All posts by Andrew Bonnie

An Angelological Scroll in the Bodleian Library

from Alexandra Marraccini. Alex is a PhD student in the History of Art at the University of Chicago. Her work focuses on alchemical/Hermetic images and their role in constructing Early Modern intellectual history. She is currently doing doctoral research and is a visiting member of Corpus Christi College.

Bodleian MS. German f. 5 (R)

Bodleian MS. German f. 5 (R)


For scholars in the Weston’s Rare Books & Manuscripts Reading Room, catalogue entries are our northernmost stars, the fixed constellations by which we arrange our research. My work typically considers alchemical and hermetic images in the Library’s Ashmole fond, and I can remember to the day and hour when I found the entry for each of my manuscripts in the fond catalogue. There they were, set in a rounded Victorian type and sometimes annotated by a neat scholar’s hand, each the promise of beauty or mystery or truth, each known but still inscrutable, until each manuscript came into my hands and unfurled onto my desk. If this language sounds swoony and romantic it is, because the experience of working with manuscripts truly is transformative; it is history at its must tangible, piercing immediacy, cradled in your own hands.

Of course, there are more prosaic days too. On just one such day, I was bent over MS. Ashmole 1423, dancing silently at my desk to Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” and staring at a clumped-up bit of 16th-century English handwriting. Fun pop songs are some of my favourite paleographic instruments, and I can often be found swaying along in my grey and pink noise-cancelling headphones at the long readers’ tables. There was a weird ligature, and then, a rather fateful email. Following an earlier discussion about my work on the Ripley Scrolls, Dr. Bruce Barker-Benfield, curator of medieval manuscripts here at the Bodleian, now told me about an Hermetic scroll that needed a description. It had been given to the Bodleian with the papers of E. M. Bickersteth and his family in 1976, but its mysterious contents had since then defied cataloguing. I was invited to take a look.

Bodleian MS. German f. 5 (R)

Shortly thereafter, one of the Bodleian’s grey storage boxes emerged from the circulation desk with my name on it. I was ecstatic but also nervous. A manuscript like this, a known unknown, is a rara avis indeed in this day and age. I unfurled it, all twelve feet of it, and gasped. Many manuscripts are beautiful. Many manuscripts are strange. This one is both. One side has stunning roundels of the genealogy of the Prophets starting with Old Testament creation and ending with Christ. There is dense ink, covering almost the whole of the writing surface, in black-brown, green, and red inks, in both German and Latin. The roundels are surrounded with angelic sigils, like those in the Clavicula Salomonis, and the back of the scroll is decorated as well, this time with dense fields of sigils, some of which bear signs of repeated touch and use. The Ripley Scrolls I work with at the Library have no illumination on their backs. The other comparanda in magical books (MS. Rawl. D. 252, MS. e Mus. 173, MS. Rawl. D. 253, and MS. Douce 116) aren’t even scrolls at all. This object is, to my knowledge, a total unicum.

For the uninitiated (in this case, perhaps literally), sigils are geometric symbols designed to call the angelic (or demonic) spirits from the heavens. Sigil comes from the Latin sigillum, which explains why many are round like the wax seals on letters. The sigils on the Bickersteth scroll usually appear in bound magical books called grimoires, some of which were on display in the Magical Books exhibition in the Bodleian in 2013. Some of the sigils on the back of the scroll appear to be worn down and perhaps damaged by oil, used to float and rotate a divining crystal along the surface. The sigils are also often round and with multiple tiers of directional writing because angelic magic is calibrated by both geography and the calendar, with certain months, times, and places being more suited to some angels than others. Sometimes a brass bowl filled with water is used to catch the incoming spirit.

