Category Archives: Special Collections

Visiting our Pre-Covid Past: Artists’ Books on Display at the Taylor Institution Library

Viewing Walter J. Strachan’s Livre d’artiste Collection with Geoffrey Strachan

Remember the Taylor Institution Library in the days before Covid? A busy place, full of academics, students and visitors en route to lectures — and to the library. Indeed, some individuals were attending seminars and other events at which the library’s special collections were on view. In this post we look back twelve months, to (as you will discover if you read on) one of our more memorable special collections events……

Giullaume Apollinaire. Si je mourais là-bas. Illustrated by Georges Braque (Paris: L. Broder, 1962)

 

In May 1945, less than a fortnight after the German surrender marking the end of  World War II in Europe, a British schoolteacher took his French language students on a trip to London. They were going to the National Gallery (whose collection of paintings had been transferred to Wales for the duration of the War) to see an exhibition of livres d’artistes, or artists’ books, a still relatively minor avant-garde art form imported from the Continent — principally Paris; one can assume that for the students the exhibition was little more than an excuse to experience a post-VE Day London still ecstatic with the new, incompre-hensible peace in Europe.

 

Whatever the students thought of it, the exhibition was nothing short of life-changing for their teacher, Walter Strachan, who described first seeing the livres d’artistes as simply “over-whelming”. He took his pupils home and returned not long after, traveling to Paris as soon as the Channel was re-opened to tourists. There he met the artists, authors, printmakers, typesetters and publishers in situ, with a dream of stimulating interest in the livre d’artiste genre back home in the UK. Strachan’s advocacy was greeted with open arms in France and he returned home rich with examples of recently-created works to show to potential collectors, such as V&A curators and librarians who, thanks to his urging, ultimately acquired over 60 such pieces. This trip was followed by another, and then another, until an annual tradition began.

Paul Verlaine. Parallèlement. Illustrated by Pierre Bonnard (Paris: A. Vollard, 1900)

By the time he was 80, Strachan had formed a working collection of over 250 complete and semi-complete livres d’artistes, spanning works incorporating lithographs designed by Pierre Bonnard (1900) to Pierre Tal-Coat etchings (1983). Strachan sought a permanent home for his collection, where it could be used as it had been throughout his life—not untouched in a collector’s drawer, but as a living body of work that would continue to promote the genre as a wildly creative and important art form.

Jean Cocteau. La voix humaine. Illustrated by Bernard Buffet (Paris: Parenthèses, 1957. Pierre Reverdy. Le chant de morts (Paris: Teriade, 1948)

In 1987, after a commemorative exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Strachan found that home at the Taylor Institution Library. Thirty-two years later, the collection is still used by both researchers and students from across the University—and occasionally shown to visiting groups, as happened in July 2019.

It was the hottest day on record in Oxford’s history: not the kind of day one would choose to mount a display of our livres d’artistes. With the support  of our premises manager, Piotr Skzonter—without whom the whole display would have fallen apart—we exhibited a selection of pieces chosen for a visit by the Charlbury Art Group, led by Walter Strachan’s son, Geoffrey. The Taylorian’s lecture  hall was mercifully cool, its high windows, blinds and thick walls protecting us from the inferno outside; still, we wondered, given the heat would anyone come?

Slowly, the hall filled up and, despite the  temperature,  soon the whole group was with us. The afternoon was introduced by Clare Hills-Nova, Librarian in Charge, Sackler Library, where the collection is now held (on long-term loan) in a climate-controlled environment. Clare noted that this was the largest livre d’artiste event that the Taylor had yet hosted. As library staff – together with Geoffrey Strachan — brought together selected works to show our visitors, we discovered pieces that we had never seen before; one example—Mario Prassinos’ rendering of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, with its many iterations of the raven image—reminding us what an unparalleled didactic tool the collection serves for University of Oxford researchers and students. Since Strachan’s pieces were often page proofs, ‘off-cuts’ and/or working drafts, or even rejects from the artists (the finalized works too valuable to give away) our collection reveals the thought processes behind livres d’artiste production and the 30 works we showed that day represented a microcosm of this artistic dynamic.

Edgar Allan Poe. The Raven. Illustrated by Mario Prassinos (Paris: Pierre Worms, 1952

Alongside our selections of semi-complete artists’ books were a few complete works, either owned by the Taylorian or held by other libraries, to show how each of the incomplete works fitted into the finished whole, and what might have changed between Strachan’s visits with the artists and their books’ completion.

Aeschylus. Agamemnon. Illustrated by Abram Krol (Paris: A. Krol, 1965)

Geoffrey Strachan gave a stimulating talk, setting the stage by walking us through his father’s journey from that momentous National Gallery exhibition to his pivotal role promoting the livre d’artiste in Britain. That we have this collection is not only thanks to his father’s passion, Strachan reminded us, but also thanks to the generosity of the artists he met.

With that in mind, the group was invited to explore the display, spread across the shaded lecture hall. Grouped by theme and/or period, the pieces held different attractions for different viewers; some mulled over the more famous pieces such as Pierre Bonnard’s illustrations for Parallèlement, by Paul Verlaine, or Georges Braque’s images for Si je mourais là-bas by Guillaume Apollinaire; while others were drawn to lesser-known works such as the compelling line-images of Agamemnon, illustrated by Polish émigré Abram Krol or the fairy-tale-esque etchings in Hélène Iliadz’s Brigadnii – Un de la Brigade, by another émigrée artist, the Ukranian Anna Staritsky. One of the most popular works was French cultural icon (and Minister of Culture) André Malraux’s La Tentation de L’Occident, illustrated by Zao Wou-Ki (an émigré from 1940s China), combining emotive and explosive abstract images with an elegant typographical design.

While each work had a magic of its own, viewing the display as a whole had a kaleidoscopic effect, showing the variety of technique, colour, authors and artists within a once side-lined genre. This was magnified further by these artists’ books’  donation home: a library where the content of much-read and consequently battered texts normally takes precedence over the visual materiality of the publications themselves; a library temporarily transformed into a gallery for books whose physicality is their raison d’être. It is easy to see how this radical and at times very powerful marriage of word and image, content and form swept Strachan away in a lifelong love affair that we, with much appreciation, are still learning from.

Alex Zaleski, Library Assistant, Taylor Institution Library

Photo credits: Clare Hills-Nova, Justine Provino and Alex Zaleski

Further reading

Le livre d’artiste: a catalogue of the W.J. Strachan gift to the Taylor Institution: exhibited at the Ashmolean Museum, Ox, 1987 (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum and Taylor Institution, 1987).

W.J. Strachan. The artist and the book in France: the 20th century livre d’artiste (London: Owen, 1969)

Hair Today, Still Hair Tomorrow: Goethe’s Hair at the Taylor Institution Library

If you may not know already, the Taylor Institution Library houses a vast array of collections on Modern Languages and Literatures. We also house some amazing special collections. Including a lock of Goethe’s hair! The hair even has its own shelfmark: MS.8º.G.26. The shelfmark denotes the item as an octavo. Professor Henrike Lähnemann of the University’s Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages finds this amusing. This is because octavo refers to the size of the original German paper slip holding the hair. Lähnemann has said that the slip is like a secular counterpart to the authentication papers which comes with a saint’s relics. In the Middle Ages, they were called cedulae, where the name of the saint was noted and then tied to the relic. This placement of slip and hair in a small envelope appears to indicate the treatment of Goethe’s hair as if it were the relic of a saint. Today, Goethe’s hair continues to fascinate visitors of the library. The hair is displayed in a frame alongside a pressed violet and a portrait of Goethe, with the German paper slip and a little, ‘English’ envelope. Why does the Taylor have such a mysterious artefact, and how did the library even obtain it in the first place? All will be revealed…

Goethe’s hair, framed with sketched portrait and violet. The English envelope features on top.

Figure 1: Goethe’s hair, framed with sketched portrait and violet. The English envelope features on top.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was considered to be the greatest German literary figure of the modern era. He was a statesman, and from 1775 joined the court of the Duke of Weimar. Goethe held several responsible, administrative and advisory posts in the government. Yet, political duties got in the way of his writing. Eventually, Goethe left on a two year trip to Italy (without telling anyone!) in order to come to terms with his art. Upon returning to Germany, Goethe was no longer involved in public affairs. Instead, he cultivated his passions, including his plays, poems, and novels, but also his scientific studies. Goethe’s works include Faust (Part One and Two 1808 and 1832, respectively), Roman Elegies (1795), and The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). Goethe also found the time to translate works into German, write an autobiography (Poetry and Truth, 1811-33), and also edit and publish several literary reviews!

Goethe died unexpectedly of heart failure, and left behind a vast legacy. He had a profound impact on later literary movements, including Romanticism and expressionism. Goethe’s lifetime spanned some of the most monumental disruptions in modern history, and is often referred to as the Goethezeit or Age of Goethe.

Presumably, as was common place in western cultures when a person was gravely ill or died, locks of hair were shorn from Goethe’s head. The locks were then distributed to close family and friends. As creepy as it may seem to us in the 21st century, a lock of hair may have been comforting to the grieving and also act as a sign of prestige. By the end of his life, Goethe was highly celebrated, and to be seen to possess a lock of hair from the head of the man himself, certainly conveyed privilege. Those of you who are Goethe fans may have noticed this was in complete contrast to how his friend Eckermann viewed removing locks from Goethe’s head. In the final passage of Conversations with Goethe, Eckermann, upon seeing Goethe in his death bed, remembered how he ‘wished for a lock of his hair; but reverence prevented me from cutting it off’.

Clearly, the sheer, celestial monument of Goethe on his death bed, did not stop everyone from taking a small keepsake. There is no record whether Goethe gave his permission for a lock of his hair to be cut. Susan Halstead is a Social Sciences Subject Librarian at the British Library. According to her, Goethe’s reaction to such a request would have depended on who made it. Ottilie von Goethe, his daughter-in-law may have received a favourable response, as she cared for the elderly Goethe until his death. Whereas, Bettina von Arnim would have received a much dustier response. After all, her friendship with Goethe was ended, due to Bettina’s ‘insolent behaviour’ towards Goethe’s wife.

 It is unclear how many people were able to obtain a lock of Goethe’s hair, but one person who did was Johannes Falk. Whilst there is no mention of Falk in any accounts of Goethe’s illness in 1823 and eventual passing, chronologies of the day were compiled by scholars collating diaries, letters and conversations in the 20th century. So, it was only people who were actually there at the time, who could have known that Goethe was convalescing. At the time, Goethe was recovering from a near fatal heart illness. It is possible that the lock of hair was cut, unbeknownst to Goethe, whilst he was enjoying a restorative sleep.

Falk (1768-1826) was a German publisher and poet. Frequenting the literary circles of Schiller and Goethe, he became a close friend of Goethe. Therefore, Falk may have been one of Goethe’s visitors when he was taken ill. One inscription accompanying the hair was possibly penned by Falk himself (see Figure 2). The inscription is simply entitled Goethes Haar (Goethe’s hair) and reads as follows:

Diese Locke(n) wurden ihm 2ten März in den Tagen seiner Genesung von der Krankheit abgeschnitten. 

This lock was cut from him on the 2nd March in the days of his convalescence from illness

There is currently no direct evidence that Falk was the true author of this inscription. To establish true authorship, handwriting analysis would have to be undertaken. Manuscripts which are kept in the Falk Archive in Weimar, would need to be compared with the inscription. Despite this, there is still a high possibility that Falk wrote it.

