Leonardo da Vinci’s Earliest Notebooks Now Digitized and Made Free Online: Explore His Ingenious Drawings, Diagrams, Mirror Writing & More

Do a search on the word “polymath” and you will see an image or reference to Leonardo da Vinci in nearly every result. Many historical figures—not all of them world famous, not all Europeans, men, or from the Italian Renaissance—fit the description. But few such recorded individuals were as feverishly active, restlessly inventive, and astonishingly prolific as Leonardo, who left riddles enough for scholars to solve for many lifetimes.

Leonardo himself, though world-renowned for his talents in the fine arts, spent more of his time conceiving scientific studies and engineering projects. “When he wrote in the early 1480s to Ludovico Sforza, then ruler of Milan, to offer him his services,” remarks Catherine Yvard, Special Collections curator at the Victoria and Albert National Art Library, “he advertised himself as a military engineer, only briefly mentioning his artistic skills at the end of the list.”

But since so few of his projects were, or could be, realized in his lifetime, we can only experience them through his mostly inaccessible, and generally indecipherable, notebooks, which he began keeping after the Duke accepted his application. “None of Leonardo’s predecessors, contemporaries or successors used paper quite like he did,” notes the Victoria and Albert Museum site, “a single sheet contains an unpredictable pattern of ideas and inventions—the workings of both a designer and a scientist.”

Part of the difficulty of piecing his legacy together stems from the fact that his hundreds of pages of notes have been distributed across several institutions and private collections, not all of them accessible to researchers. But ambitious digitization projects are erasing those barriers. We recently featured one, a joint effort of the British Library and Microsoft that brought 570 pages from the Codex Arundel collection to the web. As The Art Newspaper reports, the Victoria and Albert has now launched a similar endeavor, digitizing the Codex Forster notebooks, so named because they came from the private collection of John Forster in 1876.

This collection includes some of Leonardo’s earliest notebooks. Codex Forster I, now online, contains the earliest notebook the V&A holds, dating from about 1487, and the latest, from 1505. “Written in Leonardo’s famous ‘mirror-writing,’” the V&A notes, “the subjects explored within range from hydraulic engineering to a treatise on measuring solids.” Forster II and III should come online soon. “We are planning to make these two other volumes also fully accessible online in 2019 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death,” says Yvard.

The most innovative aspect of this particular project is the use of IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework), a technology that “has enabled us to present the codex in a new way,” remarks Kati Price, V&A’s head of digital media. “We’ve used deep-zoom functionality… to present some of the most spectacular and detailed items in our collection.” Scholars and laypeople alike can take a very close-up look at the many schematics and technical diagrams in the notebooks and see Leonardo’s mind and hand at work.

But while all of us can marvel at the sight of his engineering genius, when it comes to reading his handwriting, we’ll have to rely on experts. Let’s hope the museum will someday supply translations for nonspecialists. In the meantime, explore the digitized manuscripts here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Classic Video of Pablo Picasso Marking Art, Set to the Song, “Pablo Picasso,” by Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers

Before the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, there were the Modern Lovers, the Boston proto-punk band helmed by lead singer Jonathan Richman. Their sound owed a lot to the Velvet Underground, a band the teenaged Richman idolized, following them to New York City and ingratiating himself to such a degree that their manager allowed him to couch surf for a few weeks.

Their sole album, released two years after they broke up, was cobbled together from two different demo sessions, one of them produced by the Velvets’ John Cale.

By the time it came out, Richman had already embraced the gentler, sunnier persona and sound that’s made him a celebrated solo artist with fans of all ages. He famously remarked that he didn’t want to make music that could hurt a baby’s ears. As former bandmate, bassist Ernie Brooks told punk historian Legs McNeil:

Jonathan started saying his old songs were too negative and dark, and he started writing things like “Hey There Little Insect,” and maybe he was way ahead of us, but we couldn’t follow him—he wanted us to go, “Buzz, buzz, buzz” on stage, but we were too cool!

Richman’s impulse was correct. More than 40 years out from the Modern Lovers, his solo career is going strong. (On later recordings attributed to Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, he is the only holdover from the original line up.)

But that Modern Lovers album has plenty of staying power, too.

Rolling Stone dubbed it both the 48th best debut album and the 381st greatest album of all time.

