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Author: xensen (Page 1 of 44)
In the Canareggio sestiere of Venice, between the Jewish Ghetto and the Madonna dell’ Orto church, on the Calle dei Mori (the Street of the Moors), resides the Palazzo Mastelli. It is an venerable edifice, marked with a plaque depicting a camel laden with burdens. (Consequently, the palazzo is familiarly known as the House of the Camel.) The camel is an enduring symbol of the position of Venice as an entrepôt for trade between East and West.
The original meaning of the camel plaque seems to have been lost to legend, most of it xenophobic. According to legend, three brothers came to Venice from “Morea” (the Peloponnesian peninsula of Greece) in 1112. Or maybe, according to other accounts, they were from the Levant. Maybe they were Arabs. In any case, their names are always given as Rioba, Sandi, and Afani, and they were traders, wicked men who, one story has it, sought to sell cheap fabric to a Venetian lady at an exorbitant price. But the victim of the scam cursed the money, and the three men were turned into turbaned stone statues that stand near the palace in the Campo dei Mori.
Another variant of the story says that the unscrupulous merchant used his favorite phrase while peddling his cloth, “May my hand turn to stone if what I am saying is not true.” Unfortunately for him, his intended victim was an avatar of St. Mary Magdalene (or maybe she simply answered the woman’s prayer) and once again the brothers end up as stone figures.
On one of the statues, known as “Sior Rioba,” satirical poems and protests politicians and other powerful people were traditionally hung. In the nineteenth century Sior Rioba lost his nose, and in 2010 his head, although it was later found in the Calle della Racchetta and restored.
Legends endure, and Venetians and travel guides have enjoyed relating the story for centuries. (One version appears in Giuseppe Tassini’s Curiosità Veneziane, 1872.) But the bases of the statues are in fact parts from a Roman altar, and the statues were not constructed as a group but are a composite from various sources, put together in the fourteenth century.
The Palazzo Mastelli is a similar mélange, combining thirteenth-century Byzantine fragments with sixteenth-century construction, Roman fragments set in a column, and all of that topped with a Gothic balcony. All quite Venetian and, if you ask me, charming.
The Astronomicum Caesarium (“The Emperor’s Astronomy,” 1540) by Petrus Apianus is a monumental example of European book arts of the sixteenth century, and one of the most beautiful books ever produced.
The author and producer, Peter Bienewitz (1495–1552), was the son of a shoemaker. He took the name Apianus (Latin for “bee man,” more or less a translation of his German surname), while a student at the University of Leipzig. Apianus worked as a mathematician and cosmographer (and astrologer) in the employ of emperor Charles V (1500–1558), whom he may have tutored. The Astronomicum Caesarium was produced for the emperor in folio format (about 18 x 13 in.) in a limited edition (about forty copies survive but the original run might not have been much larger).
A delightful guide from Pierrick Calvez. Click the screenshot (from a section representing “contrast”) for the five-minute guide.
The Orbis sensualium pictus, often described as the first children’s picture-book, sought to use animal sounds to teach children the alphabet. The author, Jan Amos Komenský, who took the Latin name Comenius, was an early champion of universal education. The book was originally published in German and Latin, and translated into English the following year by Charles Hoole, an English cleric and educational writer. A sheet from that translation is displayed above.
Another image using the photo-to-line art technique I described in a previous post.
A friend and I were talking.
One of my favorites is Italo Calvino, she said.
Oh, yes!… I used to review some of his books for the San Francisco Chronicle.
My favorite was Six Memos for the New Millennium.
I love that one! Can you send it to me?… The review, I mean.
Maybe? That must have been around thirty years ago. But I think I do still have some old reviews in a box. I’ll see if I can dig it out for you.
And I did. And here it is.
Writing as a Perfect Crystal
Six Memos for the Next Millennium
The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 1985–1986
By Italo Calvino; translated by Patrick Creagh
Harvard University Press; 136 pages; $12.95
In Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Italo Calvino, master of startling literary transformations in such works as Invisible Cities, Cosmicomics, and If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, shares his personal alchemical formula for literary Gold.
These lectures, intended for presentation at Harvard University in 1985, are precisely worded, carefully crafted, beautifully illustrated examples of the literary essay and inspiring demonstrations of Calvino’s argument that writing should have the definition, luminescence, and perfection of structure of a crystal. (The book is marred only by the failure of Harvard University Press to credit Patrick Creagh’s excellent translation.)
