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LivioAndronico via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Why the Laocoön Sculpture Had the Wrong Arm for Four Centuries

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LivioAndronico via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

In his first-century book Natural History, Roman naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder sang the praises of a sculpture located at the palace of Titus, Roman emperor from 79-81. He called the piece the Laocoön, writing that it was "a work to be preferred to all others, either in painting or sculpture." The sculpture, which Pliny believed was made from a single block of marble, was said to depict the legend of a Trojan priest named Laocoön, who was killed along with his two sons by sea serpents sent by the gods. Laocoön had been trying to warn his fellow Trojans about the suspicious horse lurking outside of their gates, which displeased Athena and Poseidon, who favored the horse-delivering Greeks.

Unfortunately, for many centuries, Pliny’s description was all that was left of the masterpiece. Then, in 1506, it was unearthed in Rome by a farmer digging up his vineyards. Michelangelo, among others, examined the statue and confirmed that it was the same one Pliny had described. Sadly, the fabled Laocoön (also called Laocoön and His Sons) hadn’t fully survived the test of time: It was missing the priest's right arm, among other pieces.

Respected artists of the day debated how to make the piece whole again. Michelangelo thought the missing arm had been bent back over the shoulders, trying to lift off the serpents. Others, including famed Renaissance painter and architect Raphael, believed the arm had been extended up and outward, as if pleading with the gods. (By the way, at least one art historian has since speculated that Michelangelo was entirely responsible for the sculpture, which would make the “unearthing” an elaborate prank.)

In 1510, the pope’s architect held a contest to see which artist could best complete the sculpture. The judge? Raphael. The Renaissance master awarded the work to sculptor Jacopo Sansovino, who (in line with Raphael's own beliefs) had created a version with an outstretched arm. But for reasons that are somewhat unclear, that version of the arm was never attached to the sculpture. An even straighter one, crafted by Michelangelo's former assistant, Giovanni Montorsoli, was added in 1532, and survived on the statue for centuries.

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Fast-forward to 1905, when archaeologist Ludwig Pollak discovered the original missing arm in Rome, scattered in a stonemason's yard among a group of other marble body parts. He recognized that the style and age were similar to the Laocoön, and, suspecting that it was one of the sculpture's lost pieces, turned it over to the piece's current owner—the Vatican. Pollak was proved right when a drill hole was found in the arm that perfectly matched a drill hole in the shoulder of the sculpture. And the rediscovered arm was bent, as Michelangelo had originally suspected—not extended, as Raphael had thought. That meant the position of the Montorsoli arm, the one that had been attached to Laocoön's body for close to 400 years, had been incorrect.

The arm Pollak found was added to the sculpture in the late 1950s. But art enthusiasts who like the look of the outstretched arm more than the bent one don't need to worry. There are copies all over the world (like this one in Versailles) that still portray the old extended position—so you can still view it the way you (and Raphael) prefer.

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Design
This Amazing Clock Has a Different Hand for Every Minute of the Day
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iStock

In the video below, you can watch Japanese ad agency Dentsu transform passing time into art. According to Adweek, the project was commissioned by Japanese stationery brand Hitotoki, which produces crafting materials. To celebrate the value of handmade items in an increasingly fast-paced world, Dentsu created a film advertisement for their client depicting their goods as a stop-motion clock.

The timepiece ticks off all 1440 minutes in the day, and was assembled in real-time against a colored backdrop during a single 24-hour take. Its "hands" were crafted from different combinations of some 30,000 disparate small items, including confetti, cream puffs, tiny toys, silk leaves, and sunglasses.

"In a world where everything is so hectic and efficient, we wanted to bring the value of 'handmade' to life," explains Dentsu art director Ryosuke Miyashita in a press statement quoted by Stash Media. "We created different combinations of small Hitotoki brand items to express each and every minute."

You can check out a promotional video for the project below, which details the arduous crafting process, or view a real-time version of the clock here.

[h/t Adweek]

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architecture
Take a Look at These Tiny, Futuristic Homes From the 1960s
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If you find yourself in Friche de l’Escalette, a sculpture park in Marseille, France, this year, you may feel like there’s been some kind of alien invasion among the industrial ruins scattered throughout the park. The institution’s latest exhibition, Utopie Plastic, features three retro-futuristic houses from the 1960s that look straight out of The Jetsons.

As Curbed reports, the prefabricated houses are stocked with mid-century plastic furniture like Quasar Khahn’s inflatable chair.

The rounded interior of a Futuro home with two experimental retro chairs inside.

The show includes one of the Futuro homes, spaceship-like tiny houses originally designed as ski chalets by architect Matti Suuronen. At the time, they cost only $12,000 to $14,000, and could be built on any terrain because of their stilt legs.

A Maison Bulle à Six Coques home lights up with a blue glow at night in the sculpture park.

You can also view Maison Bulle à Six Coques, a flower-shaped hut (its name means Six-Shell Bubble House) by French architect Jean Maneval. The prototype design was first introduced at an art fair in 1956, and went into production in 1968. It came in green, white, or brown, and later inspired an entire vacation village in the Pyrenees, where developers built 20 Bubble Houses.

A modular Hexacube house is lit up at twilight.

And then there’s Georges Candilis and Anja Blamsfeld's 1972 Hexacube design, a modular polyester and fiberglass hut that looked kind of like a giant Port-a-Potty. Multiple Hexacubes could be combined together to make a larger house, and they ushered in a new era of modular, expandable construction.

The era of plastic tiny houses like these came to an end during the 1970s, when the oil crisis in the U.S. made plastic prohibitively expensive—at least for people who were looking for prefab houses on the cheap.

The exhibit is open by appointment until October 1, 2017.

[h/t Curbed]

All images © C. Baraja, courtesy Friche de l’Escalette

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