Bada Shanren, Birds in a Lotus Pond (ca. 1690). An experiment in painting with ink on satin, this album approaches abstraction, the rocks, leaves and water only suggested through ink washes and disjunct brushstrokes. These mynah birds appear to be looking at a lotus leaf in the upper left; note, too, the fluffy chick on the back of the left-hand bird.

Bada Shanren, Birds in a Lotus Pond (ca. 1690). An experiment in painting with ink on satin, this album approaches abstraction, the rocks, leaves and water only suggested through ink washes and disjunct brushstrokes. These mynah birds appear to be looking at a lotus leaf in the upper left; note, too, the fluffy chick on the back of the left-hand bird.

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Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth (1912).

A four-reel silent film from France that starred the 68 year old Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress of the age. This movie was terrifically popular when brought to the US, convincing American backers that feature-length moving pictures were commercially viable and catalyzing the creation of Paramount Studios.

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The “Tree of Life” mosaic in the diwan (entrance hall) of the bath at Khirbet al-Mafjar in Jericho, one of the “desert palaces” built during the Umayyad Caliphate (first half of the 8th c.). It is conventionally assumed to show Paradise, but it could also just be an orange tree, three gazelles, and a lion.

The “Tree of Life” mosaic in the diwan (entrance hall) of the bath at Khirbet al-Mafjar in Jericho, one of the “desert palaces” built during the Umayyad Caliphate (first half of the 8th c.). It is conventionally assumed to show Paradise, but it could also just be an orange tree, three gazelles, and a lion.

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Cathedral of St. Sophia, Kiev (first half 11th c.). Named after Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia, this church has thirteen cupolas, unusual for a Byzantine-inspired foundation, and is full of 11th c. frescos and mosaics; it was the burial place for the rulers of medieval Kievan Rus, including Yaroslav the Wise and Vladimir Monomakh.

Cathedral of St. Sophia, Kiev (first half 11th c.). Named after Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia, this church has thirteen cupolas, unusual for a Byzantine-inspired foundation, and is full of 11th c. frescos and mosaics; it was the burial place for the rulers of medieval Kievan Rus, including Yaroslav the Wise and Vladimir Monomakh.

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Painted shield, Kuranda area, Queensland (ca. 1890-1910). The Aboriginals of the Australian rainforest are known for their shields, painted with symmetrical geometric designs, used both in fighting and ceremonial rituals.

Painted shield, Kuranda area, Queensland (ca. 1890-1910). The Aboriginals of the Australian rainforest are known for their shields, painted with symmetrical geometric designs, used both in fighting and ceremonial rituals.

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Thomas Eakins, Mending the Net (1881). Having studied the new medium of photography, Eakins began to paint as a camera might see, with the main subject, the net-mending, rendered realistically, each figure caught in a wholly believable momentary pose, but also small and distanced, amid much sky and landscape.

Thomas Eakins, Mending the Net (1881). Having studied the new medium of photography, Eakins began to paint as a camera might see, with the main subject, the net-mending, rendered realistically, each figure caught in a wholly believable momentary pose, but also small and distanced, amid much sky and landscape.

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Incense container, lacquer with mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell inlay and brass wire (10th-12th c.). During the Goryeo dynasty, Korean lacquerware was prized throughout East Asia, but it was fragile, and fewer than fifteen examples still exist. This three-tier box is decorated with chrysanthemum flowers and foliate scrollwork; originally, there would have been three other boxes that together would form a circle.

Incense container, lacquer with mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell inlay and brass wire (10th-12th c.). During the Goryeo dynasty, Korean lacquerware was prized throughout East Asia, but it was fragile, and fewer than fifteen examples still exist. This three-tier box is decorated with chrysanthemum flowers and foliate scrollwork; originally, there would have been three other boxes that together would form a circle.

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Teton Lakota winter count, covers 1798 to 1912, at the time of collection being kept by High Dog. Lakota winter counts are historical records, originally on buffalo hide, with one picture added each year. The keeper is responsible for remembering the story attached to each picture and for adding new pictures each year after consulting with elders. A transcription of High Dog’s stories to accompany this count can be found at the web site for the NoDak State Historical Society.

Teton Lakota winter count, covers 1798 to 1912, at the time of collection being kept by High Dog. Lakota winter counts are historical records, originally on buffalo hide, with one picture added each year. The keeper is responsible for remembering the story attached to each picture and for adding new pictures each year after consulting with elders. A transcription of High Dog’s stories to accompany this count can be found at the web site for the NoDak State Historical Society.

