Blood spurt trajectory sheds light on ‘lost Caravaggio’ found in French attic

From ResearchGate: Blood spurt trajectory sheds light on ‘lost Caravaggio’ found in French attic.

When the owners of a house near Toulouse, France went to fix a leak in the ceiling, they discovered a well-preserved canvas depicting the biblical beheading of General Holofernes by Judith. Experts believe the canvas was painted between 1600 and 1610, and that it could be the work of the Italian master Caravaggio. However, this belief is disputed and is currently being investigated by the Louvre Museum in Paris.

In a study published in European Journal of Internal Medicine, Italian doctor Antonio Perciaccante argues that the newly discovered painting may not be the work of Caravaggio, because of the way in which the blood spurt’s trajectory is painted. [continue]

38,000 year-old engravings confirm ancient origins of technique used by Seurat, Van Gogh

From 38,000 year-old engravings confirm ancient origins of technique used by Seurat, Van Gogh.

A newly discovered trove of 16 engraved and otherwise modified limestone blocks, created 38,000 years ago, confirms the ancient origins of the pointillist techniques later adopted by 19th and 20th century artists such as Georges Seurat, Vincent Van Gogh, Camille Pissarro, and Roy Lichtenstein.

“We’re quite familiar with the techniques of these modern artists,” observes New York University anthropologist Randall White, who led the excavation in France’s Vézère Valley. “But now we can confirm this form of image-making was already being practiced by Europe’s earliest human culture, the Aurignacian.”

Pointillism, a painting technique in which small dots are used to create the illusion of a larger image, was developed in the 1880s. However, archaeologists have now found evidence of this technique thousands of years earlier—dating back more than 35,000 years. [continue]

The history of red

I am inordinately fond of red, so I did take notice when I found that somebody has written a history of the colour. The somebody is Michel Pastoureau, and the book is Red: The History of a Color.

The Paris Review has given us an excerpt: The Red of Painters. And here is an excerpt of the excerpt!

The late Middle Ages and the modern period have left us works by great painters that are particularly remarkable for their range of reds. Let us mention Van Eyck, Uccello, Carpaccio, Raphael, and later, Rubens and Georges de La Tour. But all artists seemed to love this color and tried to draw various tonalities from it. Accordingly they chose their pigments, taking into account not only their physicochemical properties, their ability to cover or make opaque, their resistance to light, and how easily they could be worked or combined with other pigments but also their price, availability, and—what is most disconcerting to us—the name they went by. Indeed we can observe in the laboratory that in panel paintings from the late Middle Ages, symbolically “negative” reds—those coloring the fires of hell, the face of the Devil, the coat or feathers of infernal creatures, and all impure blood of one kind or another—were often painted with the same pigment: sandarac, a resin lacquer more commonly called “cinnabar of the Indies” or “dragon’s blood.” Various legends circulated in workshops regarding this pigment, a relatively expensive one because it had to be imported from far away. It was believed to come not from a plant resin but from the blood of a dragon, gored by its mortal enemy, the elephant. According to medieval bestiaries, which followed Pliny and the ancient authors here, the inside of the dragon’s body was filled with blood and fire; after a fierce struggle, when the elephant had punctured the dragon’s belly with its tusks, out flowed a thick, foul, red liquid, from which was made a pigment used to paint all the shades of red considered evil. Legend won out over knowledge in this case, and painters’ choices gave priority to the symbolism of the name over the chemical properties of the pigment.

Unlike the dyers, the painters of the modern period hardly profited at all from the discovery of the New World or the settling of Europeans in the Americas. No truly new colorants resulted from these events. But Mexican cochineal, transformed into lacquer, allowed them to perfect a subtle, delicate pigment in the range of reds, superior to earlier lacquers from brazilwood or kermes for fixing a glaze over vermilion. Beginning in the sixteenth century, vermilion experienced a steady rise in popularity and its production became something of an industry, first in Venice, the European capital of color, and then in the Netherlands and Germany. It was sold in apothecaries, hardware shops, and paint stores, and even though it was more expensive and less stable than minium, it eventually contributed to that pigment’s decline. [continue]

Simply red: why one colour became so powerful

From Spike Bucklow’s article in The Conversation: Simply red: why one colour became so powerful.

Red is simply sensational and its dominant place in today’s world of colour owes much to events that took place many thousands of years ago. One of humankind’s earliest observable activities was their decorative use of colour – in fact, it is one of the things that makes us human. And we can track down red’s hold over us by tracing the way artists got their colour over time – from animals, vegetables and minerals.

Most animal reds are hidden within creatures – like blood – and are not on open display. The excavation of Neolithic burial sites has turned up jars filled with dull-coloured dried insects, kermes, which have a brilliant hidden red that was used as textile dye. It was also a Neolithic food colouring and the colour red is still associated with health today.

Another insect, cochineal, was also harvested for its red and, when Europeans colonised the New World, cochineal, or “grain”, was one of their most cherished prizes. Thousands of tons of insects were shipped across the Atlantic, in a trade second only to silver. Cochineal was also used as a food colouring and, after being unfashionable for some decades, it is now coming back thanks to the unfortunate side-effects of artificial food-colourings. [continue]

Articles like this please me no end. Thank you, Spike Bucklow.

Lost Queen Elizabeth I portrait found in attic

From The Telegraph: Lost Queen Elizabeth I portrait found in attic.

A lost portrait of a young Elizabeth I that was discovered in the attic of a country house has intrigued historians after X-rays revealed that it was painted over an earlier picture of the monarch.

The painting, which had lain unnoticed in the dirty loft for more than a century, depicts the Queen as a pale, pious and austere young woman, and is one of the few pictures to show the 16th century royal in the early years of her reign.

Elizabeth, who is dressed in simple black clothes and clutches a Bible, was believed to have been around 26 when the portrait was painted.

But X-ray scans of the canvas have uncovered [continue]

Solved: mystery of The Ugly Duchess

From the Guardian: Solved: mystery of The Ugly Duchess – and the Da Vinci connection.

She is one of the most popular paintings in the National Gallery, whose rather unfortunate looks inspired illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But one question has always puzzled: did the poor lady really look like this?

Today the Guardian can reveal that she did and was suffering from an exceptionally rare form of Paget’s disease – an abnormality of the metabolism that enlarges and deforms the bones.

The portrait, An Old Woman, painted by the Flemish artist Quinten Massys in 1513, is popularly known as The Ugly Duchess and will be part of the National Gallery’s eagerly awaited exhibition Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian, which opens next Wednesday.

Curators are particularly excited about this painting because [continue, see painting]

Mossenger: graffiti made of moss

I bet Anna Garforth has more fun making graffiti than anybody else; certainly she has more impressive results. For her Mossenger project (Mossenger part one, Mossenger part two) Anna made letters out of moss, then affixed them to a brick wall. She sprays the text with water to keep it alive. includes Anna’s explanation:

Being interested in public art and ecology, it led me to thinking about sustainable grafitti. I collected a common moss that grows well on brick walls and glued it to the wall using a mixture of natural (bio active) yoghurt and sugar.

I blogged about moss graffiti years ago, but that was the paint-on method. I suspect that Anna’s lettercutting approach allows for much more precision.

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From the art world to the underworld

From the Wall Street Journal: From the Art World to the Underworld.

Shortly after 9 a.m. on June 4, three men drove to a seaside promenade near Marseilles, their van carrying paintings by Brueghel, Sisley and Monet. The art had been stolen at gunpoint from the Museum of Fine Arts in Nice last August. Now a Frenchman working for an American art dealer was supposed to show up and buy four works for $4.6 million in cash. Instead, nearly a dozen French police cars pulled up, led by a colonel for the gendarmerie who quickly took a call from Pennsylvania. "We got them!" Col. Pierre Tabel shouted into his cellphone.

The caller was Robert Wittman, an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation who had acted as the American "dealer" and orchestrated the sting. Mr. Wittman thanked the colonel and celebrated alone, drinking a mug of coffee on his back porch while his wife slept.

Mr. Wittman is one of the world’s top art-crime investigators. His specialty is going undercover. The 52-year-old has spent two decades impersonating shady dealers and befriending thieves. In all, he’s tracked down $225 million in missing objects, including a Rembrandt self-portrait and [continue]

Link found here at Uncertain Times.

Solar-powered nanotech-purified air in medieval churches

From Information Week: Solar-Powered Nanotech-Purified Air In Medieval Churches.

The glaziers who created gold-painted stained glass windows for medieval churches in Europe inadvertently developed a solar-powered nanotech air-purification system.

According to Zhu Huai Yong, an associate professor at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, the gold paint used in medieval-era stained glass windows purified the air when heated by sunlight.

"For centuries people appreciated only the beautiful works of art, and long life of the colors, but little did they realize that these works of art are also, in modern language, photocatalytic air purifier with nanostructured gold catalyst," said Zhu in a statement. [continue]

Link found at The Cranky Professor.

Fire lays bare prehistoric secrets of the moors in Yorkshire

From The Guardian: Fire lays bare prehistoric secrets of the moors in Yorkshire.

A catastrophic fire which "skinned" a precious moorland to its rocky bones has unexpectedly revealed some of the most important prehistoric archaeology found in Britain.

The uncontrolled six-day blaze on Fylingdales Moor in North Yorkshire has exposed a lost landscape dating back 3,000 years which is now to be made accessible to the public by English Heritage.

Unique rock art and unprecedentedly clear bronze age field boundaries have emerged from the soot and cinders [continue, see photo]

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New X-ray technique reveals colour of hidden van Gogh

From The Telegraph: New X-ray technique reveals colour of hidden van Gogh.

