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Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757-1825), a French architect of fabulously distanced sight, produced this breathtaking image in 1792. The Tomb of Lars Porsena, King of Etruria (the great Etruscan king, d. ca. 500 BCE ), is just one of hundreds of works by Lequeu, a re-discovered architectural genius who worked during the same era as other visionary architects such as Etienne Boullee (1728-1799), Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806), Louis-Jean Desprez (1743-1803), Francois Barbier (1768-1826), Charles Bernard (1765-1818), Francois-Joseph Belanger (1747-1818), and others, though these guys are the most famous. As a matter of fact, I think, almost all of these architects were re-discovered—Boullee, perhaps the most famous of the lot, was found again not in his buildings but in his visionary drawings that he deposited with the National Library. But Lequeu—found again in the same way–it seems had to be rescued from an even greater obscurity than the others. He tried to expose a unity that he saw in the world, some secret sort of unity, that he saw all around him, and which was unseen by everyone else in creation—at least until the 20th century.

Lequeu started out in a staid and brilliant way, a successful architect in his own right, and student of Scoufflot, designing ancient-inspiration buildings for the super rich. But along came the Revolution and away went his career—he wound up a surveyor and a cartographer until his retirement in 1815, after which he enters social and historical oblivion, until he finally dies in total obscurity ten years later (or so, the date is unclear). His post-revolutionary vision was as phenomenal as his success in selling his ideas were dismal. Well, this is really a cheap shot—his imagination was shockingly large, enormous, his designs fantastic and beautiful, and completely unexpected, and they seemed to grow larger/loftier and more interesting as time wore away at him.

I think that as Lequeu was cleaved away, cell by cell falling through the floorboards of his single rented room, he reached further into time and deeper into space than almost any architect of that hundred-year period. I also think that he was very well aware of his genius being seen as pure eccentricity—his dozen or so self portraits are among the most bizarre that I’ve ever seen (before 1900).


The odd thing in all of this is that in this brilliance there is still a reluctance to leave the Baroque, and this at a time when just about everyone else—beginning around 1750—was abandoning it. So much of the work of the other visionaries mentioned earlier freed themselves of the Baroque—not entirely true, not true at all, for the unique creations of Lequeu, who (as in the Tomb of Lars Porsena) included more than a few bits of the practice even in his most incredible works.

Somehow Lequeu saw the Lars Porsena tomb as a 650-foot tall (!!) structure, with impossible insight and filigree. Extraordinary. (In the upper corners of the drawing of the tomb Lequeu included a design for a coin and also the plan of the structure. The original tomb of Lars Porsena, according to Pliny the elder in his Natural History, XXXVI, 19, 91ff, was a 15 meter high rectangular base with 90 meter sides–completely destroyed in the wars in the first century.

Perhaps his most sensational creation (and one which was devoid of all Baroque influence, as it turns out) was his Meeting Place at Bellevue. It is almost impossible to believe that it is am 18th century creation—it is as harmonious ( armonia) as it is asymmetrical. It looks deeply 20th century, and looked as far into the future as it was deeply unknown.

Ptak Science Books Post 1971

Cemetery four[Plan of a portion of the principal storey in the Poggio Gajella]

The plans of underground cities, of catacombs and cemeteries, share a certain biological appeal in their design with the plans of Medieval cities, or at least they seem so to me. Removed from their context and placed in an undifferentiated environment, the plans look very much like biological structures, and art. As maps of cities of the dead it is somewhat ironic that their geological chrysalis seem to indicate a biological structure.

And sometimes the images aren't so reminiscent of micro-structures as they are macro-structures, as in the case above. If you squint just a little and look at the Poggio Gajella you can visualize a cross section of the upper torso of a body, including an open mouth, with nasal cavity, throat, digestive system, and even intestines and egress routes–a picture of a person in the city of the dead.

The images below illustrating this ragged point are by Seroux d'Agincourt, (1730-1814), and appear in his Histoire de l'art par les monuments, depuis sa décadence au IVme siècle jusqu' à son renouvellement au XVIme (Paris, 1825). The images illustrate the article "catacombs" from the Encyclopedia Britannica, in the great/standard 11th edition, from Project Gutenberg:

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1969

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"Tears are the trails of plenty and of want, both of which are sometimes the same."–Not from Ambrose Bierce's Devils Dictionary.

