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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

That George Washington Portrait Saved by Dolley Madison Was Just a Copy

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The story of First Lady Dolley Madison heroically saving a portrait of George Washington as she was being exiled from the White House during the War of 1812 has been circulated for centuries.

The tale isn’t quite that simple, though. If you’re envisioning Dolley tearing the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait down as the Red Coats closed in and the curtains burned, well, that’s not quite what happened. Madison actually instructed an enslaved servant, 15-year-old Paul Jennings, to save the painting. “If not possible, destroy it: under no circumstance allow it to fall into the hands of the British,” she told him. The painting was 8 feet by 5 feet, so getting it off the wall was no easy task. With time running out, however, Jennings didn’t exactly have the luxury of carefully removing the frame from the wall and gently packing it away. Instead, he had to splinter the wood and cut the canvas out. It worked, and the painting was successfully smuggled out of the White House.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

All of that risk, all of that effort—and it turns out that the work was a mere copy. The original portrait of Washington—known as the Lansdowne portrait, because it was a gift for the Marquis of Lansdowne—was privately owned for decades. It’s believed that Stuart painted another three copies of this original work, and other artists painted more versions still to be hung in government offices across the country.

Some experts say the painting saved by Jennings on that chaotic night back in 1814 was one of these knock-offs. “The painting is not by Gilbert Stuart,” former National Portrait Gallery director Marvin Sadik told ARTnews in 1975.

Stuart himself didn’t do much to help clear up the matter. In 1802, he reportedly said, “I did not paint it, but I bargained for it.” His vague comment is open to interpretation: Some historians believe he was embarrassed by the quality of that particular copy and wasn’t too keen to claim it as his own. Others think that this copy was intended for (and already paid for by) Charles Pinckney, America's then-new minister to France. Stuart may have sold the painting to someone else, accepted a fee from both parties, then denied that he had anything to do with it in order to cover his tracks.

But whether the portrait saved by Dolley Madison and Paul Jennings was painted by Stuart’s hand or that of a lesser known artist, it was still just a copy of the original Lansdowne portrait. That original is usually on display at the National Portrait Gallery, not far from the version of the painting that was saved from the British—that copy is still displayed in the East Room of the White House. There’s one easy way to identify this particular iteration: The artist included a “typo” to set it apart from the others. If you look closely at the books by the table leg, you can see that one is titled The Constitution and Laws of the United Sates.

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Watch a Chain of Dominos Climb a Flight of Stairs
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Dominos are made to fall down—it's what they do. But in the hands of 19-year-old professional domino artist Lily Hevesh, known as Hevesh5 on YouTube, the tiny plastic tiles can be arranged to fall up a flight of stairs in spectacular fashion.

The video spotted by Thrillist shows the chain reaction being set off at the top a staircase. The momentum travels to the bottom of the stairs and is then carried back up through a Rube Goldberg machine of balls, cups, dominos, and other toys spanning the steps. The contraption leads back up to the platform where it began, only to end with a basketball bouncing down the steps and toppling a wall of dominos below.

The domino art seems to flow effortlessly, but it took more than a few shots to get it right. The footage below shows the 32nd attempt at having all the elements come together in one, unbroken take. (You can catch the blooper at the end of an uncooperative basketball ruining a near-perfect run.)

Hevesh’s domino chains that don't appear to defy gravity are no less impressive. Check out this ambitious rainbow domino spiral that took her 25 hours to construct.

[h/t Thrillist]

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A Secret Room Full of Michelangelo's Sketches Will Soon Open in Florence
Claudio Giovannini/AFP/Getty Images
Claudio Giovannini/AFP/Getty Images

Parents all over the world have chastised their children for drawing on the walls. But when you're Michelangelo, you've got some leeway. According to The Local, the Medici Chapels, part of the Bargello museum in Florence, Italy, has announced that it plans to open a largely unseen room full of the artist's sketches to the public by 2020.

Roughly 40 years ago, curators of the chapels at the Basilica di San Lorenzo had a very Dan Brown moment when they discovered a trap door in a wardrobe leading to an underground room that appeared to have works from Michelangelo covering its walls. The tiny retreat is thought to be a place where the artist hid out in 1530 after upsetting the Medicis—his patrons—by joining a revolt against their control of Florence. While in self-imposed exile for several months, he apparently spent his time drawing on whatever surfaces were available.

A drawing by Michelangelo under the Medici Chapels in Florence
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Museum officials previously believed the room and the charcoal drawings were too fragile to risk visitors, but have since had a change of heart, leading to their plan to renovate the building and create new attractions. While not all of the work is thought to be attributable to the famed artist, there's enough of it in the subterranean chamber—including drawings of Jesus and even recreations of portions of the Sistine Chapel—to make a trip worthwhile.

[h/t The Local]

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