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Battle of Hastings, courtesy Dan Koehl, commons.wikimedia.org

In 1066, the Normans crossed the English Channel and defeated King Harold and the English army at the Battle of Hastings. They will be followed in 2022, when the Bayeux Tapestry will also cross the Chanel from France to England, where it will be displayed in the British Museum. The Bayeux Tapestry is a detailed visual narrative of the events that led up to the Norman conquest. It is an astounding 230 feet long and 20 inches tall. The loan will be the first time that the tapestry has left its native France in 950 years.

Michael Lewis, the British Museum’s head of Portable Antiquities and Treasure (what a wonderful title!) said, “This would be a major loan, probably the most significant ever from France to the UK…It is a gesture of extraordinary generosity and proof of the deep ties that link our countries.”

We might think of the loan as a reverse Brexit.

: The Death of King Harold, courtesy Myrabella – Own work, Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org

The Messengers, with scenes of medieval agriculture in the border, courtesy Dan Koehl, commons.wikimedia.org


Good Queen Bess

The “Phoenix portrait,” attributed to Nicholas Hillyard, c. 1575, courtesy National Portrait Gallery

White skin, bright eyes, unseen teeth: Detail of portrait by unknown English artist, courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

A pale skin signified beauty, wealth and nobility. So, of course, Queen Elizabeth I had to show that she was all of that and more: she firmly believed that England’s strength and her beauty were one and the same. In true patriotism, she plastered her face with ceruse, a concoction whose main ingredient was white lead suspended in vinegar. Gian Lomazzo (1538-1592) wrote that ceruse “is naturally a great drier … women who use it about their faces, doe quickly become withered and gray headed, because this dowth so mightely drie up the naturall moysture of their flesh.” Some scholars believe that the white lead poisoned her system to the extent that it was a contributory cause of her death in 1603 at the age of 70.

Her pure white skin obviously had to be complemented by a rosy mouth and bright eyes. The rosy mouth doesn’t seem too dangerous, but her bright eyes were achieved with drops of belladonna (deadly nightshade,) whose side effects included headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, and nausea.

In 1598, a Dutch visitor, Paul Hentzner, completed the portrait of this beautiful queen by noting her black teeth, “a defect the English seem subject to, from their too great use of sugar.”

“Close your eyes and think of England,” as a later English queen is reputed to have said.


Prototype of da Vinci’s Mechanical Knight by Mark Rosheim, courtesy Erik Möller, Leonardo da Vinci. Mensch – Erfinder – Genie exhibit, Berlin 2005

Pic of the Month

As we await the entry of robots into the antiques business, we might like to look at an antique robot itself. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mechanical Knight was a humanoid automaton that he designed and possibly constructed in 1495. The world’s first robot could stand, sit, raise its visor and independently maneuver its arms, and had an anatomically correctly working jaw. The entire robotic system was operated by a series of pulleys gears and cables.

If Leonardo actually made the robot, no trace of it has been found but his design notes for it appear in sketchbooks that were rediscovered in the 1950s as well as in fragments scattered throughout his notebooks.

Using several different da Vinci drawings as blueprints, roboticist Mark Rosheim built this prototype of the robotic knight in 2002, which was able to walk and wave. Rosheim noted how da Vinci had designed the robotic knight to be easily constructed, without a single unnecessary part. Rosheim also used da Vinci’s designs as inspiration for robots he developed for NASA.

Drawing, Leonardo da Vinci

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