Perseus with the Head of Medusa: Benvenuto Cellini -1554

Sculpture 3.20 m  on a square base with bronze relief panels is located in the Loggia dei Lanzi of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy.

The subject matter of the work is the mythological story of Perseus beheading Medusa, a hideous woman-faced Gorgon whose hair was turned to snakes and anyone that looked at her was turned to stone. Perseus stands naked except for a sash and winged sandals, triumphant on top of the body of Medusa with her snakey head in his raised hand. The body of Medusa spews blood from her severed neck. The bronze sculpture and Medusa’s head turns men to stone and is appropriately surrounded by three huge marble statues of men: Hercules, David and later Neptune. Cellini breathed new life into the piazza visitor through his new use of bronze in Perseus and the head of Medusa and the motifs he used to respond to the previous sculpture in the piazza.

This is Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon. She died on September 1, 1914 in the Cincinnati Zoo. Shortly thereafter, her body was packed in ice and sent by railroad to Washington, DC, to become a part of the National Museum of Natural History’s collection as a lasting legacy of the harm that can be done to the natural world by humans. Just decades prior, the Passenger Pigeon was the most abundant bird in North America. The disappearance of the species helped ignite the modern conservation movement.

For the Centennial of her death, Martha was recently brought out for display and is currently on view in the exhibition Once There Were Billions, Vanished Birds of North America. Sponsored by the Smithsonian Libraries in partnership with the National Museum of Natural History and the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the exhibition tells the story of the last Passenger Pigeon, a member of a species that once numbered in the billions, along with the disappearance of the Great Auk, Carolina Parakeet, and Heath Hen. These extinctions reveal the fragile connections between species and their environment. 

The Smithsonian Libraries, National Museum of Natural History, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library will be hosting a Twitter Chat on September 2, 2014 from 2-3 pm Eastern Time. This is your chance to ask questions about the Passenger Pigeon, extinction, and biodiversity literature.

Follow @SILibraries, @NMNH, and @BioDivLibrary and use the hashtag #Martha100 to tweet your questions.

Are you excited to see George Clooney’s new film The Monuments Men? Learn more about the real men and women who inspired the movie, including our former director Thomas Carr Howe, Jr.

On February 7 at 12 p.m. join us for an Art Talk with the Google Art Project, which will feature presentations from the Legion, UC Berkeley, the Archives of American Art, The Frick Reference Library, and the American Institute for Conservation Oral History—all institutions whose directors, curators, and conservators contributed to this noble endeavor.


Instead of uploading individual photos, here are a few more of the ones I took in the British Museum today. I took an old friend from high school, who is visiting London for the first time, there today. I spent 90% of my time in this section being swept away by a vague wave of nostalgia and sadness. All of this belongs in Iraq… not scattered all over… it’s a metaphor for the conditions Iraqis themselves are in…