Tag Archives: architecture

The Royal Observatory

Wren tore down the castle standing here and built the observatory out of the recycled stone. What a guy!

By now all 17 of you weirdos who’ve been reading this history have gotten the idea that time/distance/astronomy are interlinked—at least if you want to know where you are.

Eratosthanes, then Ptolemy, then just about everybody who drew a map chose their own prime meridian. That’s fine so far as it goes. But to be useful, a prime meridian needs to have an observatory. An observatory is where astronomers can keep track of the stars and regularly publish charts showing their positions and movements. Navigators can use those charts to check the stars’ positions and tell time from that information.

In ad 1675, King Charles II realized how important astronomy would be to all those ships who were expanding England’s trade around the world. He commissioned an observatory in Greenwich (a section of London) and had it designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the architect who designed pretty much every building in London.

Something I never knew before this morning: Christopher Wren was an astronomer as well as an architect. One of those professions was his side-gig. Makes one’s life achievements seem somewhat inadequate, doesn’t it? You’re welcome.

https://www.rmg.co.uk/royal-observatory/history

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

The amazing fantastic clock of Piazza San Marco

In 1493, the Venetian Republic commissioned the clockmaker Giovan Paolo Rainieri, from the town of Reggio Emilia, to design and build a clock. This clock would be big and beautiful and expensive—a tower would be designed and built on Saint Mark’s Plaza to house it. It would face the lagoon and the sea beyond, so the whole world could see how prosperous was Venice.

If you visit Venice you can see the Rainieri clock. Its face is decorated in gold and lapis lazuli (a mineral you make blue out of—blue paint ain’t cheap); the hand tells what hour it is and the current zodiac sign; above the clock is a statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus (made of gilded copper); twice a year a mechanical angel and three wise men parade in front of Mary and tip their crowns to her; above Mary is the lion of Saint Mark with his paw on the Gospel (the statue of the praying doge isn’t there anymore); and at the top, every hour two bronze giants ring an enormous bell with their hammers.

The entire contraption from top to bottom used a verge and foliot escapement to regulate the gears.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/torre-dell-orologio-venice-clock-tower
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Mark%27s_Clock

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Mark%27s_Clocktower

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

Mystery!

Here’s a piece I did just for self-promotion. Every couple of months, my agent asks her artists to produce an image based on a theme. This theme is Mystery. When generating ideas I stayed pretty loose. My first sketches were kind of Sherlock Holmes-ish, Mystery-of-The-Sphinx-ish with Holmes opening an antique Egyptian box in his famous rooms in Baker Street. It wasn’t grabbing me, so I thought to move the whole scene to the inside of a pharoah’s tomb. Sort-of Holmes and Watson became sort-of Indiana Jones and Short Round. The rough sketch shows Egyptian antiquities—chariot, scrolls, statues—for flavor, but as I drew I thought to heighten the suspense by having the deities’ eyes light up at the same moment the casket is cracked open. Indy is unaware of the danger while Short Round watches in alarm.

I didn’t take the sketch to a tight version. I wanted the painting to be fresh while I worked out the lighting. I have 2 sources of light here. One of them is the red lantern I had with me on countless camp-outs when I was a Boy Scout in good ol’ Troop 92.

Hide and shriek!

Here’s the opening spread from Where’s My Mummy? This scene shows Mama Mummy getting Baby Mummy ready for bed—but Baby wants to play one more round of hide & shriek.

Since they’re mummies, I designed an interior to look like the inside of a pyramid, with lots of Egyptian details.  The legendary art director at Candlewick, Caroline Lawrence, felt the setting didn’t convey enough ghoulishness, so she asked me to redraw the scene with a gothic interior.

mummy0607

Revised sketch with gothic details below.  Architecture geeks will note the new shape of the columns, rough-hewn stone walls and groined vault arched ceiling.

mummy.revise.0607

I changed the oil-burning lamp to a candelabrum, but doused the candles in the color version because they were causing me lighting/shadow problems.  I kept the sarcophagus bed from the first sketch.

mummy_01

The light is coming from a single source.  More dramatic and easier to paint.  Also, the viewer’s eye naturally looks to the light source, which is where I put Baby Mummy.