A 6‑Step Guide to Zen Buddhism, Presented by Psychiatrist-Zen Master Robert Waldinger

Robert Waldinger works as a part-time pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try at Har­vard Med­ical School, but he also describes him­self as a “Zen mas­ter.” This may strike some lis­ten­ers as a pre­sump­tu­ous claim, but he has indeed been offi­cial­ly accept­ed as a rōshi in two dif­fer­ent Zen lin­eages in the West. With one foot in psy­chi­a­try and the oth­er in Bud­dhism, Waldinger (pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his work on hap­pi­ness and lone­li­ness) is well-placed to explain the lat­ter in terms amenable to the for­mer. In the Big Think video above, he breaks the ancient reli­gion — or mind­set, or way of being, or what­ev­er one prefers to call it — into six dis­tinct con­cepts: imper­ma­nence, noble truths, mind­ful­ness, attach­ment, lov­ing kind­ness, and begin­ner’s mind.

If you’ve felt any curios­i­ty about Zen Bud­dhism and pur­sued it online in recent years, the term mind­ful­ness will be famil­iar to the point of cliché. Waldinger per­son­al­ly defines it as “pay­ing atten­tion in the present moment with­out judg­ment.” You can work on your mind­ful­ness right now, he explains, “by sim­ply pay­ing atten­tion to what­ev­er stim­uli are reach­ing you. It might be your heart­beat, it might be your breath, it might be the sound of the fan in the room — any­thing — and sim­ply let­ting your­self be open and receive what­ev­er is here right now.” This can help us put into per­spec­tive the next con­cept, attach­ment, or our feel­ing “that the world be a cer­tain way,” which caus­es no amount of our dis­sat­is­fac­tion and even suf­fer­ing.

All of these ideas are much expand­ed on in pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary Bud­dhist texts, which any enthu­si­ast can spend a life­time read­ing. My own inter­est was first piqued by a pop­u­lar 1970 vol­ume called Zen Mind, Begin­ner’s Mind, a com­pi­la­tion of talks by a famous rōshi called Shun­ryū Suzu­ki Waldinger ref­er­ences Suzuk­i’s work in the final sec­tion of this video, and specif­i­cal­ly his obser­va­tion that “in the begin­ner’s mind, there are many pos­si­bil­i­ties. In the expert’s mind, there are few.” In Waldinger’s own expe­ri­ence, “the old­er I get, and the more peo­ple call me an expert, the more aware I am of how lit­tle I know.” True mas­tery lies in the aware­ness not of the knowl­edge we have, but the knowl­edge we don’t.

Relat­ed:

Bud­dhism 101: A Short Intro­duc­to­ry Lec­ture by Jorge Luis Borges

How Lone­li­ness Is Killing Us: A Primer from Har­vard Psy­chi­a­trist & Zen Priest Robert Waldinger

What Is a Zen Koan? An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to East­ern Philo­soph­i­cal Thought Exper­i­ments

The Wis­dom of Alan Watts in Four Thought-Pro­vok­ing Ani­ma­tions

What Are the Keys to Hap­pi­ness? Lessons from a 75-Year-Long Har­vard Study

The Zen of Bill Mur­ray: I Want to Be “Real­ly Here, Real­ly in It, Real­ly Alive in the Moment”

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

Hear the Song Written on a Sinner’s Buttock in Hieronymus Bosch’s Painting The Garden of Earthly Delights

There’s some­thing unusu­al­ly excit­ing about find­ing a hid­den or dis­creet­ly placed ele­ment in a well-known paint­ing. I can only imag­ine the thrill of the physi­cian who first noticed the curi­ous pres­ence of a human brain in Michelangelo’s The Cre­ation of Adam: God, his ret­inue of angels, and their cloak map neat­ly onto some of the main neur­al struc­tures, includ­ing the major sul­ci in the cere­bel­lum, the pitu­itary gland, the frontal lobe, and the optic chi­asm. It’s hard to gauge Michelangelo’s moti­va­tion for doing so, but con­sid­er­ing his doc­u­ment­ed inter­est in dis­sec­tion and phys­i­ol­o­gy, the find is not par­tic­u­lar­ly sur­pris­ing.

adam

And then there’s anoth­er find. Sev­er­al years ago, the Inter­net became excit­ed when an enter­pris­ing blog­ger named Amelia tran­scribed, record­ed, and uploaded a musi­cal score straight out of Hierony­mus Bosch’s The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights, paint­ed between 1490 and 1510. The kick­er? Amelia found the score writ­ten on a suf­fer­ing sinner’s butt.

The poor, musi­cal­ly-brand­ed soul can be seen in the bot­tom left-hand cor­ner of the painting’s third and final pan­el (below), where­in Bosch depicts the var­i­ous tor­ture meth­ods of hell. The unfor­tu­nate hell-dweller lies pros­trate atop an open music book, crushed by a gigan­tic lute, while a toad-like demon stretch­es his tongue towards his tune­ful but­tocks. Anoth­er inhab­i­tant is strung up on a harp above the scene.

bosch-1

The piece, which Amelia tran­scribed and record­ed, can be heard in the video above. It is… unusu­al. Although we can’t ascer­tain why Bosch decid­ed to write out this par­tic­u­lar melody, since scant bio­graph­i­cal infor­ma­tion about the painter sur­vives, it’s pos­si­ble that he decid­ed to include music in his depic­tion of the infer­no because it was viewed as a sign of sin­ful plea­sure. For those who haven’t yet had a chance to hear it, lis­ten to Medieval-era butt music here.

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman or at Google, or read more of his writ­ing at the Huff­in­g­ton Post.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

The Mean­ing of Hierony­mus Bosch’s The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights Explained

Watch the Spec­tac­u­lar Hierony­mus Bosch Parade, Which Floats Through The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights Painter’s Home­town Every Year

Hierony­mus Bosch’s Medieval Paint­ing, “The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights,” Comes to Life in a Gigan­tic, Mod­ern Ani­ma­tion

 

 

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Fritz Lang First Depicted Artificial Intelligence on Film in Metropolis (1927), and It Frightened People Even Then

Arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence seems to have become, as Michael Lewis labeled a pre­vi­ous chap­ter in the recent his­to­ry of tech­nol­o­gy, the new new thing. But human anx­i­eties about it are, if not an old old thing, then at least part of a tra­di­tion longer than we may expect. For vivid evi­dence, look no fur­ther than Fritz Lang’s Metrop­o­lis, which brought the very first cin­e­mat­ic depic­tion of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence to the­aters in 1927. It “imag­ines a future cleaved in two, where the afflu­ent from lofty sky­scrap­ers rule over a sub­ter­ranean caste of labor­ers,” writes Synapse Ana­lyt­ics’ Omar Abo Mos­al­lam. “The class ten­sion is so pal­pa­ble that the inven­tion of a Maschi­nen­men­sch (a robot capa­ble of work) upends the social order.”

The sheer tire­less­ness of the Maschi­nen­men­sch “sows hav­oc in the city”; lat­er, after it takes on the form of a young woman called Maria — a trans­for­ma­tion you can watch in the clip above — it “incites work­ers to rise up and destroy the machines that keep the city func­tion­ing. Here, there is a sug­ges­tion to asso­ciate this new inven­tion with an unrav­el­ing of the social order.” This robot, which Guardian film crit­ic Peter Brad­shaw describes as “a bril­liant eroti­ciza­tion and fetishiza­tion of mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy,” has long been Metrop­o­lis’ sig­na­ture fig­ure, more icon­ic than HAL, Data, and WALL‑E put togeth­er.

Still, those char­ac­ters all rate men­tions of their own in the arti­cles review­ing the his­to­ry of AI in the movies recent­ly pub­lished by the BFI, RTÉ, Pic­to­ry, and oth­er out­lets besides. The Day the Earth Stood Still, Alien, Blade Run­ner (and even more so its sequel Blade Run­ner 2049), Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix, and Ex Machi­na. Not all of these pic­tures present their arti­fi­cial­ly intel­li­gent char­ac­ters pri­mar­i­ly as exis­ten­tial threats to the exist­ing order; the BFI’s Georgina Guthrie high­lights video essay­ist-turned-auteur Kog­o­na­da’s After Yang as an exam­ple that treats the role of AI could assume in soci­ety as a much more com­plex — indeed, much more human — mat­ter.

