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Blog Category: Highlights

October 17, 2018

The strange fates of pillaged mummies

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Mummy of Ukhhotep, Egypt. Detail. c.1981-1802 B.C.E. Wood, cartonnage, paint, linen, human remains, obsidian, gold, alabaster. Image and data provided by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In an 1898 article for Scientific American, a chemist describes his process for working with a powdered material that smelled of myrrh and meat extract:

On heating the powder turns dark brown black, with a pleasant, resin-like odor of incense and myrrh, then throws out vapors with an odor of asphaltum; it leaves a black glossy coal which leaves behind when burnt 17 percent of ash with a strongly alkaline reaction, evolving plenty of carbonic acid when sprinkled with acids. In the closed tube vapors of acid reaction are obtained. With hot water a yellow brown solution of neutral reaction is obtained which smells like glue and extract of meat when inspissated…”

The powder in question was in fact the ground desiccated corpse of an ancient Egyptian, heated for the purpose of creating commercially-produced oil paint. Shocked? Let us treat you to a short history of the many strange fates of pillaged mummies between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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September 27, 2018

On this day: the book that led to the creation of the EPA

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Chatham University, Rachel Carson in the Pennsylvania College for Women Yearbook, The Pennsylvanian, 1928. Image and data courtesy the Collection on Rachel Carson, Chatham University Archives & Special Collections.

On this day in 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published, bringing widespread attention to environmental issues caused by the use of synthetic pesticides in the United States. The book sparked controversy, particularly from chemical companies that dismissed Silent Spring’s assertions about the connection between pesticides and ecological health. However, Carson’s claims were borne out and the book is widely credited with sparking the modern environmental movement that eventually spawned the Environmental Protection Agency.

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September 12, 2018

Fake news: the drowning of Hippolyte Bayard

Hippolyte Bayard, Self Portrait as a Drowned Man, 1840. Data from University of California, San Diego.
Hippolyte Bayard, Self Portrait as a Drowned Man (verso), 1840. Data from University of California, San Diego.

In a grainy 1840 photograph, a partially-covered corpse is propped against a wall, its decay evident in the darkening skin of the face and hands. The body is that of Hippolyte Bayard, an early inventor of photographic processes and supposed drowning victim, and written on the image verso is a strange note:

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August 16, 2018

2,000+ punk rock flyers, free as they were intended to be

 

On Broadway, 1983 January 22. Aaron Cometbus Punk and Underground Press Collection. Image courtesy the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
The Dry House, 1988 May 06. Aaron Cometbus Punk and Underground Press Collection. Image courtesy the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
Keystone Berkeley, 1981 May 14. Aaron Cometbus Punk and Underground Press Collection. Image courtesy the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
Dead Kennedys, 1980's. Johan Kugelberg punk collection, circa 1974-1986. Image courtesy the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

Punk flyers from the 1970s to the 1990s shared many of the qualities of the music they promoted–a DIY aesthetic, an embrace of cheap and accessible technology (i.e., photocopiers), plus a healthy dose of humor. In contrast to the often ornate Art Nouveau-inspired rock posters of the psychedelic 1960s, punk flyers typically featured dissonant collages, crude handwriting, and amateurish drawing–not to mention a strict limitation of color.

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November 29, 2017

A brief history of Majolica

George Jones. “Punch” Bowl. 1870-1880. Image and original data provided by Majolica International Society.

“Majolica” is the word used to denote the brightly colored, low-fired earthenware commercially introduced by the Minton Company at the 1851 London Exhibition of All Nations. This was in accordance with Herbert Minton’s long-held desire to capture the market of the newly emergent Middle Class. Majolica, a Victorian phenomenon, was a huge success at the Crystal Palace and soon became a worldwide fad, with factories on three continents and Australia to satisfy the buying craze it had inspired. Deborah English, Librarian, The Marilyn Karmason Majolica Reference Library of the Majolica International Society (MIS), has provided a history of the wares to celebrate the addition of the MIS collection to the Artstor Digital Library.

Staffordshire potters first developed lead glazes of green and brown in the 18th Century, but it was not until Herbert Minton of Stoke-on-Trent brought the French chemist Leon Arnoux to England, that more vibrant colors began to appear. This was possible, thanks to Mr. Arnoux’s previous work with the sumptuous porcelain glazes of Sèvres. Mr. Arnoux also persuaded several prominent French sculptors to join him at Minton, including A.E. Carrier-Belleuse, Paul Comolera, and Pierre Emile Jeannest. They joined the already formidable staff that Mr. Minton had built, including Alfred Lord Stevens, Baron Carlo Marochetti, John Bell, A.W.N. Pugin, and others. Mr. Minton formally introduced his new ware at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851, even though English potters and English-born potters in the USA had been working on the formulas for some time. Arnoux’s saturated colors were the radical boost the new material needed. It soon happened that an astonishing number of forms evolved, sometimes in bizarre combinations.

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November 27, 2017

The party of the century: Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball

Elliott Erwitt. USA; NYC; Candice Bergen dancing at the Truman Capote B&W Ball at the Plaza Hotel. 1966. ©Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos

Truman Capote’s fame transcended his literary status; he was famous for being, well, famous half a century before reality television and social media stars even existed. Also a uniquely gifted writer, Capote sought fame through publicity stunts, television appearances, and his friendships with both the social and Hollywood elite of the mid-twentieth century. Capote nurtured a persona based on being entertaining, rapier-witted, and eager to spread a rumor–attributes that would later haunt him.

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September 26, 2017

Highlight: photography in Artstor

Abdullah Frères. Cimitiere Turca, Sculari, Istanbul. 19th century. Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Did you know that nearly 20% of Artstor’s more than 2 million images are photographs? This summer we released a new collection of over 36,000 images from The Center for Creative Photography and we added 47,000 new images to existing collections from Magnum Photos, Panos Pictures, and Condé Nast, bringing our photography holdings to more than 350,000. These additions join major collections such as George Eastman House (the world’s oldest photography museum), Eyes of the Nation: a Visual History of the United States (Library of Congress), the Museum of the City of New York, and fine art photography from the Larry Qualls collection of contemporary art, among others. Photography collections in Artstor span many types, including photojournalism, art photography, social documentary works, carte de visites, stereographs, fashion photography, and even vernacular photography. In aggregate, these diverse collections can provide visual histories of people, events, cultures, and countries between the advent of photography in 1839 and the present day.

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August 22, 2017

The bourgeois pup: artists and dogs in the 19th-century home

Mary Cassatt. Little Girl in a Blue Armchair. 1878. The National Gallery of Art

Mary Cassatt. Little Girl in a Blue Armchair. 1878. The National Gallery of Art

From the wild wolves of our ancestors to today’s lap dogs, canines have played an important role in the lives of humans. They helped hunters find food, they served as entertainment, and they provided emotional support. And they were artist’s models. Art history is filled with works featuring the image of a dog. The Native Americans had vessels shaped into dog form, medieval manuscripts featured dogs, and numerous Renaissance paintings feature a rogue dog or two.

Echoing many other aspects of France in the 19th century, including fashion and interior design, dogs became customizable as well, and at times were imported from other countries. And at the same time as dogs entered the home, so did artists: bourgeois and modern life became the subject of art as the number of domesticated dogs and breeds grew.

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July 26, 2017

Watson and the Shark: “a most usefull Lesson to Youth”

John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, 1778. Image: Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington

John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, 1778. Image: Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington

On a warm day in 1749, 14-year-old Brook Watson dove into Havana Harbor for a swim. As he floated surrounded by merchant ships, a shark sank its teeth into his leg, pulling him beneath the waves in a vicious, sustained attack that severed his right foot. Bleeding and helpless, he struggled to stay above water as a group of sailors maneuvered a small skiff into position and pulled him from the toothy Behemoth’s mouth. His leg would have to be amputated at the knee, but he survived his ordeal. Nearly thirty years after the incident, John Singleton Copley historicized Watson’s attack in the monumental painting Watson and the Shark.

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July 20, 2017

Persuasive Cartography: collector’s choice

South America: the Land of Opportunity. A Continent of Scenic Wonders. A Paradise for the Tourist. General Information for Travelers, Detail. Lamport & Holt Line. 1912. Persuasive Maps: PJ Mode Collection

South America: the Land of Opportunity. A Continent of Scenic Wonders. A Paradise for the Tourist. General Information for Travelers, Detail. Lamport & Holt Line. 1912. Persuasive Maps: PJ Mode Collection

Persuasive Cartography: The PJ Mode Collection is a physical and digital open access collection of maps donated to Cornell University Library’s Rare and Manuscript Collections. This collection brings together maps from many eras from all over the world to explore their power as visual messengers. 

Following up on our interview in which he shares the origin of the collection, collector and donor PJ Mode shares a selection of his favorite pieces.

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