What’s under the yellowed crust of varnish on renaissance paintings


Art dealer and BBC presenter Philip Mould posted this video showing restoration work on a centuries-old painting. It's more vigorous than you might expect: a solvent tailored to the varnish but safe for the paint, and the resulting slimy mix simply wiped off to reveal surprisingly clear, vibrant color.

Mould hasn't shared the secrets of what method is being used. Turpentine is sometimes used with another solvent, but that doesn't appear to be what's happening here. No matter what method is employed, it takes a good deal of skill to remove the varnish and not have any impact on the actual painting underneath. Details about the featured painting aren't abundant. Mould later clarified that the "woman in red" is 36 years-old and was painted in 1618, according to an inscription.

Below is a digital restoration of the Mona Lisa. The varnish and paint are reportedly too chemically similar to attempt the job with current techniques.

The Comic Book Story of Video Games goes deep

The Comic Book Story of Video Games: The Incredible History of the Electronic Gaming Revolution, by Jonathan Hennessey (author), and Jack McGowan (illustrator) is an entertaining full-color book about the roots of video games. It starts with the discovery of electricity and the birth of electronic digital computers in in World War II and ends with augmented reality games like Pokemon Go. In between we learn about the origins of Pong, Doom, Nintendo, Sega, and more. I feel like I learned as much as I ever want to know about video game history in one pleasant afternoon. This would make an excellent gift for kids who want to learn about the pioneers of video games.

A curiously incomplete history of the early years of DRM

Ernie Smith's Motherboard article on the early years of DRM gets into some fascinating stories about things like IBM's Cryptolope and Xerox PARC's Contentguard (which became a patent troll), Intertrust's belief that it is "developing the basis for a civil society in cyberspace" and the DeCSS fight. (more…)

Hurricane Maria started in 1898: how America spent more than a century brutalizing Puerto Rico

Nelson A Denis is the author of War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America's Colony, a highly regarded, bestselling 2016 history of the injustices perpetrated against Puerto Rico by successive American governments starting in 1898 and continuing literally to this present day. (more…)

The brilliant book that inspired Dune author Frank Herbert

That science-fiction extravaganza Dune allegorizes contemporary themes of imperialism, economic addiction to oil, and religious war is obvious. But it turns out that Frank Herbert's masterpiece owes much to one book in particular: Lesley Blanch's brilliant, half-forgotten Sabres of Paradise, about the warlords of the Caucasus, where Europe and Asia meet.

Anyone who has obsessed over the mythology of Dune will immediately recognize the language Herbert borrowed from Blanch’s work. Chakobsa, a Caucasian hunting language, becomes the language of a galactic diaspora in Herbert’s universe. Kanly, from a word for blood feud among the Islamic tribes of the Caucasus, signifies a vendetta between Dune’s great spacefaring dynasties. Kindjal, the personal weapon of the region’s Islamic warriors, becomes a knife favored by Herbert’s techno-aristocrats. As Blanch writes, “No Caucasian man was properly dressed without his kindjal.”

Herbert is ecumenical with his borrowing, lifting terminology and rituals from both sides of this obscure Central Asian conflict. When Paul Atreides, Dune’s youthful protagonist, is adopted by a desert tribe whose rituals and feuds bear a marked resemblance to the warrior culture of the Islamic Caucasus, he lives at the exotically named Sietch Tabr. Sietch and tabr are both words for camp borrowed from the Cossacks, the Czarist warrior caste who would become the great Christian antagonists of Shamyl’s Islamic holy warriors.

Herbert also lifted two of Dune’s most memorable lines directly from Blanch. While describing the Caucasians’ fondness for swordplay, Blanch writes, “To kill with the point lacked artistry.” In Dune, this becomes “[k]illing with the tip lacks artistry,” advice given to a young Paul Atreides by a loquacious weapons instructor. A Caucasian proverb recorded by Blanch transforms into a common desert aphorism. “Polish comes from the city, wisdom from the hills,” an apt saying for a mountain people, becomes “Polish comes from the cities, wisdom from the desert” in Dune.

It's not just words, either. The whole book -- a literary distillation of history, not rigorous scholarship -- is suffused with the weird atmosphere of Arrakis. It's free of charge on Amazon Kindle Prime right now, so Dune fans have no excuses!