CLOSE
Original image

Creating Magic: Johann Zoffany

Original image

Today's "Feel Art Again" is a double-header. First up is this post on Johann Zoffany, followed by a post delving into his painting "The Tribuna of the Uffizi." Read both to get the full story on this talented artist.

Johann Zoffany (1733-1810) was a German-born English painter and favored portraitist of King George III and Queen Charlotte. It was said that when Zoffany was given a paintbrush, magic was created.

1. Johann Zoffany, who ran away from home at age 13 to study in Rome, was only able to move to England 12 years later due to the dowry he received upon marrying his wife. Once in England, though, he was well paid as the portraitist of the royal family. He painted George III, Charlotte, and their children in "charmingly informal scenes," making him the first artist to depict the king's family so informally. (While portraits such as "Queen Charlotte with her two eldest sons," shown above, may appear formal to us today, at the time it was considered less formal than the standard royal portrait.)

2. As "the real creator and master of [the] genre," Zoffany was well-known for his "theatrical conversation pieces." The portraits depicted prominent actors in character, often with scenery behind them. It's fitting, then, that Zoffany is referenced in the theatrical production The Pirates of Penzance, by Gilbert & Sullivan. In it, the Major-General sings of being able to distinguish works by Raphael from works by Zoffany.

3. Zoffany returned to Italy in 1772 and stayed for 5 years. While there, he was commissioned—or "commanded," as the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica puts it—by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria to paint a portrait of the Tuscan royal family (her son's family). Apparently, the empress was so impressed with the portrait that she made Zoffany a baron of the Austrian empire in 1778.

4. In William Dalrymple's 2002 history book White Mughals, he writes:

"The Frankfurt-born Zoffany (1734-1810) lived in Lucknow for two and a half years"¦ On his way back to England"¦ he was shipwrecked off the Andaman Islands. Lots having been drawn among the starving survivors, a young sailor was duly eaten. Zoffany may thus be said with some confidence to have been the first and last Royal Academician to become a cannibal.

Whether such a cannibalistic incident actually occurred, however, is uncertain "“ no other Zoffany sources seem to reference the shipwreck and consumption of a sailor.

5. Known to be arrogant about his own art, Zoffany reputedly had "outstanding" arguments with other artists on a regular basis. He would then express his opinions in his art by drawing caricatures of artists who had displeased him or who he didn't like.

See our October post on Mary Moser for a bonus fact about Zoffany's painting, "The Academicians of the Royal Academy."

A larger version of "Queen Charlotte with her two eldest sons" is available here.

Fans should check out the collections of Zoffany's works in the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Collection, the Norfolk Museums, and the Art Renewal Center; and his biography by Lady Victoria Manners and Dr. G.C. Williamson.

"Feel Art Again" usually appears three times a week. Looking for a particular artist? Visit our archive for a complete listing of all 250+ artists that have been featured. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists. Or you can head to our Facebook page, where you can do everything in one place.

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

Original image
Opening Ceremony
fun
arrow
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
Original image
Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES