Guinea

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

Photomosaic of B-25 bomber wreck discovered off Papua New Guinea. Photo courtesy Project Recover.Researchers from Project Recover have discovered the wrecks of two B-25 bombers that went missing over the waters off Papua New Guinea during World War II. Papua New Guinea saw a great deal of action in the Pacific theater between 1942 and 1945, and many US aircraft were lost, their crews listed as Missing in Action. The archaeologists, marine scientists and volunteers dedicated to the recovery of the remains of the fallen in action that make up the Project Recover team have been working since February to systematically map the seafloor in the search for lost B-25s.

In its search of nearly 10 square kilometers, Project Recover located the debris field of a B-25 bomber that had been missing for over 70 years, associated with a crew of six MIAs.

“People have this mental image of an airplane resting intact on the sea floor, but the reality is that most planes were often already damaged before crashing, or broke up upon impact. And, after soaking in the sea for decades, they are often unrecognizable to the untrained eye, often covered in corals and other sea-life,” said Katy O’Connell, Project Recover’s Executive Director, who is based at the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. “Our use of advanced technologies, which led to the discovery of the B-25, enables us to accelerate and enhance the discovery and eventual recovery of our missing servicemen.”

Project Recover blends historical and archival data from multiple sources to narrow underwater search regions, then surveys the areas with scanning sonars, high definition imagers, advanced diving, and unmanned aerial and underwater robotic technologies.

Diver inspects wreckage of B-25 bomber discovered off Papua New Guinea. Photo courtesy Project Recover.The second B-25 was actually known to have crashed in Papua New Guinea’s Madang Harbor. Residents and scuba divers had seen the wreck over the past 30 years, but no archaeologists had surveyed the site. Six crewmen were on board that aircraft when it went down. Five of them survived and were taken as prisoners of war by the Japanese. The sixth is believed to have gone down with the plane and is listed as MIA.

It’s because of that sixth crew member that Project Recover made it a priority to properly document the wreck site. Their scientifically precise documentation will be of paramount importance to the US military should they attempt to locate and recover potential remains of the missing airman or any other soldier associated with the information about the wreck.

Gun turret of B-25 bomber wreck discovered off Papua New Guinea. Photo courtesy Project Recover.Project Recover also enlisted the aid of oral histories from local residents who heard the wartime stories passed down from their fathers and grandfathers. These accounts proved invaluable to researchers. Not only did they learn about the downed B-25s, but they also learned of burial sites on Papua New Guinea and another airplane that crashed on land instead of in the ocean.

In the cases of the B-25 wrecks as with all such finds, Project Recover forwards all information about the craft, any identifying information and all possible crewmen associated with the wreck to the Department of Defense’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). It is the DPAA that pursues all potential recovery and repatriation of MIA remains and that notifies surviving family members.

“Any find in the field is treated with the utmost care, respect and solemnity,” said O’Connell. “There are still over 73,000 U.S. service members unaccounted for from World War II, leaving families with unanswered questions about their loved ones. We hope that our global efforts can help to bring closure and honor the service of the fallen.”

 

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Franz Xaver Mozart finally steps out of his dad’s shadow

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, lithograph by Josef Kriehuber, 1844.Born on July 26th, 1791, Franz Xaver Mozart was barely four months old when his father Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart breathed his last on December 5th, 1791. He and his older brother Karl Thomas were the only two of Wolfgang and Constanze’s six children to survive to adulthood, and almost from birth he was doomed to carry the burden of his father’s musical genius. Karl showed early promise as a pianist, but avoided the trap of being molded into a crappier version of his father by focusing on the business side. He took on an apprenticeship in a trading company when he was 13 years old with the eventual aim of opening his own piano store. The store never materialized, and instead he built a career in the Austrian civil service in Milan.

Alas, Franz was not so fortunate. When he was an infant, his father declared him to be “a true Mozart” because the baby once cried in tune with a piece he was playing on the piano. After Mozart’s death, Constanze poured all her hopes and dreams into little Franz, calling him Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Jr., and deciding he would become a composer and musician like his daddy when he was two years old. He was just five years old when his mother sent him on a concert tour to Prague where he stayed with professor and family friend Franz Xaver Niemetschek. There he received his first formal piano lessons.

Portrait of Constanze Mozart by Hans Hansen, 1802.Back in Vienna, he took lessons from prominent instructors including Johann Andreas Streicher (piano), Sigismund Neukomm, Georg Joseph Vogler and Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (music composition) and Antonio Salieri (general music training). Still a young child at this point, Franz was under unrelenting pressure to develop as a prodigy the way his father had. You can get a taste of that pressure in this entry Constanze wrote in her nine-year-old son’s autograph book, which should probably go in the encyclopedia under the NO WIRE HANGERS EVER category of mothering philosophies.

