Like @ Sac! 2019 Black History Month Book Display

 

Studying Black and Visual Culture: An Ever-Evolving Addendum

A Book Display at the Sackler Library

Building on the Sackler’s 2018 Black History Month Book Display, we would like to extend the possibilities of study further, offering additional sources and consideration. (Please see Further reading at the end of this blog post.) As Ben Gable noted, Black History Month in the United Kingdom has its origins in the work of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a renowned African American historian. In 1926, Woodson proposed a week-long concentration on African American contributions to history and culture and established the Journal of Negro History to ensure critical scholarship and awareness of the African Diaspora. With an increasing interest in Black Studies, in 1976 the United States extended the week to a month-long focus, encouraging other countries to consider the opportunity to engage and address the history of the African Diaspora that has shaped global consciousness. At the forefront of the campaigns against institutional racism in the UK and the apartheid regimes in Southern Africa, Ghanaian political refugee Akyaaba Addai-Sebo worked with others to adapt the idea with a special focus on inspiring black youth. Black History month in the UK was established in 1987 with the intention of extending a broader global awareness.

To that end, we would like to offer an addendum to the excellent resources aleady assembled by the Sackler, calling out a wide array of writers and artists who continue to define and challenge our understanding of the African Diaspora. We are especially keen to emphasise the global character of this diaspora even while singling out titles from the literature published for English-speaking audiences. The primary setting of the slave trade, the Atlantic Ocean featured prominently in the creation of a diasporic Black consciousness. Books such as Slave Portraiture in the Atlantic and Characters of Blood: Black Heroism in the Transatlantic Imagination reflect this history, continuing an intellectual tradition that privileges the idea of movement over that of national identity. Moving into the present, Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu’s Contemporary African Art Since 1980 reflects the growing ascendency of the African continent on the global art market, while Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria offers a case study that decenters the modernist canon beyond its Anglo-European axis. Indeed, the historic lacunae of the western art canon continues to be addressed by recent monographs and exhibition catalogues such as Richard Powell’s Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist and Jeffreen Hayes’s Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman, demonstrating the ways that these influential figures shaped transatlantic modernism.

 

Photo credit: Erin McNulty

 

Similarly, the formation of a Black visual culture in Britain is indebted to centuries of migrations across the British Empire and later the Commonwealth of Nations. Victorian Jamaica and An Eye for the Tropics: Tourism, Photography and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque examine the conflicts as well as the innovations that resulted from British ways of seeing being forcibly imported into the colonial Caribbean. In contrast, Black Britain: A Photographic History documents the lives of those who emigrated to the ‘motherland’ in the aftermath of the Second World War, as British territories across Africa and the Caribbean gained independence. The 1980s and 1990s witnessed the emergence of a new generation of Black British citizens who were born and raised in the UK. Frustrated with persistent racism and emboldened by the ideology of Black Power, they fought back. Artists like Eddie Chambers, author of Black Artists in British Art: A History Since the 1950s to the Present, embraced the separatist tactics championed by the Black Arts Movement in the US. In Britain, however, the term ‘Blackness’ had wider applications than in the United States, often accommodating strategic coalitions between artists of both African and Asian descent. The essays included in Shades of Black: Assembling Black Art in 1980s Britain are testament to a time when the very notion of ‘Blackness’ was dissected as part of the formation of an emerging postcolonial consciousness. Contemporary practitioners engage in a critical race theory as demonstrated by Huey Copeland in Bound to Appear, in which he considers how contemporary practitioners reframe strategies of representation and how blackness might be imagined and felt long after the end of the “peculiar institution” of slavery.

The artists involved in these foundational debates are only now receiving the recognition they deserve. Our display reflects this by including the recently published monograph on the Lubaina Himid CBE, who in 2017 was the first black woman artist to win the Turner Prize. We also include a monograph on Frank Bowling OBE RA, the British Guyanese painter who arrived in London in 1953 and whose tremendous achievements were celebrated last summer with a retrospective at Tate Britain.

We hope that this display will inspire staff and students alike, highlighting both the achievements of individual black artists and the influence of the African diaspora on Western culture more widely.  Furthermore, we hope that it illuminates some of the ways in which race plays a part in the subject areas covered by the Sackler’s collections.  The display will run until the end of the month, but the bibliography will remain accessible on this blog post.

Dr. Amy M. Mooney
Terra Foundation Visiting Professor of American Art
Department of the History of Art
Oxford University
amy.mooney@history.ox.ac.uk 

and

Dr. Giulia Smith
Leverhulme Early Career Fellow
Ruskin School of Art
University of Oxford
giulia.smith@rsa.ox.ac.uk

Further reading

(NB: Please also consult the list compiled for 2018)

Abdul Alkalimat, Romi Crawford and Rebecca Zorach, eds. The Wall of Respect: Public Art and Black Liberation in 1960s. Chicago, 2017.

Baker A., Houston, Manthia Diawara and Ruth H. Lindeborg, eds. Black British Cultural Studies: A Reader. London; Chicago, 1996.

Barringer, Tim and Wayne Modest, eds. Victorian Jamaica. Durham, 2018.

Battle-Baptiste and Britt Rusert, eds. W.E.B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America: The Color Line at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. New York, 2018.

Bernier, Celeste-Marie. Characters of Blood: Black Heroism in the Transatlantic Imagination. Charlottesville; London, 2012.

Bindman, David, ed. The Image of the Black in African and Asian Art. Cambridge, MA, 2017.

Boyce, Sonia and others, eds. Shades of Black: Assembling Black Art in 1980s Britain. Durham, 2005.

Buick, Kirsten P.  Mary Edmonia Lewis and the Problem of Art History’s Black and Indian Subject. Durham, 2010.

Campt, Tina M. Image Matters: Archive, Photography and the African Diaspora in Europe. Durham, 2012.

Chambers, Eddie. Black Artists in British Art: A History Since the 1950s to the Present. London; New York, 2014.

Chang, Andrea, ed. Circles and Circuits: Chinese Caribbean Art. Durham, 2018.

Cleveland, Kimberly L. Black Art in Brazil: Expressions of Identity. Gainesville, FL, 2013.

Copeland, Huey. Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America. Chicago, 2013.

DuBois Shaw, Gwendolyn. Portraits of a People: Picturing American Americans in the Nineteenth Century, Andover, MA; London, 2006.

Enwezor, Okwui and Chika Okeke-Agulu. Contemporary African Art Since 1980. Bologna, 2010.

Frances, Jacqueline. Making Race: Modernism and “Racial Art” in America. Seattle, 2015.

Fracchia, Carmen. ‘Black but Human’ Slavery and Visual Arts in Hapsburg Spain, 1480-1700. Oxford, 2019.

Finley, Cheryl. Committed to Memory: the Art of the Slave Ship Icon. Princeton, 2018.

Fox-Amato, Matthew. Exposing Slavery: Photograph, Human Bondage, and the Birth of Modern Visual Politics in America. Oxford, 2019.

Gilroy, Paul. Black Britain: A Photographic History. London, 2007.

Godfrey, Mark and Zoé Whitely, eds. Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.  London, 2017.

Gooding, Mel. Frank Bowling. London, 2015.

Hayes, Jeffreen, ed. Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman. Jackson, Florida; London, 2018.

Jay, Martin and Sumathi Ramaswamy, eds. Empires of Vision. Durham, 2014.

Jones, Kelli. South of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s. Durham, 2016.

Lungo-Ortiz, Agnes and Angela Rosenthal, eds. Slave Portraiture in the Atlantic. Cambridge, 2013.

Mercer, Kobena. Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies. London, 1994.

Mercer, Kobena, ed. Annotating Art’s Histories: Cross-Cultural Perspectives in the Visual Arts (4 vols.). Cambridge, MA; London, 2005-2008.

Mercer, Kobena.  Travel and See: Black Diaspora Art Practices Since the 1980s. Durham, 2016.

Miller, Monica L. Slaves to Fashion. Durham, 2009.

Murrell, Denise. Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet to Matisse to Today. New Haven, 2018.

Okeke-Agulu, Chika. Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria. Durham, 2015.

Pantin Malin Stahl, Lisa, ed. Lubaina Himid: Workshop Manual. London, 2019.

Patton, Pamela A. Envisioning Others: Race, Color, and the Visual in Iberia and Latin America. Leiden, 2015.

Powell, Richard J., ed. Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist. Durham, 2014.

Thompson, Krista. An Eye for the Tropics: Tourism, Photography and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque, Durham, 2006.

