Category Archives: ESSAYS


December 29, 2015

The New York Times calls the J. Paul Getty Museum’s current exhibit of 40 ancient bronzes, Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World “one of the best exhibitions of sculpture you may ever see.”

For the Los Angeles leg of its tour, the exhibit featured the life-size Seated Boxer. But when it came time for the exhibit to move to Washington, D.C., the Vatican recalled the Boxer to Rome, so it could be displayed in conjunction with 2016 Jubilee festivities.

The Getty curators filled the Boxer’s vacancy with the Dancing Faun of Pompeii, which was loaned from the Naples Archaeological Museum.

Judging from press accounts, the Faun has stolen the show. That should come as no surprise, though.

The Dancing Faun was discovered on October 26, 1830 in the ruins of the most opulent Roman home discovered at Pompeii: the House of the Faun, as it later became known, which was also home to the Alexander Mosaic. The Faun is thought to be either a 2nd-century Greek original, or a very high-quality Roman copy.

Upon its discovery, as Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny write in Taste and the Antique, “The fame of this small bronze was instantaneous … its first cataloger described it as the finest bronze to have been excavated at Pompeii and compared it to the Barberini Faun.

Its small size made it ideal for reproduction and for decorating gardens and drawing rooms. Victorians raved about the Faun, no doubt with assurances like that from the Naples museum, which advised that “the Faun was ecstatic and not in the intoxicated condition of various other bronze Fauns from Herculaneum and Pompeii…”

Dancing Faun of Pompeii plaster cast, photo by CosmoWenmanThe timeless, enthusiastic response to the Faun in the Power and Pathos exhibit is great. And the public’s impulse to collect a copy for themselves can live on too: in 2013 I laser scanned a 19th-century plaster cast of the Faun at the Skulpturhalle Basel museum.

I’ve used that 3D data to make 3D printed gold, silver, bronze, brass, and steel pendants, which you can buy here:

More importantly, though, I’ve made the data freely available to anyone, with no restrictions on its use. Click here to download the 3D-printable files:

Here’s a sampling of what people have done with the data in the year since I shared it:

Click here for an orientable, zoomable 3D viewer of the Faun data:



20150414 Man In High Castle Map 670px

July 29, 2015

Last year for Veterans Day I wrote about my Russian-born grandfather, Boris Krass, a US Army intelligence officer during WWII. In 1944 he interviewed hundreds of Russian slave-laborers whom the Allies had recently liberated from Nazi labor camps. He found hate for the Nazis, hangings, black markets, sabotage, murders, Russian prisoners all but abandoned by the USSR, and calculating Germans hedging their bets by passing information to their captives. You can read his secret report to the Army and OSS here.

I recently learned that he also interrogated Soviet soldiers who, under the command of Red Army General Andrey Vlassov, defected, donned Wehrmacht uniforms, and fought alongside the Nazis before, as POWs, offering to fight Nazis again for the Americans.

Now I’m sharing the Philip K. Dick-worthy wartime story of my Italian-American great-grandfather, Mario Boet, a naturalized US citizen who lived in Manhattan. According to this 1942 New York Times report, he apparently spent his war years inventing—and possibly trying to realize—alternate post-war realities.

Espionage, sabotage, secret submarine landings, Allied defeat, and fascist occupation…

Highlights from the Times:

Son of an Italian Admiral Is Accused of Attempting to Damage Army Morale

A seditious attempt to damage the morale of the armed forces through letters cursing the United States and belittling its power, while floridly praising the Axis, was charged yesterday to Mario Albert Boet…

Boet’s letters … were addressed to General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff; to Lieut. Gen. Ben Lear, to the superintendent of West Point Military Academy and to various newspapers and radio stations…

In one letter … Boet described himself as having been landed by an Axis submarine at Huntington, L.I. The letter directed its recipient, who was not identified, to go at once to Detroit and obtain a list of war plants, with data on their production. Written before this country entered the war, the letter contained the assertion that its writer, if he found the United States unready to fight, would try to get it into the world conflict.

Excerpts from the Plattsburg Press-Republican:


The letters, according to the FBI, contained the following statements:

1. If American soldiers dare to land on French or Italian soil, they will meet a Dunkirk worse than the British Dunkirk.

2. If an AEF [American Expeditionary Force] landed in Europe, the Japanese would land on the Pacific Coast.

3. General[s] and admiral[s] who preach an invasion of Europe should listen to Rome and Berlin broadcasts and thereby learn such an attempt would result in calamity for the invaders.

4. America under Axis control would create more jobs, distribute riches more evenly, promote opportunity, improve living conditions.

