Skip to main content
Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

Several items in this week's digest focus on the power of images. Topics include photos that celebrate the rediscovery of daily pleasures as the grip of the pandemic loosens; a Florentine dynasty that deployed portraiture and patronage as political strategies; high-tech imaging techniques that reveal surprising new aspects of centuries-old paintings; and how a children's book illustrator teamed with a rather noted author. Perhaps you'll be inspired to reach for your camera or sketchbook.

They're among the offerings designed to make sure you continue to enjoy what you,ve come to value from Smithsonian Associates: programs and experiences that are entertaining, informative, eclectic, and insightful.

Everyday Joys

Photo: Tyrone Turner/WAMU

As the pandemic moved through its latest phase this spring, the world began to open in response. What once was out of reach-a casual restaurant meal, a visit with friends, a prom date, the embrace with a family member-suddenly became possible once more. Photographers from public radio stations across the country captured moments like these for a visual essay for NPR's The Picture Show, a moving tribute to the joys of everyday life made even sweeter by their long absence.

View the Visual Essay

A New "Palace of Wonders"

Artist's rendering of "Futures," an upcoming exhibition at the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building (Courtesy of Rockwell Group)

One of the most anticipated elements of the Smithsonian's 175th anniversary celebration this year is the transformation of the long-shuttered Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall into the dazzling setting for FUTURES, a massive new exploration of humanity's next chapter. Part exhibition and part festival, it fuses art, technology, design, and history to invite visitors to dream big and imagine not just one, but many possible futures on the horizon.

The building-wide exploration-inspired by the spirit of 19th- and 20th-century world's fairs-will feature historic artifacts loaned from Smithsonian museums and other institutions, large-scale installations, artworks, interactive displays, and speculative designs. Plans for FUTURES also include an interactive mobile guide and special events and programming from this fall through the summer of 2022.

The grandly scaled 140-year old Arts and Industries Building, proclaimed a "Palace of Wonders" when it originally opened as the U.S. National Museum, is now undergoing a top-to-bottom makeover. The creativity of five notable contemporary artists plays a key role in that process. Smithsonian magazine spotlights how each of their commissions envision the futures before us.

Learn More

What Lies Beneath

X-ray fluorescence imaging of Nativity oil painting at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (R.B. Toth Associates)

Digital technologies can provide insights into paintings, prints, sketches, and other works, offering new perspectives on their elements, creation, and history. On Wednesday, August 25 Michael B. Toth, president of R. B. Toth Associates, returns to Smithsonian Associates Streaming to discuss his work applying the latest imaging technologies. From high-resolution cameras and advanced lighting to X-ray synchrotrons-innovative techniques reveal previously hidden aspects of artworks dating from the Renaissance to today in the collections of institutions around the globe.

Toth covers how that information is used by researchers and highlights projects that involved sketches by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, as well as a potential da Vinci painting. He also shares the surprises he encountered during investigations into a Rubens painting.

In a recent feature focused on his fascinating digital detective work, Northern Virginia magazine dubbed Toth "a kind of real-life Indiana Jones crossed with Robert Langdon of The Da Vinci Code. "What we are trying to do is democratize our history," he says. "Make it available to everyone around the globe. Not just scientists and scholars, but students, teachers, retirees, people stuck at home, anyone, anywhere, anytime." That's something even the remarkably forward-thinking Leonardo could never have imagined.

Register for the Program

The Magnificent Medici

Procession of the Youngest King (detail) by Benozzo Gozzoli

Missing the Met? The recently opened exhibition The Medici: Portraits & Politics, 1512–1570, on view through early October, might be the perfect reason for a return visit. Through an outstanding group of portraits, this major loan exhibition explores the various new and complex ways that artists portrayed the elite of Medici-era Florence, representing the sitters' political and cultural ambitions and conveying the changing sense of what it meant to be a Florentine at this defining moment in the city's history. Included are works by the period's most celebrated artists, from Raphael, Jacopo Pontormo, and Rosso Fiorentino to Benvenuto Cellini, Agnolo Bronzino, and Francesco Salviati.

Smithsonian Associates Streaming is ready to provide a grounding in the extravagant, fascinating-and highly complicated-world of the Medici. On Friday, July 23 join Renaissance art historian Elaine Ruffolo as she traces the family's influence on the political, economic, and cultural history of Florence, from the early 1430s with the rise of the dynasty under the near-legendary Cosimo de Medici, to the golden era under Lorenzo il Magnifico and the family's ultimate goal: the papal tiara. Spend Saturday, August 28 with Rocky Ruggiero, a specialist in the Early Renaissance, to examine one of the most productive yet frustrating periods of Michelangelo's artistic career-fulfilling his commissions from the Medici popes. Ruffalo returns on Friday, September 10 for a look at two of the most splendid Florentine symbols of Medici power and taste: the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens.

Learn More

Picture a Happy Ending

By Lori VanKirk Schue

Did you ever read a child a favorite picture book and think, "I'd love to create something like this"? Producing illustrations for a children's manuscript is loads of fun once you know the basics. Get a start on Tuesday, July 13 in the first of two sessions of a Smithsonian Associates Streaming studio arts workshop with author and illustrator Lori VanKirk Schue. She leads you through the foundations of interpreting a story in pictures, developing your distinctive style, collaborating with authors and publishers, and plenty more that aspiring illustrators need to know.

And if you're an aspiring illustrator in search of inspiration, learn how Christian Robinson, a Caldecott Honor recipient, approached working with a first-time children's book author (who just happens to be Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex) on The Bench, a poetic ode to fathers and sons. And of course, one of Robinson's charming watercolors depicts a certain ginger-haired dad with a beard.

Register for the Program