The Smithsonian Puts 4.5 Million High-Res Images Online and Into the Public Domain, Making Them Free to Use

That vast repos­i­to­ry of Amer­i­can his­to­ry that is the Smith­son­ian Insti­tu­tion evolved from an orga­ni­za­tion found­ed in 1816 called the Columbian Insti­tute for the Pro­mo­tion of Arts and Sci­ences. Its man­date, the col­lec­tion and dis­sem­i­na­tion of use­ful knowl­edge, now sounds very much of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry — but then, so does its name. Colum­bia, the god­dess-like sym­bol­ic per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, is sel­dom direct­ly ref­er­enced today, hav­ing been super­seded by Lady Lib­er­ty. Traits of both fig­ures appear in the depic­tion on the nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry fire­man’s hat above, about which you can learn more at Smith­son­ian Open Access, a dig­i­tal archive that now con­tains some 4.5 mil­lion images.

“Any­one can down­load, reuse, and remix these images at any time — for free under the Cre­ative Com­mons Zero (CC0) license,” write My Mod­ern Met’s Jes­si­ca Stew­art and Madeleine Muz­dakis. “A dive into the 3D records shows every­thing from CAD mod­els of the Apol­lo 11 com­mand mod­ule to Hor­a­tio Gree­nough’s 1840 sculp­ture of George Wash­ing­ton.”

The 2D arti­facts of inter­est include “a por­trait of Poc­a­hon­tas in the Nation­al Por­trait Gallery, an image of the 1903 Wright Fly­er from the Nation­al Air and Space Muse­um, and box­ing head­gear worn by Muham­mad Ali from the Nation­al Muse­um of African Amer­i­can His­to­ry and Cul­ture.”

The NMAAHC in par­tic­u­lar has pro­vid­ed a great many items rel­e­vant to twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can cul­ture, like James Bald­win’s inkwell, Chuck Berry’s gui­tar May­bel­lene, Pub­lic Ene­my’s boom­box, and the poster for a 1968 Nina Simone con­cert. The more obscure object just above, a Native Amer­i­can kachi­na fig­ure with the head of Mick­ey Mouse, comes from the Smith­son­ian Amer­i­can Art Muse­um. “When Dis­ney Stu­dios put a mouse hero on the sil­ver screen in the 1930s,” explain the accom­pa­ny­ing notes, “Hopi artists saw in Mick­ey Mouse a cel­e­bra­tion of Tusan Homichi, the leg­endary mouse war­rior who defeat­ed a chick­en-steal­ing hawk” — and were thus them­selves inspired, it seems, to sum up a wide swath of Amer­i­can his­to­ry in a sin­gle object.

More items are being added to Smith­son­ian Open Access all the time, each with its own sto­ry to tell — and all acces­si­ble not just to Amer­i­cans, but inter­net users the world over. In that sense it feels a bit like the Chica­go World’s Fair of 1893, bet­ter known as the World’s Columbian Expo­si­tion, with its mis­sion of reveal­ing Amer­i­ca’s sci­en­tif­ic, tech­no­log­i­cal, and artis­tic genius to the whole of human civ­i­liza­tion. You can see a great many pho­tos and oth­er arti­facts of this land­mark event at Smith­son­ian Open Access, or, if you pre­fer, you can click the “just brows­ing” link and behold all the his­tor­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and for­mal vari­ety avail­able in the Smith­so­ni­an’s dig­i­tal col­lec­tions, where the spir­it of Colum­bia lives on.

via Kot­tke/My Mod­ern Met

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Library of Con­gress Launch­es the Nation­al Screen­ing Room, Putting Online Hun­dreds of His­toric Films

The Smith­son­ian Design Muse­um Dig­i­tizes 200,000 Objects, Giv­ing You Access to 3,000 Years of Design Inno­va­tion & His­to­ry

The Smith­son­ian Presents a Gallery of 6,000+ Rare Rock ‘n Roll Pho­tos on a Crowd­sourced Web Site, and Now a New Book

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

John Green’s Crash Course in U.S. His­to­ry: From Colo­nial­ism to Oba­ma in 47 Videos

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.

Turning the Pages of an Illuminated Medieval Manuscript: An ASMR Museum Experience

Page turn­ing is to ASMR as the elec­tric bass is to rock.

The Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um’s pop­u­lar Autonomous Sen­so­ry Merid­i­an Response video series (find it here) has seen episodes devot­ed to icon­ic Sec­ond Wave fem­i­nist mag­a­zines and a cou­ple of late 20th-cen­tu­ry pop up artist’s books, but the parch­ment pages of this medieval antiphonary — or choir­book — make for some tru­ly leg­endary sounds.