And while “Roadrunner” may be its best known track, thanks to a long running campaign to make it the official rock song of Massachusetts (over Richman’s protestations that it’s not good enough to deserve the honor), “Pablo Picasso”’s memorable chorus cannot be unheard:

He could walk down your street

And girls could not resist his stare

Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole

(Francoise Gilot, Picasso’s model, and mother of two of his children, might say otherwise, according to several YouTube comments elicited by the unattributed short film above.)

In 1980, a writer for the zine Boston Groupie News tried to get Richman to reveal the song’s provenance. He had pursued art as a teenager, taking Saturday morning classes at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. He’d put his phone number on the back of his canvases, conceiving of that as a way to connect with people. So, was Picasso his favorite painter or…?

No, as it turns out:

I read about him when I was 18. I moved to New York and was intimidated by these girls who (I) thought were attractive. I was afraid to approach them. I didn’t have too high a self-image. I was self-conscious and I thought “Well, Pablo Picasso, he’s only 5 foot 3 but he didn’t let things like that bother him.” So I made up this song right after I saw those girls. You can picture it; I had this sad little look on my face and I was thinking ‘Why am I so scared to approach these girls?’ That was a song of courage for me.

Picasso looks pretty chipper in the well selected vintage footage, above. The expression Richman cops to having cultivated sounds gloomier, a deliberate ploy to entice girls into thinking he was a sad and likely soulful artist.

In other words, irresistible. Like a rock star!

The Modern Lovers’ popularity let him drop the self-conscious pose, but his interest in art remained.

He still paints, and recently identified some of the artists who have inspired him in Art News’ Muses column: 

Monet contributed to his appreciation of the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee.”

There’s a direct line between “Roadrunner” and the loneliness of Edward Hopper’s “Gas.”

And Picasso? That asshole doesn’t even make the list.


Well some people try to pick up girls

And get called assholes

This never happened to Pablo Picasso

He could walk down your street

And girls could not resist his stare and

So Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole

Well the girls would turn the color

Of the avocado when he would drive

Down their street in his El Dorado

He could walk down your street

And girls could not resist his stare

Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole

Not like you


Well he was only 5’3″

But girls could not resist his stare

Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole

Not in New York

Oh well be not schmuck, be not obnoxious

Be not bellbottom bummer or asshole

Remember the story of Pablo Picasso

He could walk down your street

And girls could not resist his stare

Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole

Alright this is it


Some people try to pick up girls

And they get called an asshole

This never happened to Pablo Picasso

He could walk down your street

And girls could not resist his stare and so

Pablo Picasso was never called…

Want to hear it again? Try the animated take below, by the endearingly modest 7atenine22.

Readers, if you have any intel on the person responsible for the film at the top of the page, please let us know, so we can give credit where credit is due.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 24 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Don’t Call 911 If You See a Coyote, Unless It’s Carrying ACME-Branded Products: The Office of Sheriff, Monroe County, New York

Someone in the Office of Sheriff, in Monroe County, New York, has a good sense of humor. And if you’re from the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies generation, you will get a good laugh.

In other news, Warner Bros. just announced that it’s developing an animated Wile E. Coyote movie, some 70 years after he first appeared on the screen. Appropriately the film is called, Coyote vs. Acme. Somehow that pummeled coyote manages to endure.

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Watch the New Trailer for Orson Welles’ Lost Film, The Other Side of the Wind: A Glimpse of Footage from the Finally Completed Film

Orson Welles died more than 30 years ago, and his last feature film F for Fake came out fifteen years before that. But we’ll now have to revise our notions of where his filmography ends, since his long-unfinished project The Other Side of the Wind just debuted at the Venice Film Festival in advance of its November 2nd release. Shot between 1970 and 1976, a process prolonged by numerous financial difficulties, the film was first thrust into limbo in its third year of editing by the Iranian Revolution, as some of its financing had come from the Shah’s brother-in-law. The light at the end of The Other Side of the Wind‘s decades-long tunnel of ownership complications, when it finally appeared, took a form even Welles could never have imagined: Netflix.

The Other Side of the Wind stars acclaimed film director John Huston as an acclaimed film director named Jake Hannaford, recently returned to America after years of self-exile in Europe. An old-school relic in the 1970s’ “New Hollywood” era, a time when a younger generation of filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Terrence Malick used the major studios to realize personal visions at a large cinematic scale, Hannaford tries to make a comeback with a counterculture picture of his own. Filled with long takes of vast landscapes, modern architecture, a lone motorcycle rider, and gratuitous nudity, this film-within-the-film, also called The Other Side of the Wind, takes its cues not just from the New Hollywood kids but from Michelangelo Antonioni and the other European filmmakers then in vogue as well.

The “real” The Other Side of the Wind, of which you can get a taste in the trailer above, takes a completely different tack, using documentary-style shooting, quick cutting, and oscillation between color and black and white. This layering of different styles comes with a layering of different eras, each commenting on the others: the 1930s and 1940s that shaped Welles as a filmmaker (and that Welles shaped as a period in cinema), the New-Hollywood 1970s, and the present day, when a company like Netflix has the clout to make projects happen for any director, living or dead. The collaboration to complete the film involved new participants as well as those who’d worked on it in the 1970s, like Welles associate Peter Bogdanovich, who played a filmmaker in The Other Side of the Wind not long after becoming a filmmaker himself.

Numerous other directors also appear in the film, from Golden-Age Hollywood journeyman Norman Foster to French New Wave figure Claude Chabrol to countercultural icon Dennis Hopper. As for Hannaford, a line in the trailer describes him as “the Hemingway of cinema,” the kind of macho artist who had long intrigued Welles, perhaps ever since he met and clashed with Hemingway himself. “He’s been rejected by all his old friends,” Welles once said of the Hannaford character in a previous version of the film. “He’s finally been shown up to be a kind of voyeur… a fellow who lives off other people’s danger and death.” He put it more bluntly to Huston in a quote that appears in Josh Karp’s book Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind: “It’s a film about a bastard director. It’s about us, John. It’s a film about us.”

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Last Great Moment of Elvis Presley’s Musical Career: Watch His Extraordinary Performance of “Unchained Melody” (1977)

As the “King” of American pop culture in the mid-20th century, Elvis embodied so many of his country’s contradictions. Revivalist of the “love and theft” of black American music and performance; humble, small town mama’s boy and dutiful soldier who built a cult of modern celebrity and a garish temple to conspicuous excess; self-appointed crusader who railed against “the drug culture” while his “legal” addiction to opiates and amphetamines laid waste to his career and health.

Maybe in these conflicts between humility and fame-seeking, all-American wholesomeness and transgressive seduction, playacting lawlessness and moralizing law and order, his legions of fans saw their own split selves. His hip-shaking confidence seemed particularly suited to both inflaming and soothing anxieties and safely channeling pent-up passions. Certain inconsistencies in his persona did not seem to trouble him overmuch.

But he was not a well man in the last several years of his short life and his tenure in the glittering faux-palaces of Las Vegas dramatically hastened the decline. While the reality of Elvis in Vegas was tacky and sad, the mythos of Elvis in Vegas made it “cool for fading superstar performers to find a second (or even third) act of their career in Vegas,” writes Mike Sager at Billboard. “Elvis paved the way for the likes of Britney Spears,” whose big American rise and fall resembles his in many ways.

Elvis’ own attempt at a third (or fourth) act is predictably tragic. Exploitative manager Colonel Tom Parker pushed him out on tour in 1977, notes Andy Greene at Rolling Stone, “despite his horrid shape.” Parker “arranged a camera crew to film the June 19th show in Omaha” in order to “get more product in to the stores”—perhaps sensing that Presley did not have much further to go. The cameras kept rolling in stops throughout the Midwest.

He was an absolute mess. He was only 42, but years of prescription drug abuse and horrifying dietary habits had left him bloated, depressed and near death. He had an enlarged heart, an enlarged intestine, hypertension and incredibly painful bowel problems. He was barely sleeping and should have probably been in the hospital, but he was still a huge draw on the concert circuit and the money was too good to turn down.

