April 14, 2016
17th Century Painting Found
Hidden In Attic Worth $135m
By Samuel Petrequin
Paris (AP) -- A 400-year-old picture that might have been painted by Italian master Caravaggio has been found in an attic in southern France.
Eric Turquin, the French expert who retrieved the painting two years ago, said it is in an exceptional state of conservation and estimated its value at 120 million euros (about $135 million), even though he acknowledged experts disagree about its authenticity.
Called “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” it depicts the biblical heroine Judith beheading an Assyrian general. It is thought to have been painted in Rome around 1604-05.
Turquin told a news conference on Tuesday that there “will never be a consensus” about the artist.
Two Caravaggio experts he consulted with attributed the painting to Louis Finson, a Flemish painter and art dealer who was familiar with Caravaggio, Turquin said. Finson possessed a number of works from the Italian master and made copies of his pictures.
“But the third expert I met told me that it was not only a Caravaggio, but also a masterpiece,” Turquin said. “’Judith Beheading Holofernes’ must be considered the most important painting, by far, to have emerged in the last 20 years by one of the great masters.”
Art expert Stephane Pinta compares x ray image to masterpiece
The picture has been awarded “National Treasure” status by French authorities, meaning that it can’t be exported for 30 months, leaving the national museums enough time for its acquisition.
While the art work has yet to be authenticated, France’s Culture Ministry justified its decision to ban the export of the painting because it “deserves to be kept on (French) territory as a very important landmark of Caravaggism.”
Bruno Arciprete, the Naples-based expert who restored Caravaggio’s “Flagellation of the Lord” and “Seven Works of Mercy,” said the painting could well be a Caravaggio but that further studies are needed.
“It has interesting characteristics that can be attributed to Caravaggio,” he said in a phone interview.
Arciprete said he saw the work a few months ago in Paris and came away with a “very good impression.”
“What is required is more scientific research, and then studies by art historians,” to specifically look at the technique, pigments, the type of canvas and its preparation to see if it corresponds to those used by Caravaggio, he said.
However Richard E. Spear, a scholar of Italian Baroque art who is an expert on Caravaggio, said he was “highly dubious” that the Italian master actually painted the art work.
Spear, who has only seen photos of the painting, told the AP that he wasn’t convinced by the handling of the brushwork and that some anatomical details of the characters raised questions.
“Altogether, the picture looks rather coarse and heavy to me,” he said.
The owners of the house in Toulouse discovered the painting, which had been partially damaged by water, when they went to the attic to fix a leak.
Turquin kept the picture away from the public eye for two years, cleaning it and submitting it to a deep examination that included infra-red reflectography and X-rays. Because of the painting’s large size, some of the checks were made at a veterinary school.
“In between a horse and a cow, the radiologist was a bit surprised,” Turquin joked. “Then she told us we brought her a stolen picture, because she thought it was actually the contemporary copy from Finson.”
That copy is on display in Naples and belongs to an Italian bank.
According to Turquin’s team of experts, the two paintings were recorded in Finson’s will made in Amsterdam in 1617. Then the original disappeared.
“It’s a painting of a composition that we know of from the other versions, and whether there’s a Caravaggio behind it we still have not found, or is this an invention by Finson? That, we don’t know for sure,” Spear added.
Turquin, on the other hand, says he doesn’t need further expertise.
“Everybody agrees on the fact that it’s one of the most important masterpieces from the 17th century to have emerged over the past 30 years,” said Turquin, who has been watching over the painting. Since its delivery in Paris, he has been sleeping with the painting in his bedroom, as a security measure.
Mindblowing Chatbot Tech Is About To Change Your Life
By Brandon Bailey
AP Technology Writer
San Francisco (AP) - The robots are coming - to help run your life or sell you stuff - at an online texting service near you.
In coming months, users of Facebook’s Messenger app, Microsoft’s Skype and Canada’s Kik can expect to find new automated assistants offering information and services at a variety of businesses. These messaging ``chatbots’’ are basically software that can conduct human-like conversation and do simple jobs once reserved for people. Google and other companies are reportedly working on similar ideas.
