Books as art and treasure: events from the Bodleian Libraries

BOOK COLLECTING: SCIENCE AND PASSION
The Bodleian Libraries award the Colin Franklin Prize for book collecting to a student of the University of Oxford every year. The competition for 2017 is now announced.  http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/csb/fellowships/the-colin-franklin-book-collecting-prize Hazel Wilkinson (Cambridge/Carr-Thomas-Ovenden Fellow at the Bodleian Libraries), winner of the first Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize at the University of London in 2014, will speak about building a book collection, in

‘“best edit.”: Book Collecting and the Hierarchy of Editions’

Monday 7 November at 5:15 pm in the Visiting Scholars’ Centre, Level 2, Weston Library.Entrance with University card, via the readers’ entrance, Parks Road.For information: contact Alexandra Franklin alexandra.franklin@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

THE MUGHAL HUNT
Lecture, 9 November 2016 1.00pm — 2.00pm, Lecture Theatre, Weston Library
Adeela Qureishi speaks about assembling the display of Mughal paintings depicting hunting scenes, from albums of paintings in the Bodleian collections.
The display is on view in the Proscholium, Old Bodleian Library.
This lunchtime lecture in the Lecture Theatre, Weston Library, is free but places are limited so please complete our booking form to reserve tickets in advance.
http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/whatson/whats-on/upcoming-events/2016/nov/the-hunt-in-mughal-india

TOM PHILLIPS
A Humument: fifty years
14 November 2016 4.30pm — 7.00pm   Lecture Theatre, Weston Library
In 1966, the artist Tom Phillips bought a copy of the forgotten Victorian novel A Human Document and started to work with it. With paint, cut-up and collage, he created a new story and a new kind of work: A Humument. The Bodleian is celebrating the final, fully revised, 50th anniversary edition with this book launch event.
Dr Gill Partington (University of Warwick) & Dr Julia Jordan (UCL); followed by dialogue between Adam Smyth (English Faculty) and Tom Phillips
This event is free but places are limited so please complete our booking form to reserve tickets in advance.
http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/whatson/whats-on/a-humument

 

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Shakespeare in 2016: podcasts of lectures in the Weston Library

Walter Colman, La danse machabre, or death's duell (1633) Bodleian Mal. 404

Four hundred years after his death, these talks by specialists revisit Shakespeare’s works, life, and times in the light of current research, as part of the Shakespeare Oxford 2016 festival and in connection with the Bodleian Libraries exhibition, ‘Shakespeare’s Dead’.

Bart van Es, 1594: Shakespeare’s most important year

In the summer of 1594 William Shakespeare decided to invest around £50 to become a shareholder in a newly formed acting company: the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. This lecture examines the consequences of this decision, unique in English theatrical history.

By examining the early modern theatrical marketplace and the artistic development of Shakespeare’s writing before and after this moment, it is hoped that this talk shows why 1594 was, by some measure, Shakespeare’s most important year.

Jonathan Bate, The Magic of Shakespeare

This lecture will celebrate Shakespeare’s immortality on the exact 400th anniversary of his burial. It will begin from Theseus’ famous speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream about the magical, transformative power of poetry.

It will argue that Shakespeare inherited from antiquity a fascination with the intimate association between erotic love, magic and the creative imagination, and that this is one of the keys to the enduring power of his plays.

Sir Jonathan Bate, Provost of Worcester College and Professor of English Literature at Oxford University, is one of the world’s most renowned Shakespeare scholars, the author of, among many other works, Shakespeare and Ovid, The Genius of Shakespeare, Soul of the Age and (as co-editor) The RSC Shakespeare: Complete Works. He co-curated Shakespeare Staging the World, the British Museum’s exhibition for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and he is the author of Being Shakespeare: A One-Man Play for Simon Callow, which has toured nationally and internationally and had three runs in the West End.

Steven Gunn, Everyday death in Shakespeare’s England

Coroners’ inquest reports into accidental deaths tell us about the hazards of everyday life in Shakespeare’s day. There were dangerous jobs, not just building, mining and farming, but also fetching water, and travel was perilous whether by cart, horse or boat. Even relaxation had its risks, from football and wrestling to maypole-dancing or a game of bowls on the frozen River Cherwell.

Peter McCullough, Donne to Death

John Donne’s sermon, Death’s duell, was part of an early Stuart vogue for funeral sermons. Professor McCullough discusses Donne’s contribution to this genre, and looks at how this tradition is connected to the poetic and dramatic representations of death on display in the exhibition, Shakespeare’s Dead.