According to the testimony of John Falk, the living descendant of Johannes Falk, he passed on the hair to a daughter, who then proceeded to pass it onto John’s great grandfather. A second inscription also accompanies the artefact and seems to confirm this, with the heading of Goethe’s hair (see Figure 2). The text is in English and is as follows:

Given me by my Aunt, Mrs Gabriele Saeltzer, of Weimar, the only surviving child of my Father’s Uncle, Johannes Daniel Falk, the Satirist and Friend of Goethe.  Given me at Catsclough, Cheshire on Fri Aug. 19. 1881.  H. John Falk.

German slip (left) and English envelope (right

Figure 2: German slip (left) and English envelope (right)

The inscription is on the English little envelope in which the lock of hair was kept for 58 years. It is unclear if Gabriele Saeltzer was visiting Catsclough or if she was a resident. It is very possible that she was one of Falk’s daughters, as out of the ten children he had with his wife Caroline Rosenfield, only two daughters survived. If Gabriela was Falk’s youngest daughter, she would have been in her sixties in 1881. Therefore, she must have treasured the hair for most of her life. It may be natural to assume that she wanted to pass it and other small relics such as the portrait of Goethe and the pressed violet onto the next generation. Gabriele or Falk may have added these items, intending them to be accompanied with the hair wherever it went. Presumably in a similar act of veneration, H. John Falk may have framed the three little items (see Figure 1).

A violet seems to be an odd choice to accompany the hair. But the reason for this, as Lähnemann explained, is due to the popularity of Das Veilchen (The Violet), which is a poem by Goethe. The last stanza of the poem is:

Ach! aber ach! das Mädchen kam
Und nicht in Acht das Veilchen nahm,
Ertrat das arme Veilchen.
Es sank und starb und freut’ sich noch:
Und sterb’ ich denn, so sterb’ ich doch
Durch sie, durch sie,
Zu ihren Füßen doch.
Das arme Veilchen
Es war ein herzigs Veilchen!

But alas, alas, the girl drew near
And took no heed of the violet,
Trampled the poor violet.
It sank and died, yet still rejoiced:
And if I die, at least I die
Through her, through her
And at her feet.
The poor violet!
It was a dear sweet violet!

Goethe’s poem was composed as a song for voice and piano by Mozart in 1785. Mozart’s composition would have made Das Veilchen a staple piece to be enjoyed in the 19th century drawing room. The violet is a tad masochistic, but its addition is a romantic touch, alluding to the popular ‘crush’ on Goethe.

The sketched portrait has been observed to be similar to other portraits of Goethe. In particular, in Goethes aussere Erscheingung:  literarische und kuenstlerische Dokumente seiner Zeitgenossen by Emil Schaeffer, we can see striking similarities between it and the porcelain painting by Ludwig Sebbers (1826) in Figures 3.1 and 3.2.

There also noted similarities in a lithograph by Grevedon, a copy of a lost drawing by Orest Adamovitsch Kiprensky (1823) (Figures 3.1 and 3.2). In both portraits, we can see the same receding hairline. However, the Kiprensky portrait differs from the sketched portrait and Sebbers’ porcelain painting as Goethe’s facial expression is more severe. It is interesting to note that on these portraits, Goethe’s hair is depicted as being quite frizzy, whilst the lock of hair appears to be straight. Despite this, in the chalk drawing by Karl Christian von Vogelstein (1824), Goethe is depicted with much straighter hair (see Figure 4). Vogelstein’s sketch of Goethe is not as flattering as Sebbers’ and Kiprensky’s portraits. Goethe is depicted with large, liquid eyes and a prominent nose. Depending on the artist, Goethe’s appearance will differ. Overall, considering the three portraits, there are features which do bear resemblance to the sketched portrait. Therefore, the unknown artist of the sketched portrait may have been inspired by other, contemporary portraits of Goethe.

Figure 4: Chalk drawing by Karl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein (1824) Schaeffer’s Goethes Aussere Erscheinung 1914: pl 60

Figure 4: Chalk drawing by Karl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein (1824) Schaeffer’s Goethes Aussere Erscheinung 1914: pl 60

At the start of this post, I mentioned Lähnemann’s observations regarding the hair as if it were a relic of a saint. Johannes Falk and his daughter may have intended the lock to be revered as something holy and immortal. This appears to be a sentiment that Taylor librarians have also shared. In 1953, John’s grandfather, Oswald, agreed to have the hair displayed at the Taylor. The librarian at the time, Donald Sutherland, promised Oswald that the hair would be kept in a show-case in one of the Reading Rooms. For nearly 70 years, the hair has been either on display or kept in the rare book room at the Library. It has never been taken out of its frame, nor separated from the crushed violet or sketched portrait.

Nick Hearn, French and Russian Subject Consultant at the Taylor, adds that in the lock of Goethe’s hair the comical and frivolous seem to combine with the eternal and the hagiographical.

Our obsession with Goethe continues.


Chloe Bolsover
Graduate Trainee, Taylor Institution Library

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my colleagues at the Taylor: Katie Day, Emma Huber and Nick Hearn – for their assistance. Thank you for lending me notes and forwarding some very interesting email chains.

Thank you Professor Henrike Lähnemann and Susan Halstead for your intriguing interpretations surrounding the lock of hair.

References

Eckermann, Johann Peter. 1839. Conversations with Goethe in the last years of his life. Hilliard, Gray, and company: Boston. Translated from the German by Margaret Fuller.

Schaeffer, Emil. 1914. Goethes Aussere Erscheinung. Insel-Verlag: Leipzig

http://www.online-literature.com/goethe/

https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/f/faust-parts-1-and-2/johann-wolfgang-von-goethe-biography

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/johann-wolfgang-von-goethe

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/02/01/design-for-living-books-adam-kirsch

https://www.fembio.org/english/biography.php/woman/biography/charlotte-buff-kestner/

https://www.oxfordlieder.co.uk/song/648

 

Sailing into Uncharted Waters

The Evolution of Books of Hours Printed in France

Note: The Taylorian Blog editors are very pleased to publish this post by David Sargent, student on the Introduction to Digital Humanities course, led by Emma Huber, Subject Librarian for German Language and Literature, Taylor Institution Library, Bodleian Libraries, 2019. (See https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/taylor/about/courses-and-training)

Books of Hours originally evolved during the thirteenth century from Marian prayers added to Psalters, as Christopher de Hamel has pointed out.[1]  In Roger S. Wieck’s detailed survey of the content and illustrations of late medieval Books of Hours,[2] he remarks that:

The core of any Book of Hours, and the text after which it receives its name, is the series of prayers called the Hours of the Virgin […] This series of prayers is made up of eight Hours: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. […] Ideally, these eight Hours were to be recited at seven different times throughout the course of the day.[3]

According to Wieck, as well as the Hours of the Virgin, Books of Hours usually contain a liturgical calendar, readings from the Gospels, other sets of Hours, additional prayers not grouped into Hours, the Seven Penitential Psalms, a Litany, and a service to pray for the souls of the dead.[4]  One especially famous medieval Book of Hours is the Très riches heures du duc de Berry – some of its miniatures are reproduced on Wikimedia Commons.

Early printed Books of Hours, too, have been the subject of some recent studies, particularly by Prof. Cristina Dondi.[5]  Although publications about individual editions exist, there is no systematic survey of the development of the Book of Hours as a genre after 1600.  Dondi notes the Council of Trent as a watershed in the development of the Book of Hours, after which it allegedly became a workaday textbook for religious instruction, though she calls this characterisation into question.[6]

This is where my project comes in.  I looked at four Books of Hours printed in France, which are now located in Oxford libraries: an example from around 1500 at Balliol College, one from the late seventeenth century at Keble College, one dated 1706 at the Taylorian, and one dated 1874 and also located at Keble.  Within each book, I listed exactly which sets of prayers and other texts it contains and looked at the text-image relationship.

I was able to compare what I found in the Balliol Book of Hours with the existing scholarship on the manuscript and incunable traditions.  Its content turned out to be typical.  The Balliol example is lavishly illustrated with woodcuts.

Balliol College, Arch C 12 8 [a8v]-b1r (Reproduced by kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Balliol College)

The borders on b1r (the right-hand page pictured above) are typical of the arrangement throughout the book: the outer borders depict Biblical scenes, which are not always directly relevant to the text.  The central image in the right-hand border depicts the Devil tempting Christ and the image below it shows Adam and Eve beside the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – complete with serpent – in the Garden of Eden.  Eve is examining the fruit.  Since the adjacent text is the opening of St. John’s Gospel, which is read at Christmas as it forms the basis for the theology of the Incarnation, a depiction of the Nativity might have been more relevant.  The two figures in the border at the foot of the page seem to be discussing something: perhaps the man on the right is pointing to the picture of Adam and Eve.

However, the large illustration on the facing page is relevant, since it depicts an episode from the life of St. John the Evangelist, traditionally thought to be the author of the text.  The episode is mentioned in the Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages article on the saint: he is being boiled alive in oil on the orders of the Emperor Domitian, an ordeal which he was said to have survived.[7]  The saint’s hands are in a gesture of prayer as he stands in the cauldron.  Servants stoke the fire under him while Domitian – seated on the throne and robed as a medieval monarch – looks on, with his courtiers in the background.  An official on the right turns his head away to speak to someone.  According to Wieck, this episode is often depicted at this point in Books of Hours.[8]  The large-format illustrations found the start of each of the Hours of the Virgin also follow one of the schemes listed by Wieck.[9]

Interestingly, the order of the quires in the copy at Balliol[10] is different from the copy used by the compilers of the standard catalogue of incunabula (the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke – see the entry here).  This may be due to a mistake when the book was bound or rebound.

For the later books, the lack of existing scholarship meant that I had to rely almost entirely on my own observations, with the Balliol example as a point of comparison.  The following table summarises the content of each book (an x indicates that an element is present):

Book Balliol,

Arch C 12 8

Keble, Brooke 88 Taylorian, VET.FR.II.B.472 Keble, Brooke 73
Calendar x x x
Morning Prayers x x
Evening Prayers x x
Hours of the Virgin x x x
Other Hours x
7 Penitential Psalms x x x x
Gospel Lesson(s) x x
Litany/Litanies x x x x
Office of the Dead x x
Sunday Vespers x x
Sunday Compline x x
Order for Mass x x
Prayers during Mass x x x
Hymns x x
Propers x x

See also this data visualisation, below:

This data visualisation was created using skills and software (Gephi) taught on the Introduction to Digital Humanities course offered by the Taylor Institution Library

Each book’s content differs considerably, altering in response to its particular context: litanies (albeit of different kinds) and the Seven Penitential Psalms are the only texts that appear in all four books.  All the books contain a mixture of French and Latin texts.  French summaries and parallel text translations of Latin texts enabled comprehension (whether the Latin prayer was being used in public or in private), whilst French prayers did not pose such a language barrier.  The more modern the book in my sample, the greater the proportion that is devoted to helping the reader to take part in public worship.

Curiously, the 1874 Book of Hours at Keble does not include the Hours of the Virgin.  However, there are still grounds for seeing it as a later stage in the development of the same genre rather than as something altogether new: it self-designates as Heures and it contains many of the same texts as its early modern predecessors.  In fact, its use of images mimics medieval Books of Hours.  Stylistic echoes of books such as the Balliol example are evident at a glance and Wieck notes that images of King David (like the one pictured below) often open the Seven Penitential Psalms in late medieval Books of Hours.[11]  David, who was traditionally thought to have written the Psalms, kneels before God in a medieval-style interior.  His clothes are also late medieval in style and his harp is by his right knee.  The border of the facing page is floral, like the upper border in the Balliol example.

