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Friday, October 28, 2011

The Flying Buttress

The flying buttresses of the apse at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres.

A buttress is an architectural element which is built against or projects from a wall which serves to protect or reinforce said wall.  They are common on buildings of certain styles or eras where they counteract the lateral forces from roofs that lack necessary bracing.  In other words, they stop the roof from squashing the walls.

The odd-shaped "walls" that extend from the sides of this church in the
Philippines (building to right) are examples of regular buttresses.

The Durham Cathedral, properly the Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St. Cuthbert of Durham, is in northeast England and is the seat of the Anglican Bishop of Durham.  The cathedral was built in 1093, and is considered one of the finest examples of Norman architecture.  It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The cathedral is notable for the flying buttresses over the aisles, which are precursors of the Gothic style of architecture even though the building is considered to be of Romanesque design.  Buttressing made it possible to build taller buildings and open up space.

The quadrant arches in Durham Cathedral carried the
lateral thrust of the stone vault over the aisles, where they
were supported by buttresses.  These were precursors
of the fully-fledged flying buttresses.

The main advantage, which spurred the development of flying buttresses, was that outer walls didn't need to be as massive since the buttresses would relieve them of the burden of the weight of the vault.  This allowed for the wall space to be reduced so windows could be larger and designed with stained glass.  The buttress thus was a vertical masonry block on the outside of the building with an arch that stood in the gap between the buttress and the wall (the "flying" part).  One of the earliest uses of flying buttresses, which still survives, is the Basilica of St. Remi in Reims, dated to circa 1170.

The buttresses at the apse of the Basilica of St. Remi.

These first flying buttresses were unnecessarily heavy, but that much buffering wasn't needed for the loads they were to bear.  Later architects designed them to be slimmer and more refined.

These flying buttresses at the Cathedral of Our Lady
of Amiens, built between 1220 - 1270, are much more
graceful and elegant.

As the Gothic style of architecture continued, the flying buttresses were often embellished with "crockets", as were furniture and metalwork made in the Gothic style.  These were hook-shaped decorative elements that were stylized leaves, flowers, or buds. Aedicules were also a common decorative element.  They were framing devices used to highlight the importance of its contents, and were set into the buttresses.

Crockets on the finials at Sint-Petrus-en-Pauluskerk
in Ostend, Belgium.

Another use for flying buttresses was as an emergency measure to shore up walls in danger of collapsing.  This would often be more practical than rebuilding a wall, especially if it was the only weak part of a building.  Later architects abandoned the use of flying buttresses in favor of thicker walls.

The south wall of Chaddesley Corbett Church, begun in
the 12th century, has an added flying buttress to support
a weaking wall of the south aisle, built in the 14th century.

Flying buttresses are a hallmark of Gothic architecture.  They allowed the construction of taller buildings with soaring interior space.  Since they allowed for bigger windows in the walls, more light could enter the building, making it less gloomy.  It was an innovation that led to the great cathedrals, and some of the most spectacular architecture extant today.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Austrian National Library

The Austrian National Library.

The Austrian National Library, or Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (ÖNB), was the court library of the House of Habsburg and is one of the world's major libraries.  It now houses about three million books, but also has remarkable collections of maps, globes, prints, portraits, and music to name some, not to mention works in and on Esperanto and other constructed languages.

A view of the Prunksaal.

Albert III, Duke of Austria and member of the House of Habsburg, was a scholar who supported the arts and science.  In the late 1300s he put all the books in Viennese vaults into a library.  He also organized a translation project, so that all important Latin works could also be read in German.  He supported the University of Vienna, and founded a royal workshop for illustrating manuscripts.

Albert II, Duke of Austria.  Also known as Herzog Albrecht III
mit dem Copfe (Albert with the Pigtail).  He reigned 1386 -1395.

Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor and also of the House of Habsburg, made it a goal to get as many of the Habsburg treasures as possible, including books, to Vienna.  Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I gained possession of important books from France through his first marriage, and brought these to Vienna.  With his second marriage, he acquired books from Italian workshops.

Friedrich III by Hans Burgkmair the Elder, 1468.

All of these books were kept at the Court Library, which was partially in Vienna and partially in Innsbruck.  After Maximilian I died, the books went to Innsbruck castle.  The Biblioteca Regia, developed in the 16th century, collected scientific works, and was in Vienna.  Besides books, that library also had collections of globes and atlases. The collections increased when personal libraries of scholars were donated.  This was added to the Imperial Library.

Kaiser Maximilian I by Albrecht Dürer, 1519.

