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March 9, 2019

Renaissance Calligraphy Guide


From Atlas Obscura:


Separated by nearly 30 years and more than 200 miles, two Renaissance men created what is perhaps the most impressive, unusual, and inventive illuminated manuscript in the Western world, pages from which are reproduced above and below.

Full of swirling and knotted words, letters that spindle or drip and curl across the page, bite-begging fruit and bugs realistic enough to swat, Mira calligraphae monumenta is an astounding record of imagination and skill, in book form.

Georg Bocksay, then secretary to the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I in Vienna, composed the manuscript over the course of 1561 and 1562.


Commissioned as a calligraphy manual, it was more like a catalogue of Bocksay's unparalleled penmanship.

A century before, the printing press had overtaken the handwritten manuscript, and transformed the trade skills of lettering and illumination into something more akin to art forms.

Rather than instruction, the manuscript provides a bombastic display of Bocksay's skill, and showcases the artisan talent that the emperor was able to attract.


"It's kind of in the stratosphere," says Elizabeth Morrison, a specialist in Flemish illumination at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where the manuscript is housed.

Most of the actual text of Mira calligraphae monumenta is taken from the Bible — the "lorem ipsum" graphic filler used in those times.

The dizzying circular text on a page featuring a pair of pears and a seashell is actually the Lord's Prayer squeezed into an area the size of a quarter, dexterously rendered with a bird-quill pen and runny ink.


Bocksay used the same tools as other scribes of his day, but he had the advantage of experience.

Having been born into a noble family in Croatia, he learned to read and write at an early age.

This allowed him to develop his calligraphic skill so much that he could support himself and his family on it.


Even as handwritten books were going out of fashion, elites such as emperors still had the appetite — and budget — for them.

It was common for a manuscript’s text and illuminations to be created by different artists.

Bocksay had left room for illuminations around his pyrotechnic displays of penmanship.

But the image of familiar flowers, delectable fruit, and animals from the Americas were not created during Bocksay's life, but rather 15 years after his death.

Their artist, Joris Hoefnagel, was hired by Emperor Rudolph II, Ferdinand's grandson.


Although the Flemish Hoefnagel never knew his Croatian counterpart Bocksay, he responded to the inscriptions with a matching degree of deftness and play.

On a page where the text is adorned with curling shoots studded with black dots, Hoefnagel echoed the style with a drawing of pea pods.

On another, trompe l'oeil ants crawl among the feathery, gilt tendrils of Bocksay's work.

Some pages — unusually for this time period — had solid black backgrounds.

For these, Bocksay used a resist technique, in which he lettered with a substance such as beeswax that would repel the black used to coat the rest of the page.

Conservators have not yet identified the blacking substance, but it may have been ash.

On one of these black pages — there are six in the 184-page manuscript — Hoefnagel drew a sloth (below), an example of the New World life the emperor was attracted to.


Rudolph II had moved from Vienna to seclusion in a castle in Prague.

For his Kunst-und-Wunderkammer  — a cabinet of curiosities and wonder — he sourced specimens that had never before seen in Europe.

Accounting records of compensation doled out to survivors of attacks and families of fatalities confirm that he kept a live lion and tiger, who roamed around his castle.

Pages from Mira calligraphae monumenta are on view at the Getty Museum until April 7, 2019, and again from May through August.

March 9, 2019 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How the spittlebug builds its bubble home

First you've ever heard of the spittlebug?

You're not alone.

James Gorman's New York Times story offers a nice introduction to a world quite different from the one we move in.

March 9, 2019 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

bookofjoe's Black Swan

3021 x 30 days

Yesterday started like any day but it ended quite differently.

Above and below, my page views.

3021 x 120 days

As a rule, they range from 250-1,000 daily.

Except for the past 24 hours, when over 3,000 views were registered by TypePad's nice stats counter.

What caused the spike?

A March 7 boj post — "Why do old books smell?" — went viral on Hacker News, where I'd cross-posted it.

March 9, 2019 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The more you forget, the better your memory


Seems a contradiction, doesn't it?

How can forgetting stuff lead to better recall?

Edward Vogel, then head of the Visual Working Memory and Attention Lab at the University of Oregon Department of Psychology, in work published in the November 24, 2005 issue of Nature, demonstrated that awareness — "visual working memory" — depends on your ability to filter out irrelevant information.

Said Vogel, in a press release about the paper, "Until now, it's been assumed that people with high capacity visual working memory had greater storage but actually, it's about the bouncer — a neural mechanism that controls what information gets into awareness."

In other words, it's not your memory capacity that makes your recall good or bad, it's how good you are at disregarding the irrelevant.

Their experiments used arrays of colored shapes and showed that individuals with high memory capacity were able to selectively ignore certain colors at will; those with less capable memories held all the shapes in mind simultaneously.

Vogel noted, however, that the latter propensity might not be entirely a bad thing: "Being a bit scattered tends to be a trait of highly imaginative people," he said.

So the next time you can't remember your name or who it is that just said hello to you, instead of beating on yourself and wishing you had a better memory, just chalk it up to your wildly imaginative self.

The graphic at the top of this post, summarizing the study results, shows the correlation between a person's memory capacity and how effective they are at keeping irrelevant items out.

March 9, 2019 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Food Wrap Writing Pens — "Color markers for cling film"


Remember growing up and hearing "Don't play with your food?"

That's no longer operative.

From the website:



Bento (boxed lunches) shaped like manga or anime characters have become one of the most popular aspects of the modern Japanese lifestyle, but what happens if you don't have the imagination (or the time or ingredients) to make figures or animals out of vegetables each day?


The Food Wrap Writing Pens offer a solution: just wrap plain rice balls in cling film (food wrap) and use the decorative marker pens to add colors however you like.


The Food Wrap Writing Pens come in a six-pack containing the basic colors that will allow you to decorate pretty much anything: red, yellow, green, blue, black, and white.

So just ask your children (or yourself!) who their favorite character is and then use rice or other food as your canvas.


And of course, you can also use them to arrange things in your freezer: they are water-based, so won't deteriorate either in the very low temperatures of the freezer or in the very high temperatures of the microwave.

Packed lunches will never be the same again!



$14 (cling film and food not included).

March 9, 2019 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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