Shakespeare’s Sonnets: a selection curated for the Bodleian by Yale-NUS in 2022

Students from Yale-NUS selected five items to illuminate an encounter with Shakespeare’s Sonnets

A choice of 5 items following our journey through the collection of sonnets by William Shakespeare (1564-1616) at the Bodleian Library

Dedication page of the 1609 edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets
The dedication in the 1609 edition
  1. Shake-speares Sonnets. Neuer before imprinted.At London : By G. Eld for T[homas]. T[horpe]. and are to be solde by William Aspley. 1609.
    This was the first edition, while Shakespeare was alive.
First page of the 1609 edition
First page of the 1609 edition
The 1609 edition showing sonnets 56 through 59, with parts of sonnets 55 and 60.
The 1609 edition showing sonnets 56 through 59, with parts of sonnets 55 and 60.

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The 1640 edition showing part of Sonnet 54, and Sonnet 57 and part of Sonnet 59
  1. Poems, written by W. Shakespeare Printed at London by Tho. Cotes, and are to be to be sold by Iohn Benson, dwelling in St. Dunstans Church-yard. 1640

The editor has added titles to the sonnets. This sets up your expectation of what the poem is about. We noticed that in the first edition the sonnets are just numbered, with no titles.

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Sonnet 57 printed in 2016 by Michael Hurley, Titivilus Press
Sonnet 57 printed in 2016 by Michael Hurley, Titivilus Press
  1. Sonnet 57 (2016). Michael Hurley, Titivilus Press, Memphis, Tennessee, 2016
    Black type with a coloured half border, 27 cm. height. On the verso is a reproduction of the Droeshout portrait of Shakespeare, from the First Folio edition of his plays.

Before we saw the first edition, this is what we thought a Shakespeare book ‘should’ look like, with old-fashioned type and decorative borders.

This and the other Sonnets printed in 2016 are part of a collection formed by the Bodleian inviting Shakespeare’s Sonnets from printers around the world.

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Sonnet 61 fully linocut by Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley, Oxford, in 2016
  1. Sonnet 61 (2016). Linocut by Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley, 2016

This combines image and the text, all printed from linocut. The words of the sonnet are incorporated into a beautiful image.

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  1. Sonnet 110 (2016). Pixel Press, Stoke Newington, London, 2016. A moveable. The words of the dedication and a closed eye are seen at first, but when you move the tab, the eye opens and the words of the sonnet appear in windows.
Sonnet 110 by Pixel Press, Stoke Newington, London

“It’s cool!”

Blinking eye moveable in Sonnet 110 from Pixel Press, Stoke Newington
Blinking eye moveable in Sonnet 110 from Pixel Press, Stoke Newington. gif by Adam Koszary

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As part of our visit we printed our own ‘Four Sonnets’ at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press

The Yale-NUS edition of Four Sonnets, 2022. Printed at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press
The Yale-NUS course ‘Manuscripts, the Printing Press, and the Preservation of Knowledge,’ 2022

ARCHiOx: research and development in imaging

A photo-essay by the Bodleian’s Senior Photographer and ARCHiOx Technical Lead for the Bodleian, John Barrett  

From plate to print: Left to right, albedo, normal map, depth map, shaded render, composite and original print. A copper plate portrait of antiquarian, Anthony Wood, recorded as never before, captured using the latest in three-dimensional recording technology. Rawl. Copperplates e. 65.

Producing objectively accurate images from the books and manuscripts in the Bodleian’s collections to enrich our growing digital archive is the primary focus of the Imaging Services department.   On occasion, requests from curators or clients may require our photographers to use specialist imaging techniques such as recording originals using ultra-violet light or infrared cameras.  However, for the most part the aim is not to reveal hidden details, but to produce faithful digital reproductions.

In contrast, the aim of a new research and development project now underway in the Bodleian’s  Imaging Studio is to record items from the collections in three dimensions, using entirely new technology, in the expectation that discoveries will be made through recording surface detail at extremely high resolution.

Almost invisible when photographed conventionally, the fine etching on the reverse of Rawl. Copperplates g. 21 is revealed. This composite digital image combines a shaded render of the surface of the plate, layered with an albedo (colour) image. The image depicts Invidia (Envy). No extant print made using this side of the plate has yet been identified. The etched lines are extremely shallow, measuring 0.029mm in depth. The plate measures a little over 10cm.

ARCHiOx –Analysis and Recording of Cultural Heritage in Oxford–is a collaborative project, bringing together the Bodleian Libraries and the Factum Foundation.  Based in Madrid, the Factum Foundation specialise in high-resolution 3D imaging and have worked in cultural heritage institutions throughout the world, producing exceptional, three-dimensional facsimiles of artworks and artefacts.

During this one-year project, experts from the Factum Foundation will provide equipment and training in the use of new technologies and assist in exploring ways in which the output from the project can surfaced in Digital Bodleian.  As the project progresses it is hoped that through the collaboration between technicians at the Bodleian and the Factum Foundation, solutions to improve and streamline the technology will be identified.

With generous funding support from the Helen Hamlyn Trust, the ARCHiOx project will continue until January 2023.  Thereafter the technology will remain at the Bodleian making it possible to provide high-resolution 3D capture as an ongoing service.

Unlike perhaps more widely-known 3D capture techniques such as photogrammetry, the two state-of-the-art machines used for ARCHiOx use different principles for recording volume and are specifically designed for the capture of low-relief surface texture.  This makes them well suited to the recording of the primarily flat, but texturally rich originals from the Bodleian’s collections.  This high-resolution, low-relief capture has been termed ‘2.5D’ rather than 3D.

