Placing Heaven in a Bowl

Bowl enameled in green and purple with intricate metalwork
Modern minakari bowl, photograph by Interesting009 via Wikimedia

This gorgeous bowl is an example of a style of enamel work known as minakari (also spelled meenakari or mina-kari), which literally means “to place heaven into an object.”

The style was developed in Persia under the Safavid kingdom in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries CE. Artists of that time took enameling techniques from Europe and China and used them to create works whose intricate designs and vivid colors drew on the rich legacy of Persian and Islamic art.

Minakari works are still being produced today, especially in and around the city of Isfahan. “Placing heaven in an object” seems like a good enough description to me.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Even Heroes Take Time Off

Heroes don’t spend all their time being heroic. They need time off, too. That was the idea behind this beautiful vase by the ancient Athenian painter Exekias.

On one side, we see Achilles and Ajax, two of the great Greek warriors of the Trojan War, putting aside most of their armor for a while and playing a board game. Achilles is winning, as Exekias lets us know because he has given us the score: beneath Achilles’ head is the word “four,” beneath Ajax’s, “three.” According to literary tradition, Achilles’ tent was at one end of the Greek line, Ajax’s at the other, so this was not just a casual pick-up game; one or the other of the heroes must have crossed the entire Greek camp so they could play.

Amphora, Achilles and Ajax playing a game, photograph by Daderot via Wikimedia (Athens, currently Vatican Museums; c. 540-530 BCE; black-figure pottery; by Exekias)

On the other side of the vase, the twin heroes Castor and Pollux return home. They are welcomed by their parents, Tyndareus and Leda. On the left, Pollux leans down to greet a dog who jumps up, excited to see him.

Amphora, Castor and Pollux return home, photograph by M. Tiveros via Classical Art Research Centre (Athens, currently Vatican Museums; c. 540-530 BCE; black-figure pottery; by Exekias)

Exekias was an innovative artist. He was one of the first vase painters to show mythic heroes not in the midst of action but at ease, among the familiar surroundings of everyday life.

If you’ve been feeling the weight of the past year, take some inspiration from heroes: play a game, say hello to family, play with a pet. If it’s good enough for Achilles, Ajax, Castor and Pollux, it’s good enough for you, too.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Medieval Huntresses

Here are some ladies enjoying a good stag hunt, from an illumination in a copy of “The Letter of Othea to Hector” by Christine de Pizan. The image represents the mythical huntresses of the goddess Diana, as imagined by a medieval artist. We see one lady driving game by beating the bushes and another taking aim with her bow while two more blow the hunting horn and manage the dogs.

Hunting scene from the “Letter of Othea to Hector” via Wikimedia (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris; 1407-1409; paint on parchment; by the Master of the Letter of Othea)

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Hoplites, the Chigi Vase, and the Problems of Artistic Sources

Art can be a priceless source of evidence for early history, especially for areas and periods with limited surviving written sources, but, just like texts, artistic sources can be tricky to interpret.

Chigi Vase, reconstructed frieze via Wikimedia (7th c. BCE; painted pottery)

Take, for example, this scene from an archaic Greek vase (commonly known as the Chigi Vase, named for one of its modern owners). It provides us with some of our earliest evidence for Greek hoplites and the phalanx formation. Although we understand a lot about the essentials of how hoplite warfare worked, many questions remain unanswered about the precise details of both how a hoplite battle was fought and how the hoplite style of warfare developed over time. Arguments about these topics often depend in part on interpretations of the Chigi vase.

The vase depicts warriors arming themselves and marching into battle as hoplites. Many of the characteristic features of hoplite armament and warfare are on display: heavily armored fighters with large round shields and spears confronting one another in a head-on clash. We can date the creation of this vase to the seventh century BCE, around the same time that the hoplite style of warfare first appeared, so this artwork offers us crucial evidence about what the earliest phase of hoplite warfare looked like and how early some of its defining features emerged.

We can be fairly confident that the artist who painted the decorations on this vase was familiar with the realities of hoplite warfare. The ranks of the phalanx were filled by small farmers and prosperous crafters, including potters and artists. If the painter of this vase was not well-off enough to have fought as a hoplite themselves, they would certainly have known people who had. At the same time, the images are also artistically stylized in ways that make it hard to be sure how much we can rely on them as evidence.

For example, all the warriors shown on this vase are similarly equipped: they have the helmets, breastplates, greaves, and round shields that we think of as the standard parts of the hoplite panoply. Is this vase evidence that hoplite equipment was standardized from an early period, or did the artist depict a standard set of armor to create a pleasing image at a time when real hoplite gear was more of a hodge-podge with individuals equipping themselves as best they could? This question goes to more than matters of artistic taste: one of the most vexed questions in the history of the hoplite phalanx is whether it developed gradually out of older, less rigorously organized styles of warfare or it was created as a fully-realized concept in some particular place and time. Because hoplite warfare was connected with the rise and subsequent fall of early Greek tyrants, understanding the origins of the hoplite phalanx better would have implications for our understanding of major developments in political and social history. Knowing what the Chigi vase painter had in mind would tell us some important things about the early history of ancient Greece.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Beautiful Reconstructions of Mesoamerican Cities

Here are some beautiful computer reconstructions of important archaeological sites in Mesoamerica.

Tenochtitlán, Mexico, by Advestudios

Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, US, by Advestudios

 

Advestudios, which produced these images, also creates videos and 360 vistas. Their work is wonderful for helping to picture these sites as living, functioning cities and settlements.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

 

An Ancient Minoan Saffron Gatherer

Here’s a beautiful ancient Minoan fresco of a woman gathering saffron on a rocky hillside.