Bodleian MS. German f. 5 (R)

The important thing to remember about magical scrolls like this one, though, is not the fact that they are magic. The strange looking symbols are exciting to look at, but what’s exciting about them intellectually is that they’re experiments with the warp and weft of language, of how it evokes, sometimes literally, aspects of the micro- and macro-cosm. While the images and the bulk of the text on the scroll are typically later 17th-century or after, and decidedly German in content and style, some of the sigils are not. They come from a diverse range of print sources including the works of John Dee, showing that Hermetic theologians in the period were transmitting crucial ideas across Continental/English boundaries. When Dr. Barker-Benfield and I met to discuss the manuscript, he held the scroll up to the window facing Parks Road. The light showed us what a table-bound viewing could not: the sigils on the back lined up in significant ways with the images on the front.

Bodleian MS. German f. 5 (R)

A curator holding the manuscript to the light to make the structure visible.

This is one of the most delightful aspects of book and manuscript studies. Somewhere like the Bodleian’s Weston Library, which is a temple to the historical, and by nature, old, is also a crucible for the new. My experience with the Bickersteth angelological scroll is by no means unique. Scholars make new discoveries here every day. While my scholarly article with a description of the manuscript is still forthcoming, soon a summary entry will go up online on the Weston/Bodleian catalogue website with the shelfmark MS. German f. 5 (R). A new star will blink into being, and a hundred years from now, another graduate student, just like me, can use it to guide her work, to enter the realm of the old that is always somehow new.

As for me? Well, I’ll be in the Reading Room, glowing from the experience of having been able to contribute in my small way to the catalogue, and listening to “Blank Space” on repeat. After all, I got to live the lyrics, at least with respect to this manuscript. Taylor Swift perkily croons: “I can show you incredible things/ Magic. Madness. Heaven. Sin.” I now have the pleasure of being able to say the same thing.

Printing on the ‘Moxon’ Press in the Weston Library, Blackwell Hall

Image of replica 'Moxon' press

Image of the precursor of the ‘Moxon’ press in Blackwell Hall, from A.H. Smith, A description of the hand-press in the Department of English at University College, London (1933, printed on the press itself). The 1933 press was destroyed by bomb damage in WWII.


The press in Blackwell Hall, the public entrance foyer of the Bodleian’s Weston Library, is a replica made in 1951 by A.H. Smith, Quain Professor of English at UCL, with A. Brown, from designs published in 1683 by Joseph Moxon in Mechanick Exercises, or, The doctrine of handy-works, applied to the art of printing.*

It is currently being used by a team of volunteers, who will be at press most Saturdays this summer, to enable visitors to try their hand at printing keepsakes
Saturday printing 2015
Saturday 13 June, 2-4 pm
Saturday 20 June, 2-4 pm
Saturday 27 June, 2-4 pm
Saturday 4 July, (Alice’s Day), 11-4
Saturday 11 July, 2-4 pm
Saturday 18 July, 2-4 pm
Saturday 25 July, 2-4 pm
Saturday 1 August, 11 am -1 pm
Saturday 8 August, 2-4 pm
Saturday 29 August, 2-4 pm

* See Frans A. Janssen, ‘Reconstructions of the common press: aims and results’, Quærendo 32/3-4 (2002), for a photo of the press at UCL and a discussion of the design and use of this and other replicas.

Star maps restored: conserving al-Sufi’s text

Conservation of the “Book of the Constellations of the Fixed Stars” by ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Sūfī

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from Robert Minte, Bodleian Libraries Conservation & Collection Care

A project to conserve and digitise a 6th-Century AH/12th-Century CE Arabic manuscript is nearing completion, enabled by a generous grant from The National Manuscripts Conservation Trust and private donations.

The manuscript, believed to be the fourth oldest extant copy of this important and popular astronomical treatise, is particularly significant to scholars as not many examples of book art survive from the period, and it contains unique illustrations of Bedouin constellations superimposed over Ptolemaic ones.

The manuscript’s fragile condition had necessitated restricted access for study and display, the priority for conservation being the stabilisation of its fragile paint layers and repair of the paper support corroded by green copper-based pigment used to illuminate chapter headings.