Audio design­er and per­for­mance-mak­er Julie Rose Bow­er deserves a por­tion of the cred­it for height­en­ing the aur­al expe­ri­ence for her use of the ambison­ics for­mat.

Kudos too to Nation­al Art Library Spe­cial Col­lec­tions cura­tor Cather­ine Yvard…if she ever wants a break from medieval man­u­script illu­mi­na­tion and Goth­ic ivory sculp­ture, she could spe­cial­ize in extreme­ly sooth­ing voiceover nar­ra­tion.

It’s rare to find such plea­sur­ably tingly ASMR sen­sa­tions paired with allu­sions to the some­what bar­barous process of mak­ing parch­ment from ani­mal skins, but that’s what illu­mi­na­tor Francesco dai Lib­ri, and his son Giro­lamo were work­ing with in 1492 Verona.

Our ears may not be able to detect much dif­fer­ence between the skin sides and flesh sides of these remark­ably well pre­served pages, but Bow­er does due dili­gence, as Yvard slow­ly drags her fin­gers across them.

No need to fear that Yvard’s bare hands could cause harm to this 530-year-old object.

Experts at the British Library have decreed that the mod­ern prac­tice of don­ning white gloves to han­dle antique man­u­scripts decreas­es man­u­al dex­ter­i­ty, while height­en­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of trans­ferred dirt or dis­lodged pig­ments.

The stur­dy parch­ment of this par­tic­u­lar antiphonary has seen far worse than the care­ful hands of a pro­fes­sion­al cura­tor.

Pages 7, 8, 9 have been singed along the bot­tom mar­gins, and else­where, the goth­ic hand let­ter­ing has been scraped away, pre­sum­ably with a knife, in prepa­ra­tion for a litur­gi­cal update that nev­er got entered.

If your brain is cry­ing out for more after spend­ing 15 and a half inti­mate min­utes with these medieval pages, we leave you with the snap crack­le and pop of oth­er items in the V&A’s col­lec­tion:

Treat your ears to Vic­to­ria and Albert’s full ASMR at the Muse­um playlist here.

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

A Guided Tour Through All of Vermeer’s Famous Paintings, Narrated by Stephen Fry

It does­n’t take par­tic­u­lar­ly long to be impressed by the paint­ings of Johannes Ver­meer even today, three and a half cen­turies after he paint­ed him. But an under­stand­ing of how he achieved the par­tic­u­lar visu­al effects that still inspire appre­ci­a­tion around the world comes only after spend­ing a bit more time with his work, ide­al­ly in the com­pa­ny of a more knowl­edge­able view­er. Start­ing in the spring of this year, you’ll be able to spend time with near­ly all of that work — no few­er than 25 of the 34 paint­ings unam­bigu­ous­ly attrib­uted to him — at Amsterdam’s Rijksmu­se­um. “With loans from all over the world,” says the Rijksmu­se­um’s site, “this promis­es to be the largest Ver­meer exhi­bi­tion ever.”

“The Rijksmu­se­um’s exhi­bi­tion in 2023 will include mas­ter­pieces such as The Girl with a Pearl Ear­ring (Mau­rit­shuis, The Hague), The Geo­g­ra­ph­er (Städel Muse­um, Frank­furt am Main), Lady Writ­ing a Let­ter with her Maid (The Nation­al Gallery of Ire­land, Dublin) and Woman Hold­ing a Bal­ance (The Nation­al Gallery of Art, Wash­ing­ton DC).”

The line­up also includes “the new­ly restored Girl Read­ing a Let­ter at the Open Win­dow from the Gemälde­ga­lerie Alte Meis­ter in Dres­den” as well as the Rijksmu­se­um’s Milk­maid and The Lit­tle Street. Both of those last paint­ings fig­ure promi­nent­ly in Clos­er to Johannes Ver­meer, a new online tour of all the artist’s famous paint­ings.

Here on Open Cul­ture, we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured a vari­ety of online attrac­tions offered by the Rijksmu­se­um, an insti­tu­tion eager to bring the world of the Dutch mas­ters online. As a vir­tu­al tour guide for Clos­er to Johannes Ver­meer it has enlist­ed Stephen Fry, that well-known enthu­si­ast of not just clas­si­cal art but also high tech­nol­o­gy. He pro­vides con­text for the paint­ings and points out ele­ments with­in them that we may nev­er have noticed, not­ing that Ver­meer achieved the effects he did by care­ful­ly putting things into his com­po­si­tions, but also by even more care­ful­ly tak­ing things out. It could­n’t have been easy for him to remove the peo­ple and objects he’d ren­dered with such painstak­ing real­ism, using sub­tle tech­niques to enrich their visu­al impact. But he’d ded­i­cat­ed him­self to the “search for still­ness,” as Fry calls it, and an artis­tic call­ing like that demands the occa­sion­al sac­ri­fice. Enter Stephen Fry’s vir­tu­al tour 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!

via metafil­ter

Relat­ed con­tent:

Down­load All 36 of Jan Vermeer’s Beau­ti­ful­ly Rare Paint­ings (Most in Bril­liant High Res­o­lu­tion)

What Makes Vermeer’s The Milk­maid a Mas­ter­piece?: A Video Intro­duc­tion

Mas­ter of Light: A Close Look at the Paint­ings of Johannes Ver­meer Nar­rat­ed by Meryl Streep

See the Com­plete Works of Ver­meer in Aug­ment­ed Real­i­ty: Google Makes Them Avail­able on Your Smart­phone

Stephen Fry Takes Us Inside the Sto­ry of Johannes Guten­berg & the First Print­ing Press

Stephen Fry Hosts “The Sci­ence of Opera,” a Dis­cus­sion of How Music Moves Us Phys­i­cal­ly to Tears

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.

Watch Conservationists Moving & Restoring an Exquisite Ancient Greek Mosaic


Raise a glass to the city of Dion on the East­ern slopes of Mount Olym­pus, con­sid­ered by the ancient Greeks a divine loca­tion, where Zeus held sway.

And while we’re at it, raise a glass to Zeus’ son, Diony­sus the god of fer­til­i­ty and the­ater, and most famous­ly, wine:

…hail to you, Diony­sus, god of abun­dant clus­ters! Grant that we may come again rejoic­ing to this sea­son, and from that sea­son onwards for many a year. — The Home­r­ic hymn to Diony­sus 

In the sum­mer of 1987, archae­ol­o­gists work­ing at an exca­va­tion site near the mod­ern vil­lage of Dion unearthed a mosa­ic of thou­sands of stone tes­sarae depict­ng “ivy-crowned Diony­sus, the loud-cry­ing god, splen­did son of Zeus and glo­ri­ous Semele,” rais­ing a drink­ing horn as he rides nude in a char­i­ot pulled by sea pan­thers.

1800 some years ear­li­er, it had adorned the floor of a sump­tu­ous villa’s ban­quet hall.

The vil­la was destroyed by fire, pos­si­bly as the result of an earth­quake, but a lay­er of rich Dion mud pre­served the mosa­ic in aston­ish­ing con­di­tion for near­ly two mil­len­nia.

A roof was erect­ed over the redis­cov­ered mur­al, with a foot­bridge on the perime­ter afford­ing the pub­lic excel­lent views for over twen­ty years.

Expo­sure to the ele­ments inevitably start­ed tak­ing a toll, with indi­vid­ual tiles melt­ing into the earth and plants spring­ing up in the cracks.

Using funds from the Onas­sis Foun­da­tion, the mosa­ic was reha­bil­i­tat­ed and relo­cat­ed to a spe­cial­ly designed, envi­ron­men­tal­ly-secure build­ing. 

The Onas­sis Foun­da­tion’s nar­ra­tion-free video above pro­vides a peek at the process, reduc­ing what must, at times, have been a supreme­ly nerve-wrack­ing 2‑year endeav­or to a pleas­ant sev­en-minute med­i­ta­tion, punc­tu­at­ed by bird­song and calm, coor­di­nat­ed group effort.

For those who pre­fer a more spe­cif­ic blow by blow, Rion Nakaya’s The Kid Should See This breaks down the con­ser­va­tion team’s efforts to divide the mur­al along a grid using drills, flat steel blades, and adhe­sive fab­ric, before sand­wich­ing the sec­tions between steel and wood­en plates for trans­port to their new home.

(We found the moment when the pro­tec­tive fab­ric is steamed away to be a par­tic­u­lar­ly har­row­ing thrill. )

Those who’d like to explore Dion’s trea­sures in depth might enjoy Onas­sis Foundation’s exhi­bi­tion cat­a­logue Gods and Mor­tals at Olym­pus: Ancient Dion, City of Zeus, edit­ed by the late arche­ol­o­gist  Dim­itrios Pan­der­malis, below.