In 1575, Hugo Blotius was appointed the first librarian of the Imperial Library.  He did an inventory, which had grown to approximately 9,000 books.  New works were added and new libraries were incorporated.  In 1624, by order of Ferdinand II, obligation copies were to be made to the Library, and more new purchases were made.  The library of Philip Eduard Fugger was added, which contained one of the first collections of newspapers, about 17,000 sheets.  The Fuggers were bankers to many Catholic monarchies, especially the Habsburgs, in the 15th and 16th centuries.  Philip Eduard Fugger started newletters, mainly for himself, composed of reports from various associates all over along with local and other news.  These handwritten papers are known as the Fuggerzeitungen.

A colored copper plate from Fuggerorum et
Fuggerarum imagines, 

In 1722, Emperor Karl VI ordered the construction of a permanent building for the Imperial Library in Hofburg Palace in Vienna, which still serves as the official residence of the President of Austria.  It was housed in the current Prunksaal, built particularly to house the court library, in 1721-1723.  A valuable addition was made at this time.  It was the book collection of Prince Eugene of Savoy, 15,000 volumes.  Another important addition was a papyrus collection, acquired by an antiquities dealer and donated to the library.

Ceiling painting in the Prunksaal.

In 1920, the Hofburg library, as it was then called, was renamed the Austrian National Library.  In 1966, large parts of the collection were moved to the building on Heidenplatz ("Heroes' Square"), the outer plaza of the Hofburg.

Heidenplatz with a statue of Archduke Charles of Austria.  The ÖNB can
be seen at the rear to the left of the statue.

One of the tasks of the ÖNB is the collection and archiving of all publications appearing in Austria, including electronic media.  It also collects all works of Austrian authors from abroad, and all works which reflect Austrians or Austrian culture.  The ÖNB has more than seven million objects, of which about three million are printed.

A fragment of the Codes Vindobonensis B 11093.

The Esperanto Museum is one of the interesting collections of the ÖNB.  Founded in 1927 by Hugo Steiner, it covers the history of Esperanto and the relationship of man to language.  There is an automat that gives one a grasp of the grammar of Esperanto through a Pacman game, and a video course by the BBC so one can hear how it sounds.  The interactive media stations not only share knowledge of Esperanto, but other planned languages as well, from the Lingua Ignota of Hildegard of Bingen to Klingon.  They have documents from roughly 500 planned languages, and are endeavoring to digitize their holdings so that much of it will be available on the internet.

Image courtesy of the ÖNB.

The Department of Papyri has objects from Egypt covering 3,000 years, and includes objects on parchment, paper, ostraca, leather, wood, wax tablets, stone, bones, metal, and textiles.  Besides hieroglyphs and hieratic, some of the languages are demotic, Coptic, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Syriac, Aramaic, and Arabic.  The research department has over 15,000 volumes covering many areas from the 3rd century BCE to the 10th century CE.  More volumes are being added in the interest of providing background information to the objects in the collection. In 2001, it was added to UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme Register, an international initiative with the mission to preserve for posterity valuable collections and archival holdings.

Image courtesy of the ÖNB.

The Map Departments has about 290,000 maps and 650 globes, as well as 81,000 volumes of atlases and technical literature.  The collection was begun in the 16th century, although the department was founded in 1906.  Since 1953, the Map Department has included the Globe Museum - the only one in the world - the main emphasis of which is on terrestrial and celestial globes made before 1850.  There is a 50-volume set of more than 2,400 maps, prints, and drawings known as the Atlas Blaeu-Van der Hem from the 17th century.  It was inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme Register in 2003.

Terrestrial globe, left, from 1541.  Celestial globe, right, from 1551.  Both
attributed to Gerard Mercator.  Image courtesy of the ÖNB.

With the purchase of Albert Fugger's library in 1655, many valuable musical items became part of the library's holdings.  The Department of Music is one of the largest musical archives in the world.  It includes autographs, texts of vocal works, recordings, and the estates of important Austrian composers.  It is located in the Palais Mollard.

Image courtesy of the ÖNB.

The Vienna Dioscurides is an early 6th century illustrated manuscript of De Materia Medica by Dioscorides in Greek.  A rare example of a late antique scientific text, the vellum folios contain more than 400 pictures of flora and fauna. It was made circa 515 for the Byzantine princess Juliana Anicia.  Listed in UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme Register in 1997, it is part of the Manuscripts and Rare Books collection of the ÖNB.  The collection includes items from almost every literate culture in the world, dating from the 4th century.