Thompson, Krista.  Shine: The Visual Economy of Light in African Diasporic Aesthetic Practice. Durham, 2015.

Walker, Hamza, ed. Black Is, Black Ain’t. Chicago, 2013.

Wallace, Maurice O., and Shawn Michelle Smith, eds. Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity. Durham, 2012.

Walmsley, Anne. The Caribbean Artists Movement, 1966–72: A Literary and Cultural History. London, 1992.

Wainwright, Leon. Art and the Transnational Caribbean. Manchester, 2011.

Wainwright, Leon. Phenomenal Difference: A Philosophy of Black British Art. Liverpool, 2019.

Williams, Lyneise. Latin Blackness in Parisian Visual Culture, 1852-1932. London, 2019.

Willis, Deborah. Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present. New York; London, 2000.

 

Like @ Sac! William Gell and Early Nineteenth-Century British Responses to the Classical Past

Featured image: 

A view of the past: 1. Landscape around Üvecik, in the larger area of the city of Troy. Fig. 2. Landscape of the Troad. On the left the Castel of Kumkale. On the right the site of the Tomb of Aias, in the ancient city of Rhoiteion (today Intepe). William Gell, from The Topography of Troy, and its Vicinity; Illustrated and explained by Drawings and Descriptions (1804); pl. 38. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

 

One of the most enjoyable things about the Sackler, as a library, is how it brings together different disciplines, and allows an hour’s browsing (or shelving!) to spark correspondences between books which would once have been located in completely separate libraries. I came across William Gell, early nineteenth-century topographer, illustrator, and classical scholar, in a completely non-Sackler-related context, but it soon became clear to me that he was entirely at home in the Sackler – hovering, so to speak, between Classics, Western Art, and Archaeology, with excursions to Egyptology and the Ancient Near East. Indeed, his career does a lot to explain why it still makes sense for an institution like Oxford to unite these seemingly disparate areas of study under a single roof.

 

Thomas Unwins, Sir William Gell pencil, 1830 (Source: National Portrait Gallery; Creative Commons License)

 

Born in 1777, to a genteel but not particularly wealthy Derbyshire family, Gell was very much a transitional figure, working just at the moment when eighteenth-century antiquarianism, shaped by the interests and priorities of aristocratic patrons, was being replaced by more systematic approaches to the study of the classical world. Educated at Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Arts, Gell succeeded in getting himself attached to a diplomatic mission to the Ionian islands in 1803, beginning a lifetime of close engagement with the Mediterranean landscape and its classical past.

Gell wasn’t an archaeologist – the category didn’t quite exist yet for him to occupy – but he wasn’t quite an antiquary, either, to the extent that nowadays antiquarianism suggests a distinctly unsystematic hoarding-up of the past, productive of the kind of physical and intellectual muddle described by Walter Scott (himself very much an antiquarian, if ruefully so), in his 1816 The Antiquary as ‘a wreck of ancient books and utensils’ in which ‘it was no easy matter to find one’s way to a chair, without stumbling over a prostrate folio, or the still more awkward mischance of overturning some piece of Roman or ancient British pottery’[1].

Gell, admittedly, did end up living in something very much akin to this environment – he was described as receiving guests, in the house in Naples where he spent the final years of his life, in ‘one very moderately-sized apartment, with […] a store of rarities, old folios in vellum, modern topography […] caricatures, charts, maps, and drawings’, not to mention ‘well-bred animals of the canine species, who had the entrée of his salon, and the privilege of his best chairs and sofas’ – Gell was evidently very much a dog person.[2] But the ‘modern topography’ is important here. If Gell was anything, he was a topographer – he measured landscapes systematically, travelling extensively (despite the disabling gout which he suffered for most of his adult life) to do so. If he hoarded up anything, it was views.

‘[E]very turn of every mountain and eminence has been inserted from actual drawing and observation on the spot, & not invented as is the common and usual custom in map making in the closet, so that a student reading the account of any battle may be certain that here stood such a height & there ran such a brook’ he wrote, in 1831, describing what was in many ways his topographical masterwork, his map of Rome and the surrounding campagna, eventually published in 1834 as Topography of Rome and its Vicinity. ‘[W]here I have not been, I have left the place blank instead of imagining anything to make the map look prettier – as yet, give me leave to say, an unheard piece of honesty, & what is more I have put a “desideration” on the spot’. This was with the idea of literally filling in the blanks on the copper plate, after further investigation: the printed map was mutable, while the landscape was very much not. This solidity, the idea that places and views were largely unchanging, giving a kind of open access to the landscape of the past, was foundational to Gell’s work: ‘whether schoolboys or others read Roman history’, he continues, ‘they will now be enabled to understand & clearly perceive how much of the early conquests of the Romans, of which so confused an idea existed, are really reducible to the test of locality, and are no longer Romances’[3].

‘No longer Romances’ – this is a concern we see with moderate frequency from Gell, who was very much concerned, if not quite with the here and now, certainly with the here and then. Recalling how he showed the elderly Walter Scott round Naples and Pompeii in 1832, Gell betrays a certain frustration when he notes ‘how quickly [Scott] caught at any romantic circumstance’, turning a local landmark ‘into a feudal residence’ and peopling it, entirely ahistorically, ‘with a Christian host’[4]. Yet, for all this impatience with the urge to dramatise, to overwrite the evidence of the landscape rather than remaining open to the ‘test of locality’, Gell’s own first published work, the 1804 The Topography of Troy, had been an enthusiastic but inaccurate attempt to fix the location of the Homeric Troy – just such an instance, in fact, of overwriting, of privileging romance over reality.

The Topography of Troy was the first of a stream of volumes which the young Gell published to record and fund his travels through the eastern Mediterranean. These were by and large impressive volumes, intended for the luxury market: the Sackler’s copy of Gell’s 1810 Itinerary of Greece, for instance, has a restrained but luxurious neoclassical calf binding by Charles Hering, a German immigrant who was London’s premier bookbinder in the early years of the nineteenth century.[5] It offered its original owner both a privileged view of classical ruins and a suitably classically-inflected object to place on his – or her – shelves:

 

 

The Sackler’s copy of Gell’s 1817 The Unedited Antiquities of Attica, meanwhile, funded by well-heeled subscribers from the Society of Dilettanti and sold for the princely sum of twelve guineas, gives a sense of the extent to which Gell’s books could be edifices in and of themselves, with plenty of room for both Gell’s detailed topographical drawings and for large expanses of handsome marbled endpapers (complete with the bookplate of nineteenth-century local historian Francis Frederick Fox):

 

 

These were books designed to slot elegantly into the most refined of libraries, and Gell’s career saw him entrench himself more and more firmly amongst the ranks of people who might at least aspire to own such volumes. In 1807, Gell was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Member of the Society of Dilettanti – founded in 1733, this latter was a group which grew directly out of the Grand Tour, but which certainly aspired to more than gentlemanly amateurism, and was by the close of the eighteenth century the premier British institution for the study of classical antiquities.

Gell’s grasp on this rarified world, however, was always just a little strained. He wrote and published at speed largely out of financial necessity, describing himself, in one 1832 letter, as ‘writing like a steam-engine for my bread’.[6] Lord Byron, who knew Gell personally, typifies a certain aristocratic unease with Gell’s social climbing and prodigious output. Gell’s appearance in Byron’s 1809 satire English Bards and Scotch Reviewers is – if a little patronising – downright flattering:

Of Dardan tours let dilettanti tell,
I leave topography to classic Gell.[7]

Yet Byron had initially written ‘coxcomb Gell’ in his manuscript, and for the fifth edition, he was to change ‘classic’, to ‘rapid’, with the note ‘RAPID, INDEED!’.[8] Byron’s reassessment was partly the result of his own Grand Tour, undertaken between 1809 and 1811: on his return, he noted that ‘Since seeing the plain of Troy, my opinions are somewhat changed […] Gell’s survey was hasty and superficial’.[9] Was Gell reliably ‘classic’, or was he merely ‘rapid’: a purveyor of a kind of early nineteenth-century precursor to the coffee-table book?

