The Evolution of the Alphabet: A Colorful Flowchart, Covering 3,800 Years, Takes You From Ancient Egypt to Today

No mat­ter our native lan­guage, we all have to learn a writ­ing sys­tem. And whichev­er lan­guage we learn, its writ­ing sys­tem had to come from some­where. Take Eng­lish, the lan­guage you’re read­ing right now and one writ­ten in Latin script, which it shares with a range of oth­er tongues: the Euro­pean likes of French, Span­ish, and Ger­man, of course, but now also Ice­landic, Swahili, Taga­log, and a great many more besides. The video above by Matt Bak­er of Use­fulCharts explains just where this increas­ing­ly wide­spread writ­ing sys­tem came from, trac­ing its ori­gins all the way back to the Pro­to-Sinaitic script of Egypt in 1750 BCE.

As revealed in the video, or by the poster avail­able for pur­chase from Use­fulCharts, the let­ters used to write Eng­lish today evolved from there “through Phoeni­cian, ear­ly Greek and ear­ly Latin, to their present forms. You can see how some let­ters were dropped and oth­ers end­ed up evolv­ing into more than one let­ter.”

The col­or-cod­ing and direc­tion dot­ted lines help to make clear­ly leg­i­ble what was, in real­i­ty, an evo­lu­tion that hap­pened organ­i­cal­ly over about two mil­len­nia. Enough changed over that time, as Jason Kot­tke writes, that “it’s tough to see how the pic­to­graph­ic forms of the orig­i­nal script evolved into our let­ters; aside from the T and maybe M & O, there’s lit­tle resem­blance.”

Bak­er’s design for this poster, notes Colos­sal’s Kate Sierzuputows­ki, “was cre­at­ed in asso­ci­a­tion with his Writ­ing Sys­tems of the World chart which takes a look at 51 dif­fer­ent writ­ing sys­tems from around the world.” All of the research for both those posters informs his video on the his­to­ry of the alpha­bet, which looks at writ­ing sys­tems as they’ve devel­oped across a vari­ety of civ­i­liza­tions. You’ll notice that all of them respond in dif­fer­ent ways to the needs of the times and places in which they arose, and some pos­sess advan­tages that oth­ers don’t. (In Korea, where I live, one often hears the prais­es sung of the Kore­an alpha­bet, “the most sci­en­tif­ic writ­ing sys­tem in the world.”) But what the strengths of the descen­dant of mod­ern Latin 2000 years on will be — and whether it will con­tain any­thing resem­bling emo­ji — not even the most astute lin­guist knows.

via Colos­sal/Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Now I Know My LSD ABCs: A Trip­py Ani­ma­tion of the Alpha­bet

Dic­tio­nary of the Old­est Writ­ten Language–It Took 90 Years to Com­plete, and It’s Now Free Online

How to Write in Cuneiform, the Old­est Writ­ing Sys­tem in the World: A Short, Charm­ing Intro­duc­tion

You Could Soon Be Able to Text with 2,000 Ancient Egypt­ian Hiero­glyphs

The His­to­ry of the Eng­lish Lan­guage in Ten Ani­mat­ed Min­utes

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, 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.

CBGB’s Heyday: Watch The Ramones, The Dead Boys, Bad Brains, Talking Heads & Blondie Perform Live (1974–1982)

There are, I guess, still many things peo­ple can do these days to tap into the lega­cy of CBGB, but I wouldn’t rec­om­mend going near most of them. The mer­chan­dis­ing empire (do, how­ev­er, new par­ents, get your tot a CBGB bib and one­sie); the “thud­ding­ly banal” 2013 film ver­sion, which… the less said about the bet­ter; yes, and CBGB, the restau­rant, in the Newark Air­port Ter­mi­nal C—proceed at your own risk.

We must sad­ly also men­tion this past summer’s “Potemkin vil­lage from hell,” a pop-up “TRGT” shop for the grand open­ing of the East Village’s new Tar­get at 14th St. and Avenue A. This abomination—which sold CBGB-styled “TRGT” shirts and prof­fered Tar­get-brand­ed Band-Aids (get it? Bands) sent “Van­ish­ing New York” blog­ger Jere­mi­ah Moss into “a state of con­fu­sion and dys­pho­ria… to see the arti­facts of my own life, my cul­tur­al and spir­i­tu­al awak­en­ing, my home, dis­played above the cash reg­is­ters in a Tar­get store.”