In Asia, software butlers are already part of the landscape. When Washington, D.C., attorney Samantha Guo visited China recently, the 31-year-old said she was amazed at how extensively her friends used bots and similar technology on the texting service WeChat to pay for meals, order movie tickets and even send each other gifts.
``It was mind-blowing,’’ Guo said. U.S. services lag way behind, she added.
Online messaging has become routine for most people, offering more immediacy than email or voice calls, said Michael Wolf, a media and technology consultant. Messaging services are now growing faster than traditional online social platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, according to research by Wolf’s firm, Activate.
And experts say messaging bots can handle a wider range of tasks than apps offered by retailers and other consumer businesses. In part, that’s because bots can recognize a variety of spoken or typed phrases, where apps force users to choose from options on a drop-down menu. Reaching a chatbot can be as simple as clicking a link in an online ad or scanning a boxy bar code with a smartphone camera. A special-purpose app requires a download and often a new account sign-up.
``Bots are the new apps,’’ Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said last month. Microsoft has just created new programming tools for businesses to build bots that will interact with customers on Skype, the Microsoft-owned Internet voice, video and messaging service.
Facebook is widely expected to unveil similar tools for its Messenger chat service at the company’s annual software conference starting Tuesday. It’s already partnered with a few online retailers and transportation companies so consumers can use Messenger to check the status of a clothing purchase from online retailer Zulily, order car service from Uber or get a boarding pass from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
At those services, automated chatbots handle some interactions, with supervision from human operators. Similarly, Facebook has been testing a digital assistant called ``M’’ - sort of like Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana - that can answer questions or perform tasks like ordering flowers in response to commands on Messenger. It uses a combination of artificial intelligence and input from human overseers.
Another messaging service, Kik, which is popular among U.S. teenagers, opened a new ``bot shop’’ last week. Kik users can talk to bots that will answer questions about the weather, show funny videos or help with online shopping. Slack, a messaging service used by businesses, has partnered with Taco Bell to introduce a ``Taco Bot’’ that helps Slack users order ahead for meals at a local outlet.
In Asia, many smartphone owners are used to playing games and buying items through messaging services like WeChat, which claims 700 million active users. One in five WeChat users has added bank or credit card information so that person can check balances, pay bills or send money to friends, according to the Andreesen Horowitz venture capital firm.
Tech experts are particularly eager to see what Facebook does with Messenger, since its 900 million users make it the world’s second biggest chat platform after WhatsApp, which claims 1 billion users. Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014.
Both are free to users and don’t produce much revenue for Facebook. But if Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has given WhatsApp’s co-founders leeway with their service, executives have signaled they are increasingly looking for ways to make money from Messenger.
Although Facebook has not ruled out advertising on Messenger, analyst Ken Sena of the Evercore investment firm says a more immediate revenue source could be fees from businesses, such as hotel and travel companies offering to provide reservations and other services through the chat app.
With the help of artificial intelligence programs that learn from interactions, Sena said in a recent report, chatbots ``are becoming scarily good’’ at carrying on human-like conversations.
Or sometimes just scary. Microsoft last month shut down an experimental chatbot , known as Tay, after malicious Twitter users taught the program to repeat racist and sexist statements. Undeterred, the company has pledged to learn from the experience and build better software in the future.
Sad News: Sea Level Rise Could Smother Many Historic Sites
By Michelle R. Smith
With scientists forecasting sea levels to rise by anywhere from several inches to several feet by 2100, historic structures and coastal heritage sites around the world are under threat. Some sites and artifacts could become submerged.
Scientists, historic preservationists, architects and public officials are meeting this week in Newport, Rhode Island - one of the threatened areas - to discuss the problem, how to adapt to rising seas and preserve historic structures.
``Any coastal town that has significant historic properties is going to be facing the challenge of protecting those properties from increased water and storm activity,’’ said Margot Nishimura, of the Newport Restoration Foundation, the nonprofit group hosting the conference.