A page from the De Materia Medica.

There are so many things in this library, that I'm sure one could spend years reviewing and researching them all.  I applaud their willingness to share and their efforts to digitize their items so internet access is possible.  Thanks to the collectors and conservators who made this possible for all of us to use and enjoy.

Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of Wikipedia.
Check out the website for more information, as
well as for catalogs and databases.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Repost: Shhh! It' Secret!

Repost from 2/4/11:

Who says women can’t keep a secret?

Long, long ago, in a country far, far away, women were not allowed to be literate.  So what, you say.  That could be anywhere in the world if it was long, long ago.  True, but the place I am talking about is China from the fourteenth or fifteenth century to the early twentieth century, roughly what is considered the feudal era of Chinese history.

Items with the Nüshu script.
Image courtesy of Life Magazine.

In the Yongming river region of Jiangyong County (Hunan province) women developed a secret script that was passed down to younger women.  Much of what has been written about this script, called Nüshu, is that it was a secret language.  This is not true.  It was not a language, but a writing system used for the local language that both men and women spoke.  There were strict rules about never using it front of men or revealing its existence to them.

Yellow figure marks the area within Hunan Province where Nüshu was used.
Map courtesy of Wikipedia.

It was customary in some areas at the time of the development of Nüshu to bind the feet of young girls from the age of seven until they were married off at age seventeen.  Those ten years amounted to imprisonment, and the girls were now hobbled and illiterate.  Their mothers would find similar girls and form groups called “sworn sisters”.  They would be taught Nüshu, write diaries, and prepare books for each other called three-day wedding books.  These would be given to a bride three days after her  marriage when she had moved to another village, and she could read the messages of hope from her sworn sisters.

Besides diaries and three-day wedding books, typical writings included folk songs, tales, and monody.  Sometimes the characters were disguised as decorative marks or artwork.  Poems and lyrics were often handwoven into belts and straps, or embroidered onto clothing, fans, handkerchiefs and other everyday items.  Women had their Nüshu items burned at their gravesites as a necessity for secrecy and as a symbolic rite.

Photo courtesy of Kaleidoscope/Cultural China

But actually the writing system wasn’t so secret.  Men knew about it but ignored it as being beneath them, and made fun of it.  Scholars are doing as much research as they can about it, but it is difficult as there are no accounts in historical records or local annals, no inscriptions, and it’s not in any genealogies.  The last woman who was proficient in it died in 2004 at the age of 98.  Yang Huangyi spent three years with seven sworn sisters, even though she was not one of them, to learn the language, and became the only surviving writer when the last sister died in the late 1990s.  She was totally illiterate in standard Chinese.  Because of this her writing in Nüshu was considered more definitive and original since it wasn’t affected by standard Chinese.

Yang Huangyi.
Photo courtesy of Lisa See.
During the Japanese takeover of China in the 1940s Nüshu was surpressed in fear of it being used for espionage or sending encoded messages.  During China’s cultural revolution (1966 – 1976) the Red Guard collected and destroyed Nüshu artifacts.  Since women were now being educated there was no need for it and it started to fade away.  It wasn’t until 1983 that outside scholars became aware of it, and it has received keen attention from linguists and anthropologists alike.

Nüshu characters are light and wispy, a stark contrast to standard Chinese characters.  The script is read from top to bottom, or horizontally from right to left like traditional Chinese.  It is a phonetic script, whereas standard Chinese is logographic, each character representing a word or part of a word.

When Nüshu items were systematically destroyed, a subculture was destroyed as well, including the idea of sworn sisters.  But the current generation of women is still benefiting in a sense from Nüshu.  It has become a tourist attraction, and one which the government is avidly supporting.  Items are being made for the tourist trade, a museum constructed, and a school was founded in Puwei where the language is being taught.  Women are often making more money in this new industry than men can make from more traditional modes of employment. Unfortunately, the purity of the writing system is being degraded as some characters are being redesigned to be more artsy, and competency in Nüshu is not necessarily a prerequisite to be involved in the industry.

Photo courtesy of Kaleidoscope/Cultural China

But time marches on, and Nüshu goes on, once serving women's needs, now providing financial renumeration and a glimpse of a particular rural history.  A case of the word being mightier than the sword.

Author Lisa See's novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan features Nüshu 
and is the story of two young girls growing up in feudal China.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Marking the Count

A painting by Katsushika Hokusai, 1760.