Gell was certainly classic enough to be knighted in 1814, on the back of a successful mission for the Society of Dilettanti (although he had to borrow money from his brother to pay the necessary fees).[10] Now Sir William Gell, he built on his already impressive social connections to become a member of the coterie surrounding Princes Caroline, the estranged wife of the Prince Regent, later George IV. Gell’s companion in this clique was Keppel Craven, the third son of the 6th Baron Craven and a fellow member of the Dilettanti. Gell was ‘almost certainly a gay man with a firm commitment to Craven’[11] – another reason, perhaps, why his place in London society was never quite secure – and Craven was to remain close to him for the rest of his life, living with him in Naples and nursing him through attacks of debilitating gout. Their ‘friendship’, a contemporary account has it, ‘went on increasing in strength to the period of his [Gell’s] death’.[12]

Both Gell and Craven were to accept the princess’s invitation to serve as vice-chamberlains during her travels on the continent in 1814. Even more impressively, they both managed to detach themselves from her court in 1815, before it became irretrievably marred in scandal – indeed, on leaving her service, Caroline granted Gell a pension of £200 a year for the rest of her life, giving him a certain financial security until her death in 1821. At the queen’s trial in 1820, one of her husband’s several attempts to divorce her once and for all on grounds of adultery, both Gell and Craven returned to England to speak in Caroline’s defence.

Gell’s brief membership of Caroline’s official retinue marked the end of his residence in England. He was to spend the rest of his life very much based in Italy, specifically Naples,  where he created what would become his most popular and influential work, Pompeiana, written together with the architect John Peter Gandy (brother of the more famous Joseph Michael Gandy, Soane’s draughtsman and collaborator) and first published in parts in 1817-19. Serious investigation of the remains of Pompei had first begun almost a century before, in 1748, but Pompeiana was to be the first substantial work on Pompeii in English. It was also a much more approachable work in financial terms than Gell’s earlier volumes: the octavo volume of Pompeiana was sold in parts at eight shillings per number, and the complete version was advertised at a cost of five pounds and twelve shillings, still a considerable sum, but not completely out of reach of all but the very richest.[13] The Sackler’s copy, a much less imposing object than its Topography of Troy or Itinerary of Greece, gives a sense of this distinction – it is still a status symbol, but one which exists on a different, rather more domestic, scale.

 

 

Gell and Gandy’s version of Pompeii was, itself, somewhat domestic. The text notes the discovery of ‘kettles, ladles, moulds for jelly or pastry, urns for keeping water hot, upon the principle of the modern tea-urn […]; in short, almost every article of kitchen or other furniture now in use, except forks’[14]. Gell’s illustrations, produced with the help of the camera lucida – patented in 1806, and at the cutting-edge of pre-photographic technology – are sharp and distinct. The accompanying text notes any instances of artistic reconstruction or alteration. While not quite a guidebook, it could certainly have functioned as one. Even the scenes, such as the frontispiece, where Gell allows himself the luxury of thorough-going reconstruction, are founded as closely as possibly on evidence from the site itself and from Pompeian wall-paintings. Where there are curtains, it’s because there were curtain fixtures; where there is a brazier, Gell and Gandy take pains to explain how it might have functioned.

Admittedly, Pompeiana, like much of Gell’s work, is haunted by his awareness of the fragility of classical remains – he talks about the loss of frescos through ‘frequent wettings’ to brighten colours for tourists, ‘[u]ntil few traces remain for future revival’, and is evidently vividly conscious that his records of particularly delicate paintings might – as was indeed the case – become the sole evidence of their existence for future ages.[15]

Ultimately, though, Gell and Gandy’s Pompei was visible, liveable, and decidedly unromantic. They make no bones about the fact that it was a relatively small town, unlikely, say, to reveal the best masterpieces of Roman art. They are concerned with the everyday life of the citizens; about the chestnuts found in the ruins and what this says about the exact date of the eruption of Vesuvius.[16]

And how did the world of the 1820s and 1830s – Gell published a much-expanded version of Pompeiana in 1834 – respond to this admirably sober and detailed evocation of the classical past? Well. This is John Martin, giving the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum the full apocalyptic treatment, as early as 1822:

 

John Martin, The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, 1822
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

 

Even more notably, and despite Gell’s sniffiness about Walter Scott’s romancing, much of Pompeiana’s most enduring impact was to come through its influence on the 1834 novel The Last Days of Pompeii, the work of Edward Bulwer Lytton – an author now best known for the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest, where participants think up terrible openings for terrible novels, inspired by the immortal first line of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford, ‘it was a dark and stormy night’. Like Walter Scott’s imaginings, Bulwer-Lytton’s potboiler is liberally sprinkled with ahistorical Christians, not to mention tragic blind slave-girls, gladiatorial lions (who refuse to eat said Christians), evil priests of Isis, and hints at ghastly and creative orgies – more than enough to ensure its immediate success, particularly in versions which were heavily and creatively adapted for the stage, with a strong emphasis on lion-taming and suitably volcanic explosions; the novel itself was not to come truly into its own until the end of the 19th century, when it saw a resurgence in popularity which was to feed fairly directly into the swords and sandals epics of early Hollywood.[17]

Bulwer-Lytton, like any English visitor to Naples worth their salt in the 1820s and early 1830s, had been shown around Pompei by Gell, despite the latter’s by now near-immobilising gout. We have an account of such a tour from Gell’s friend and correspondent Lady Blessington, who notes that ‘[g]lad as I was to profit from the savoir of Sir William Gell …, yet I could have wished to ramble alone through the City of the Dead, which appealed so forcibly to my imagination, conjuring up its departed inhabitants instead of listening to erudite details of their dwellings and the use of each article appertaining to them’.[18] Bulwer-Lytton, evidently, felt much the same – or, at any rate, was aware that this desire represented a gap in the market.

His introduction to the novel makes much, like Gell’s own work, of its immediacy and close relationship with the actual place – ‘Nearly the whole of this work was written in Naples last winter (1832-33)’, and he is positively effusive in his dedication of the book to Gell:

In publishing a work, of which Pompeii furnishes the subject, I can think of no one to whom it can so fitly be dedicated as yourself. Your charming volumes upon the Antiquities of that City have indissolubly connected your name with its earlier — (as your residence in the vicinity has identified you with its more recent) — associations.[19]

Gell had become a fixture and an ornament; a stop on the tourist trail and a marker of authenticity.

Yet this is certainly not all his final years – he died in 1836 – amounted to; after all, they also saw the preparation and publication of his 1834 Topography of Rome and its Vicinity, as serious and unromantic a work of classical geography as one could wish for. And of course his legacy was not entirely filtered through Bulwer-Lytton and his legion of imitators – a meeting with Gell in Naples was a formative influence, for example, on the young Egyptologist John Gardner Wilkinson.

Something of Gell’s continuing legacy, in fact, is suggested by the very attractive – and telling – bookplate of Gilbert Murray in the Sackler’s copy of The Itinerary of Greece. Murray was an Australian classicist who was more or less single-handedly responsible for producing the first widely-available English versions of Greek tragedies – particularly those of Euripides – in the early 20th century. Like Gell, he was a Hellenist and a populariser; like Gell, he saw himself as committed to the facts of the classical past, to making them visible again to a modern audience. And indeed – despite an effective demolition job by T. S. Eliot, which has left a considerable dent in his reputation – his translations were hugely successful, with 400 000 copies published during his lifetime.[20] His bookplate’s view of Oxford and Athens, uneasily utopian though it might seem to modern eyes, is certainly a way of seeing the past – crisply defined; anchored to a particular place; parallel to and yet not impinging on the present – which would not have been entirely foreign to Gell:

 

Bookplate of Gilbert Murray, to inside front board of William Gell’s Itinerary of Greece.
Photo credit: H. David.

 

Harriet David
Former Library Assistant, Sackler Library
Currently Graduate Trainee, History Faculty Library

We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers.
Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (clare.hills-nova@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) and Chantal van den Berg (chantal.vandenberg@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) if you would like propose a topic.

Notes:

[1] Walter Scott, The Antiquary, 3 vols (Edinburgh: James Ballantyne & Co, 1816), i, p. 53.

[2] Richard Robert Madden, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, 2 vols (Lond: 1855), II, p. 8.

[3] William Gell, Sir William Gell in Italy: Letters to the Society of Dilettanti, 1831-1835 (London: Hamilton, 1976), p. 59.

[4] Gell, p. 35, n. 1.

[5] Howard M. Nixon and Mirjam M. Foot, The History of Decorated Bookbinding in England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992) p. 96.

[6] Madden, p. 59.

[7] George Gordon Byron, English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers: A Satire. 2nd edn (London: James Cawthorn, 1809), p. 80.

[8] Gell, Sir William Gell in Italy, p. 3.

[9] Alex Watson, ‘Byron’s Marginalia to English Bards and Scotch Reviewers’, The Byron Journal, 37 (2009), 131-139 (p. 135).