Federal authorities have encouraged people to elevate structures in low-lying areas, but that poses challenges in dense neighborhoods of centuries-old homes built around central brick chimneys, Nishimura said, especially ones where preservationists are trying to keep the character intact.
Many of the most threatened sites in North America lie along the East Coast between Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and southern Maine, where the rate of sea level rise is among the fastest in the world, said Adam Markham, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a speaker at the conference.
``We’re actually not going to be able to save everything,’’ he said.
A look at some of the historic areas and cultural sites that are under threat from rising sea levels:
The Statue of Liberty, months after Super Storm Sandy hit the New York area.
STATUE OF LIBERTY AND ELLIS ISLAND: Situated in New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are some of New York’s most important tourist attractions.
In 2012, Superstorm Sandy submerged most of the low-elevation Liberty and Ellis islands. After the storm, the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France in 1886, was closed for eight months. Ellis Island, the entry point for about 12 million immigrants to the United States from 1892 to 1954, remained closed for nearly a year.
A report by the National Park Service looked at how several parks would be threatened by 1 meter, or around 3 feet, of sea level rise. It found $1.51 billion worth of assets at the Statue of Liberty National Monument were highly exposed to sea level rise.
HISTORIC BOSTON: Much of historic Boston is along the water and is at risk due to sea level rise, including Faneuil Hall, the market building known as the ``Cradle of Liberty,’’ and parts of the Freedom Trail, a walking trail that links historic sites around the city.
Boston has seen a growing number of flooding events in recent years, up from two annually in the 1970s to an average of 11 annually between 2009 and 2013, according to a 2014 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists. If sea levels rise by 5 inches, the group reported, the number of floods is projected to grow to 31 annually. If seas rise by 11 inches, the number of flooding events is projected to rise to 72 per year.
NEWPORT: The Point neighborhood in the Rhode Island resort town has one of the highest concentrations of Colonial houses in the United States, and it sits 4 feet above mean sea level. Tidal flooding is already occurring in the neighborhood, and that is expected to increase as sea levels rise, Nishimura said. The smell of sea water already permeates the basement of some homes.
ANNAPOLIS: Maryland’s capital, on Chesapeake Bay, boasts the nation’s largest concentration of 18th-century brick buildings. The city briefly served as the nation’s capital in the post-Revolutionary War period, and the Treaty of Paris, which formally ended the war, was ratified there. The city is also home to the U.S. Naval Academy.
The city already sees tidal flooding dozens of times a year, and scientists have predicted number could rise to hundreds annually in the next 30 years.
JAMESTOWN: Established in 1607, it is the first permanent English colony in North America. It sits along the tidal James River in Virginia, and most of the settlement is less than 3 feet above sea level. A large part of the settlement has already eroded because of wave action, Markham said. Storms have also damaged the site, including Hurricane Isabel in 2003, which flooded nearly 1 million artifacts. A rising water table at the site also poses a threat to archaeological remains, Markham said.
He called the loss of archaeological artifacts ``an urgent problem’’ along the U.S. coastline.
HAWAII: Reports by the National Park Service and others have found that rising sea level rises threaten archaeological sites at various historic places in Hawaii. Those include ancient fish ponds at Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site and a ``Great Wall’’ at a sacred site in Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. It is considered the best-preserved such wall in Hawaii.
Dozens of UNESCO World Heritage Sites are under threat from sea level rise, according to a 2014 report by climate scientists Ben Marzeion, of the University of Innsbruck in Austria, and Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute in Germany.
Among those are: the Tower of London; Robben Island in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years; Venice, Italy, and its lagoon; Mont-Saint-Michel, home to an abbey built atop a rocky islet in France; the Kasbah of Algiers, Algeria; the historic district of Old Quebec, Canada; Old Havana in Cuba; and archaeological areas of Pompeii, Italy, and Carthage in Tunisia.
The authors wrote that their findings indicate that ``fundamental decisions with regard to mankind’s cultural heritage are required.’’