A portrait of a woman by Vincent van Gogh that he later painted over has been revealed in more detail than every before thanks to a new X-ray technique.

Previous research had discovered an outline of the peasant’s head behind the Dutch painter’s later work, Patch of Grass.

But this latest technique, which has never been used before, has unveiled the pigments van Gogh used in the original painting.

Over two days the scientists bombarded the painting with a powerful pencil-thin beam of X-rays, which caused the atoms in the picture to release "fluorescent" X-rays of their own which the scientists measured.

As the different chemicals that van Gogh used to paint the image release differing amounts of fluorescence, they were able to map the picture in great detail. [continue]

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Many hands painted Lascaux caves

From The Times: Many hands painted Lascaux caves.

The painted caves of Lascaux in the Dordogne region of France are one of the most famed monuments of Ice Age art. Dating back about 17,000 years, the great Hall of the Bulls and its adjacent chambers proved so popular with visitors that a generation ago the cave had to be closed to save the paintings from encroaching mould. A replica, Lascaux II, was built nearby and has proved equally popular.

One thing that strikes the visitor is the exuberance of the compositions, with hundreds of animals, including bison, horses and deer, parading along the walls and ceilings, often overlapping. A big problem in sorting out possible groupings of animals, and possible motives for painting them, has been the issue of contemporaneity — what was painted when?

A recent study by scientists at the Louvre’s research and conservation laboratories has suggested [continue]

Christina Mirabilis

July 24th is the feast day of Saint Christina Mirabilis. Here’s a bit about her from the St. Christina the Astonishing page at Cynthia Large’s site:

Christina was born in the town of Saint-Trond in 1150. She was orphaned at fifteen, along with her two sisters, and worked as a shepherd, growing closer to God over the years. In the process of this contemplation, she seems to have neglected her body’s need for sustenance; as Cantimpré writes, "she grew sick in body by virtue of the exercise of inward contemplation and she died." Later hagiographers attribute her apparent death to a seizure. In any case, she was carried to the church for the funeral Mass, where her first marvel was to occur. Right after the Agnus Dei, she flew up out of her coffin like a bird and perched herself in the rafters of the church (it was said that she desired to escape the stench of human sin). The priest finished the Mass with remarkable equanimity, and then made her come down (this is the scene depicted in my painting). She reported that she had been to Hell, and had recognized many people there. She was then shown Purgatory, and recognized many more. After this she was taken to Heaven where she was offered the choice of remaining with God, in one-ness with Him, or returning to earth in order to suffer the torments of the damned on behalf of the souls she had seen in Purgatory, who would then be released. She chose the unselfish course, and so startled her mourners by returning to life in the little church. [continue]

You might have seen Cynthia’s first painting of Christina Mirabilis when I linked to it years ago. Cynthia recently finished another painting of Christina Mirabilis. This one is called St. Christina the Astonishing — A Pelican in the Wilderness. Go look!

Centuries-old sketch comes home

From the Globe and Mail: Centuries-old sketch comes home.

He stares at us from centuries past, a clear, unflinching gaze attesting to his status as a great warrior chief of the Musqueam. Strands of long, dark hair curl past his shoulders and he wears a stylish conical cedar hat adorned with feathers.

Call him Qeyapaplanewx. That we know about him at all is thanks to a young Spanish cabin boy with an agile sketch pen who drew the Musqueam chief during a visit by his country’s navy to the waters off Point Grey in June of 1792.

As such, he is the first identified resident of what has long been Canada’s third-largest city, on lands once fished and hunted solely by the Musqueam.

Yet Jose Cardero’s remarkable drawing, squirrelled away for years in a dark storage area of the Naval History Museum in Madrid, is virtually unknown in Vancouver.

Not any more. Yesterday, the portrait came back — or at least a version of it.

In a ceremony on Qeyapaplanewx’s old [continue, see sketch]

How the art thief did it

By now much of the world has heard of the recent art theft at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology. A terrible pity, but I didn’t blog it because stories of yet another theft usually bore me.

This however, is not boring: the story of how the thief –or thieves — got away with the treasure. From the CBC: Fake phone call fooled UBC security in museum heist, police sources say.

An experienced jewelry thief may have hoodwinked the University of British Columbia’s campus security by telling them to ignore security alarms on the night of last month’s multi-million dollar heist at the Museum of Anthropology, CBC News has learned. [continue]

It reads like a movie plot. Brilliant technique.

Continue reading

Carpet of stone: medieval mosaic pavement revealed

Oh my. From the Guardian: Carpet of stone: medieval mosaic pavement revealed.

The wraps have come off one of Westminster Abbey’s least known treasures, a medieval marble pavement foretelling the end of the world, while conservation experts consider how to preserve the ancient stones for the next 740 years.

Few modern visitors have ever seen it, although since 1268 kings and princes, queens and cardinals have walked across a symbol laden mosaic as intricate as a piece of jewellery.

It is made up of rare marbles and gemstones, including some recycled from monuments 1,000 years older, and pieces of coloured glass, set in complex allegorical patterns into a framework of Purbeck marble cut as intricately as a jigsaw puzzle.

"When this floor was new it would have blazed with colour," Vanessa Simeoni, the abbey’s head of conservation said. "The materials were chosen for their brilliance and shine, and the quality of the craftsmanship is actually shocking, the ultimate that could be achieved."

The mosaics are known as Cosmati work, after the four generations of a Roman family of marble workers who perfected the technique. The Westminster one, regarded as the finest north of the Alps, uniquely has an inscription boasting of its makers – and a cryptic message about the end of the world. [continue, see photo]

Noah’s Ark in the desert

From The Art Newspaper: Noah’s Ark in the desert.

The ancient Egyptian monastery of Deir al-Surian is traditionally said to have been modelled on Noah’s Ark, since the outline of its walled buildings looks like a ship.

But Deir al-Surian resembles the Ark in another sense, as it has preserved unique examples of very early Christian art, dating back 1,600 years. Its isolation, together with its 12-metre-high walls, has helped protect this little oasis and its precious contents. [continue]

Oldest oil paintings found in Afghanistan

From Oldest Oil Paintings Found in Afghanistan.

The oldest known oil painting, dating from 650 A.D., has been found in caves in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley, according to a team of Japanese, European and U.S. scientists.

The discovery reverses a common perception that the oil painting, considered a typically Western art, originated in Europe, where the earliest examples date to the early 12th century A.D.

Famous for its 1,500-year-old massive Buddha statues, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, the Bamiyan Valley features several caves painted with Buddhist images.

Damaged by the severe natural environment and Taliban dynamite, the cave murals have been restored and studied by the [continue]

Mona Lisa’s identity confirmed by document

From Mona Lisa’s Identity Confirmed by Document.

The mystery over the identity of the woman behind Leonardo da Vinci’s "Mona Lisa" painting has been solved once and for all, German academics at Heidelberg University announced on Tuesday.

Mona Lisa is "undoubtedly" Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, according to Veit Probst, director of the Heidelberg University Library.

Conclusive evidence came from notes written in October 1503 in the margin of a book.

Discovered two years ago in the library’s collection by manuscript expert Armin Schlechter, the notes were made by Florentine city official Agostino Vespucci, an acquaintance of Leonardo da Vinci, in an edition of letters by the Roman orator, Cicero.

In his annotations, Vespucci wrote that [continue]

Crimson clues from the ancient past

From Crimson Clues from the Ancient Past.

Chemists have confirmed something that archaeologists and art historians have long suspected: Ancient sculptures found in western Africa contain blood from ritual animal sacrifices in their patina. The study, which used new diagnostic techniques, should yield a greater understanding of the practices of artists from long ago, and it could open the way for more detailed analyses of the world’s most precious artifacts.

Anthropologists and ethnologists have uncovered much cultural evidence, from oral histories and illustrations, that ancient African artists often used ritual animal blood in their creations, generally as attempts to please or appease their deities. In the empire of Mali, for example, which flourished from the early 13th century to the late 15th century C.E., the Dogon people decorated or painted their sculptures with various pigments thought to be composed partly of blood. But because of the age of the artifacts, the composition of the patina has eluded standard chemical analyses.

So a team from the Centre for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France in Paris and other institutions in France employed a quartet of new techniques. [continue]

Castle unveils medieval tapestry

From the BBC: Castle unveils medieval tapestry.

A tapestry that recreates part of a priceless Renaissance work of art has been unveiled at Stirling Castle.

The intricate 12ft by 14ft tapestry, entitled The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle, has taken a team of weavers four years to complete.

It forms the third part of the famous 16th century Hunt of the Unicorn series of tapestries, being recreated at the castle at a cost of £2m. [continue]

Fresco fragment revives Papal scandal

From the Beeb: Fresco fragment revives Papal scandal.

A fresco painting by a Renaissance master which once decorated the bedroom of Pope Alexander VI in the Vatican has gone on show in Rome.

A leading Italian art historian and curator says he has documentary proof that it was once part of a much larger painting depicting the aged Pope kneeling in front of his youthful mistress, Giulia Farnese.

This is an unusual example of "damnatio memoriae" — a Latin phrase meaning "damnation of memory".

It refers to a custom dating back to antiquity – the attempted removal of a famous person from the historical record for reasons of dishonour.

Roman Emperors used to order the destruction or removal of portraits or statues of disgraced members of their family.

Pope Alexander VI, the notorious Borgia Pope from Spain, discredited the Church by his debauched lifestyle. [continue]