In the time before written numbers, humans had a need to count.  Hands came in, well, handy, but that limited the count to five or ten.  If one had to go over that number, something was needed to keep count of the count.  Stones, pebbles, twigs and the like were probably used, as were marks in the dirt or sand.  But what was really needed was a counting device.

"Madame Arithmatica" by Gregor Reisch, 1508.
This woodcut depicts an algorist and an abacist,
supposedly Boethius and Pythagoras.   With the
introduction of algebra into Europe in the 12th
century, the two were in competition .

If you have ever seen an abacist (one who uses an abacus) at work you were probably amazed at their speed and accuracy.  An abacus is a type of counting board.  Ancient counting boards look like games, usually with grooves for pebbles or markers.  Often made of wood, metal, or marble, they were large, and since the markers could be removed, not very portable.  Abacuses (or abaci - there is no preferred plural) were different in that they were frames with rods on which beads could be moved.  Most importantly, they were portable.

The term "abacus" is from the Greek abakos - a calculating table - that is from the Hebrew abq, meaning dust or sand.  The first evidence of one is from Sumeria, circa 2700-2300 BCE, which was a table of successive columns.  Too primitive for complex calculations, it was probably just used for adding and subtracting.  The Sumerian system was based on a sexgesimal number system, which is base 60 and still in use for measuring time, angles, and geographic coordinates that are angles.  It is excellent for doing fractions, as it has 12 factors of which 3 are prime numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30, 60).

An explanation of "New Theory On The Graphical Roots of the Modern
European Numbers", stating that each number used today is a numeric
ideogram and the numbers were defined using simple arithmetic.  This
abacus, attributed to Al Khwarizmi, had a base-five/ten like our hands.

Herodotus mentions the use of the abacus in ancient Egypt, however there are no paintings or wall reliefs of one, which casts some doubts.  However, archaeologists have found disks that could be markers.  But then again they could be game pieces.

Egyptian written numbering system.
That would be me, if I had a million dollars.  :-)

The oldest counting board as yet found dates from about 300 BCE.  It was found in 1846 on the Greek island of Salamis.  It is a slab of white marble measuring 59" long by 30" wide and is 2" thick.  It has five groups of markings.  Three sets of Greek symbols (acrophonic system - their symbols come from the first letter of the word for that number, hence the symbol is an abbreviation of that number) are down both sides and the bottom of the slab.

Early photograph of the Salamis Tablet.

The Romans first calculated by moving pebbles (calculi) on a smooth table. Marked lines indicated units of the Roman numeral system.  This system of "counter casting" continued into medieval times in Europe.  But in early Rome wax abacuses, boards with thin layers of wax, were used with a stylus, as reported by Horace in the 1st century BCE.  By the 1st century CE, abacuses like the reconstructed one below (in copper) were used.

It is thought that the short grooves on the right may have been used for ounces.

Later on in Rome and in medieval Europe, jetons were used.  These were coin-like medals that were mass produced in Europe from the 13th to the 17th centuries. They were also used as a money substitute, much like poker chips.  Nuremberg was an important production center of them.

This jeton was made in Nuremberg in 1553.

Russian abacuses have ten beads on a wire, plus one with four beads for quarter fractions.  So simple and inexpensive, it was used all over in the former Soviet Union and taught in most schools until the 1990s when the mass production of calculators replaced it.

A Russian abacus.

In Asia and Africa, abacuses are still in use.  The earliest written reference to an abacus in China is from the 2nd century BCE.  They were known as suànpán, or counting trays.  They did both decimal and hexadecimal computations.  It is unclear whether they were influenced by or influenced the Roman abacus, but clearly there seems to be a connection, and the idea would have traveled along the Silk Route.  Currently in China there are techniques taught in school to do multiplication, division, square roots, and cubic roots.  The abacus was adopted in Korea from China circa 1400 CE.  A 1st century Sanskrit text, the Abhidarma-kosa, in India describes the use of an abacus.

A suànpán, showing the number 6,302,715,408.

Japan imported the abacus from China about 1600, and its use became widespread by 1930.  Techniques are also taught in primary schools as a part of the mathematics curriculum today to aid in faster mental calculations.  When used in visual imagery, it is said to be as fast or faster than actually using one physically.

A Japanese soroban, or abacus.

A neopohualtzintzin is a five-digit, base 20 system that was apparently used by the Mayans, Aztecs, and Olmecs until the European conquest.  Mexican engineer David Esparza Hildago reconstructed it from engravings and paintings he found. The Inkas used the quipu - a system of knotted cords - to record numerical data, but not for calculating.  They also used a yupana, but how it was used is unknown. Mathematicians have suggested that it was based on the Fibonacci sequence, however.

