Figuring out what killed crazy Caravaggio
Jun24

Figuring out what killed crazy Caravaggio

“Caravaggio’s life was even darker than his paintings.” This is how Italian microbiologist Giuseppe Cornaglia began an account of his uphill battle to figure out what microbial pathogen may have killed the famous and violent 16th and 17th century Italian painter, who died under rather curious circumstances in 1610. Cornaglia is part of a growing number of researchers who look into the dental pulp of skulls found in graves, in search...

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Was antiquity really so tacky?
May20

Was antiquity really so tacky?

The ancient Greeks did it, and now the Phoenicians too. Over the past few years, it’s become increasingly clear that many of the white marble statues from Greece’s golden era were originally painted in garish colors. The discovery of pigment residues on a multitude of classical era sculpture has been a boon for lovers of kitsch and a downer for pretty much everybody else. Yeah yeah, I know it’s good to know The Truth, and it is...

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When a Rembrandt copy is not a forgery
Jan25

When a Rembrandt copy is not a forgery

So you’d think that making a replica of a Rembrandt might be frowned upon by the art world, but this copy of “An old man in military costume” has full approval of its owners. In fact, the folks at the Paul Getty Museum in LA, asked their own intern to replicate the masterpiece as well as the hidden painting beneath it. It seems that there’s a pretty good reason for making the copy, or “mock-up” as the researchers call it. For years,...

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Dirty Dishes: Fatty residues on pottery fragments point to 6000 B.C. cheese-making
Dec12

Dirty Dishes: Fatty residues on pottery fragments point to 6000 B.C. cheese-making

Nearly eight thousand years ago in an area that is now called Poland, a prehistoric person skipped dish-duty. Thanks to this delinquency, researchers in Poland and the UK led by Richard Evershed have been able to analyze the dirty residues on these dishes. Today the scientists report in Nature that the fatty acid leftovers are Northern Europe’s earliest evidence for cheese-making. And tomorrow, teenagers everywhere will begin arguing...

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The military borrows from cultural heritage science.
Nov07

The military borrows from cultural heritage science.

Civilian society constantly makes use of aerospace and military inventions: Can anyone say the Internet? Or transparent braces? (These nearly invisible dental devices are made from a material called polycrystalline alumina, which was initially developed by NASA “to protect the infrared antennae of heat-seeking missile trackers,” notes Discovery.com) Cultural heritage also borrows from NASA: Portable X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy...

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Weeping Paintings
Oct15

Weeping Paintings

You don’t really expect a seemingly dry painting to suddenly start oozing streaks of wet paint, seven years after its completion. So when Otto Piene’s Harvest, which was finished in 1993, began to weep white paint in 2000, owners, conservators and the artist were all rather surprised. Although Harvest is Piene’s only work to start weeping, the strange liquefying process has happened to dozens of other artworks from...

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