Keble, Brooke 73, pp. 30-31 (Reproduced by kind permission of the Warden, Fellows and Scholars of Keble College, Oxford)

The relationship between text and image varies from book to book.  Illustration with relevant images such as the one pictured above occurs throughout the nineteenth-century book, whilst decoration seems to be the main priority in Keble’s seventeenth-century book, Prieres du matin, (pictured below).  Indeed, the entire book is a thing of beauty; even the text is engraved.[12]  The shallow, rectangular indentations in each page show that copper plates were used throughout.

Keble, Brooke 88, p. 1 (Reproduced by kind permission of the Warden, Fellows and Scholars of Keble College, Oxford)

 

The word du in the middle of the page is highly ornamented and flanked by bunches of flowers.  These fit in well with the bucolic scenes at the top of the page and around the initial ‘V’: the former shows the gateway to a castle, flanked by trees, with a bridge across its moat, whilst the latter depicts the sun shining down on some hills, which are dotted with trees.  Perhaps we are looking east and the sun has just risen, providing an appropriate image for Morning Prayer.  Similar decorations occur throughout the book, but some of them have definite religious content which is relevant to the text, such as a depiction of the Descent of the Holy Spirit at the start of the Pentecost hymn (Veni creator Spiritus) on p. 238.

The eighteenth-century Book of Hours at the Taylor Institution Library has been scanned into a PDF file and can be viewed online here.  It was produced for the convent at St-Cyr and contains a good deal of material that is specific to this setting: there are ceremonies for visitation by a bishop, the appointing of a new Superior, etc.  (Things have moved on from the Middle Ages, when, according to Wieck, Books of Hours were produced exclusively with the laity in mind.)[13]  Almost the entire book is in Latin-French parallel text (starting with the Hail Mary on p.1, i.e. p. 22 of the PDF) which could have helped members of the convent whose Latin was not especially good, but who could read French, to participate in the services.

This book probably has the most interesting text-image relationship out of the four books that I investigated.  There are several ornaments within the text block: many of these are baskets of flowers.  However, at some time, someone has inserted eight separately printed images, each of which (with the possible exception of the one facing p. 307) is relevant to the text that it faces:

Page of PDF Facing page (original numbering) Subject of image Adjacent text
21 1 Blessed Virgin Mary Matins of the Virgin
91 69 Blessed Virgin Mary Prime of the Virgin
233 207 Holy Trinity Litany of the Holy Trinity
240 213 Christ-child Litany of the Christ-child
301 271 Adoration of the Magi Propers for Epiphany
338 307 Apparition of a Pope cursing a king Propers for Pentecost
351 317 Last Supper Propers for Corpus Christi

377

341 St. Augustine Propers for St. Augustine’s Day

Looking closely at the captions of some of these engravings reveals that they came from different print shops.  The pieces of paper to which they are glued are also of different shapes and sizes (though this is not easy to see in the PDF).  In addition, a piece of printed ephemera – a small piece of paper detailing a three-way compact in honour of the Holy Trinity – has been bound in immediately before the engraving of the Holy Trinity.  (They’re pages 230 and 233 of the Taylorian PDF.)  It seems that somebody has personalised the book by adding these fragments, as well as a manuscript litany at the back of the book (pp. 514-517 of the PDF), but when this was done is not clear.

I found this project particularly exciting because, in the case of the three post-1600 books, I was sailing into virtually uncharted waters and I hope that the description of three “locations” in those seas that I have written – with the description of the earlier book and its context as a guide – will go some way to showing that the ocean of post-1600 Books of Hours is worth mapping out in full.

David Sargent
MSt, Modern Languages, University of Oxford
Student on the Introduction to Digital Humanities course, Taylor Institution Library, 2019

[1] De Hamel, Christopher. (2013). ‘The European Medieval Book’. in Suarez, Michael F. and Woudhuysen, H. R. (eds.). (2013). The Book: A Global History. Oxford: OUP, pp. 59-79, p. 70

[2] Wieck, Roger S. (1988). Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life. New York, NY: George Braziller.

[3] Wieck p. 28

[4] Wieck p. 27f

[5] Dondi, Cristina. (2016). Printed Books of Hours from Fifteenth-Century Italy: The Texts, the Books, and the Survival of a Long-Lasting Genre. Florence: Leo S. Olschki.

[6] Dondi p. 223

[7] Berceville, Gilles, and Frédérique Trouslard. “John the Evangelist.” Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages.  James Clarke & Co, January 01, 2005. Oxford Reference. Date Accessed 3 Jun. 2019 <https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780227679319.001.0001/acref-9780227679319-e-1490>.

[8] Wieck p. 59

[9] Wieck p. 60

[10] See Rhodes, Dennis E. (1982). A Catalogue of Incunabula in All the Libraries of Oxford University Outside the Bodleian. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 937 (p. 179).

[11] Wieck p. 97

[12] The book is catalogued as ‘Engraved throughout’ here: http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph015540634

[13] Wieck p. 27

Further reading

De Hamel, Christopher. (2013). ‘The European Medieval Book’. in Suarez, Michael F. and Woudhuysen, H. R. (eds.). (2013). The Book: A Global History. Oxford: OUP, pp. 59-79.

Dondi, Cristina. (2016). Printed Books of Hours from Fifteenth-Century Italy: The Texts, the Books, and the Survival of a Long-Lasting Genre. Florence: Leo S. Olschki.

Rhodes, Dennis E. (1982). A Catalogue of Incunabula in All the Libraries of Oxford University Outside the Bodleian. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Vauchez, André. (2000). Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. Cambridge: James Clarke.

Wieck, Roger S. (1988). Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life. New York, NY: George Braziller.

A born-digital edition of Voltaire’s Dialogue entre un brahmane et un jésuite

This article was originally posted on the blog of the Voltaire Foundation, and is reposted here with permission of the author. See the original post here

…………………….

Just as the print edition of the Œuvres Complètes de Voltaire is fast approaching its completion, we at the Voltaire Foundation are starting work on two new, highly ambitious digital projects thanks to the generosity of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: a digital edition of Voltaire’s works based on the Œuvres complètes (Digital Voltaire), and a born-digital edition of the works of Paul-Henri Thiry d’Holbach (Digital d’Holbach).

With a view to gaining the necessary skills required to begin my work on Digital d’Holbach, in autumn 2018 I attended an intensive course on digital editions run by the Taylorian Institution Library. Taught by Emma Huber in collaboration with Frank Egerton and Johanneke Sytsema, the course takes students through all the phases of the digital edition workflow, from transcription to publication and dissemination. It is a goal-focused, hands-on course during which students are warmly encouraged to create a born-digital edition of a short text from the Taylorian’s collections.

Although short and apparently light in tone, the piece that I chose to edit – Voltaire’s Dialogue entre un brahmane et un jésuite sur la nécessité et l’enchaînement des choses – is a key text in the evolution of Voltaire’s philosophical views. As the title suggests, the Dialogue hinges on the question of determinism (or fatalisme, in eighteenth-century French parlance) and touches on such crucial notions as moral freedom, causation, and the problem of evil. It was first published anonymously in the Abeille du Parnasse of 5 February 1752, and it then went through several reprints during Voltaire’s lifetime, with very few variants.

My edition of the Dialogue is of course not meant to replace the one already available in OCV. Rather, it was conceived to meet the needs of the broader public – and more specifically those of students. A very short introduction, displayed on the right-hand side, provides essential information on the philosophical issues at stake while situating the Dialogue in relation to other key texts by Voltaire. An original translation into English by Kelsey Rubin-Detlev makes the text more widely accessible, allowing students working in fields other than modern languages (e.g. philosophy) to engage with Voltaire’s ideas. High-quality pictures of the 1756 edition, which provides the base text, aim to give non-specialists a taste of what it feels like to leaf through a (dusty) eighteenth-century book. Finally, a modernised version of the text is available next to the facsimile, and a rich corpus of annotations – displaying in both the French transcription and the English translation and featuring links to several other digital resources (the ARTFL Encyclopédie and Tout Voltaire, but also Wikipedia and BibleGateway!) – aims to render the reading experience as informative and rewarding as possible.

But there is more to this edition than first meets the eye! For example, by clicking on ‘Downloads’ in the menu bar, a fifth column will appear from which the user is invited to download pictures as well as TEI/XML files, which can then be used as models to generate further digital editions. Also, a drop-down menu in the transcription column allows users to choose between two different versions of the text in addition to the modernised version displayed by default: a diplomatic transcription of the 1756 edition and a diplomatic transcription of a 1768 edition, which comes with its own set of images that are also available for download under a Creative Commons Licence. By looking at these texts, users will get a sense of how radically French spelling evolved in the mid-eighteenth century.

Readers of this blog are most cordially invited to browse my edition. Any feedback on content or presentation (e.g. the way footnotes or variants are displayed) would be greatly appreciated as I work towards an edition of a considerably longer text by d’Holbach. But more on that in the coming months!

Ruggero Sciuto

Postdoctoral Researcher at Hertford College and the Voltaire Foundation, University of Oxford

The Faithful Shepherd and me: a personal Odyssey, Part II

The Faithful Shepherd and me: a personal Odyssey

The Taylor Institution Library’s editions of Il Pastor fido, by G.B. Guarini (1538-1612)
 Part II: The Once and Future Guarinian

Robert Finch, ‘antiquary and connoisseur of the arts’,1 died in 1830, leaving his large collection of books, manuscripts, coins, paintings and other artefacts to the University of Oxford, with a life interest to Henry (Enrico) Mayer, the son of friends of his in Italy, who became virtually Finch’s adopted son.  It was on Mayer’s death in 1877, therefore, that the collection became legally the property of the University, though Mayer had in fact made arrangements for its physical transfer to the University nearly 40 years previously.  In his will, Finch had stipulated that the collection was to be kept together but it was found that there was no building suitable to hold it all and eventually an appeal was made to the Court of Chancery which allowed for the collection to be dispersed and duplicates sold.  In 1975, the then Taylor Librarian, Giles Barber, bought back for the Library a volume from Finch’s original collection, William Gell’s The Itinerary of Greece (London, 1810), the bookplates inside the book’s front pastedown showing clearly the book’s journey, with Finch’s original bookplate, the Finch Collection bookplate with its ‘Sold by Authority’ overstamping, and the 1975 bookplate.2

Finch’s library was housed originally in Room 3 of the newly built Taylorian and a catalogue of the books and manuscripts was published in 1874.Of the items retained by the Taylorian when the collection was dispersed in 1921, those that stood out as a group were the 33 different editions of Battista Guarini’s famous pastoral tragicomedy, Il pastor fido.  One edition was held in duplicate as having belonged to Finch’s wife Maria and it was these volumes from the Finch Collection which formed the original nucleus of the present collection of well over 200 editions.

