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13 Disturbing Works of Art by Female Artists

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After we posted 13 Disturbing Pieces of Art from History, several readers pointed out that none of the works were created by female artists. So, here are 13 more disturbing pieces of art, and they’re all created by women.

1. Artemesia Gentileschi - Judith and her Maidservant

The most remarked-upon absence from the previous list was Artemesia Gentileschi’s version of Judith Slaying Holofernes (as opposed to the Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, that we featured). Feel free to click on each and decide which you prefer! In the meantime, this is an equally disturbing follow-up piece to Gentileschi’s depiction, showing Judith and her maid’s escape from Holofernes’ quarters with his severed, bleeding head in a basket.

2. Frida Kahlo - Without Hope

One of the greatest painters of the 20th century, Mexico’s own Frida Kahlo is most notable for her self-portraits. This 1945 piece, Without Hope, is no exception. Frequently ill from surgeries and bouts of pain stemming from a bus accident in her teens, Kahlo was no stranger to hospitals. Microorganisms color her bedsheet, her world is featureless, simultaneous day and night, and her easel is overtaken by disturbing apparitions.

3. Lavinia Fontana - Portrait of Antonietta Gonzalez

This particular painting is not so much creepy as it is bizarre. It seems almost like a strange joke played by artist Lavinia Fontana on an unsuspecting portrait model. It is a real portrait of a real girl, however. Antonietta Gonzalez was the daughter of Petrus Gonzales, and both (as well as Antonietta's siblings) suffered from hypertrichosis, commonly known as “werewolf syndrome.” Happily, instead of being ostracized, they were all welcomed into the court of King Henry II of France, highly educated, and well-respected.

4. Rosa Bonheur - The Duel

Rosa Bonheur was one of the great painters of the French animalier style popular in the 19th century. It focused on doing one thing and doing it well: creating realistic paintings of animals. Bonheur, in particular, specialized in farm animals, and this piece shows the dark side of that world. Most interesting is its title, The Duel, evoking the traditional duels high-class males fought for women’s affections throughout history.

5. Paula Rego - War

A far more modern piece than previous entries on the list, this painting was only created just under a decade ago, in 2003. Paula Rego, the artist, says that she was inspired by a photograph taken during the second Iraqi war. While a photograph of this sort might be a common sight in the news, replacing the victims with rabbits, a symbol of purity, gives the work a deeply disturbing angle.

6. Herrad of Landsberg - Hell, from Hortus deliciarum

The oldest artist on this list, Herrad of Landsberg was a 12th century nun famous for her illuminated manuscript, Hortus deliciarum (Garden of Delights). Considered by many scholars to be the first encyclopedia written by a woman, it contains illustrated guides to instruct novice nuns about various teachings and philosophies that the convent followed. This particularly dark illustration is, obviously, from the entry on Hell. (Larger version)

7. Josefa de Obidos - The Sacrificial Lamb

This painting, one of the still-life pieces for which Josefa de Obidos is most renowned, may not appear all that creepy upon initial inspection. Make sure you notice the lamb’s bound feet and despondent expression, however. Those details, combined with the title, The Sacrificial Lamb, tell a very disturbing story about this lamb (traditionally symbolic of innocence) and its future.

8. Giulia Lama - The Martyrdom of Saint Eurosia

Historical accounts of beheadings, if you haven’t gathered, were very popular subjects for a great number of artists. Instead of Judith and Holofernes this time (though Giulia Lama did one of those as well, albeit much less gruesome than others), we have the decapitation of Saint Eurosia, patron saint of the city of Jaca, Spain. According to tradition, she was a princess forced into a marriage with a prince of the invading Moors. When she attempted to flee, the Moorish people hunted her down and executed her.

9. Camille Claudel - Clotho

This sculpture, Clotho, is named after one of the three fates in Greek mythology. Clotho and her sisters, Lachesis and Atropos, determined the length and nature of a human’s life. Reportedly, this work was the result of Camille Claudel and her mentor, the famous sculptor Rodin, deciding to create works based on the forms of elderly women. Another version of the piece, made solely of the torso part of the overall work, is just as ghoulish on its own.

10. Evelyn De Morgan - The Field of the Slain

Although this might look like something painted during the days of the Renaissance, it was actually created in 1916 as a response to the first World War. Its artist, Evelyn De Morgan, was a follower of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, which attempted to revive the style of the early Italian masters. A Spiritualist, and thus a firm believer in the afterlife, De Morgan made this representation of the Angel of Death collecting souls to take to the other side.

11. Kathe Kollwitz - The Last Thing

This is another response to World War I, albeit from a far different perspective. After the end of the Great War, Germany experienced huge economic difficulties. Artist Kathe Kollwitz, a German native, saw the desperation and hopelessness prevalent in her fellow Germans. This woodcut, titled The Last Thing, is a grim depiction of what many elderly Germans saw as their only escape.

12. Maruja Mallo - Antro de Fosiles

The third and final war-inspired piece on this list, Antro de Fosiles was actually considered lost for decades before it reappeared in 2010 and was purchased by the Guillermo de Osma Gallery in Madrid, Spain. Artist Maruja Mallo, a friend of Salvador Dali, was also horrified by war-torn Europe, but despite this painting’s appearance, it is not a statement about the use of atomic weapons. It was actually created in 1930, 15 years before their first use.

13. Remedios Varo - Fenomeno

One of only a few female surrealist painters, Remedios Varo’s works are particularly dark and dreamlike. A penchant toward mysticism and fringe psychology in her personal life deeply influenced her works, which typically feature unusual geometric shapes, strange symbols, and beings that seem to be cobbled together from various objects and animals.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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