Posts filed under “Art”


Good news from the Library of Congress: the National Jukebox is back on line, now purged of Flash and ready for our brave new HTML5 world. Here, for example, is a recording of utter chaos by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.

It may amuse listeners to note the “rights advisory”: “Inclusion of the recording in the National Jukebox, courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment.”

Dr. Boli cannot resist a quotation from the United States Constitution, which states that the Congress shall have power

…To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

For the executives of Sony Music Entertainment, Dr. Boli has a question: How much of the profit (which is pure profit) from a 102-year-old recording goes to the author or inventor thereof?

We have only a little more than a year before this recording enters the public domain. We hope Nick LaRocca, Tony Sbarbaro, and the rest of the musicians will not suffer too much when they lose their constitutionally mandated revenues.


The auditorium of Allegheny High School on the North Side in Pittsburgh was built in 1936, at the height of the Art Deco era. There are three exits, and the architect’s scheme demanded a relief over each one. So we have Art Deco interpretations of the three masks of the classical theater: Comedy, Tragedy, and Meh.

(The photographs are contributed by Father Pitt, and, like all his pictures, are released to the public domain.)


Our friend Father Pitt keeps the Pittsburgh Cemeteries site, which is a very good place to spend an hour or so for Halloween. He thought this picture had a fine air of mystery about it suitable for the occasion. It may be the entrance to a family burial vault in the Highwood Cemetery. Or it may be the portal from which Bulwer-Lytton’s Coming Race will soon emerge.

There is no better time to announce that old Pa Pitt has discovered three new worlds. In fact they are old worlds, but the sites are new or newly redesigned.

The Mirrour of the World, named after a book by William Caxton, collects pictures of things and places that do not belong in Father Pitt’s main collection or on the Flora Pittsburghensis site.

Two-Color World presents a collection of pictures rendered in old-postcard colors, as they would have been in the days when printing in two colors was a reasonable economy over printing in full natural color.

Monochrome World shows us all the colors of grey.

The three sites are meant to be as simple as possible, each controlled by less than a kilobyte of CSS code. Only the pictures are data-heavy, and those are donated to Wikimedia Commons, which has the server capacity to serve them up as often as you like.


Dr. Boli thought it might amuse his readers to enlarge this picture and see the angriest-looking psalm-singers in the world. It might also amuse them to note the signature under the engraving.



Monday, August 10, is George Washington Day. Be ready for the whole truth about the Father of His Country.

The painting, “Washington Rising,” is an unwilling collaboration between Frederic Church and Gilbert Stuart.


Dr. Boli is in the habit of leaving no stone unturned when there is information to be sought. Most of the time he finds potato bugs, but now and then he does stumble across the thing he was looking for. In this case, he has found a German translation of the book Regnum Congo, Hoc est Vera descriptio regni Africani, quod tam ab incolis quam Lusitanis Congus appellatur (The Kingdom of Congo; that is, a True Description of the African Kingdom, Which by the Natives as Well as by the Portuguese is Called Congo), from which he took the de Bry brothers’ illustration of a Zebra two days ago. The German translation uses the same cuts, and the owner did in fact have them hand-colored. Unfortunately the text that described the Zebra was in the vernacular language of the colorist, so he was able to follow the description explicitly. Still, the result, you will certainly agree, is striking.


Behold the zebra. No animal is so easily recognized today; every child of four can point out a zebra in a book.

But suppose you had never seen a zebra. Suppose you had only heard a description of it. You have been told that it is a striped horse; that the stripes are black and white and brown; that they are arranged on the side of the animal proceeding from the back down toward the breast in hemicycle fashion; that the head and legs are striped as well. This is not a bad description of the zebra (except, arguably, for the brown stripes; but zebras do come in multiple patterns).

Now you are told to draw a zebra from that description. What will you come up with?

Well, this, of course.

This is how the zebra was imagined by the celebrated de Bry brothers for a book about the Congo in 1598. Given the information they had to work with, it is not at all a bad guess.

Now, many owners of luxury illustrated books in the Renaissance had the engravings hand colored. Suppose you were given the assignment of coloring this engraving. You have only the engraving to work from. The description of the animal is on the same page, but it is in Latin, which is Greek to you. How will you color it?

First, of course, you will shade the landscape with light watercolor washes, like this:

Zebra (1598) colored reduced

So far the results are typical. But we have avoided the problem. What are we to do with the zebra? We know only what we see in the engraving, and we have to imagine what the colors might be.

Under these conditions, Dr. Boli can imagine only one outcome: