(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘illustration

“If the map doesn’t agree with the ground the map is wrong”*…

Mercator’s depiction of Rupes Nigra

Maps from hundreds of years ago can be surprisingly accurate… or they can just be really, really wrong. Weird maps from history invent lands wholesale, distort entire continents, or attempt to explain magnetism planet-wide. Sometimes the mistakes had a surprising amount of staying power, too, getting passed from map to map over the course of years while there was little chance to independently verify…

Gerardus Mercator, creator of everyone’s favorite map projection, didn’t know what the north pole looked like. No one in his time really did. But they knew that magnetic compasses always pointed north, and so a theory developed: the north pole was marked by a giant magnetic black-rock island.

He quotes a description of the pole in a letter: “In the midst of the four countries is a Whirl-pool, into which there empty these four indrawing Seas which divide the North. And the water rushes round and descends into the Earth just as if one were pouring it through a filter funnel. It is four degrees wide on every side of the Pole, that is to say eight degrees altogether. Except that right under the Pole there lies a bare Rock in the midst of the Sea. Its circumference is almost 33 French miles, and it is all of magnetic Stone (…) This is word for word everything that I copied out of this author [Jacobus Cnoyen] years ago.”

Mercator was not the first or only mapmaker to show the pole as Rupes Nigra, and the concept also tied into fiction and mythology for a while. The idea eventually died out, but people explored the Arctic in hopes of finding a passage through the pole’s seas for years before the pole was actually explored in the 1900s…

See five more confounding charts at “The Weird History of Extremely Wrong Maps.”

And for fascinating explanations of maps with intentional “mistakes,” see: “MapLab: The Legacy of Copyright Traps” and “A map is the greatest of all epic poems.”

* Gordon Livingston

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As we find our way, we might spare a thought for Thomas Doughty; he was beheaded on this date in 1578. A nobleman, soldier, scholar, and personal secretary of Christopher Hatton, Doughty befriended explorer and state-sponsored pirate Francis Drake, then sailed with him on a 1577 voyage to raid Spanish treasure fleets– a journey that ended for Doughty in a shipboard trial for treason and witchcraft, and his execution.

Although some scholars doubt the validity of the charges of treason, and question Drake’s authority to try and execute Doughty, the incident set an important precedent: according to a history of the English Navy, To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World by Arthur L. Herman, Doughty’s execution established the idea that a ship’s captain was its absolute ruler, regardless of the rank or social class of its passengers.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 2, 2022 at 1:00 am

“The commonality between science and art is in trying to see profoundly – to develop strategies of seeing and showing”*…

Working with her scientist husband, Orra Hitchcock produced illustrations on bolts of linen that manifest original knowledge about extinction, stratigraphy, and their evidentiary features in the surrounding landscape– and trained eager young students to recognize and describe geological and natural-historical phenomena…

After meeting and falling in love with Edward Hitchcock, her employer at Massachusetts’ Deerfield Academy, Orra (née White) married him in 1821, beginning a lifetime of professional collaboration while raising a family amid piles of rocks and research tomes. Highly trained, white, and wealthy, she was far from an oddity in nineteenth-century education. Like many other women of her class, Hitchcock received extensive instruction in the arts and sciences, making a name by working alongside, not beneath, a man who had easier access to academic opportunities. Variously lauded as “an anomaly” and “the most remarkable” of their era, her scientific illustrations have rarely been considered on their own terms — admired for the natural historical and religious knowledge they contain — without being made an exemplar of the broader category of “women’s work”.

Moving to Amherst when Edward was appointed Professor of Chemistry and Natural History, the couple embarked on a decades-long exploration of the Connecticut River Valley’s botany and geology. While Edward lectured to eager young students about the principles of nature, from the depths of oceans to the granite veins of the earth, Orra produced more than sixty hand-colored scientific illustrations on poster-sized linen swaths designed to be hung on classroom walls.

Ranging from extinct mammals like Megatherium (a genus of giant ground sloth [below]) through lithic strata to fossilized footprints, the collection is striking for its modern abstraction, anticipating the later works of George Maw. Although some of Hitchcock’s geological illustrations seem far from “accurate” in their specificity (or lack thereof), her devotion to clear and concise visual communication bespeaks a deep-seated understanding of complex scientific principles…

An appreciation: “Orra White Hitchcock’s Scientific Illustrations for the Classroom (1828–40),” from @PublicDomainRev.

* Edward Tufte

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As we picture it, we might send sharply-observant birthday greetings to Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin; she was born on this date in 1900.  An astrophysicist and astronomer, she was the first– in her Radcliffe (Harvard) PhD thesis in 1927– to apply the laws of atomic physics to the study of the temperature and density of stellar bodies: the first to conclude that hydrogen and helium are the two most common elements in the universe and the first to suggest that the Sun is primarily (99%) composed of hydrogen.  During the 1920s, the accepted explanation of the Sun’s composition was a calculation of around 65% iron and 35% hydrogen.  Her thesis adviser, astronomer Henry Norris Russell, reached a similar conclusion via his own observations several years later, and (while he made brief mention of Payne’s work) was for a time credited with the discovery.  But in 1947, astronomer Fred Hoyle confirmed her original claim.

She spent her entire career at Harvard.  In 1956 she became the first woman to be promoted to full professor from within the faculty at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Later, with her appointment to the Chair of the Department of Astronomy, she also became the first woman to head a department at Harvard.

Her students included Helen Sawyer Hogg, Joseph AshbrookPaul W. Hodge, and Frank Drake (the creator of the Drake Equation)– all of whom made important contributions to astronomy.

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“Which painting in the National Gallery would I save if there was a fire? The one nearest the door of course.”*…

Unveiling the Mona Lisa after World War II

The remarkable tale of the Louvre’s successful efforts to protect its treasures from Nazi looting…

… With due respect to the Monuments Men (and unsung Monuments Women), before the Allies arrived to rescue many of Europe’s priceless works of art, French civil servants, students, and workmen did it themselves, saving most of the Louvre’s entire collection. The hero of the story, Jacques Jaujard, director of France’s National Museums, has gone down in history as “the man who saved the Louvre” — also the title of an award-winning French documentary (see trailer below). Mental Floss provides context for Jaujard’s heroism:

After Germany annexed Austria in March of 1938, Jaujard… lost whatever small hope he had that war might be avoided. He knew Britain’s policy of appeasement wasn’t going to keep the Nazi wolf from the door, and an invasion of France was sure to bring destruction of cultural treasures via bombings, looting, and wholesale theft. So, together with the Louvre’s curator of paintings René Huyghe, Jaujard crafted a secret plan to evacuate almost all of the Louvre’s art, which included 3600 paintings alone.

On the day Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Nonaggression Pact, August 25, 1939, Jaujard closed the Louvre for “repairs” for three days while staff, “students from the École du Louvre, and workers from the Grands Magazines du Louvre department store took paintings out of their frames… and moved statues and other objects from their displays with wooden crates.”

The statues included the three ton Winged Nike of Samothrace (see a photo of its move here), the Egyptian Old Kingdom Seated Scribe, and the Venus de Milo. All of these, like the other works of art, would be moved to chateaus in the countryside for safe keeping. On August 28, “hundreds of trucks organized into convoys carried 1000 crates of ancient and 268 crates of paintings and more” into the Loire Valley.

Included in that haul of treasures was the Mona Lisa, placed in a custom case, cushioned with velvet. Where other works received labels of yellow, green, and red dots according to their level of importance, the Mona Lisa was marked with three red dots — the only work to receive such high priority. It was transported by ambulance, gently strapped to a stretcher. After leaving the museum, the painting would be moved five times, “including to Loire Valley castles and a quiet abbey.” The Nazis would loot much of what was left in the Louvre, and force it to re-open in 1940 with most of its galleries starkly empty. But the Mona Lisa — at the top of Hitler’s list of artworks to expropriate — remained safe, as did many thousands more artworks Jaujard believed were the “heritage of all humanity”…

How France Hid the Mona Lisa & Other Louvre Masterpieces During World War II, from @openculture.

* George Bernard Shaw

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As we say thanks for safekeeping, we might send Romantic birthday greetings to a painter whose works were among those saved by the Louvre; he was born on this date in 1798. Breaking with the neoclassical tendencies of contemporaries (like his rival Ingres), Delacroix took his inspiration from Reubens and the Venetian Renaissance, emerging from the outset of his career as a leader of the French Romantic movement. Together with Ingres, Delacroix is considered one of the last old Masters of painting, and one of the few who was ever photographed (see below).

Also a fine lithographer, Delacroix illustrated various works of Shakespeare, Walter Scott, and Goethe.

Eugène Delacroix, c. 1857 (portrait by Nadar; source)

“But, after all, the aim of art is to create space”*…

The remarkable work of Eric Ross Bernstein

See more at his website or on Instagram. Via @Booooooom.

* Frank Stella

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As we ponder perspective, we might send expressive birthday greetings to artist, playwright, poet, and teacher Oskar Kokoschka; he was born on this date in 1886. His theories of vision and his intense expressionistic paintings (largely portraits and landscapes) made him a key member of the Viennese Expressionist movement.

The Bride of the Wind or The Tempest, oil on canvas, a self-portrait expressing his unrequited love for Alma Mahler, widow of composer Gustav Mahler, 1914 [source]
Kokoschka in 1963, by Erling Mandelmann [source]
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