Via The Kid Should See This

Relat­ed Con­tent

What Ancient Greek Music Sound­ed Like: Hear a Recon­struc­tion That is ‘100% Accu­rate’

Intro­duc­tion to Ancient Greek His­to­ry: A Free Online Course from Yale

Mythos: An Ani­ma­tion Retells Time­less Greek Myths with Abstract Mod­ern Designs

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

How The Parthenon Marbles Ended Up In The British Museum

Last month, we delved into a pro­pos­al to use dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy to clone the 2,500-year-old Parthenon Mar­bles cur­rent­ly housed in the British Muse­um.

The hope is that such uncan­ny fac­sim­i­les might final­ly con­vince muse­um Trustees and the British gov­ern­ment to return the orig­i­nals to Athens.

Today, we’ll take a clos­er look at just how these trea­sures of antiq­ui­ty, known to many as the Elgin mar­bles, wound up so far afield.

The most obvi­ous cul­prit is Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, who ini­ti­at­ed the takeover while serv­ing as Britain’s ambas­sador to the Ottoman Empire from 1798–1803.

Pri­or to set­ting sail for this post­ing, he hatched a plan to assem­ble a doc­u­men­tary team who would sketch and cre­ate plas­ter molds of the Parthenon mar­bles for the even­tu­al edi­fi­ca­tion of artists and archi­tects back home. Bet­ter yet, he’d get the British gov­ern­ment to pay for it.

The British gov­ern­ment, eying the mas­sive price tag of such a pro­pos­al, passed.

So Elgin used some of his heiress wife’s for­tune to finance the project him­self, hir­ing land­scape painter Gio­van­ni Bat­tista Lusieri — described by Lord Byron as “an Ital­ian painter of the first emi­nence” —  to over­see a team of drafts­men, sculp­tors, and archi­tects.

As The Nerd­writer’s Evan Puschak notes above, polit­i­cal alliances and expan­sion­ist ambi­tion greased Lord Elgin’s wheels, as the Ottoman Empire and Great Britain found com­mon cause in their hatred of Napoleon.

British efforts to expel occu­py­ing French forces from Egypt gen­er­at­ed good will suf­fi­cient to secure the req­ui­site fir­man, a legal doc­u­ment with­out which Lusieri and the team would not have been giv­en access to the Acrop­o­lis.

The orig­i­nal fir­man has nev­er sur­faced, and the accu­ra­cy of what sur­vives — an Eng­lish trans­la­tion of an Ital­ian trans­la­tion — casts Elgin’s acqui­si­tion of the mar­bles in a very dubi­ous light.

Some schol­ars and legal experts have assert­ed that the doc­u­ment in ques­tion is a mere admin­is­tra­tive let­ter, since it appar­ent­ly lacked the sig­na­ture of Sul­tan Selim III, which would have giv­en it the con­trac­tu­al heft of a fir­man.

In addi­tion to giv­ing the team entry to Acrop­o­lis grounds to sketch and make plas­ter casts, erect scaf­fold­ing and expose foun­da­tions by dig­ging, the let­ter allowed for the removal of such sculp­tures or inscrip­tions as would not inter­fere with the work or walls of the Acrop­o­lis.

This implies that the team was to lim­it itself to wind­fall apples, the result of the heavy dam­age the Acrop­o­lis sus­tained dur­ing a 1687 mor­tar attack by Venet­ian forces.

Some of the dis­lodged mar­ble had been har­vest­ed for build­ing mate­ri­als or sou­venirs, but plen­ty of good­ies remained on the ground for Elgin and com­pa­ny to cart off.

In an arti­cle for Smith­son­ian Mag­a­zine, Hel­lenist author Bruce Clark details how Elgin’s per­son­al assis­tant, cler­gy­man Philip Hunt, lever­aged Britain’s sup­port of the Ottoman Empire and anti-France posi­tion to blur these bound­aries:

See­ing how high­ly the Ottomans val­ued their alliance with the British, Hunt spot­ted an oppor­tu­ni­ty for a fur­ther, deci­sive exten­sion of the Acrop­o­lis project. With a nod from the sultan’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Athens—who at the time would have been scared to deny a Briton anything—Hunt set about remov­ing the sculp­tures that still adorned the upper reach­es of the Parthenon. This went much fur­ther than any­one had imag­ined pos­si­ble a few weeks ear­li­er. On July 31, the first of the high-stand­ing sculp­tures was hauled down, inau­gu­rat­ing a pro­gram of sys­tem­at­ic strip­ping, with scores of locals work­ing under Lusieri’s enthu­si­as­tic super­vi­sion.