The 2.5D data produced during the project will serve two purposes.  Shaded renders make it possible to view the surface texture of an original while removing their visible tone and colour.  This allows for academic research from originals that contain textural details which are difficult to see and cannot be adequately recorded using traditional photographic techniques.  Alternatively, the data may be used to produce 3D facsimiles from items within our collections, allowing the material nature of the original to be reproduced.

An example of a shaded render. Without the colour and tone of the original, the shaded visualisation shows only the surface texture of the original. A section of an 18th-century copper printing plate, Rawl. Copperplates e. 59, featuring Archbishop William Laud.

The Selene is an entirely new solution for capturing 2.5D data and is being used for the first time in the Bodleian.  Using computational methods to extract very detailed information about the surface of an object, the Selene records multiple 2D source images, each captured with meticulously positioned lighting.   The Selene was designed by Factum Foundation engineer, Jorge Cano and uses a principle called photometric stereo.  Captures generated with the Selene during the last two months have proved that the technology is capable of recording surface relief at an incredible 25 microns, or 0.025mm.  This is over three times the resolution of any technology previously used to capture cultural heritage material by the Factum Foundation.  

The Selene Photometric Scanner capturing one of the Lister copper printing plates in the Bodleian Library.

Taking two weeks to build and refine, the Selene was installed by designer Jorge Cano and engineer Matt Marshall in the Bodleian’s Imaging studio, in early February.  The Selene uses a high resolution camera and four custom flash units, which together can be moved horizontally over the surface of the original.  Multiple customised electronic modules synchronise the movement of the motorised guides with the triggering of each sequence of flashesThe Selene captures a series of image tiles at a resolution of 1040 pixels-per-inch.  The number of tiles, which is dependent on the size of the original can be programmed allowing for fast, automated capture.   

Man at a desk working on electronic components
Factum Foundation engineer and designer of the Selene, Jorge Cano, begins the assembly of the Selene Photometric Scanner in the Bodleian Imaging Studio.
Jorge Cano, testing and modifying the Selene Photometric Scanner, the only machine of its kind.

Unlike the laser recording system which has been used successfully for over a decade by the Factum Foundation, the Selene not only generates surface data, but can also capture colour.  This is hugely beneficial as not only does it make it unnecessary to capture the original twice but, due to being produced using the same source images, the shaded render showing surface texture and the colour image, known as the albedo, can be aligned perfectly to easily create a composite from the two.  We believe this composite image can be of great value to researchers, containing an exceptional level of detail and a real sense of the material nature of the original.   

A composite image, layering a shaded render of the texture with a shadowless colour image (albedo). This combination produces an image which shows every engraved line. (Lister Copperplates 858)

Created from multiple source images, each lit from different angles, the albedo is an exceptionally evenly illuminated and shadowless recording.  In some cases the albedo has a notable advantage over images produced using traditional lighting methods, which for 2D capture typically require just two primary light sources.  For originals with an uneven and highly reflective texture such as varnished paintings, creating an albedo may offer an effective solution for reducing unwanted highlights in reproductions. 

Factum Foundation engineer Matt Marshall installing custom flash units to the Selene.

Employing a very different principle to the Selene, the Lucida is a close-range, non-contact recording system that captures high-resolution surface texture data through the use of a laser and two tiny cameras.  This is a well-established solution for 2.5D capture, having been used by the Factum Foundation since 2011 during projects including the recording of the Tomb of Seti I, in Egypt.  The Lucida is capable of scanning taller originals, or those with greater vertical variation than the Selene and has been used extensively to produce data suitable for the manufacture of remarkably accurate 3D facsimiles.  Height data captured with the Lucida is incredibly accurate, though the resolution of the Lucida is significantly lower than the Selene in all three dimensions 

The Factum Foundation’s Lucida expert, Carlos Bayod Lucini (right), describes the technology behind the Lucida 3D Scanner to Bodley’s Librarian Richard Ovenden (left) and PhD researcher Chiara Betti. Photograph: Nick Cistone

The Lucida was installed at the Bodleian’s imaging studio by Factum Foundation expert Carlos Bayod Lucini. The data generated from the Lucida has been vital in two ways.  Comparing data between the two technologies has made it possible to determine an accurate elevation factor, allowing height measurements to be correctly estimated and recorded for depth maps produced with the Selene.  Through combining the two data sets by overlaying the high frequency information generated with the Selene, and the more reliably recorded gentle, but taller gradients measured with the Lucida, it has also allowed for the production an incredibly accurate depth map, using the combined strengths of the two recording systems.  This technically ambitious process is an important achievement in 2.5D capture and will make it possible to create 3D reproductions at higher resolution and with more accuracy than previously achieved by the Factum Foundation. 

Factum Foundation technician Celeste Anstruther modifies and tests the Lucida 3D Scanner

A selection of 18thcentury copper printing plates are amongst the first of the Bodleian’s originals to be captured with the Selene and Lucida.  Primarily from the Rawlinson collection, the plates include portraits of antiquarian Anthony Wood and 17th century Archbishop William Laud, as well as scenes, architecture and antiquities.  Plates from the Lister and Gough collections, the latter featuring portraits made from drawings attributed to William Blake, have also been recorded for the project.  Perfect for 2.5D capture using photometric stereo technology, copper printing plates have relatively flat surfaces and very shallow, highly detailed engraved lines The notable plates chosen for capture were selected by Co-ordinator of the Centre for the Study of the Book, Dr Alexandra Franklin and Chiara Betti, a PhD student at the University of London specialising in the research of the Bodleian copper plate collections on a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership, with advice from researchers who have worked on the Bodleian’s rare collections of copper plates and the associated publications.   As well as recording each plate’s text and illustrations, it is hoped that images produced during the project will reveal evidence of corrections, alterations, and degradation through use. 

A portrait of Edward III, from Gough Copperplates d. 107. The design is identified as the work of William Blake. These derivatives were processed using source images captured with the Selene. Left to right, shaded render, composite and albedo.

Notoriously difficult to capture using traditional photographic techniques, copper printing plates provide a number of challenges for the photographer hoping to record their surface.  There is little consistency in the material nature of the copper plates in our collections.  While some plates have been cleaned and are highly reflective with little change to their original colour and lustre, others, still bearing corrosion on their surfaces, reflect back virtually nothing and when reproduced, images may lack tonal variation and detail.

When photographing flat metal objects, the risk of capturing the reflections of the photographic equipment and the necessity to position the primary light source extremely close to the lens typically mean that a case-by-case approach is required.  This is a very different methodology when compared to the recording of paper and parchment originals, where a consistent workflow and continuous measurement is essential.

Using the Selene as an alternative to traditional photography has proven extremely successful, allowing us to record at a level of detail never previously achieved, and without having to navigate the complications previously associated with capturing metallic originals.

A tile image from Rawl. Copperplates e. 104. This composite was made by overlaying a shaded render and one of the colour, source images. The detailed engraving and colour would be extremely challenging, or perhaps impossible to reproduce using traditional photographic techniques.

Though capture of the source images using the Selene Photometric Scanner is relatively fast, currently the workflow required for processing the images is slow and reasonably complicated.  A number of software applications are required to generate the final derivative images, and one of the goals for ARCHiOx is to develop a more streamlined process.

Producing a normal map is the initial step in the process of creating useful derivatives such as shaded renders.  Normal maps are commonly used in CGI and computer game design.  Though the normal map is a 2D image, 3D information can be derived from the normal map because instead of simply recording a colour, each pixel represents a direction relative to the recorded surface of an original.   An entirely flat surface positioned parallel to the camera would be recorded on the normal map as a line, perpendicular to the original.  As the angle of the surface of the original changes, so too do the angles of the recorded lines, known as normal vectors.  Recording these normal vectors pixel-by-pixel makes it possible to map the surface of the original.  The direction of the normal vectors are defined by each pixel’s red, green and blue content.  Given that a copper printing plate is almost flat, the normal map represents the surface with an almost uniform purple colour.

A normal map produced with the images captured using the Selene. The starting point for producing useful derivatives, such as shaded renders.

Using the normal vectors from the normal map, a depth map can be generated.  This two-dimensional greyscale image uses tonal range to store elevation values.  It is processed at 16bits which allows for far more increments between tones to be recorded than in a standard 8bit imageThrough applying a Gaussian blur to the depth map, a derivative which records the gentle gradients over a wider area of an original can also be made.  In the workflow which has been established for the project, it is from the depth map that shaded renders can be created, using mapping software.   

Normal map to depth map integration. The angles of the normal vectors transform the flat profile of the normal map into a three dimensional surface. Diagram: Jorge Cano

In ordinary use, a geographic information system, or GIS application, can be used to create topographic maps and 3D visualisations of landscapes using aerial imagery.  By greatly increasing the scale factor, the same software can be used to map the tiny variations captured with the Selene and Lucida. The light direction and intensity can be configured, processing the depth map in to a highly detailed shaded view of the surface of the original. This shaded render can then be exported as a 2D image.

Though shaded renders provide an exceptional visualisation of the texture of an original, allowing researchers to virtually relight shaded renders for themselves is extremely useful as changes in the direction and height of the light can reveal details which may be hidden when recorded in a single shaded image.   In the case of the copper plates, engraved lines will either appear darker or lighter depending on the direction and height of the light.  As well as developing viewers capable of displaying and merging image layers produced during the project, Richard Allen, Andy Irving and Tim Dungate from the Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services hope to develop tools that will permit this virtual relighting from the derivatives created from the 2.5D recording systems.

Virtually relit. Four snapshots of a real-time application written in Java. Using a normal map file as the source, it is possible for researchers to define the position of a virtual light source by simply moving the mouse pointer over the image. A section of Rawl. Copperplates e. 104.

One of the most important elements in developing the Selene is to establish an accurate elevation scale factor.  Height measurements are estimated when recording an original using the photometric stereo principle, and an elevation scale factor must first be assigned to the resultant depth map in order for accurate measurements to be made from it.  Comparing data from the Selene against data generated with a high-accuracy measuring device like the Lucida, or from an optical profilometer, has been essential in determining the correct scale factor. 

John Barrett (left) and Jorge Cano analyse a depth map using mapping software at the Factum Arte workshop, Madrid. The depth of a single engraved line can be determined by generating a cross section and measuring the vertical difference between peak and trough. Assigning an accurate elevation scale factor is essential prior to this analysis. Photograph: Matt Marshall

In order to reveal details from originals with extremely shallow relief, it has been useful to increase the scale factor and in doing so, exaggerate differences in relative height.  For instance, it has only been possible to produce usable shaded renders from many of the mezzotint printing plates captured for the project by increasing the scale factor.   

An extremely difficult test for 2.5D capture. A small section of a beautiful mezzotint copper plate, Rawl. Copperplates c. 41. The Selene manages to record the incredibly fine surface texture, but the detail in the shaded render can only be discerned by exaggerating the elevation scale factor. Left to right, shaded render, albedo and composite.

Creating and sharing an archive of detailed shaded renders will no doubt be extremely useful for researchers, but given that the data recorded for ARCHiOx is truly three-dimensional, the exciting possibility of creating accurate 3D facsimiles from items within our collections is entirely feasible.

For over twenty years, the Bodleian have archived hundreds-of-thousands of digital images, captured from our collections.  Through the use of technologies like the Selene and Lucida, we now have the capability of reproducing items more accurately than ever, not just as a two-dimensional representations, but as tangible 3D recreations.

This next-level development in preservation is not only important for the conservation of the original. Faithfully reproduced, three-dimensional reproductions will allow students to have a less restrictive, more hands-on experience of some of the more delicate and difficult to access items in our collections.  3D facsimiles may also be used as a substitute for originals while temporarily unavailable due to being exhibited or undergoing conservation treatment.

Two renderings of the surface of the same copper plate in close-up, showing the engraved lines
Truly three-dimensional. Two 3D views of the recorded surface of Rawl. Copperplates e.65, generated using mapping software. The second example shows a layered view, using the albedo and a shaded render. The depth of each engraved line, measured at around 60 microns, can clearly be seen.

Recreating an accurate and functional printing plate using data captured with the new photometric system is a demanding test for the Selene, but even more so for the elevated printing technology used to create the 3D facsimile.  While the Selene is able to record over 1000 pixels for every linear inch of original, Factum Arte’s state-of-the-art large-format 3D printer is limited to around half of this resolution.  Though this resolution has proved to be entirely adequate for the elevated printing of reproductions of artworks, the incredibly fine and often geometrically complex engraved details of copper plates are much harder to reproduce.

Commissioned by antiquarian Richard Rawlinson, Rawl. Copperplates e.65 is a copy of an earlier printing plate and features a wonderful portrait of local Oxford antiquarian Anthony Wood, whose manuscript and book collections are held at the Bodleian.  A print from the new plate, engraved in 1709 by Michael Burghers, appears in Rawlinson’s own copy of his work, ‘The Life of Mr. Anthony a Wood’.

So, not for the first time, though perhaps for the first time in 313 years, a new copy of the Anthony Wood plate would be remade, inked and pulled through a printing press.   This time however, the copy would be made using the very latest digital technology, in Factum Arte’s print room in Madrid.

A facsimile plate being 3D printed in the Factum Arte workshop, Madrid.

In order for the facsimile to be durable enough to be pulled through the printing press, it was initially necessary for the plate to be backed to a copper sheet.  Having prepared and inserted a base, the 3D files were then uploaded to the elevated printer.  The recently installed custom Canon Arizona printer deposits multiple layers of resin as the print head repeatedly travels over the base.  These incredibly fine layers, measuring between just 2 and 4μm are hardened using ultra-violet light.  Not only can the printer create texture, it can also reproduce the original’s colour.  The process is time consuming, taking several minutes to build even the shallow relief of the printing plate. 

The facsimile plate is made using an elevated printing process. Layers of resin are hardened using ultra-violet light.

With the elevated printing complete, the final challenge would be to print from the facsimile in order that comparisons could be made to the original prints from the Bodleians collectionsEager to produce the first prints, founder of the Factum Foundation, Adam Lowe used both a modern press and a replica Goya press to produce a preliminary batch of 2022 editions.  The prints are impressive, reproducing the incredibly fine cross hatching surrounding the central portrait.  This is an impressive achievement given that it is the first time that a printing plate has been produced using the new photometric stereo recording system.  It is likely that differences between the quality of the original prints and the reproductions can mostly be attributed to the limitations of the 3D printing technology rather than the 3D data generated by the Selene, but future developments in both technologies will no doubt lead to increased accuracy.

Founder of the Factum Foundation, Adam Lowe, prepares the facsimile plate for printing.
The inked facsimile.
Man operating a star-wheel rolling press to print an engraving.
The print is pulled through a replica Goya press.

Having now captured dozens of the Bodleian’s 18th-century copper printing plates for the ARCHiOx project, it has been a pleasure to show visitors to the Bodleian’s Imaging studio both the originals and the newly recorded digital renditions. The results from the Selene have generated a great deal of excitement from curators, conservators and researchers.  Coming at the same time as the doctoral research of Chiara Betti, and following publications by Anna Marie Roos, Jeremy Coote, and Mark Crosby, this project extends the library’s efforts to make these previously neglected relics of printing and book history accessible to researchers.

This technology has enormous potential for the capture of cultural heritage material and has greatly exceeded the expectations of all involved in the project.  But equal to the enthusiasm for the new technology and its output, visitors have universally expressed a greater appreciation of the skill and dedication of the engravers who made and printed from the original copper plates.  These items deserve to be recorded as perfectly as technology will allow.  In doing so these wonderful objects can be shared digitally for the research and enjoyment of everyone.

A composite of a Rembrandt portrait captured with the Selene for Agnews Gallery, London.

But recording a selection of the Bodleian’s copper printing plates is only the initial focus of ARCHiOx.    Now that the technology has been proven and refined, other collections which will benefit from 2.5D capture can be recorded.  From a Rembrandt portrait to a volume of Japanese Ukiyoe prints, and a mysterious collection of incised palm-leaf manuscripts, the Selene and Lucida will be used to reveal further exciting discoveries and record originals as never before.

Developments and output from the project will be recorded in a future post.

A Ukiyoe woodblock print from Nipponica 373. Albedo and shaded render.

Text and images (unless otherwise credited) by John Barrett, April 2022

With thanks for their assistance in writing this article:

Jorge Cano, designer and engineer for Factum Arte and the Factum Foundation.   Jorge is the designer of the Selene, has established the photometric stereo workflow used for ARCHiOx and has been responsible for my training with this exciting new technology.

Chiara Betti, researcher of the Rawlinson copper plate collection.  The working title of Chiara’s thesis is ‘The Rawlinson copper plates at the Bodleian Libraries’.  Readers with an interest in Chiara’s research are encouraged to contact her at chiara.betti@postgrad.sas.ac.uk. The research is funded by the AHRC through the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership. See: https://www.glam.ox.ac.uk/early-modern-copper-plates-bodleian-libraries

The incredible work of the Factum Foundation is documented on their website www.factumfoundation.org

This exciting project has been made possible through the generous funding support of the Helen Hamlyn Trust.

Nature Printing

by Elena Trowsdalean English Literature and Language Finalist at Brasenose College on placement in Special Collections. Elena has been identifying some examples of ‘nature prints’ in Bodleian collections.

Re-blogged from https://teachingthebook.com/

Beginning 25th July 2021, the Oxford Botanic Garden has been celebrating its 400th anniversary. The Bodleian Libraries have been collaborating with the Garden to identify historical books containing depictions of scientific specimens. Recently I spent a week in the Weston Library for Special Collections, investigating books which feature specimens depicted using a technique called ‘nature printing’. Related to this topic, there will be an event during summer 2022 entitled ‘Capturing Nature’, created by designer and printmaker Pia Östlund.

Nature printing, otherwise known as Naturselbstdruck [Nature’s self-printing], is an intriguing form of printing which is often breathtakingly lifelike. Using this method, prints are taken directly from the natural object itself such as a leaf, flower or even occasionally a bat. Alois Auer’s specific technique of nature printing, depicted in The Discovery of the Natural Printing Process: an Invention … (1853), involves impressing the natural object into a lead plate. Making a printable surface was done by electroplating the impression to create a copper plate, which was used to create the print on paper. This is an intaglio technique, where the ink rests in the shallow grooves of the lead plate rather than on the higher surfaces. However, in my investigations I have chosen to also study nature prints which fit the definition more loosely. Out of the examples I have found, some are taken from directly applying ink to the natural item, some may incorporate photographic printing techniques and others are facsimiles of nature prints, made from woodcuts which used the original nature print as their primary reference. Some prints are hand coloured, others use coloured ink, and some are drawn upon after they have been printed.

In my investigations, I have found nature printed items dating back to Johann Hieronymus Knipof’s work in 1757. Some are more intricate than others, partially because some have used wet subjects and some dry, dry subjects tending to be easier to print accurately. My personal favourite is the work of Constantin von Ettingshausen. A compilation of his works in three volumes is housed in the Radcliffe Science Library. I ordered this to the Weston Library reading room and examined it closely, finding extremely intricate leaf prints which detailed their structure and veins perfectly.

To compare different ways in which nature printing have been used and adapted, Francis Heath’s Fern Paradise (1875) can be compared with Thomas Moore’s Nature-Printed British Ferns (1859), H.B. Dobbie’s New Zealand Ferns (1930) and Peter Hutchinson’s Ferns of Sidmouth (1862).

Books illustrating ferns
Figure 2: Left to Right, plate 6 from Francis George Heath’s Illustrated Edition of The Fern Paradise (1875), print from Thomas Moore’s The Octavo Nature-Printed British Ferns (1859), cover of H.B. Dobbie’s New Zealand Ferns (1930) and first print from Peter Orlando Hutchinson’s The Ferns of Sidmouth (1862).

All of these books depict ferns using different, contrasting techniques- all of which fall under the blanket term of nature print. In his work, Heath discusses how his plates of ferns are originally taken from nature prints made through applying a fern to a plate of ink, which is why they appear like negative images of the blank space the fern creates. Then, Heath sent his nature prints to a printing house where they were turned to woodcuts. Moore’s ferns are seemingly direct nature prints, made using different coloured inks applied to the plate the ferns were imprinted onto, then with some additions such as the yellow seeds. The most intriguing aspect of Dobbie’s fern study is its cover, which has a gold embossed fern pressed into its binding. This fern appears exactly like a nature print, meaning a nature print was probably the reference image used by the embosser. Hutchinson’s fern is less detailed than the others. It was made by lithography and the fern was likely not dried out. Each of these techniques creates a different visual way to understand these objects, useful to scientists at the time as well as being aesthetically and historically meaningful to current researchers.

A nature-printed bat
Fig 3: The final page of Henry Smith’s Specimens of nature printing from unprepared plants (1857).

Then, perhaps the most shocking example of nature printing I have found is Henry Smith’s Specimens of nature printing from unprepared plants (1857). This book’s final page is a nature print of a bat’s wingspan. This bat was obviously compressed it could be printed but remains incredibly detailed. From looking online, I have found that Smith’s other works contain other nature prints of animals, including multiple snakes. I find this way of preserving the likeness of animals to be slightly unsettling, yet extremely beautiful and evocative.

During my time researching nature printing in the Bodleian collections, I was granted the privilege of spending a morning at the Bodleian bibliographic press with Richard Lawrence. We decided to experiment with nature printing techniques and printed a variety of items including a leaf and some insects. We used the classic method of imprinting a natural object onto a piece of soft lead, covering this with ink, wiping away the excess, then printing this lead plate.. The Natural History Museum of Oxford were kind enough to provide me with some waste specimens to be used as printing subjects.

States of the nature printing of a leaf: the leaf and impressed lead plate; the lead plate inked; the print
Fig 4: Mine and Richard’s nature print of a leaf. From right to left: subject, lead plate, initial print, final print.

We quickly realised that dried leaves were much easier to print than insects. The printing objects needed to be flat and dry to avoid distortion within the press. However, we did manage to make some semi-successful butterfly prints.

The butterfly specimen resting on the lead plate on the press, before impression

This was an incredible process to have the chance to attempt. I now have a newfound respect for the nature printers of the past as this form of printing requires a huge amount of precision and technical skill. On 18 July 2022 visitors will be able to see this fascinating printing method demonstrated as part of the Oxford Botanic Garden programme.

All of the items I have referenced are accessible to order on SOLO and I will include the links to their web pages below. While I hoped to find more examples of nature printing across the many Bodleian collections, I am satisfied with the dozen or so that I managed to successfully locate. However, it is likely that many more examples exist in the collections but have not yet been located or catalogued. Hopefully, in the future, more of these beautiful items will be accessible for further study.

Sprig of a tree nature printed in a book
Fig 6: Page from Henry Smith’s Specimens of nature printing from unprepared plants (1857).

Thanks to Matthew Zucker, for the view of a list of  his own collection of nature-printed books, and for advice on the history of nature printing.

Resources

Constantin Ettingshausen’s Über die Nervation der Blätter bei den Celastrineen (1857)[and also collected works]: https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/f/89vilt/oxfaleph019671053

Francis George Heath’s Illustrated Edition of The Fern Paradise (1875): https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/f/89vilt/oxfaleph014421305

Henry Smith’s Specimens of nature printing from unprepared plants (1857): https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/f/89vilt/oxfaleph014402361

H.B. Dobbie’s New Zealand Ferns (1930):

https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/f/89vilt/oxfaleph012966118

Peter Orlando Hutchinson’s The Ferns of Sidmouth (1862):

https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/f/89vilt/oxfaleph013095107

Thomas Moore’s The Octavo Nature-Printed British Ferns (1859):

https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/f/89vilt/oxfaleph014227366

Secondary Resources

Hanquart, Nicole and Régine Fabri, ‘L’impression naturelle : une technique originale au service de l’illustration botanique. L’exemple des Chênes de l’Amérique septentrionale en Belgique du Belge Julien Houba (1843-1926)’, In Monte Artium (Journal of the Royal Library of Belgium), vol. 7 (2014), pp. 57-78. <https://www.brepolsonline.net/doi/10.1484/J.IMA.5.103285>

Weber-Unger, Simon, Mila Moschik and Matthias Svojtka, Naturselbstdrucke: dem Originale identisch gleich (ALBUM VERLAG , 2014)

accident of birth | Stars the cause

In this blogpost, artist Hermeet Gill shares the inspiration behind her work made in response to the major Bodleian exhibition, Melancholy: A New Anatomy. The work is on view during February 2022 at the Weston Library, Oxford

Type and blocks on a 19th-century cast-iron printing press, with a printed sheet
Printing the segments of a ‘star chart’ for ‘accident of birth | stars the cause,’ by Hermeet Gill, at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press workshop

This artwork, created in response to the exhibition Melancholy: A New Anatomy, is inspired by Robert Burton’s interest in astrology. In The Anatomy of Melancholy, Burton writes that “a physician without the knowledge of stars can neither understand the cause or cure of any disease”. Today, astrology is held in opposition to science and evidence-based approaches, nonetheless, it intrigues me – this system built upon scientific observation, geometry, and mathematics, to make sense of human lives.

Astrology claims to predict a person’s character and life path based on the position and alignment of planets at the time and place of their birth. However, the exact time and place of our birth also determines who we are born to and our wider circumstances, earthly constellations of contexts which also predict much about our experience of life, including our mental health. Predict, but not determine.

Three star charts, one actual and two hypothetical, reflect a family history in which three previous generations (in the UK, Uganda and India) in turn designated a different place for my birth. Each unrealised life path left ink-smudge imprints on my life experience: in my genetic makeup, in the consequences of forced migration events, and in cultural legacies.

The tactile qualities of the process of letterpress printmaking inspired this work. Many thanks to Richard Lawrence, Superintendent of the Bodleian Bibliographical Press, where the piece was created.

Hermeet Gill is an Oxford-based artist, inspired by ideas, systems and data and how these can be structured and combined. She has recently completed commissions for the University of Oxford’s Wytham Woods, Arts at the Old Fire Station and Oxford’s Library of Things. Originally trained in engineering, she had a career advising organisations, including on innovation and has worked with the Science Museum, London and TED. Hermeet has been printing at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press since 2016.

Bodleian CSB Seminars, Hilary Term 2022

Bodleian logo and Centre for the Study of the Book banner with background image of Douce Woodblocks b.1

Seminar in the History of the Book

Hilary Term, Fridays, 2:15 pm
Registration required: https://forms.office.com/r/FSXrV1W98u
YOU MUST BE REGISTERED 24 HOURS BEFORE THE SEMINAR TO RECEIVE A LINK TO ATTEND ONLINE
In-person seminars, if offered, will meet in the Lecture Theatre, Weston Library.

