Detail of de Brecy Tondo, possibly by Raphael, showing the faces of the faces of the madonna and child.

“There’ll Be Spandex Jackets. . .”

A painting known as the de Brécy Tondo recently went on display Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford, England. This is notable because the painting, for decades, has been controversial.

Some people claimed it was painted by Raphael. Others claimed it was a copy of the artist’s Sistine Madonna alterpiece done sometime during the Victorian period, more than 300 years after Raphael worked.

The conclusion that the work was done by the artist and not by some imitator was largely predicated on artificial intelligence. Of course.

Hassan Ugail, a professor at the University of Bradford, and the director the its center of visual computing, developed an AI model that was evidently trained on Old Masters.

Hassan told The Guardian, “My AI models look far deeper into a picture than the human eye, comparing details such as the brush strokes and pigments. Testing the Tondo using this new AI model has shown startling results, confirming it is most likely by Raphael.”

Somewhat more substantive that it was done in the 16th century not the 19th is that Howell Edwards, a molecular spectroscopy professional at the University of Bradford, determined the pigments used were Renaissance-era appropriate. Odds are that some Victorian didn’t chance upon a cache of 300-year-old paint and decide to fake a Raphael.

Whether it is actually the work of the artist is something that, until someone invents a time machine, will never be completely known, AI techniques notwithstanding.

How do we know that the de Brécy Tondo wasn’t painted by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino’s dad, Giovanni Santi, who had been a painter, as well?

It seems as though for whatever reason people are now bowing before AI like the great and mighty Oz, and we know how that worked out. Somehow it is thought that there is an infallibility to the digital technology.

The headline and deck to an article published this past March in The Atlantic puts this into some perspective:

Duck Off, Autocorrect

Chatbots can write poems in the voice of Shakespeare. So why are phone keyboards still thr wosrt?

As writer Navneet Alang noted, “And I can’t believe I have to say this, but I have no desire to call my fiancé a ‘baboon.'”

A Google search of “autocorrect fails” results in 1.8 million items.

Because we have access to Google and because Professor Ugail has his AI system, it seems as though we simply know everything and if we don’t necessarily have “everything” on-boarded in our brains, we know that we can know pretty much all that is known and that, to channel Donald Rumsfeld, there is very little in the way of the unknown unknown that exists out there.

Everything, apparently, is codified and consequently accessible: Presto!

Which makes some recent discoveries of Steely Dan* music all the more remarkable.

For one, there is a version of a song, “Second Arrangement,” that had been written and recorded for Gaucho, with some remaining work to be done, but which was accidentally erased by a studio tech; while the band worked to recreate it, the decision was made to scrap it.

Although there were various bootleg variants out there, a cassette recording of the erased song had been made by engineer Roger Nichols, who died in 2011. One of his daughters revealed the tape.

And now what was not known was.

What’s more, there is a Steely Dan Schlitz Beer commercial that she discovered among her father’s collection.

Steely Dan – Schlitz Beer Jingle

Via Cimcie Shares All.

Again, something that was known by some, but probably not much thought about by those who did know it as it was an unused work from 50 years ago.

And also in Steely Dan archeology, there is the bringing back to light performances of “Showbiz Kids” and “Reelin’ in the Years” on “The Midnight Special” TV show** from August 31, 1973.

It isn’t as though there wasn’t knowledge that it existed—and there are undoubtedly many people who watched it the night it was aired—but it in effect became unknown.

There is undoubtedly a warehouse-full of musical material—a warehouse the size and evident scope of that at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”—that remains to be discovered on tapes and acetates, a discovery that will be physical, not digital.

Of course, when some of it is brought to light it may be that we’ll need a Professor Ugail to determine whether what we think we hear is actually who we’re listening to. How will we know whether that uncovered tape of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” really has John’s voice on it or if it is someone who sounds like Lennon . . . ?


*Steely Dan was a band established in 1971 by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. They were joined in recordings and performances by an array of other musicians. Walter Becker died September 3, 2017. Yet “Steely Dan” is currently on tour. No, holograms are not being used. Think about it this way: you go to your local Dairy Queen and order “an ice cream cone.” And you are handed an ice cream cone that’s empty. Yes, it fulfills the description “ice cream cone.” But it isn’t what it essentially should be. Therefore, it isn’t.

** “The Midnight Special” ran on NBC from February 1973 to May 1981. It was a 90-minute show with performances—live performances, not lip synced—by a surprisingly wide span of musicians. Among them were Aretha Franklin, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, Ray Charles, Heart, Ted Nugent, Village People, Thin Lizzy, Todd Rundgren, XTC, Electric Light Orchestra, Cheap Trick, Lesley Gore, Journey, Barry Manilow, and Robert Fripp, both with and without King Crimson. Robert Fripp?

Leave a Reply