After detailed examination and assessment of the manuscript’s condition, the delicate and time-consuming task of repair was carried out with careful consideration of appropriate materials to be used in its treatment. A number of materials for consolidation of powdery paint layers were investigated, bearing in mind the need to minimise any introduction of moisture, which acts as a catalyst to copper-green degradation. This also informed the choice of a suitable adhesive for the repair of the fragile, copper-corroded areas and infilling of losses, using Japanese papers dyed to match the tone of the original paper: a very light-weight tissue to repair and support fragile areas, and a heavier paper to infill areas of loss.

The conservation and digitisation of this highly important manuscript will once again enable it to be safely studied and displayed.

Colouring by numbers: botanical art techniques investigated

From Richard Mulholland

[Author Richard Mulholland will give a lecture on Ferdinand Bauer and his colour code at the Weston Library on 3 June at 1 pm]

With the end of the annual RHS Chelsea Flower show on Saturday, and the masses returning to their own English gardens inspired, it’s worth looking back to the 18th century, to the golden age of botanical exploration and to an artist who was arguably the finest botanical painter in history, Ferdinand Bauer. Now the Bodleian’s Conservation Research department are helping to unravel his meticulous and unusual painting technique.

Ferdinand Bauer, Iris Germanicus, watercolour on paper

Ferdinand Bauer, Iris Germanicus, watercolour on paper (MS. Sherard 245/70) © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford 2015

Outside of the natural sciences, Bauer (1760-1826), is little known. However, along with his equally talented brother Franz, he is certainly known to botanists. He has been called ‘the Leonardo of botanical illustration’, and is known in particular for the beauty and accuracy of his illustrations of flowers. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the paintings he made for the exquisite Flora Graeca, one of the most rare and expensive publications of the 18th century, and certainly one of the greatest botanical works ever produced.

Unprecedented in the quality of its illustrations, its printing and its attention to naturalistic detail, the Flora Graeca described the flowers of Greece and the Levant, and was published in ten lavishly-printed volumes between 1806 and 1840, purchased by an elite list of only 25 subscribers. It was the legacy of the third Professor of Botany at Oxford University, John Sibthorp (1758-1796) who funded much of the endeavour out of his own funds. Sibthorp met Bauer in Vienna in 1786, and immediately engaged him to join his expedition to collect and record specimens, and ultimately to paint the almost 1500 watercolours of plants and animals he sketched on his return to Oxford in 1787.

 

James Sowerby (after Ferdinand Bauer), Frontispiece [Mons Parnassus] for The Flora Graeca, 1806-40, hand coloured engraving (MS. Sherard 761).

James Sowerby (after Ferdinand Bauer), Frontispiece [Mons Parnassus] for The Flora Graeca, 1806-40, hand coloured engraving (MS. Sherard 761). © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2015

 What is of interest to us however is that Bauer used a particularly unusual technique to record his specimens in the field.

Bauer is exceptional among travelling botanical artists for the unusual techniques he employed for recording colour. He certainly observed and sketched live specimens, but he did not annotate these sketches with colour in the field as other artists did. Rather, subject to the limitations of working in the field – moving from place to place quickly in often difficult territory, and unable to carry large amounts of painting materials with him, he made only very basic outline sketches in pencil on thin paper.

He recorded the vital colour information, lost almost immediately after a specimen had been picked by annotating these with a series of numerical colour codes which likely referred directly to a painted colour chart, now lost. That Bauer’s paintings were created using only this colour reference system during his 6 years in Oxford, painting them sometimes up to five years after seeing the original plants, and that they are highly regarded even today for their botanical accuracy, speaks to his expertise as an artist and his astonishing memory for colour.