Saffron is a spice derived from the crocus flower, and since each flower produces only a tiny amount of the spice, gathering it on any scale is a labor-intensive process. With her large earrings and the many colorful, decorated layers of her clothing, this lady seems a little overdressed for such hard work. There may be various explanations. Perhaps this fresco represents a ceremonial harvest, not unlike the use of a golden shovel to dig the first scoop of dirt on a building project, or possibly a small harvest for religious use. It might also be simply an artistic depiction suitable for an elite home and not intended to represent the actual attire of an agrarian worker.

Whatever the case, it’s a beautiful work of art.

Image: Detail of saffron-gathering fresco, photograph by Yann Forget via Wikimedia (Akrotiri; c. 1700 BCE; fresco)

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Well-Dressed Immortals

Very few works of art survived from ancient times with color intact, which can make it hard to imagine just how richly colorful the world may have been in the past. So we’re fortunate to have this frieze of Persian soldiers in glazed brick survive with so much visible color, especially the richly patterned details of their robes. These soldiers, depicted on the Persian kings’ palace at Susa, probably represent the professional core of the Persian army, popularly known as the Immortals.

The brightly patterned robes these soldiers wear may be a ceremonial dress more suited to putting on a display at court than to campaigning on the wild frontiers of the empire, but it is interesting to note that the Greek historian Herodotus makes special mention of the clothing of Persian soldiers when praising the bravery of the Athenian and Plataean soldiers who faced them at Marathon:

These were the first Greeks we know of to charge into battle, and also the first to look on men in Persian clothing unshaken, for up to this time even hearing the name of the Persians had struck the Greeks with terror.

– Herodotus, Histories 6.112

(My own translation)

The Persians were well aware of the use of spectacle for political purposes. It may well be that Persian soldiers dressed to impress when on campaign as well in order to intimidate their opponents, for much the same reasons that the British army of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries loved to put their bright red coats on display in formation.

Image: Immortals relief from the palace at Susa, photograph by mshamma via Wikimedia (currently Pergamon Museum, Berlin; 5th c. BCE; glazed brick)

History for Writers looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write.

Cephalopodic Human Figures Drawn by Bored Children in 13th-Century Novgorod

Erik Kwakkel, Professor of Book History & Director, School of Information, UBC, Vancouver, Canada, shares all sorts of interesting tidbits online. Among the older ones—posted over seven years ago now and dating from the Middle Ages—are some wonderful children’s drawings made on birch bark.

This piece of bark is from among a large find made near the city of Novgorod, Russia, from the 13th century.

Tumblr Erik Kwakkel C13th Novgorod Birch Bark Drawing

Isn’t it interesting? Look at the eyebrows and the noses! And the torsos! Incredibly cephalopodic, in a charming way. And the hands look like rakes. The figures are clearly identifiable as humans, but the customary ways of drawing some of the details seems to have changed over the centuries quite a bit.

Check out Kwakkel’s Tumblr or Twitter for more book history particulars.

Image via Erik Kwakkel on Tumblr

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Nordic Myth and Magic School Vølurheim

Artist Even Amundsen has been doodling character portraits for teachers at a hypothetical Harry Potter -style Scandinavian myth and magic school. He calls the school Vølurheim.

The names of the Professors include very Scandi monikers such as Hulda Kvænangsdottir, Dagfinn Snauholt, and Kari Sigfridsdotter. Amundsen has even come up with a background for everyone.

The portraits are fabulous in every sense – and as a bonus, the outfits are very reminiscent of historical Scandinavian garb and folk costumes. Below are some of my favorite characters.

Ragnhild Stubbemoen is the Professor of Dragon Lore and Care:

ArtStation Even Amundsen Volurheim Ragnhild

Apparently she’s taught at Vølurheim for 79 years already—and by the looks of her, she’s ready for another 80.

Mumrikk Stigandur is the Professor of Herbology:

ArtStation Even Amundsen Volurheim Mumrikk

Amundsen said he’s “heavily inspired” by Snufkin (Snusmumriken in Swedish or Nuuskamuikkunen in Finnish) from the Moomin stories. You can definitely see the resemblance!

Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts and veteran warlock of the Troll Wars is called Grimstav Draugsleiven. His portrait really shows his survival capabilities:

ArtStation Even Amundsen Volurheim Grimstav

Magnificent, isn’t it? (Elemental shaman in WoW, anyone?)

Even Mehl Amundsen is a freelance concept artist from Norway who has worked for studios like Ubisoft, Blizzard, Riot, Axis Animation, and Wizards of the Coasts, among others. You can see more of his work at ArtStation.

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Animatic Murderbot Fanart

Creator mar made an animatic Murderbot video – because who wouldn’t want Murderbot on the screen! – and uploaded it for us to view.

Note: the creator’s content warning’s are: blood, guns, scopophobia, slight body horror, and injuries. There are also slight spoilers for Network Effect.

I’m Not Your Hero – The Murderbot Diaries Animatic by mar on YouTube

The animatic is set to Sara Quin and Tegan Quin’s “I’m Not Your Hero”. The song wasn’t familiar to me, but I have to admit it fits pretty well.

And, seriously, someone please buy the rights and develop a fantastic longform Murderbot screen adaptation. Like, now! *standing with money in my outstretched hand*

Found via Tor.com.

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.