In Part I of this personal survey of my involvement in the growth of the collection during the 33 happy years that I spent in the Taylorian Library, I wrote of some of the joys and disappointments of collecting.  And make no mistake, looking out for ‘new’ editions of the Pastor fido, whether for purchase by the Library or to add to my checklist of published editions of Guarini,4 has been a time-consuming affair and, as any enthusiast will tell you, such an endeavour can become something of a compulsive disorder. Under my watch the Library acquired some 80 editions of the works of Guarini, mainly of the Pastor fido, and since my retirement in 2004 I have persuaded the Library to purchase the occasional volume (15 to date). I have even resorted latterly to buying the odd one myself in order to present it to the Library as a thank-you for affording me the real pleasure of helping to enrich the collection, as a member of staff and as a retiree, over a period of many years.

First, there was the curious case of a 1666 edition of the Abbé de Torche’s French translation of the Pastor fido, which turned out to be a curious hybrid, seemingly bringing together as it does the original sheets of the five individual parts, one for each Act, as issued from 1664 to 1666, but reconfigured in the form in which they appear in the reprinting of the whole translation from 1667 onwards, with the dedication of Act V, A Madame, acting as a general introduction to the whole work but minus the other dedications and the plates.  Odd indeed, but interesting.

G.B. Guarini. Il pastor fido (Cremona, 1828)

Next up was a copy of the 1828 Cremona edition of the text as issued in its original publisher’s casing. (Too often in the past binders destroyed much that is interesting from the bibliographer’s point of view.) Both these items have now been donated to the Library but there are two more which I have acquired and which I shall deposit ere long.

The first is an untrimmed copy (volume 1 only, alas, of 2) of the 1819 Zwickau edition in its original printed paper wrappers.

G.B. Guarini. Il pastor fido (Zwickau, 1819)

And then, only in March of last year, I discovered an edition of the Pastor fido with the imprint ‘In Venezia, presso Gio. Battista Ciotti, 1664’, the first time in more than 45 years of investigation that I had come across such an edition. The seller was living in Modica in Sicily, a town more famous for its bitter chocolate and its occasional appearance in the Inspector Montalbano films on television than for its antiquarian books, but, if you like, this would be the chocolate on the icing on the cake of my quest for editions of Guarini’s play.  If all is as it seems.

G.B. Guarini. Il pastor fido (Venice: G.B. Ciotti, 1664)

 The binding, which appears to be contemporary, is a little careworn but, then, so would you be after 350 years. The imprint is obviously spurious, as Ciotti, who had been publishing works by Guarini since 1593 and of the Pastor fido since 1600, had died round about 1627 and, although works bearing the family name were published by his sons up to at least 1638,5 the date of 1664 would be a fascinating echo of his continuing prestige in the world of publishing.

There is another 1664 edition of the Pastor fido, that printed in Rome by Francesco Moneta and sold by Bartolomeo Lupardi in the Piazza Navona. It has the same number of pages as the ‘new’ Venice edition and an enquiry of the library of the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz University in Hanover, which holds a copy, confirmed that the setting of the text is identical, so what we are dealing with here is, in theory, a reissue of the Rome edition with a cancel title printed for the Venice market. And yet, and yet… We show here a copy of this so far unique title-page. Is my Shepherd still faithful or has he, after all these years, become infido and false? Someone will perhaps recognize and identify that very prominent ornament.

Of the 470-odd verified editions of the Pastor fido recorded in all his guises, the Taylorian can account currently for nearly 220, with the Bodleian and college libraries chipping in a further 30 or so, a wholly satisfying total, even if, through the ravages of time, a small number of them are imperfect. But, then, ‘there is no real beauty without imperfection’ (James Salter).

And do I have a favourite, I hear you ask? Well, apart from my apparent unicum, I suppose it has to be the 1768 edition of the Pastor fido, published in Leipzig by Johann Georg Loewe and purchased by the Library in 1976. The frontispiece and the 42 vignettes in the text are here printed in blue, ‘stampate con inchiostro turchino’ the bookseller’s catalogue said. The Library also has the more usual issue where the engravings are printed with black ink but, if you want to see the other issue in all its glory, the Taylorian’s copy has been digitized and you can download PDFs of both editions here.

And me? I’m going to sit back and wait for an edition of the Pastor fido in dwarsligger format. Flipbacks, as they are dubbed by the publisher Dutton Books, are, so we are made to believe, the future.6

David Thomas
Assistant Librarian, Taylor Institution Library, 1971-2004

Notes

1 See the entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004) (Published online 23 September 2004 [accessible within the University network only]). See also Elizabeth Nitchie, The Reverend Colonel Finch (New York: Columbia University Press, 1940) and E.R.P. Vincent, ‘Robert Finch and Enrico Mayer’, Modern Language Review, XXIX (1934), 150-155.

2 Intriguingly, the volume bears the signature of another of the Library’s benefactors, Marshall Montgomery (1880-1930), Reader in German in the University, who acquired the book in 1925.

3 George Parker, A catalogue of the books in the Finch Collection, Oxford. Oxford: E. Pickard Hall and J.H. Stacy, 1874.  The Bodleian copy of the catalogue (2590 e. Oxf. 10.3) is annotated and, although most of the Guarinis are marked as being not in Bodley, they were all destined to be kept in the Taylorian when the collection was dispersed.

4 David H. Thomas, An annotated checklist of editions of the works of Battista Guarini. Oxford: Taylor Institution Library, 2014.  A contemplated further revision of the checklist will reveal the most recent metamorphosis of my Faithful Shepherd as the Polish Wierny pasterz, in a translation by Marta Wojtkowska-Maksymik (Warszawa, 2018); this, too, will join the collection shortly.

5 Dennis E. Rhodes, Giovan Battista Ciotti (1562-1627?): publisher extraordinary at Venice. Venezia: Marcianum Press, 2013.

6 See an article by David Sanderson in The Times, 5 November 2018, ‘Mini book format swiped from phones,’ p.19.

 

Clare Hills-Nova

28 October 2018

The Faithful Shepherd and me: a personal Odyssey

The Taylor Institution Library’s editions of Il Pastor fido, by G.B. Guarini (1538-1612)
 Part I

Battista Guarini, Il pastor fido, scene from Act 1 (engraving, c. 1602; See Berthold Wiese, Erasmo Pèrcopo: Geschichte der Italienischen Litteratur, Leipzig und Wien 1910 [Wikimedia Commons])

We go back quite a long way, the Faithful Shepherd and me. He was born some time during the 1580s and has been reborn speaking many different languages other than his native Italian: French, English, Spanish, Dutch, German, Neapolitan, Cretan (and Greek), Polish, Swedish, and Portuguese, and even Croatian, Latin, and, in a parody, the dialect of Bergamo; but latterly he has had to content himself mainly with his native tongue. This is the story of our acquaintance, published in two parts, with Part II appearing later in the year.

I was appointed to the staff of the Taylor Institution Library in 1971 and it must have been very early on that the Librarian, Giles Barber, suggested that I build upon the Library’s collection of editions of Giovanni Battista Guarini’s famous Il Pastor fido, a pastoral tragi-comedy set in Arcadia, first published in Venice in 1589. In An annotated checklist of editions of the works of Battista Guarini, first published online by the Library in 2010 and, in a slightly revised version, in 20141, I wrote at length, in the introduction, of the history of the Taylorian’s Guarini collection.

In summary, its origin lies in the 33 editions amassed by Robert Finch (1783-1830), a Balliol man, who bequeathed his library and other artefacts to the University.2 Damned, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, as a ‘pretentious ass’ and a ‘supposititious officer of dragoons’,3 it was impossible, said an earlier biographer, ‘to hold him in very high respect as a connoisseur of literature or of art’ and yet his library was ‘good enough to supply to Oxford University several thousand volumes which it did not own’.4 The 33 Guarinis ended up in the Taylorian and this nucleus was added to notably by the Library’s second Librarian, Dr Heinrich Krebs (in post 1871-1921) during the 1870s.

Indeed, it was Dr Krebs who acquired for the Library a copy of the first edition of the Pastor fido (dated 1590 but in fact December 1589) and by 1882 he was able to talk of the gathering together (originally on the upper shelves of the Taylorian’s Main Reading Room gallery) of ‘not less than 126 different editions and versions in various languages of this celebrated pastoral’.5

Il pastor fido (Venice: Gio. Battista Bonfadino, MDXC. [1590])

(He managed to include among all those Guarinis – and it is still there – La fida pastora, Sir Richard Fanshawe’s Latin translation of John Fletcher’s The faithful shepherdess (1658), an early example, maybe, of gender inclusivity!) My checklist, which attempts to list editions of all Guarini’s works apart from the more minor anthologized extracts, has, I hope, been of use (it has certainly been quoted by booksellers and even by the occasional librarian and academic). Although it could be used as a springboard for a more serious attempt at compiling a full-scale bibliography of Guarini’s works, much remains to be done. There are a great many editions listed that I have not seen, even in online digitized form, and, while I have built up a large collection of photocopies or downloads of title pages and illustrations, I am very conscious of the magnitude of the task. It is likely that a full listing and description of all Guarini editions would need to be a large-scale collaborative undertaking, probably best done online, but I personally shall have to content myself with a possible third version of my checklist in, I hope, the not too distant future.

My hope that more might be done by way of attaching images to the entries in the list (I was thinking simply of images of title pages) has been implemented in a way I did not initially envisage by the appearance of Laura Riccò’s masterful 2-volume work on illustrations of the pastoral genre, the second volume of which is devoted entirely to the illustrations, a considerable number of them taken from editions of Guarini.6 Professor Riccò graciously tweaks a few of the entries in my list and generously introduces me to a few editions that I did not know about. She quite legitimately replaces the Anglo-French bias of my listings by giving, wherever possible, locations in the penisola and speaks very kindly of the checklist as a ‘fondamentale soccorso’ and a ‘massiccia ricognizione’, seeing me perhaps as a scout reconnoitring a somewhat difficult and even unknown territory, no attempt having been made since that of Vittorio Rossi in his 1886 monograph on Guarini to list editions of Il Pastor fido.7 Relying heavily on earlier bibliographers, some of them not entirely reliable, Rossi listed about 180 editions, of which he had personally seen only just over 80. My own list brings the figure up to about 430, with a further 40 or so published since 1886.  If, as Professor Riccò suggests, my list ‘stupisce anche gli studiosi più avvertiti con la documentazione del successo davvero immenso del Pastor fido’, it is surely time for a proper descriptive bibliography of Guarini to be undertaken ‒ but not by me. It is nice to think that it might even be possible to construct a fully integrated database which would bring together texts, drawings, woodcuts, engravings, frescoes, paintings, porcelain and other examples of the fine arts, such as the fan in the Royal Collection depicting the game of Blind Man’s Buff from Act III of the play.8

Like all collectors, I have had my disappointments. Back in the day, before the advent of online bookselling databases like AbeBooks and Maremagnum, a lot would depend on the speed with which the post office could deliver booksellers’ catalogues to the Library. In Birmingham, the Professor of Italian, Humphrey Whitfield, a no mean Guarini scholar himself, was on the lookout for editions to add to the University Library’s collection and he could easily snap up a delicious morsel, even from a Blackwell’s catalogue, before the Taylorian had time to pick up the phone. (As I record in the introduction to my checklist, it was Humphrey who goaded me into producing the first preliminary draft of the list at the end of 1994, just a short time before his death in the February of the following year.) In December 1975, Birmingham beat us to a 1596 Venice edition of the Pastor fido. (I still have the card on which is pasted the entry from the catalogue with my annotation: ‘Too late!!’.) It is still the only copy of this edition in the UK. Sometimes we would have to pass over a desirable edition owing to its exorbitant price or because, although it had an interesting provenance, we already had a copy of the particular edition. So it was that we let an early edition of Sir Richard Fanshawe’s translation of the Pastor fido, which contained an autograph poem from the translator to a friend, Thomas Brooke, ‘before an extended voyage’, wing its way  across the Atlantic to a collector in Marblehead, Ohio. (I still rather regret this but I have a photographic copy of the poem which he very generously let me have.)