21 Jan.  (Week 1) [ONLINE ONLY] Mercedes García-Arenal (Madrid, CCHS-CSIC), ‘The European Quran: the role of the Muslim Holy Book in writing European cultural history’
28 Jan. (Week 2) [ONLINE ONLY] Renae Satterley (London, Middle Temple), ‘On Robert Ashley (1565-1641)’s use of collections in Oxford in the 17th century’
4 Feb. (Week 3) [ONLINE ONLY]  Laura Cleaver (London, UCL), ‘Henry White (1822-1900): Collector of Second-Rate Manuscripts?’
11 Feb. (Week 4) [ONLINE ONLY] Riccardo Olocco (Bolzano), ‘The trade in type in Venice in the early decades of printing’
18 Feb. (Week 5) [ONLINE ONLY] Brian Cummings (York), ‘Bibliophobia’
25 Feb. (Week 6) Katarzyna Kapitan, ‘The Virtual Library of Thormodus Torfæus, reconstructed from Danish and Icelandic collections’
4 Mar. (Week 7) [IN PERSON ONLY] Lisa Barber, ‘The Goldsmiths’ Register and other record books of various London Livery Companies’
11 Mar. (Week 8) Alexandra Franklin and Andrew Honey, ‘Bodleian Materials for the teaching of Book History’

Printing matters: Inspiration at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press

View of the Radcliffe Camera from the window of the Bodleian Bibliographical Press

What inspires your printing?

The Bodleian Libraries are home to a letterpress workshop for teaching and experiments, and a place for drop-in printing throughout the year at the printing press in the public foyer of the Weston Library. These activities are integrated with teaching at the University of Oxford, outreach to higher education, schools, and the public, and with the library’s continuing interest in creativity in the book arts.

Art

Ana Paula Cordeiro (left) and Merve Emre in conversation

Inspiration comes from extraordinary works,  like artist Ana Paula Cordeiro’s book, Body of Evidence, made at the Center for Book Arts in New York City. A copy is now in the Bodleian Library! In July 2021 an online event and recorded conversation between Cordeiro and Merve Emre linked the Bodleian Bibliographical Press with the CBA.

Nature

Inspiration also comes from the world around us.

Artist printmaker Graeme Hughes etched a plane-tree leaf onto the wood of a plane tree, and printed this on the Baskin Albion Press.

In September 2021, Bodleian Visiting Fellow Georgina Montgomery, historian of science, led a walk-and-talk in Wytham Woods, culminating in a collaborative poster of an ash-tree leaf. See the film explaining how Montgomery’s work led her to Oxford’s research woodland, Wytham Woods.

Collaborative poster of an ash-tree leaf made at Wytham Woods
Collaborative poster of an ash-tree leaf made at Wytham Woods

This print by a visitor to the workshop is directly from a slab of wood.

Impression from a slab of tree trunk.

And see the film of making intaglio plates from a leaf

 

Textiles in Libraries: Context and Conservation

A binding with a gold and blue textile cover is displayed in an open purple box. There is damage to the covering of the spine which reveals the sewing supports underneath. The title of the project 'Textiles in Libraries: Context and Conservation' is overlaid.
Textiles in Libraries: Context and Conservation

The Bodleian’s Conservation and Collection Care team, in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of the Book, is embarking on a year of discovery in the field of Textiles in Libraries. The scope of this project is wide, from embroidered bindings to endbands, including textiles found between the pages, covering or wrapped around the binding, as well as the more unexpected places they can be found in library collections from tapestries to t-shirts.

As part of this project, the Library will be hosting a series of free online talks running from November 2021 to February 2022, bringing together conservators, curators and book artists to explore this topic further. Our speakers will highlight the many ways textiles are found in books and library collections, share case studies of collaborative conservation projects, examine what textile bindings can tell us about historic craft practices, and share examples of textiles used in contemporary book arts.

These talks will coincide with an exhibition held in Blackwell Hall of the Weston Library from November 2021, ‘The Needles Art’, which will show-case a selection of embroidered bindings from the Bodleian’s collections.

View the full programme and book tickets to the live talks here.

All talks will be recorded and publicly available to watch after the event.

Script/Print/Code: the information revolution in one afternoon

Bodleian Library, Douce Woodblocks d.1, detail
Bodleian Library, Douce Woodblocks d.1, detail

On Monday 11 October 2021 in the Bodleian’s Weston Library for Special Collections there will be a race between The Oxford Scribes , the Bodleian Bibliographical Press, and the Centre for Digital Scholarship.

This webpage, script-print-code.info, tells the story.

This is a chance to compare script, print, and electronic text encoding side-by-side, in real time. The text will be written in manuscript, printed in movable type, and encoded by three teams, starting at 1pm.

In this blogpost we’ll report on the progress and the thoughts of the scribes, printers and encoders as they work through the same text, a portion of Psalm 107 (‘… They that go down to the sea in ships …’), to create a published version, in one or many copies.

Onlookers are welcome in Blackwell Hall, the main public foyer of the Weston Library on Broad Street, Oxford.

The event is in honour of the start of the Lyell Lectures 2021, The Genesis, Life, and Afterlife of the Gutenberg Bible, which will be given by Paul S. Needham, beginning on 11 October 2021. Details in the event listing include links to watch the livestream of these lectures. The lectures will be recorded and will be available a short time after the conclusion of the series, at https://visit.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/event/the-lyell-lectures

A webpage showing many digitized copies of the Gutenberg Bible, for comparison, is available here.

Here is the webpage for this event:

A virtual tour of Dante 1481 in multiple copies

See recording of the online multi-library event on 4 May 2021

See the film demonstrating printing an intaglio plate on a letterpress sheet

A follow-up seminar will take place on 6 July 2021; Registration at this link.

View of intaglio illustration of the 1481 edition of Dante, from Bodleian Auct. 2Q 1.11. The illustration is upside down.
Bodleian Auct. 2Q 1.11, Canto Tertio, detail

[re-blogged from Teaching the Book]

Examining several copies of the same book, especially one printed before 1500, is an enlightening experience. The copy-census is a valuable method for the study of early printing and one which requires personal inspection of copies which may be widely distributed around the world. To do this in person is a long and expensive process. A glimpse of the knowledge gained, though, could be had in a virtual visit to eight libraries, coordinated on 4 May 2021 to look at copies of one particular publication, the 1481 edition of Dante’s Comedia with a commentary by 15th-century Florentine scholar Christoforo Landino.