Katherine Duncan Jones, Venus and Adonis

Professor Katherine Duncan Jones, Senior Research Fellow, Somerville College, gives a talk on Shakespeare’s poem, Venus and Adonis.

In 1592-93, with London playhouses closed because of plague, Shakespeare wrote his most technically perfect work. Venus and Adonis (1593) is a highly original ‘take’ on the ancient Greek myth of the doomed Adonis – presented here as a pubertal boy incapable of responding to the goddess’s amorous advances. It was a tearaway success with Elizabethan readers.

Emma Smith, Memorialising Shakespeare: the First Folio and other elegies

Ben Jonson wrote in 1623 that Shakespeare ‘art a Moniment, without a tombe/ And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live’: centuries later Jorge Luis Borges observed that ‘when writers die, they become books’, adding, ‘which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation’. This lecture considers Shakespeare’s First Folio as a literary memorial to Shakespeare, alongside other elegies, epitaphs, and responses to the playwright’s death.

Part of the robe worn by Garrick as Richard III

Bodleian Vet. A6 c.172/1
A bound volume of playbills from 1815-16 contains ‘Part of the robe worn by Garrick as Rich III’

Two hundred years ago, Shakespeare’s birth/death day was marked by a performance at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, a pageant of characters from 16 of Shakespeare’s plays, and a recitation of the ‘Ode to Shakespeare’ written by David Garrick (1717-1779) for the Jubilee staged at Stratford in 1769.

A playbill for April 23, 1816, one in a bound volume [Vet. A6 c.172], shows that Mr Rae and Miss Grimani took the roles of the star-crossed lovers. The European Magazine was full of praise for Miss Grimani’s performance: of particular interest for the Bodleian’s exhibition, Shakespeare’s Dead, is the description of Juliet’s death: “Her last anxious effort to stagger to the dead body of her lord, after stabbing herself, and the sudden arrest of death, which compelled her to fall backwards, were finely conceived and beautifully executed.”

The owner of the volume attached to the back of the previous item a souvenir of Garrick himself: a piece of cloth, with sequins and silver embroidery, labelled ‘Part of the robe worn by Garrick as Rich. III’, a role for which the actor was famous, and in which he was famously portrayed in a painting by William Hogarth in 1745; though in the engraving by John Dixon from 1772 he wears a robe that more resembles the scrap preserved here.

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.

 

Poetry, politics and war in the archives

On June 18, the opening day of the Bodleian’s WWI centenary exhibition ‘The Great War: Personal stories from Downing Street to the trenches’, the curator, Mike Webb, joined in conversation with representatives of two other institutions staging similar exhibitions: Frank Druffner, from the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach; and Julien Collonges, from the Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire Strasbourg. They were joined by Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Libraries, and by Christophe Didier, director for development of collections of the BNU Strasbourg, for a panel discussion on the theme of exhibiting the history of WWI. A partnership between these three institutions has included some reciprocal loans of manuscripts for display in this centenary year, with the aim of exploring the connections between national histories and the archival collections that hold memories of the War.

The discussion on 18 June, moderated by Stuart Lee (English Faculty, and director of The First World War Poetry Digital Archive), considered questions including how much historical truth is conveyed through poetry; how to tell the story of individuals during the war, and whether at the same time to acknowledge their later reputations;  and the roles of libraries and archives as repositories for national memories of war.

Profound differences in the national attitudes to the memory of WWI and the historical debates that have been generated around the centenary were explored in this discussion. It was evident that the three exhibitions, primarily shaped by the available collections in each place, were also responding to different audiences and contexts. Mike Webb described his approach in the Bodleian exhibition, which traces the history of Oxford connections with the war up until 1916, as seeking immersion in the historical moment, maintaining the immediacy of the impressions of fast-moving events as captured in letters and diaries, such as the diary of Lewis Harcourt, a member of Cabinet during the War, who in July 1914 recorded his deep dislike of the belligerent attitude of Winston Churchill. This curatorial approach contrasted with the challenges described by Julien Collonges, who will use the Strasbourg exhibition opening in Autumn 2014 to explore the work and relationships of three poets: Ernst Stadler, Charles Péguy, and Wilfred Owen. Collonges found in planning the display that he had to tell the story not only of the days of 1914, but of the post-war reputation of the poets, and this was both rewarding and problematic in the case of Péguy, whose patriotic verses have been appropriated by right-wing nationalists, with resonances for the later history of France and Europe.

