Astrobiology

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/811200

In 1776, draftsman Filippo Morghen produced a set of 10 etchings with a startling title: The Suite of the Most Notable Things Seen by Cavaliere Wild Scull, and by Signore de la Hire on Their Famous Voyage From the Earth to the Moon.

Philippe de La Hire was a real French astronomer; nothing is known of Scull, and in the second printing Morghen replaced him with natural philosopher Bishop John Wilkins as a putative source of his fantastic images.

As to life on the moon, it’s pretty wild — among other things, the lunar inhabitants live in pumpkins to protect themselves from wild beasts. You can see the whole series at Public Domain Review.

Beholder

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mona_Lisa,_by_Leonardo_da_Vinci,_from_C2RMF_retouched.jpg

New York Times, Dec. 1, 1913:

“In a lecture on ‘Beauty and Morality,’ at the University of London, one Kane S. Smith called the ‘Mona Lisa’ of Leonardo da Vinci ‘one of the most actively evil pictures ever painted, the embodiment of all evil the painter could imagine put into the most attractive form he could devise.'”

Literary Digest, Jan. 3, 1914:

“The lecturer admitted that it was an exquisite piece of painting, but said, ‘if you look at it long enough to get into its atmosphere, I think you will be glad to escape from its influence. It has an atmosphere of indefinable evil.'”

“The audience is stated to have applauded enthusiastically, but it is probable they would have applauded equally as heartily if the lecturer had found the influences of the picture good.”

Getting There

Designed by architects in Amsterdam and Beijing, the Lucky Knot Bridge in Changsha, China, combines three bridges in one. Inspired by both the Möbius strip and the Chinese knotting art, the 185-meter pedestrian bridge spans Dragon King Harbor River, connecting multiple levels at varying heights (the river banks, the road, and a park at a higher level) while permitting pedestrians to pass from one route to another using “moon gates.”

“Bridges … have a highly metaphorical quality,” Michel Schreinemachers, a partner at Next Architects, told Wired. “They connect not only in a physical sense, but also people, places, needs, and experiences.”

Disappearing Act

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Quantum_Man.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Julian Voss-Andreae studied physics at the University of Vienna before pursuing an art degree in the United States. His sculpture Quantum Man consists of 115 vertical steel sheets spaced by 1,000 short steel rods. The resulting figure looks solid when viewed from the front but almost disappears when viewed from the side, as light passes between the sheets.

“My interest is really nature,” he says. “One way to explore it is through science. Another is through intuitive sense and a search for metaphors.”

(Thanks, Ron.)

Inspiration

Berndnaut Smilde makes clouds. The Dutch artist has devised a way to combine water vapor with smoke to create miniature clouds that hover in enclosed spaces. He’s been deploying it in locations ranging from cathedrals to coal mines.

“I see them as temporary sculptures, made of almost nothing, balancing on the edge of materiality, an image of prospect in an empty space,” he told Rajesh Punj. “For me the work is about the idea of a cloud inside a space and what people project onto it. You can see them as a sign of misfortune or an element from a classical painting. There is something ungraspable about clouds: it might explain why people have been projecting so many meanings and myths upon clouds for centuries.”

Time named the technique one of the 50 best inventions of 2012.

Elbow Room

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:View_of_a_Corridor_1662_Samuel_van_Hoogstraten.jpg

Visiting Thomas Povey in 1663, Samuel Pepys was surprised when his host opened a door to reveal an unsuspected region of the house.

At a second glance he saw that Povey had only opened a closet in which a large deceiving painting had been hung.

The painting, Samuel Dirksz van Hoogstraten’s View of a Corridor, still hangs at Dyrham Park today.

A Different View

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Un_bar_aux_Folies-Berg%C3%A8re_d%27E._Manet_(Fondation_Vuitton,_Paris)_(33539037428).jpg

Manet’s painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergère is sometimes criticized for its confused composition. The bottles to the barmaid’s right stand near the back of the bar, but in the reflection behind her they stand near the front. Her own image ought to stand behind her, not off to the right. And reflection of the man she’s addressing (in the position of the painter, or the viewer) ought also to be behind her — indeed, she herself should be blocking our view of it.

But in a dissertation at the University of New South Wales, art historian Malcolm Park found that the arrangement makes sense if certain assumptions are reconsidered. The barmaid is facing the viewer across the bar, with a mirror behind her. But she’s looking diagonally along the bar, not directly across it. (See the diagram here.)

The bottles in the background and the man she appears to be addressing are both in fact to the viewer’s left, beyond the edge of the frame and so visible only as reflections. And the barmaid’s own reflection appears to our right because, from our perspective, the mirror is not directly behind her — it’s “turned” somewhat, carrying her image over to one side.

(Malcolm Park, Ambiguity and the Engagement of Spatial Illusion Within the Surface of Manet’s Paintings, dissertation, College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, 2001.)