[10] Rosemary Sweet, ‘William Gell and Pompeiana (1817–19 AND 1832)’, Papers of the British School at Rome, 83 (2015), 245–81 (p. 254) <https://doi.org/10.1017/S0068246215000100>.

[11] Jason Thompson, Queen Caroline and Sir William Gell (Cham: Springer, 2018), p. 15.

[12] Madden, pp. 14-15.

[13] Sweet, p. 257.

[14] William Gell and John Peter Gandy, Pompeiana: The Topography, Edifices, and Ornaments of Pompeii. By Sir W. Gell and J.P. Gandy (Lond: Lond., 1817), p. 165.

[15] Gell and Gandy, p. 193.

[16] Gell and Gandy, p. 165, n. 1.

[17] See William St Clair and Annika Bautz, ‘Imperial Decadence: the making of the myths in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 40.2 (2012), 359–96 <https://doi.org/10.1017/S1060150312000010>.

[18] William Gell, Sir William Gell in Italy: Letters to the Society of Dilettanti, 1831-1835 (London: Hamilton, 1976), p. 30.

[19] Edward Bulwer Lytton, The Last Days of Pompeii, 3 vols (London: Richard Bentley, 1834), i, p. iii.

[20] Robert Ackerman, ‘Euripides and Professor Murray’, The Classical Journal, 81.4 (1986), 329–36 (p. 333).

Sackler 101: Cataloguing the Sackler’s Special Collections

The Trials and Tribulations of Assessing a Catalogue Record

Since November 2017 I have been working on a project at the Sackler Library to assess the quality of existing library cataloguing for different subsets of materials held in the library’s Special Collections.  With the goal, ultimately, to inform the decision on whether bibliographic access to materials held in closed stacks is satisfactory, we have examined a sample of resources from the Rare Book Room and the Wind Room and asked: Are these resources recorded in bibliographic records (or ‘bibs. in cataloguing parlance’) in SOLO, and are these bibs.[i] sufficiently ‘good’ to enable readers to complete the user tasks[ii] necessary for their research and study?  While only a very small number (four out of the initial sample of 312 resources) turned out to be omitted entirely from the catalogue, we have become aware of a wide range of issues that adversely affect retrieval.  Hence, the short answer on whether appropriate bibliographic access to Sackler Special Collections materials exists, is … usually.

A number of underlying factors might contribute to this qualification: the period during which a resource was first catalogued (professional standards have varied and evolved over time, and the earliest bibs., transcribed from early printed catalogue entries, are very basic indeed), the expertise of the cataloguer, whether she or he had sufficient time to catalogue a resource adequately, and – not to put too fine a point on it – how engaged the cataloguer was on the day.[iii]

But sometimes the specific nature of the resource in hand is intrinsically problematic: some ‘books’ are much better behaved than others; sometimes ‘books’ aren’t ‘books’ at all. And sometimes the sheer mass of resources held in the Bodleian Libraries and Oxford’s constituent college libraries obscures collocation, duplication, relationships.

For this post, I’ve taken for a starting point a bib. [(UkOxU)013068990 — type the number in SOLO’s Search box and you will find the record] that’s not ‘up to snuff’.

The work is catalogued under the title:

              22 photographs from the Oxford loan collection of historical portraits exhibited in 1906.

Sounds simple enough? As catalogued, the resource is comprised of two small portfolios of black-&-white photographic reproductions of painted portraits exhibited in Oxford in 1905 and 1906.  Speaking frankly, this is the sort of thing that was probably passed over on the to-do trolley for some time[iv] before someone sufficiently brave – or foolhardy – decided that the Time Had Come. Everything about these materials is problematic, from their format, to the inconsistent way in which they are titled, to their relationship to one another and to other resources.  Clearly, the two portfolios are related. But are they, in bibliographical terms, two instances of the ‘same’ resource?

Here is what is revealed with a little bit of digging. Early in the twentieth century, three loan exhibitions of portraits of English sitters were held in Oxford’s Examination Schools:

  • In 1904, the exhibition focused on sitters who had died before 1625.
  • In 1905, the exhibition focused on sitters who had died between 1625 and 1714.
  • In 1906, the exhibition focused on sitters who had died between 1714 and 1837.

 

 

Printed catalogues were published for each exhibition, in both a large, illustrated issue, and in a smaller issue illustrated only with a frontispiece.  (It is difficult to determine, without consulting the various copies around Oxford, but it appears that the smaller issue was presented as a second edition of the larger).  In addition, a number of the portraits were photographed during the second and third exhibitions, and small portfolios of these photographs were sold as ‘unofficial supplements’ to the printed catalogues; see some examples, below. (The Sackler Library holds copies of all three illustrated catalogues, the unillustrated 1904 catalogue, and both of the photographic supplements).

 

 

So the most straightforward possibility is that eight publications (large-format illustrated issue catalogues for each of three exhibitions, small-format unillustrated issue catalogue for each of three exhibitions, portfolios of photographic reproductions for the latter two exhibitions) exist. SOLO, however, lists sixteen different bibs. (including the last, the bibliographic record which initiated this blog post):

  1. Represents the illustrated catalogues from all three exhibitions on a single record (eight holding libraries within Oxford, including Sackler)
  2. Represents the illustrated catalogue from 1904 only (ten holding libraries)
  3. Represents the small-format catalogue from 1904 only (two holding libraries, including Sackler)
  4. Appears to duplicate no. 3 above, evidently unenhanced from an original printed catalogue record (Bodleian holding only)
  5. Represents the illustrated catalogue from 1905 only (seven holdings libraries)
  6. Appears to duplicate no. 5 above, evidently unenhanced from an original printed catalogue record (Bodleian holding only)
  7. Represents the small-format catalogue – described in the bib. as the ‘second, revised edition’ – from 1905 only (six holding libraries)
  8. Appears to duplicate no. 7 above, evidently unenhanced from an original printed catalogue record (Bodleian holding only)
  9. Represents the illustrated catalogue from 1906 only (seven holding libraries)
  10. Represents the small-format catalogue from 1906 only (four holdings libraries)
  11. Appears to duplicate no. 10 above, evidently unenhanced from an original printed catalogue record (Bodleian holding only)
  12. Appears to duplicate no. 10 above, evidently unenhanced from an original printed catalogue record (Bodleian holding only)
  13. A bit of a puzzle: the title suggests that it duplicates no. 10 above, while its stated size suggests that it duplicates no. 9 above (Bodleian holding only)
  14. Represents the photographic supplement to the 1905 exhibition (three holding libraries)
  15. Another puzzle: Represents either both photographic supplements, or only the 1906 exhibition (Bodleian holding only)
  16. Attempts to represent the photographic supplement to both the 1905 and 1906 exhibitions, but under the cover title for the later supplement (three holdings, including Sackler)

Are you still with us?  The broad point is that the sheer weight of duplication, coupled with the ambiguity engendered by inadequate records derived from early printed catalogues (such as the Bodleian’s), actively hinders the researcher seeking to locate and access a specific catalogue.

 

 

But the Sackler Library is our immediate concern. Record 1. is a solid overall record, but it does have problems.  First, nowhere in the bib. is the exact title of any of the three catalogues transcribed verbatim, even though the MARC (‘Machine Readable Cataloging’) standard allows the opportunity to do so.  Second, while collecting multiple physical pieces under a cursory ‘3 v.’ (as done here) was common practice until quite recently, it does obscure the textual and illustrative extent of each piece.  And third, some aspects of its ‘subject analysis’, the parts of the bib. that describe the intellectual content of a resource, rather than its physical form, are either incorrect, or unduly vague.

More alarming, however, is record 16, which first brought the situation to our attention.  The cataloguer began with a bib. for the later supplement, borrowed from the library at the Getty Research Institute.[v]  But s/he then attempted to accommodate both of Sackler’s photographic supplements on this single record, an attempt that, without fundamental revision, was doomed (doomed!) from the outset.  (To base a record for a ‘continuing resource’ — or series — on a later issue rather than on the earlier is, in technical cataloguing parlance, ‘naughty’).  And in any case, should the two supplements in fact be considered as two instances of a single resource?  Are they more closely related to each other, than to the exhibition catalogue that each ‘supplements’?  In intellectual terms, the decision to combine both on a single bib. is dubious; in practical terms, it effectively obscures that Sackler holds the earlier supplement from any researcher not aware of its title (although the bib. does provide this, redundantly, three times).  There are additional problems with the record, including another occurrence of an unhelpfully vague statement of physical extent (‘2 portfolios’); subject analysis inherited from Getty that is sufficiently far from correct practice to inhibit collocation with other similar resources; errors in coding variant title information; a simple typo, stating that the earlier portfolio contains thirty, rather than thirty-nine individual photographs…

 

 

This record ticks a lot of wrong boxes.