From Metrop­o­lis to After Yang, as RTÉ’s Alan Smeaton points out, “AI is usu­al­ly por­trayed in movies in a robot­ic or humanoid-like fash­ion, pre­sum­ably because we can eas­i­ly relate to humanoid and robot­ic forms.” But as the pub­lic has come to under­stand over the past few years, we can per­ceive a tech­nol­o­gy as poten­tial­ly or actu­al­ly intel­li­gent even it does­n’t resem­ble a human being. Per­haps the age of the fear­some mechan­i­cal Art Deco gynoid will nev­er come to pass, but we now feel more keen­ly than ever both the seduc­tive­ness and the threat of Metrop­o­lis’ Maschi­nen­men­sch — or, as it was named in the orig­i­nal on which the film was based, Futu­ra.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Metrop­o­lis: Watch Fritz Lang’s 1927 Mas­ter­piece

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence, Art & the Future of Cre­ativ­i­ty: Watch the Final Chap­ter of the “Every­thing is a Remix” Series

Hunter S. Thomp­son Chill­ing­ly Pre­dicts the Future, Telling Studs Terkel About the Com­ing Revenge of the Eco­nom­i­cal­ly & Tech­no­log­i­cal­ly “Obso­lete” (1967)

Ama­zon Offers Free AI Cours­es, Aim­ing to Help 2 Mil­lion Peo­ple Build AI Skills by 2025

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts the Future in 1982: Com­put­ers Will Be “at the Cen­ter of Every­thing;” Robots Will Take Human Jobs

Google Launch­es a New Course Called “AI Essen­tials”: Learn How to Use Gen­er­a­tive AI Tools to Increase Your Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

9‑Year-Old Edward Hopper Draws a Picture on the Back of His 3rd Grade Report Card

In a 2017 press release, the Edward Hop­per House announced that it would receive over 1,000 arti­facts and mem­o­ra­bil­ia doc­u­ment­ing Edward Hop­per’s fam­i­ly life and ear­ly years. The col­lec­tion “con­sists of juve­nil­ia and oth­er mate­ri­als from the for­ma­tive years of Hop­per’s life and includes orig­i­nal let­ters, draw­ings from his school years … pho­tographs, orig­i­nal news­pa­per arti­cles, and oth­er items that allow vis­i­tors to expe­ri­ence first­hand how Hop­per’s child­hood and home envi­ron­ment shaped his art.”

Above you can find Exhib­it A from the col­lec­tion. A pic­ture that young Hop­per, only 9 years old, drew on the back of his 3rd grade report card in 1891. A sure ear­ly sign of his tal­ents.

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:

What Makes Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks a Great Paint­ing?: A Video Essay

How Edward Hop­per “Sto­ry­board­ed” His Icon­ic Paint­ing Nighthawks

Edward Hopper’s Icon­ic Paint­ing Nighthawks Explained in a 7‑Minute Video Intro­duc­tion

How Cin­e­ma Inspired Edward Hopper’s Great Paint­ings, and How Edward Hop­per Inspired Great Film­mak­ers

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The First Professional Footage of Pink Floyd Gets Captured in a 1967 Documentary (and the Band Also Provides the Soundtrack)

British film­mak­er and nov­el­ist Peter White­head has been cred­it­ed with invent­ing the music video with his pro­mo films for the Rolling Stones in the mid-60s. Accord­ing to Ali Cat­ter­all and Simon Wells, authors of Your Face Here, a study of “British Cult Film since the Six­ties,” White­head was “a trust­ed con­fi­dant of the Rolling Stones… and a mem­ber of the inner cir­cle.” In addi­tion to the Stones, White­head had access to a sur­pris­ing num­ber of impor­tant fig­ures in the coun­ter­cul­tur­al scene of 60s Lon­don, includ­ing actors Michael Caine and Julie Christie, artist David Hock­ney, and a just-emerg­ing (and then unknown) psy­che­del­ic band called Pink Floyd. All of these char­ac­ters show up in Whitehead’s 1968 doc­u­men­tary Tonite Let’s All Make Love in Lon­don. Cat­ter­all and Wells describe the film thus:

