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Blog Category: Highlights

November 10, 2016

Dada: 100 years of absurdity and radical politics

Our friends at JSTOR Daily remind us that this year marks the centennial of the cacophonous beginnings of the Dada movement in Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire.

An anarchic response to the ravages of World War I, the movement is notoriously difficult to pin down. Matthew Wills writes, “Dada combined absurdity and nonsense, radical politics and anti-politics, outrage and outrageousness in the mediums of spoken (more often shouted) word, theatre, collage, photomontage, cut-ups, assemblages, and readymades…”

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November 10, 2016

On the origin of Veterans Day

Armistice Day became Veterans Day in the United States in 1954. While the holiday is also known as Remembrance Day in other countries and celebrates the end of World War I, the name change in the United States reflects its emphasis on honoring military veterans.

The two objectives were mentioned in a speech on the first Armistice Day, November 11, 1919, by President Woodrow Wilson:

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October 21, 2016

The lighter side of presidential campaigns

Donkey-Elephant Display Base, ca. 1956

Donkey-Elephant Display Base, ca. 1956. Cornell University Library, Rare & Manuscript Collections, Susan H. Douglas Political Americana Collection

Take a deep breath, the presidential debates are finally over. But brace yourselves, we still have a couple of weeks of campaigning left until the actual elections. Why the negative tone? Well, the Washington Post reported that “59 percent of Americans are sick and tired of the election”–and that was way back in July! And we’re not just sick and tired, we’re also stressed: in a more recent poll by the American Psychological Association, 52 percent of American adults said the upcoming election is a significant source of stress.

Can we interest you in a tour of more innocent days from Cornell University’s Political Americana Collection in Artstor’s public collections? Days in which campaigns featured such lighthearted items as songs like “Grant is the Man,” promoting Ulysses S. Grant, or “Let’s O-K, I-K-E,” about Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower.

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June 27, 2016

Some reassuring news for Shark Week

Paleontology staff posing with Fossil Shark Jaws. Image and original data provided by Library, American Museum of Natural History, Anthropology Department, American Museum of Natural History

Paleontology staff posing with Fossil Shark Jaws. Image and original data provided by Library, American Museum of Natural History, Anthropology Department, American Museum of Natural History

These photographs of six members of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) Paleontology staff sitting inside the massive jaws of a Carcharocles megalodon are the stuff of nightmares—and, of course, just the thing for Shark Week.

Yet, as Brian Switek writes on ScienceBlogs, they’re the result of a miscalculation. “[T]he famous jaws were reconstructed by assuming that the teeth of the extinct shark would have had the same proportions to the jaw as in the living great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), yielding a maw that would have fit a shark 100 feet long or more.”

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April 28, 2016

Artistry on the high seas: Captain Cook’s artists

Sydney Parkinson, Family: Carcharhinidae Genus/Species: Prionace glauca, 1769

Sydney Parkinson, Family: Carcharhinidae Genus/Species: Prionace glauca, 1769. Image and original data provided by Natural History Museum, London.

On his famous three voyages to the South Seas, British explorer Captain James Cook charted the largely unexplored Pacific Ocean, achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and completed the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand. But Cook’s nautical feats are only part of the story; of equal importance are the contributions made by the artists who went along on his journeys, risking their lives–and sometimes losing them–to illustrate the animals and plants they encountered for science and posterity. Here are their stories.

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April 21, 2016

What’s so funny, Democritus?

Johannes Moreelse, Democritus, the Laughing Philosopher, c. 163

Johannes Moreelse, Democritus, the Laughing Philosopher, c. 1630. Image and original data provided by the Mauritshuis, The Hague.

Democritus is primarily remembered for theorizing that all matter consists of particles called atoms, and this stunning quote: “Nothing exists except atoms and space, everything else is opinion.”

