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15 Things You Didn't Know About The Persistence Of Memory

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Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory is the eccentric Spanish painter's most recognizable work. You have probably committed its melting clocks to memory, but you may not know all that went into its making and legacy.

1. The Persistence Of Memory was painted in the midst of a hallucination.

Around the time of the painting’s 1931 creation, Dali perfected his "paranoiac-critical method." The artist would attempt to enter a meditative state of self-induced psychotic hallucinations so that he could make what he called “hand-painted dream photographs.”

Of this unusual routine, he's wrote, “I am the first to be surprised and often terrified by the images I see appear upon my canvas. I register without choice and with all possible exactitude the dictates of my subconscious, my dreams.”

2. It's smaller than you might expect.

The Persistence of Memory is one of Dali's biggest triumphs, but the actual oil on canvas painting measures only 9 1/2” x 13".

3. It made Dali world famous AT 28.

Dali began painting when he was just six years old. As a young man, he flirted with fame, working with Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel on the groundbreaking surrealist shorts Un Chien Andalou and L'Age d'Or. Despite these early rumblings, Dali’s big break didn’t come until he created his signature work—the press and the public went mad for him when The Persistence of Memory appeared at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City in 1932.

4. The Persistence of Memory stayed in New York thanks to an anonymous donor.

After its gallery show, a patron bought the piece and donated it to the Museum of Modern Art in 1934. It’s been a highlight of MoMA's collection for 80 years and counting.

5. By this time Dali was no LONGER A certified surrealist.

At least, he wasn't considered one by the official surrealist society. Though Dali had become the most famous surrealist painter in the world, his fellow surrealists gave him the boot over concerns about Dali’s alleged fascist leanings. At his ousting, Dali declared, "I myself am surrealism."

6. Einstein's work may have been an influence.

The Persistence of Memory has sparked considerable academic debate as scholars interpret the painting. Some critics believe the melting watches in the piece are a response to Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity. As critic Dawn Ades put it, "the soft watches are an unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time."

7. Dali’s EXPLANATION WAS CHEESIER

When asked directly if Einstein's Theory of Relativity was an inspiration, Dali declared his true muse for the deformed clocks was a wheel of Camembert cheese that had melted in the sun. As Dali considered himself and his persona an extension of his work, the seriousness of this response is also up for debate.

8. Its landscape comes from Dali's childhood.

His native Catalonia had a major influence on Dali's works. His family's summer house in the shade of Mount Pani (also known as Mount Panelo) inspired him to integrate its likeness into his paintings again and again, like in View of Cadaqués with Shadow of Mount Pani. In The Persistence of Memory, the shadow of Mount Pani drapes the foreground, while Cape Creus and its craggy coast lie in the background.

9. This painting has a (sort of) sequel.

In 1954, Dali revisited the composition of The Persistence of Memory for The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. Alternately known as The Chromosome of a Highly-coloured Fish's Eye Starting the Harmonious Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, the oil on canvas piece is believed to represent Dali's prior work being broken down to its elements, or atoms.

10. Between these two paintings, Dali's personal obsession shifted.

Though the subjects of The Persistence of Memory and The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory are the same, their differences illustrated the shifts that took place between periods of Dali's career. The first painting was created in the midst of his Freudian phase, when Dali was fascinated by the dream analysis pioneered by Sigmund Freud. By the 1950s, when the latter was painted, Dali's dark muse had become the science of the atomic age.

Dali explained this transition, saying, "In the surrealist period, I wanted to create the iconography of the interior world – the world of the marvelous, of my father Freud. I succeeded in doing it. Today the exterior world – that of physics – has transcended the one of psychology. My father today is [theoretical physicist] Dr. Heisenberg."

11. Freud Reciprocated DALI’S ADMIRATION

The father of psychoanalysis was not a fan of the surrealists, who he felt were too conscious of the art they were making and didn't understand his theories. Dali was the exception. When the two met in 1938, Dali was giddily sketching a portrait of his 82-year-old idol when Freud whispered, "That boy looks like a fanatic." The comment delighted Dali, as did Freud's suggestion that his The Metamorphosis of Narcissus would be of value to the study of psychoanalysis. Freud later said, "I've always viewed that the surrealists were 100% fools, but this Spanish young man with the fanatic eyes of a genius made me reconsider that opinion."

12.The Persistence of Memory may be a self-portrait.

The floppy profile at the painting's center might be meant to represent Dali himself, as the artist was fond of self-portraits. Previously painted self-portraits include Self-Portrait in the Studio, Cubist Self-portrait, Self-Portrait with "L' Humanite" and Self-portrait (1921).

13. There were more melting clocks to come.

In the 1970s, Dali revisited his soft timepieces in sculptures like Dance of Time I, II, & III, Nobility of Time, Persistence of Memory, and Profile of Time. He also brought them into lithographs.

14. The Persistence of Memory has aliases.

It's also known as Soft Watches, Droopy Watches, The Persistence of Time, and Melting Clocks.

15. The Painting has become ingrained in pop culture.

The Persistence of Memory has been referenced on television in The Simpsons, Futurama, Hey Arnold, Doctor Who and Sesame Street. Likewise, it's been alluded to in the animated movie Looney Tunes: Back in Action, in the popular comic strip The Far Side, and in videogames like EarthBound and Crash Bandicoot 2: N-Tranced. It was even parodied to mock the NFL’s recent DeflateGate scandal.

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Noriyuki Saitoh
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Japanese Artist Crafts Intricate Insects Using Bamboo
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Noriyuki Saitoh

Not everyone finds insects beautiful. Some people think of them as scary, disturbing, or downright disgusting. But when Japanese artist Noriyuki Saitoh looks at a discarded cicada shell or a feeding praying mantis, he sees inspiration for his next creation.

Saitoh’s sculptures, spotted over at Colossal, are crafted by hand from bamboo. He uses the natural material to make some incredibly lifelike pieces. In one example, three wasps perch on a piece of honeycomb. In another, two mating dragonflies create a heart shape with their abdomens.

The figures he creates aren’t meant to be exact replicas of real insects. Rather, Saitoh starts his process with a list of dimensions and allows room for creativity when fine-tuning the appearances. The sense of movement and level of detail he puts into each sculpture is what makes them look so convincing.

You can browse the artist’s work on his website or follow him on social media for more stunning samples from his portfolio.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

[h/t Colossal]

All images courtesy of Noriyuki Saitoh.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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