Tuesday 31 May 2016

The Anatomy of Melancholy (1628)

Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, from 1628. Highlights and scans HERE.  An edition of In Our Time on the book HERE

Saturday 28 May 2016

Painting is getting closer and closer to poetry...

From Renoir to Picasso by the French artist and writer Michel Georges-Michel (1883-1985) was published in English translation in 1957.  This is a collection of chatty first-hand accounts of artists that Georges-Michel had known through the early to mid 1900's. In 1917 he had organised an exhibition of Picasso's work in Rome. 

A quote from George Braque: Painting is getting closer and closer to poetry, now that photography has freed it from the need to tell a story. Like music, painting must have its own means of expression. 

Below a drawing of Georges-Michel by Picasso. The full book is HERE.


The Tibetan Book of Proportions

From the Getty Museum - more HERE. at Public Domain Review: 

An eighteenth-century pattern book consisting of 36 ink drawings showing precise iconometric guidelines for depicting the Buddha and Bodhisattva figures. Written in Newari script with Tibetan numerals, the book was apparently produced in Nepal for use in Tibet. The concept of the ‘ideal image’ of the Buddha emerged during the Golden Age of Gupta rule, from the 4th to 6th century. As well as the proportions, other aspects of the depiction – such as number of teeth, colour of eyes, direction of hairs – became very important. The V&A have produced a good guide to the iconography of the Buddha, including the 32 Lakshanas or special bodily features.  

Friday 27 May 2016

An introduction to perspective : practical geometry, drawing and painting : a new and perfect explanation of the mixture of colours, with practical directions for miniature, crayon, and oil painting (1845)

An introduction to perspective : practical geometry, drawing and painting : a new and perfect explanation of the mixture of colours, with practical directions for miniature, crayon, and oil painting : in a series of familiar dialogues between the author's children, and letters addressed to his pupils : illustrated with numerous wood engravings, from drawings by John Hayter ..., and coloured plates
From HERE.


Account of an Inscribed Rock, at Dighton, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Accompanied with a Copy of the Inscription 1788

HERE is the account by James Winthrop of how he obtained his image and the published image is below.

Thursday 26 May 2016

A Primer of Mayan Hieroglyphics - Daniel Brinton (1895).

 From HERE. A tablet from Chiapas.

The First Six Books of the Elements of Euclid, in which coloured diagrams and symbols are used instead of letters (1847)

From HERE.

The Life and Work of Matthias Buchinger (1674)

Matthias Buchinger (1674-1740) was a remarkable person. His life story reads like a short story by Voltaire and yet he was real. The Met Museum have an exhibition of his work on now and HERE is a great piece about him in the New York Review of Books.   

Below a close-up from a self-portrait, 1724. His curly hair is textured with microscopic renderings of Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer.

 Image Copyright: Collection of Ricky Jay/Siglio Press

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Dighton Rock (1880)

A set of drawings of the pictographs found on Dighton Rock  Massachusetts.  From Annual report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution 1880 (HERE). Many of these are copied onto a full page image in Envisioning Information by Edward Tufte.


Fresh-water Biology (1918)

From Fresh-water Biology by  Henry Baldwin Ward and George Chandler Whipple, published in 1918 (HERE). The direct measurement of the length of a nematode using a "stepping divider"  approach. The nematode is visualized directly  via a camera lucida attachment to the microscope. 

The Power of the Beautiful Experiment - an appreciation.

The scientist Israel Gelfand (1913-2009) once said:
Eugene Wigner wrote a famous essay on the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in natural sciences. He meant physics, of course. There is only one thing which is more unreasonable than the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in physics, and this is the unreasonable ineffectiveness of mathematics in biology.
HERE, in the form of a book review of Life’s Greatest Secret: The Race to Crack the Genetic Code  
by Matthew Cobb is a superb re-statement by H. Allen Orr of the same idea:
 A second theme concerns the respective roles of theory (of any sort) versus experiment in biology. In the early 1960s, mathematicians confidently declared that “it will be interesting to see how much of the final solution [to the coding problem] will be proposed by mathematicians before the experimentalists find it.” As Cobb concludes, the “answer…was simple: not one single part of it.”

The interesting question is why theory failed here. Part of the answer, as Cobb emphasizes, is related to Crick’s idea of the frozen accident. The genetic code seems at least partly arbitrary. It represents a half-decent arrangement arrived at by the imperfect, tinkering process of evolution by natural selection and, once settled on, it couldn’t be “improved,” or made somehow more systematic. In such a situation theory is likely useless.

I suspect there’s another, related, reason that theory contributed so little to cracking the code. There was, at bottom, a mismatch between the nature of the problem and the nature of much biological theory. Successful theory in biology typically plays a different part than does successful theory in, say, physics. Theory in biology often guides thought, or trains intuition, or points to patterns that might hold approximately in nature. Only rarely does biological theory provide the essentially exact results that physicists are accustomed to. (And in biology approximate results, or even rules of thumb, are often more useful than exact results.) This kind of broad-stroke theory doesn’t provide much help with a problem as specific as the coding question.