“A child that offends his parents, / one that wishes them bad luck, / one that does not seek the blessing of his parents, / will be publicly cursed by God, / His end will be horrible; / He will encounter shame and pain. / This is a warning to my dear Wowi, / from his loving mother / Constance Mozart / Vienna, June 20, 1801.”

(Dear Mom, Thank you for having a very different definition of “loving mother” than Constanze Mozart or, say, Medea. Love you!)

At the age of 13, Franz made his debut in Vienna as a pianist and composer of a cantata. A review published on April 8th, 1805, in Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, Leipzig, might as well have been a harbinger of doom:

“Young Mozart’s mother presented him to the public, which greeted him with loud applause. He played the great and beautiful piano concert by his father in C major, in a somewhat slow tempo, yet well and with precision. He also showed a lot of potential…. The cantata following the concert was, according to the program, composed by young Mozart for Haydn’s 73rd birthday. It is almost unbelievable that the entire orchestration could be by the boy […] May the well-earned applause that young Mozart received be a double incentive for the budding artist to follow the footsteps of his great father! May he never forget that the name Mozart now grants him clemency, but will
later confront him with high demands and expectations….

Later? He was confronted with those expectations when he was literally in diapers. This was not lost on him at any point. It wasn’t just a question of musical skill either. Reserved and plagued with self-doubt, he couldn’t help but suffer in comparison to his extroverted and confident father.

His old teacher Niemetschek said in his biography of Mozart, Sr., that Franz (then 17 years old) was certainly gifted, but unlike his father, he lacked the firm guidance that Wolfgang’s father Leopold had provided his son, without which his brilliance might never have flourished. “The first fruits of his musical talent have been well received by the public. His piano playing is distinguished by fine expression and precision. […] Apparently, the spirit of his father lives on in him. However, the son is missing an educating fatherly hand like the one that excellently guided and cultivated the genius of his own father.”

In 1808, he turned to teaching to make a living. He moved to Galicia where he taught Count Wiktor Baworowski in Podkamień for a few years before taking a job as piano teacher to Count Tomasz Janiszewski near Lviv in 1811. He would continue to teach the aristocratic families of Galicia for many years, with occasional concert tours and visits to his mother in Salzburg. In 1838 he moved back to Vienna, still employed as teacher and music master for the daughters of the noble Baroni-Cavalcabò family. (Their mother Josephine was his long-time lover.)

Back in his father’s old stomping grounds, Franz was invited to participate in the celebrations of Wolfgang Amadeus’ life and music. In 1839, he was asked to compose a cantata in his father’s honor for the dedication of the Mozart-Monument in Salzburg. He was so insecure about his “lacking ability” (those are his own words), he declined the commission at first. Eventually he took the job, transforming two of Wolfgang Amadeus’ unfinished works (the Offertorium Venite populi and the Adagio for piano) into a cantata he performed at the 1842 dedication of the monument.

In 1841 he was appointed Honorary Music Director of the newly-founded Cathedral Music Association and Mozarteum in Salzburg. Alas, his days were numbered. He died of a “hardening of the stomach,” i.e., stomach cancer, in the Czech spa town of Carlsbad in 1844. On his tombstone was engraved this sad testament: “May his father’s name be his epitaph, as his veneration for him was the essence of his life.”

Portrait of Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart on display at 2016 exhibition at the Mozart Residence. Photo by AFP.In his will, he named Josephine Baroni-Cavalcabò as his sole heiress, but he had told her explicitly before his death that he wanted his personal library and all of his father’s materials — correspondence, autograph manuscripts, music, sketches and family portraits — to go to the Cathedral Music Association and Mozarteum. The successor of that organization, the International Mozarteum Foundation, today owns a great part of the Mozart estate thanks largely to Franz Xaver’s generosity.

Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart finally got his own exhibition at the Mozart Residence museum in Salzburg last year. Original documents, letters, and compositions traced Franz’s life on its own terms for a change, and he got the credit he deserved for preserving and bequeathing the rich legacy of Mozartiana that Salzburg is so strongly identified with today.

 

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Test of Rollo’s descendants’ bones gangs agley

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Researchers exhume bones from Fécamp Abbey, February 29th, 2016. Photo by Vegard Strømsodd.Last year, a team of French, Danish and Norwegian researchers exhumed skeletal remains from the tombs of two medieval dukes of Normandy, direct descendants of Rollo, the 10th century Viking raider who so effectively plundered the towns along the Seine that King Charles the Simple had to bribe him with great swaths of property. Those lands would become the Duchy of Normandy, and one of those dukes, Rollo’s three times great-grandson William the Bastard, would conquer England.

The lead ossuaries buried in the graves of Rollo’s grandson Richard I (known as Richard the Fearless) and his great-grandson Richard II (Richard the Good) were raised from under the floor of Fécamp Abbey on February 29th, 2016. The researchers’ aim was to recover teeth that might contain extractable DNA. The DNA might then answer a question that has long bedeviled historians: was Rollo Norwegian or Danish? Medieval chronicles and sagas differ on the subject. Per Holck, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oslo, and University of Copenhagen geneticist Andaine Seguin Orlando got permission from the French government to open the ossuaries in the hope genetic testing might resolve the debate over Rollo’s origins once and for all.

Richard I statue on the west facade of Fécamp Abbey. Photo by Giogo.They were lucky at first. One of the ossuaries, the one purportedly containing the remains of Duke Richard II, included a lower mandible with eight teeth. Because recovering nuclear DNA from ancient remains is always difficult, often impossible, due to degradation of organic remains and environmental contaminants, teeth provide the best opportunity to retrieve viable, clean DNA because the genetic material is in the pulp, encased in and protected by layers of dentin and enamel. The team was allowed to keep five of the teeth which they sent to the University of Oslo and the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for GeoGenetics for testing.

That’s where their good luck ended. They were unable to extract any DNA from the teeth, which were too old, had been exposed to high moisture levels and contaminated by decades spent in a lead ossuary. After hitting the wall on genetic analysis, researchers decided they might as well date the bones. When the radiocarbon dating results came in they blew apart any chance of the remains providing new information about Rollo. The bones in the ossuaries do not belong to Richard I and Richard II of Normandy. They long predate the Richards. In fact, they long predate Rollo himself. One of them dates to 704 (+/- 28 years), the Merovingian era, so more than 200 years before Rollo started marauding on the Seine. The bones belonged to a man, tall for his time at 1.8 meters (5’11”), and because his right forearm is slightly longer than his left, he was likely a warrior. The other is even older than that, like a thousand years older. It dates to 286 B.C. (+/- 27 years), which means it not only predates the Viking era, it predates the Roman occupation of the area.

Richard II statue on the west facade of Fécamp Abbey. Photo by Giogo.It’s not a huge shock that the ossuaries did not contain the remains of Richard I and II. As I noted in last year’s article about the exhumation, the remains were repeatedly moved over the centuries. The Dukes were buried outside the Church of the Holy Trinity in Fécamp, consecrated in 990. They both requested that they be buried under a water channel so their sins could be washed away for eternity. Their remains were moved and buried inside the new Romanesque church in 1162 by order of Henry II of England, Duke Richard II’s three times great-grandson. They were moved again in 1518 to the high altar of the Gothic church, and again in 1748. The remains were rediscovered in 1942 when work was done on the church, and the bones were reburied in 1947. They were moved one last time in 1956 when they were placed in those lead boxes and moved to the southern transept where researchers at the time believed was the closest spot to the original burial location.

Gothic church of Fécamp Abbey. Photo by Urban.Somewhere in the middle of all that, the bones of a man from the 8th century and one from the 3rd century B.C. were confused for those of two dukes of Normandy. So the Rollo thing is a total bust, but now there’s a whole new bag of issues to keep researchers busy. The biggest surprise is the pre-Roman skeleton. How such an ancient personage wound up riding the reburial carousel is inexplicable right now. Researchers can only speculate that he may have been an early Celtic chieftain buried in a ritually significant spot — he is far older than the city of Fécamp — that was then reused as the site of Christian churches. The research team has sent one of his teeth for strontium isotope analysis. If all goes well, the results will pinpoint where the man spent his childhood.

 

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Human blood found on Revolutionary War musket ball

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Archaeologists have discovered remnants of human blood on a musket ball discovered at Monmouth Battlefield Park in New Jersey, site of the June 28th, 1778, Battle of Monmouth. This is the first time human blood has been found on Revolutionary War artillery shot. The site has been excavated regularly for close to 30 years by the Battlefield Restoration and Archaeological Volunteer Organization (BRAVO). They’ve unearthed thousands of artifacts, including musket balls, but none of them showed any evidence of having struck anybody.

Bill Hermstedt holds Revolutionary musket ball with human blood he discovered at Monmouth Battlefield. Photo courtesy Dan Sivilich/BRAVO.On April 16th of last year, BRAVO volunteer Bill Hermstedt found yet another musket ball. It was a piece of canister shot, one of multiple lead or iron balls packed into a metal canister and shot out of a cannon spraying the field with shrapnel. This one wasn’t like the many previous such discoveries. Battlefield archaeologist Dan Sivilich noticed upon close examination that there seemed to be an impression of fabric on the surface, perhaps made when the ball hit someone, tearing through his uniform. A second shot also appeared to have a possible textile imprint. In addition to being a battlefield archaeologist and president of BRAVO, Sivilich is an expert in musket and lead shot. He quite literally wrote the book about them — Musket Ball and Small Shot Identification: A Guide — so he knows a stand-out find when he sees one.

BRAVO sent the two balls with fabric impressions and two other artillery shots of interest to PaleoResearch Institute, Inc. in Golden, Colorado for analysis. One of them, the musket ball, came back positive for proteins found in human blood.

Monmouth musket ball before testing found human blood proteins. Photo courtesy Dan Sivilich/BRAVO.The canister shot in question was fired, Sivilich said, by the Americans into the British 42nd regiment. “They were trapped in an orchard just outside of Route 522,” Sivilich explained. “The American artillery line had them pinned down for a while.”

Legend has it that Molly Pitcher was shuttling water to the artillery from a nearby spring when her husband, William Hays, became incapacitated. She took his place at the cannon, so the story goes. When the smoke cleared, according to accounts from the period, the orchard was strewn with dead and injured British soldiers. The bloody piece of canister shot “may have been sitting underneath a piece of corn stalk,” Sivilich said. “We just got lucky.” […]

Musket ball after testing when some of the patina was removed for analysis. Photo courtesy Dan Sivilich/BRAVO.“Based on its deformation, it did not appear to hit bone,” Sivilich said. “It hit soft tissue, went through the body and obviously ended up in the ground. It could have gone through a thigh, an arm, or it could have been a belly wound. We don’t know if it was fatal or not.”

Map of troop movements at the Battle of Monmouth, ca. 1778. Image courtesy the Library of Congress.Fought between George Washington’s Continental Army and the British Army under the new Commander-in-Chief for North America Sir Henry Clinton, the Battle of Monmouth resulted in a stand-off, but in effect it was a significant victory for Washington because for the first time the rag-tag Continental Army had succeeded in a pitched battle against the larger, better trained and better armed British. Fortified with French support and after a long, cold winter of constant drills and training in Valley Forge, the Americans finally proved themselves as a viable fighting force on the field at Monmouth.

 

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Rijksmuseum acquires 1st photo illustrated book by 1st female photographer

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

Anna Atkins, "Photographs of British Algae." 1843-1853, open. Purchased with the support of BankGiro lottery, the W. Cordia Family/Rijksmuseum Fund and the Paul Huf Fund/Rijksmuseum Fund.The Rijksmuseum has acquired an extremely rare copy of the first photographically illustrated book, a compendium of British algae created and privately published by botanist Anna Atkins. The museum bought the book from a private collector for €450,000 ($500,000) with funding from the lottery and family foundations.

"Conserva linum" in Photographs of British Algae by Anna Atkins, 1843-1853. Purchased with the support of BankGiro Lottery, the W. Cordia Family/Rijksmuseum Fund and the Paul Huf Fund/Rijksmuseum Fund.These were contact prints, technically photograms rather than photographs, made by placing the dried botanical specimen on cyanotype paper. The process was developed in 1842 by astronomer Sir John Herschel who used it as a tool to make quick copies of his notes and drawings (architects quickly followed suit, hence the blueprint). It was Anna Atkins, a personal friend of Sir John’s, who saw the potential of cyanotypes as scientifically accurate illustrations of botanical specimens.

"Enteromorpha intestinalis" in Photographs of British Algae by Anna Atkins, 1843-1853. Purchased with the support of BankGiro Lottery, the W. Cordia Family/Rijksmuseum Fund and the Paul Huf Fund/Rijksmuseum Fund.Born in Tunbridge, Kent, in 1799, Anna Atkins was raised by her father, John George Children, after her mother died when Anna was still a baby from the effects of childbirth. Children was an accomplished chemist, mineralogist and zoologist who worked as a librarian in the British Library, was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1807 and served as its Secretary in the 1820s and 30s. Under her father’s care, Anna received a rigorous scientific education that was extremely rare for girls of her time. She married in 1825, but continued to pursue her interests in the natural sciences, collecting and drying botanical specimens.

"Fucus tuberculatus" in Photographs of British Algae by Anna Atkins, 1843-1853. Purchased with the support of BankGiro Lottery, the W. Cordia Family/Rijksmuseum Fund and the Paul Huf Fund/Rijksmuseum Fund.Her collection of dried plants gained recognition in the scientific community for its depth and breadth. She gave some of her specimens to the Kew Gardens museum and became a member of the Botanical Society of London in 1839. She would ultimately gift her vast collection to the British Museum in 1865.

She began to experiment with photography in 1841, buying a camera on the advice of William Henry Fox Talbot, an old family friend who in addition to being a mathematician and optician was the inventor of the salted paper and calotype processes. Atkins is often credited with being the first female photographer, although Constance Talbot, William’s wife, has a competing claim to the title. Neither’s photographs have survived, so there’s no way to adjudicate the dispute.