Lusieri, whose admir­er Lord Byron became a furi­ous crit­ic of Elgin’s removal of the Parthenon mar­bles, end­ed his days believ­ing that his com­mit­ment to Lord Elgin ulti­mate­ly cost him an illus­tri­ous career as a water­col­orist.

He also con­ced­ed that the team had been “oblig­ed to be a lit­tle bar­barous”, a gross under­state­ment when one con­sid­ers their van­dal­ism of the Parthenon dur­ing the ten years it took them to make off with half of its sur­viv­ing trea­sures — 21 fig­ures from East and West ped­i­ments, 15 metope pan­els, and 246 feet of what had been a con­tin­u­ous nar­ra­tive frieze.

Clark notes that although Elgin suc­ceed­ed in relo­cat­ing them to British soil, he “derived lit­tle per­son­al hap­pi­ness from his anti­quar­i­an acqui­si­tions.”

After numer­ous logis­ti­cal headaches involved in their trans­port, he found him­self beg­ging the British gov­ern­ment to take them off his hands when an acri­mo­nious divorce land­ed him in finan­cial straits.

This time the British gov­ern­ment agreed, acquir­ing the lot for £35,000 — less than half of what Lord Elgin claimed to have shelled out for the oper­a­tion.

The so-called Elgin Mar­bles became part of the British Museum’s col­lec­tion in 1816, five years before the Greek War of Inde­pen­dence’s start.

They have been on con­tin­u­al dis­play ever since.

The 21st-cen­tu­ry has wit­nessed a num­ber of world class muse­ums rethink­ing the prove­nance of their most sto­ried arti­facts. In many cas­es, they have elect­ed to return them to their land of ori­gin.

Greece has long called for the Parthenon mar­bles in the British Muse­um to be per­ma­nent­ly repa­tri­at­ed to Athens, but thus­far muse­um Trustees have refused.

In their opin­ion, it’s com­pli­cat­ed.

Is it though? Lord Elgin’s ulti­mate moti­va­tions might have been, and Bruce Clark, in a bril­liant nin­ja move, sug­gests that the return could be viewed as a pos­i­tive strip­ping away, atone­ment by way of get­ting back to basics:

Sup­pose that among his mix­ture of motives—personal aggran­dize­ment, rival­ry with the French and so on—the wel­fare of the sculp­tures actu­al­ly had been Elgin’s pri­ma­ry con­cern. How could that pur­pose best be served today? Per­haps by plac­ing the Acrop­o­lis sculp­tures in a place where they would be extreme­ly safe, extreme­ly well con­served and superbly dis­played for the enjoy­ment of all? The Acrop­o­lis Muse­um, which opened in 2009 at the foot of the Parthenon, is an ide­al can­di­date; it was built with the goal of even­tu­al­ly hous­ing all of the sur­viv­ing ele­ments of the Parthenon frieze…. If the earl real­ly cared about the mar­bles, and if he were with us today, he would want to see them in Athens now.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art Restores the Orig­i­nal Col­ors to Ancient Stat­ues

Robots Are Carv­ing Repli­cas of the Parthenon Mar­bles: Could They Help the Real Ancient Sculp­tures Return to Greece?

John Oliver’s Show on World-Class Art Muse­ums & Their Loot­ed Art: Watch It Free Online

Take a Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty Tour of the World’s Stolen Art

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

Robots Are Carving Replicas of the Parthenon Marbles: Could They Help the Real Ancient Sculptures Return to Greece?

Art forgery is a stur­dy trope of film and fic­tion. We’re all famil­iar with the spec­ta­cle of a rar­i­fied expert exam­in­ing a work, while a wealthy col­lec­tor anx­ious­ly wrings their hands near­by.

As Mag­gie Cao observes in the Guardian:

Forg­eries expose some of the art world’s most psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly com­plex fig­ures: the col­lec­tor and the coun­ter­feit­er. What com­pels the pro­to­typ­i­cal col­lec­tor to accu­mu­late objects of beau­ty is usu­al­ly a pecu­liar devo­tion to the pow­er of sin­gu­lar­i­ty. The col­lec­tor wor­ships art’s pow­er to move us, a pow­er we imag­ine emanates from unique objects. Mean­while, what moti­vates the coun­ter­feit­er is an undue con­fi­dence in the pos­si­bil­i­ties of repli­ca­tion. To deceive a view­er with a copy is to affirm that copy’s inter­change­abil­i­ty with the orig­i­nal.