If any one film tru­ly reveals “Swing­ing Lon­don,” it is Peter White­head­’s lit­tle-seen doc­u­men­tary Tonite Let’s All Make Love In Lon­don (1968). Beau­ti­ful­ly shot, with a Syd Bar­rett-led Pink Floyd sup­ply­ing the sound­track, it is per­haps the only true mas­ter­piece of the peri­od, offer­ing a visu­al­ly cap­ti­vat­ing win­dow on the ‘in’ crowd. Reveal­ing, often very per­son­al inter­views with the era’s prime movers — Michael Caine, Julie Christie, David Hock­ney and Mick Jag­ger — are inter­spersed by daz­zling images of the ‘ded­i­cat­ed fol­low­ers of fash­ion’, patro­n­is­ing the clubs and dis­cothe­ques of the day.

Depart­ing from typ­i­cal doc­u­men­tary styles, Tonite eschews neat nar­ra­tive pack­ag­ing and voice-over, and opts instead for a some­times jar­ring mon­tage of scenes from the Lon­don clubs and streets, rare footage of per­for­mances by the Stones, the Floyd (in one of their first-ever gigs at the UFO club), and oth­ers, and polit­i­cal ral­lies (with Vanes­sa Red­grave singing “Guantanamera”)–all inter­cut with the above­men­tioned inter­views. One of the best of the lat­ter is with a very young and charm­ing David Hock­ney (below), who com­pares Lon­don to Cal­i­for­nia and New York, and debunks ideas about the “swing­ing Lon­don” nightlife (“you need too much mon­ey”).

Over­all, Tonite Let’s All Make Love in Lon­don is a unique por­trait of the era and its ris­ing stars, and White­head­’s visu­al style repli­cates an insider’s per­spec­tive of watch­ing (but not par­tic­i­pat­ing) as a new cul­tur­al moment unfolds. White­head, who “nev­er missed a 60s hap­pen­ing,” has a knack for record­ing such moments. His 1965 Whol­ly Com­mu­nion (see here) cap­tures the spir­it­ed Albert Hall Poet­ry Fes­ti­val in 65 (presided over by doyen Allen Gins­berg), and 1969’s The Fall doc­u­ments some of the most incen­di­ary polit­i­cal action of late-60s New York.

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

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Pink Floyd’s Debut on Amer­i­can TV, Restored in Col­or (1967)

Pink Floyd Plays in Venice on a Mas­sive Float­ing Stage in 1989; Forces the May­or & City Coun­cil to Resign

Short Film “Syd Barrett’s First Trip” Reveals the Pink Floyd Founder’s Psy­che­del­ic Exper­i­men­ta­tion (1967)

Pink Floyd’s First Mas­ter­piece: An Audio/Video Explo­ration of the 23-Minute Track, “Echoes” (1971)

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Monty Python’s Michael Palin Presents His Favorite Painting, J. M. W. Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed

Of all the Eng­lish come­di­ans to have attained world­wide fame over the past half-cen­tu­ry, Sir Michael Palin may be the most Eng­lish of them all. It thus comes as no sur­prise that the Nation­al Gallery would ring him up and invite him to make a video about his favorite paint­ing, nor that his favorite paint­ing would be by Joseph Mal­lord William Turn­er. “Most peo­ple aren’t inter­est­ed in rail­ways and the his­to­ry of rail­ways,” he explains, but Turn­er’s Rain, Steam and Speed has great sig­nif­i­cance to a train-lover such as him­self pre­cise­ly “because it is about the birth of the rail­way.”

Rain, Steam and Speed was paint­ed in 1844, when train trans­port “was still a new thing, and a thing that fright­ened so many peo­ple. They thought it was going to destroy the coun­try­side.” (Bear in mind that this was the time of Dick­ens, who did­n’t set so many of his nov­els before the arrival of the rail­way by acci­dent.) For all of Turn­er’s Roman­ti­cism, “he must’ve been excit­ed by it. Maybe a bit alarmed.” His paint­ing declares that “this is a new world that’s been opened up by the rail­ways, and it’s got enor­mous pos­si­bil­i­ties, and peo­ple are going to have to adapt to it.”