So what should have happened?

  • In the first instance, the two supplements should have been catalogued separately.  They do not form a series (a ‘continuing resource’ in current Cataloguerspeak).
  • Cataloguing rules afford good ways to collocate related resources.  It is possible to establish each exhibition as a distinct entity (MARC X11) and to use these entities to connect all works related to that exhibition.  Further, standards allow us to point between the catalogues and their photographic supplements (MARC 740).
  • Subject cataloguing will always be inconsistent, at least until Skynet takes over.  But context is important.  A cataloguer cannot help but be influenced by the records s/he has recently worked on; by the same token, it’s worth quickly checking for usage already present in the catalogue as a whole, in order to improve consistency within the bibliographic file and to avoid introducing new errors.
  • Ideally, a cataloguer would have noticed the proliferation of bibs. and contacted the Bodleian’s Database Maintenance team.  They’re very helpful, and very good at sorting these things out: we’re all in this together, comrades!

Now, this is an isolated record, and we don’t know the circumstances that led to its errors.  And, to be fair, it was not a simple knot to unpick.  In contrast, most records in the sample are about adequate for retrieval.  The concern is that even when bibs. abstain from any single mortal sin, unforgivably odious in the eyes of the Cataloguing Gods, many nevertheless evince accretions of minor peccadilloes that, collectively, place them in a parlous state.

So, next time SOLO reveals the exact resource that you sought, remember that it was the combined knowledge and judgement exercised by library cataloguers that thwarted the powers of entropy and enabled this discovery.

Joseph Ripp
Special Collections Cataloguing Consultant, Sackler Library

We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers.
Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (clare.hills-nova@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) and Chantal van den Berg (chantal.vandenberg@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) if you would like propose a topic.

Notes:

[i] Want to be effortlessly cool like a library cataloguer? Refer to a catalogue bibliographic record as a “bib.”

[ii] For readers whose FRBR2a is rusty, the catalogue should enable the reader to: “Find > Identify > Select > Obtain” resources.

2a “Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records”: do please try to keep up…

[iii] As measurable by the international standard of T minus coffee/T minus quitting time/T minus holiday/T minus the gentle slide into a well-earned and indefinite rest in the Home for Former Cataloguers and Otherwise Punchdrunk Precisians.

[iv] Not entirely speculative: the less-than-ideal state of conservation of these portfolios suggests that they might have lingered in a corner or beneath an ever-replenishing pile of books for some time until fished out, catalogued and hastily stuffed into an ill-fitting box “to get them out of our lives forever.” (They are now somewhat more adequately housed.)

[v] The existence of tools that facilitate sharing bibs. is one of the great strengths of the international library community.

Like @ Sac! 19th Century Salon Criticism

Skirmish in the Sackler
Francis Haskell and the study of French Art at Oxford

 

In his review of work exhibited at the 1824 Paris Salon, the writer Stendhal explosively declared that the arts were on the eve of a revolution. Citing as adversaries in this upcoming battle the two leading newspapers of the day, the traditional Journal des débats, and the more liberal Le Constitutionnel, he was frustrated that the controversial inclusion by the most successful painter of late eighteenth-century France, Jacques-Louis David, of nude male figures in his 1799 tour-de-force, L’Intervention des Sabines, had spawned the servile inclusion of figures that imitated statues in much of contemporary French academic art. [1]

 

These debates over the state of French art, and the nature and representation of beauty are some of the controversies that lie discreetly tucked away amongst the Haskell Room shelves on the second floor of the Sackler Library. Stacked with pamphlets and small volumes bound mostly in blue green, these documents contain the personal insights and opinions of an elite group of critics, artists and writers on the paintings, prints and works of sculpture exhibited at the Paris Salons in late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century France. The majority of these Salon reviews were published in the form of ‘feuilletons’ or cultural supplements which, being exempt from Napoleon’s strict censorship laws, had flourished after the Revolution.[2] The Haskell Room is one of the most comprehensive and outstanding collections of French art criticism material outside Paris. As such, both the room and its contents provide scholars with an insight into the history of the History of Art at Oxford, as well as the rich and complex reception of late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French Salon art.

The room is named in honour of Professor Francis Haskell, Professor of History of Art from 1967 until his retirement in 1995. Renowned for his work on sixteenth- and seventeenth- century Italian art, Haskell greatly expanded the scholarly resources in the then little explored field of nineteenth-century French academic art on his arrival in Oxford, rapidly developing a small but formidable focus for graduate research.[3] These resources include a set of original Salon catalogues acquired by Haskell, which include several very rare supplements and a run of reviews that are now in the Rare Books room produced by the nineteenth-century artist, critic and publishing entrepreneur, Charles-Paul Landon. These original materials are further buttressed by an extensive collection of photocopies of other, difficult-to-find texts. It is the work of two of Haskell’s former students, Dr Jon Whiteley, the recently retired Senior Assistant Keeper of Western Art at the Ashmolean, and his wife Dr Linda Whiteley from the History of Art Department, that is evident in this room. Not only did they painstakingly copy and collate the important art critical resources that make up the bulk of this collection, but also compiled the four-volume subject index of Salon paintings, which covers approximately 134,000 paintings exhibited between 1673 and 1881, and also resides in the Haskell Room. Perhaps the most fundamental result of this concentration on the history of the Salon was the three volume A bibliography of salon criticism in Paris from the Ancien Régime to the Restoration, 1699-1827, compiled by Neil McWilliam, Vera Schuster, Richard Wrigley, with the assistance of Pascale Méker. One further result of Haskell’s commitment to French academic art, the outstanding character of the collection, and the dynamic atmosphere of the department which Haskell described as ‘a golden age’, was that the late Professor Lee Johnson chose to bequeath his Delacroix archive to the History of Art Department.[4]

 

 

Stendhal’s ‘declaration of war’ was typical of his provocative nature and literary bravura, and each critic brought his or her written style to their epistolary engagement with the art exhibited. The most significant of the photocopies of the Parisian papers represented in the Haskell collection in terms of its circulation and longevity is the Journal des débats, which was briefly renamed the Journal de L’Empire during the Napoleonic period. Other newspapers include the Décade philosophique which changed its name to the Revue philosophique, the Journal des Arts, the Petites affiches, Nouvelles des arts, Le Spectateur, Le courrier français, and Le petit magasin des dames.  Copies of satirical magazines, such as the Arlequin au Muséum and Cassandre et Gilles, which were produced anonymously, are also well represented.

In the 1790s the reviews took a marked turn from the beautifully styled and imaginative musings on art that were characteristic of the work of Diderot and Abbé de la Porte, and instead were structured as descriptive pieces of text often recounting the story line that the painting represented, and then the skill of the artist in executing the work. In the period around 1810-14, the reviews became more discursive, and often focused on one particular artist, or on one particular genre of painting. Some writers approached their analysis by categorising the artworks according to their genre, (for example, history or allegorical painting, battle painting, landscapes, sculpture), or focused on key works and specific artists exhibiting at the Salon.

 

 

Although David had exhibited Les Sabines privately in 1799, his contested handling of the male figures resurfaced again in 1810 when it lost out in the prix décennal to Anne-Louis Girodet’s Le Déluge, and it was still the subject of controversy as late as the 1880s. Other concerns expressed by the critics focused on issues such as the status of French art, and unease over the upsurge in battle paintings and portraits exhibited at the Salons. These are most evident in the works of lesser known artists, and demonstrate more clearly where the demarcation lines for the artistic establishment lay between the different hierarchies and genres of painting, and the particular challenges faced by artists in executing work.

Towards the end of the Napoleonic period, critics engaged with the artworks from a more conceptual perspective, making generalised remarks on the state of French painting, the nature of Art and Beauty, and then using the specific works of art exhibited as examples to illustrate their points. In the early 1820s there was a sharp polarisation of critics into two camps: those who supported ‘David’s school’, such as his pupil Étienne-Jean Delécluze, Pierre-Alexandre Coupin and Fabien Pillet, and later, those such as Adolphe Thiers, François Guizot and Stendhal who with their different written styles, and for different reasons, were highly critical of the use of male ‘académies’ in history painting, and were drawn more to the work of Delacroix and Géricault. Coupin, for example, in his 1819 review of Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa exclaimed, “Monsieur Géricault seems mistaken. The goal of painting is to speak to the soul and the eyes, not to repel.”[5] In a similar tone, Pillet recounted an incident at the 1824 Salon of a visitor on first seeing Delacroix’s Scènes des massacres de Scio, and going red in the face with anger, describing it as  ‘…frightful, … it’s appalling, it’s the abomination of desolation’. [6] His own response was equally colourful.[7] This emotive and polarising language became more characteristic of later art criticism writing, as can be seen in the rhetoric of Stendhal.

