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The Earthly Delights of Heironymous Bosch

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Heironymous Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights" may be one of the most studied works of art in the world, yet we still know very few definitive facts about the triptych or the man who painted it. At the request of readers Jodie and Nikki, though, I've gathered up the most interesting information I could find on the medieval Netherlandish artists and his masterpiece.

1. Heironymous Bosch (1450-1516) probably has more variations of his name than any other artist (or at least any covered in "Feel Art Again"). Various sources record his first name as Heironymous, Jheronimus, Jeroen, Jerom, and Jerome. His birth surname is written as Anthonissen, Anthoniszoon, van Aken, and van Aeken. Finally, even his chosen surname, which is for his birthplace of "˜s-Hertogenbosch, is written as both Bosch and Bos. If all those spellings weren't confusing enough, he's referred to as "El Bosco" in Spain.

2. The three panels of "Garden of Earthly Delights" are generally thought to represent Adam and Eve in paradise, the "earthly delights," and hell, from left to right. It is also generally accepted that the triptych, like most of Bosch's work, was designed "to teach specific moral and spiritual truths." However, there is still much debate over the work's overall meaning and the interpretation of the many individual symbols and motifs found in the three panels.

3. On the outer panels (the backs of the left and right panels), Bosch painted the world during its creation. God, a tiny figure, can be found in the upper left with a Bible in his lap. Most scholars assume the scene depicts the third day of creation, since vegetation is present on Earth, but there is no visible human or animal life. Written above the scene is a Biblical quotation: "Ipse dixit, et facta sunt: ipse mandávit, et create sunt," or "For he spake and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast."

4. Some Spanish writers referred to "Garden of Earthly Delights" as La Lujuria, or "The Lust." When King Philip II bought the painting in 1593, the subject of sex was avoided completely by recording it in the inventory of the Spanish Crown as "the picture with the strawberry-tree fruits."

5. "Garden of Earthly Delights" contains two possible self-portraits of Bosch. Several theories abound regarding the identity of the clothed man in the central panel, but one theory is that he is Bosch. Other scholars find Bosch in the right panel ("Hell") as the face of the tree man, the face that peers out at the viewer from the center of the panel.

A larger version of "Garden of Earthly Delights" is available here. You can also view a 14 gigapixel, zoomable version of "Garden of Earthly Delights" via Google Earth and Maps. (Click the second thumbnail in the top row.)

Fans should check out the detailed analysis of "Garden of Earthly Delights" on Wikipedia; the Bosch and Bruegel Society; the Bosch galleries on Art in the Picture, WGA, and ARC; the "Garden of Earthly Delights" digital kaleidoscope; action figures straight out of the painting; and the "Garden of Earthly Delights" play currently on stage in New York.

"Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at artist suggestions, with details of current exhibitions, or for sources or further reading.

Check in on Saturday for a one-of-a-kind "Feel Art Again" contest!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]