"Gigartina confervoides" in Photographs of British Algae by Anna Atkins, 1843-1853. Purchased with the support of BankGiro Lottery, the W. Cordia Family/Rijksmuseum Fund and the Paul Huf Fund/Rijksmuseum Fund.As a young woman, Anna had laboured extensively to create 250 engravings to illustrate her father’s translation of Lamarck’s Genera of Shells (published anonymously in 1823). She was intrigued by the idea of a system that would reproduce plant specimens more precisely instead of relying on the artistic talent of the engraver. Twenty years after she produced engravings of shells for her father’s treatise, Anna Atkins had mastered Sir John Herschel’s cyanotype process and went to work documenting her collection of seaweed specimens. Between 1843 and 1853, she made photograms and published them in a series of handwritten volumes.

For the various editions, Atkins produced thousands of cyanotypes, or blueprints. In those days, this photographic technique was a relatively simple and inexpensive way of making contact prints. By using two ferric salts, and exposure to strong light, a Prussian blue colour is created. Nevertheless, this process took a great deal of time and effort. All the stages had to be performed by hand: light sensitising the paper, exposure, rinsing and drying. The prints could only be made when there was sufficient sunlight, which is one more reason why Atkins took 10 years to complete her work.

Anna Atkins, "Photographs of British Algae." 1843-1853. Book of 307 cyanotypes. Purchased with the support of BankGiro lottery, the W. Cordia Family/Rijksmuseum Fund and the Paul Huf Fund/Rijksmuseum Fund.During those 10 years, Atkins produced editions of different size and length. Today fewer than 20 are known to exist, many of them incomplete. The British Library has an extra-long edition (429 pages), which they have digitized so you can browse page by page. The Royal Society’s copy (389 plates on 403 pages) is believed to be the one which comes closest to Anna Atkins’ original plan for the book. The version acquired by the Rijksmuseum is an especially fine edition because it contains 307 photograms, all in excellent condition, and because it retains its original 19th century binding.

Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions will go on display at the Rijksmuseum’s New Realities. Photography in the Nineteenth Century exhibition which runs from June 17th to September 17th of this year.

 

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Ashmolean acquires unique Civil War painting

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Group portrait of Prince Rupert, Colonel William Legge and Colonel John Russell by William Dobson, ca. 1645, 150 x 198 cm © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.The Ashmolean Museum has acquired an exceptional group painting by Civil War-era court painter William Dobson. It was acquired through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which allows donation of nationally significant artworks and antiquities in place of payment of taxes owing, and allocated to the Ashmolean because of the painting’s unique relevance to Oxford during the Civil War.

The work was commissioned by Colonel John Russell, commander of Prince Rupert’s elite Bluecoats regiment, in the winter of 1645–6, less than a year before Dobson’s death. The painting captures three of the Royalist commanders: Prince Rupert, King Charles I’s nephew, Colonel William Legge, the Governor of Oxford, and John Russell. This was a tough time for the three men and for the Royalist cause in general. Rupert, the figure on the left, had just been defeated at Bristol, surrendering the main Royalist port to the Parliamentarians. John Russell, a supporter of Rupert’s who had valiantly fought at the Battle of Naseby and barely survived to fight again at Bristol, is on the right. Legge stands in the center.

The painting is filled with symbols and references to the recent discord between the King and his nephew and to Rupert’s enduring loyalty. The scroll which Rupert holds in his right hand may refer to the blank sheet which Charles had sent to him on which to compose his confession. Instead, being innocent, Rupert asked Legge to return the letter empty, which greatly moved the King and resulted in a pardon. Rupert has also discarded his scarlet cloak which he was recorded as wearing when he rode out of Bristol following his surrender.

Beside the cloak is a dog wearing a collar with the initials ‘P.R.’ The dog is a motif traditionally associated with faithfulness and may, in this painting, be intended to stand for Boye, Rupert’s famed white poodle who rode into battle with the Prince and was killed in 1644 at Marston Moor. To Parliamentarian pamphleteers Boye was a ‘devil dog’ credited with supernatural powers, such as being weapon-proof and able to catch bullets with his teeth. Among Royalists, Boye was also immensely popular and as ‘Sergeant-Major-General Boy’, he became the army’s mascot. There is also, in the painting, hints of revenge likely to be directed towards George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol, who led the faction against Rupert and tried to convince the King that his nephew was a traitor. The central figure dips his cockade in the glass of wine which evokes biblical episodes where clothing stained with wine symbolized vengeance.

Oxford became the new Royalist capital in 1642 after Parliamentarians took London and King Charles I fled. There he established his court in exile where it remained until the city was successfully besieged by Parliamentarian forces in 1646 and Charles escaped yet again, this time disguised as a servant.

Elias Ashmole by John Riley (1646–91). Oil on canvas, 124 x 101 cm © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.Elias Ashmole was a staunch Royalist. He left London in 1642 too, and moved to Oxford in 1644 where he was appointed an ordnance officer for the King’s army. A lawyer by trade, Ashmole was a man of eclectic interests including alchemy, botany, astronomy and collecting antiques, coins and books. He took full advantage of the opportunities his new town had to offer. In 1645 he was accepted to Brasenose College where he would pursue his studies in natural philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and astrology.

Long after the Civil War was over and just a year before the Restoration, Ashmole’s renowned collection of coins, book and manuscripts was geometrically expanded when John Tradescant the Younger, who like his father was a famed gardener (they’re both buried in the St. Mary-at-Lambeth churchyard) and collector of varied treasures from books and coins to weapons, taxidermied animals and curiosities of natural science, either gave his collection to Ashmole or was conned out of it by Ashmole in 1659.

The Statutes of the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.The Ashmole-Tradescant collection was bequeathed to Oxford by Ashmole in 1677. In 1683 he had the whole kit and caboodle moved to a new museum on Broad Street custom-built to house the treasures. The collection was by then so large that it filled 26 great chests and had to be moved to the museum by barge. Unlike its predecessors, which were either private holdings or used for institutional research and teaching, the original Ashmolean was the first modern public museum, forming the blueprint for museums as we know them today. That first Ashmolean building on Broad Street still stands, now as the Museum of the History of Science.

Friday, May 19th, is the 400th anniversary of Elias Ashmole’s birthday. The Ashmolean will be celebrating their founder’s 400th birthday with a grand parade down Broad Street by Civil War reenactors. King Charles I will lead the procession at the head of his army. When they reach the Ashmolean, they will join Elias Ashmole’s birthday party where reenactors will bring to life the characters in his 400th birthday present painting.

 

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Edward Hopper in Motion

Monday, May 15th, 2017

It’s the 50th anniversary of Edward Hopper’s death today. To celebrate the realist painter’s oeuvre, Orbitz (yes, the discount travel site) has created animated versions of nine of his most recognizable and iconic works.

I generally enjoy attempts to add dimension to stills or artworks, for instance the recent trend in documentaries to give a 3D effect to old photographs. A subtle animated element can be effective as long as it makes sense in the context of the scene and it isn’t just distracting. All in all, I find the Hopper animations fairly good. There are some things I’d do differently, mainly fewer short repetitive loops and more smooth continuous action. Some elements — smoke over coffee cups, flickering neon signs — look too rushed. However, Hopper’s characteristic urban scenes often depicted through a window with us as the voyeurs lend themselves well to this sort of treatment. With a few adjustments, it would make a damn cool Tumblr.

Morning Sun and New York Movie are probably my favorites. The slow brightening of the scene in the former brings the title into the action, and the moving picture actually moving is nicely handled in the latter. The flicker in the theater is a bit overdone, in my opinion, with too strong a contrast of light and dark. It doesn’t match what’s being shown on the screen.

I was most looking forward to Nighthawks, but alas, it’s my least favorite of the animations. The blinking light is on too short of a loop and it doesn’t really match the scene because it’s the interior lighting of the diner that flickers instead of a neon sign like Chop Suey. Neon signs flicker all the time. The blinking neon light has become an iconic representation of night life — a little rundown, a little busted, but still vital in its color and brightness. If all the lights in a diner kept turning off and on, you’d just call the power company, and you certainly wouldn’t settle in for the night to enjoy the splendid urban isolation because it would be freaking torture.

The descriptive blurbs on the side are well done. My one criticism there is that they should link to the original paintings instead of just telling you which museums they’re in now.

 

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Unknown Caxton leaf found in university archive

Friday, May 12th, 2017

The newly discovered Caxton leaf. Photo courtesy the University of Reading.A two-sided page from a 15th century priest handbook printed by William Caxton has been discovered in archives of the University of Reading. Written in Medieval Latin, the leaf was part of a book called the Sarum Ordinal or Sarum Pye, a manual for priests on managing feast days for English saints during the ecclesiastical year. It was printed by William Caxton in his shop, the Red Pale, in late 1476 or early 1477 and was one of the first books printed in England. The University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library has a notice from Caxton’s shop promoting the manual which is the earliest surviving printed advertisement in English publishing history.

One of only two known surviving fragments from this enormously significant edition in the history of English publishing, the leaf is in very good condition even though it hasn’t exactly been treated with kid gloves over the years. For three centuries it was glued into the spine of another book to reinforce the binding. It was saved from that ignominy by a University of Cambridge librarian in 1820 who put it in a scrapbook along with other fragments rescued from bindings, but not even he recognized it as an original Caxton page.

Erika Delbecque with the Caxton leaf. Photo courtesy the University of Reading.University of Reading Special Collections librarian Erika Delbecque, on the other hand, knew right away she had struck gold.