 

 

Significant figures consistently represented in the Haskell Salon collection include Baron de Boutard who wrote for the Journal des débats between 1800-1817, and his successor Delécluze who became one of the great chroniclers of the nineteenth-century art world and who is best known for his 1855 biography of David.[8] Other critics include the novelist and poet François Ducray-Duminil who wrote for the Petites Affiches de Paris, Gault de Saint-Germain, who  wrote for Le Spectateur, and François-Xavier Fabre who wrote for the Revue Philosophique. The Comte de Kératry wrote an important 1822 treatise on beauty, and Auguste Jal is also well represented in the collection.

At a time when many of these resources are available online through database services such as Gallica, the integrity, and cohesiveness of the Haskell Room collection is enormously valuable to the researcher overwhelmed by the vast amount of data to work through. The material presence of these Salon reviews reminds us of the challenges that scholars had in accessing this material before digitisation, and of the visual and tangible quality of the art objects they engage with. These resources embody the legacy of Francis Haskell and his former students (of whom I am one), and the continued engagement with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French art at Oxford University.

Fiona Gatty, Research Fellow (DPhil, History of Art, 2015)

 

Readers are welcome to request to view materials from the Haskell Collection of Salon Criticism, whether housed in the Sackler Library’s Haskell Room or the Rare Book Room.  You can find a list of 19th century Salon Criticism materials collected by Haskell here: List of 19th century Salon Criticism in Haskell Room. All items are on SOLO, the Bodleian Libraries’ online catalogue. A shelfmark plus location (Haskell Room or Rare Book Room) must be supplied for each item requested.  Please apply in person at the Sackler Library’s Help Desk; or by email: sac-enquiries@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

A University/Bodleian Libraries reader ID is necessary before accessing the Sackler Library and materials in this Collection. Please see:  http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/using/getting-a-readers-card.

Requested items are for consultation in the designated area near the Sackler Library’s Help Desk.  Photography of materials for research and study purposes is permitted.

Digital copies of items in the collection can be requested via Imaging Services, Bodleian Libraries. Please note: The Sackler Library is unable to provide scans or photocopies direct.

We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers.
Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (clare.hills-nova@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) and Chantal van den Berg (chantal.vandenberg@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) if you would like propose a topic.

 

[1] Stendhal, Mélanges D’art: Salon De 1824.152. 11-12.

[2] Siegfried, S. Politicisation of Art Criticism. Orwicz. 9-28. 24.

[3] https://oxfordarthist.wordpress.com/2015/08/

[4] http://www.hoa.ox.ac.uk/lee-johnson-archive, https://oxfordarthist.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/delving-into-delacroix-an-introduction-to-the-lee-johnson-archive/

[5]Pierre Alexandre Coupin, Notice sur l’ exposition des tableaux en 1819. 528

[6]Fabien Pillet, Critique Des Tableaux Et Sculptures De L’Exposition De 1824. 25.

[7]Ibid.25-26.

[8]Louis David: son École et son temps, 1855

Like @ Sac! From Reader to Staff Member

 

I started working at the Sackler Library in April 2019. However, I have been an intensive and daily reader at the Sackler since 2016.  Having used the Sackler as my main work space for more than two years, I had become keen to also contribute to its maintenance and functioning.

I am writing my D.Phil. thesis in the field of Assyriology at the University of Oxford. The Sackler is the main research library for any researcher in the field of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Oxford (at Wolfson College, the Library houses the Jeremy Black Collection in Near Eastern Studies, as well).

 

Excited to find the perfect book for my research!

The Sackler offers many amenities and services to the Assyriological researcher: it is a quiet and peaceful work space, and all the books and periodicals relevant for our field are conveniently accessible on the first floor.  Once you start working at one of the desks there, all the necessary materials you can dream of – as an Assyriologist – are just a few steps, or clicks, away.  The Ancient Near Eastern collection of books is comprehensive, and new accessions can be found in the new books and new journal display on the ground and first floors.  Interdisciplinary research is easily possible in the Sackler – sections covering our neighbouring disciplines — Egyptology, Classics and Archaeology — are also housed at the Sackler Library, and occasionally, you will need to make an “expedition” to the ground floor to find a volume in the Classics section, or a periodical in the Haverfield Room. Thus, one can quickly look up parallels and differences in a differing geographical region or period – and lose oneself in an interesting topic in a neighbouring field.

The Sackler is also very international in its readers.  Many visiting and permanent researchers from all around the world use the Sackler for their research, and you can easily make contact with a researcher from a neighbouring field on a staircase or in the lobby area.  I should mention that the Sackler is conveniently located adjacent the Ashmolean Museum, so that an inspiring break there is easily manageable.

 

 

When you have finished your research for the day, but would like to continue your work with the same books the next day, you can leave a stack of up to ten books at the reservation point (these can be found on every floor of the Library), using an overnight reservation slip. This prevents the books from being re-shelved the following morning and enables you to continue working exactly where you left off the night before.

Helping readers behind the issue desk.

Did I mention the library’s opening times?  The Sackler is open seven days a week: 9 am – 10 pm on weekdays, 11 am – 6 pm on Saturdays, and 12 – 6 pm on Sundays.  This means I have access to the research materials I need —  Assyriological books and periodicals (and new acquisitions) — on a daily basis (unless it is a major holiday).  Depending on your patron status – i.e. if you are a member of the University of Oxford – you can even borrow books which are not confined to the library to work with them after closing time.  If you have to meet impending deadlines, then the long and daily opening times and the option to borrow books can help a great deal.

Once you have finished using a book, you can put it on the respective trolley on each floor.  When I first became a reader at the Sackler I did not realise that there is a sign on each trolley which asks you to put books within a specific shelf mark range on it.  Assyriological books, for example, are mainly classified to what is known as ‘the 200s’ and there is trolley designated for these 200s books permanently located on the first floor.  Since I had not paid attention to the signs on the trolleys, I put my books on different trolleys at first, for example on the trolley for Egyptological books, which are classified to what is known as ‘the 300s’.  Now, that I have started working as a library assistant at the Sackler, and shelve books myself, I realise how much easier it is for the library assistants if readers return their research materials to the correct trolleys: the shelving gets done faster.  As a reader I find it a great luxury that library assistants shelve the books for me, and it ensures that the books are shelved in their proper place.

I have learned new things about the Sackler since I started working as a member of Reader Services staff.  Shelving is obviously a big part of my work, and I enjoy it, especially on the floors where I have not been a reader before, such as the second and third floors, which house the Western and Eastern art and architecture collections.  I am usually fascinated by the titles and artworks shown in these books as they show subject areas which, as a researcher using materials on the first floor, I had not encountered before.

I am very grateful for the introduction to my new job and for the support of my Sackler colleagues.  I have always felt at home as a reader and now also as a library assistant. I can only recommend to researchers that they make full use of the resources available to them in this amazing library.

Lynn-Salammbo Zimmerman
Library Assistant, Reader Services, Sackler Library
and D.Phil. candidate in Assyriology

 

We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers.
Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (clare.hills-nova@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) and Chantal van den Berg (chantal.vandenberg@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) if you would like propose a topic.

Sackler 101: Sunday Opening… Part II

 

“At 12:00 noon on 14 January 2018, the beginning of Hilary Term, the Sackler Library opened on a Sunday for the first time. Planned as a soft launch, and despite minimal advertising, by the time the Library closed at 18:00 the reader count had reached fifty-five and the Sackler [which had already established itself as the University library with the longest year-round, staffed opening hours, had increased this number to 78 hours per week]”:

M-F         09:00-22:00
Sat          11:00-18:00
Sun         12:00-18:00

This is how Sackler Operations Manager Frank Egerton opened last year’s blog post about the new Sunday opening hours at the Sackler Library. It was clear that both Saturdays and Sundays are very popular with readers. Over the last year, we have continued to gather reader counts for Saturdays and Sundays both via gate entry data and at set times during weekend shifts. We also still receive positive feedback from readers about our year round, 7 day a week opening hours.