The shadow of later events also falls on the survival of material; asked what single item the Deutsches Literaturarchiv would have liked to display, Frank Druffner described an album of drawings by the writer Ernst Jünger, who was also a noted entomologist, of insects in the trenches. The album was lost during WWII.

This event was supported by the Institut Français, the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Oxford German Network, the Fonds culturel franco-allemand, the Maison Française Oxford, and the Bodleian Libraries

Objects in the Lives of Writers: 19 September 2013

A one-day display in the Proscholium, Bodleian Library to coincide with the conference, The Lives of Objects, at the Oxford Centre for Life Writing, Wolfson College

Objects in Bodleian collections carry the memories of the lives and works of writers. Locks of hair, a traditional means of preserving the memory of the beloved, are shown in an ornate case that is part of the ‘Shelley Relics’, from the great Abinger Collection of manuscripts of Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, and their family. The supposed death mask of Dante (a severe visage that contrasts with contemporary descriptions of the living man) inspired later generations to believe they were in closer contact with the great author, at only one remove from viewing the face of genius.

At the outset, the writer confronts a blank page; in library collections, the inscribed pages of manuscripts are the destination of scholars who come to study every aspect – including the shape and quality of the paper – with meticulous care. A blank notebook of the type filled by Jane Austen with her juvenile writings is presented in this display. The pen is a tangible connection with the physical activity of writing. A pen from the Shelley collection, and one used more recently by Alan Bennett, will be on display.

A china figurine of a traveller, owned by Bruce Chatwin, is one of those privately treasured items that provided the material anchor to a story which took flight with the writer’s imagination. The bill estimating (at £38.19.6) the cost of repairs to T.E. Lawrence’s prized Brough Superior motorcycle, after the fatal accident in 1935, is a reminder of the power of objects, not only in the imagination.

The Bodleian Library Proscholium is open on weekdays at 9 am. The display can be seen in the Proscholium on Thursday, 19 September, until 5:30 pm.

Oxford’s other treasures: from Mill to Milligan

from Owen McKnight, Jesus College Library

The Bodleian Libraries are currently celebrating their long history of collecting with an exhibition of ‘Treasures’. Venerable as it is, the Bodleian was not the first library in Oxford: at least a quarter of the 44 colleges and halls had established libraries by the time the Bodleian opened in November 1602.

The college libraries have a continuous tradition of serving their members. They provide textbooks for today’s undergraduates at the same time as preserving and interpreting the historic books and manuscripts which have now become ‘special’ collections. The Committee of College Librarians has now published a new guide to the special collections in the care of Oxford’s colleges. [8 pages, PDF format].

Brasenose and Lincoln Colleges drawn by John Bereblock in 1566 (Bodleian Library, MS. Bodl. 13)

Previously, the only guide to such material in college libraries was the late Paul Morgan’s compilation Oxford libraries outside the Bodleian. This has long been out of print, but it remains a valuable reference for its detailed survey of early printed books, manuscripts, and archives. The new document is intended as an accessible and up-to-date complement.

Among many diverse holdings, the guide reveals collections of Civil War tracts across Oxford, in Christ Church, Lady Margaret Hall, Lincoln, and Worcester. Somerville has the library of John Stuart Mill – and St John’s has the papers of Spike Milligan. Many Old Members have presented their literary papers, and other donations have created collections of books and manuscripts predating colleges’ foundations.

Each of the colleges and halls remains independent, both of the University and of one another. There is, nonetheless, close collaboration, notably in 2008 when the Bodleian mounted an exhibition under the title Beyond the Work of One: Oxford College Libraries and Their Benefactors , still available to visit online.

Researchers who wish to explore these collections are welcome on application in advance.

Gatherings: a display

A ‘gathering’ (or ‘quire’) is made of one or more large sheets of paper, folded one or more times to make a single ‘booklet’ of leaves; these are then bound together in a sequence to make a book. Gatherings have been the basic building blocks of manuscript and printed books for centuries. The items in this display date from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. They show that gatherings can reveal much about the print culture of this period, from the ways in which books were constructed by printers and binders to broader, cultural questions about the composition, marketing and censorship of early modern texts.

See a report of The Gathered Text, a symposium on the subject of gatherings in book history.

Rebecca Bullard (University of Reading), Ian Gadd (Bath Spa University), Andrew Honey (Bodleian Library) and Randall McLeod (University of Toronto) selected the items for this display.

Click on any image to enter the gallery.

Bodleian’s Winter Exhibition “Crossing Borders”

The Kennicott Bible. MS. Kenn. 1 fol. 352 v.

