Doctors in Brussels Can Now Prescribe Museum Visits as Treatments for Stress, Anxiety & Depression

Image by Tomás Fano, via Wikimedia Commons

When COVID-19 was fast spreading across the world, we featured ways to visit a variety of cultural institutions without leaving home here on Open Culture. Lo those two and a half years ago, online museum-going seemed like the healthiest option. Now, with pandemic-related restrictions being loosened and even scrapped all over the world, the time has come to get back out there, or rather in there, spending time at one’s favorite cultural institutions. Indeed, a trip to the museum is just what the doctor ordered — in Brussels, literally.

“Starting this month, doctors at the Brugmann Hospital, one of Brussels’ largest health centers, are able to prescribe their patients visits to a number of cultural institutions managed by the city” as part of treatments for “stress, anxiety and depression.” So reports’s Molly Enking, adding that “those with a prescription for free entrance can tour ancient underground pathways in the Sewer Museum, check out textiles from the 1500s at the Fashion and Lace Museum, or stroll through the galleries at the CENTRALE contemporary art center, among other activities.”

They can also enjoy the Manneken Pis Wardrobe, a museum showcasing the thousand different outfits of the eponymous urinating statue, a symbol of Brussels for centuries now. Seeing as Manneken Pis “has brought a smile to the face of countless tourists from around the world,” writes Politico’s Ana Fota, it makes sense to see if he can do the same for those most in need of it. As Fota quotes Brugmann University Hospital psychiatrist Vincent Lustygier as saying when asked how a place like the Sewer Museum can help the depressed, “Why not try? We are going to test it and see.”

The evaluation should come in six months, the declared period of this “pilot program” that has granted museum visits the status of psychological treatments. Inspired by a similar policy implemented in Montreal back in 2018, it does have a fair bit of research behind it. As the Guardian‘s Jennifer Rankin reports, “a review by the World Health Organization in 2019 concluded that arts could help people experiencing mental illnesses and urged greater collaboration between culture and public health professionals.” The definition of culture here could expand well beyond museums: surely there’s also research to do on, say, the undeniable therapeutic value of a good plate of moules-frites.

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Vienna’s Albertina Museum Puts 150,000 Digitized Artworks Into the Public Domain: Klimt, Munch, Dürer, and More

Though it may not figure prominently into the average whirlwind Eurail trip across the continent, Vienna’s role in the development of European culture as we know it can hardly be overstated. Granted, the names of none of its cultural institutions come mind as readily as those of the Prado, the Uffizi Gallery, or the Louvre. But as museums go, Vienna more than holds its own, both inside and outside the neighborhood aptly named the Museumsquartier — and not just in the physical world, but online as well. Recently, the Albertina Museum in Vienna put into the public domain 150,000 of its digitized works, all of which you can browse on its web site.

“Considered to have one of the best collections of drawings and prints in the world,” says, the Albertina boasts “a large collection of works by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), a German artist who was famous for his woodcut prints and a variety of other works.” Here on Open Culture we’ve previously featured the genius of Dürer as revealed by his famed self-portraits. We’ve also featured visual exegeses of the art of Vienna’s own Gustav Klimt as well as Edvard Munch, two more recent European artists of great (and indeed still-growing) repute, works from both of whom you’ll find available to download in the Albertina’s online archive.

Those interested in the development of Dürer, Klimt, Munch, and other European masters will especially appreciate the Albertina’s online offerings. As an institution renowned for its large print room and collections of drawings, the museum has made available a great many sketches and studies, some of which clearly informed the iconic works we all recognize today. But there are also complete works as well, on which you can focus by clicking the “Highlights” checkbox above your search results. To understand Europe, you’d do well to begin in Vienna; to understand Europe’s art — including its photography, its posters, and its architecture, each of which gets its own section of the archive — you’d do well to begin at the Albertina online.


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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Behold! A Medieval Graphic Novel Carved on an 14th Century Ivory Box

The Châtelaine de Vergy, a courtly romance that was wildly popular in the mid-13th century, would’ve made a crowd pleasing graphic novel adaptation. It’s got sex, treachery, a trio of violent deaths, and a cute pup in a supporting role.

Seeing as how the form had yet to be invented, medieval audiences got the next best thing – a Gothic ivory casket on which the story is rendered as a series of carved pictures that start on the lid and wrap around the sides.

In an earlier video for the British Museum’s Curator’s Corner series, Late Medieval Collections Curator Naomi Speakman admitted that the purpose of such deluxe caskets is difficult to pin down. Were they tokens from one lover to another? Wedding gifts? Jewelry boxes? Document cases?

Unclear, but the intricate carvings’ narrative has definitely been identified as that of The Châtelaine de Vergy, a steamy secular alternative to the religious scenes whose depiction consumed a fair number of medieval elephant tusks.

In addition to the early-14th century example in the British Museum’s collection, the Courtauld Institute of Art’s Gothic Ivories database catalogues a number of other medieval caskets and casket fragments depicting The Châtelaine de Vergi, currently housed in museums in Milan, Florence, Paris, Vienna, New York City and Kansas.

A very graphic novelesque conceit Speakman points to in the British Museum’s casket finds the Duke of Burgundy breaking the frame (to use comics terminology), reaching behind the gutter to help himself to the sword the Châtelaine’s knightly lover has just plunged into his own breast.

Peer around to the far side of the casket to find out what the Duke intends to do with that sword. It’s a shocker that silences the trumpets, quiets the dancing ladies, and might even have laid ground for a sequel: Chatelaine: The Duke’s Wrath.

Read Eugene Mason’s early 20th century translation of The Chatelaine of Vergi here.

Watch more episodes of the British Museum’s Curator’s Corner here.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Behold a Book of Color Shades Depicted with Feathers (Circa 1915)

Perhaps the 143 colors showcased in The Bayer Company’s early 20th-century sample book, Shades on Feathers, could be collected in the field, but it would involve a lot of travel and patience, and the stalking of several endangered if not downright extinct avian species.

Far easier, and much less expensive, for milliners, designers and decorators to dye plain white feathers  exotic shades, following the instructions in the sample book.

Such artificially obtained rainbows owe a lot to William Henry Perkin, a teenage student of German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann, who spent Easter vacation of 1856 experimenting with aniline, an organic base his teacher had earlier discovered in coal tar.  Hoping to hit on a synthetic form of quinine, he accidentally hit on a solution that colored silk a lovely purple shade – an inadvertent eureka moment that ranks right up there with penicillin and the pretzel.

A Science Museum Group profile details what happened next:

Perkin named the colour mauve and the dye mauveine. He decided to try to market his discovery instead of returning to college.

On 26 August 1856, the Patent Office granted Perkin a patent for ‘a new colouring matter for dyeing with a lilac or purple colour stuffs of silk, cotton, wool, or other materials’.

Perkin’s next step was to interest cloth dyers and printers in his discovery. He had no experience of the textile trade and little knowledge of large-scale chemical manufacture. He corresponded with Robert and John Pullar in Glasgow, who offered him support. Perkin’s luck changed towards the end of 1857 when the Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, decided that mauve was the colour to wear. In January 1858, Queen Victoria followed suit, wearing mauve to her daughter’s wedding.

Cue an explosion of dye manufacturers across Great Britain and Europe, including Bayer, producer of the feather sample book. The survival of this artifact is somewhat miraculous given how vulnerable antique feathers are to environmental factors, pests, and improper storage.

(The sample book recommends cleaning the feathers prior to dying in a lukewarm solution of small amounts of olive oil soap and ammonia.)

The Science History Institute, owner of this unusual object, estimates that the undated book was produced between 1913 and 1918, the year the Migratory Bird Act Treaty outlawed the hunting of birds whose feathers humans deemed particularly fashionable.

Peruse the Science History Institute of Philadelphia’s digitized copy of the Shades on Feathers sample book here.

via Messy Nessy

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Why 99% Of Smithsonian’s Specimens Are Hidden In High-Security

Museums are the memory of our culture and they’re the memory of our planet. – Dr. Kirk Johnson, Director, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

For many of us natural history museums are emblematic of school field trips, or rainy day outings with (or as) children.

There’s always something to be gleaned from the reconstructed dinosaur skeletons, dazzling minerals, and 100-year-old specimens on display.

The educational prospects are even greater for research scientists.

The above entry in Business Insider’s Big Business series takes us behind the scenes of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, a federally-funded institution where more than 99% of its vast collection is housed in the basement, on upper floors and employees-only wings of exhibition floors, or at an offsite facility in neighboring Maryland.

The latter is poised to provide safe space for more of these treasures as climate change-related flooding poses an increasingly dire threat. The museum’s National Mall location, which draws more than 6 million visitors annually, is now virtually at sea level, and Congress is moving at a pace formerly known as glacial to approve the expensive but necessary structural improvements that would safeguard these precious collections.

The museum currently boasts some 147 million specimens, and is continually adding more, by means of field collections, donations, and purchases made with endowments, though as a non-profit institution, it’s rarely able to outbid deep-pocketed private collectors at auctions of hot-ticket items like large dinosaur bones.

The Division of Birds’ daily mail brings samples of “snarge” – whatever’s left over when a bird makes impact with an aircraft.

Upon arrival at the Smithsonian, whatever its size or market value, every item is subjected to a process of inspection known as “accessioning”.

After that, it is meticulously cleaned.

Beetles in an offsite Osteo Prep Lab get to work on residual organic materials like skin and tissue.

Human experts use a handheld air scrape tool to incrementally separate fossils from the rocky matrix in which they were discovered

The goal is permanent storage state.

Geological specimens are classified according to Dana’s System of Mineralogy and stored in drawers. High-value items are assigned to the Blue Room or the Gem Vault.

Bones that are looking to spend the better part of eternity on a shelf are fitted for custom fiberglass and plastic cradles to protect against pests, moisture, and gravity-related stress fractures.

The Department of Entomology dries and pins incoming insects, arachnids, and myriapods, and stores them in hydraulic carriages.

Mammals, reptiles, fish and birds are stuffed or pickled in alcohol.

Many items in the museum’s collection date back to the early 20th century.

These days, staff strive to preserve as much as they can, using every tool and scientific advancement at their disposal. As ornithologist and feather identification specialist Carla Dove, states, “It’s our responsibility to do as much as we can with the specimen if we’re going to take it from the wild for research.”

These careful preparations ensure that the world’s largest natural history collection can continue to serve as a living library for thousands of visiting scientists…climate change permitting.

Access to the Museum of Natural History’s collections and databases result in the publication of hundreds of research papers and the identification of hundreds of new species every year.

In addition to providing valuable intelligence for research initiatives on such topics as disease transmission, volcanic activity, and of course, the effects of bird strikes on airplanes, museum staff is working toward a goal of preserving each item with a digital scan – 9 million and counting…

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Oldest House in New York City: Meet the Wyckoff House (1652)

Most 21st-century Brooklyn public elementary schoolers have taken or will take a field trip to the Wyckoff House, a modest wooden cabin surrounded by tire shops and fast food outlets.

The oldest building in NYC by a longshot, it was also the first structure in the five boroughs to achieve historic landmark status.

Primary sources place the original occupants, Pieter Claesen Wyckoff and his wife, Grietje Van Ness-Wyckoff, in the original part of the house around 1652. A single room with a packed earth floor, unglazed windows, a large open hearth, and doors at either end, it would have been pretty tight quarters for a family of 13, as host Thijs Roes of the history series New Netherland Now notes, during his above tour of the premises.

Two parlors were added in the 18th-century, and three bedrooms in the early 19th. Typical Dutch Colonial features include an H frame structure, shingled walls, split Dutch doors, and deep, flared “spring” eaves.

Its survival is a miracle in a metropolis known for its constant flux.

In the early 20th-century, descendants of Pieter and Grietje partnered with community activists to save the home from demolition, eventually donating it to the New York City Parks Department.

A late 70s fire (possibly not the first) necessitated major renovations. (And last year, flooding from Hurricane Ida clobbered its HVAC and electrical system, putting a temporary kibosh on public visits to the interior.)

Back in 2015, Roes’ companion, architectural historian Heleen Westerhuijs, was invited to inspect the attic, where she discovered impressive original beams alongside 20th-century reinforcements.

While the directors of the homestead actively recognize the community that now surrounds it with events like an upcoming celebration of Haitian culture and Vodou, and hands on activities include urban farming and composting, the original settlers of New Netherland (aka New Amsterdam, aka New York City) remain a major focus.

Any American or Canadian with the surname Wyckoff (or one of its more than 50 variants) can and should consider it their ancestral home, as they are almost certainly descended from Pieter and Grietje. While many thousands now bear the name, Pieter was the first. Volunteer genealogist Lynn Wyckoff explains:

After the English assumed control of New Netherland, residents practicing patronymics (a naming system that utilized one’s father’s name in place of a surname) were required to adopt, or freeze, surnames that could be passed down each generation. Pieter Claesen chose the name Wykhof, which most of his descendants have spelled Wyckoff. Despite many unfounded claims over the years regarding both Pieter’s ancestry and choice of surname, there is no record of Pieter’s parentage; but there is substantial evidence that he chose the name Wykhof in recognition of a farm by the same name outside of Marienhafe, Germany where his family were likely tenants.

A handful of Wyckoff family members left comments on the New Netherland Now video, including Donald, who wrote of his visit:

It was an odd  feeling to touch the hand-hewn surface of a supporting beam cut and installed by my ancestor, hundreds of years ago.  Since I am a Wyckoff, I was allowed to see some of the “off tour” bits of the house.  I live over 3k miles away, so my feet will probably never touch the ground there again.  But I’m glad NY and a lot of wonderful people have maintained my ancestral home so well and for so many years.  Hopefully it has many hundreds of years of life remaining so that people can recall a time when Flatbush was more of a farm than a city.