Here are some fun facts about our Saturday and Sunday opening hours. We looked at our weekend reader numbers for Hilary Term 2018 and compared them with those for the same period in 2019. As you can see, the number of weekend readers has gone up in Hilary Term 2019.

Sunday opening is still a success after one year! Sunday opening was initially presented to readers as a two-year trial. Given its continuing success, it seems very unlikely that these extended hours will be discontinued after the trial period ends.

Chantal van den Berg
Library Assistant
and
Frank Egerton
Operations Manager

 

We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers.
Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (clare.hills-nova@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) and Chantal van den Berg (chantal.vandenberg@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) if you would like propose a topic.

 

Like @ Sac! Chronicles of a (fairly) new member of staff

 

I joined the Sackler library in March 2018 as part of the evening and weekend team, following the introduction of Sunday opening hours in January 2018. My duties involve lodge and issue desk cover, shelving, book cleaning and checking reading lists against the online catalogue.

For me, this was a complete change in working environment and hours. My previous job, which I held for more years than I care to think about, was basically Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. Setting out for work at a time I was previously thinking about going home, took some getting used to but this change, as they say, is as good as a rest.

During the induction to the library a colleague and I were given a tour and we were shown the smallest and largest books held in the Rare Book Room. The smallest, an Italian book about Roman architecture, although quite deep, didn’t appear to be much bigger than a large postage stamp. The largest, an art catalogue of the Hermitage in St Petersburg, is not just coffee table size; it could actually be a coffee table!

 

 

Probably the most satisfying part of working at the issue desk is helping readers to find the item they are looking for. Sometimes this is simply directing them to the right floor or shelving area, if they already know the shelf mark. At other times it involves searching SOLO, confirming the library that holds the item and its shelf mark there.

 

A selection of the classification systems used in the Library. Photo by Chantal van den Berg.

 

When I first started working at the library I thought I would never find my way around the dizzying range of classification systems used (Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal being just two). However, with the help of my other favourite part of the job (although at times it is never ending), shelving, I soon started to become familiar with the layout. I have also revived my rather rusty and very basic knowledge of Roman Numerals. A major achievement was when I directed a reader to the right part of the library without having to use the helpful floor plans (still needed for a couple of floors though).

 

The many book sizes of the sackler. Photo by Frances Lear.

 

The other thing you do notice about shelving is the higher the floor, the bigger the books, which is to be expected when those higher floors contain Eastern and Western art, and architecture (and some Eastern archaeology) books. Luckily for me there are plenty of kick stools and steps around the library for those top shelves.

I have also acquired some new skills working in the library, one of them being the correct way to clean books. I have to confess my books at home simply have a duster flicked over them occasionally.

The range of library users is diverse, which of course means a wide variety of queries, some very simple, some technical. Handling these queries is a great way to learn, especially when I can call on my more experienced colleagues for help.

Finally, in my previous job, I was very used to customers saying they had to leave shortly to pick up their children or catch a bus but until I started at the Sackler I had never had anyone ask for my help because they needed to leave the library within 20 minutes to catch a plane to Paris.

All in all joining the Sackler has been a very good move for me and I hope to spend more time learning about its collection and resources.

 

Frances Lear
Library Assistant, evenings and weekends

 

We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers.
Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (clare.hills-nova@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) and Chantal van den Berg (chantal.vandenberg@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) if you would like propose a topic.

Like @ Sac! “A Winckel in Time”; Winckelmann’s Histoire de l’art chez les anciens in the Sackler Library

 

With elaborate gilt-lettered red leather bindings and coarsely cut pages, the Histoire de l’art chez les anciens held in the Sackler Rare book room is the final in a series of five French translations of Johann Joachim Winckelmann‘s seminal work, Geschichte der kunst des Altertums, (History of the Art of Antiquity) published between 1766 and 1802.  The front cover of each of these volumes bears the bookplate of the connoisseur and fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford, Charles Drury Edward Fortnum (1820–1899), an avid collector of sculptures, bronzes, maiolica and rings, and described in his obituary as the ‘second founder’ of the Ashmolean Museum.[1]

 

 

A striking feature of this richly illustrated three-volume edition is the variety and quality of the images used throughout the work.  Found at the beginning and end of each chapter and in the appendices to each volume, these pictures include finely-rendered engravings of ancient coins, bas-reliefs, ancient sculptures, objets d’art, landscapes in the style of Piranesi, and detailed architectural plans.  Some of the statues depicted are instantly recognisable as the emblematic monuments of antique sculpture that Winckelmann described in the Historie.  Others are obtuse, bizarre, and even ugly objects, lightly sketched, or densely rendered.  Each item is meticulously described and annotated in an extensive appendix that makes up a substantial part of the third volume.

 

 

Beyond their immediate intellectual and historical significance, these volumes are sensually captivating for the bibliophile. Ephemera such as the carefully handwritten notes of past scholars, the uncut pages, the bookplates, the Ashmolean museum stamp, and the flimsy tissue paper that protects each of the plentiful illustrations, convey a sense of the book’s material presence.  These objects integrate the memory of past scholarship into the aesthetic experience of engaging with the Histoire, and provide a physical and visual testament to the continued fascination of Winckelmann’s work for nineteenth-century connoisseurs and collectors.

 

 

Winckelmann, born in 1717 in Stendhal, became one of the most celebrated figures in Europe through his writings on classical art, directing popular taste towards the Greek ideal and influencing not only Western painting and sculpture, but also literature and philosophy.  These volumes provide an insight into the complex and important history of Winckelmann’s publication in France.

 

 

 

Winckelmann himself was responsible for the first translation of the Geschichte into French.  Keen to promote and disseminate the work around educated circles of Europe he arranged for the Histoire to be printed in France in 1766, only two years after its original publication in German in 1764.[2]  His impatience, however, resulted in a botched translation, and Winckelmann had to pull on his connections in Paris and their influence with the police to suppress and confiscate copies of the failed work.[3]

The sensational and grisly nature of Winckelmann’s murder in Trieste in 1768 along with the quality and comprehensive nature of the Histoire itself and its broader significance in laying down the intellectual framework for the disciplines of Art History and Archaeology, ensured that the work found a ready audience in the artistic and connoisseurial circles of Europe.  A second edition, with a translation by Michael Huber, was published in 1781, which was popular enough to justify the printing of a new edition and translation in 1786.  In 1786 Winckelmann’s Treatises on Taste, the Recueil de différentes pièces sur les arts, which included such essays as the Sentiment for the Beautiful in Art, and Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture were also translated and published.  These works include some of Winckelmann’s most famous rhetorical writings on classical statuary such as the Laocoön, the Apollo Belvedere and the Niobe.

 

 

Winckelmann’s influence in France is evident from the wide-ranging references to him in the art dictionaries and the costume dictionaries of late eighteenth-century France.  The popularity of his work was increased with the publication of a new version of the Histoire in 1794 at the height of the Terror, with this final edition being published in 1802-3.[4]  In this context it is interesting to note that there was no English translation of the Geschichte until the 1850s.

The 1794 and 1802 editions were produced by the Dutch bookseller, revolutionary and freemason Hendrik Jansen.  In 1799 Jansen also published Winckelmann’s Treatise on allegory in French as Essai sur l’allégorie, à l’usage des artistes. He was an important factor in the dissemination of Winckelmann’s work, and was among the first to recognise the significance of Winckelmann’s works being read in their entirety rather than in extract form.  Jansen’s activities as a publisher and translator also helped to bridge the gulf between art theory and every-day artistic practice by stressing the practical use of Winckelmann’s knowledge and expertise.

The quantity of editions produced of the Histoire de l’art in France demonstrates that there was an ongoing interest and continuing market for Winckelmann’s writings on Greek and Roman antiquities in France before, during and after the Revolution.  This was accounted in part by the passionate intensity of debates surrounding the nature of beauty during this period.  Even though the most pre-eminent artist of the time, Anton Raphael Mengs and others questioned the accuracy of some of Winckelmann’s attributions, the debate over the veracity of Winckelmann’s work demonstrates how seriously it was taken by the artistic establishment in France.  Winckelmann and the Histoire came to represent a detached and authoritative voice in the debate surrounding beauty to which contemporary theorists such as Mengs, the Italian archaeologist Carlo Fea,[5] the German writer and philosopher Gotthold Lessing,[6] and the German classical scholar and archaeologist Christian Heyne responded in these Sackler editions.  The lavish attention to the illustration and presentation of these volumes, the dedicated scholarship and densely printed essays written by these leading art theorists, provide a window into the art theoretical and antiquarian debates of late-eighteenth-century France, and the value they attached to Winckelmann’s monumental achievement in writing a trajectory of the history of ancient art.

