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Dama de Baza: In southern Spain, an iconic sculpture’s true colors shine through 2,400 years later | Culture

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On July 20, 1971, an archeologist named Francisco Presedo made a discovery that brought him world fame. During digs at a necropolis on a hill named Cerro del Santuario, in the city of Baza in Spain’s southern Granada province, he opened up a cavity that was 2.60 meters wide and 1.80 meters deep. Inside, he found a painted sculpture of a seated woman together with a rich array of burial goods including weapons, all of which had lain there for around 2,400 years.

Presedo had just found what would become known as the Lady of Baza (la Dama de Baza), a spectacular sculpture made by an artist belonging to the Bastetani, a pre-Roman people who lived in the Iberian peninsula’s southeastern region between the 4th and 2nd centuries BC. Its name is reminiscent of another, more famous sculpture made during the same period, the Lady of Elche.

But it was not all good news that day. To his horror, the archeologist quickly discovered that the sculpture’s original colors were fading away by the hour. He also found a brownish stain caused by water leaks. In a desperate attempt to stop the decaying process, Presedo grabbed a can of hairspray and covered the Lady of Baza with it.

But now, scholars are using 21st-century technology to restore the palette of colors – ranging from blue to silver – that were used by the original artist. The findings are explained in a study called La Dama de Baza. Nuevas aportaciones a su estudio iconográfico a través del color y la fotografía (or, The Lady of Baza. New contributions to its iconographic study through color and photography), by Teresa Chapa Brunet, María Belén Deamos, Alicia Rodero, Pedro Saura and Raquel Asiaín.

Pigments used on the Lady of Baza became visible after eliminating specular light.
Pigments used on the Lady of Baza became visible after eliminating specular light.PEDRO SAURA

Chapa Brunet, a professor of prehistory at Madrid’s Complutense University, underscores “the dearth of photographic evidence about the moment of discovery of the Dama de Baza, since all we have is what Presedo published in his studies, as well as a few images from his estate. And there are some pictures by other people who showed up at the dig after hearing about the Dama, and which were later printed in newspapers.”

In order to restore the lost color and details, experts relied “on digital photographs that allow for a detailed observation of the image and let you highlight specific aspects.” Pedro Saura, a professor of photography at Complutense University, notes that “the vast majority of elements or subjects receiving light will reflect it in a diffuse, specular way in varying proportions. Reflected specular light is what we think of as ‘shiny.’ Depending on the surface of the elements, the proportion of light that is reflected back can be higher or lower. Culturally, and because we use our own vision as a reference, we are used to accepting these spots of brightness without being completely aware of them.” In other words, our brain accepts the colors it receives, even though they include reflected light that can be avoided with photographic filters.

And so Chapa Brunet’s team eliminated nearly 100% of this reflected light. The first result was that the sculpture’s colors came across with greater intensity. And “several motifs that were hardly noticeable before” became visible. This made it possible to see the Lady of Baza “as the image of a real Iberian woman, distinguished, representing the upper and wealthier classes of society, but also someone who sought personal protection with small, well-concealed elements of her clothing.”

The report notes that “the workshop where she was created and painted wanted to faithfully reproduce the [real woman’s] physical looks and dress by coloring the face and hands in nuanced skin tones and painting the cloak and tunic in the colors that were really worn.”

The original artist also devoted plenty of time to the chair or throne that the figure sits in, “where there is a play of light and dark colors presumably matching the way that the piece of furniture was painted or the slats of wood combined.”

The archeologist Francisco Presedo poses with the finding in July 1971.
The archeologist Francisco Presedo poses with the finding in July 1971.Francisco Presedo

In 1990 and again in 2006, the University of Valencia and Spain’s Institute for Cultural Heritage applied the most advanced analytical techniques available to identify the pigments that were used on the sculpture: calcium copper silicate for Egyptian blue, cinnabar for vermilion, earth for ochre, plaster for white and coal for black. They also detected the presence of very fine copper leaf sheets covering the jewels to make them look silvery.

The new study also underscores that “the color on her cheeks is brighter, and becomes more intense on the lips, also painted with cinnabar. On the face, black was used for the eyebrows, eyelid margins and eyelashes, the latter being painted over fine indentations to highlight small eyes that would have been expressive through painted irises and pupils, although this has been lost, leading to her current absent look, as though gazing out without seeing anything.”

Computer treatment of digital images also allowed researchers to “bring into greater focus a motif that nobody was able to identify back in the day and which nobody had noticed: a long string of beads hanging from the back of the pendants, snaking up and down.” This element was painted vermilion, same as the edging of the cloak and the tunic, leading scholars to believe that it was “a string with knots” with more of a symbolic than a material value. “We wonder if it might be a traditional formula for personal protection, reinforcing the talismanic action of the Lady’s necklaces,” says Chapa Brunet.

English version by Susana Urra.