One can­not get too upset. The venue had been in a decline for a long time. The best of grass­roots Amer­i­can cul­ture all ends up in a Tar­get or Star­bucks even­tu­al­ly, gets green lit for a biopic and turned into an inter­ac­tive gallery. At least the CBGB build­ing was added to the Nation­al Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places in 2013. Maybe a boost for the sales of John Var­vatos who moved a store into the for­mer club in 2007, the very same year CBGB’s founder Hilly Kristal died of lung can­cer.

Ever-taste­ful New York Post announced the takeover with the head­line Hobo Goes Haute. “All of Man­hat­tan has lost its soul to mon­ey lords,” said Dead Boys gui­tarist Chee­tah Chrome. Twelve years lat­er, the lament seems under­stat­ed. But time moves on and so should we, the CBGB of the past was a moment in his­to­ry nev­er to be seen again, as fer­vid and fer­tile as late 19th cen­tu­ry Sym­bol­ism or the Beats—movements that just hap­pened to have very much influ­enced New York punk.

Like the life and work of Arthur Rim­baud or William S. Bur­roughs, the only way to com­mune with the leg­end of CBGB is through its pri­ma­ry sources. There is no short­age. Record­ings, pho­tographs, inter­views, and much excel­lent live footage of the bands that made the T‑shirt famous in the years of punk rock’s glo­ry: The Dead Boys and The Ramones in 1977, Bad Brains, invent­ing hard­core, in 1982, a very awk­ward Talk­ing Heads and con­fi­dent Blondie play­ing the Vel­vet Under­ground all the way back in 75….

Turn­ing cul­tur­al moments into mon­u­ments and mer­chan­dise is shal­low, of course, but it’s more than that—it’s impov­er­ish­ing. It makes us think we under­stand some­thing with­out ever hav­ing seen it. It’s not enough to know that it hap­pened, we should know how it hap­pened. How was the edgy elec­tri­fied dis­co stom­per “Psy­cho Killer” once a rick­ety, “tense and ner­vous” acoustic strum­mer? How did The Dead Boys’ Stiv Bators from Cleve­land more or less invent the moves front men and women in punk almost uni­ver­sal­ly adopt­ed? How did Wash­ing­ton DC’s Bad Brains break every unspo­ken rule of punk—with com­plex break­downs, tem­po shifts, and shred­ding solos—yet still con­quer every punk stage? How did the Ramones play entire live sets short­er than some of the sin­gle songs cer­tain oth­er bands played onstage at the time? How was it to wit­ness Blondie as a killer live cov­ers act? How was it to see The Ramones play “Judy is a Punk” in 1974?

For­get the grave­yard of CBGB kitsch out there. If you’re inter­est­ed in punk rock as a cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non, you owe it to your­self to see as much of this his­toric footage as pos­si­ble, and to lis­ten to as many live record­ings of far-too-often unsung CBGB bands like Tele­vi­sion. And if you were there, con­do­lences. Maybe you owe it to the rest of us to tell how it real­ly was.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pat­ti Smith Plays Songs by The Ramones, Rolling Stones, Lou Reed & More on CBGB’s Clos­ing Night (2006)

AC/DC Plays a Short Gig at CBGB in 1977: Hear Met­al Being Played on Punk’s Hal­lowed Grounds

1976 Film Blank Gen­er­a­tion Doc­u­ments CBGB Scene with Pat­ti Smith, The Ramones, Talk­ing Heads, Blondie & More

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

The Real Locations of Ukiyo‑e, Historic Japanese Woodblock Prints, Plotted on a Google Map

The undis­put­ed last great mas­ter of ukiyo‑e was Uta­gawa Hiroshige. He is best known for the many series he cre­at­ed of bucol­ic land­scapes, which offered col­lec­tors a chance to see parts of Japan they might nev­er reach. The Japan of his ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry work holds a spe­cial place in Japan­ese hearts–a final look at an iso­lat­ed and beau­ti­ful coun­try just before the open­ing up of the ports to the West and, with it, indus­tri­al­iza­tion.

Apart from Mount Fuji, the loca­tions that Hiroshige drew have long gone, but “Com­put­er sci­ence under­grad, mar­tial artist, ukiyo‑e lover” and British res­i­dent George–he goes by the Twit­ter han­dle @Cascadesssss–has plot­ted the loca­tion of Hiroshige’s prints on an inter­ac­tive Google map that has gone quick­ly viral.

