In his Schilderboeck of 1604, Flemish artist Karel van Mander writes that his contemporary Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder is a good landscape painter who “often had the habit of including a squatting, urinating woman on a bridge or elsewhere.”

None of Gheeraerts’ landscapes are known to survive, but we have a perspective map of his native Bruges that he completed in 1562 and … there she is.


There is pictorial license in the same way that there is poetic license. … It is frequently to this that every master owes his most sublime effects: The unfinished condition in Rembrandt’s work, the exaggeration in Rubens. Mediocre men cannot have such daring; they never get outside themselves. Method cannot govern everything; it leads everybody up to a certain point. How is it that not one of the great artists has tried to destroy that mass of prejudices? They were probably frightened at the task, and so abandoned the crowd to its silly ideas.

— Eugène Delacroix (from his journal)

The Biter Bit

Amsterdam artist Hendrik de Keyser’s 1615 sculpture Screaming Child Stung by a Bee was probably inspired by an idyllium of the Greek poet Theocritus in which Cupid is stung while stealing honey from a hive. When he complains to his mother that so small a creature should cause such great pain, she responds that he himself is small but deals wounds that are grievous.

Painter Joseph Ducreux and sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt also experimented with extreme facial expressions.


Above: Antonio Cicognara, Saint George and the Princess, tempera on panel, 1475.

Below: Lewis Carroll, Saint George and the Dragon, photograph, 1874.

Of photography Carroll wrote, “It is my one recreation and I think it should be done well.”

Melodic Puns

In Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, in which the phrase “me and my soul” is sung repeatedly, the words me and soul are sung to the notes mi and sol.

In the song “Sodomy” in the 1967 rock musical Hair, the word sodomy is sung to the notes so, do, and mi.

(From Dave Morice, The Dictionary of Wordplay, 2001.)

06/13/2024 UPDATE: In 1955, entomologists James Brennan and D. Elden Beck named two new species of chigger Trombicula doremi and Trombicula fasola.


A great portrait is always more a portrait of the painter than of the painted. When we look at a portrait by Holbein or Rembrandt it is of Holbein or Rembrandt that we think more than of the subject of their picture. Even a portrait of Shakespeare by Holbein or Rembrandt could tell us very little about Shakespeare. It would, however, tell us a great deal about Holbein or Rembrandt.

— Samuel Butler, Notebooks, 1912

Art Appreciation

James McNeill Whistler hated the work of J.M.W. Turner.

A lady once asked him, “Oh, Mr. Whistler, my husband has discovered in a secondhand shop what he thinks are two real Turners. Will you come and tell us whether they are real Turners or imitation Turners?”

“Well, ma’am,” Whistler said, “now that’s really a fine distinction.”

Trompe L’Oeil,_a_Wellcome_V0049678.jpg

[Parrhasius], it is recorded, entered into a competition with Zeuxis, who produced a picture of grapes so successfully represented that birds flew up to the stage-buildings; whereupon Parrhasius himself produced such a realistic picture of a curtain that Zeuxis, proud of the verdict of the birds, requested that the curtain should now be drawn and the picture displayed; and when he realized his mistake, with a modesty that did him honour he yielded up the prize, saying that whereas he had deceived birds Parrhasius had deceived him, an artist.

From Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia. See Demo.

Voice Flowers

In 1885, seeking a way to depict vocal sounds visually, Welsh singer Megan Watts Hughes invented the eidophone, a chamber capped with an elastic membrane that would resonate when the singer sang into a tube. When she spread the disk with a thin layer of sand or glycerine, standing waves would register as visible patterns resembling forget-me-nots, daisies, marigolds, chrysanthemums, and sunflowers.

“Stepping out of doors,” she wrote, “[I] have seen their parallels living in the flowers, ferns, and trees around me; and … the hope has come to me that these humble experiments may afford some suggestions in regard to nature’s production of her own beautiful forms.”

The field of study she helped to pioneer is now known as cymatics — see Chladni Figures.