Page from sketchbook for Iris Germanicus showing numerical colour codes, graphite pencil on paper, 1786-7 (MS. Sherard 247/107). © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2015

Page from sketchbook for Iris Germanicus showing numerical colour codes, graphite pencil on paper, 1786-7 (MS. Sherard 247/107). © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2015

More pertinently, Ferdinand Bauer (and to a lesser extent his brother Franz) appear to be the only significant natural history artists to have used this kind of colour code in a practical way. Numerical codes of up to 140 different colour tones are found on early drawings by both Bauers from the 1770s. However, where Ferdinand seems to have continued to develop this initial system of some 140 colours into one of at least 273 colours for the Flora Graeca (and from then into a considerably more complex system of 1000 colours for a later expedition to Australia in 1801-5 – though how he could have used this practically is anybody’s guess), Franz Bauer, who was by then official botanical painter to Joseph Banks at the Botanical gardens at Kew, did not did not appear to use the system after he came to London in the late 1780s. Ferdinand of course, spent a significant amount of his time working in the field, and therefore much more in need of a system of shorthand than his brother. However, it’s interesting to note that no other travelling botanical artist used such a system to the extent that Bauer did.

An early colour chart (below) that appears likely to have been used by the brothers was found in 1999 at the Madrid Botanical Gardens, but Ferdinand Bauer’s 273 colour chart from the Sibthorp expedition and the 999 colour chart he may have used for the Matthew Flinders expedition to Australia, if they ever existed, have never been discovered.

Colour chart (c.1770s) discovered in the Archives of the Botanical Gardens in Madrid in 1999, and likely to have been used by the Bauer brothers © Archivo del Real Jardín Botánico, CSIC, Madrid.

Colour chart (c.1770s) discovered in the Archives of the Botanical Gardens in Madrid in 1999, and likely to have been used by the Bauer brothers © Archivo del Real Jardín Botánico, CSIC, Madrid.

This fact, however, presents a unique opportunity for us to carry out technical research into Bauer’s materials. The Conservation Research department at the Bodleian Libraries together with the Plant Sciences Department at the University are working on a three year Research project on Bauer’s techniques, funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant. Collaborating with the V&A, Durham University and the University of Northumbria the project aims to understand what the Flora Graeca colour chart may have looked like, and how Bauer might have used it. A large part of the project involves identifying the pigments used by Bauer in his magnificent Flora Graeca watercolours, cross reference these results with the numerical codes in his field sketches, and ultimately create a historically-accurate reconstruction of the lost colour chart.

Professor Andy Beeby from Durham University setting up a portable Raman spectrometer to analyse red pigments used on one of Bauer’s paintings © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Professor Andy Beeby from Durham University setting up a portable Raman spectrometer to analyse red pigments used on one of Bauer’s paintings © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

How will we do this? Often it is permitted to remove a minute sample of paint from a work of art in order to identify the material components. However this is rarely possible with works of art on paper, and is most certainly not possible for one of the treasures of the Bodleian’s collection! The work therefore is carried out in situ, bringing portable instruments to the object itself, rather than the other way around. For this we currently use three analytical techniques at Oxford: Raman spectroscopy, X-ray Fluoresce spectroscopy (XRF) and Hyperspectral imaging (Imaging spectroscopy).

Durham and Northumbria Universities have particular expertise in Raman Spectroscopy of cultural heritage objects, and Durham has built a portable instrument that is capable of positively identifying many of the pigments that Bauer used. The V&A Conservation Science section has a long history of collaborating with universities on technical research, and also has a great deal of expertise in Raman spectroscopy and its use in identifying pigments on artists’ watercolours.

In addition to the excitement of recreating Bauer’s lost colour chart, the project showcases the value of technical art history, a relatively new field that encompasses both scientific analysis and historical research into the materials and methods of the artist. It will go some way toward an understanding of Bauer’s extraordinary feel for colour and pigment, how he utilised his colour code, and ultimately how he was able to achieve such an impressive degree of colour fidelity in his work.

As we progress with the project, and as we learn more about Bauer’s materials and techniques, I’ll post again with more results. But should you find yourself in Oxford before September, a copy of both the Flora Graeca, and Bauer’s original illustrations for it are on display in the Marks of Genius exhibition at Bodleian’s Weston Library.

Kabe Wilson ‘Of One Woman or So’: Virginia Woolf Remixed

from Dennis Duncan

Unfurled across five tables, Kabe Wilson’s astonishing Of One Woman or So is the result of a painstaking process of cutting up books. The novella, which tells the story of a young Cambridge student who becomes politicized and burns down the University Library, was created by re-arranging all 37,971 words of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. At once a tour de force of wit and wordplay and a serious consideration of what Woolf’s essay has to offer us today, Wilson’s work often dramatizes its own method of construction, as in the following passage.