If you are a Wyckoff (or one of its variants), you’re invited to keep the Wyckoff Association’s family tree up to date by sending word of births, deaths, marriages, and any pertinent genealogical details such as education, military service, profession, places of residence and the like.

Explore a collection of educational activities, lessons, and color pages related to the Wyckoff House here.

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Ayun Halliday is the author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Her family’s trips to the Wyckoff House were included in the latest, NYC museum-themed issue of her zine, the East Village Inky. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Vincent van Gogh “Starry Night” LEGO Set Is Now Available: It’s Created in Collaboration with MoMA

Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night is one of the most popular and easily recognized paintings on earth. If you haven’t seen it person, you’ve probably seen it reproduced on a postcard, a tote bag, or a t-shirt.

Musician Sheldon Clarke was a Starry Night virgin when he started working as a security officer at the Museum of Modern Art:

I knew nothing about Vincent or Starry Night before I started working here. And I remember the first time I stood at that painting…first of all, I was so amazed at the reaction of the public. There was always a group of people just fighting to look at it or take pictures or take selfies and I was just curious to know like, who is this painter and why is everyone so excited to see this piece?

Now, Clarke is sufficiently well versed to hold forth on both the nature of the artwork and circumstances in which the artist created it. He is, with Senior Paintings Conservator Anny Aviram,  Associate Curator Cara Manes, and Robert Kastler, director of Imaging and Visual Resources, one of four MoMA staffers to give some context, while trying their hands at the new Starry Night LEGO set.

A collaboration between MoMA and LEGO, the set reinterprets Van Gogh’s thick impasto brushwork in 2316 tiny plastic bricks, including a mini figure of the artist, equipped with paintbrush, palette, easel, and an adjustable arm for positioning him at sufficient distance to gain perspective on his world famous work.

The set is the winning entry in a LEGO Ideas competition. Designer Truman Cheng, a 25-year-old LEGO fan and PhD candidate focusing on  medical robotics and magnetic controlled surgical endoscopes. He had long wanted to render The Starry Night in LEGO, bu its execution required a lightbulb moment:

One day, I was just playing with LEGO parts, and I realized that stacking LEGO plates together at random intervals looks a lot like van Gogh’s iconic brush strokes. I couldn’t help but wonder what the full painting would look like with this build style.

As Aviram and Kastler point out, the set cleaves faithfully to Van Gogh’s limited palette. Some LEGO fans report that building up the blue background layers is the most challenging aspect of assembling the 11”x14.5” kit:

I’m 54 and the colors, being kind of close, were playing games with my eyes. LOL This is my favorite LEGO of all time! In closing, if you haven’t heard the song, Vincent  by Don McLean, I suggest you take a listen to this song as you stare at this LEGO masterpiece.

Order LEGO’s Vincent van Gogh – The Starry Night set from Amazon.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Play “Artle,” an Art History Version of Wordle: A New Game from the National Gallery of Art

Are you one of the hundreds of thousands who’ve gotten themselves hooked on Wordle, the free online game that gives players six chances to guess a five-letter word of the day?

Its popularity has spawned a host of imitators, including Quordle, Crosswordle, Absurdle and Lewdle, which has carved itself a niche in the vulgar and profane.

Even the National Gallery of Art is getting in on the action with Artle, wherein players get four attempts to correctly identify an artist du jour by examining four of their pieces, drawn from its vast collection of paintings, photographs, sculptures and other works.

The Gallery provides a bit of an assist a few letters into every guess, especially helpful to those taking wild shots in the dark.

Before you commit to Georgia O’Keeffe, you may want to consider some 80 other George and Georges variants who pop up as you type, including  Georges Braque, George Grosz, Georgine E. Mason, George Joji Miyasaki, George Segal, Georges Seurat, and Georg Andreas Wolfgang the Elder.

Hats off if you can readily identify all of these artists’ work on sight. That’s an impressive command of art history you’ve got there!

As with Wordle, a button provides a streamlined invitation to boast about your prowess on social media after you’ve completed your daily Artle. Return visitors can keep track of their stats in the upper right hand corner.

There’s no shame in failing to identify an artist in four tries, just a free opportunity to further your education a bit with titles and links to the four works you just spent time viewing.

The examples we’ve included from Thursday, June 2’s puzzle are Free Space (Deluxe), pink, The Civet, Imperative, and Cobalt Night by….

Your guess?

Play Artle here – like Wordle and multivitamins, just one a day.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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