Modern

Posts on events in the last few hundred years

Some Thoughts on Lara Broecke’s Cennini

the cover of Lara Broecke's edition of Il Libro dell'Arte by Cennino Cennini
Lara Broecke, Cennino Cennini’s Il Libro dell’Arte: A New English Translation and Commentary with Italian Transcription (Archetype Publications: London, 2015) ISBN-13 978-1909492288

This summer I am reproducing some ancient shields, and since most face-to-face classes where I live are still closed, I am turning to the best possible teachers: Theophilius (fl. around 1100 CE) and Cennino Cennini (fl. around 1400 CE). Theophilius and Cennino teach almost everything you need to prepare a shield (or a panel) for painting.

The standard way to access Cennini is through three books published by Daniel V. Thompson around 1930 (an Italian text, a translation titled The Craftsman’s Handbook, and a practical handbook called The Practice of Tempera Painting). Lara Broecke has recently published a new edition, translation, and commentary of Cennini. These are thorough and scholarly and synthesize the past 85 years of art-technological research. If you want to know the chemical composition of Cennini’s gesso grosso plaster or giallorino pigment, look here. But Broecke distances herself from people who read Cennini as a textbook (pp. 1, 13, 305). Cennini was not a very good writer, his book may have been incomplete when he died, and none of the surviving copies of his work is a perfect representation of what he wrote. To understand why the old translations and editors of Cennini’s Book of the Art have the quirks which they have, lets turn to the Italian independent scholar Giovanni Mazzaferro:

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Poisoned Daggers and Poisoned Darts

Over on another place, I have been talking to Jean Henri Chandler the fencer and RPG writer about the trope of poisoned weapons. Writers of adventure stories in the 20th century loved this trope. In Robert E. Howard’s “Black Colossus” a beast is defeated with a poisoned dagger, while in Hour of the Dragon a poisoned needle protects a treasure and can kill with a scratch. Tolkien’s Witch-King wields a cursed knife whose wounds cannot be healed by ordinary medicine, and in the Warhammer setting Dark Elves or Dark Eldar love their poisoned daggers and flechette launchers. Brian Jacques’ villain Cluny the Scourge has a poisoned barb on his tail, and Jack White’s Arthurian novels (goodreads) have poisoned needles too.

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Why is LARPer an Insult?

a picture explaining "historical fencing is not LARPing or reenactment" with three pictures of the named activities crossed out in red
An incredible amount of stupidity in our culture came from Tumblr via Twitter to press releases, policies, and proposed laws. Tumblr post found in the early 2010s, captured in January 2018, source unknown.

Anglo culture in the early 21st century makes it hard to use good curses and insults. Our middle and high culture is strongly against insulting anyone for their parentage, body shape, disabilities, religion, private life, and other natural human things. But one of the insults which almost everyone feels comfortable throwing around is LARPer. If third-parties object, it is to dispute whether the object of the insult is really a LARPer, not to ask whether being a LARPer is a bad thing. Ten years ago when I was spending time with more types of geeks, I noticed that people whose hobbies have a lot in common with LARP, such as the historical fencers in black or the Society for Creative Anachronism, wanted you to know that LARP was totally different from what they do. People from socialists to the hard right agree that being a LARPer is bad. This week I would like to talk about what people object to, and some of the things which the insult misses.

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Google and the Culture of Searching

saying everything’s on the internet is great if you know how to use the internet. People who say it’s all on Google probably haven’t spent a lot of time watching people try to find what they want on Google. It’s challenging. There’s a lot of syntax to know, you’ve got know how to use a mouse, you’ve got to understand clicking, what’s a tab, what happens when I do this that and the other (thing), and there really isn’t a social institution dedicated to helping you figure it out. And then, that’s just for digitally divided folks, but for average folks who know how to use a computer, they still need to know how to be discerning about the information they get.

Jessamyn West, interview with Vermont Public Radio, 27 May 2016 https://medium.com/tilty/libraries-information-access-and-democracy-85e213086d22

“Don’t be evil” or not, Google has a great deal of power over Internet culture. One example is the way that Google discourages searchers from marking up their search (with quotes, Boolean logic, restrictions like “only from the following domain,” etc.) Google Advanced Search was removed first from their main page and then from their list of other Google tooks on google.com, and their algorithm takes more and more freedom to ignore quotes and deliver sites with only partial matches. Rather than encouraging users to become skilled searchers, it teaches them to type quickly and trust the algorithm.