Kabe Wilson_OOWOS

In front of an audience in the Visiting Scholars’ Centre at the Weston Library, Wilson described how creating the piece involved a mixture of old and new technologies: spreadsheets and macros to keep track of each word has he typed; scissors and glue – and two copies of Woolf’s book – to turn the digital document into a physical piece. ‘I see myself as an artist rather than a writer,’ he told us, ‘so it was important that at the end of the process there should be something that could be exhibited.’

For Wilson, one of the major reasons for doing this work was to see how the language of Woolf’s time has been reoriented or reenergized in the intervening years. Woolf’s fictitious author, Mary Carmichael, provides a means for Wilson’s protagonist to become radicalized by the writings of Stokely Carmichael; a mention of the writer Vernon Lee in A Room of One’s Own allows Wilson to drop in a reference to Woolf’s biographer Hermione Lee. bell hooks and Edward Said appear courtesy of the simple terms bell, hooks and said. Meanwhile there are dozens of playful allusions to the culture of the early twenty-first century, from reading Harry Potter to supporting Manchester United; from watching Friends to drinking vodka jellies. Wilson described how the word sex features prominently in Woolf’s essay, but how, in recent feminist discourse, the sense in which Woolf uses it has been largely supplanted by the term gender. In order to avoid the clang of anachronism, then, Wilson’s tale involves rather more sex scenes than Woolf’s, with the narrator at one point voicing Wilson’s own concerns here: ‘True, I should think of women, women, women, women. And not of sex, sex, sex.’

During the Question and Answer session Wilson discussed how he envisaged publication of the work, and the importance of retaining the look of the art piece with the signs of its physical construction: the shadows of the cut-up paper and Wilson’s handwritten punctuation. We also got to consider the mind-boggling, Borgesian potentiality of the exercise – the infinite, unwritten texts contained in all the other possible arrangements of the same words – and the one extant but secret rearrangement hidden on the reverse sides of Wilson’s gummed-down words.

Kabe Wilson_1

Seminar participants viewing the complete text of ‘Of One Woman or So’ in the Visiting Scholars’ Centre, Weston Library

 

The Reach of Bibliography: Looking Beyond Letterpress in Eighteenth-Century Texts

The Lyell Lectures 2015 are given by Professor Michael F. Suarez, S.J., under the general title The Reach of Bibliography: Looking Beyond Letterpress in Eighteenth-Century Texts.

28 April: ‘Engraved Throughout: Pine’s Horace (1733) as a Bibliographical Object’. Video podcast, link here.

30 April: ‘True Colours: A Natural History of Louis Renard’s Poissons (1719)’.  (Link to podcast)
5 May: ‘Proliferating Images: Diagrams of the Slave Ship Brookes (1789)’.  (Link to podcast)
7 May: ‘Singular Multiples: Comprehending the General Evening Post (1754–86)’.  (Link to podcast)
12 May: ‘Naming Names: Underwriting Patronage in Tonson’s Cæsar (1712)’.  (Link to podcast)
14 May: ‘Abridging Histories: Capt. James Cook and the Voyages of Reading (1784–)’.  (Link to podcast)

The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands: containing the figures of birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, insects and plants: particularly the forest-trees, shrubs, and other plants, not hitherto described, or very incorrectly figured by authors. Together with their descriptions in English and French.  MDCCLIV. | London: : Printed for C. Marsh, in Round Court in the Strand; T. Wilcox, over-against the New Church, in the Strand; and B. Stichall in Clare-Court. Vol. II, p. 15, 'The great Hog-Fish/Le grand Pourceau'. Bodleian Arch. Nat. Hist. M. 5

The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands: containing the figures of birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, insects and plants: particularly the forest-trees, shrubs, and other plants, not hitherto described, or very incorrectly figured by authors. Together with their descriptions in English and French.
MDCCLIV. | London: : Printed for C. Marsh, in Round Court in the Strand; T. Wilcox, over-against the New Church, in the Strand; and B. Stichall in Clare-Court.
Vol. II, p. 15, ‘The great Hog-Fish/Le grand Pourceau’. Bodleian Arch. Nat. Hist. M. 5

Description of a slave ship (London: James Phillips, George Yard, Lombard Street, 1789), pasted inside the front cover of Douce 309, Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum historiale (Strasbourg, c. 1473)

Description of a slave ship (London: James Phillips, George Yard, Lombard Street, 1789), pasted inside the front cover of Douce 309, Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum historiale (Strasbourg, c. 1473)

The Gazetteer and London Daily Advertiser. Number 9883. Thursday, December 18, 1760. Bodleian Johnson a.122

The Gazetteer and London Daily Advertiser. Number 9883. Thursday, December 18, 1760. Bodleian Johnson a.122

 

Bodleian Vet. 23643 b.2, Caesar

An engraved picture plate from Caesar’s Commentaries (1712) published by Jacob Tonson the elder shows the arms of Simon Harcourt (1661-1727), Lord Chancellor in 1713. For the Harcourt family papers, see Bodleian Western Manuscripts collection

Silius Italicus, The second Punick war (1661), with plates underwritten with the arms of  prominent loyalists. (Bodleian Mason I 228)

Silius Italicus, The second Punick war (1661), translated by Thomas Ross, was dedicated to Charles II. The captions to the numerous plates honoured prominent loyalists. (Bodleian Mason I 228)

Bodleian Vet. A4 e.2816 and Vet. A4 e.350, two different abridgements of Daniel Defoe's satirical poem, Jure Divino

Bodleian Vet. A4 e.2816 and Vet. A4 e.350, two different pirated editions of Daniel Defoe’s satirical poem, Jure Divino. The edition on the left was actually published before the official folio edition. The frontispiece is the portrait of Defoe originally engraved for Defoe’s Works in 1703, and here copied (in woodcut for the abridged version on the right). The frontispiece of the legitimate folio edition of Jure Divino was a different portrait.

 

Letterlocking: keeping post from prying eyes

by Emily Mayne (St Hilda’s College) and Callum Seddon (Merton College)

Jana Dambrogio at the workshop in the Weston Library, Bodleian Libraries

Jana Dambrogio at the workshop in the Weston Library, Bodleian Libraries

How did men and women secure their letters before the introduction of gummed envelopes? Why should the materiality of letters as folded packets interest scholars and conservators as much as their contents? Jana Dambrogio (Thomas F. Peterson (1957) Conservator at Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Daniel Starza Smith (British Academy postdoctoral research fellow, Lincoln College) led a workshop to explore these and related questions through a series of hands-on case studies.

When we send letters today, the envelope acts as a security, protecting the content from prying eyes. But envelopes as we think of them now were not invented until the mid-nineteenth century. Prior to this letters were secured by folding and various combinations of sealing, tying, cutting, and sewing, making the letter its own security device. ‘Letterlocking’, as Jana Dambrogio calls it, is a social and textual practice of document security that stretches back thousands of years, but the workshop focused particularly on techniques dating from the late sixteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Participants were able to open pre-sealed examples, and, throughout the workshop, learn to fold and lock their own.
letterlockingFig 2_sm
We began by opening a folded packet, sealed with a strip of paper and wax seal. Upon opening, a number of slits were visible, running vertically down each side of the paper; a triangular section of paper was also missing from the lower, right-hand corner of the unfolded letter. Many early modern letters currently survive in this state today, and it is only by thinking of letters as folded and sealed packets, rather than simply flattened objects, that we can begin to piece together why these material signs – vertical or horizontal slits, and missing triangular pieces – matter. In this example, the triangular piece of paper has been cut from the end of the letter and used as a sealing device to authenticate the packet. Anyone receiving this packet would know if its contents had already been read, because both wax seal and paper strip would be broken. It would take someone with access to an identical seal and paper-stock to replicate this security measure once opening it. This format of letterlocking is, therefore, a more secure method than the ‘tuck and seal’ method (also demonstrated in the workshop) in which one side of the packet is tucked into the other prior to sealing.