The red cir­cles rep­re­sent the series “One Hun­dred Famous Views of Edo,” the blue cir­cles “The Fifty-Three Sta­tions of the Tokai­do” (one of five main routes in Edo Japan), and the green “Famous Views of the Six­ty-odd Provinces,” the most expan­sive series show­ing scenes all the way from the The Two-sword Rocks of Bo Bay to the north province of Dewa and Mount Gas­san. Each loca­tion opens to a sep­a­rate web page with loca­tion infor­ma­tion, includ­ing lat­i­tude-lon­gi­tude num­bers. (Pull up a chair map-lovers, you might be here a long time.)

“The Fifty-Three Sta­tions of the Tokai­do” was Hiroshige’s most pop­u­lar series and unlike the oth­er two depict­ed hor­i­zon­tal land­scapes. The artist sketched these in 1832 as he rode in a pro­ces­sion from Edo (now Tokyo) to Kyoto and set to work on the prints once he returned home. The 55 prints (two extra draw­ings of the start­ing and end­ing points of the jour­ney) sold like crazy, as they cost about the same as a bowl of soup for the com­mon per­son.

“Famous Views of the Six­ty-odd Provinces” is dif­fer­ent in that Hiroshige did not make trips to see all these beloved locations–instead he put his own spin on exist­ing draw­ings found in guide books and oth­er sources. The total series of 70 prints took four years to com­plete, from 1853 to 1856.

By the time the “Provinces” series was wind­ing down, Hiroshige start­ed work on his final series “One Hun­dred Famous Views of Edo,” which he worked on until his death. Again, though liv­ing in Edo, Hiroshige drew from the works of oth­ers from decades before. This is also the artist at his most adventurous–some land­scapes are obscured by posts and bridge rail­ings or even a carp stream­er. One fea­tures what is rumored to be Hiroshige’s favorite geisha. These prints would go on to influ­ence West­ern artists, espe­cial­ly Vin­cent van Gogh.

Hiroshige pro­duced more series over his life–he died aged 61–and here’s hop­ing Cas­cadesssss plots more on his map soon.

via Spoon and Tam­a­go

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Enter a Dig­i­tal Archive of 213,000+ Beau­ti­ful Japan­ese Wood­block Prints

Down­load 2,500 Beau­ti­ful Wood­block Prints and Draw­ings by Japan­ese Mas­ters (1600–1915)

The Evo­lu­tion of The Great Wave off Kanaza­wa: See Four Ver­sions That Hoku­sai Paint­ed Over Near­ly 40 Years

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 and/or watch his films here.

Watch The Beatles Perform Their Famous Rooftop Concert: It Happened 50 Years Ago Today (January 30, 1969)

On Jan­u­ary 3oth 1969, The Bea­t­les took to the rooftop of the head­quar­ters of Apple Records, locat­ed at 3 Sav­ile Row, in cen­tral Lon­don. And there they played an impromp­tu last gig (a coda to their final offi­cial con­cert at Can­dle­stick Park on August 29, 1966), much to the delight of Lon­don­ers on near­by rooftops … and to the cha­grin of the police.

At the time, The Bea­t­les were record­ing their album, Let It Be, and the rooftop show let them run through var­i­ous tracks from those ses­sions. Songs played dur­ing the set include “Get Back,” where the Bea­t­les were accom­pa­nied by Bil­ly Pre­ston on the key­boards, and “Don’t Let Me Down” (above), “I’ve Got A Feel­ing,” “One After 909,” and “Dan­ny Boy.” And final­ly “Dig A Pony” and anoth­er ver­sion of “Get Back.”

Famous­ly, The Bea­t­les’ live lega­cy ends with the police shut­ting down the show (it was a noise vio­la­tion, you know?) and John Lennon utter­ing the immor­tal words, “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and our­selves, and I hope we passed the audi­tion.” That’s going out in style…

Foot­note: It’s not clear which band played the first rooftop con­cert, but one thing is for cer­tain. Jef­fer­son Air­plane played their own rooftop gig on Decem­ber 7, 1968, and Jean-Luc Godard filmed it. Once again, the police pay a friend­ly vis­it. Watch it here.

Learn more about the Bea­t­les’ his­toric per­for­mance by pick­ing up a copy of the recent­ly-released book, The Roof: The Bea­t­les’ Final Con­cert, or down­load it from Audi­ble through this free tri­al offer.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Audio: The Bea­t­les Play Their Final Con­cert at Can­dle­stick Park, 1966

A Vir­tu­al Tour of Every Place Ref­er­enced in The Bea­t­les’ Lyrics: In 12 Min­utes, Trav­el 25,000 Miles Across Eng­land, France, Rus­sia, India & the US

Musi­cian Plays Sig­na­ture Drum Parts of 71 Bea­t­les Songs in 5 Min­utes: A Whirl­wind Trib­ute to Ringo Starr

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Artificial Intelligence Brings Salvador Dalí Back to Life: “Greetings, I Am Back”

What­ev­er Hip­pocrates meant when he said “art is long, life is short,” we usu­al­ly take the say­ing to illus­trate one indis­putable med­ical truth and one more philo­soph­i­cal: every­one dies, but art lives for hun­dreds, thou­sands, of years—and may in some sense be a kind of immor­tal­i­ty for the artist. This was prob­a­bly what Sal­vador Dalí meant when he said, “Si muero, no muero por todo”—“If I die, I won’t com­plete­ly die.” But maybe he knew he’d return one day in anoth­er form as well.

What if artists could go on liv­ing for­ev­er along­side their work? Or be called up any time we want to have a con­ver­sa­tion. Long a sta­ple of sci­ence fic­tion, holo­gram tech­nol­o­gy can now bring back famous pop stars, to vary­ing degrees of uncan­ni­ness. It has not, until now, sum­moned a deceased famous artist. But as long as there’s an exten­sive audio-visu­al record with which to recon­struct the cel­e­brat­ed dead, it can be done, and now it has. You can see the results your­self in the video trail­ers here.

Among mod­ern artists, only Andy Warhol left a more com­plete record of his pub­lic per­sona. The holo­gram Dalí—according to a press release from Dalí Muse­um in St. Peters­burg, Flori­da, who will debut him in per­son, so to speak, this com­ing April—comes alive through the work of an algo­rithm that maps infor­ma­tion culled from “hun­dreds of inter­views, quotes, and exist­ing archival footage” onto the body of an actor of sim­i­lar size and build. Dalí’s con­ver­sa­tion is not spon­ta­neous but con­struct­ed from his own writ­ings and reen­act­ed. It’s not the stuff of Star Trek yet, but maybe a sig­nif­i­cant step in that direc­tion.

“Greet­ings,” purrs Dalí in the trail­er at the top, from the Dalí Muse­um in St. Peters­burg, Flori­da. “I am Sal­vador Domin­go Felipe Jac­in­to Dalí i Domènech. And I am back.” Vis­i­tors to the Dalí Muse­um will see the ersatz Dalí in “Dalí Lives” and “expe­ri­ence his big­ger-than-life per­son­al­i­ty in an up close and per­son­al way.” Will they tru­ly “get the unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn more about Sal­vador Dalí’s life and work from the per­son who knew him best: Dalí him­self”? Will they feel like it’s worth the price of the tick­et, at least?

It cer­tain­ly seems con­vinc­ing. If you had told me these clips came from actu­al inter­view footage, I might have believed you. Except for the part about him return­ing from the dead after 30 years. If, how­ev­er, it were pos­si­ble to real­ly bring Dalí’s con­scious­ness back online, I doubt he’d be par­tic­u­lar­ly sur­prised. Though he con­fess­es his fear of death in the short video above, he also tells us, “I do not believe in my death.” Or as he once said else­where, “I believe in gen­er­al death but not the death of Dalí absolute­ly not. I believe in my death becom­ing almost impos­si­ble.” Or as he might also have put it, “art is long, and so am I.”

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Walk Inside a Sur­re­al­ist Sal­vador Dalí Paint­ing with This 360º Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty Video

Sal­vador Dalí Fig­urines Let You Bring the Artist’s Sur­re­al Paint­ings Into Your Home

Alfred Hitch­cock Recalls Work­ing with Sal­vador Dali on Spell­bound: “No, You Can’t Pour Live Ants All Over Ingrid Bergman!”

