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Blog Category: Highlights

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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May 1, 2015

Game of Thrones and the House of Artstor

Fortress of Carcassonne, Carcassonne, France, 1150. Built by Bernard Anton Trencavel; fortified by Simon de Montfort; restored by Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. Image and original data provided by Shmuel Magal, Sites and Photos; sites-and-photos.com

Fortress of Carcassonne, Carcassonne, France, 1150. Built by Bernard Anton Trencavel; fortified by Simon de Montfort; restored by Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. Image and original data provided by Shmuel Magal, Sites and Photos; sites-and-photos.com

Yes, of course we’re watching Game of Thrones. The TV series based on a still unfinished (!) series of books by George R. R. Martin brings a new meaning to the word epic.

With more than 40 main cast members and complicated storylines for each, it’s a wonder anyone can keep track of what’s going on. Set in a distant land during the Middle Ages, this show has betrayals, dragons, knights, and a nail-biting struggle for power. It’s so rich with imagery that we were inspired to dive into the Artstor Digital Library to illustrate it.

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April 2, 2015

Hopping through cultures: the rabbit in art

Albrecht Dürer, Hare (A Young Hare), 1502, Graphische Sammlung Albertina. Image and original data: Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archives/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

Albrecht Dürer, Hare (A Young Hare), 1502, Graphische Sammlung Albertina. Image and original data: Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archives/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

Easter is around the corner, and with it comes the inevitable barrage of images of the Easter bunny. The strange thing is that the only mentions of rabbits in the Bible are prohibitions against eating them in the Old Testament. So what gives?

The underlying idea is that rabbits are connected to the idea of rebirth—not only do they reproduce prodigiously, at one time they were believed to reproduce asexually. The connection of rabbits to rebirth also occurs in non-Christian societies: The Rabbit in the Moon (instead of our Man in the Moon) is a familiar symbol in Asia, and was part of Aztec legend, tying the idea of rabbits to a “rebirth” every night. But other qualities of rabbits and hares also get highlighted in folklore, including their mischievous side, playing the role of cunning tricksters in Native American and Central African mythologies.

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January 15, 2015

The Top Ten Posts of 2014

We had another busy year at the Artstor Blog, with 161,000 visits in 2014. What were people clicking on? Here’s the list of the top ten most popular posts from last year:

  1. From Babylon to Berlin: The rebirth of the Ishtar Gate
  2. Finding the phenomenal women in fine art
  3. Dürer and the elusive rhino
  4. The travels and travails of the Mona Lisa
  5. The Museum of Natural History in The Catcher in the Rye
  6. Now available: Masterworks from the Berlin State Museums
  7. IFA Archaeological Project at Abydos: Shared Shelf in action
  8. Michelangelo, Raphael, and the Swiss Guard uniforms
  9. Après la Bastille: the changing fortunes of Marie Antoinette
  10. Reginald Marsh’s Coney Island

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November 4, 2014

Michelangelo, Raphael, and the Swiss Guard uniforms

Raphael, Stanza di Eliodoro (Expulsion of Heliodorus), 1511-12, Vatican. Image and original data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.; www.artres.com; scalarchives.com; (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

Raphael, Stanza di Eliodoro (Expulsion of Heliodorus), 1511-12, Vatican. Image and original data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.; www.artres.com; scalarchives.com; (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

With the recent news that the Vatican’s Swiss Guard is releasing a book of recipes, I’m again hearing the myth, perpetuated by Dan Brown among others, that Michelangelo designed the uniforms of the Guard at the behest of his patron, Julius II.

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