Il pastor fido ([S.l.]: [s.n.], [1727?])

We also passed up the opportunity of acquiring an undated but late eighteenth-century edition of the Italian text which happened to have belonged to the poet Shelley, which naturally helped to push up the price astronomically. (The Taylorian already had a copy, as did the Bodleian.)

However, the Friends of the Bodleian were able to buy for that library a 1639 edition of the Pastor fido which had belonged to the poet Lucy Hutchinson (1620–1681) and which had been a present from her husband, the regicide John Hutchinson (1615–1664).9 And there was one infuriating occasion when, although successfully ordered, the book simply disappeared. This was a copy of the Pastor fido published in Ronciglione by Pompilio Totti in 1632 and it would have made a valuable addition to our collection. But for the most part we were able to obtain what we felt we could afford, with the result that, from 1971 to my retirement in 2004, the Library acquired some 80 editions of Guarini’s works, mainly of the Pastor fido, and, since 2004, it has continued to add to the collection from time to time. The Taylorian’s collection can thus, I think it can be said without fear of contradiction, be deemed the most comprehensive in the world and some of the Italian editions are not even recorded by the Catalogo del Servizio Bibliografico Nazionale, which maintains the Italian national catalogue.

Below: Some other Pastor fido editions held by the Taylorian. (See Part II, coming later this year.)

David Thomas
Assistant Librarian, Taylor Institution Library, 1971-2004

Notes

1 David H. Thomas, An annotated checklist of editions of the works of Battista Guarini. Oxford: Taylor Institution Library, 2014

2 Finch’s books are listed in George Parker, A catalogue of the books in the Finch Collection, Oxford. Oxford: E. Pickard Hall and J.H. Stacy, 1874

3 Alan Bell, ‘Robert Finch (1783-1830)’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004) (Published online 23 September 2004 [accessible within the University network only])

4 Elizabeth Nitchie, The Reverend Colonel Finch. New York: Columbia University Press, 1940

5 Heinrich Krebs, ‘The earliest French version of Guarini’s “Pastor fido”’, The Academy XXI (Jan.-June 1882; n.s. 507, 21 Jan. 1882), 46

6 Laura Riccò, L’arcadia “in mano”: illustrazioni editorali della favola pastorale (1583-1678). 2 vols. Roma: Bulzoni Editore, 2012

7 Vittorio Rossi, Battista Guarini ed il Pastor fido: studio biografico-critico con documenti inediti. Torino: Ermanno Loescher, 1886

8 Jane Roberts, Prudence Sutcliffe, Susan Mayor, Unfolding pictures: fans in the Royal Collection (London: Royal Collection Publications, 2005), pp. 42-43

9 See David Norbrook, ‘Lucy Hutchinson and Il pastor fido’, Bodleian Library Record 25/2 (October 2012), 269-273

Editions mentioned in the text

Battista Guarini. Il pastor fido, tragicomedia pastorale. Venetia: Gio. Battista Bonfadino, MDXC [1590]

Battista Guarini. Il pastor fido, tragicomedia pastorale. Venetia: Francesco de’ Franceschi Senese, 1596

Battista Guarini. Il pastor fido … Con le Rime. Ronciglione: Pompilio Totti, 1632

Battista Guarini. Il pastor fido: tragicomedia pastorale. Trevigi: Girolamo Righettini, MDCXXXIX [1639]

John Fletcher. La fida pastora: comœdia pastoralis. London: G. Bedell & T.Collins, 1658

Digital Editions at the Taylorian : the making of a mazarinade

As a participant in Emma Huber’s[1] inaugural Digital Editions course, I created a digital edition and accompanying transcription of a primary text held by the Taylor Institution Library. I chose to digitize, transcribe and encode a ‘mazarinade,’ dating from 1649 (title-page featured above). This piece belongs to the Taylorian’s vast collection of ‘mazarinades,’ or political pamphlets consisting of ‘short satirical or burlesque texts, in verse or prose, about Cardinal Mazarin, written at the time of the Fronde (1648-1653), a time of uprising and revolt in France while King Louis XIV was still a minor.’ The mazarinades satirize Cardinal Mazarin, who succeeded Richelieu as Minister of State and were the propagandist arm of the political revolution against the French Crown. The reasoning behind my choice of material was grounded in the pamphlet’s convenience for digitization, or ‘digitizability’: it is quarto-sized which means it is easy to photograph, legibly printed, which made it accessible to transcribe, and relatively short, making it a convenient choice for a contained project and first attempt at creating a digital edition. Furthermore, the Taylor Institution Library holds a large number of mazarinades that are not individually catalogued. I hope that the digital edition of the ‘Covrier de la Covr’ is a small contribution to the ongoing project to digitize them to raise awareness of their existence, improve access and, subsequently, promote their incorporation into research on early modern French history, literature and culture.

As a graduate student in early modern French literature, I was equally as curious about the medium of the pamphlet as I was about creating a digital edition; the mazarinades are explicitly polemical products, designed to undermine the Crown’s authority but simultaneously written in verse and therefore perhaps also blurring the line between art and politics. On a theoretical level, I was intrigued by the parallelism between the pamphlet and the digital edition, both being media designed for mass dissemination. By imitating the process of textual editing implicit in the mazarinade’s original creation in the re-production of the pamphlet as a digital artefact, I was made aware of the intricacies undergirding such production in the first place.

This mazarinade is written in rhyming couplets, the playful, sing-song nature of which lends itself well to ridiculing the Cardinal and the Queen. It tells the story of the French court under attack by Spanish forces. The courier who arrives tells the Queen that the only way to save the country is to get rid of the insolent ‘ministre de France,’ who flees the country by the end of the poem. When Mazarin informs the king of his decision, the latter promptly ‘se prit a rire/Disant c’est que ie desire. [began to laugh/saying “that’s what I desire.”]’ further undermining Mazarin’s authority.  What follows in the rest of this blog post is devoted to the process of creating this digital edition for those who want to learn more, but if you’re curious about the text itself, check it out here!

In the creation of this digital edition, editorial decisions began with the act of digitization itself. Under the guidance of Emma Huber, I learned about the various processes behind the creation of a digital edition, a process starting with digitization. In this case, the analog paper pamphlet was turned into a digital document by capturing its image. We used the Library’s camera to photograph each page of the mazarinade, which could be easily saved and transferred to our computers. Already at this stage, the bias of the editor/digitizer crept in, for I initially had not photographed the blank back-side of the pamphlet’s cover page. It contained no information I thought was valuable. And yet, this editorial decision resulted in an incomplete, bastardized version of the pamphlet that, though it was a digital facsimile, was already different from the original. Lots of factors went into the taking of these images such as the care of the book, making sure not to overextend the edges, using lead snakes to hold the pages down, natural lighting and using the maximum resolution possible on the camera.

Once we had all the images, we needed to ‘compress’ the images so that they could be easily represented as thumbnails on the digital editions website; Emma walked us through the various available formats and their purposes. We learned to use the TIFF format for our master images as it is the large preservation format. PNG files compress the file, but don’t lose any data in the process—which is why it can be called ‘lossless’ compression. The reason for not using a .jpeg file is because it creates a small file but loses data every time the file is saved (lossy compression). After converting the images to TIFF files then we cropped them to a standard format that makes the image easily viewable. Emma emphasized the importance of always retaining the original image and saving any changes made as a separate file. The importance of this is to ensure that no data is lost, since with every new save and/or change you lose information about the original image. She also emphasized the importance of providing metadata about the images such as which camera was used, the resolution, date of the picture, the shelfmark of the document captured, the holding library and then a description of the content of the image. This metadata should always be in open format that is available to anyone. And the description should use a controlled vocabulary in order to describe the content of the image so that it is more easily searchable for interested viewers.

It should be noted here that using a camera for the creation of digital text is useful when wanting to display that text alongside a transcription, but since cameras are unable to perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR), these digital documents alone are often insufficient for researchers, as they are not searchable or in a format that can be manipulated into other formats. As such, transcription was an essential component of this project; I chose to create a semi-diplomatic transcription, which attempts to preserve as much of the original textual presentation as possible, except where making small orthographic changes greatly enhances the readability for a modern audience. In my edition, all original spelling has been maintained, including the interchangeable use of u and v and other spelling variations. All accents and original punctuation have been reproduced, although editorial choices about spacing were made; where I felt the original lack of spacing between words would have made the document less readable or unclear, I used modern spacing practices. On line 210, there appears to be a printer error: it reads “lny” instead of “luy” however I maintained the mistake as such and signalled it in my editorial note.

Our transcriptions were created in the oXygen text editing software application, which creates ‘plain text’ that conforms easily to the XML markup language and thus also lends itself more easily to the process of ‘encoding.’ During this process, we also learned about the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) which has set out the rules for various elements used by XML to encode a transcribed text. These various codes and tags not only delineate the format elements, such as the title, body, quote, but also where verse appears and where editorial choices have been made. By doing this ‘structural encoding,’ it makes it possible for the encoded text to serve as the base for a variety of ‘transformations,’ in which the XML document is transformed into HTML (webpages), a PDF, EPUB (e-publication), DOCx or ODT (open data document). For me, the most important implication of having an xml-encoded text is that it opens up the possibilities of where you can take the scholarship from there. Although I did not extend the project this term, I would have been able to extract much data from a set of mazarinades. Hopefully when the corpus of digital mazarinades grows, scholars will be able to query the data sets using methods such as content analysis, social network analysis and corpus linguistics in order to expand the research being done on these texts. By turning qualitative observations into quantitative data, it might be possible to reach more audiences with more information. For example, now that I have the XML version, I could create a visualization that tracks the number of times the Queen regent is mentioned in the mazarinades, compared with how many times Cardinal Mazarin occurs, and compared with how often their names are mentioned in conjunction. I would have to ‘code’ the occurrences of each of these incidents, but once I have the quantitative data, I could use data visualization tools to present this information clearly and succinctly on a visual graphic.

While this seems to be a bit superfluous and redundant for a short pamphlet that can easily be studied by a literary scholar, the potential for data visualizations is particularly useful to researchers looking at massive corpora of texts, because it allows them to look at the information from a distance in a way that might lead to new research questions. And secondly, this merging of quantitative methods and qualitative data in sources such as literary texts, makes the research more easily accessible to a lay audience. Rather than needing to possess the skills of an Oxford graduate student, information can be communicated effectively in a matter of minutes with a good visualization and a thorough legend for the graphic. Therefore, the creation of digital editions is significant not only because they break open access to documents by making texts freely available online, but because the creation of ‘metadata’ about the texts and the quantification of humanities-based observations gives rise to different kinds of research methodologies that ask different kinds of questions; not only does this give the humanities researcher more breadth to contextualize and deepen her own research, it also provides the space for interdisciplinary collaboration on textual or historical artefacts that become the point of convergence for researchers from fields ranging from comparative literature to anthropology to computer science. Such collaboration inevitably results in, or has the capacity to result in, a deeper understanding not only of historical narratives and literary methods, but also of the socio-political structures governing access to information and its distribution in the modern day.

For me personally, the digitization of this mazarinade allowed me to connect to the text and the conditions of its original production that would not have been apparent had I been studying it online as an already digitized document. Going through the entire process of creating the digital document, its text and its context, as well as publishing it online for a variety of audiences brought to mind questions about the various layers of decision-making behind the creation of a text by a multitude of actors, from the author to the editor to the printer and the distributor. Although these questions would arise with any digital edition, the choice of the mazarinade aligned well with this one, especially when thinking about the polemical and ethical dimensions of mass textual dissemination. It is my hope that this blog post will serve as a small means of contextualizing the creation of this digital edition and prompt readers—researchers, teachers, students, historians, librarians, mazarinade enthusiasts alike—to think about how we acquire, process, and package information in the modern age and whether or not universities and libraries, as major guardians of this information, have an ethical responsibility to disseminate it so that texts, like the mazarinades, that were intended for a public readership, can reach one in the modern day.

[1] Emma Huber is the German subject librarian at the Taylor Institution Library, Oxford.

………………………………….

Eileen Jakeway, MSt French and German

The Image of Dante, the Divine Comedy and the Visual Arts: Part II

The Image of Dante, the Divine Comedy and the Visual Arts
in the Ashmolean Museum and the Taylor Institution

II: The Divine Comedy Illustrated

This is the second of two short articles concerning the iconography of Dante as represented in the collections of the Ashmolean Museum and the Taylor Institution in Oxford. The first concerned the image of Dante himself. This one is focused on Ashmolean and Taylorian illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy.

It has often been said that the Divine Comedy is impossible to render in another medium – and that those who have tried to depict the Comedy have all, more-or-less hopelessly, failed. Some have been criticised for being too literal, failing to engage with the higher purpose of the poem; others for sacrificing Dante to their personal artistic ambitions. Underlying these criticisms is an idea of Dante’s text as a pure and independent work of art. Anything added to this is suspect. Such arguments are equally by-products of a misguided cult of authenticity, reinforced in this context by an enduring academic tendency to privilege the word over the image.

Rather than making a fetish of some imagined original and ideal reader of the poem, and consequently lamenting the supposed corruption of interpreters, it makes more sense historically to consider with an open mind the various ways in which the Comedy has been experienced across the seven centuries since its composition. Reception has always entailed visualisation – whether in the material frame of the text or in the mind of the reader. The reception history of the Comedy, seen through the material evidence of the book in its many editions, is a constant reminder of the ever-changing variety of Dante’s readers. In fact, the evidence of imagery associated with Dante, which can be sampled from the holdings of the Ashmolean Museum and the Taylor Institution Library, indicates what we know ourselves as readers: that text and visual images are constantly in mutual dialogue.

The Comedy began to be illustrated almost as soon as it was written down: the earliest manuscript copies containing pictures date from the second quarter of the fourteenth century. More than five hundred codices of the poem from this and the following century have some form of pictures, although half of these cases include only minimal imagery, while some 150 are extensively illustrated. The arrival of printing, therefore, did not inaugurate the illustrated Comedy. The Bodleian Library possesses important examples of this early manuscript tradition, whilst the illustrated texts in the Taylor Institution Library are printed versions from the late fifteenth century onwards.

Sandro Botticelli, Illustration to Inferno Canto XV, facsimile Zeichnungen von Sandro Botticelli zu Dantes Goettlicher Komoedie: nach den Originalen im K. Kupferstichkabinett zu Berlin (Berlin: G. Grote’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1887) Taylor Institution Library: REP.X.55 (plates)

Botticelli’s enormous project to illustrate the Comedy was, in a sense, the culmination of the medieval tradition of illustrated manuscript copies of the poem. Botticelli’s drawings themselves are now divided between Rome and (for the greater part) Berlin. The acquisition of these sheets in 1884 by the Kupferstichkabinett zu Berlin (Museum of Prints and Drawings) was followed by the publication of facsimiles of the complete series, made to the highest standards of the day and disseminated, as an act of cultural diplomacy, to the major collections of Europe. The Taylor Institution Library owns a copy of the portfolio of loose plates.

Botticelli’s patron must have been a wealthy Florentine patrician, who was content for his artist to work on a grand scale, and to allow his imagination, responding to the poem, to build creatively on the pre-existing repertoire of illustrations to the Comedy. The moment was an important one in the process of Tuscan re-adoption of the exiled Florentine: in 1481, a decade after the appearance of the first, north Italian, printed edition, the Comedy was published in the city of Dante’s birth. This version was accompanied by an extensive commentary and a patriotic introduction by Cristoforo Landino, who boasted that the new edition effectively repatriated the author: ‘…Firenze lungo tempo dolente ma finalmente lieta sommamente si congratula col suo poeta Dante nel fine di due secoli risuscitato et restituto nella patria sua’ (‘After a long period of grief, Florence can finally and happily celebrate to the utmost with her poet, Dante, who after two centuries has been restored to life and to his homeland’). The book was also illustrated with woodblock prints, which for the first half of Inferno were based on the drawings on which Botticelli was evidently simultaneously at work. For the rest, Botticelli’s progress was evidently too slow to be of use, and other designs were deployed. These woodblocks would be re-used in diverse editions over several years.

Commento di Christophoro Landino fiorentino sopra la comedia di Dante Alighieri poeta fiorentino (Venice, 1491) Taylor Institution Library: ARCH.Fol.It.1491(1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ashmolean Print Room possesses a number of detached woodcuts from this series, painstakingly cut out from copies of the book by early collectors of printed images. In some cases, previous owners of the books had enhanced the pictures with the addition of colour.

Woodcuts from the Comedy published in Venice in 1491(?) Ashmolean Museum: Douce Collection WA.2003 (Italian sequence, unmounted)

Landino’s extensive commentary made a visual announcement that the text was quasi-biblical in its need of authoritative exposition. By the same token, however, the annotations threatened to overwhelm the text, which, like the Bible, was also known in less intellectualised forms. In an evident reaction against the perceived clutter of the Tuscan layout, the great Venetian publisher Aldus Manutius produced a simple text edition, with the collaboration of Pietro Bembo. The latter owned a copy of the Comedy once given by Boccaccio to Petrarch, which encouraged the editors to think their version superior to others. Their claim was that modern Tuscan versions had corrupted the text with changes in vernacular usage, whereas they were presenting the ‘authentic’ Dante. Once again, an idea of authenticity is contrasted with the supposed inadequacy of anything which might betray the process of reception and the passage of time. Aldus’s end-note authoritatively declares: ‘Venetiis in aedibus Aldi accuratissime men’. The title page bears the simple legend: ‘Le terze rime di Dante’. The text appears unencumbered.

Lo’nferno e’l Purgatorio e’l Paradiso di Dante Alaghieri (Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1502) Taylor Institution Library: ARCH.12°.It.1502

But although the prestige of the Bembo-Aldus text meant that it was frequently copied thereafter, it was in fact far from perfect, giving the opportunity for the Tuscan Alessandro Vellutello to condemn its failings and so to reclaim the book for Florence. Vellutello’s extra-annotated edition of 1544 (ironically published in Venice) would in turn provide the initial basis for the official Florentine imprint of the Accademia della Crusca in the 1590s. The 1544 printing also introduced a number of diagrams of Hell, based partly on the work on this subject written in Florence in the fifteenth century by Antonio Manetti. Sixteenth-century readers were interested to apply the latest techniques of geographical measurement to their reading of the poem. It is often pointed out that many more editions of Petrarch than of Dante appeared in print before 1600; yet the latter was not seen as outdated.

La comedia di Dante Aligieri con la noua espositione di Alessandro Vellutello (Venice, 1544) Taylor Institution Library: ARCH.8°.It.1544(2)

In 1564, for the first time, the author appeared on the title page both in the largest lettering and in a portrait (apparently derived from those by Raphael, or otherwise from those fifteenth-century Florentine depictions on which Raphael himself had drawn).

Dante con l’espositione di Christoforo Landino et di Alessandro Vellutello sopra la sua comedia dell’Inferno, del Purgatorio, & del Paradiso (Venice, 1564)
Taylor Institution Library: ARCH.Fol.It.1564(1)

The Ashmolean Museum possesses an extraordinary testament to the status of Dante in mid-sixteenth-century Tuscany, in the form of a wax relief, probably made in the late eighteenth century as a cast copy of its Renaissance original. That work was made by the young virtuoso sculptor Pierino da Vinci, on commission from the prominent Dante scholar, engineer, and Medicean governor of Pisa, Luca Martini. The subject is the shocking scene, described in Cantos 32 and 33 of Inferno, of the imprisonment and starvation by Archbishop Ruggiero of Pisa of his enemy, Ugolino, together with the latter’s sons and grandsons. Both the patron’s deep knowledge of the poem and his official posting to Pisa explain the appearance of this, the first Dantean subject to be rendered as an independent work of art.

Pierino da Vinci (after), Ugolino and His Sons and Grandsons in the Tower of Famine. Wax relief. Probably late 18th-century Ashmolean Museum: WA1897.190 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Only months before this commission, in the late 1540s, a famous discussion had been conducted in Florence concerning the status of the various arts. Benedetto Varchi, who orchestrated that debate together with Luca Martini, proposed that in order to render Dante’s Inferno or Pugatorio in visual art, the better medium would be, not painting, but relief sculpture. Giorgio Vasari, who saw the relief which ensued, commented that ‘In this work Vinci displayed the excellence of design no less than did Dante the perfection of poetry in his verses, for no less compassion is stirred by the attitudes shaped in wax by the sculptor in him who beholds them, than is roused in him who listens to the words and accents imprinted on the living page by the poet.’ Bearing in mind this reference to a wax version, it is not altogether impossible, on the available evidence, that the Ashmolean relief was made by Pierino da Vinci – even if the arrival of the bronze in Britain creates a plausible context for the manufacture of a wax version (together with several terracotta casts which are known, and of which the Ashmolean possesses an example: WA1888.CDEF.S28) for an eighteenth-century collector. (The bronze version, which for more than two centuries resided in the house of the Dukes of Devonshire at Chatsworth, was in 2010 sold to the Prince of Liechtenstein; it is now in that family’s palace in Vienna.)

The afterlife of Pierino da Vinci’s bronze Ugolino had momentous consequences for the imagery of the Comedy in the nineteenth century. By the seventeenth century it had been attributed to Michelangelo: not a foolish idea, given Pierino’s admiration and emulation of the master which is so evident in the figures. Acquired and brought home by a travelling English artist around 1700, it was seen by the painter and critic Jonathan Richardson, who in an influential essay on art criticism praised the sculptor’s ability to lift the communication of great ideas even beyond the power of words.

Joshua Reynolds, himself a passionate admirer of Michelangelo, responded to Richardson’s challenge with a painting of the same subject, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773 (now at Knole, Kent). Once John Dixon had in 1774 made an engraving after Reynolds’s picture, the tragic subject was launched as an ideal point of reference for the Romantic imagination, as Dante’s poem came back into favour around 1800. Along with the episode of Paolo and Francesca, that of Ugolino’s imprisonment dominated the selection of scenes from the Comedy chosen for depiction by numerous nineteenth-century artists.