"Let one rejoice in smiles, the other in tears;
Let the same labour or pain be the office of both…."-Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy

The image above is a detail from one of the sixteen engraved images found in Ame Bourdon's fabulous anatomy, Nouvelles tables anatomiques (printed in Cambray and also in Pair by Laurens d'Houry in 1678). (A good description is found for this work, as well as the rest of the illustrations in their entirety, from the National Library of Medicine, the source for this diversion).

I'm not sure why the subject here is crying; and I'm also feeling that I've never seen an example of a crying figure in any antiquarian anatomy book before this one. I remember from another;project that eyelids and tears were of some considerable interest later on, finding no less than 25 books dedicated to the subject printed in the period 1825-1895 or thereabouts. (That bit of research was undertaken doing some background on a 19th c aboriginal torture of staking a victim to the high desert ground and cutting their eyelids off so that the sun would cause blindness from constant exposure). And I don't know when the eyelid is given its first anatomical drawing/consideration, displayed on its own and flattened out for inspection. And it would be interesting to know when the first extended modern scientific appraisal of tears was made. On the offhand I thought that Burton in his absolutely magnificent and very difficult book, The Anatomy of Melancholy, might have something to say about it, but it doesn't–as a matter of point, it seems that the word 'tear/s" appears less than ten times through the whole work, which I find a little surprising.

No matter. I just wanted this to be a quick diversion to consider if Bourdon really did intend to include tears for his model, or if the engraver took a little liberty and added some emotional elements to the image. It is certainly plausible, as human anatomical specimens had been presented in any number of different poses and posed with different items and in tremendously wide spectrum of emotion expression that crying would be but a small step to take for exhibition. There also seems to be perhaps no connection to any sort of physiology of crying–the subject just looks like someone with tears on their face, unassociated with any sort of muscle movement around the eyes, or glands or ducts or whatever. (Charles Darwin described a usual contraction of the muscles around the eyes when the subject cried, as he published in his Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872)). The tears may just be Baroque ornamentation.

On the other hand, there may be a tenuous connection in the engraving to the tears and the sectioned brain. It wasn't too much earlier in the history of crying that it was thought that tears were a cathartic-purgative product of the brain, which is an idea that goes back to Hippocrates and his heirs and which held sway for more than a thousand years.

As Tom Lutz writes in his wonder Crying, the Natural & Cultural History of Tears (W.W. Norton, 1999) the English physician Timothy Bright poetically described tears in 1586 as "the excrementious humiditie of the brayne" (page 73), which were the "brai's thinnest and most liquide exrement". The idea of catharsis began to wane by the 17th century, and the four humours were identified more as a belief system than a medical reality, but the idea of the cathartic brain and its release of tears may have hung on to be included in Bordon.

But it does seem rare, crying does, in the annals of the history of anatomy–much less so in the history of art books that explore emotions and facial expression (like Chalres Le Brun (1616-1690) in his Méthode pour apprendre à dessiner les passions (1698)). At the end of the day, these tears may well just have been a sly way of the engraver to exercise a little creativity.

Bourdon-t08t08a full copy woman

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1966 Part of the series on Antique Children's Art

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Manuscript--blank book022
It is difficult to find children's art from the 19th century–original work, printed work, published work. Very difficult–perhaps even more so for the published work than the manuscript. It is easy to understand why: first, the children would need access to paper and pencil or pen and ink–items that had some cost, that were not inexpensive, not available to the vast majority of children. Their work was ephemeral, produced on slate, or in horn books, or in charcoal on a wall, or in dust. Then, if the children did manage to record their creativity, then it would have to survive a generation of possessionship within their own lifetimes–to survive from the first part of the 19th century, the paperwork would have to survive five generations or more, 150+ years of house cleanings. Tough odds.

Manuscript--blank book017One way that this artwork survives is accidentally, as in the case below. Scribbles, notes, sketches, finding their way into ledgers and notebooks and works for children–the book closed, placed on a shelf, and perhaps forgotten. Put away in a trunk, saved in an attic, stored. And then, finally, found again after a century or two. Opened, the book of seeming nothingness is loaded with, well, everything. In this glorious example, ironically titled Blank Books, the books are anything but, now. This notebook was intended as a Ledger for the Merchant, and there was a bit of that done…but at some point, the ledger became a practice book, a tablet. And from the looks of it, from the scribbled date in practice signatures over the ledger columns, that change took place around 1868.