A Yupana, used by the Inkas.

Even though most modern homes have an electronic calculator, these devices can do multiple operations but can't teach you how to do them.  Abacuses require knowing how to calculate.  Tim Cranmer is the inventor of an abacus to teach the blind mathematical skills, which even talking calculators can't teach them.  It is an abacus with a soft fabric or rubber backing which can keep the beads still and in place.  Blind students can perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, square roots, and cubic roots with it.  Just as people have done for thousands of years.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Repost: Marks for Snarks

Image courtesy of 

Thank you, Readers, for bearing with me.  Undergoing changes in meds that have left me not feeling up to par.  Nothing wrong, and I hope to be back in the swing of things shortly.  This post is from 11/12/10...

What a great idea‽  
What’s that?  It’s the nonstandard punctuation mark that combines a question mark (aka interrogative point) and an exclamation mark (or point, aka bang).  The glyph to the left is a called an interrobang, an interbang, or an quesclamation mark.  A sentence with an interrobang at the end can signify disbelief, excitement, or a rhetorical question.

In Palatino
Linotype font
Martin K. Speckter, head of an advertising agency, invented the interrobang in 1962.  He thought it would be a good way to end a rhetorical question.  He published an article in TYPEtalks magazine and asked readers for input as to what to call this new mark.  Readers also sent in their renditions of it.  In 1966, the Americana typeface was introduced and it included the interrobang character.

Comic books and some advertisements used multiple marks for decades before the interrobang was invented. The interrobang was created because the use of a question mark and an exclamation mark together was considered unsightly and cumbersome.  Even for informal writing some language connoisseurs consider multiple marks poor style, and it is a definite no-no for formal writing.

Use of the interrobang was popular in the 60s, and the word even appeared in some dictionaries.  But it turned out to be a fad.  It hasn’t disappeared entirely, and can be found in Wingdings sets.  It would probably be used more if it were on all keyboards and could easily be accessed.  There are groups and people who are advocating its use, such as Stephen Coles and Interrobang-MKS.

Rhetorical questions can also use a bracketed question mark -  "No, kidding(?)" - but that seems awkward and ungainy.  Interrobangs just make sense.

Interrobangs are also not just for English speakers.  Writers of Spanish, Galician and Asturian can use an inverted one, called a gnaborretni, or interrobang upside-down and backwards - 

Here are some different fonts and a different graphic design of the interrobang:

Logo for this library in Sydney, Australia

Image courtesy of the FontFeed

There is a similar mark used to convey irony or sarcasm.  The oldest of these was invented by Henry Denham in the 1580s.  It is the percontation point, aka the ironicon, basically a backwards question mark.  "Yeah, right⸮"

The percontation point is the same as the irony mark, used when a statement has meaning on another level.  The irony mark was proposed by Alcanter de Brahm, a French poet aka Marcel Bernhardt, in the late 19th century (Frenchpoint d’ironie).  A French author, Hervé Bazin, used the irony mark along with other marks he devised: 

doubt point (Point de doute.svg),    certitude point (Point de certitude.svg),    acclamation point (Point d'acclamation.svg), 
authority point (Point d'autorité.svg),    indignation point (Point d'indignation.svg),    and love point (Point d'amour.svg). 

Bazin used these in his book Plumons l’Oiseau ("Pluck the Bird", 1966).

An ironic or sarcastic sentence could also be expressed with a bracketed exclamation point - 
"No, kidding(!)" - which could be more simply put by using the irony mark.  There have been other ways to indicate sarcasm, because apparently there are a plethora of sarcastic writers.  Using an exclamation point in brackets is one (!).  The tilde in quotation marks has been used:  "~". 
Snark Mark courtesy
My favorite "ironic" punctuation mark is the snark mark.  Developed by typophile Choz Cunningham,  and inspired by de Brahm and Bazin.  It is made by placing a tilde over a period, or thus:   ".~".  It looks like a sideways exclamation point, period first.

However there is a different kind of snark mark that has its own page on Facebook.  It uses the ^ character at the end of a sarcastic sentence just before the period.  No face forms allow, i.e., ^_^.  You are allowed to use multiple marks to express extreme sarcasm.
So who knew that sarcasm rated all these punctuation marks?  All of the punctuation marks above communicate attitude and can say almost as much as the sentence they end.  I could say something, if I was feeling disbelieving, excited, rhetorical, or snarky.