Although the invention of printing seemed to promise a stream of identical copies from the press, scholars of early printing are well aware that this was not always the result. Stop-press changes and accidents in the press account for minor or sometimes major differences between copies of the same edition. The marks of ownership over several hundred years have added further copy-specific elements to the objects held in libraries today.

Springing happily from a suggestion by Tabitha Tuckett, Rare-Books Librarian at University College London, this international tour co-hosted by UCL and the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book, with support from the Italian Cultural Institute in London and the Bibliographical Society of America, expanded on a growing practice of librarians showing books online using a visualiser. In pre-pandemic times the visualiser or document camera could be used for teaching in a lecture theatre or at a distance; in times of limited international travel it is a way to communicate across institutions, and librarians have grasped the possibility of ‘face-to-face’ comparisons on camera, as at the January, 2021 seminar on Myles Coverdale’s Goostley Psalmes between the Queen’s College Oxford, Beinecke, and Bodleian Libraries.

For a description of the ambitious – perhaps too ambitious – 1481 edition and the drawings by Botticelli which seem to be the source of the illustrations, see this blogpost by Gervase Rosser, Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford, The first printed and illustrated edition of Dante’s Comedy

The edition is now the subject of a collaborative copy-census research project co-ordinated by Cristina Dondi, Professor of Early European Book Heritage, University of Oxford, via the Printing Revolution project

The event included short talks on Dante (Professor John Took, UCL and Dr. Alessandro Scafi, Warburg Institute), Botticelli’s illustrations (Professor Gervase Rosser, University of Oxford), on surviving copies (Professor Cristina Dondi, University of Oxford and Secretary of CERL) and on the context of the book’s production (Dr. Tabitha Tuckett, UCL).

Library curators from several institutions gave their time and expertise to this exciting tour which revealed the complexity of the original printing project and the rich history of collecting this edition over the succeeding centuries. A recording of the online event is hoped for. Libraries taking part in the 4 May virtual tour:

·      Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, UK (co-organiser)

·      Library Services, University College London, UK (co-organiser)

·      Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, Italy

·      Biblioteca Vallicelliana di Roma, Italy

·      The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, USA

·      The British Library, UK

·      John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK

·      Trinity College, Cambridge, UK

The Bodleian’s copy, which is available in digital facsimile online, includes three printed illustrations; the illustrations to Canto 2 and Canto 3 are each printed from the same intaglio plate, but in Canto 3 this has been printed upside down. A film made at the Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press workshop demonstrates how the printing of an intaglio illustration on a letterpress page might have been done by fifteenth-century printers.

Where did you get that hat?

from Alexandra Franklin (Bodleian) & Giles Bergel (Engineering)

re-blogged and updated from the Bodleian Ballads blog, 2012

2021: Updating the discovery of detachable woodblock hats in Bodleian broadside ballads, we’ve had a printing block made with the detachable hat, and a matching hat for the woman pictured on the same ballad sheet, ‘Unconstant Phillis’.

Newly-made printing blocks from a 17th-century ballad in the Bodleian Libraries, 4o Rawl. 566(121), showing a man and woman with hats
Newly-made printing blocks reproduced from images on a 17th-century broadside ballad in the Bodleian Libraries, 4o Rawl. 566(121)

The idea of applying image-matching software to the illustrations within the broadside ballad collection occurred to Giles Bergel in 2011. Under a John Fell Foundation-funded pilot project in that year Dr Bergel, in partnership with the Bodleian Library, asked Professor Andrew Zisserman of the Visual Geometry Group at Oxford to test their pioneering technology on a sample of broadside ballads.

The hat — in “Unconstant Phillis”

The hat — in “The Noble Gallant”

The first step was to obtain high-quality images. A sample of 800 ballads dating from the seventeenth century was chosen: this was the period when ballads were most typically illustrated, with a combination of commissioned and stock images. Photography, carried-out by the Bodleian’s Imaging Services studio, was funded with a grant from the John Fell Fund. High-quality colour images (600 DPI, 24-bit) were the result: these are now mounted within the current Ballads database and replace some of the older, lower-quality bitonal images which the Bodleian is hoping to fully replace.
Relja Arandjelovic at the Visual Geometry Group processed the new images and built a test site to demonstrate the image matching. The results were impressive: the pilot proved that software can match woodcut images on multiple printings, in varying conditions. The software, still under development, will be migrated to a new Bodleian Broadside Ballads interface under the current JISC-funded project.

What does “image match” offer to researchers?

Researchers working with ballads quickly notice that the same or similar woodblock-printed illustrations appear on multiple broadsides. The same hand-holding couple appears time and again on ballads of love; the same ships decorate songs of naval battles; the same cityscape appears, surprisingly, in ballads about London and Troy. And sometimes the same illustrations appeared in early modern English books and pamphlets, too. (See A guide to English illustrated books, 1536-1603, by Ruth Samson Luborsky and Elizabeth Ingram).

The repetition of generic illustrations in this way is often derided as evidence of ballads’ lowly status, but (as well as providing evidence for popular iconography), for early-modern bibliographic detectives, the re-use of woodblocks provides evidence for the date of a ballad’s printing: deterioration of  a woodblock might be a way to establish a timeline of broadsides that share the same illustration.

But there are other questions to be answered, sometimes questions we didn’t even know we needed to ask, which could be answered by selection portions of woodcut printed images: like, ‘Where DID you get that hat?’