And in the blank spaces of the ledger and notations appear all sorts of everyday things, the sort of stuff that might be invisible to an adult because we take it for granted–perhaps not so with children, who might be fascinated by these objects because they have only been cognizant human beings for a few years. (It never fails to amaze me when I look at the photographs that our daughters made when they were three or four, wandering–and I could write "wondering"–around the house with a digicam. The images they recorded were things that were mostly part of the background hum of everyday life for me, except that their pictures were made at their eye level and gave a new meaning to these objects, for me.) What the child/children recorded in this dead ledger were common objects in 1868. Perhaps they are of a forgotten commonness. Whatever the case, it gives these objects a renewed interest to the observer of the future and our present simply because a child saw fit to draw them in the limited space in which they could draw.

Manuscript--blank book019

Manuscript--blank book020

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1963

Sometime we see a Cloud that's dragonish,
A Vapour sometime like a Bear, or Lion,
A tower'd citadel, a pendant Rock,
A forked Mountain, or Promontory,
With Trees upon't, that nod unto the World
And mock our Eyes with Air.– Anthony and Cleopatra (Act IV Scene II) from the title page of Cozens' A New Method…, 1785

This blog maintains a longish thread on the History of Dots, but no where in there yet is any appreciation or discussion of the blot (the "blot" being "the unhappy and rejected love of the Dot" not according to Ambrose Bierce).

Cloud-writing is difficult work, mostly because it involves making the invisible visible in an imaginary landscape. This is I think exactly what Alexander Cozens (1717-1786) had in mind when he wrote about using ink blots for inspiration in preparing a landscape, writing about it in his A New Method of assisting the
Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of
. In 1785. He had the idea in mind and was using it in lessons for decades before that, but the work only found its way into print at the end of the century, a year before his death–and more than a century before such thoughts began to enter the early archaeology of the social meme. In a way he wrote about implementing a sort of simple calculus of discovery, of seeing the impression of possibilities in, well, anything, but particularly in the memory and sensation of forms.

These weren't literally what we would think of today as ink blots–they were suggestive forms that sort of looked like blots from which more determined and refined images could be made. He suggested that landscapes be generated as instinctively as possible, with blots being used to arouse memory and curiosity and to be incorporated into or suggestive of natural forms in constructing the landscape. [Although the word "blot" reaches back into the 14th century according to the OED, the version that Cozens had in mind I think was the verb "blot", which appears around 1440, and which means "to spot or stain with ink or other discolouring liquid or matter; to blur" (emphasis mine). It seems to me that the blot art that Cozens had in mind was both a blurring and a refining method, something that could release the artist and allow the mind to roam freely around the blot's inspiration and the artist's landscape memory. as Simon Schama says about the blot in Landscape and Memory, "there blots were deliberately random impressions meant to express, rather than to slavishly outline, the natural heaping of rock forms. The impulsiveness and spontaneity of their production served to reinforce the new idea...that mountains were dynamic, even turbulent things..." (page 461).]

Cozens was working on imagination and discovery, a way to make an improvisation in art, a riff on whatever the ink blot might suggest to the viewer. On page seven of his pamphlet he describes The Blot:

‘A true blot is an assemblage of dark shapes or masses made
with ink upon a piece of paper, and likewise of light ones produced by
the paper being left blank. All the shapes are rude and unmeaning, as
they are formed with the swiftest hand. But at the same time there
appears a general disposition of these masses, producing one
comprehensive form, which may be conceived and purposedly intended
before the blot is begun. This general form will exhibit some kind of
subject, and this is all that should be done designedly’ (p.7, from The Tate description),

  • Cozens blot[An example of Cozens' work with the blot, source: the Tate]

In a way it Cozens reminds me of Leonardo's cracks and shadows:

"…if you look upon an old wall covered with dirt, or the odd
appearance of some streaked stones, you may discover several things like
landscapes, battles, clouds, uncommon attitudes, humerous faces,
draperies, &c. Out of this confused mass of objects, the mind will
be furnished with abundance of designs and subjects perfectly new".–Leonardo Treatise on Painting (in the English translation published in 1721), pp 5-6

Another example from the Metropolitan Museum of Art of Cozens' "A Blot-Lake with Boat, Surrounded by Trees":

Cozens blot art lake
Cozens worked for insight, for "the art of seeing properly", for surprise, the discovery of forms. IT was an extraordinary work, especially given its time, ten and more decades and more away from the work of Redon and ernst and the rest of the suggestive painters, and even seven decades out from Courbet. It was slightly closer in time to the quizzical work of Justinus Kerner, whose Kleksographien of 1890 used ink blots in a parlor-game fashion for his readers to fashion stories and narratives with. (A full text with illustrations of the 1890 edition of the work is found here, in the digital collections of the University of Heidelberg).

