Neat things to do and read

Instead of doggedly pursing a single obsession, this weekend I’ve been flitting about, enjoying a variety of historical perspectives. Since I don’t really have a single story I want to focus on, I figure I’ll do something other blogs do regularly but I almost never do: share a bunch of links.

Boticelli's Venus totally wants youFirst on the list is the extreme closeup awesomeness of HaltaDefinizione. It’s a company that has a unique photographic system which allows them to take pictures at such a depth of detail that you can literally examine paintings a millimeter at a time. They’re so dense, some of them are almost 20 million pixels in surface area, composed from over 1000 individual photographs.

Most of its offerings are for paying customers only — including restorers, government ministries, museums, etc — but a few masterpieces of Renaissance art are available for free (albeit watermarked) browsing just for the next 4 months. Take advantage!

You can get so close you can see just how few paint chips are actually left on the wall of Leonardo’s Last Supper, or the tiny little barely-there self-portrait of Caravaggio to the right of the white reflection in Bacchus’ pitcher of wine, or count the flowers on Spring’s robe in Boticelli’s Primavera.

Each painting can take a few seconds to load so be patient. Be sure to click the fullscreen icon (bottom right) and then zoom at will. There’s also a nifty ruler icon that shows you the real life dimensions of what you’re viewing.

Now for some highly entertaining reading. A Short, Incomplete, and Somewhat Random List of People Who Have Had Their Heads Impaled on a Spike on London Bridge from Lawrence Person’s blog is exactly what it sounds like, plus it has lots and lots of links for the interested macabre reader to expand upon the short random list.

Next up, a fascinating article on The Cult of Celebrity in Georgian England by historian Lucy Inglis. She posits Queen Elizabeth I as the first modern celebrity, someone who deliberately crafted a Warrior/Virgin Queen persona congruent with Anglo-Saxon traditions of heroism and distinct from her actual personality. The article moves on to cover the 18th century proliferation of the press and growth of The Beauty as a pivotal factor in celebrity.

Garum amphora, mosaic from the villa of Aulus Umbricius Scaurus, PompeiiFinally, we have a series. It’s a multi-part history of condiments called De Condimentis. I stronly suggest you bookmark the series and check back every week for the latest installment. The author, Tom Nealon, has thus far written 3 parts. The first is an overview, starting with the ancients-to-modern trajectory of fish sauce. The second is about the role the fifth flavor, umami, plays in condiments. As an ancillary benefit, the article includes the greatest description of Marmite ever articulated:

Marmite is the pinnacle of fraudulent protein engineering and may be directly responsible for the “steely resolve” of the British during the two World Wars. It’s salty, brown, sticky, vegetarian, and a little like dropping a shot of Jagermeister in a glass of soy sauce.

Isn’t that exactly what Marmite tastes like?! A Jager bomb in soy sauce. That’s it, man. La phrase juste.