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See Inside Scientific American Volume 310, Issue 3

100 Years Ago: A New Look at Ancient Art

Innovation and discovery as chronicled in past issues of Scientific American


NATURE IN ART: In 1911 artist Jean Alexis Morin copied paintings on ancient ceramics in the Louvre. In a 1914 article Scientific American reproduced his interpretation of the “horrid tentacles” of a cuttlefish, from a Mycenaean drinking vessel made before 1000 b.c.


SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN SUPPLEMENT, VOL. LXXVII, NO. 1992; MARCH 7, 1914

More In This Article

March 1964

Vision Biology “Students of the visual system came to assume that the retina was like a photographic film, that the whole function of the eye and the optic nerve was to form and then transmit a mosaic of the visual world to the brain, there to form the basis of visual perception. Anatomical investigations have shown, however, that there are many more receptor cells in the retina than there are fibers in the optic nerve. It is thus impossible for every receptor cell to send a separate message to the brain, and the concept that the array of receptor cells is equivalent to the grain of a photographic emulsion must be abandoned.”

Through a Darkling Glass “A reversible photochromic glass has been invented by S. Donald Stookey and William H. Armistead of the Corning Glass Works. Silver halide crystals are precipitated in silicate glass during a cooling and reheating cycle. The particles are much smaller than those in a photographic emulsion; there are some eight million billion of them in a cubic centimeter of the glass. On exposure to light, the crystals change to metallic silver in a matter of seconds and darken—and so does the glass. When the light is reduced or extinguished, the silver halide is reconstituted and the glass clears in a few minutes or hours.”

March 1914

Flea Display “The American Museum of Natural History is fortunate in having secured in Mr. Ignaz Matausch one of these very few and highly exceptional scientific artists to prepare its models. His latest creation is a flea magnified in wax 1,728,000 times the size of the insect in bulk. Although the model excites admiration because of the skillful manner in which it was prepared, it tells nothing of the painstaking preliminary studies which were necessary. Strange as it may seem, no picture has ever been made of the living flea. The insect as it is pictured in text books is a dead insect. To the uninformed it seems a very trivial matter whether a flea is magnified in wax alive or dead. The entomologist knows better.”

A New Look at Ancient Art “M. Morin-Jean [a pseudonym for Jean Alexis Morin], the author of Le Dessin des Animaux en Grèce, wields the brush and the pen with equal facility. The French critic's three hundred drawings, one of which is shown in our illustration, acquaint his readers with images culled from painted, engraved and molded Greek, Italiote and Etruscan vases, from the geometric decorations of 800 b.c. and onwards to the decline of the art in southern Italy about 300 b.c.”

Thoughts of War “Let us suppose that two years from now Great Britain, estranged by our breach of faith (in the event it should not be rectified) on the canal tolls question, agreed to maintain an attitude of neutrality, while Germany, by the purchase of a base in the West Indies, challenged our Monroe Doctrine in its relation to the security of the Panama Canal. Let us suppose that, released from anxieties at home, Germany dispatched her whole first line of twenty-six dreadnoughts to the Caribbean. Where should we stand? Against her twenty-six dreadnoughts [battleships] we could oppose twelve.”

Such equations would become vitally important when World War I broke out four months later.

March 1864

Patent Dishwashing Machine “We long ago asserted that the tendency of invention was to lessen the labor of mankind, and predicted that, before a great while, the inventor would invade the precincts of the kitchen. The action has already commenced; we publish herewith what may be called ‘a family machine,' for it is designed to wash dishes, clean lamp-chimneys, and scour and sharpen knives, not at one and the same time, however, but by several operations. This machine will have charms for our lady readers, who, we are happy to know, are zealous in the cause of science and ‘up' to all the newest improvements (we have several patents now pending by lady inventors).”

This article was originally published with the title "50, 100 & 150 Years Ago."

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