First pics and film from new Titanic survey

The new expedition to fully map and record the wreck of the Titanic has had to repair to St. John’s, Newfoundland temporarily to avoid getting whupped by Hurricane Danielle. Inclement weather notwithstanding, the team has already captured impressive new 3DHD footage of various parts of the wreck.

Here’s the famous bow so goofily captured by James “King of the World” Cameron (in real life passengers weren’t allowed anywhere near the bow):

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Amazing, isn’t it? That footage was taken at 3820 meters under the sea. The 3DHD technology takes much sharper pictures even at murky depths, and although we don’t get to see the full impact like the team members did when they got to view the complete footage with 3D glasses, the colors and definition are astonishing.

The expedition website is already packed with new footage, pictures and a Flash-based map you can click and drag around to explore the wreck and debris field. Click on everything, seriously, because it’s all fascinating.

I think my favorite may be Captain Smith’s stateroom, because you can see his bathtub through the collapsed walls. When Titanic was first discovered in 1985, the Captain’s stateroom was in fairly solid condition. Over the past 25 years, corrosion has buckled the walls and is beginning to eat away at the roof.

Biodegredation is a major concern. Colonies of microorganisms have been actively gnoshing on Titanic’s iron, producing long ribbons of digested metal called rusticles (like icicles only made out of rust). It seems very likely at this point that the different floors in the stern of the ship, the part of the wreck with the greatest bacterial activity, will sooner or later fully collapse onto each other. The iron in the stern was put under the greatest amount of stress during the sinking of the Titanic which makes it more susceptible to rusticle formation now, and all food was stored there, which experts think may have acted as lure and sustenance for microbes.

That’s what makes this project so important. We’ll not only have a detail-rich big picture of Titanic’s current condition, but we’ll have a greater understanding of the wreck’s long-term prospects.

RMS Titanic’s Facebook page is another rich source of pictures and minute-to-minute information about the project.

Titian painting damaged in Venice fire

"David and Goliath", Titian, 1542-44Titian’s David and Goliath (1542-44) in Venice’s Basilica Santa Maria della Salute was damaged by water when firefighters soaked the roof while fighting a fire in the seminary next door. David and Goliath was displayed on the ceiling of the basilica’s sacristy along with 2 other works by Titian (Abraham and Isaac and Cain and Abel).

“I saw water dripping from the painting for an hour” after the fire at an adjacent construction site was put out late on Sunday, the head of Venice’s museum agency Vittorio Sgarbi told AFP, adding that he rushed to the scene after seeing the fire while dining at a nearby restaurant.

Sacristy ceiling water damageWorkers have erected scaffolding to inspect the damaged “David and Goliath” along with two other Titians that look down from the ceiling of Santa Maria della Salute’s vestry.

“The painting might have experienced some alteration, but nothing that can’t be restored,” said Sgarbi, a well-known art critic.

David and Goliath was restored 20 years ago. It’s that recent restoration work that is most likely to have been affected by the water. Restorers nowadays use “reversible” colors to ensure that they don’t fall into the trap of past restorations that ended up materially altering the original canvas. That makes them easy to remove in case they’ve made a mistake without needing to use any harsh solvents that might damage the original brushstrokes. That also makes them more susceptible to external elements like, oh, say, gallons of water from firefighter hoses, but by design they’re easy to repair so that’s why Sgarbi doesn’t sound too upset.

There are several other Titian paintings in the vestry of the basilica (8 tondi of the Doctors of the Church and the Evangelists) which may have been damaged when the sprinkler system went off in response to the fire next door. Any damage that may have occurred isn’t immediately obvious. They will all be carefully examined and repaired as necessary.

Santa Maria della Salute (Saint Mary of Health) was built in 1631 as a votive offering to the Virgin Mary, considered the protector of the Venetian Republic, to end the devastating plague of 1630.

Santa Maria della Salute

Elsa Schiaparelli and Sunday galleries

The Lobster DressSo I got on one of my obsession kicks today, this time about the history of couture fashion. I spent a good 6 hours reading about the genius of Elsa Schiaparelli, whom I knew for her invention of shocking pink (yes, she actually invented a color, at least when it comes to couture) and for her amazing collaborations with surrealist artists which resulted in masterpieces like the Lobster Dress (Salvador DalĂ­ painted that lobster onto the fabric), the Skeleton Dress (it caused a scandal when it debuted in 1938) and the Shoe Hat.

The Skeleton DressWhat I didn’t know is that she invented so many other things that we now take so much for granted that we don’t even think of them as having been invented, really. Things introduced to the world of high fashion by Elsa Schiaparelli include square shoulders combined with nipped-in waistlines, wacky prints, graphic patterned sweaters, jackets to wear with evening gowns, the long runway walked by tall, thin models, ready-to-wear boutiques for couturiers, sportswear mix-and-match separates, colored zippers, the wrap dress, the skort, man-made fabrics and the wedge heel.