Calvino’s formula is idiomatic and personal. It will be difficult for literary critics to apply it as a test of value or for aspiring writers to use it as a recipe for their own magical creations. But it provides a brilliant, original approach to literature, a key to Calvino’s own work, and a thoroughly delightful and illuminating commentary on some of the world’s greatest writing.
The predominant focus in the neurobiological study of memory has been on remembering (persistence). However, recent studies have considered the neurobiology of forgetting (transience). Here we draw parallels between neurobiological and computational mechanisms underlying transience. We propose that it is the interaction between persistence and transience that allows for intelligent decision-making in dynamic, noisy environments. Specifically, we argue that transience (1) enhances flexibility, by reducing the influence of outdated information on memory-guided decision-making, and (2) prevents overfitting to specific past events, thereby promoting generalization. According to this view, the goal of memory is not the transmission of information through time, per se. Rather, the goal of memory is to optimize decision-making. As such, transience is as important as persistence in mnemonic systems.
This is a fancy way of saying, just think how hellish it would be if you were unable to forget any face you had ever seen on BART.
Recently I’ve been experimenting with a technique for converting photos to line art, which can then be colorized. (I don’t claim this technique is original to me, but I’ve been refining it for my own purposes.)
The essence of the technique is the conversion to lines, using the color dodge and multiply blend modes. In the artwork above, I started from this photo:
Just found out today (from someone who actually watched it) that this is online. I guess it’s been up for years.
Most photographic and print publication work involves operating within rectangular frames. The relationship of width to height is the aspect ratio, expressed as, for example, 1:1 for a square, 1:1.5 for a 6 x 9 book, or 1:2 for a sheet that is twice as wide as it is tall. Conventionally, the width is stated first: that 6 x 9 book is in portrait format, whereas a 9 x 6 book would be landscape, bound on the short side, and most inconvenient to read.
A special case is the golden section or golden ratio, a rectangle with the proportion 1:1.618 (between 3/5ths and 5/8ths). In this rectangle the smaller dimension is to the larger as the larger is to the sum. In other words, 1 is to 1.618 as 1.618 is to 2.618. And as 2.618 is to 4.236, and so on. This relationship, which can be extended indefinitely, was known since classical times, and it underlies the Fibonacci Series and the modular architecture of Le Corbusier, among other expressions. Gustav Theodor Fechner, a German scientist, studied people’s responses to rectangular shapes in 1876 and concluded that the golden section is the most pleasing, though his methodology and results have been questioned. But other aspect ratios also have historic and aesthetic associations.
“Every separation is a link.” — Simone Weil
I haven’t done a links post in quite a while. Here are a few things I thought worth sharing.
- Why Google is obsessed with your photos
“In a landscape fast becoming dominated by artificial intelligence, data — in this case, your photos — has become its own reward.”
- Color perception across cultures
“Is color perception a universal human experience?”
- “Unpaywall” shakes up academic publishing
“Open-source, nonprofit, and dedicated to improving access to scholarly research.”
- How to vet a publishing deal
“Traditional deals don’t require the author to pay for anything.”
- A rabbit hole leads to mystery caves
“An underground sanctuary said to have been used by devotees of a medieval religious order — but is everything what it seems?”
- The Met’s online free-for-all
“375,000 images of works of art from its collection are now available online for unrestricted commercial and non-commercial use in a new initiative, Open Access.”
- Creating the Hartford Whalers logo
“I have the letterforms ‘W’ and ‘H’ and I have a whale …”
- Don’t confuse the Museum of Failure with the Museum of Folly (MoFo)
“I got kind of fed up with everybody’s worshipping of success all the time …”
The aged are inclined to live in the past. In 1576, when Thomas Platter was seventy-seven, he published a charming autobiography. It would be admired centuries later by Goethe. Platter was the son of Swiss peasants. In Europe, the explosion of printing begun in the fifteenth century made advanced education available beyond the traditional literary elite, and Platter had learned seven languages and ended as a schoolteacher in Basel. As a legacy of his success, both of his sons, Felix and Thomas, became physicians. In 1599 the brothers were well enough off to partake of the new fad of international tourism, and they traveled to London. In his travel diary the younger brother, Thomas, describes attending a play “very pleasingly performed” on September 21. The drama was a tragedy concerning the Roman emperor Julius Caesar. Felix is sometimes remembered for being one of the first to articulate a theory of germs. Thomas is remembered for having attended a play.
Art is the Flower. Life is the Green Leaf. Let every artist strive to make his flower a beautiful living thing,something that will convince the world that there may be, there are, things more precious more beautiful — more lasting than life itself.
— Charles Rennie Mackintosh, from “Seemliness” (1902 lecture)