 

Fiona Gatty, Research Fellow (DPhil, History of Art, 2015)

 

We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers.
Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (clare.hills-nova@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) and Chantal van den Berg (chantal.vandenberg@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) if you would like propose a topic.

 

[1] Timothy Wilson, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/9951

[2] This version was published  by Charles Saillant with a translation by Gottfried Sell.

[3] Despite this there is a copy of the 1766 version in the Bodleian Weston Library.

[4] Of these five translations the most widely circulated was the three-volume French translation by Michael Huber, published by Henrik Jansen in Paris in 1790-4. Potts.1994. 256. Ft.4

[5] Fea was responsible for a very popular translation of the  Geschichte into Italian, Storia delle Arti del disengo presso gli antichi, which was published  in Rome in 1783-4. ibid. 256. Ft 9.

[6] Lessing’s most significant art theoretical text was Laocoon: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry.

Sackler 101: How to Get a Workout

Shelving at the Sackler Library

The Sackler is a busy lending library for several disciplines, and many books are borrowed and returned each day.  Our dedicated shelving team and other Reader Services staff members do an invaluable job at keeping on top of the stacks of books needing to be shelved every day.

During academic year 2017-2018, Sackler staff shelved over 175,000 books — more than half of the total number of books in the whole library.  This is a really impressive effort, and shows just how important shelving is to the successful operation of the library. Moreover, art/architecture/archaeology books are heavy.  Shelving 175,000 Sackler Library books entails a great deal of strenuous lifting.  Who needs a workout?

The pie chart (below) breaks down those 175,000 books.  Most books needing to be shelved were on the ground floor and 1st floor, followed by the lower ground floor, then the 2nd and 3rd floors.  The ground and 1st floors house monographs and journals on Classics and Classical Archaeology, Ancient History, Ancient Near Eastern Studies and Egyptology.  The 2nd and 3rd Floors house the Western and Eastern Art collections, supporting the research, study and teaching needs of a more wide-ranging readership, but fewer in numbers — hence the lower shelving figures.

As expected, we do more shelving during term time than during the vacation, and shelving has been more or less the same each term, with a slight reduction for Trinity term, when exams are held (and fewer books are needed for essay preparation, etc.).

Image created by Grace Brown

We asked Library Assistant Heidi Macaulay to comment on the past year’s changes in the Sackler Library’s shelving procedures:

“The past academic year at Sackler saw much restructuring, part of which resulted in an improvement in the library’s shelving situation.  New weekend opening hours resulted in more Library Assistants joining the Reader Services staff team, and most Library Assistants now have daily shelving responsibilities.  The net effect is that there are many more hours spent shelving each week.

Procedurally, shelving is now standardised across all floors as a system.  Book-trolleys for shelving, labelled with shelf marks, have also been standardised and on every floor they are located on the south side of each reading room.  (The exception is the ground floor, where they remain located near their respective stacks and keep exit routes clear in case of fire.) This standardisation makes it much easier for readers and staff to locate items which have been consulted in-house and are waiting to be shelved.

Such changes also make it much easier to determine where exactly any given Reading Room book is located:  On the correct shelf; waiting to be loaned to a borrower; held at a reservation point; forming part of the daily morning desk sweep for each floor (these books transfer immediately to the appropriate re-shelving book-trolleys for each floor); or on the book returns trolleys near the ground floor Help & Circulation Desk. 

Having additional Reader Services staff engaged in shelving also enables us to carry out more consistent work on book conservation/cleaning, missing book searches and shelf tidying and locating any missing books.  (If a book remains missing,  its status on SOLO will be updated to reflect this.)

As further added value, these changes bring an increased presence of Library Assistants to the Reading Rooms.  While there, they can help with readers’ queries (eg, finding books!) at point of need and also help ensure that the reading rooms remain calm working environments.  All the while shelving methodically on all  floors throughout the day.

All of these changes combine to further enhance readers’ experience in effectively locating and using the books they need.”

So the next time you wonder…

 

Chantal van den Berg, Grace Brown and Heidi Macaulay, Members of the Sackler Library’s Reader Services staff team

We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers.
Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (clare.hills-nova@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) and Chantal van den Berg (chantal.vandenberg@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) if you would like propose a topic.

Like @ Sac! A Peaceable Kingdom

 

In June 2018, the Sackler Library put up a book display with our staff members’ favourite publiciations housed in the Sackler, with the aim to showcase different disciplines and areas of interest together in one place to spark interest and ideas in readers. This is Louise Calder’s account of her favourite item in our collection.

My favourite Sackler book is A Peaceable Kingdom : the Leo Mildenberg collection of ancient animals.  It’s a 2004, London Christie’s Auction Catalogue.  I first encountered it when Dr Henry Kim, then at the Ashmolean’s Heberden Coin Room, said, “You’ve got to look at this!”  He was right.  This was at the very, very beginning of my DPhil[1], and though it was definitely going to be about animals in ancient Greece, I hadn’t yet decided if they would be snakes, or pigs (Professor John Boardman’s idea), or perhaps exclusively pets.  At that point of indecision, and doubt about whether I was truly up to the job, this gorgeous catalogue gave me a bounce of delight that helped me into the next stage.

For 40 years Leo Mildenberg collected ancient Egyptian, Eastern, Greek and Roman animal representations.  Many were already published[2], but this substantial catalogue offers Christie’s exquisite, high quality images for some of the choicest in Mildenberg’s collection.  The pictures breathed fresh life into the objects, just before they disappeared again into secret, private, lucky hands.

 

 

 

During the writing of my thesis this ‘peaceable kingdom’ was a source of refreshment and supporting evidence, not only for study, but recreation too.  A prancing cheetah on an Apulian red-figure plate (Lot 80) inspired me to make an embroidered name tag (see pictures), and the Mesopotamian leopard in limestone (Lot 153) was my focus for an intensive ‘lost wax’ silversmithing project (see pictures).  Both leopard and cheetah exemplify a charm and cheer that pervade the collection.  They seem to reflect that of Mildenberg himself; delightfully pictured smiling throughout.

Back at the Sackler, my colleagues love these ancient beasts too, even down to the issues desk stationery.  Among our many novelty items, we have an eraser in the form of a faïence hippo that’s very like one of Mildenberg’s.  The eraser is actually after ‘William’, the Metropolitan Museum of Art example, but whenever I see it, I think ‘Mildenberg’, and, funnily enough, Mildenberg named his too:  ‘Hubert’ (Lot 111).

 

 

I periodically run across A Peaceable Kingdom in the Sackler.  It’s an old friend, and it gives me a sense of contentment and connection whenever I see it.

Louise Calder, Library Assistant, Sackler Library

 

We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers.
Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (clare.hills-nova@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) and Chantal van den Berg (chantal.vandenberg@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) if you would like propose a topic.

 

[1] Calder, L. (2009), Cruelty and sentimentality : Greek attitudes to animals, 600-300 BC. Thesis (D.Phil.) – University of Oxford, 2009. v. 1: Bodleian Library, Offsite, MS. D.Phil. c.22973, Theses 605083196; v. 2: Bodleian Library, Offsite, MS. D.Phil. c.22974, Theses 605083197.  (Published as: Calder, L. (2011), Cruelty and sentimentality : Greek attitudes to animals, 600-300 BC. Oxford : Archaeopress, 2011.  Sackler Library LG Floor 622.1 Cal.

[2]
Kozloff, A. (1981), Animals in Ancient Art from the Leo Mildenberg Collection. Sackler Library 1st Floor J.ii.213f.
Avida, U. (1986), Animals in Ancient Art. Sackler Library 1st Floor J.ii. pamph. [Mildenberg].
Kozloff, A. (1986), More Animals in Ancient Art from the Leo Mildenberg Collection.  Sackler Library 1st Floor J.ii.213fb.
Walker, A. (1996), Animals in Ancient Art from the Leo Mildenberg Collection: Part III.  Sackler Library 1st Floor J.ii.213fc.
Zahlhaas, G. (1997), Out Of Noah’s Ark: Animals In Ancient Art from the Leo Mildenberg Collection. Sackler Library 1st Floor J.ii.213fe.
Biers, J. (2004), Animals In Ancient Art from the Leo Mildenberg Collection Part VI : A Peaceable Kingdom.  Sackler Library 1st Floor J.ii.213ff.