“I suspected it was special as soon as I saw it. The trademark blackletter typeface, layout and red paragraph marks indicate it is very early western European printing. It is incredibly rare to find an unknown Caxton leaf, and astonishing that it has been under our noses for so long.”

The pages are part of the John and Griselda Lewis Collection. John Lewis was a typographer and pioneering scholar in the field of printed ephemera. Griselda was a writer. Between them, they amassed a collection of more than 20,000 items pertaining to the history of printing. The University bought the John Lewis Printing Collection at auction in 1997 for £70,000 ($90,000), with the aid of a £60,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The collection is stored in 87 boxes at the University of Reading’s Centre for Ephemera Studies in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication.

The collection is still in the process of being catalogued, which is what Erika Delbecque was doing when she came across the Caxton leaf.

Copies of the Sarum Ordinal were produced in Westminster, before the Reformation, and consisted of around 160 leaves. The text was originally established as a manuscript by St Osmund, the Bishop of Salisbury, in the 11th century. It would have been owned by clergymen and consulted on a regular basis, but was discarded after the Reformation.

Only one other surviving fragment of the book exists, consisting of eight double-sided leaves, which are held at the British Library in London.

The Caxton Advertisement. Copyright © Oxford University Images / Bodleian Library.The University of Reading’s leaf is from a different part of the book than the British Library’s pages, so it is unique.

The Caxton leaf is on display at the University’s Special Collections department at the Museum of English Rural Life on London Road through the end of the month. Admission is free.

 

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Girl found in coffin under San Francisco home identified

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

Coffin of little girl found under San Francisco home. Photo courtesy Elissa Davey.Last year, construction workers digging underneath a garage in San Francisco unearthed a child’s coffin. The bronze casket was three-and-a-half feet long and had two leaded glass windows, a popular design in the Victorian era for those who could afford it. Through the windows the well-preserved body of a little girl could be seen. She was wearing a white lace christening dress and ankle high shoes. She was also wearing a long necklace and holding a single flower which was at first believed to be a rose, but later found to be a purple nightshade flower. Little purple flowers had been woven into her hair and roses, baby’s breath and eucalyptus leaves were placed around her body.

Workers remove bodies from a San Francisco graveyard. Photo courtesy Colma Historical Association.The find was poignant, but not surprising. The home is in the Richmond District, which in the 19th century was the site of multiple cemeteries. When the real estate value of the district outpaced its value as a (not so) eternal resting place in the early 20th century, San Francisco evicted the underground tenants from Richmond and almost every other cemetery within city limits, leaving only two cemeteries of 26 intact. The city claimed this mass exhumation was necessary to prevent the spread of disease, but nobody was fooled. The remains of about 300,000 people were exhumed and reburied south of the city in Colma, which a decade later would be officially founded by cemetery owners as a necropolis that would never be subject to the political considerations that had spurred the liquidation of San Francisco’s graveyards. The little girl was one of 26,000 people buried in the Odd Fellow’s Cemetery, most of whom were moved to Colma’s Greenlawn Memorial Park in around 1920.

The medical examiner’s office examined the body in situ, but told homeowner Ericka Karner that it was entirely her responsibility to see to its disposition because the child was found on her property. She looked into reburial options, but the most modest estimate was $7,000. The priciest quote was $22,000. Meanwhile, the casket had been unsealed during the examination and the remains of the child, whom she named Miranda Eve, were beginning to deteriorate.

Knights of Columbus stand guard during reburial. Photo by Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle.With the body of a little girl decaying in her backyard, Karner called City Hall. They wouldn’t take responsibility for the remains their predecessors had so half-assedly overlooked either, but they did put her in touch with the Garden of Innocence, a non-profit organization that arranges dignified burials for unknown or abandoned children. Elissa Davey, genealogist and founder of Garden of Innocence, raised money and arranged donations for the reburial. A month after she was found, Miranda Eve was reburied in a donated plot in Greenlawn Memorial Park. She was placed in her original bronze coffin, and it was placed inside a new wood casket inspired by the two-window design of the original.

Edith Cook's Christening dress and flowers. Photo courtesy Garden of Innocence.Davey didn’t stop there. She wanted to give Miranda Eve her identity back. The task was monumental. First they were able to discover the manufacturer of the coffin: N. Gray & Co. Undertakers. Then they found a map of the Old Fellow’s Cemetery which they compared with modern street and other maps to pinpoint the location of the burial. It took more than 1,000 hours of research and a year of assiduous work, but the Garden of Innocence team was finally able to discover Miranda Eve’s real name. She was Edith Howard Cook, daughter of Horatio Nelson and Edith Scooffy Cook, who died on October 13th, 1876, when she was less than two months short of her third birthday.

Funeral home records show Edith died from marasmus, or severe undernourishment. It’s not clear what caused the illness, but in late 1800s urban living could have led to an infectious disease, the nonprofit said.

