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16-psyche-in-comparisons

M-type asteroids are high albedo (i.e shiny) asteroids made partially or mostly of metal. Of all of M-type asteroids currently known in the solar system, 16 Psyche is the most massive.  It is a hunk of iron and nickel (and other heavy metals?) which has a diameter of 250 kilometers.  Psyche orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter and is believed to be the exposed core of a planet approximately the size of Mars which was obliterated by a catastrophic impact.  The asteroid is named after the intrepid mortal who found love and ultimately apotheosis in an “Eyes Wide Shut” type Greek myth of great suspense, horror, and beauty.

The Rapture of Psyche.jpg

Are you curious to know more about 16 Psyche based on this description?  I certainly hope you are, because NASA has just announced future missions for the 2020s and 16 Psyche is on the list. As currently conceived, the Psyche exploration mission will send a robot probe powered by solar electric propulsion out to the obliterated core to examine the planetoid.  The probe will be equipped with a magnetometer and a gamma-ray spectrometer to find out more about the composition and history of the enigmatic relic.

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Of course other long term aspects of the mission are of interest as well.  Although we have not yet mastered nuclear fusion, safe comprehensive control of such boundless energy is probably only 20 years or so away [winky icon].  What if humankind had sophisticated manufacturing robots and near infinite energy?  In such circumstances 8 million cubic kilometers of steel might come in very handy indeed.  So far the good news keeps rolling in for 2017.  This Psyche mission can’t happen fast enough for my taste.

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To celebrate Halloween this week Ferrebeekeeper is exploring dreams and nightmares! Yesterday we introduced the Baku, a dream-eating, long-snouted spirit-beast from East Asia. Today we travel directly to the real of dreams and nightmares itself! Well sort of….Since I am unable to get inside the head of dreamers other than myself (at least with today’s technology) this means going to an almost equally scary place…the bedroom!

...Gosh!

I wanted to combine the place where dreams happen with gothic decorative art (a particularly fitting style for Halloween). I therefore asked myself whether anyone had crafted overly-elaborate gothic beds. A quick Google Image search revealed the answer to be “Oh my goodness!” Apparently the world’s bedwrights have been hard at work creating an insane array of magnificent and horrifying beds to cradle the reposing bodies of well-heeled dreamers.

"Oh my..."

“Oh my…”

Here is a gallery filled with crazy and extravagant gothic beds (a fitting companion to past galleries of gothic clocks, lamps, gates, and houses). Behold the magnificent dark canopies, strange gargoyles, and haunting grotesques…along with every sort of flange, post, tower, buttress, arch, and bracket that imagination can conceive.

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It’s difficult to believe that people sleep in such dark slendor…anyway, hopefully this range of bedframes will inspire your Halloween dreams (assuming that the baku does not get them first). Sleep well!

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Spider Gate to Hoveton Hall Gardens

Spider Gate to Hoveton Hall Gardens

There are few images as powerful and straightforward as a door.  Doors represent change and transition —when one steps across the threshold one has literally moved on from one place to another.  This apparently simple purpose of doors has a deeper metaphorical aspect as well: a pauper daily walks by the gates of the palace but they do not open for him; a baby is carried out of the hospital into the world; an inmate is dragged into a prison and is held there by the portcullis.  The most dramatic doors are huge operatic gates which represent significant transition.  These magnificent structures tend to be found outside palaces, parks, insane asylums, and cemeteries, but sometimes they seem to have no purpose at all…

An ornate gate outside St. Petersburg, Russia

An ornate gate outside St. Petersburg, Russia

As we approach Halloween—the one night of the year when the doors between this world and the next are thrown open (well, according to myth anyway), it is appropriate to celebrate the  foreboding gates in our world. Below is a gallery of magnificent gates–not all are truly gothic (a few images of non-gothic gates were too good to pass up) but they are all affecting and impressive.

University of Chicago: Cobb Gate

University of Chicago: Cobb Gate

Town Gate at Suakin (Anthony Ham)

Town Gate at Suakin (Anthony Ham)

Gatehouse at Ballysaggartmore

Gatehouse at Ballysaggartmore

Gate to Chirk Castle, Wales

Gate to Chirk Castle, Wales

Crown Hill Cemetery Gate

Crown Hill Cemetery Gate

Forest Hill Cemetery, Boston

Forest Hill Cemetery, Boston

Unknown Gate

Unknown Gate

Private Modern Gate

Private Modern Gate

Gothic gate in old park in Taitsy

Gothic gate in old park in Taitsy

Gate Lodge to Annesgrove Gardens

Gate Lodge to Annesgrove Gardens

Gate to Fort Canning Green, Singapore

Gate to Fort Canning Green, Singapore

Gate to Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn

Gate to Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn

Gate to Hood Cemetery, Philadelphia

Gate to Hood Cemetery, Philadelphia

Neubrandenburg Town Gate

Neubrandenburg Town Gate

A rich person's iron gate

A rich person’s iron gate

Mount Royal Cemetery , Montreal

Mount Royal Cemetery , Montreal

Unknown Abandoned Gate

Unknown Abandoned Gate

Gate at Oxford University

Gate at Oxford University

Gate to Walled City of Rothenburg

Gate to Walled City of Rothenburg

Steven King standing at the gate of his house in Bangor Maine

Stephen King standing at the gate of his house in Bangor Maine

Traverse City Insane Asylum, Michigan

Traverse City Insane Asylum, Michigan

Caput Mortuum Violet

One of the most useful colors in an artist’s palette is one of the last colors anyone else would think.  Only its spooky name would incline your attention towards it.  Caput mortuum, which means dead head or death head, is made of haematite–iron oxide (in fact there are several extremely similar colors made of the same pigment but with slightly different hues and names–particularly mars violet and Indian red—but we will stick to talking about caput mortuum because that’s the variation I use). This unpromising rust color possesses a protean mutability–it could be red, brown, orange, or violet depending on the context.  Although it can stand on its own as a focus of attention, caput mortuum is very easy to paint into a network of subtle shadows:  many painters use it for shadowed flesh or as land cast in darkness (after all a person’s flesh and the red clay of a landscape both take their ruddiness from iron).

Wife of a Donator (Petrus Christus, 1450, oil on panel)

Wife of a Donator (Petrus Christus, 1450)

Though not a flashy color, caput mortuum has a dignity and a beauty to it.  In the middle ages and Renaissance, painters used it to paint the robes and clothing of eminent monastic religious figures and of patrons & donors (ie the people actually paying for the painting).  Oftentimes when looking at a religious painting, a viewer will notice that Jesus, Mary, and Saint Peter–resplendent in gold, white, blue, and red—are joined by an unknown pair of merchants wearing caput mortuum.  These two often have the most realistic and beautifully painted faces in the painting–it is difficult to say what Jesus really looked like but even the most money grubbing burgher knows his own face!

Portrait of a Female Donor (Jan Provost, 1505)

Although there is something somber about the deep color of caput mortuum, its name does not come from an obvious association with blood and corpses.  In addition to meaning “dead head” the Latin phrase also means “worthless remains” and it was used by alchemists to describe the inert residue left over from a chemical reaction.  Apparently this by-product was often a rusty violet color.  Alchemists used a (very) stylized skull to denote the oxidized left-overs.

Caput Mortuum Alchemy Symbol

However it’s more evocative to imagine the pigment being named after a death’s head.  The concept lends art a much needed touch of operatic dark magic.

Vanitas Still Life with a Tulip, Skull and Hour-Glass (Phillip de Champaigne, c. 1671)

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