The Short History of the Atom wiki summarizes Democritus’ theory nicely:

  1. All matter consists of invisible particles called atoms.
  2. Atoms are indestructible.
  3. Atoms are solid but invisible.
  4. Atoms are homogenous.
  5. Atoms differ in size, shape, mass, position, and arrangement.

Prescient, yes, but it didn’t give much material for artists to work with. Luckily, Democritus was also known as “the laughing philosopher.” As classicist Mary Beard explains in Confronting the Classics,

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April 11, 2016

A tour of the RISD Museum in 20 objects, part two

To celebrate Artstor’s collaboration with the RISD Museum, our friends at the museum graciously created a lightning-tour of their encyclopedic collection in the Digital Library through twenty notable objects. Part one focuses on decorative and utilitarian artifacts, and part two on artworks.

Unknown artist (Greek); Aphrodite; 2nd century. Image © Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

Unknown artist (Greek); Aphrodite; 2nd century. Image © Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

Aphrodite

This bronze figure of Aphrodite, now green from oxidation, once would have been a warm brown. To heighten a sense of naturalism, the eyes and hair ribbon were inlaid with silver and the lips with copper. In the 4th century BCE, the first nude image of Aphrodite was sculpted, breaking a long tradition of depicting Greek goddesses clothed. It was fitting, however, that the goddess of love and beauty was the first to be portrayed in this new way. The motif became so popular that hundreds of such images of Aphrodite survive from ancient Greece and Rome, where they adorned homes, gardens, and sanctuaries. Exceedingly rare today, bronze examples like this one must have been prized possessions of wealthy patrons.

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April 11, 2016

A tour of the RISD Museum in 20 objects, part one

To celebrate Artstor’s collaboration with the RISD Museum, our friends at the museum graciously created a lightning-tour of their encyclopedic collection in the Digital Library through twenty notable objects. Part one focuses on decorative and utilitarian artifacts, and part two on artworks.

Egyptian; Paint box, 1302-1070 BCE. Image © Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

Egyptian; Paint box, 1302-1070 BCE. Image © Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

Paint Box

Only a handful of paint boxes survive from ancient Egypt, and this one is particularly unique in being made of ceramic and bearing a sliding lid with a grip whimsically decorated with a genet, an animal related to the mongoose.

The stylized papyrus thickets represent the genet’s habitat of tall grasses and shrubs. Featuring a hollow well for water and brush storage, the box contains seven pigment cakes of yellow ochre, Egyptian blue (a synthetic pigment composed of silica, copper, and calcium), calcium carbonate (white), hematite (dark red), hematite mixed with calcium carbonate (lighter red), and two charcoal blacks. Painters used these same pigments to decorate statuary and the walls of temples and tombs.

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November 23, 2015

Audubon and Audubon

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Attributed to John James Audubon, Pomarine Jager; Lestris Pomarinus, 1827-38. Image and original data provided by Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, N.Y.; artres.com

No doubt you are familiar with the work of the renowned wildlife artist John James Audubon, most likely his famous prints from The Birds of America. But did you know he wasn’t the only artist in the family? His son, John Woodhouse Audubon, spent much of his career supporting the work of his father, but he made a valuable contribution to wildlife documentation himself. (You can compare the two Audubons’ styles in the images below: the father’s are on the left, the son’s on the right.)

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August 12, 2015

The Zen of Agnes Martin

Agnes Bernice Martin, Waters, 1962. Seattle Art Museum; seattleartmuseum.org. © 2008 Agnes Martin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Agnes Bernice Martin, Waters, 1962, Seattle Art Museum. © 2008 Agnes Martin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

To the pioneers of Minimalism, Agnes Martin’s grid paintings were an early source of inspiration. To the Abstract Expressionists, Martin was a peer, whose use of line to cover canvases from edge to edge was not a gesture of Minimal art, but an expression of the AbEx concept of “allover” painting. In her own words, her pale, meditative geometry harkened back to much older ideas. Her art, she claimed, should be recognized alongside that of the ancient’s— the Egyptians, Greeks, Coptics, and, most importantly, Chinese.

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