An example of Kerner's work:

Kerner i,age

And well in advance of Hermann Rorschach's 1921 book Psychodiagnostik, which employed the use of ink blots to help him diagnose schizophrenia, the predictive and diagnostic aspect of the idea coming in 1939, not as a result of Rorschach's doing).

What these blots might all have in common was their pre-modern earliness. their anticipation of something that would become a standard framework in the decades–or centuries–to come.

JF Ptak Science Books quick post

Reading means approaching something that is just coming into being. –Italo Calvin (1979)
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Van der Weyden virgin child det
What is it exactly that the Christ child is doing in this painting (ca. 1435) by Rogier van der Weyden? I don't think he's reading, and there are some who seem in anti-reading–tearing out pages of the book, which is supposed to be the Old Testament, an allegory for pointing the way to the newness of the Bible in the New Testament.

To me he looks like just any other baby handling a book–not tearing, but just figuring out how the book functions, how to make it work, with fat-fisted baby hands. Perhaps the baby was looking into the past and the OT and not seeing the future in it in the NT. But even in an era of high symbolism and metaphor, perhaps this is just a baby playing with a book.

Van der Weyden virgin child

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1950

Mccay new york951
The revolutionary comic strip generator Winsor McCay had a great 12 months in 1904/1905. McCay may have been the Einstein of his field, and his
work I think may still be the standard bearer for high excellence and
creativity. It was in 1904 that he began his Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend, which seems to have also launched the main character for the creation of his crowning masterpiece of the medium, Little Nemo in Slumberland, which would premier in 1905. (McCay's work was appearing in two different newspapers in New York in 19041, forcing him to contractually sign his work for Rarebit as "Silas").
Nothing had really quite been seen like that before, two newspaper
strips that were filled with vision and elegance and weirdness and the
bizarre, beautiful stories illustrated on one sheet of paper, of great
imagination and a wide stretch of subversiveness. They so captivated the
readers of the time that McCay went off on illustrative lecture
circuits, found movie (in their relative infancy) versions of his work,
and performed in vaudeville venues along with Charlie Chaplin and W.C. Fields.

Mccay new york952
What is different in Rarebit from McCay's other work seems to be its new material from strip to strip–there's no recurring characters–unlike Nemo, which has storylines that continue for periods of weeks–and there is a great reliance on message than in the usually-beautiful artwork that is found in Little Nemo. Rarebit tells a social story, and is capable of satirizing political and other issues; this is almost never the case in Little Nemo.

Mccay new york950
There's also the appearance of giants in –this one, in particular, we see a New York City stomper of varying heights. The giant seems tallest when standing on the New Jersey palisades; when he gets to Daniel Burnham's Beaux-Arts Flatiron/Fuller building–which had just been completed a few years before this strip–he rises above it by about 1/4, making him about 400' tall. When he gets to the Statue of Liberty, which is about 305' from ground to the base of the torch, making the giant somewhat shorter than earlier, tough he seems his mightiest when sitting on the center span of the Brooklyn Bridge, this portrayal making him seem considerably taller than the earlier 400', as the height of the bridge from tower to river is about 276'). I'm not altogether sure of how early NYC-attacking giants come in in the literature, though there are plenty of other appearances of giants in the history of myth and literature (including the Cyclops, Eoclesia, Paul Bunyan, Fatna/Fanolt, Gargantua, Goliath, Orin, the Kraken, Rukh, Zeus, and so on, all of whom come before our Wall-Street-Wrecking giant rarebit fiend. (I wrote earlier in this blog on an Alphabet of Giants, here). There is an 11-minute movie ( The Pet, 1921) by McCay featuring a city-attacking giant, which may actually be the first movie featuring a gigantic-anything distributing mayhem on a city:

Its unclear to me why a person should have nightmares from the seasoned
cheese slathered toast that it is rarebit–it seems fairly innocuous,
unless of course it is weirdly seasoned or the cheese is bad. But this
is Cartoonlandia, which means anything is possible.


1. The strip ran from September 1904 to 1911; it appeared in different papers and under different title for a few years from 1911-1913, and then once again revived under a different name in bits and spurts from 1923 to 1925.