In this video, Palin intro­duces him­self as “a trav­el­er, an actor, and a gen­er­al hack.” His many and var­ied post-Mon­ty Python projects have also includ­ed sev­er­al tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­taries on artists like Anne Red­path, Artemisia, the Scot­tish Colourists, Hen­ri Matisse, Vil­helm Ham­mer­shøi, and Andrew Wyeth. In the video below, he appears at the Nation­al Gallery in 2017 to share a selec­tion of his favorite paint­ings, from Duc­cio’s The Annun­ci­a­tion and Geert­gen tot Sint Jans’ The Nativ­i­ty at Night to Bronzi­no’s An Alle­go­ry with Venus and Cupid (the source of Mon­ty Python’s sig­na­ture ani­mat­ed foot) and Turn­er’s The Fight­ing Temeraire, a repro­duc­tion of which hung in his child­hood home.

“It’s just about that peri­od where steam is begin­ning to come in, and the old sail­ing ship is no longer need­ed,” Palin says of The Fight­ing Temeraire. “On the hori­zon, there is a ship in full sail” — a “pow­er­ful, strong image” in itself — and in the front, the “noisy, belch­ing fumes of the mod­ern steam tug.” Thus Turn­er cap­tures “the changeover from sail to steam,” much as he would cap­ture the changeover from horse to train a few years lat­er. Like any good paint­ing, Palin explains, these images “make you feel dif­fer­ent­ly about the world from the way you did before you saw it” — and make you con­sid­er what eras are end­ing and begin­ning around you even now.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Mon­ty Python’s Michael Palin Is Also an Art Crit­ic: Watch Him Explore His Favorite Paint­ings by Andrew Wyeth & Oth­er Artists

Trains and the Brits Who Love Them: Mon­ty Python’s Michael Palin on Great Rail­way Jour­neys

Free: Read 9 Trav­el Books Online by Mon­ty Python’s Michael Palin

Down­load 35,000 Works of Art from the Nation­al Gallery, Includ­ing Mas­ter­pieces by Van Gogh, Gau­guin, Rem­brandt & More

Mark Twain Skew­ers Great Works of Art: The Mona Lisa (“a Smoked Had­dock!”), The Last Sup­per (“a Mourn­ful Wreck”) & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

Medieval Cats Behaving Badly: Kitties That Left Paw Prints … and Peed … on 15th Century Manuscripts

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

–Jean-Bap­tiste Alphonse Karr (1808–90)

When Emir O. Fil­ipovic, a medieval­ist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Sara­je­vo, Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina, vis­it­ed the State Archives of Dubrovnik, he stum­bled upon some­thing that will hard­ly sur­prise any­one who lives with cats today: a 15th-cen­tu­ry man­u­script with inky paw prints casu­al­ly tracked across it.

And here’s anoth­er purrpetra­tor. The His­torisches Archiv in Cologne, Ger­many hous­es a man­u­script with an inter­est­ing his­to­ry. Accord­ing to the blog Medieval­Frag­ments, “a Deven­ter scribe, writ­ing around 1420, found his man­u­script ruined by a urine stain left there by a cat the night before. He was forced to leave the rest of the page emp­ty, drew a pic­ture of a cat, and cursed the crea­ture with the fol­low­ing words:”

Hic non defec­tus est, sed cat­tus minx­it desu­per nocte quadam. Con­fun­datur pes­simus cat­tus qui minx­it super librum istum in nocte Dav­en­trie, et con­similiter omnes alii propter illum. Et caven­dum valde ne per­mit­tan­tur lib­ri aper­ti per noctem ubi cat­tie venire pos­sunt.

Here is noth­ing miss­ing, but a cat uri­nat­ed on this dur­ing a cer­tain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that uri­nat­ed over this book dur­ing the night in Deven­ter and because of it many oth­ers [oth­er cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.