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Whipple Shields and Radiators

A screenshot of the homepage of http://projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/ with digital art of a torchship against the background of a planet overlaid with equations

In fall 2021, Winchell ‘Nyrath’ Chung [Patreon] – [hellbirdsite] was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As of April 2022 it is in remission. His site Project Rho is one of the great Internet preservation projects: it collects material in various essays, books, and Internet posts and organizes it so it can be turned into something more digestable one day. In his case, that material is calculations and speculations about how high-powered spacecraft would work, especially in combat. This week I will talk about some of the things I learned from worldbuilding geeks which I did not learn from science fiction stories.

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When Trust is Not Verified at All

a painting of a medieval pole lathe being worked by a man in a felt hat
One of the tools which made preindustrial life work (and kept chariots rolling and kings supplied with gilt wooden thrones): a pole-lathe from a Central European master gunner’s book painted in 1411 (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, Codex 3069, p. 189 of 347) https://digital.onb.ac.at/RepViewer/viewer.faces?doc=DTL_2316748

In two earlier posts I showed that science is verified trust, but that the verification is not always well done. What happens when the verification is not done at all? We can see the horrid results in many different areas of life.

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How Heavy were Iron Age Bows? Part 1

See caption for description of painting
Another important detail: A Martyrdom of St. Sebastian in the BNM Munich showing the telltale red belly and yellow back of a bowstave made from the heartwood of a yew tree.

At the moment, many archery enthusiasts are telling anyone who will listen that soldiers’ bows usually had draw weights of 100 lbs and more (Deer hunters today usually use bows with a draw weight on the order of 50 lbs, casual or target archers often use bows about half as heavy, and even hunters of larger game rarely use a bow with a draw weight of 100 lbs or more). In other words, you could draw the bow to its full draw length by hanging it string-down and suspending 100 lbs or more from the middle of the string.  If this idea is correct, many men in the ancient world did something which is much more physically demanding than is commonly thought. This week, I would like to post some of the evidence which I know which might be relevant to the strength of bows used in the eastern Mediterranean around the sixth, fifth, and fourth centuries BCE. I hope that some of my readers can suggest more sources.

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Ferdinand of Naples on the Importance of Uniforms

a field looking towards a flock of sheep, a second-growth deciduous forest, and a small town in a valley
In another October this field was full of angry Frenchmen and Prussians not white sheep. Looking south from the battlefield of Jena, October 2010. Photo by Sean Manning, October 2010.

Long ago I heard the story of the South Italian prince who interrupted a discussion about the army’s new uniforms with “dress them in red, blue, or yellow, they will run away all the same.” The story embodies a truth that there is a big difference between looking like an army and being an army (and that some types of reform have more of an impact than others). But where does it come from? Twentieth-century British writers like Bernard Cornwell love telling stories about European foreigners and their national deficiencies, and I grew up reading a lot of twentieth-century British and US writers.

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Cross-Post: International Ancient Warfare Conference 2022

a socketed steel spearhead on a varnished wooden table
What questions can we ask about a spear? Find out at IAWC 2022

The latest International Ancient Warfare Conference will happen online from Thursday 23 June to Saturday 25 June under the sponsorship of Prof. Graham Wrightson in South Dakota. I am speaking in session 14 from 10.45 to 12.15 Saturday. The topic I picked is “Get to the Point: What Questions Should We Ask About a Spear?”

Sessions are open to the public and will not be publicly recorded (I may share my talk afterwards). There is no website for the conference, but here are a list of panels with links. All times are US Central Time (UTC -5.00).

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Google Pulls All Cornell University Library Videos

A "this page isn't available" scren for the YouTube channel of Cornell University Library
The status of Cornell University Library Channel as of 18 June c/o Dr. Alex Gill, Columbia University https://nitter.it/elotroalex/status/1538168994712399872#m

For about a week in June, Cornell University Library’s seven-year archive of videos were not viewable on YouTube. This was because they had posted an interview with the editors of pioneering lesbian magazine On Our Backs. You can find the details on Susie Bright’s new blog and check the status of their videos on Piped, a front-end for YouTube without the surveillance. Because they are a US institution with on the order of $10 billion in investments, and because censoring lesbian theory during pride month is a bad look, Cornell University was eventually able to have the channel restored. I just want to make one point.

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