But what if art forgery can be used for good?

That’s the hope of Roger Michel, founder of the Insti­tute for Dig­i­tal Archae­ol­o­gy, who employs tech­no­log­i­cal advances to pre­serve cul­tur­al­ly sig­nif­i­cant objects and offer acces­si­ble tac­tile expe­ri­ences to those with vision impair­ment.

Short­ly after ISIS destroyed the Mon­u­men­tal Arch of Palymyra, he har­nessed 3D tech­nol­o­gy to recre­ate the 1800-year old land­mark in two-thirds scale Egypt­ian mar­ble.

The pub­lic was able to get up close and per­son­al with the mod­el in var­i­ous loca­tions around the world, includ­ing New York’s City Hall Park, Florence’s Piaz­za del­la Sig­no­ria, and London’s Trafal­gar Square, where Michel enjoyed watch­ing passers­by touch­ing and pho­tograph­ing the repli­ca Arch:

There are guys in Carn­a­by Street suits mixed with young peo­ple in hip-hop clothes and Syr­i­ans in tra­di­tion­al dress. It’s the cross­roads of human­i­ty, and that was what Palym­ra was.

Michel is also striv­ing to con­vince the British Muse­um that all will not be lost, should it choose to repa­tri­ate the 2,500-year-old Parthenon Mar­bles to Greece, much as the Smith­son­ian returned 29 Benin bronzes tak­en dur­ing an 1897 British raid to the Nation­al Com­mis­sion for Muse­ums and Mon­u­ments in Nige­ria.

Michel made his case with a robot­i­cal­ly carved fac­sim­i­le of the head of the Horse of Selene, above, which is all the more remark­able when one learns that he was work­ing from pho­tos tak­en on an iPhone and iPad while vis­it­ing the gallery in which it is dis­played, after the muse­um refused his request for an offi­cial scan.

The item descrip­tion on the museum’s collection’s por­tal notes that the Horse of Selene was pur­chased from Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, who took pos­ses­sion of it while serv­ing as Britain’s ambas­sador to Ottoman Turkey from 1799–1803.

(The descrip­tion neglects to men­tion that rather than allow him to adorn his home with this and oth­er ill-got­ten antiq­ui­ties, a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee ordered Lord Elgin to sell his vast col­lec­tion to the British gov­ern­ment for £35,000, which is how they wound up in the muse­um.)

Orig­i­nal­ly a part of the Parthenon’s east ped­i­ment, the Horse of Selene is such a fan favorite that the muse­um shop sells an “exquis­ite” hand-cast resin repli­ca for £1,650, promis­ing that it will make “a show-stop­ping point of focus in any home.”

Perhaps…though we’re will­ing to bet it can’t match the verisimil­i­tude of the tiny chips and chis­el marks painstak­ing­ly cap­tured by the robot carv­er, which took about about 8 days to cre­ate a rough mod­el once it received the scans, fol­lowed by some 3 weeks of refin­ing. The robot got an assist at the very end from human arti­sans, whose hand­i­work Michel calls “the cru­cial 3 to 5 per­cent.”

Gia­co­mo Mas­sari, founder of Robot­or, who part­nered with Michel on this recre­ation, vaunts the pre­ci­sion tech­nol­o­gy makes pos­si­ble:

You can rec­og­nize every scratch. You can see the flaws of the stone and you can see the chal­lenges our col­leagues from 2,000 years ago were fac­ing. It’s like going back in time — you can feel the strug­gles of the artist.

The muse­um brass appears unmoved by the prospect of swap­ping repli­cas, no mat­ter how excel­lent, for the frieze pan­els, sculp­tures, archi­tec­tur­al frag­ments and oth­er trea­sures of antiq­ui­ty Elgin shipped home from the Acrop­o­lis in the ear­ly 1800s, though the New York Times report­ed last week that secret talks with Greece’s prime min­is­ter may indi­cate the two par­ties are edg­ing clos­er to res­o­lu­tion.

This col­lec­tion has been a cul­tur­al hot pota­to since Lord Byron, tour­ing the Parthenon short­ly after Elgin made off with so many its trea­sures, denounced his avarice in a poem titled The Curse of Min­er­va:

Lo! here, despite of war and wast­ing fire,

I saw suc­ces­sive Tyran­nies expire;

‘Scaped from the rav­age of the Turk and Goth,

Thy coun­try sends a spoil­er worse than both.