Shoe Hat with shocking pink heelSchiaparelli’s couture house closed in 1954. She wasn’t able to roll with the post-war times despite having been at her most brilliant in the interwar period. That same year saw the rebirth of the signature line of her greatest rival, Coco Chanel. Chanel, who had kept under the radar since her couture house closed after the German occupation of France (she had been a Nazi officer’s mistress and was not exactly beloved in France after the war despite her own innovations and contributions to French fashion), would come to eclipse Schiaparelli in popular reputation, although not among couturiers, many of whom have borrowed liberally from Elsa’s artistic genius over the decades.

If you’re at all interested in fashion history, or even just like looking at purty dresses, take a romp through these galleries: the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s 2004 exhibit, “Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli,” and the Victoria and Albert Museum’s awesome interactive timeline of the Golden Age of couture, which does an excellent job showing the links between famous couturiers, so many of whom started as cutters and pattern-makers under other famous couturiers.

ETA: Rowan pointed me to this article on a new exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on the history of European fashion from 1700 to 1915. It opens on October 2nd and runs until March 6th. Meanwhile, here’s a photo gallery of some of the gloriousness. I’m completely in love with this dress from England, around 1885.

MEGA database to track Jordan archaeological sites

MEGA-Jordan screencapThe Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles has created a new web-based tracking system for archaeological sites in Jordan. Financed in part by the World Monuments Fund and with extensive support from the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, the million dollar project has been in the works for 3 years and will be available for authorized users starting in September.

Awesomely named MEGA — Middle Eastern Geodatabase for Antiquities — the database uses Google Earth satellite images and archaeologist field reports to catalogue over 10,000 ancient sites in Jordan. Some of the information was available in a local Jordanian database, but it wasn’t web-based and was clunky to browse and update. Now anybody in the know can easily record any news about a site’s condition, from encroaching development, looters, environmental threats, whatever is relevant.

Obviously real-time updates are not going to stop someone from looting a site, but it will help authorities track problems almost as soon as they happen, and get a better idea of how to apportion protection and conservation resources.

It was the devastation of Iraq’s archaeological sites in the wake of the US invasion that actually inspired this project. The looting of the National Museum in Baghdad got much of the attention at the time, but the Getty thought they could devise a database to help authorities cope with the archaeological sites being destroyed by looters. Unfortunately, the chaos in the country over the next few years kept the Getty from being able to work with local Iraqi experts, so the project never got off the ground.

“The idea of shipping a couple of big computers to Iraq and hoping that they would get there and that it would all work just seemed too crazy,” said Alison Dalgity, a senior project manager at the Getty who helped develop MEGA.

And so the institute accepted an invitation from Jordan to develop the system there first, a plan that coincided with a sea change in Web-based mapping tools and the rise of open-source software, meaning that the system could exist on the Web and be built and updated cheaply.

It’s not even live yet, but already Jordanian authorities are so delighted with the database that they’re considering opening it to everyone, not just authorized experts but tourist schmoes like the rest of us. Jordan isn’t exactly comfortable with open information sharing when it comes to official government data, so it says a lot that they’re seriously considering upending their customary attitude towards transparency to share the wealth of their archaeological sites.

Jordan’s experience with MEGA might be something of a template for Iraq and other antiquities-rich countries. Change the Google settings and the names, and then it’s just a matter of data entry.

Original Kermit donated to Smithsonian

Jim Henson and Kermit, 1955Jim Henson’s widow Jane has donated the original Kermit the Frog to the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Along with Kermit, Jane Henson also gave the museum the original Sam, from the 1955 TV show Sam and Friends where Kermit first appeared, Henson’s first puppet, Pierre the French Rat, what appears to be a Ralph, a voracious purple skull named Yorick and Mushmellon, early concepts of what would become Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch respectively, plus 3 other characters from the dawn of the muppet era.

They were handed to the museum in a ceremony on Wednesday. (Fun fact: Willard Scott was in attendance. Apparently he was a weatherman and children’s host on WRC-TV in 1955, the Washington, D.C., station where Sam and Friends debuted. He also played Bozo the Clown. I did not know that.)

Jane Henson said the original characters provided five minutes of fun each night after the local news where they mostly mimed to popular music.

Original Kermit, Ralph and Sam donated to Smithsonian“I think people realized that if you put Kermit’s face up there, it was just as powerful – we were mostly just doing it to entertain ourselves,” she said.

The Smithsonian already has a familiar Kermit the Frog puppet made famous on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.

But the original Kermit looked more like a lizard, made with ping-pong ball eyes and green felt from an old coat thrown out by Henson’s mother.

The first Kermit should be on display with his more recent brethren at the Smithsonian in November.