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

Watch Black Panther For Free in Theaters, Starting This Friday

FYI. Ear­li­er this week, Dis­ney announced that the Acad­e­my Award-nom­i­nat­ed film Black Pan­ther “will return to the big screen to cel­e­brate Black His­to­ry Month for a one-week engage­ment, Feb­ru­ary 1–7, at 250 par­tic­i­pat­ing AMC The­atres loca­tions. To ensure that the movie is acces­si­ble to all, tick­ets are free for every­one, and there will be two show­ings per day at each par­tic­i­pat­ing the­ater.” To find a list of par­tic­i­pat­ing the­aters, just click here.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch the Orig­i­nal Black Pan­ther Ani­mat­ed Series Online: All Six Episodes Now Avail­able Thanks to Mar­vel

Why Mar­vel and Oth­er Hol­ly­wood Films Have Such Bland Music: Every Frame a Paint­ing Explains the Per­ils of the “Temp Score”

Every Spi­der-Man Movie and TV Show Explained By Kevin Smith

Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling in His New Online Course

How has Neil Gaiman, author of fic­tion in a vari­ety of forms rang­ing from nov­els and short sto­ries to com­ic books, radio plays, and films, man­aged to win over such a large and devot­ed fan base? Ask a mem­ber of that fan base, and you’ll more than like­ly hear an expla­na­tion along the lines of, “He knows how to tell a sto­ry.” That may sound like a sim­ple skill, but telling a sto­ry at Gaiman’s lev­el requires a deep-root­ed exper­tise in the essen­tial nature and still-unex­plored pos­si­bil­i­ties of sto­ry­telling itself — an exper­tise that Gaiman him­self has late­ly proven more than will­ing to share. A few years ago we fea­tured his lec­ture “How Sto­ries Last” here on Open Cul­ture; now, he’s come out with an online course on the art of sto­ry­telling at Mas­ter­Class.

“Human beings are sto­ry­telling crea­tures,” Gaiman says in the course’s trail­er above. “Sto­ries are vital. We con­vey truth with sto­ries. That is the mag­ic of fic­tion.” But even the author of sto­ries like The Sand­manNev­er­whereStar­dust, Amer­i­can Gods, Cora­line, and much more besides has cer­tain admis­sions to make about the prac­tice of writ­ing them: “Writ­ing a nov­el is like dri­ving through the fog with one head­light out,” for exam­ple.

“You can’t see very far ahead of your­self. But every now and again, the mists will clear.” And when it comes time to revise, he explains, “the process of doing your sec­ond draft is the process of mak­ing it look like you knew what you were doing all along.” What do you need most to make it through this har­row­ing process? The “con­vic­tion that you are bril­liant.”

Not that you don’t need any­thing else. The nine­teen lessons of Gaiman’s Mas­ter­Class cov­er every­thing from “using the ‘lie’ of a made-up sto­ry to tell a human truth,” to “how to over­come the fear of mak­ing mis­takes,” to tech­niques like “cold opens, with­hold­ing infor­ma­tion, find­ing emo­tion­al weight, and choos­ing mem­o­rable details,” to the art of world­build­ing, which Gaiman describes as “hon­est­ly, the joy of get­ting to play god.” Oth­er lessons pro­vide case stud­ies focus­ing on his short sto­ries, nov­els, and com­ic books, all of which have no doubt inspired many to tell sto­ries them­selves. But who, hear­ing Gaiman talk about sto­ry­telling, could pos­si­bly resist try­ing their hand at it?

You can sign up for Gaiman’s course here.

You can take this class by sign­ing up for a Mas­ter­Class’ All Access Pass. The All Access Pass will give you instant access to this course and 85 oth­ers for a 12-month peri­od.

FYI: If you sign up for a Mas­ter­Class course by click­ing on the affil­i­ate links in this post, Open Cul­ture will receive a small fee that helps sup­port our oper­a­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

18 Sto­ries & Nov­els by Neil Gaiman Online: Free Texts & Read­ings by Neil Him­self

Neil Gaiman Presents “How Sto­ries Last,” an Insight­ful Lec­ture on How Sto­ries Change, Evolve & Endure Through the Cen­turies

Neil Gaiman Reads “The Man Who For­got Ray Brad­bury”

Where Do Great Ideas Come From? Neil Gaiman Explains

How to Write a Best­selling Page Turn­er: Learn from The Da Vin­ci Code Author Dan Brown’s New Mas­ter­class

Mar­garet Atwood Offers a New Online Class on Cre­ative Writ­ing

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, 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.