It is ugly to dwell on this period, except that somehow those final concerts produced the extraordinarily poignant footage of “Unchained Melody” at the top in Rapid City, South Dakota. “Without a doubt,” writes Greene, “it’s the last great moment of his career.” He digs deep, his voice is clear and strong. The jarring contrast between how good he sounds and how terrible he looks underlines and bolds the lines—“time can do so much…”

At the last tour stop in Indianapolis, he barely pulled off a rendition of “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” above. The song starts off really strong but soon devolves into Elvis muttering gibberish, sweating, and giggling to himself. This is hard to watch and it’s no wonder the tour footage, aired once on CBS, “has yet to resurface in any official capacity. This isn’t the Elvis that his estate wants the fans to remember.” Surely those fans themselves prefer the kitschy fantasy. Less than two months later, he was gone.

via Boing Boing

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

John Turturro Introduces America to the World Wide Web in 1999: Watch A Beginner’s Guide To The Internet

There are only two kinds of story, holds a quote often attributed to Leo Tolstoy: a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town. When it set about producing A Beginner’s Guide to the Internet, a “community service video” geared to viewers unfamiliar with the World Wide Web, internet portal company Lycos went with the latter. That stranger, a history teacher and aspiring comedian named Sam Levin, comes to a town named Tick Neck, Pennsylvania, his car having broken down early in a cross-country drive to a gig in Las Vegas. In order to update his manager/sister on the situation, he stops into the rural hamlet’s only diner and orders “coffee, half regular and half decaf — and the telephone book.”

Sam doesn’t make a call; instead he unplugs the diner’s phone, connects the line to his computer, looks up his internet service provider’s local number, and (after the requisite modem sounds) gets on the information superhighway. Today we know few activities as mundane as going online at a coffee shop, but the townspeople, innocent even of e-mail, are transfixed. Sam shows a couple of kids how to search for information on haunted houses and college scholarships, and soon the students become the teachers, demonstrating online games to friends, chat rooms to a cranky old-timer (“I don’t like this word network at all. Network of what? Spies, probably”) and even state government feedback forms to the mayor of Tick Neck (who describes herself as “not much with a keyboard”).

Though at times it feels like the 1950s, the year was 1999, perhaps the last moment before America’s complete internet saturation — before social media, before streaming video, before blogs, before almost everything popular online today. “The video for Internet ‘newbies’ starring John Turturro was made available for free rental on the community service shelf of over 4,000 Blockbuster Video stores, West Coast Video stores, public school libraries and classrooms across the United States,” says a contemporary article at Newenglandfilm.com. “The production was funded by Lycos who has instituted a campaign to better educate the public about the World Wide Web.”

Those of us on the Web in the 1990s will remember Lycos, which ran one of the popular search engines before the age of Google. Launched in 1994 as a research project at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh (which might explain A Beginner’s Guide to the Internet‘s setting), Lycos was in 1999 the most visited online destination in the world, and the next year Spanish telecommunications company Telefónica acquired it for a cool $12.5 billion. Turturro, not to be outdone, had in 1998 ascended to a high level of the countercultural zeitgeist with his role in the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski, the purple-clad bowler Jesus Quintana — very much not a stranger anyone would want going online with their kids, but Turturro has always had a formidable range.

History hasn’t recorded how many newbies A Beginner’s Guide to the Internet helped to start surfing the Web, but the video remains a fascinating artifact of attitudes to the internet during its first period of enormous growth. “My family doesn’t own a computer,” the young boy tells Sam, “and my dad doesn’t like ’em. He says facts are facts.” (That last sentence, innocuous at the time, does take on a new resonance today.) The boy’s teenage sister excitedly describes the internet as “like going to the library, department store, and post office, all at the same time.” Entering his credit card number to buy an auto-repair manual for the skeptical mechanic, Sam says (with a strange defensiveness) that “it’s completely private. I’ve done it before and it’s not a problem.” As with any stranger of legend who comes to town, Sam leaves Tick Neck a changed place — though not nearly as much as the Tick Necks of the world have since been changed by the internet itself.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

David Lynch Muses About the Magic of Cinema & Meditation in a New Abstract Short Film

One of the wonderful things about David Lynch is that, despite interviews, several documentaries on his creative process, plenty of behind-the-scenes footage of him directing, and the release of a whole memoir/biography told both subjectively *and* objectively…despite all that, the man is still an enigma. Even when he returned 25 years later to familiar ground with the third season of Twin Peaks, there was no sign of self-parody, and he delivered some of the most brilliant work of his career. How the hell does he do it?

That being said, if you have read his book Catching the Big Fish or have heard him in interviews, this short film directed by his son Austin Lynch and Case Simmons, and presented by Stella McCartney, might not be anything new. If you are just now discovering Lynch, then this is a quick primer on his creative process and his devotion to Transcendental Meditation as a way to dive into that creativity and, eventually, bring peace to the world.