A rough analogy captures these kinds of concerns. Mathematical theory might tell you something interesting and general about combination locks: for example, that they should require a sequence of three or more numbers to prevent a would-be thief from opening them in a few random tries. But place a particular combination lock before a theorist and he’s probably no better than the rest of us at opening it.

Finally, and perhaps most important, Life’s Greatest Secret highlights the power of the beautiful experiment in science. Though Cobb pays less attention to this subject than he might have, the period of scientific history that he surveys was the golden age of the beautiful experiment in biology. Biologists of the time—including Nirenberg with his UUU, Crick and Brenner with their triplet code work, and others including Matthew Meselson, Franklin Stahl, and Joshua Lederberg—were masters of the sort of experiment that, through some breathtakingly simple manipulation, allowed a decisive or nearly decisive solution to what previously seemed a hopelessly complex problem. Such experiments represent a species of intellectual art that is little appreciated outside a narrow circle of scientists.  

 IMAGES: from Principles of Modern Biology by Douglas Marsland (1964) - HERE.

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Stereology (1880)

Below the earliest known example of the word Stereology, with an earlier meaning than the currently accepted one from 1961: `the spatial interpretation of sections'. HERE.

From The essentials of Anatomy, designed as a text-book for students and as a book of easy reference for the practitioner (1880) by William darling and Ambrose Ranney (HERE).

Monday 23 May 2016

A Very Rare Book

Here is a superb piece in the New Yorker on a complex tale of forgery and fraud in the field of antiquarian books such as Sidereus nuncius by Galileo.


Sunday 22 May 2016

Aston's Nobel Medal (1922)

Francis Aston (1877-1945) won the Nobel prize for Chemistry in 1922, "for his discovery, by means of his mass spectrograph, of isotopes, in a large number of non-radioactive elements, and for his enunciation of the whole-number rule".   His Nobel medal is now up for sale

Below one of the illustrations from Aston's book Isotopes, published in 1922. 


Sharps and Flats: A Complete Revelation of the Secrets of Cheating at Games of Chance and Skill (1894)

John Nevil Maskelyne (1839-1917) was a famous English stage magician and unmasker of fraud - both in gambling and the so-called supernatural.

His book Sharps and Flats: A Complete Revelation of the Secrets of Cheating at Games of Chance and Skill was published in 1894. A scanned copy is HERE.

Another method whereby a single dot is made to represent both suit and value of card is illustrated in Figure 5. In every ornamental back almost, there is some portion of the pattern which is more or less of a fan-shaped or radial design. If this should happen to contain thirteen divisions, nothing is easier than to assign to each one a value, and thus the entire suit is represented by merely varying the position of the dot. The suit is given by placing the dot nearer or farther from the centre. Figure 5 is a diagram which illustrates this method in its simplest form. 

Saturday 21 May 2016

Færoœ, et Fœroa reserata (1676)

Færoœ, et Fœroa reserata : that is a description of the islands & inhabitants of Foeroe : being seventeen islands subject to the King of Denmark, lying under 62 deg. 10 min. of north latitude. Wherein several secrets of nature are brought to light, and some antiquities hitherto kept in darkness discovered.

 From HERE.

Oiseaux brillans du Brésil (1834)

From Oiseaux brillans  et remarquables  du  Brésil  placés près des végétaux dont les fruits  les nourrissent by the French naturalist Jean-Théodore Descourtilz.

According to the annotations, only two copies of this book are known to exist. One is in the Natural History Museum Library (this copy), the other, which is without the handwritten text is in the Teyler Foundation at Haarlem. Full book HERE.

Thursday 19 May 2016

Perry Rathbone Student Drawings

 From an excellent exhibition on Note-Taking HERE.

J. Thoreau & Co's Best Quality LEAD PENCILS

From Henry Petroski's book, The Pencil (1989)

Henry David Thoreau seemed to think of everything when he made a list of essential supplies for a twelve-day excursion into the Maine woods. He included pins, needles, and thread among the items to be carried in an India-rubber knapsack, and he even gave the dimensions of an ample tent…. He wanted to be doubly sure to be able to start a fire and to wash up, and so he listed: “matches (some also in a small vial in the waist-coat pocket); soap, two pieces.” He specified the number of old newspapers (three or four, presumably to be used for cleaning chores), ….
… he advised like-minded observers to carry a small spyglass … a pocket microscope … tape measure … and paper and stamps, to mail letters back to civilization.
But there is one object that Thoreau neglected to mention, one that he most certainly carried himself. For without this object Thoreau could not have sketched … fauna…. Without it he could not label his blotting paper … or his insect boxes … record measurements … write home … make his list. Without a pencil Thoreau would have been lost in the Maine woods.
According to his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau seems always to have carried, “in his pocket, his diary and pencil.” So why did Thoreau … neglect to list even one among the essential things to take on an excursion? Perhaps the very object with which he may have been drafting this list was too close to him, too familiar a part of his own everyday outfit, too integral a part of his livelihood, too common a thing for him to think to mention.

