Kickstart the search for lost da Vinci mural

In 1504, the Gonfalionere of Justice, leader of the Florentine Republic, Piero Soderini commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to decorate a wall in the newly built Hall of Five Hundred, the room where Florence’s Great Council met in the Palazzo Vecchio. According to Giorgio Vasari’s biography of Leonardo in the Lives of the Artists, the people …

State, collectors vie for Gypsy fortune teller machine

A 1906 verbal gypsy fortune teller machine in the gold rush ghost town of Virginia City, Montana, is being tussled over by private collectors, the state, historians and citizens. The fortune teller machine is one of no more than three remaining that used a recording to “speak” fortunes to whosoever fed it a nickel. Magician …

Mystery stained glass mentioned by Van Gogh found

In 1876, a 23-year-old Vincent van Gogh was teaching at a small boarding school in Ramsgate, England, and living in Isleworth with the family of the Rev. Thomas Slade-Jones, Congregationalist minister and the school’s owner. It was an unpaid position with a hellish commute. He wrote to his brother Theo of his daily life teaching …

Did restorers castrate the penis tree?

In 1999, workers restoring a medieval communal fount called the Fountain of Abundance in the Tuscan town of Massa Marittima discovered a curious mural hidden behind a whitewash layer. It depicts a tree heavily laden with heavily laden phalluses under which eight or nine women stand in various poses and large black birds fly. Expert …

Gosport church’s Handel Organ to be restored

For the past five years, Holy Trinity Church in Gosport, Hampshire, has been trying to raise the £150,000 ($245,000) necessary to restore their 18th century organ, once caressed by the nimble fingers of George Frederick Handel. They’ve been able to raise £42,000 from their Adopt-a-Pipe program and small individual donations. Last November they applied for …

Sculptures of Roman emperors found in Turkey

Archaeologists excavating the ancient Lycian city of Tlos on the Mediterranean in southwestern Turkey have uncovered five almost intact Roman-era marble statues. Three of them are of Roman emperors Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius. The two are of women, one probably Faustina Minor, daughter of Antonius Pius and wife of Marcus Aurelius, and the …

The forgotten Mrs. Sherlock Holmes

Karen Abbott of Smithsonian’s Past Imperfect blog has written a fascinating entry about Mrs. Mary Grace Humiston, a lawyer turned private eye who solved crimes in the early 1900s, and her most celebrated case, the murder of Miss Ruth Cruger. Ruth was just 18 years old when she disappeared on February 13, 1917. Her sister …

Washington Monument, Cathedral damaged by quake

The 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Virginia yesterday caused some damage to historical monuments in Washington, D.C. The Washington Monument, the National Cathedral and the Smithsonian Castle have all been closed for the time being as experts assess the full extent of the damage. So far it appears that none of the buildings have structural damage …

16th-century Swedish shipwreck found in Baltic

Divers have found a 16th century shipwreck in the Baltic 11 miles north of the Swedish island of Oland. Although detailed exploration is necessary before they can confirm it, preliminary examination indicates that it is the wreck of the warship Mars, flagship of King Erik XIV’s fleet which sank during a battle with Denmark in …

Roman jar filled with holes perplexes experts

An ancient Roman jar of mysterious origin and even more mysterious function has stumped experts. It was discovered broken in 180 pieces in the storage room of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, and was recently painstakingly put back together. Once the vessel was whole again, researchers were surprised to find that it is riddled with …