What I would sin­cere­ly love to know is whether, almost 600 years lat­er, the urine smell has left the page. Cat own­ers, you’ll know what I mean.

via Medieval­Frag­ments

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Cats in Medieval Man­u­scripts & Paint­ings

Cats Migrat­ed to Europe 7,000 Years Ear­li­er Than Once Thought

Cats in Japan­ese Wood­block Prints: How Japan’s Favorite Ani­mals Came to Star in Its Pop­u­lar Art

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Why Medieval Bologna Was Full of Tall Towers, and What Happened to Them

Image by Toni Pec­o­raro, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Go to prac­ti­cal­ly any major city today, and you’ll notice that the build­ings in cer­tain areas are much taller than in oth­ers. That may sound triv­ial­ly true, but what’s less obvi­ous is that the height of those build­ings tends to cor­re­spond to the val­ue of the land on which they stand, which itself reflects the poten­tial eco­nom­ic pro­duc­tiv­i­ty to be real­ized by using as much ver­ti­cal space as pos­si­ble. To put it crude­ly, the taller the build­ings in a part of town, the greater the wealth being gen­er­at­ed (or, at times, destroyed). This is a mod­ern phe­nom­e­non, but it also held true, in a dif­fer­ent way, in the Bologna of 800 years ago.

There exists a work of art, much cir­cu­lat­ed online, that depicts what looks like the cap­i­tal of Emil­ia-Romagna in the twelfth or thir­teenth cen­tu­ry. But the city bris­tles with what look like sky­scrap­ers, cre­at­ing an incon­gru­ous but enchant­i­ng medieval Blade Run­ner effect. Bologna real­ly does have tow­ers like that, but only about 22 of them still stand today. Whether it ever had the near­ly 180 depict­ed in this par­tic­u­lar image, and what hap­pened to them if it did, is the ques­tion Jochem Boodt inves­ti­gates in the Present Past video below.

In the era these tow­ers were built, Bologna had become “one of the largest cities in Europe. It’s a time of huge, ambi­tious projects. Cities built cathe­drals, town halls, and pub­lic squares — and some peo­ple built tow­ers.” Those peo­ple includ­ed noble fam­i­lies who held to aris­to­crat­ic tra­di­tions, not least vio­lent feud­ing. Giv­en that “the city is no place to build cas­tles,” they instead inhab­it­ed urban com­plex­es whose town­hous­es sur­round­ed tow­ers, which were “more like pan­ic rooms” than actu­al liv­ing spaces. Ref­er­ences to these promi­nent struc­tures appear in sub­se­quent works of art and lit­er­a­ture: Dante, for instance, wrote of a lean­ing “tow­er called Garisen­da.”

The etch­ing that set Boodt on this jour­ney to Bologna in the first place turns out to be the rel­a­tive­ly recent work of an Ital­ian artist called Toni Pec­o­raro, who height­ened — in every sense — images of a 1917 mod­el of the city by the shoe­mak­er and “strange self-taught artist-sci­en­tist” Ange­lo Finel­li. Finel­li, in turn, drew his inspi­ra­tion from a study by the nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry archae­ol­o­gist Gio­van­ni Goz­za­di­ni, him­self a scion of one of those very fam­i­lies who com­pet­ed to have the tallest tow­er, then got bored and pur­sued oth­er sta­tus sym­bols instead. Per­haps Bologna is no longer the cen­ter of aris­to­crat­ic and mer­can­tile intrigue it used to be, judg­ing by the sparse­ness of its cur­rent sky­line, but then, there’s some­thing to be said for not need­ing a for­ti­fied tow­er in which to hide at a momen­t’s notice.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Why Europe Has So Few Sky­scrap­ers

Why the Lean­ing Tow­er of Pisa Still Hasn’t Fall­en Over, Even After 650 Years

Venice Explained: Its Archi­tec­ture, Its Streets, Its Canals, and How Best to Expe­ri­ence Them All

A Guid­ed Tour of the Largest Hand­made Mod­el of Impe­r­i­al Rome: Dis­cov­er the 20x20 Meter Mod­el Cre­at­ed Dur­ing the 1930s

How the World’s Biggest Dome Was Built: The Sto­ry of Fil­ip­po Brunelleschi and the Duo­mo in Flo­rence

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.