Cochineal

A show that runs until February is at Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts. “Mexican Red, the Cochineal in Art,” traces use of this pigment from the highlands of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica to Europe.

28redpaint1-master768.jpgThere, it became increasingly associated with the projection of power in the 17th and 18th centuries. Cochineal fell into decline in the 19th century, as synthetic dyes were introduced, but was sought out later by the Impressionists.

The cochineal is a Mexican insect that is the source of the dye. This specimen is on display at the exhibition.  (Credit Marco Ugarte/Associated Press)

Van Gogh’s “Bedroom in Arles, Third Version”, 1889, uses cochineal. The artist likened the color to the “red of wine.” (Musée d’Orsay, Paris.)

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The cochineal insect feeds on the prickly pear cactus and was cultivated domestically in Mexico and Peru in pre-Hispanic times. The female can be dried and crushed to extract the red carminic acid. Additives of different acidity produce shades that range from light pink to a deep purple.  (New York Times, November 28th)

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Pitchers and Crappers

 

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  • Three species of pitcher plant, Nepenthes lowii, N. rajah and N. macrophylla, all produce modified leaves which serve as tree shrew toilets They capture nutrients from animal faeces in mountain habitats where insects (the diet of most pitcher plants) are scarce.
  • drawing by C. Thorogood, Oxford – New Phytologist website.

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Meanwhile, in Chelsea, a plumber named Thomas Crapper designed a classic wc structure.  th-42.jpeg          220px-Thomas_Crapper_Toilet_Horta_Museum_Branding.jpg

His King’s Road shop is in the opening sequence of Joseph Losey’s 1963 film, The Servant.

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Vienna’s Modernism

Do scientists recognise and respect beauty? The question is considered at Vienna’s Leopold Museum. B. Reinhold writes that ‘the expressionist Egon Schiele (1890-1918) is one of the most important representatives of Viennese Modernism. He irritates and provokes, and still attracts the attention of the censors one hundred years after his death.’


Schiele attacks popular ideals of beauty, with the primary source of irritation being the starkly depicted nudity and sexuality. Everything baulks at the feeling of sensuality and eroticism. 

The pictures have an uneasy physical presence because they are neither voyeuristic nor pornographic.

Squatting Female Nude, 1910 © Leopold Museum, Vienna

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This art visualizes the massive tensions of his time. Vienna was a center of innovation in science and technology, yet also the capital of the crisis-stricken Habsburg multi-ethnic state. This led to nationalism and ultimately Hitler’s racial fanaticism. The social structure and gender roles started to fluctuate. 

Walking on Water

Some insects walk on fast-moving water.

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ME Santos et al (Science 358, October 2017) identify two genes that control fan development on the mid-legs of Rhagovelia.Rhagovelia_antilleana_StreamEnvio_LR-1720x1146.jpg

Genes in a single lineage help these Hemiptera inhabit previously inaccessible environments.

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‘Bloomsbury Scientists’

This is the 300th blog at scienceandartblog.com, a series of ideas that I began over three years ago. And I’m pleased that this one is to announce the publication today of the book that I’ve been writing through those same three years.

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Bloomsbury Scientists: science and art in the wake of Darwin is published by UCL Press and is available through their website as well as amazon.co.uk ,  blackwells.co.uk  , and bookshops. It is free as an e-book, £15.00 paperback and £30 hardback.

Here are portraits of some of the characters in my story. To confirm their identity you have to read the book.

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On September 7th Nature magazine said the book: ‘paints a group picture of biologist energised by Darwinism, including Ray Lankester and Marie Stopes, rubbing shoulders with cross-disciplinary intellects such as Roger Fry and H.G. Wells. Although marred by the intrusion of eugenics, this heady era saw the rise of fields from ecology to genetics.’

Nature Printing

Pulse, the Linnean Society’s newsletter 34, June 2017, has an article entitled Lampblack and Lead,  by E. Rollinson.

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It tells how G. Cardano gave instructions back in 1550: ‘A fresh leaf is rubbed with verdigris and carbon; soaked in the right amount of colour it is printed on one of two large sheets of paper, so that an almost life-like image remains.’ (De Subtitilitate, Book XIII). Earlier, a physician named Conrad von Butzbach, in his 1425 Codex Auratus, coated paper with oil and used soot from a candle flame to make an impression of a plant specimen.

Summer Frieze

This year’s sculpture exhibition in Regent’s Park London is brought forward to the summer, many weeks before the Frieze Art show. As usual, some of the exhibits have a scientific theme.takuro-kuwataunt-0.jpg

T. Kuwata’s ceramic shapes look like excrement or blue slime on golden or pink phalluses.

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The aluminium Silver Moon by U. Rondinone reflects the vegetation and human onlookers around it. But it is a dead tree with broken branches. Without life it has a ghostliness in the late afternoon sun.

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M Barcelo’s elephant has an unnatural balance and a rough texture. It is 8m high and wants to penetrate the earth.magdalena-abakan.jpg

A headless figure beside the wheel is by M. Abakanowicz, compares fragile organic form with heavy machinery. That is the painful business of war and of working the land.