At the same period a number of artists rose to the challenge of illustrating the entire poem. By the time that Gustave Doré embarked on his Dante series in the 1850s, the poet was thoroughly established in French and European culture, which helps to explain the enormous impact of those particular designs. It was, by contrast, at a relatively early moment in the nineteenth-century boom in Dante’s critical fortune that William Blake, in the 1820s, undertook a similar project. Blake’s response to Dante was so personal, that it has often been assumed to have sacrificed the poem to Blake’s idiosyncratic visual mythologies. This does injustice to the work, on which Blake was exclusively and passionately engaged in the final, illness-ridden years of his life. Blake had enormous respect for Dante, despite disagreeing with aspects of his theology; but the strength of his imagery stems from the fact that he regarded himself as equal to the medieval poet as both poet and visionary. A century ago Blake’s watercolour drawings, which he made as steps towards a never completed series of engravings, were distributed to various museums by the Art Fund. One given to the Ashmolean is amongst the most beautiful of the set. It relates to Paradiso Canto 24, and represents Dante and Beatrice in the Constellation of Gemini.

William Blake, Beatrice and Dante in Gemini, 1824-7. Watercolour over graphite with some pen and ink and black chalk Ashmolean Museum: WA1918.5 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

The Print Room also holds a set of the seven partially completed prints by Blake, which his friend and publisher John Linnell had solicited from him.

William Blake, The Six-footed Serpent Attacking Buoso de’ Donati (Inferno Canto 25). Engraving Ashmolean Museum: WA1941.27.5

In the next generation and in his own fashion, Dante Gabriel Rossetti also brought into focus aspects of the Comedy which had previously been less noticed.  He contributed to a new fascination with the youthful Dante of the lyric poetry and the Vita Nuova. The poet, in Rossetti’s imagery, shifts from the role of hero to that of lover. This is exemplified in the Ashmolean’s Beatrice at a Marriage Feast Denying Her Salutation to Dante.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beatrice at a Marriage Feast Denying Her Salutation to Dante. Watercolour and bodycolour with some pen Ashmolean Museum: WA1942.156 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Rossetti was prompted in particular directions by John Ruskin, who proposed several subjects for the artist to take from Purgatorio. One of these was the character of Matelda (or Matilda), seen by Dante in the Earthly Paradise. Rossetti’s painting of this subject is lost, but the Ashmolean holds a detailed preparatory drawing.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Dante’s Vision of Matilda Gathering Flowers (Purgatorio Canto 28). Pen and brown ink. Ashmolean Museum: WA1942.157 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Dante describes Matelda as ‘una donna soletta’ who picks flowers and sings by herself. Rossetti, ever drawn to ideas of friendship and evidently eager, perhaps under the influence of Ruskin, to emphasise a feminine principle, multiplied the female presence in his image.

Other artists in Oxford collections have engaged in diverse ways with Dante’s Comedy. Rodin’s work for his never completed Dantesque scheme, The Gates of Hell, is represented in the Ashmolean Print Room by a small engraving of Souls in Purgatory (WA1946.263). A few drawings for Tom Phillips’s Inferno (1985; WA2009.94 and WA2009.96–99) are held in the Print Room, while several boxes of related materials are catalogued in the Bodleian Library Special Collections. Also in the Print Room are sets of Geoff MacEwan’s Inferno (1990) and Purgatory (2008) engravings. In the latter the Earthly Paradise, an oasis of green ringed by purificatory flames, bursts into colour and into an abstract simplification of form. The poem continues to find imaginative responses which themselves generate new readings and new readers.

Geoff MacEwan, ‘The Garden’ 2008 © Geoff MacEwan Reproduced with the Artist’s permission

Note:

In June 2017 seminars on Dante and the visual arts were held, on two occasions for different audiences, in the Western Art Print Room of the Ashmolean Museum. The project was the result of my experience as Faculty Fellow in the Department of Western Art at the Ashmolean. I am very grateful to the following who contributed generously and enthusiastically to the collaboration: the Keeper of Western Art, Dr Catherine Whistler; the Leverhulme Research Assistant (Raphael Project), Angelamaria Aceto; the Print Room Supervisors, Dr Caroline Palmer and Katherine Wodehouse; the Bodleian Libraries’ Librarian for Art & Architecture, and for Italian Literature & Language, Clare Hills-Nova; the Picture Library Curator of the Ashmolean Museum, Amy Taylor; and Jim Harris, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Teaching Curator at the Ashmolean, together with Unity Coombes and Ben Skarratt, UEP Museum Assistants.

Professor Gervase Rosser
History of Art Department & Faculty of History
University of Oxford

LGBT History Month: Piranesi Special Seminar

A personal view: Yourcenar, Piranesi and Egypt
By Richard Bruce Parkinson

In the early 1960s, Marguerite Yourcenar wrote an essay on ‘Le cerveau noir de Piranèse (The dark brain of Piranesi)’. Earlier, in 1941, she and her American life-partner Grace Frick had bought four engravings in New York which remained with them for the rest of their lives, and one of them played a part in inspiring what remains her most famous work, Mémoires d’Hadrien (Memoirs of Hadrian 1951). The novel is a poetic evocation of the life of the Roman emperor, including his relationship with the handsome Antinous, who died on an imperial progress in middle Egypt in AD 130. The novel has always had particular resonance for LGBT readers as a profoundly ‘queer’ imagining of the ancient past, but it has also been inspirational for some Egyptologists, notably the great Philippe Derchain (1926–2012), who even composed a fictional account, in an intertextual dialogue with Yourcenar’s novel, of the Barberini obelisk that Hadrian had erected in Antinous’ honour.

Fig. 1. G. B. Piranesi: ‘Exterior of the so-called “Tempio del Dio Canopo” at Hadrian’s Villa,Tivoli’, in Vedute di Roma, vol. 5 (ca. 1769)

The above print, by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), from around 1769, shows the exterior of the so-called ‘Tempio del Dio Canopo’ at Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli from the series entitled Vedute di Roma, which forms volume 5 in Taylorian founder Sir Robert Taylor’s own set of Piranesi volumes, now housed in the Taylor Institution Library (see http://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/taylorian/2014/12/19/unpacking-sir-robert-taylors-library/). The villa was central to Yourcenar’s inspiration, and this is the one image she described in detail in her reflective notes on composing the novel. From ancient descriptions of the villa as containing a ‘Canopus’, the building at its centre was thought to represent the town of Canopus in Egypt, and it was traditionally regarded as the find spot for many Egyptianising works of art from the villa. In the novel, ‘cette chapelle de Canope où son culte se célèbre à l’égyptienne (that chapel of Canopus where his cult is celebrated in Egyptian fashion)’ is evoked as Hadrian attempts to summon up the ghost of his lost beloved. Piranesi’s print is a carefully captioned view of the structure, reflecting his concerns to document the ‘speaking ruins’ of ancient Rome, but it also possesses a romantic quality that appealed to Yourcenar. She described the etching as showing ‘structure ronde, éclatée come un crâne, d’où de vagues broussailles pendent comme des mèches de cheveux. Le génie presque médiumnique de Piranèse a flairé là l’hallucination, les longues routines du souvenir, l’architecture tragique d’un monde intérieur (a round structure, burst open like a skull, from which fallen trees and brush hang vaguely down, like strands of hair. The genius of Piranesi, almost mediumistic, has truly caught the element of hallucination here: he has sensed the long-continued rituals of mourning, the tragic architecture of an inner world)’.  The domed building is skull-like, with two fallen masses of the vault placed symmetrically in the foreground like jaws; they still lie in the area today.

Fig. 2. The vault and fallen blocks of the ‘Canopus’ (photograph: R. B. Parkinson)

As Nigel Saint has noted, the view down the central axis of the etching allows the viewer to look from the outside into as it were the inner parts of the emperor’s private world, as Yourcenar attempted. The strikingly symmetrical composition creates a sense of mystery: what are the three tiny figures doing in the centre of the monumental arena – are they reading palms?

Fig. 3. G. B. Piranesi: ‘Exterior of the so-called “Tempio del Dio Canopo” at Hadrian’s Villa,Tivoli’ (detail), in Vedute di Roma, vol. 5 (ca. 1769)

As Yourcenar’s emperor says of his villa, ‘chaque édifice était le plan d’un songe (each structure was the chart of a dream)’. The tree on the left seems playfully to echo the gesturing figure on the right, as if monument, nature and humans are all parts of a single grandiose ruin: such contemporaneous figures appealed to Yourcenar’s desire to explore ways to mediate between the living present and the past, through ‘[les] milliers de vies silencieuses, furtives comme celles des bêtes … qui se sont succédé ici entre Hadrien et nous (the thousands of lives, silent and furtive as those of wild beasts … who have followed in our succession here between Hadrian’s time and ours)’. For her, the depiction of a ruin becomes ‘une méditation à la fois visuelle et métaphysique sur la vie et la mort des formes (a meditation both visual and metaphysical on the life and death of forms)’.

To modern archaeological eyes, the print also shows that any historical certainty is remarkably uncertain, as excavations and reconstructions of the building continually change the picture in every sense: the traditional idea that this building was connected with Egyptianising art-works and cult has been disputed, and its identification as Hadrian’s ‘Canopus’ is far from certain, with architectural historians arguing that it was probably only a scenic triclinium for the summer months.

Fig. 4. The ‘Canopus’ with a restored pool and re-erected columns (photograph: R. B. Parkinson)

The architecture is no longer considered in any way ‘tragic’. New layers of interpretation gather around the image, but I retain a fondness for it, partly as a symbol of Yourcenar’s vision of a queer ‘monde intérieur’. And partly because a print of it hung (and still hangs) over the fireplace of the sitting room in Petite Plaisance, the house that she shared with Grace Frick in Northeast Harbor, Maine.

Fig. 5. Yousuf Karsh: Marguerite Yourcenar at Petite Plaisance in 1987 (© Estate of Yousuf Karsh)

The print thus not only evokes the ancient past of Hadrian and Antinous, but also the modern personal, domestic world of Yourcenar and Frick. For me, as a gay Egyptologist, it has become an image of what historians do in trying to recapture a sense of ancient lived experiences—not only with precision, but also with imagination and empathy.

Richard Bruce Parkinson
Professor of Egyptology & Fellow of The Queen’s College
University of Oxford

Post Script

The opportunity to view this and Piranesi’s other etchings took place during a special seminar, ‘G. B. Piranesi: Sir Robert Taylor’s Collection of Etchings & the Ashmolean Candelabra’, held at the Taylor Institution and the Ashmolean Museum in late 2017. The occasion arose from Oxford’s 2017 Slade Lectures, ‘The Material Presence of Absent Antiquities’ (http://www.history.ox.ac.uk/event/slade-lectures-2017), during which Caroline van Eck (Uni-versity of Cambridge) focused on the works of Piranesi, thus prompting further investigation of the Taylorian’s collection. In remarkable condition and logistically difficult to display, the Library’s full set had rarely (if ever) been shown in its entirety. The Piranesi seminar, led by Professor van Eck, thus enabled an international group of academics and curators from a variety of disciplines to examine and discuss Sir Robert Taylor’s set; and also to hear, from Christoph Frank (U. della Svizzera italiana, Mendrisio), about the discovery of a previously unknown album of Piranesi drawings at Karlsruhe, throwing light on the conservation history of one of the Ashmolean candelabra.

Fig. 6. G.B. Piranesi. Vasi, candelabri, cippi, sarcofagi, tripodi, lucerne ed ornamenti antichi (Rome, 1778)

To many, the most compelling component of the seminar was volume 17. This, an ‘elephant folio’ (79 x 61 cm.), unfolded at one end to a 3.5 metre-long etching of the Colonna Traiana (Trajan’s Column, fig. 9); and, at the other, to an equally long Colonna Antonina (also known as the Colonna di Marco Aurelio or Colonna Aureliana).

Clare Hills-Nova
Italian Literature & Language Librarian
Taylor Institution Library

Further reading

Marguerite Yourcenar:

Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoires d’Hadrien (Paris: Plon, 1951). English translation by Grace Frick: Memoirs of Hadrian (London : Readers Union, 1955).

Marguerite Yourcenar, ‘‘Le cerveau noir de Piranèse’ in Sous bénéfice d’inventaire (Paris: Gallimard, 1962). English translation by Richard Howard in The Dark Brain of Piranesi and Other Essays (Henley-on-Thames: Ellis, 1985), 88–128.

Véronique Beirnaert-Mary and Achmy Halley (ed.), Marguerite Yourcenar et l’empereur Hadrien: Une réécriture de l’antiquité (Gand: Snoeck, 2015).

Thorsten Opper, Hadrian: Empire and Conflict (London: British Museum, 2008).

R. B. Parkinson, A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World (London: British Museum, 2013), 118-121.

Nigel Saint, Marguerite Yourcenar: Reading the Visual (Oxford: Legenda, 2000).

Fig. 9. G.B. Piranesi. Veduta del prospotto principale della Colonna Trajana (Ghent University Library)

G. B. Piranesi:

Ghent University Library/Universiteits Bibliotheek Gent. Prints by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778): http://www.theeuropeanlibrary.org/tel4/collection/a1004 (viewed 03/02/2018).

Georg Kabierske, “A Cache of Newly Identified Drawings by Piranesi and His Studio at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe”, Master Drawings LIII/2 (2015), 147-179.

Georg Kabierske, “Vasi, urne, cinerarie, altari e candelabri: Newly Identified Drawings for Piranesi’s Antiquities and Sculptural Comporsisions at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe” in Francesco Nevola (ed.), Giovanni Battista Piranesi: Predecessori, contemporanei e successori: Studi in onore di John Wilton-Ely  (Rome: Quasar, 2016), 245-262.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, [Opera Piranesi]. Rome, [1748-1779]: v.1-4. Le antichità romane. — v.5-6. Vedute di Roma. — v.7. Ioannis Baptistae Piranesii antiquariorum. — Osservazioni. — v.8. Antichità d’Albano e di Castel Gandolfo. –Antichità di Cora. -v.9. Alcune vedute di archi trionfali. — Opere varie di architettura prospettive grotteschi antichità. — Le rouine del castello dell’Acqua Giulia. — Trofei di Ottaviano Avgvsto. — v.10. Ioannis Baptistae Piranesii antiquariorum regiae. — v.11, 12. Vasi, candelabri, cippi, sarcofagi. — v.13. Descrizione e disegno dell’emissario del Lago Albano. — I. B. Piranesii Lapides capitolini. — v.14. Raccolta de tempj antichi. — Diversi maniere d’adornare i cammini. — v.15. Différentes vues de quelques restes de trois grands édifices. — v.16. Raccolta di alcuni disegni del Barberi da Cento. — Carceri d’invenzione. — Il teatro d’Ercolano alla maestra di Gustavo III. — v.17. Trofeo o sia magnifica colonna. — Colonna Antonina come si vede oggidi. — Colonna eretta in memoria dell’apoteosi di Antonino Pio.

The Image of Dante, the Divine Comedy and the Visual Arts, Part I

The Image of Dante, the Divine Comedy and the Visual Arts
in the Ashmolean Museum and the Taylor Institution Library

I: The Image of the Poet

Oxford’s dedication to Dante is deep-rooted. The University’s Dante Society was set up in 1876 (thirteen years before the foundation of the Dante Alighieri Society in Italy), and has provided a focus for the reading and discussion of his work ever since. The intellectual preoccupation has been overwhelmingly literary and textual. Yet the cult has had more extensive visual dimensions than its devotees may have realised (or wished to acknowledge). Oxford bears rich traces of this visual culture.

Earlier this year, the Ashmolean Museum’s Print Room hosted two seminars — one for the University’s Dante Society, the other for the Print Research Seminar — at which works in the collections of the Ashmolean and the Taylor Institution Library were presented and discussed. This is the first of two short pieces deriving from those seminars. Both posts focus on the iconography of Dante, as this is represented in particular in the collections of the Ashmolean Museum and of the Taylor Institution Library in Oxford. The second piece (to be posted later in the year) will consider illustrations to the Divine Comedy between the sixteenth and the twenty-first century. This, the first post, addresses the image of Dante.

Reception of Dante has always been inflected by perception of the poet. Each age, just as it re-reads the Comedy, at the same time re-envisions its author. Readers always believe they know what Dante looked like – a remarkable claim to authentic connection, considering how little information we really have. The Ashmolean possesses a plaster mould of what in the nineteenth century was reputed to be ‘Dante’s death-mask’.

Mask of Dante. Plaster, 19th century (Ashmolean Museum: WA.OA1767 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford)

Mask of Dante. Plaster, 19th century (Ashmolean Museum: WA.OA1767 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford)

This example was given in 1879 to the Oxford Dante Society by Seymour Kirkup, a fanatical Dantophile and long-standing resident of Florence (who believed he was in direct spirit communication with the great poet). The minutes of the Dante Society in November of that year record the gift:

Baron Kirkup having at the suggestion of Signor de Tivoli kindly presented to the Society a Cast from the Mask of Dante in his possession, which formerly belonged to Signor Bartolini [Lorenzo Bartolini (d.1850), sculptor and maker of casts in Florence], and which has been on good grounds believed to have been taken from the Mask originally placed upon Dante’s Tomb at Ravenna. Resolved that the best thanks of the Society be conveyed to Baron Kirkup [via] Signor de Tivoli. Signor de Tivoli informed the Society that it was also the wish of Baron Kirkup that in the event of the Society being at any future time dissolved the cast should remain in the possession of the Secretary for the time being, or other chief officer of the Society.

In the event, however, the head was in 1920 consigned by the Society to the Ashmolean Museum, where it has been little noticed.

The head, which was made in two halves, may have been created from the plaster head of Dante kept in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, which had formerly belonged to Kirkup. (This is the head around which revolves the plot of the book, Inferno, published in 2013 by Dan Brown.) Kirkup had also, in 1840, employed a restorer to look for the supposed Portrait of Dante by Giotto in the chapel of the Bargello, of which he produced a tracing and drawing, on the basis of which a chromolithograph was published by the Arundel Society in the following year.

Portrait of Dante after the image in the Bargello, published by the Arundel Society, 1841 (© The British Museum)

Portrait of Dante after the image in the Bargello, published by the Arundel Society, 1841 (© The British Museum)

In reality the fresco in the Bargello dates from after Giotto’s death, and is not likely to represent Dante. The Palazzo Vecchio head, and another in the Florentine Palazzo Torrigiani del Nero, were thought in the nineteenth century to be based either upon a death-mask or upon another three-dimensional image created for the poet’s tomb at Ravenna in 1483. None of this has any basis in historical fact. The stories tell us, in despite of the absence of evidence, about a recurrent desire for proximity to the poet through his supposed likeness.

The history of Dante’s portrait took a new turn in 1865 when, in the six-hundredth anniversary of his birth and in the highly relevant context of the Unification of Italy, his bones (seemingly authentic) were rediscovered near to the tomb in Ravenna. The availability of the skull (albeit lacking the jawbone) led – after some time and strong official resistance to any interference with the sacred relics – to attempts to reconstruct Dante’s facial appearance on this basis. This has continued to generate versions which have made their own respective contemporary claims to the Dante aura.  That produced in the 1930s by Fabio Frassetto was framed in the political language of the time, and was claimed to prove (against other theories) that Dante was ‘of the Mediterranean race’.

Fabio Frassetto, Head of Dante, bronze (From: A.Cottignoli and G.Gruppioni, Fabio Frassetto e l’enigma del volto di Dante (2012])

Fabio Frassetto, Head of Dante, bronze (From: A.Cottignoli and G.Gruppioni, Fabio Frassetto e l’enigma del volto di Dante (2012])

In 2006 anthropologists at the University of Bologna, working on the skull with new methods of facial reconstruction, came up with what La Repubblica announced on its front page to be, at last, ‘the true portrait of Dante’.

Reconstruction of the head of Dante by the University of Bologna, 2006 (© La Repubblica)

Reconstruction of the head of Dante by the University of Bologna, 2006 (© La Repubblica)

The only relatively early verbal description of Dante, which can be set alongside this reconstruction, is that given by Boccaccio, presumably based on conversations held in Ravenna with people who had known the poet in his fifties:

“Our poet was of middle height and in his later years he walked somewhat bent over, with a grave and gentle gait. He was clad always in the most seemly attire, such as befitted his ripe years. His face was long, his nose aquiline, and his eyes rather big than small. His jaws were large, and his lower lip protruded. His complexion was dark, his hair and beard thick, black and curly, and his expression ever melancholy and thoughtful.”

What, meanwhile, have remained more plausible (if less ‘scientifically’ authenticated) portraits of Dante were those made at the beginning of the sixteenth century by Raphael, as part of his decoration for the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican Palace. Raphael had seen in Florence a number of fifteenth-century depictions of Dante which had together established a more-or-less canonical image: these must lie behind his depictions. Dante appears in Raphael’s frescoes among the theologians witnessing the Disputa concerning the Holy Sacrament, and again as one of the poets joining Apollo on Parnassus. Later artists would copy these representations of the poet, especially the former, which is closer to the eye level of the visitor. The Ashmolean owns a fine black chalk drawing after the Dante of the Disputa which may have been made by a pupil of Thomas Lawrence (but not, pace Francis Douce who owned the drawing before giving it to the museum, by Lawrence himself, who only visited Rome late in life and when working in a different style).

Pupil of Thomas Lawrence(?), Dante, after Raphael (Ashmolean Museum: WA1863.1413© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford)

Pupil of Thomas Lawrence(?), Dante, after Raphael (Ashmolean Museum: WA1863.1413 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford)

The nineteenth century would see a shift in taste from this type of the Dante portrait, haughty and austere, to a focus on a more youthful and romantic image. The change was facilitated by the publication of the Bargello ‘portrait’. It was the presentation to his father (by the indefatigable Kirkup) of a copy of this image which kindled in the young Dante Gabriel Rossetti an interest in the supposed relationship between Dante and Giotto, and fostered his own commitment to become an artist. The Ashmolean has relatively recently acquired a drawing for Rossetti’s painting of Giotto Painting Dante.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Giotto Painting the Portrait of Dante (record photo) (Ashmolean Museum: WA2014.36 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Giotto Painting the Portrait of Dante (record photo) (Ashmolean Museum: WA2014.36 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford)

Another drawing for the work is in the Tate and the finished painting (c. 1852) is in the collection of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Giotto Painting the Portrait of Dante (© Tate, London 2017)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Giotto Painting the Portrait of Dante (© Tate, London 2017)

The importance to Rossetti of this image of friendship between the poet after whom he had himself been named and the ideal painter is indicated by the fact that he made a watercolour copy in 1859 (Fogg Art Museum), in which his own features were given to the figure of Giotto – a further creative dimension of the nineteenth-century Dante cult.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Giotto Painting the Portrait of Dante (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop © President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Giotto Painting the Portrait of Dante (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop © President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Professor Gervase Rosser
History of Art Department & Faculty of History
University of Oxford