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
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It is said that the smile of the Mona Lisa says everything to everyone, but in saying all of that so loudly in such a quiet way, is it possible that the smile is saying noting? That in the vast encyclopedia of emotion that this smile is said to contain, is there really no "there" there?

Mona_Lisa smile
It has been pointed out by many that while the male figures in Leonardo's work have a great diversity, the female figures seem not to, that there is a definite overlapping consistency of charm and image from one figure to the next. The young Leonardo took his time with la Gioconda1, in a way making the painting his own in spite of the person for whom the work was painted. Perhaps he did more than that, perhaps he developed the Mona Lisa within an existing framework, and then continued that practice in his painting over the years.

It is intriguing, in its way, to think of her like this, a simple solution under the great enigma. But I think it is probably wrongheaded, and that at base those other folks writing about the sameness in the female figures are incorrect. Though there is something to be said about a continuing fascination in Leonardo with that smile.

So, I think thinking of Leonardo's women as more-or-less invariant and their smiles tending towards one another, establishing the Mona Lisa's smile as the apotheosis of the symbol of some sort of glorified, unified, aspect of women might make for an interesting sci-fi adventure, but I believe it doesn't exist in the real world–or in mine, anyway. That smile is not nothing.


1. Like many paintings, this one is known by a number of names: La Gioconda or La Joconde, or Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, or Mona Lisa, and so on.

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

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Fire in the eyes unmask the smoke of the heart–not Ambrose Bierce

Flaming eyes

These interesting images of searing eyes, of stars in the eyes, solar eyes, of the universe in the head, come from Albrecht Durer (1471 – 1528) and maybe-Durer, respectively. The top image is very shocking and is attributed to Durer though it is not signed by him. Die Sonne der Gerechtigkeit (Sol Iustitiae) was printed in 1499 in Ulm (source here), and is part of a larger work; the floating moebius-like ribbon reads "Everything that goes
out now re-enters the source from which it flowed. I am Eternal
Providence." With eyes and a head like that, I can imagine the statement to approach the truth.

The copperplate engraving below (and this definitely by Durer) was printed between 1499-1501 and is known as Sol Justitiae; or The Judge; not necessary providential per se, but as a representative of truth or justice, it comes close to being the Great Determiner. In any event, they are very strong images. See HERE for a listing of Durer engravings.

Flaming eyes durer

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1944

Want ads corn horizon928

Want ads corn horizon927
In the long history of People Wanting Things, it has only been in the past few centuries where human beings were able to see the possibilities of their wants, or needs, displayed in print in the forms of advertisements in newspapers and magazines. For thousands of years previously the wants were visceral and obvious–certainly the physical part of stuff that wasn’t exactly needed was not on display in any format, their descriptions passed by word of mouth–at least for the vast unwashed and working classes who could neither afford the newspapers or the goods for sale, as these were the times (in general that were BDI (“before disposable income). The “luxury” of catalogued needs really didn’t begin until the mass circulation broadsheet or newspaper and the growth of the lower middle class, which in North America wasn’t until the 19th century. Not only did this medium display the possibly variations of need, but also made suggestions of needs-not-yet-imagined, introducing the unknown for consideration in the “need” department. These are early advertisements that were also selling the possibilities of themselves, as well the dream that went with them.

Want ads elastic917It is interesting to look at advertisements from other eras–they seem to have an hypnotic effect, a small about of caffeinated want-lust is perhaps left over from those antique displays. In any event it is fascinating and revealing to see what the popular goods were that were being displayed. And by the time of the example that I’m using for today’s post– American Agriculturist for the Farm, Garden, and Household (published in New York in 1871, this being volume XXX of the rock-of-Gibraltar journal for the small farmer)–the pages were teeming with material for sale. For this one issue (February, 1871) there were a scant forty pages to the issue–the format though was packed with info, the type was about 8-point and in triple columns, and the sheets were 13 inches tall. Pages 121-148 (of 160) is news and reports on all matters agricultural, from news on different seeds to newly manufactured sowers to discussions of fertilizers to a new type of cucumber; the rest of the issue, pages 149-160, were entirely dedicated to advertisement, the ads running cheek-to-jowl, some of which were 1/8-pagers, and the other tiny slugs of one square inch. There’s about 250 ads on these twelve pages, many of which are illustrated. The woodcut images are occasionally fantastic.

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