We then looked at a series of case studies of alternative letterlocking formats, each of which demonstrated the importance of bringing an analysis of a letter’s material form to bear on understanding the circumstances of its production, exchange, and reception. Wax is by no means a necessary part of letterlocking, as we learned by studying correspondence sent from the front line by a Russian soldier in the Second World War. This soldier secured his letter (into a triangular format) with the expectation that it would be opened and read by army censors, who would examine the post sent by troops to safeguard against the risk of military intelligence coming into the wrong hands. Similarly, a letter sent by Marie Antoinette to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi showed the importance of being able to open, but re-secure the letter with a removable paper lock and elaborate papered-seal. Other examples included a format often used by Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex in his correspondence with Elizabeth I: the letter is pleated, folded into a small packet and a length of thread is wound around the ends of the folded letter, and warm sealing wax is placed over the thread on one (and often both) of the exposed panels and impressed with a signet. Folding a letter in this way produces a thin rectangular packet easily concealed in the hand or sleeve, and choosing this letter format might then serve to communicate intimacy or a wish for intimacy between letter-writer and recipient, in addition to the written contents of the letter. John Donne’s letters were arguably the ‘show-stoppers’ of the workshop, if only for his spectacular seals: a sheaf of snakes, and Christ crucified on an anchor. Participants sealed their own versions of the letter formats demonstrated in the workshop using replicas of Donne’s own sealing devices that Dambrogio and Smith had specially made. Donne used many of the formats explored in the workshop, but perhaps unsurprisingly also took care to make more extravagant paper locks.

letterlockingFig 3_sm

The session ended with the chance to apply this knowledge to actual examples in the Bodleian’s Special Collections. We were able to materially ‘read’ surviving autograph Donne letters, besides other examples of letterlocking in some of the Bodleian’s manuscript letter collections. This final stage of the session served to illustrate an important point: letterlocking is useful for both researchers and conservators. After working through the examples, we could appreciate that letters were neither ‘flat’ objects (they only seem to be once they are bound into a composite volume), and that they conveyed a number of social signs through their material features. If scholars are repeatedly called upon to recognize the importance of the material text, letters are a useful place to begin exploring the connections between material form, content, and meaning.

Mathematical neckties and John Evelyn’s style notes

Men's Turkish jackets from Kars, plate 45, Max Tilke, Oriental Costumes: Their Designs and Colours, 1922. Copyright protected. Please do not use without permission.

Men’s Turkish jackets from Kars, plate 45, Max Tilke, Oriental Costumes: Their Designs and Colours, 1922. Copyright protected. Please do not use without permission.

The Art of Dress and the Reluctant Rejects

Verity Wilson, guest curator. The Art of Dress is on view in the Proscholium, Bodleian Library, until April 27 2015

Everyone wears clothes and so everyone has an opinion about them. Not everyone, of course, sets down their sartorial thoughts in writing but considerable numbers do as I found out when I curated The Art of Dress ( 26 February to 26 April 2015).  The exhibits in this Proscholium display represent just a few of the many western printed books about dress from the Bodleian’s rich collection. Over 400 years of publications about clothes, their different manifestations and many meanings, made the selection process woefully thorny so, as a way to make amends for leaving so much out, here are just four books that would have been included had there been space.

John Evelyn’s Tyrannus or The Mode, published in London in 1661 is a small volume reprehending the English craving for French fashions. Penned by the diarist and garden writer, it maintains that a nation should have confidence in its own individual style of dressing and not copy others. Full of witticisms and erudite quotations, the Bodleian copy belonged to Evelyn himself. It is signed by him and there are corrections in his hand throughout the text.

My second ‘waiting in the wings’ book is the exquisitely illustrated Costumes of the Russia Empire, published in 1803 as the fourth in William Miller’s  costume series. It attests to the growing interest in scientific ethnographic scholarship and the full-page coloured engravings include A female Baschkirian, A Barabintzian girl, A Kirghis on horseback, A Yakut in his hunting dress, A woman of Esthonia, and A Circassian Prince.

On Cellular Cloth for the Clothing of the Body: The Theory and Practice produced by the Cellular Clothing Company Ltd in 1888 is another reluctantly discarded publication.  The seeming contradiction between holes and heat was reconciled when Lewis Haslam (1856-1922), an industrialist and Member of Parliament, put Aertex into production at his Manchester mill in 1888. This lightweight cotton fabric, widely and expensively advertised,  very quickly became the established fabric for sports shirts and service uniforms, and generations of school children have worn the three-button, short-sleeve, collared shirt made from this material.

‘Why do people tie their ties in only one of four ways?’ ask two Cambridge University physicists, Thomas Fink and Yong Mao, in The 85 Ways To Tie a Tie: The Science and Aesthetics of Tie Knots. In 1999, when the book was written, this male dress accessory was already becoming obsolete and today the tie is not an essential part of correct dressing. For many years, however, all men wore ties in business and formal situations; Fink and Mao’s strategies might have added a dash of brio to the knotting process. The book combines mathematics with stylish creativity and it was disappointing to exclude it from the display.

 

Printing on ‘Gutenberg’s’ One-Pull Press

Stuart Barnard, RBC-Bodleian Visiting Fellow, writes:

Although none of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing presses survive from the 15th century, Alan May has crafted a working press that closely replicates what historians believe Gutenberg’s invention would have looked like. May built the one-pull press for the BBC programme “The Machine That Made Us,” which was hosted by Stephen Fry and aired in 2008.

Last Monday evening,  Alan May and Martin Andrews gave an extraordinary presentation in the Upper Library at Christ Church, Oxford, about the development of the press. They discussed how historians have used various illustrations and historical records to determine how Gutenberg’s press and the moveable type were developed. After showing clips of the BBC program in which the metal screw was carved, May described the process by which he was able to build a working press. Those in attendance were then given the opportunity to cast their own type and then pull the lever of the press to print their own page of Gutenberg’s Bible, a passage from 2 Maccabees in the Latin Vulgate, and take home unique pieces of printing memorabilia.

Thanks are due to Cristina Neagu, the Christ Church Librarian, for hosting the session. See more beautiful pictures of this workshop here:
http://davidstumpp.tumblr.com/

Stuart Barnard will speak about missionaries and print culture in Canada, on 19 Feb. in the Lecture Theatre, Weston Library. Click for link to free registration.

Gutenberg press workshop, Christ Church, Oxford

Casting type at the workshop, with Alan May

 

Another princely travelling library: a book bound for Henry, Prince of Wales

Antiq. q N 1593, bound for Henry, Prince of Wales (d. 1612)

Antiq. q N 1593, bound for Henry, Prince of Wales (d. 1612)

Claire Audelan, Rare Books Department Intern, writes:

A gift to the Bodleian has led to the recognition of further provenance history, as another book from the 17th-century Prince Henry’s dispersed travelling library has been discovered in the Bodleian stacks.

Careful study of the travelling library of Prince Charles, later King Charles I, donated to the Bodleian Library before Christmas, has enabled staff in the Rare Books Department at the Bodleian to track down one of the remarkable gold-tooled green morocco bindings bearing the recognizable monogram ‘HP’ with a coronet on top that belonged to his elder brother Henry, Prince of Wales (d.1612).  The binding is one which seems to be from the travelling library made for Prince Henry. Others with the same binding are known to survive in the British Library.

This is an amazing step towards reconstructing the still mysterious history of these two outstanding libraries made for the 15 and 9 year-old princes since it brings the number of volumes known to have belonged to Henry Prince of Wales to 23.

Lucan, De Bello Civili, Antiq. q N 1593

Lucan, De Bello Civili, Antiq. q N 1593, copy bound for Henry, Prince of Wales (d. 1612)