On Monday 4th May some 600 visitors grasped the last opportunity to see the exhibition, ‘Crossing Borders’, in the Bodleian Library exhibition room.  During the five months of this exhibition, 30 Hebrew manuscripts together with about 30 Arabic and Latin codices were viewed by 30,412 visitors in total. This precious selection of the Bodleian holdings was ‘a feast for the eyes,’ as Bodley’s Librarian Dr. Sarah Thomas  said when she opened the exhibition on 7th December 2009.

Several bibliographic celebrities were present, among them the Kennicott Bible. Thanks to a digital display, users were also able to ‘turn the pages’ of a facsimile of this 15th-century manuscript.  Maimonides’ autograph draft of his legal code, the Mishneh Torah was another outstanding presence.

Maimonides’ autograph draft of his legal code, Mishneh Torah (from the Cairo Genizah), in cursive Sephardic script (Egypt, c. 1180).

Other books, however, were on public display for the first time in their long lives, such as the 13th century illuminated prayer books for the Jewish festivals, Nicholas of Lyra’s commentary on the book of Exodus with gold leaf  images of the Menorah, the selection of Arabic, Hebrew and Latin fables, the oldest extant  13th century Hebrew Encyclopaedia of science and its Arabic and Latin counterparts, some precious Greek papyri and Hebrew fragments from the Cairo Genizah, must have been thrilled by this extraordinary interest in their existence. As these manuscripts sat in the exhibition cases, they might have found the number of admirers visiting them less surprising than their unusual neighbours. Resting on their accustomed shelves in the bookstacks they had always been surrounded by family members: Hebrew by Hebrew, Latin by Latin codices.

Tripartite Mahzor: Initial word of the opening prayer for the Day of Atonement (Kol nidrei; Ashkenaz, fourteenth century).

But in December 2009 they became the centre of a cross-cultural event. In the exhibition the Hebrew manuscripts became a meeting place of cultures. In a direct comparison with Arabic, Greek and Latin manuscripts they showed in unexpected ways the social and cultural interaction between Jews and non-Jews in both the Muslim and Christian world.

Nicholas of Lyra, Commentary on Exodus, with comparative diagrams of the menorah and the table of showbread (France, late fourteenth century).

The interaction  came to light in decorative patterns, writing styles, script types and text genres. By absorbing elements of the host cultures in which the Jews lived, the Hebrew manuscripts became proof of coexistence and cultural affinity, as well as practical cooperation between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbours in the Middle Ages. Back in the stacks they all will miss their new friends.

– from Piet van Boxel, Curator of Hebrew Collections, Bodleian Library.

An online selection of images from the exhibition is available: http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/about/exhibitions/online/crossing-borders

William Wake at Christ Church College, Oxford

Know a man by his ancestry, his friends, his enemies… and his books.

William Wake’s ancestry included the quarrelsome and rebellious Hereward the Wake; several members of the clergy; a book thief (who is also to be counted in the previous class of persons in this list); a father who was in prison when he was born; and a mother who by cleverness and hard work managed to restore the family fortunes. Between his friends he could count a wife with Archbishop Chichele’s blood in her veins; several Bishops and Archbishops, and half of the clergy in England; French Huguenots and expatriates; writers and publishers; and the Prince and Princess of Wales (unfortunately, not the King). As for his enemies, the Government and the other half of the clergy are the most conspicuous.

Tracing the character of William Wake (1657-1737, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1716) through the books he collected during his life has been an interesting and rewarding exercise. Wake’s books have stories to tell about the schoolboy, the scholar, and the man of power, but also the father and the husband; they shed light on his habits and reveal him to us as a hoarder; their bindings talk about his travels and his fortunes; and they teach us about his ancestry, friends and enemies.

View of Upper Library, Christ Church College, Oxford

Christ Church Upper Library exhibition WAKE is a celebration of the conclusion of the cataloguing of the over 7000 early printed books in the Wake Collection. Work began in-house in 1995, and after a break between 2003 and 2005, was continued until completion, on Friday 26th February 2010, through participation in the Early Printed Books cataloguing project of the Bodleian Library. The records are accessible via OLIS, the Oxford University integrated online catalogue.

WAKE  – an exhibition open at Christ Church – Upper Library
http://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/library/exhibitions/2010/wake

The exhibition will be open between 28 April-28 May 2010.
Visiting hours
Monday-Friday:
9.00 am – 1.00 pm
2.00 pm – 5.00 pm
Saturday:
12 noon-1 pm