Technology

By J.K. RowlingOriginally published on pottermore logo on Aug 10th 2015

When you can summon any book, instrument or animal with a wave of the wand and the word Accio!; when you can communicate with friends and acquaintances by means of owl, fire, Patronus, Howler, enchanted objects such as coins, or Apparate to visit them in person; when your newspaper has moving pictures and everyday objects sometimes talk to you, then the internet does not seem a particularly exciting place. This is not to say that you will never find a witch or wizard surfing the net; merely that they will generally be doing so out of slightly condescending curiosity, or else doing research in the field of Muggle Studies.

While they have no need of mundane domestic objects such as dishwashers or vacuum cleaners, some members of the magical community are amused by Muggle television, and a few firebrand wizards even went so far, in the early eighties, as to start a British Wizarding Broadcasting Corporation, in the hope that they would be able to have their own television channel. The project foundered at an early stage, as the Ministry of Magic refused to countenance the broadcasting of wizarding material on a Muggle device, which would (it was felt) almost guarantee serious breaches of the International Statute of Secrecy.

Some felt, and with justification, that this decision was inconsistent and unfair, as many radios have been legally modified by the wizarding community for their own use, which broadcast regular wizarding programmes. The Ministry conceded that Muggles frequently catch snippets of advice on, for instance, how to prune a Venomous Tentacula, or how best to remove gnomes from a cabbage bed, but argued that the radio-listening Muggle population seems altogether more tolerant, gullible, or less convinced of their own good sense, than Muggle TV viewers. Reasons for this anomaly are examined at length in Professor Mordicus Egg’s The Philosophy of the Mundane: Why the Muggles Prefer Not to Know. Professor Egg argues cogently that Muggles are much more likely to believe they have misheard something than that they are hallucinating.

There is another reason for most wizards’ avoidance of Muggle devices, and that is cultural. The magical community prides itself on the fact that it does not need the many (admittedly ingenious) devices that Muggles have created to enable them to do what can be so easily done by magic. To fill one’s house with tumble dryers and telephones would be seen as an admission of magical inadequacy.

There is one major exception to the general magical aversion to Muggle technology, and that is the car (and, to a lesser extent, motorbikes and trains). Prior to the introduction of the International Statute of Secrecy, wizards and Muggles used the same kind of everyday transport: horse-drawn carts and sailing ships among them. The magical community was forced to abandon horse-drawn vehicles when they became glaringly outmoded. It is pointless to deny that wizardkind looked with great envy upon the speedy and comfortable automobiles that began filling the roads in the twentieth century, and eventually even the Ministry of Magic bought a fleet of cars, modifying them with various useful charms and enjoying them very much indeed. Many wizards love cars with a child-like passion, and there have been cases of pure-bloods who claim never to touch a Muggle artefact, and yet are discovered to have a flying Rolls Royce in their garage. However, the most extreme anti-Muggles eschew all motorised transport; Sirius Black’s love of motorbikes incensed his hard-line parents.

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Extension Charms

By J.K. RowlingOriginally published on pottermore logo on Aug 10th 2015

Hogwarts school trunks, like the majority of wizarding luggage, are issued with capacity enhancing or extension charms as standard. These spells not only increase the interior dimensions of objects, while leaving the outer ones unchanged, they also render the contents lighter.

The Extension Charm (‘Capacious extremis!’) is advanced, but subject to strict control, because of its potential misuse. Theoretically, a hundred wizards could take up residence in a toilet cubicle if they were sufficiently adept at these spells; the potential for infractions of the International Statute of Secrecy are obvious. The Ministry of Magic has therefore laid down a strict rule that capacity-enhancement is not for private use, but only for the production of objects (such as school trunks and family tents), which have been individually approved for manufacture by the relevant Ministry Department. Both Mr Weasley and Hermione Granger were acting unlawfully when they enhanced, respectively, the interior space of a Ford Anglia, and a small handbag. The former is now believed to be living wild in the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts, and as the latter played no insignificant part in the defeat of the greatest Dark wizard of all time, no charges have been brought.

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Trivia #12

World War I was known as “The War to End All Wars”. It has also, at various times, been referred to as the First World War, the Great War, and the War of the Nations. This worldwide conflict, which lasted from 1914 to 1918, holds several dubious distinction, including the first use of chemical weapons and the first mass bombardment of civilians from the sky.

Dreaming of Being a Knight!

Description: Arash has big dreams about becoming a medieval knight, but instead he’s stuck in his suburban life.
Genre: Comedic

You know, I’ve always wanted to be a knight. Knights get to be praised and go on amazing adventures, fighting dragons and saving princesses! That’s the life for me. The books I read say that you can only be knighted if you come from a noble family or do a great deed. Well, I don’t come from a noble family, but my dad is a governor! That counts right? And I’ve done so many great deeds before! I mean, just yesterday I helped Mrs. Jackson walk her dog! And I don’t have to worry about training, I’ve already got the training I need. I mean, no other kid on the block can climb the large oak tree like I do! That’s basically the same thing as climbing a tower to save a damsel in distress! I guess I’d also have to be brave to be a knight, but I’ve already mastered that too! After all, it’s no easy task scaring away raccoons from trash cans every other day. I’ve tried to prove that I’m brave enough to walk down the streets at night by myself, but Mom won’t let me. No one has recognized how fit I am to be a knight yet, but they will eventually! I believe that someday, I’ll do something so noble that a mighty king will have to knight me. But now, there is a task before me that I must conquer. Every knight has their dragon to slay, and according to my mom, my dragons are the dishes in the sink waiting to be washed. G’day lords and ladies! I’m off to battle the kitchen!

Azkaban

By J.K. RowlingOriginally published on pottermore logo on Aug 10th 2015

Azkaban has existed since the fifteenth century and was not originally a prison at all. The island in the North Sea upon which the first fortress was built never appeared on any map, Muggle or wizarding, and is believed to have been created, or enlarged, by magical means.

The fortress upon it was originally home to a little-known sorcerer who called himself Ekrizdis. Evidently extremely powerful, but of unknown nationality, Ekrizdis, who is believed to have been insane, was a practitioner of the worst kinds of Dark Arts. Alone in the middle of the ocean, he lured, tortured and killed Muggle sailors, apparently for pleasure, and only when he died, and the concealment charms he had cast faded away, did the Ministry of Magic realise that either island or building existed. Those who entered to investigate refused afterwards to talk of what they had found inside, but the least frightening part of it was that the place was infested with Dementors.

Many in authority thought Azkaban an evil place that was best destroyed. Others were afraid of what might happen to the Dementors infesting the building if they deprived them of their home. The creatures were already strong and impossible to kill; many feared a horrible revenge if they took away a habitat where they appeared to thrive. The very walls of the building seemed steeped in misery and pain, and the Dementors were determined to cling to it. Experts who had studied buildings built with and around Dark magic contended that Azkaban might wreak its own revenge upon anybody attempting to destroy it. The fortress was therefore left abandoned for many years, a home to continually breeding Dementors.

Once the International Statute of Secrecy had been imposed, the Ministry of Magic felt that the small wizarding prisons that existed up and down the country in various towns and villages posed a security risk, because attempts by incarcerated witches and wizards to break out often led to undesirable bangs, smells and light shows. A purpose-built prison, located on some remote Hebridean island, was preferred, and plans had been drawn up when Damocles Rowle became Minister for Magic.

Rowle was an authoritarian who had risen to power on an anti-Muggle agenda, capitalising on the anger felt by much of the wizarding community at being forced to go underground. Sadistic by nature, Rowle scrapped the plans for the new prison at once and insisted on using Azkaban. He claimed that the Dementors living there were an advantage: they could be harnessed as guards, saving the Ministry time, trouble and expense.

In spite of opposition from many wizards, among them experts on both Dementors and buildings with Azkaban’s kind of Dark history, Rowle carried out his plan and soon a steady trickle of prisoners had been placed there. None ever emerged. If they were not mad and dangerous before being placed in Azkaban, they swiftly became so.

Rowle was succeeded by Perseus Parkinson, who was likewise pro-Azkaban. By the time that Eldritch Diggory took over as Minister for Magic, the prison had been operating for fifteen years. There had been no breakouts and no breaches of security. The new prison seemed to be working well. It was only when Diggory went to visit that he realised exactly what conditions inside were like. Prisoners were mostly insane and a graveyard had been established to accommodate those that died of despair.

Back in London, Diggory established a committee to explore alternatives to Azkaban, or at least to remove the Dementors as guards. Experts explained to him that the only reason the Dementors were (mostly) confined to the island was that they were being provided with a constant supply of souls on which to feed. If deprived of prisoners, they were likely to abandon the prison and head for the mainland.

This advice notwithstanding, Diggory had been so horrified by what he had seen inside Azkaban that he pressed the committee to find alternatives. Before they could reach any decision, however, Diggory caught dragon pox and died. From that time until the advent of Kingsley Shacklebolt, no Minister ever seriously considered closing Azkaban. They turned a blind eye to the inhumane conditions inside the fortress, permitted it to be magically enlarged and expanded and rarely visited, due to the awful effects of entering a building populated by thousands of Dementors. Most justified their attitude by pointing to the prison’s perfect record at keeping prisoners locked up.

Nearly three centuries passed before that record was broken. A young man was successfully smuggled out of the prison when his visiting mother exchanged places with him, something that the blind and loveless Dementors could not detect and would have never expected. This escape was followed by another, still more ingenious and impressive, when Sirius Black managed to evade the Dementors single-handed.

The weakness of the prison was demonstrated amply over the next few years, when two mass breakouts occurred, both involving Death Eaters. By this time the Dementors had given their allegiance to Lord Voldemort, who could guarantee them scope and freedom hitherto un-tasted. Albus Dumbledore was one who had long disapproved of the use of Dementors as guards, not only because of the inhumane treatment of the prisoners in their power, but because he foresaw the possible shift in loyalties of such Dark creatures.

Under Kingsley Shacklebolt, Azkaban was purged of Dementors. While it remains in use as a prison, the guards are now Aurors, who are regularly rotated from the mainland. There has been no breakout since this new system was introduced.

J.K. Rowling’s thoughts

The name ‘Azkaban’ derives from a mixture of the prison ‘Alcatraz’, which is its closest Muggle equivalent, being set on an island, and ‘Abaddon’, which is a Hebrew word meaning ‘place of destruction’ or ‘depths of hell’.

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Upcoming Auction: Botticelli’s “Young Man Holding a Roundel”

By Fine Art Today -October 2, 20200

Images courtesy of Sotheby’s

Botticelli’s portrait painting, “Young Man Holding a Roundel,” is estimated to sell for in excess of $80 Million during Sotheby’s Masters Week Auctions (January 2021, New York).

More from Sotheby’s:

It was in Early Renaissance Italy that portraits of notable individuals first came to be considered high art. Florentine master Sandro Botticelli was at the forefront of this transformation, depicting his subjects in the second half of the 15th century with unprecedented directness and insight – decades before Leonardo da Vinci painted his enduring Mona Lisa.

Botticelli was celebrated in his own time and sought out, from an early age, by the richest of patrons for commissions that only they could afford. But while he created some of the most arresting and penetrating portraits in the history of Western Art, only around a dozen examples have survived today – with almost all of them now residing in major museum collections.

Sotheby’s will offer one of Botticelli’s “Young Man Holding a Roundel, as the highlight of our annual Masters Week sales series in New York in January 2021. The work is estimated to sell for in excess of $80 million, which will establish it in art market history as one of the most significant portraits, of any period, ever to appear at auction – alongside Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II” (sold in 2006 for $87.9 million) and Van Gogh’s “Portrait of Dr Gachet” (sold in 1990 for $82.5 million).

“Young Man Holding a Roundel” by Sandro Botticelli

“Young Man Holding a Roundel” is the pictorial synthesis of the ideals, the magic and the beauty of Renaissance Florence where, for the first time since antiquity, the individual and the human figure were at the center of both life and art, and would come to define our understanding of humanism as we know it today. Botticelli was at the vanguard of this movement, and his revolutionary style lead him to be one of the first artists to abandon the tradition of depicting sitters in profile. Yet for all it embodies of the Florentine Renaissance, the painting is timelessly modern in its stark simplicity, bold colors, and graphic linearity.

The present painting differs from any other portrait of the time in the fascinating way in which Botticelli has shown his sitter holding a small roundel in his hand depicting a saint. This roundel is an original 14th-century work attributed to the Sienese painter Bartolommeo Bulgarini, which was inserted into the panel on which Botticelli painted his portrait. The significance of this striking visual device remains to be decoded, but must relate in some way to the identity of the handsome young nobleman who shows it off so proudly.

While Botticelli’s noble sitters would likely have been well-known to audiences at the time, many of their identities have been lost to history. Though modest and restrained, the young gentleman’s clothing is clearly of the finest quality, and his elegant and contemplative demeanor embody the neo-Platonist and humanist philosophies that defined the culture of the Florentine elite. In the past it has been suggested that he is Giovanni di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, whose brother Lorenzo was an important patron of Botticelli. Although there is no definitive evidence of this identification, Botticelli did indeed paint portraits of members of the Medici family and their circle.

Despite the apparent clarity and certainty of every line in “Young Man Holding a Roundel,” Botticelli was subtly adapting and developing the pose and details as he worked on the painting. X-rays and infra-red reflectograms not only show the structure of incised circles and lines that are characteristic of Botticelli’s method of plotting out his compositions, but also reveal extensive underdrawing that differs in many details from the finished painting. This process of continuous revision is symptomatic of the perfectionist quest for the ideal that is a hallmark of his art.

“Young Man Holding a Roundel” was first securely recorded in the 1930s in the collection of Lord Newborough at Caernarvon in Wales, and is believed to have been acquired by his ancestor Sir Thomas Wynn, 1st Lord Newborough (1736-1807) while living in Tuscany. In 1935/8, the portrait passed via a London dealer to a private collector, whose heirs sold it at auction in 1982 to the present owner for £810,000.https://www.youtube.com/embed/3mgJjgRvkZw

In the past 50 years, the painting has spent extended periods on loan at the National Gallery, London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. It has also featured prominently in major exhibitions at the Royal Academy, the National Gallery of Art, Washington and the Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main.

Please visit Sotheby’s online for more details about this upcoming auction.