Thursday, May 12, 2005

How Art Made the World

BBC NEWS: In art, "...human bodies hardly ever look realistic.

They are invariably exaggerated, distorted and twisted into un-realistic representations. The Venus of Willendorf is a very early representation of the human body.

It's a 30,000-year-old statuette which was discovered in a remote valley in Austria. It has a huge stomach and breasts, but almost non-existent arms and face - a body shape that no one in prehistoric Europe would have possessed.

A detail from one of the Riace Bronzes, BBC
The Riace Bronzes show how the Greeks discovered realism and then abandoned it. Similarly, the Greeks, having discovered how to create images of the human form that looked realistic had, within a generation, abandoned realism.

Take the The Riace Bronzes, a pair of bronze statues, discovered by a diver at the bottom of the Bay of Naples in 1974. At first glance they appear to be realistic, beautiful representations of two Greek athletes.

But when art historians looked closer they noticed their chests were too symmetrical, their spines too deep, their coccyx too small to be realistic.

Greek sculptors had exaggerated their bodies to try to make them look like their gods.

It was a bizarre mystery. Why do we have this hardwired human instinct to exaggerate images of the human body? To find the answer, we threw ourselves into the exploration not just of art history but of the human mind.

We talked to brain scientists and psychologists and filmed bizarre experiments with other animals, such as seagulls. And we discovered the remarkable fact that all human beings have an in-built predisposition to exaggerate the body, to take what is valued in our culture and accentuate it in a deliberately unrealistic way."
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Bronze Age Blade center of new exhibition

Leeds Today: "A Bronze Age sword, possibly cast away 3,000 years ago as a tribute to the Gods, has been returned to its Yorkshire home.
The ancient blade is the centrepiece of an exciting new exhibition at Scarborough Castle following a ?250,000 investment by English Heritage to transform the 12th century fortress into a world class tourist attraction.
Many other artefacts are also being displayed for the first time in the newly-refurbished Master Gunner's House ? itself a unique survivor of the post medieval period. The mass development has also included the launch of new interpretation panels, tea room and an interactive display for less mobile folk.
The blade was originally discovered in 1980 by archaeologist Tony Pacitto, who stumbled across the find on the final day of a dig to investigate a medieval hall at the castle.
The subdued glint of bronze in a muddy pit turned a routine shift into the find of a lifetime.
Although no one can be certain, experts believe the blade may have been a ritual offering."
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Artists wax poetic about encaustics

The Daily Times: "Encaustic art is one of the oldest art forms, dating to the time of the ancient Egyptians for use in their elaborate burial tombs, whichhave survived for centuries.

An encaustic art surface is very durable because beeswax, the basic ingredient, is impervious to moisture and most environmental changes.

Despite its durability, encaustic art lost favor during the Renaissance due to what was thought to be cumbersome requirements, considering the technology of the time. Modern advances have made using encaustics a lot easier."

I found this resurgence in interest in encaustic techniques very exciting. Some of my favorite ancient portraits are the Greco-Roman portraits of Faiyum, Egypt. These mummy portraits illustrate the durability of the art form, having survived since the second century C.E. I just wish I was closer and able to attend this conference.
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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Tut Was Not Such a Handsome Golden Youth, After All

New York Times: "Teams of artists and scientists, using computer scans to reconstruct the face of King Tut, say he had buck teeth and a long skull.

The reconstructions were based on the most thorough examination yet of Tut's mummy, including 1,700 three-dimensional images taken in January with computed tomography, or CT scans. The pictures of the skull, bones and soft tissues, more revealing than ordinary X-rays, were the latest of the Tut mummy's encounters with curious scientists and their modern technology since its discovery in 1922."
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Friday, May 06, 2005

Trousers tell why Napoleon died

BBC NEWS : "A study of Napoleon Bonaparte's trousers could put an end to the theory that the French Emperor was poisoned.

Napoleon died aged 52 on St Helena in the south Atlantic where he had been banished after his defeat at Waterloo.

His post mortem showed he died of stomach cancer, but it has been suggested arsenic poisoning or over-zealous treatment was to blame.

Now Swiss researchers say his trousers show he lost weight prior his death, confirming he had cancer.

We are sure that the autopsy report speaks clearly in favour of gastric [stomach] cancer
Alessandro Lugli, University Hospital Basel

The research, by scientists from the anatomical pathology department of the University Hospital in Basel and the Institute of Medical History at the University of Zurich, looked at 12 pairs of Napoleon's trousers.

Four were from before his exile and eight were pairs he wore during the six years he spent in exile on St Helena, including the pair he wore while dying.

The researchers also collated information from post mortems on the weights of patients who had died of stomach cancer.

They then measured the waists of healthy people to work out the correlation between that measurement and their actual weight.

This information was then used to calculate Napoleon's weight in the months leading up to his death.

The largest pair of trousers Napoleon wore had a waist measurement of 110cm; those he wore just before his death measured 98cm.

This, they say, shows he lost between 11 and 15kg over the last six months of his life."
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Thursday, May 05, 2005

1200-year-old Bronze Axe Discovered in Yorkshire

Yorkshire Post Today: News, Sport, Jobs, Property, Cars, Entertainments & More: "The palstave axe ? dating from about 1,200BC ? was discovered on farmland north of Whitby by metal detector enthusiast Shaughan Tyreman.
Mr Tyreman, a service engineer on cranes, who has been metal detecting for 21 years, said: 'It is the first one I have found. I have an 1862 book which is written in French, but has excellent illustrations.
'I recognised what it was straight away. It is a very similar in style to the axe head with the man they found in the ice in the Alps.'
Mr Tyreman and his daughter, Saskia, 11, brought several items from their home in Whitby to be examined at the Yorkshire Museum, in York, during one of the Fabulous Finds Days held across England.
Mr Tyreman said: 'In its day the axe would be an extremely expensive object. Few people would have one. All the rest would be using flint axes and if you had a bronze one it would be like owning a BMW. Probably 20 trees would have to be felled to smelt the ore to make it.'
The axe and part of a mould, which has a floral pattern on one side and possibly a human face, will now be taken to the British Museum in London for specialist examination before being returned"
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Skeletons found to be Dutch siege warriors

Expatica - Living in, moving to, or working in the Netherlands, plus Dutch news in English: "Nine skeletons found on 4 May last year in Maastricht are of Dutch origin and were probably members of the Staatse leger (State army), Maastricht City Council has revealed.

Research by police and the municipal's archaeological service has indicated that the soldiers were killed and buried during a siege of Maastricht, either in 1592 (with Prince Maurits) or in 1594 or 1632 (with Prince Frederik Hendrik).

The skeletons are currently being stored at the anatomy department of the Leiden University, but later this month they will be transferred to the archaeological department in Maastricht.

The small cemetery was probably dug at the end of the 16th century. The
skeletons are in separate burial pits next to each other with an aspect to the south-east. It is not a mass grave and none of the graves contain clothing or footwear. "
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