5. The American fleet is impotent, the resources of the country disorganized, the people divided, the soldiers without training.

From the Tasmania Examiner:

In one letter Boet wrote: “I have landed safely from a submarine and have reached Huntington harbor by motor boat. I am working for the beloved Fuehrer here among our worst enemies.”

More from the Times:

Some of his letters were signed Roberto, a contraction of Rome, Berlin, Tokyo.

The purported submarine landing on Long Island, while certainly not true, is an interesting detail. The Italian navy did have a sophisticated submarine program, and later in the war developed plans with Germany to use them to attack New York Harbor. Boet had close ties to Italy, and his then-recently deceased father had in fact been an admiral in the Italian navy. He traveled to Italy frequently, and, the Times reports, had been briefly employed in some capacity by the Italian consulate. He also lived in Manhattan’s Yorkville neighborhood, where the pro-Nazi German-American Bund was an active and very visible presence.

He was arrested by the FBI and charged with sedition. Boet was one of the relatively few Italian-Americans to be imprisoned in US wartime internment camps. According to Justice Department records, he was held at Ellis Island, then Fort Meade, Fort McAlester, and finally Fort Missoula, Montana.

While he was imprisoned, his US-born son, a radio operator in the US Army Air Forces, flew bombing missions over Italy, and his 19-year-old daughter eloped with a Russian-born US Army intelligence officer (my grandmother and grandfather).

Boet was likely released sometime after Italy’s September 8, 1943 surrender to the Allies. After the war he told his family he was astounded at how well he was treated as a prisoner. This appeared to have played a large part in his newfound affection for the US, as did, no doubt, his need to resolve his own family’s conflicting and rapidly evolving national identities and allegiances.

My mother knew her grandfather Boet to be a very kind, gentle man. Growing up, she was told only that he had been arrested and interned during the war for writing letters threatening the life of FDR, motivated by his great distress over his adoptive country gearing up to go to war with his homeland and close relatives still in Italy. The details of his letters—the submarine, the espionage, the “Roberto” pseudonym, the plot to induce the US to enter the war—are new to her, and she doesn’t quite know what to make of them, other than to feel sorry for him.

I imagine that my great-grandfather’s wartime missives were in fact bluster—at most an ill-conceived freelance disinformation campaign to dissuade the US from war—and that had there been any substance to his plots, he would have faced a much harsher fate than internment. But I have no way of knowing who, if anyone, Boet might have been communicating with, and what was merely his invention and what was reality.



20150423 Venus de Milo Spinning Thread with Greek Vase, by Cosmo Wenman

This Slate story, What Was the Venus de Milo Doing With Her Arms? by Virginia Postrel describes a fun project she hired me to work on–designing and 3D printing a restoration of Venus de Milo’s missing arms, showing her holding tools, spinning thread in the ancient technique.

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November 11, 2014

My grandfather, Boris Krass, was born in Russia, and while still very young spent 5 or 6 years as a refugee in Germany with other White Russian families before coming to the US.

Fluent in English, Russian, and German, he was an intelligence officer in the US Army during WWII. In 1944 he interrogated hundreds of Russian forced-labor prisoners that the Allies had liberated from the Nazis.

This is a report he made to the Army and OSS about their situation:
Intelligence Report by Boris Krass.pdf


“Bombings and black markets afford the only source of extra food.”

“If an Osterbeiter is … caught walking with a German girl, he is hanged the next day.”

“By far the great majority of Russians have nothing but hate for the Nazis”

“Incidents of sabotage, killing, plots, and secret organizations have been cited to this interrogator.”

“Several Ost workers have reported that they had been carefully approached by Germans, self-styled Anti-Nazis, who have invited them to listen to Allied broadcasts in the secrecy of their homes.”

“Many of the Russian girls working as domestic servants in private homes listen to the radio in the absence of their employers. The subject matter of these broadcasts is then widely disseminated among other Russian laborers.”

Still-captive Russian prisoners want guidance on:

– Should we resist evacuations, and hide to await the Americans?

– How can we fight the Nazis at the critical moment? Sabotage? Passive resistance? Arms? Open revolt?

– How should we act during an air-raid?

“It is beyond the scope of this report to deal with the delicate question of why the Soviet Union has left much to be desired in sending propaganda to its citizens in Germany. It is presumed to be a matter of politics.”




March 19, 2013

Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Alexander C. Kafka reviews an interesting-looking new book on aesthetics by neuroscientist Eric Kandel: The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present. Kafka quotes Kandel’s analysis of Gustav Klimt’s Judith and the Head of Holofernes:

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