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Akwa Osei, Asafo Flag, No. 2 Company (ca. 1900). Historically, an asafo is a kind of warrior band that existed among the people of the Gold Coast. The Fante, as a consequence of contact with European colonialists, developed the asafo tradition into the basis for a sophisticated social organization and cultural system, in essence “militarizing” themselves.

Akwa Osei, Asafo Flag, No. 2 Company (ca. 1900). Historically, an asafo is a kind of warrior band that existed among the people of the Gold Coast. The Fante, as a consequence of contact with European colonialists, developed the asafo tradition into the basis for a sophisticated social organization and cultural system, in essence “militarizing” themselves.

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Praxinoscope with music box (1885-1895). Charles-Emile Reynaud invented the praxinoscope, an improvement on the zoetrope, that whirls a set of images around a mirror, producing a short animated sequence. This particular version of the praxinoscope came accompanied by a “soundtrack,” a cylinder-and-comb-based music box. Notice how the subject matter—a chef turning a roasting bird—repeats the spinning and rotating of the machine’s innards.

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John Glover, Launceston and the River Tamar (1832). Glover was an early Australian landscape painter. Look closely at his trees: he’s painted the eucalyptus branches as if they were tentacles waving around. A painter trained to see the world through the lens of the European artistic tradition, he tried to paint Australia as if it were England and couldn’t: it kept uncannily escaping his control, as if the land itself was an animate monster.

John Glover, Launceston and the River Tamar (1832). Glover was an early Australian landscape painter. Look closely at his trees: he’s painted the eucalyptus branches as if they were tentacles waving around. A painter trained to see the world through the lens of the European artistic tradition, he tried to paint Australia as if it were England and couldn’t: it kept uncannily escaping his control, as if the land itself was an animate monster.

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Sayyid Amir ‘Ali, panel of Persian nastal’iq calligraphy on marbelized paper (mid 17th c.). ‘Ali joined the Mughal court during the reign of Shah Jahan, where he became known as Jawahar Raqam (Gemstone Pen).

Sayyid Amir ‘Ali, panel of Persian nastal’iq calligraphy on marbelized paper (mid 17th c.). ‘Ali joined the Mughal court during the reign of Shah Jahan, where he became known as Jawahar Raqam (Gemstone Pen).

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Tom Roberts, The Camp, Sirius Cove (1899). Roberts recalls with almost photographic clarity the ramshackle camp on Sydney Harbour that he, Arthur Streeton, and other artists shared in the early 1880s. Inspired by French Impressionism, this bohemian crowd refused to study and imitate Old Masters, the traditional European route to becoming a painter, and instead sought to learn directly from nature by painting plein-air.

Tom Roberts, The Camp, Sirius Cove (1899). Roberts recalls with almost photographic clarity the ramshackle camp on Sydney Harbour that he, Arthur Streeton, and other artists shared in the early 1880s. Inspired by French Impressionism, this bohemian crowd refused to study and imitate Old Masters, the traditional European route to becoming a painter, and instead sought to learn directly from nature by painting plein-air.

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Pilbara rock art, Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula), Northwest Australia (age unknown, perhaps ca. 10,000 BCE). Murujuga contains perhaps the largest number of petroglyphs in the world; it has been the subject of intense conflict between developers and activists. This bird and cat-like crab were made by the sgraffito method, the scraping of the dark-broken “rust” on a boulder and the exposure of the buff-white “cortex” beneath.

Pilbara rock art, Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula), Northwest Australia (age unknown, perhaps ca. 10,000 BCE). Murujuga contains perhaps the largest number of petroglyphs in the world; it has been the subject of intense conflict between developers and activists. This bird and cat-like crab were made by the sgraffito method, the scraping of the dark-broken “rust” on a boulder and the exposure of the buff-white “cortex” beneath.

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The Solitary Orchid (7th c.).

The score for this melody dates back to the Tang Dynasty and is for the guqin, a stringed instrument. It relates to Confucius’s story of seeing a lone orchid growing among ordinary plants; he said it was like a scholar out of tune with his time, who must seek support not with emperors but the common people. The piece’s use of microtones in the cadences at the end of each of its four sections can make it sound surprisingly “modern.”

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