Sur­vey this vacant, vio­lat­ed fane;

Recount the relics torn that yet remain:

‘These’ Cecrops placed, ‘this’ Per­i­cles adorned,

‘That’ Adri­an reared when droop­ing Sci­ence mourned.

What more I owe let Grat­i­tude attest—

Know, Alar­ic and Elgin did the rest.

That all may learn from whence the plun­der­er came,

The insult­ed wall sus­tains his hat­ed name:

For Elgin’s fame thus grate­ful Pal­las pleads,

Below, his name—above, behold his deeds!

The New York Times quot­ed a mid­dle-aged Lon­don bus dri­ver who voiced the opin­ion, as did the vast major­i­ty of respon­dents to a British sur­vey, that the Parthenon sculp­tures should be returned to their land of ori­gin, remark­ing, “It’s like the Crown Jew­els. If some­one took those, you’d want them back, wouldn’t you?”

His argu­ment is a hard one to refute in an age when the inno­v­a­tive tech­ni­cal solu­tions pro­mot­ed by Michel and the Insti­tute for Dig­i­tal Archae­ol­o­gy cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties that Lord Elgin and muse­um vis­i­tors of yore could nev­er have envi­sioned.

The pub­lic invi­ta­tion to the Novem­ber 2022 unveil­ing of the Selene Horse repli­ca stat­ed that “Britain’s stew­ard­ship of the Elgin mar­bles embod­ies a psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly com­plex sto­ry of obses­sion, pos­ses­sion, and assim­i­la­tion — so far with­out res­o­lu­tion”, ask­ing:

Might per­fect copies, ren­dered in sacred Pen­tel­ic mar­ble, sug­gest a pos­si­ble path for­ward?

Read­ers, what say you?

Relat­ed Con­tent

John Oliver’s Show on World-Class Art Muse­ums & Their Loot­ed Art: Watch It Free Online

Take a Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty Tour of the World’s Stolen Art

The British Muse­um Is Now Open To Every­one: Take a Vir­tu­al Tour and See 4,737 Arti­facts, Includ­ing the Roset­ta Stone

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

Behold! The Very First Christmas Card (1843)

Christ­mas cards aren’t just an anachro­nism.

They’re almost an endan­gered species, the vic­tim of the Inter­net, postal rate increas­es, and the jet­ti­son­ing of any time con­sum­ing tra­di­tion whose exe­cu­tion has been found to bring the oppo­site of joy.

Above, Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um cura­tors Alice Pow­er and Sarah Beat­tie take us on a back­wards trip to a time when the exchange of Christ­mas cards was a source of true social mer­ri­ment.

Christ­mas cards must hold a spe­cial place in both the V&A’s col­lec­tions and heart, giv­en that the museum’s founder, Hen­ry Cole, inad­ver­tent­ly invent­ed them in 1843.

As a well respect­ed man about town, he received a great many more hol­i­day let­ters than he had time or incli­na­tion to respond to, but nei­ther did he wish to appear rude.

So he enlist­ed his friend, painter J.C. Hors­ley, to cre­ate a fes­tive illus­tra­tion with a built-in hol­i­day greet­ing, leav­ing just enough space to per­son­al­ize with a recipient’s name and per­haps, a hand­writ­ten line or two.

He then had enough post­card-sized repro­duc­tions print­ed up to send to 1000 of his friends.

(It’s hell being pop­u­lar…)

Talk about zeit­geist: Charles Dick­ens’ A Christ­mas Car­ol was first pub­lished that very same hol­i­day sea­son.

No won­der every­one want­ed in on the fun.

Part of the rea­son the cards in the V&A’s col­lec­tion are so well pre­served is that their recip­i­ents prized them enough to keep them in sou­venir albums.

Under­stand­ably. They’re very appeal­ing lit­tle arti­facts.

The upper crust could afford such fan­cy design ele­ments as clever die-cut shapes, pop up ele­ments, and translu­cent win­dows that encour­aged the recip­i­ents to hold them up to actu­al win­dows.

Tech­no­log­i­cal advances in the print­ing indus­try, and the cre­ation of the cost-effec­tive Pen­ny Post allowed those whose bud­gets were more mod­est than Mr. Cole’s to par­tic­i­pate too.

Their cards tend­ed to be sim­pler in exe­cu­tion, though not nec­es­sar­i­ly con­cept.

In addi­tion to the views we’ve come to expect — win­ter, Father Christ­mas, hol­ly — the Vic­to­ri­ans had a thing for jol­ly anthro­po­mor­phized food and some tru­ly shame­less puns.