Image from HERE.

Sunday 15 May 2016

Observations sur les antiquites de la ville d'Herculanum (1754)

The first detailed observations and drawings of Herculanum by the French architect Jerome Charles Bellicard (1726-1786) are HERE

 The Met Museum in New York has his travel notebook that shows that this sketch of his was a direct observational record.

Thursday 12 May 2016

Cypress Point, Monterey c. 1875

From HERE.

The Stereoscope and Stereoscopic Photography (1890)

In 1859 Oliver Wendell Holmes published an article in the Atlantic magazine on the Stereoscope and the Stereograph. He had this to say of this technology:
 Form is henceforth divorced from matter. In fact, matter as a visible object is of no great use any longer, except as the mould on which form is shaped. Give us a few negatives of a thing worth seeing, taken from different points of view, and that is all we want of it. Pull it down or burn it up, if you please. We must, perhaps, sacrifice some luxury in the loss of color; but form and light and shade are the great things, and even color can be added, and perhaps by and by may be got direct from Nature.

There is only one Coliseum or Pantheon; but how many millions of potential negatives have they shed,—representatives of billions of pictures,—since they were erected! Matter in large masses must always be fixed and dear; form is cheap and transportable. We have got the fruit of creation now, and need not trouble ourselves with the core. Every conceivable object of Nature and Art will soon scale off its surface for us. Men will hunt all curious, beautiful, grand objects, as they hunt the cattle in South America, for their skins, and leave the carcasses as of little worth.
Image from The Stereoscope and Stereoscopic Photography by Felix Drouin (HERE).

The Science of Vision (1840)

From The science of vision; or, Natural perspective ... constituting the basis of the art of design, with ... the new optical laws of the camera obscura, or daguerrèotype, also the physiology of the human eye .. By Arthur Parsey. (HERE)

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Color Notes (1903)

From HERE. Color problems; a practical manual for the lay student of color. by Emily Noyes Vanderpoel. 

The Path to the Moon (1898)

From A Book of Images by W.T. Horton with an introduction by W.B. Yeats 

The Path to the Moon

The full book is available HERE.
More on Horton and his work HERE.

Tuesday 10 May 2016

Calligraphy at Reed College, Portland, Oregon.

From an archive of material by and about Lloyd Reynolds of Reed College, Portland, Oregon HERE.

More HERE.

Sunday 8 May 2016

Essai d'Anatomie (1745)

Essai d'Anatomie by Jacques Fabien Gautier d'Agoty (1717-1785).

From HERE. From the blurb at Internet Archive. 
The Essai d'Anatomie was produced by Gautier D'Agoty in 1745 in Paris, France. It is a remarkably detailed atlas of the head, neck, and shoulder areas of the human body with explanatory text in French. The anatomical images were based on human cadavers dissected by Joseph Duverney and produced using the mezzotint method of engraving and printing. These remarkable anatomical images from the 18th century provide a fascinating look into both the artistic and scientific climate of the period. The original copy of the "Essai d'Anatomie" held by the Rudolph Matas Library of the Health Sciences at Tulane University was restored, bound, and digitized by William Kitchens. The restoration work was completed on May 6, 2008. 
More on the Author HERE.

Notebooks of Andrew Croswell (1778-1858)

From Beehive, the blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society:

Andrew Croswell (1778-1858) was a student at Harvard University in the late 1790s. He later studied medicine in Plymouth, MA, and practiced there and in Fayette and Mercer, ME. In the collections here we hold two notebooks that were kept by Croswell. The first is a mathematical notebook which contains definitions and problems in geometry, trigonometry, and surveying. The second is a physician's notebook that contains notes on the treatment of diseases and injuries, as well as the use of some medicines. 

More pages at the blog post, two shown below.

 Image Copyright MHS

Friday 6 May 2016

Chinese porcelain (1908)

From HERE. An illustrated volume on Chinese porcelain by Yuanbian Xiang, originally published in 1575.

Wednesday 4 May 2016

英吉利国倫敦図 - Illustration of London in England (Igirisukoku rondon zu) 1866

英吉利国倫敦図 - Illustration of London in England (Igirisukoku rondon zu) 1866 by Utagawa Yoshitora
Image from the Met Museum HERE

More on this image from HERE.

Monday 2 May 2016

Who Looks East at Sunset?

 From James Elkins' book How to Use Your Eyes is this record of a sunset - looking both West and East.

Gerard Manley Hopkins: “If a very clear, unclouded sun is gazed at, it often appears not convex, but hollow; – swimming, like looking down into a boiling pot or swinging pail, or into a bowl of quicksilver shaken: and of a lustrous but indistinct hue.”  From HERE

More on Hopkins, Sunsets and Krakatoa HERE.