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15 Things You Should Know About The Birth Of Venus

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Completed in 1486, Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus has become one of the most heralded works of the Renaissance and a lasting symbol of feminine grace and beauty. Yet there's much more to this radiant work than you might imagine. 

1. The Birth of Venus depicts several gods.

Venus, goddess of love, stands demurely on the seashell, being blown to shore by Zephyr, god of the west wind. There, one of the Horae, goddesses of the seasons, is ready with a cape to clothe the newborn deity. 

The fourth figure carried by Zephyr is meant to be either an Aura (nymphs of the wind) or Chloris, a nymph associated with spring and blossoming flowers like those flowing through the picture. 

2. It MAY CONTAIN VERY SUBTLE hidden genitalia.

And no, we don't mean what lies beneath Venus's carefully placed palm. The shell she stands on may be meant to represent female genitalia, which creates a birthing scene that reflects Venus's oceanic origins while connecting symbolically to human birth.   

3. Venus's nudity was groundbreaking. 

Christian inspiration was dominant in the art of the Middle Ages, so nudity was rarely portrayed. However, the emergence of humanism led to a renewed interest in the myths of ancient Rome, and with it a resurrection of nudes. 

4. It's an early WORK ON CANVAS.

During this period of the Early Renaissance, painting on wood panels was all the rage. But canvas' popularity was on the rise, especially in humid regions where wood tended to warp. Since canvas was cheaper than wood, its perceived status was a bit lower, so it was reserved for works that weren't intended for grand public displays. The painting stands out as the first work on canvas in Tuscany

5. The Birth of Venus was meant to hang in a bedroom. 

The piece's nudity takes on a more sensual tone when you know it was meant to hang over a marital bed. This locale and its daring depiction contributed to The Birth of Venus being hidden from public viewing for roughly 50 years. 

6. The Birth of Venus has a companion piece. 

Though it was completed four years before its sister, La Primavera can be viewed as a sort of sequel to The Birth of Venus. While the latter depicts Venus's arrival in a world on the verge of blooming, the former shows the world in bloom around the now-clothed maternal figure. It's said the pair of paintings were meant to communicate how "love triumphs over brutality."

7. It's bigger than you'd think.

The Birth of Venus measures in at roughly 6 feet by 9 feet. It's been called the "first large-scale canvas created in Renaissance Florence." 

8. The Birth of Venus survived the Bonfire of the Vanities. 

On February 7, 1497, Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola spurred Christians in Florence to erect a seven-story pyre to burn art and other baubles like mirrors, jewelry, dice and art that were believed to promote sin. Some historical reports claim Botticelli was one of these followers and threw a few of his own works on the fire. But The Birth of Venus was spared the flames.

9. Its varnish BEGAN to obscure the painting. 

Over centuries, coats of varnish meant to preserve the painting began to turn opaque, shielding some of Botticelli's details and colors from view. But a careful restoration that concluded in 1987 gently stripped this layer away, revealing the soft and pearly colors the artist intended.

10. Botticelli pulled Venus's pose from ancient art.

The goddess’ modest gesture to cover her private parts is one favored in the Capitoline Venus, a category of statue that specifically depicts Venus in just this way. The first of these works is believed to date back to the second or third century BCE.

11. It may have been meant to replace a lost masterpiece. 

Some sources believe The Birth of Venus was modeled after the long lost Venus Anadyomene, a painting by ancient Greek artist Apelles that was once described by Roman author Pliny the Elder and known only through his written account. 

12. The Birth of Venus may have been inspired by a poem.

Other theories posit that this particular scene was based on a Homeric hymn published in Florence by Demetrios Chalkokondyles that reads:

"Of august gold-wreathed and beautiful
Aphrodite I shall sing to whose domain
belong the battlements of all sea-loved
Cyprus where, blown by the moist breath
of Zephyros, she was carried over the
waves of the resounding sea on soft foam.
The gold-filleted Horae happily welcomed
her and clothed her with heavenly raiment."

But the more common interpretation is that its inspiration was a poem by Botticelli's friend Agnolo Poliziano.

13. It took The Birth of Venus centuries to find fame. 

During Botticelli’s life, his works were often overshadowed by the artists of the High Renaissance. But 400 years after The Birth of Venus’ completion, Botticellis began making their way into the collections of European museums. His pieces finally won esteem in the 19th century, with The Birth of Venus becoming his most revered work.

14. The Birth of Venus is a landmark of beauty. 

Beyond being a beloved example of Renaissance art, the painting has also become a marker by which other eras’ beauty norms are measured. Her pose has been co-opted by various modern models. And as recently as 2014, The Birth of Venus has been used as a tool to criticize modern beauty standards. 

15. Botticelli asked to be buried at the feet of his Venus. 

Not the painting, mind you. He wanted to lie eternally by its earthly inspiration, Simonetta Cattaneo de VespuccI. Called the most beautiful woman in Florence as well as the most beautiful woman of the Renaissance, Simonetta was the muse who inspired several of Botticelli’s works, including The Birth of Venus and La Primavera. When he died in 1510, Botticelli was put to rest near this married noblewoman, for whom it is speculated he harbored unrequited love.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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