Enjoy these Ghosts of Christ­mas Past, dear read­ers. We’re almost inspired to revive the tra­di­tion!

Read more about the advent of this tra­di­tion, includ­ing how it jumped the pond, in Smith­son­ian Magazine’s His­to­ry of the Christ­mas Card.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

When Sal­vador Dalí Cre­at­ed Christ­mas Cards That Were Too Avant Garde for Hall­mark (1960)

J.R.R. Tolkien Sent Illus­trat­ed Let­ters from Father Christ­mas to His Kids Every Year (1920–1943)

Langston Hugh­es’ Home­made Christ­mas Cards From 1950

Watch Ter­ry Gilliam’s Ani­mat­ed Short, The Christ­mas Card (1968)

Hear Neil Gaiman Read A Christ­mas Car­ol Just Like Charles Dick­ens Read It

An Oscar-Win­ning Ani­ma­tion of Charles Dick­ens’ Clas­sic Tale, A Christ­mas Car­ol (1971)

- 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 Museum of Wonky English, a Japanese Exhibition Dedicated to Hilarious Mistranslations

I got hooked on Duolin­go a few years ago. Since then, I’ve used it dai­ly to prac­tice lan­guages like French, Span­ish, Finnish, Chi­nese, and Japan­ese. But none of those cours­es is quite as pop­u­lar with as many users as the one for Eng­lish, which is wide­ly spo­ken around the world — and, inevitably, almost as wide­ly mis­spo­ken around the world. Even non-Eng­lish-speak­ing coun­tries tend to put up some Eng­lish-lan­guage sig­nage, sparse and strange though it can often be: a hand­writ­ten gro­cer’s sign warn­ing cus­tomers not to “fin­ger the peach­es”; a notice mount­ed just above a uri­nal that urges vis­i­tors to “please uri­nate with pre­ci­sion and ele­gance.”

These exam­ples come, unsur­pris­ing­ly, from Japan, whose awk­ward but vivid­ly mem­o­rable writ­ten Eng­lish has long cir­cu­lat­ed in West­ern media. That made Tokyo the ide­al loca­tion for the Muse­um of Wonky Eng­lish, a pop-up col­lab­o­ra­tion between Duolin­go Japan and cre­ative agency Ultra­Su­perNew that, as the lat­ter’s site describes it, exhibits “six­teen of the best exam­ples of wonky Eng­lish found all over Japan.”

When “vis­i­tors look at the signs, menus, clothes, and oth­er objects exhib­it­ed in the muse­um — objects that can make them chuck­le, gasp, think, and reflect — they will notice there’s more depth to wonky Eng­lish than they ini­tial­ly thought and become more embold­ened to learn a for­eign lan­guage.”

You can still see some of the Muse­um of Wonky Eng­lish’s prized lin­guis­tic arti­facts in the pro­mo­tion­al video above (which pro­vides the orig­i­nal Japan­ese phras­es from which these odd trans­la­tions sprang), as well as in the pic­tures accom­pa­ny­ing this Japan­ese-lan­guage arti­cle. “Please do not eat chil­dren and elder­ly.” “When cof­fee is gone. It’s over.” “Crap your hands.”

Though uni­d­iomat­ic at best, these phras­es and oth­ers exert a kind of pow­er over the imag­i­na­tion. When close­ly scru­ti­nized, they also illu­mi­nate the mechan­ics of the under­ly­ing Japan­ese lan­guage and its dif­fer­ences with Eng­lish. And though the Muse­um of Wonky Eng­lish was open for only a week, a run that end­ed last week, I can assure you — liv­ing, as I do, in Korea — that wonky Eng­lish itself remains in rude health.

via Spoon and Tam­a­go

Relat­ed con­tent:

Learn 48 Lan­guages Online for Free: Span­ish, Chi­nese, Eng­lish & More

David Fos­ter Wal­lace Breaks Down Five Com­mon Word Usage Mis­takes in Eng­lish

“Weird Al” Yankovic Releas­es “Word Crimes,” a Gram­mar Nerd Par­o­dy of “Blurred Lines”

Steven Pinker Iden­ti­fies 10 Break­able Gram­mat­i­cal Rules: “Who” Vs. “Whom,” Dan­gling Mod­i­fiers & More

What Are the Most Effec­tive Strate­gies for Learn­ing a For­eign Lan­guage?: Six TED Talks Pro­vide the Answers

The Restau­rant of Mis­tak­en Orders: A Tokyo Restau­rant Where All the Servers Are Peo­ple Liv­ing with Demen­tia

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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