Austin Lynch is one of three Lynch children to work in entertainment. The eldest Jennifer Lynch directed Boxing Helena and wrote the Twin Peaks spin-off book The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. Riley Lynch is a musician and appeared in two episodes of the recent Twin Peaks.

Given the pedigree, Lynch and Simmons manage to honor David Lynch without copying his style. The short abstract profile also features very short cameos by Stella McCartney, Børns, Lola Kirk, and several others.

The director appears here and there during the nine minutes, backlit by subtle colored lights in a private screening room, watching a movie. What movie? It doesn’t matter.

“It’s so magical, I don’t know why, to go into a theater and have the lights go down,” Lynch says. “It’s very quiet and then the curtains start to open. And then you go into a world.”

The directors link this to a familiar Lynch tale of the beginning of his film career, when Lynch was painting at the beginning of his art school years and the canvas started to move and make sounds. No matter how many times Lynch tells this story, there’s something so odd about it. Is he talking in metaphor? Did he hallucinate? Did he get visited by a force beyond this reality? Are his greatest Lynchian moments his way of trying to make sense of that one episode?

He also talks about the circle that goes from the film to the audience and back, a feedback loop that musicians also talk about, and is the reason Lynch still loves the cinema as an event space. Performance spaces figure prominently in his works, whether it’s the Club Silencio in Mulholland Dr., the Lady in the Radiator in Eraserhead, or the various lodges and performance areas in Twin Peaks. (It’s also why he despises watching films on iPhones, apart from the size.)

Lynch explains here how he became a filmmaker through studying meditation, how it saved him from anger and despair, and how these techniques led to landing bigger creative fish from “the ocean of solutions” and expanding artistic intuition.

Is Lynch enlightened? No, but he’s closer than most of us:

“Every day for me gets better and better,” he concludes. “And I believe that enlivening unity in the world will bring peace on earth. So I say peace to all of you.”

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Hear the Original, Never-Heard Demo of John Lennon’s “Imagine”

Imagining a “brotherhood of man” sounds Pollyannaish and painfully naïve when even an “uneasy truce of man” seems hardly possible. But when John Lennon sings about it with conviction in “Imagine,” we sit up and listen. Such is the power of “Imagine”’s utopian vision, and Lennon later admitted it “should be credited as a Lennon/Ono song,” since “a lot of it—the lyric and the concept—came from Yoko,” specifically from Grapefruit, her little book of whimsical “instructions.” For decades the pair’s collaborations have received withering scorn from Beatles fans, but no greater testament to their combined humanist vision exists than “Imagine,” a product of Ono’s conceptual dream verse and Lennon’s earnest songcraft.

So much has been said and written about the song, so many great and not-so-great covers performed since its 1971 release, that we might think we know all there is to know about it. We even have behind the scenes footage in the documentary Gimme Some Truth of the sometimes tense recording sessions. Yet it turns out that the original demo version Lennon recorded at his own Ascot Sound studios went unnoticed in a box of tapes for 45 years. We can celebrate its 2016 rediscovery and now hear it for ourselves, that eight-track tape transferred to digital and enhanced by engineer Paul Hicks, above.

The recording was discovered by Rob Stevens who found it, reports Jason Kottke, “while sifting through boxes upon boxes of the original tapes for Yoko Ono.” It seems that improper labeling damned the tape to decades of obscurity. “There’s a one-inch eight-track,” remembered Stevens, “that says nothing more on the ‘Ascot Sound’ label than John Lennon, the date, and the engineer (Phil McDonald), with DEMO on the spine. No indication of what material was on the tape.” The find was “true serendipity,” he remarks.

Hearing this moving, stripped-down solo version reminds me of David Bowie telling an audience in 1983—just before singing the song on his Serious Moonlight tour—of how Lennon approached his songwriting: “’It’s easy,’ he said, ‘you just say what you mean and put a backbeat to it.’” Even without the backbeat, “Imagine” says exactly what it means. Imagine all the people living for today.

A set of “Ultimate Mixes” of the Imagine album will be released in October (pre-order here) and will of course include the newly-unearthed demo along with many other demos and rarities. Till then, enjoy this amazing discovery, as well as Lennon’s live television performance from 1972 on the Mike Douglas Show, just above.

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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