Information released Tuesday reveals that Edith was born into two prominent families in the world of commerce and society. Her mother was born into a San Francisco pioneer family, as her father Peter Scooffy was an original member of the Society of California Pioneers.

Horatio Cook and Edith Scooffy married in 1870 and baby Edith’s father tanned hides and manufactured leather belts. He also served as Consul for Greece.

After her death at a young age, Edith’s parents had another daughter, Ethel Cook, who was declared by a Russian nobleman as the most beautiful woman in America, the nonprofit reported.

"Miranda Eve's" gravestone at the reburial. Photo by Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle.Her identity was confirmed by DNA which was a match with the DNA of Edith’s grand-nephew Peter Cook. The headstone of “Miranda Eve” was left blank on the back so they could engrave her real name on it, should it ever be found. Now that it has, Edith Howard Cook will have her name on her headstone again.

The Garden of Innocence website has uploaded a detailed report of the discovery, reburial and their exceptional research on their website.

 

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Mode Persuasive Cartography collection digitized

Monday, May 8th, 2017

Map Showing Isle of Pleasure by H.J. Lawrence, 1931. Satire of Prohibition shortly before its repeal. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.Persuasive cartography is decidedly more the former than the latter. Its aim is to sell a product or influence opinion using the aesthetic allure and/or the impression of scientific rigor conveyed by maps. The actual science of mapmaking — accurate renditions of land masses, roads, structures, topographical features — isn’t the point, except insofar as it lends the cachet of objectivity to a pitch.

Retired lawyer PJ Mode began collecting maps after seeing an exhibition of old and unusual maps at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1980. Over the years he began to narrow his focus to maps of the persuasive persuasion, fascinated by the reasoning behind them. With the advent of the Internet, finding new cartographical gems and researching their background has become increasingly accessible. Today PJ Mode has more than 800 persuasive maps in his collection.

Last month, more than 500 of them were digitized by the Cornell University Library. Now there are 862 of them. They can be browsed by subject or date, you can just load the whole shebang and go through them front to back, or you can limit by date, date range, creator or subject from there. I’m partial to the subject divisions which convey a real sense of how far-reaching this medium was. Almost 200 of the maps are in the Advertising & Promotion category, and they are some of the most aesthetically interesting. The Niagara Belt Line uses one of the most spectacular views in the world to promote its electric trolley line.

The Niagara Belt Line by Hiram Harold Green, 1917. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.

Birds-Eye View of San Francisco by Peruvian Bitters, 1880. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.A good image can sell even the worst product, as any advertiser knows. Patent medicines, most of which were useless at best, active poisons at worst, needed all the colorful artwork they could get: see Peruvian Bitters, for example, which used a literal bird carrying an ad for the product over a bird’s-eye view of San Francisco to flog its bogus cure for malaria, dyspepsia, addiction and unhappiness.

Two Queens Mines by Raymond T May, 1907. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.Even the plain ones without fancy graphics are intriguing because the dry presentation is often used to legitimize an extremely questionable proposition, like the Northern Pacific Railroad Gold Bonds or the Two Queens Mines in Australia, which was a straight-up scam.

The greatest number of maps, 349, are in the pictorial subject which covers an extraordinary amount of ground from military to political to moral advocacy. There’s even an edition of a map very similar to one I own in giant foldout poster form: a timeline of world history from a Genealogical Chronological & Geographical Chart by Jacob Skeen, 1887. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.Biblically literal creationist perspective. Other subject categories you can browse include Alcohol, Heaven & Hell (schematics of Dante’s Inferno are always popular), Poverty, Prostitution, Crime, Slavery, Suffrage, Railroads, and lots and lots of wars.

All of the digitized maps are available for download in high resolution (the full Niagara view was so huge my server couldn’t even handle it, and my server is used to the strain, believe me), or if you prefer, can be zoomed in extreme closeup on the Cornell site itself. Fair warning: this is a timesink of gloriously massive proportions. The How Japan Could Attack U.S. by Howard Burke for the Los Angeles Examiner, November 7, 1937. A prescient map of how Japan could attack the US starting with Hawaii. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.information on each entry was written by PJ Mode himself based on his research. He makes no claim to flawless understanding, so if you find something you think might be inaccurate, you’re encouraged to click on the “Contact” link at the bottom of the page and let folks know.

Speaking of which, the following video is 50 minutes long, but it’s so worth it. It’s a talk PJ Mode delivered last year to The Grolier Club and the New York Map Society about persuasive cartography. Unlike most lecture videos, the people doing the talking only appear rarely. The vast majority of the presentation is of the maps being projected. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been irritated by the neglect of the visual aids in recordings of these types of events. Whoever filmed this talk deserves an award. Be sure to watch it full screen so you can see the small details of the map as large as possible.

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