Enter an Online Interactive Documentary on Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and Learn About the Painting’s Many Hidden Secrets

What pos­sessed the man who attacked Rembrandt’s The Night Watch with a bread knife in 1975, “jab­bing two-foot-long knife marks into the sur­face,” as Nina Sie­gal writes at The New York Times, “cut­ting a sev­en-foot-wide hole, and rip­ping off a sec­tion of the can­vas”? This was not the first time the paint­ing had been man­gled. In 1715, just a lit­tle over 70 years after the mon­u­men­tal work’s 1642 com­ple­tion, the Ams­ter­dam city gov­ern­ment decid­ed to move it, and removed a sig­nif­i­cant part to shrink it down for eas­i­er trans­port. The miss­ing top and left por­tions have nev­er been recov­ered.

It sur­vived intact for two cen­turies then faced its first knife attack in 1911. Then it sur­vived two World Wars only to endure the sec­ond attack. Then, in 1990, it was set upon by a man armed with sul­phuric acid.

Thanks to the quick think­ing of a Rijksmu­se­um guard, only the painting’s var­nish sus­tained injury. These are just some of the facts we learn in the inter­ac­tive doc­u­men­tary Expe­ri­ence The Night Watch, a joint cre­ation of NTR TV chan­nel and the Ams­ter­dam Rijksmu­se­um.

You can read or hear the painting’s his­to­ry in Dutch or Eng­lish, learn the names of the his­tor­i­cal fig­ures depict­ed in it, learn about Rembrandt’s com­mand of com­po­si­tion and chiaroscuro, and much more. (Enter the inter­ac­tive doc­u­men­tary here.) The painter’s mas­ter­ful, dra­mat­ic use of light and shad­ow to cre­ate a sense of depth—probably the most famous exam­ple of his use of the technique—is respon­si­ble for the painting’s usu­al title, since most of its view­ers have assumed that the assem­bled vol­un­teer mili­tia depict­ed in it came togeth­er in the dead of night. (The shad­ows had dark­ened con­sid­er­ably over the years until a thick lay­er of var­nish was removed in the 1940s.)

But Rembrandt’s mas­ter­piece was orig­i­nal­ly called Mili­tia Com­pa­ny of Dis­trict II under the Com­mand of Cap­tain Frans Ban­ninck Cocq, and it records not a troop of sea­soned sol­diers but a gentleman’s shoot­ing com­pa­ny, one of the bands of civic guards that had “effec­tive­ly devel­oped into a social club for well-to-do cit­i­zens” who would “turn up most­ly as cer­e­monies or to quell minor riots.” Each of the men memo­ri­al­ized paid to have his like­ness includ­ed. We may nev­er have known their names except that in 1715 they were added inside a shield paint­ed by an anony­mous artist for some rea­son. The work is full of oth­er such mys­ter­ies.

Who is the small girl in white, bathed in angel­ic light, to whom our eyes are inevitably drawn? “She does not have any trace­able iden­ti­ty,” our nar­ra­tor tells us, “she is Rembrandt’s inven­tion,” a sym­bol of the com­pa­ny. And yet behind her, almost com­plete­ly shroud­ed, is anoth­er girl, iden­ti­ty unknown, who most of us would prob­a­bly nev­er have noticed had she not been point­ed out. “In The Night Watch,” we dis­cov­er, “noth­ing is what it seems.”

Learn more of the painting’s secrets at the online doc­u­men­tary project here, see sim­i­lar­ly inter­ac­tive art his­to­ries from NTR on M.C. Esch­er and Hierony­mus Bosch, and, above, lis­ten to an Art­sy pod­cast fea­tur­ing Rijksmu­se­um cura­tor Pieter Roelofs and oth­er Rem­brandt experts who explain what makes The Night Watch so wild­ly famous that more than one per­son has felt dri­ven to destroy it.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

300+ Etch­ings by Rem­brandt Now Free Online, Thanks to the Mor­gan Library & Muse­um

Rijksmu­se­um Dig­i­tizes & Makes Free Online 361,000 Works of Art, Mas­ter­pieces by Rem­brandt Includ­ed!

What Makes The Night Watch Rembrandt’s Mas­ter­piece

Enter an Online Inter­ac­tive Doc­u­men­tary on M.C. Escher’s Art & Life, Nar­rat­ed By Peter Green­away

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Hierony­mus Bosch’s Bewil­der­ing Mas­ter­piece The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.