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Shocking news, Irish people may be sanest in Europe

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Ireland is running low on loopers. If we don’t watch out, we could emerge from the pandemic with our reputation for wildness completely shredded. We are in danger of being exposed as the sanest people in Europe.

Vaccines go into the arm, but also into the brain. They are a kind of probe sent into the national consciousness. In Ireland’s case, the probe has discovered exciting evidence of intelligent life.

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Vienna school under fire for sex ed class using doll for children as young as six

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According to Austria’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper, a teacher used a doll to explain “how sex works” to the children, while also encouraging them to use their hands and fingers on the doll. 

She said she wanted to “enlighten” the children about aspects of sex education. The children in the class were between the ages of six and ten. 

The teacher also explained to the children that “condoms should be used if you don’t want to have babies”, the newspaper reports. 

One boy was told to remove the clothes of the doll but refused before being told that he had to do so. 

The boys parents removed him from the school, saying that he was “overwhelmed” after the class and had started touching his sister inappropriately. 

“We have never seen our son like this before, he was completely overwhelmed” the parents said anonymously, “we are taking him out of the school.”

“We can already see the consequences. 

“A few days after these disturbing lessons, a classmate came to us to play. Like many times before, the boy also played with our ten-year-old daughter. This time he suddenly wanted to pull her pants down.

Peter Stippl, President of the Association for Psychotherapy, said that while sex education was crucially important, it needed to be age appropriate in order to be effective. 

“(This type of sexual education) scares the children! They get a wrong approach to the topic and their natural limit of shame is violated,” he said. 

“Sex education must always be age-appropriate and development-appropriate. Many children are six, seven or eight years old – or even older – not interested in sexual intercourse.

“We should never explain sexuality in schools in isolation from love and relationships. It makes you feel insecure and afraid. It harms the development of children.”

The Austrian Ministry of Education will now set up a commission to determine who will be allowed to teach sex ed in schools. 

The city of Vienna is also investigating the specific incident. 



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Madrid’s Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado granted World Heritage status | Culture

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Madrid’s famous Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado boulevard have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The decision, made on Sunday, brings the total number of World Heritage Sites in Spain to 49 – the third-highest in the world after Italy and China.

Up until Sunday, none of these sites were located in the Spanish capital. The Madrid region, however, was home to three: El Escorial Monastery in Alcalá de Henares, the historical center of Aranjuez and the Montejo beech forest in Montejo de la Sierra.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez celebrated the news on Twitter, saying it was a “deserved recognition of a space in the capital that enriches our historical, artistic and cultural legacy.”

Retiro Park is a green refuge of 118 hectares in the center of the city of Madrid. Paseo del Prado boulevard is another icon of the capital, featuring six museums, major fountains such as the Fuente de Cibeles as well as the famous Plaza de Cibeles square.

For the sites to be granted World Heritage status, Spain needed the support of two-thirds of the UNESCO committee – 15 votes from 21 countries. The proposal was backed by Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.
Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.Víctor Sainz

Prior to the vote, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the organization that advises UNESCO, had argued against considering the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park as one site, and recommended that the latter be left out on the grounds that there were no “historic justifications” for the two to be paired.

This idea was strongly opposed by Spain’s ambassador to UNESCO, Andrés Perelló, who said: “What they are asking us to do is rip out a lung from Madrid. El Prado and El Retiro are a happy union, whose marriage is certified with a cartography more than three centuries old.” The origins of Paseo del Prado date back to 1565, while Retiro Park was first opened to the public during the Enlightenment.

Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado.
Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado. Víctor Sainz

The ICOMOS report also denounced the air pollution surrounding the site. To address these concerns, Madrid City Hall indicated it plans to reduce car traffic under its Madrid 360 initiative, which among other things is set to turn 10 kilometers of 48 streets into pedestrian areas, but is considered less ambitious than its predecessor Madrid Central.

The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in the Chinese city of Fuzhou and was broadcast live at Madrid’s El Prado Museum. Perelló summed up the reasons to include Retiro Park and El Paseo de Prado in less than three minutes.

“When people say ‘from Madrid to heaven’ [the slogan of the Spanish capital] I ask myself why would you want to go to heaven when heaven is already in Madrid,” he told delegates at the event, which was scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Every year, UNESCO evaluates 25 proposals for additions to the World Heritage List. In the case of the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park, the site was judged on whether it evidenced an exchange of considerable architectural influences, was a representative example of a form of construction or complex and if it was associated with traditions that are still alive today. The famous park and boulevard sought to be inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1992, but its candidacy did not reach the final stage of the process.

Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).
Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).Biblioteca Nacional de España

The effort to win recognition for the sites’ outstanding universal value began again in 2014 under former Madrid mayor Ana Botella, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), and was strengthed by her successor Manuela Carmena, of the leftist Ahora Madrid party, which was later renamed Más Madrid. An advisor from UNESCO visited the site in October 2019.

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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