Tag Archives: illustration

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

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Mechanical clocks

Sometime in the 1200s mechanical clocks began being designed and built. When I say mechanical, I mean there are several moving parts in the design. We’ve already seen sundials and water clocks and hourglasses. Water clocks and hourglasses use the release of energy to tell time, as water or sand run out of one container into another. The mechanical clock is different—it uses the release of energy to make it run but has a system of gears and stops to control that energy.

Like those older clocks, medieval mechanical clocks use gravity to supply their energy. A weight is tied to a long rope that is wound around a drive-shaft. When you let go of the weight, the rope unwinds and turns the shaft. The drive-shaft has an arrow attached at its end to point to the hour on a circular clock face. So far, so good—but the drive-shaft will turn really fast for a few seconds, the arrow will whiz around the clock face and then you’d have to wind the rope around again. You still wouldn’t know what time it is. What you need for a clock is a slo-o-o-ow release of energy. How can you slow down the unwinding of that rope?

Sailing the ocean blue

As you know if you’ve been loyally reading this blog, silk and spices from Asia had become big business in Europe. European merchants who wanted to trade in the far East were finding overland routes through the MidEast and Asia too dangerous, or taxed to unprofitability, or closed off completely by the Ottoman Empire. In fact, the Ottomans were doing their best to expand their empire to include Europe.

The Venetians had a monopoly on the sea-routes that they protected with their navy. Other European cities who wanted to do business with the far East were shut out. They had compasses and maps and ships but had no way to get to the East.

Or did they?

Christopher Columbus was a sailor, chartmaker and trader from Genoa, Italy. He’d done some trading along the west coast of Africa. Columbus had studied Eratosthenes and reasoned that if Earth were round, he could travel west to reach the far East. To do that, he needed ships, money and royal patronage—the blessing of a king or queen.

King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I ruled the cities of Aragon, Castile, and Leon in Spain. Spain had been part of the sultanate, the Ottoman Empire, for nearly eight centuries. Ferdinand and Isabella wanted to reassert Christian control over their country—they had succeeded with military force early in 1492 at the Battle of Granada. Another way to take control might be to open up trade with the far East by working around the Ottomans. After a few interviews, Columbus persuaded Ferdinand and Isabella that he could take the back way around the globe to reach the East.

They finally gave him the green light and in ad 1492 Christopher Columbus began his voyage to the East Indies with the ships Nina, Pinta & Santa Maria.

The lovely little caravel—a Portuguese-designed ship like the ones Columbus used on his voyage

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Christopher-Columbus
https://www.britannica.com/place/Spain/The-conquest-of-Granada
https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Fall_of_Granada
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caravel

If you like your history served with gorgeous illustrations, get your hands on Bjorn Langstrom’s book about Columbus. Mr Langstrom has written and illustrated 3 books about ships that I know of. See if your library has this one.

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Postcards!

postcard.shot

I got postcards! They have my weird hand-lettering and a lovely astrolabe on the front. The back tells how to find The Western Civ User’s Guide on the internet. I’ll be sending these out to promote my blog and this history I’m writing. The plan is to eventually turn it into a printed book.

If you’d like me to send you a postcard, shoot me an email at john@johnmanders.com.

I do appreciate you guys who read my posts. Thanks for spreading the word.

By the way, these were printed at Best Printing in Oil City, Pennsylvania. Nice job, Licia!

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And it doesn’t need batteries

If you read my last astrolabe post and swung by one of the links you can find there, you’ll have seen that these astrolabes work like a charm. As well as telling time, an astrolabe can be used for surveying and navigation. Of course, it wouldn’t work at all without Ptolemy’s accurate mapping of the sky.

The astrolabe was used for centuries before clocks came along. Even after clocks it was used for predicting when sunup or sundown would occur. This was important in the Muslim world, where the faithful need to pray at exact times, like sunup. The Koran says that it’s sunup when it’s light enough to tell the difference between a black thread and a white thread, but an astrolabe tells you when sunup will happen beforehand—by looking at the stars.

Notice that around the rim of the astrolabe the circle is divided into 24 hours of the day. Each hour takes up 15 degrees of the 360-degree circle. If you’ve been following this blog for the past year, you’ll remember the Sumerians came up with that idea—a 360-degree circle uses the Base 60 system of counting. This is an example of using distance to calculate time. In this instance, not miles traveled but degrees around a circle. The hours are distributed equally along the circle of Earth’s horizon.

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Charlemagne & Pope Leo timelapse

Here’s a little painting—you can watch as it gets painted. https://www.instagram.com/p/B3-HCj-gCVs/

It’s an image for this post.  Enjoy!

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.

Author/illustrator school visit tips from your old Uncle John

I got an e-mail from an author/illustrator colleague who is about to do her first school visit—she asked for some tips about how to make it a success. Here are a few ideas that came to mind.

First of all, don’t be nervous. The students are going to treat you like a rock star. You’ll be new and different and fun. They’ll love you.

Dress like you’re going on an interview.

Have you read the story aloud yet? Rehearse before you go in front of the students. Read it to a friend or two this weekend, just so you can get comfortable with doing that. BE AN ACTOR—be sure every character sounds different from the others. Don’t be afraid to go over the top with the voices. I’m a ham, and wear some kind of hat that fits with the story—a cowboy hat, or bunny ears—because the narrator is also a character. Relax, don’t rush through your reading, and enjoy the experience.

Ask for water. Ask for a microphone if you’re speaking to an assembly. If it’s just 25 or so kids, no mic.

Know how much time you’re allotted and keep an eye on the clock.

I have a few of my books in jpeg format. The school should have a computer and projector—ask for it ahead of time, along with a tech person. You bring your jpeg file on a flash drive. Bring at least one backup on a different flash drive. You can project your images while you read the story.

If you feel comfortable doing it, draw the kids a picture afterward. An easel with a big pad and a chisel-point marker is all you need. Keep it simple. Draw something you’re good at drawing—a cat or a dog. Describe what you’re drawing as you draw it as if you were doing a presentation on the radio.

If you do Q&A, keep the answers simple. Preface your answers with things like, “That’s a really good question.”

When the show’s over, thank everyone and turn the class back over to the teacher.

A Funny Thing Happened…

Another fantastic and fun project for the Pittsburgh Public Theater—create an image for A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum! My talented pal Paul Schifino art directed. He asked for something with a cornucopia and spectacularly oomphy slave-girls. I generated a bunch of rough ideas—we lost the cornucopia along the way. Harem pants looked too ‘I Dream of Jeanie’, so they got replaced with skimpy versions of ancient Roman fashion. Not a job for the faint-hearted.

A side note: this 2017/2018 season will be the finale for Ted Pappas, the Public’s Producing Artistic Director. I’m grateful to have seen many of his fabulous productions over the years. Best wishes for a well-deserved retirement!

Sixty-Six Books

I just finished a poster for an upcoming event at my church—66 Books In 2 Hours. Pastor Greg will be cramming the entirety of Holy Writ into a frothy evening of dinner and a floor show.

If you are anywhere near Second Presbyterian Church in Oil City, Pa on Saturday, October 22nd, 5:30 – 8:30, I hope to see you there.

Here’s the rough sketch and final painting:

66books-skpastorgreg