Radcliffe Camera model by Nicholas Hawksmoor

During the 1730s a number of architects were considered by the Radcliffe Trustees for the job of designing  and managing the building of the new library, and two were asked to submit drawings for consideration: Nicholas Hawksmoor and James Gibbs. In 1734 or 5, Hawksmoor’s design for a round library was made into a model (below), presumably because this design was favoured by the Trustees. His plans show the Radcliffe Library was to be built abutting the Bodleian Library, rather than as a freestanding building, with the ground floor open to the elements and the entrance to the library reached from beneath. Unfortunately, Hawksmoor became seriously ill and died of “gout of the stomach” in March 1736, opening the way for Gibbs to be awarded the contract. Gibbs’s own library design had originally been a more conventional rectangular building, but by 1737 the current freestanding, circular design was submitted by Gibbs, clearly influenced by Hawksmoor’s model.

The model is made from wood (the lighter pieces are modern restoration), and it can be dismantled to show the interior rooms and spaces. The scale may be 1 inch =

4 feet, which would make the ground floor diameter just 100 feet. The model was made by John Smallwell, junior, of London, who was Master of the Joiners Company in 1731 and worked for Sir John Vanbrugh. He was paid £87.11s for his efforts.

The model found its way eventually to Ditchley Park, the home of the 3rd Earl of Lichfield, who was a Radcliffe Trustee from 1755 to 1772, where it seems to have spent much of its life being used as a dolls house, until it was given to the Bodleian Library in 1913 by Viscount Dillon.

Exit pursued by a Beare

The Globe Theatre Company will be occupying the Bodleian quadrangle in August, with performances of Shakespeare’s “Winter’s Tale” from August 17 to 22. Today our Exhibitions section was preparing a display including this long panorama of London in 1616, made by Claes Jansz Visscher of Amsterdam. It had been stored folded, and removing the heavy creases for display took several hours in a humidification chamber, followed by flattening with three heavy boards, carefully laid on top of thick felt squares.  Even then it is too long, and the ends will have to be rolled to fit into the exhibition case. The 1616 panorama, the First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays (1623) [for the chequered history of this book, see the New York Times article from March 30, 1906, “Bodleian Library Acquires a Shakespeare Folio It Sold in 1664”], and other material will be shown in the Exhibition Room from August 2 – 25.

Announcement of event from Bodleian Library

See performance dates and times from the Globe Theatre website

Russian caricatures of “Boney”

The thirty Russian cartoons in the Curzon Collection are indicative of the prints favoured by collectors. From the collection of the Grand-Dukes Nikolai and Mikhail Mikhailovich, grandsons of Nicholas I, they passed into the hands of A.M. Broadley, whose collection was built initially from the sale of W. Fraser in 1901 and augmented by the finds of the Parisian art dealer Godefroy Mayer. Broadley’s collection was finally sold in 1916 to George, Marquis Curzon of Kedleston (1859-1925) who bequeathed it to the Bodleian Library.

In the Curzon prints, the palm of victory always belongs to the Russian peasant, distinguished by his moral values, guarantors of an empire ruled by divine right. A close second to him is the Cossack, symbol of Russian invincibility. These two are the standard bearers of patriotic glory, national unity, and Russian supremacy.

Importantly, the dating of images, made possible by publication announcements in the press and by permissions of the censor, allows us to detect a continuation of the caricature campaign throughout the period: the threat of a new invasion in 1813 and the uncertainties of the German campaign were exorcised by constant references to the victory of 1812. The body of the Curzon collection, which is in an optimal state of conservation, is partially composed of later impressions, from 1815 to 1818 judging by the watermarks.

— Dr. Marina Peltzer
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A modern binding with style

Broxbourne 52.53Even though one might think that ancient bindings are by definition more precious and refined than the more recent ones, this can definitely be a misleading preconception. Indeed ancient bindings are precious and refined, but modern ones can well be as precious and refined as the ancient ones.

As an example, here is a beautiful French binding of the 1930’s. Particularly interesting are the quality of the leather joined to the refinement of the decorative pattern and the choice of the colour in relation to the brightness of the gold tooling. All these particulars make this binding both incredibly refined but also extremely simple at the same time.



Map of China from the early 17th century

This is a late Ming watercolour map of East Asia, including China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Southeast Asia and part of India, probably executed in the 1620s. The map has no title, and is very large, approximately 1×1.5m. The text is Chinese, but there are some Latin annotations by a later hand. The map shows shipping routes and compass bearings from the port of Quanzhou across the entire region. A panel of text on the left of the map near Calicut, its western extremity, gives directions of the routes to Aden and the Strait of Hormuz.


The shelfmark is MS Selden supra 105.


It came to the library from the estate of the London lawyer John Selden (d.1654) in 1659, along with a large collection of Oriental manuscripts, Greek marbles, a Chinese compass and the famous Aztec history known as the Codex Mendoza. It was most likely obtained in Southeast Asia through the East India Company’s base at Banten, but was almost certainly produced in the port of Quanzhou in Fujian province. It probably arrived in London towards the mid-17th century.

The map has always been known as an interesting curiousity from the time it arrived in the Library, but its importance was first recognised by the visiting American scholar Robert Bachelor in January 2008. He was the first to notice the shipping routes, which make the map unique among both Chinese and indeed European maps of the period, and has described it as “an object of globally recognizable significance”.


The Library has recently accepted a deposited collection of early children’s books from the Lewis Family Trust, which includes five harlequinades. A harlequinade (known also as a metamorphosis, flap-book or turn-up book) is composed of two single engraved sheets. The first sheet is folded perpendicularly into four sections. A second sheet is cut in half and hinged at the top and bottom edges of the first so that each flap could be lifted separately. The sheets are folded into four, like an accordion, and then roughly stitched with a paper cover. A verse on each section of the flap tells a simple story usually concluding with instructions to turn a flap to continue. When the flap is turned either up or down the viewer sees that half of the new picture fits onto the half of the un-raised flap, so the act of lifting one flap after another creates a surprise unfolding of the story. Click to see a harlequinade in action harlequinade-movie.

They were devised by the publisher Robert Sayer and were popular from about 1765 until the beginning of the 19th Century, although manuscript copies telling biblical stories survive from the late 17th Century. The printed copies often have Harlequin as the central character, hence harlequinade, and were sometimes published to accompany a current performance on the London stage.

Crumbs of comfort make half a loaf

Crums of comfortA tiny book arrived for inspection in the Rare Books section today. It’s the 1673 edition, not recorded in ESTC, of a book that, according to title page statements, ran to over 42 editions between 1623 and 1698.  If there really were that many editions, most don’t survive at all.  The recorded editions survive in only a few copies: some are unique examples.  This is the typical, paradoxical fate of the cheapest and most popular books — that they were read almost out of existence.

“Crumms of comfort”, by Michael Sparke, offered readers moral guidance reinforced with fold-out plates depicting examples of God’s salvation of Englishmen, from the Spanish Armada in 1588 and from plague in 1625. These historical centrefolds could have been crumbs of comfort for people living through a turbulent century.

Do we have a picture ….?

Sometimes the old things in the cellar come in handy after all.  I was just chatting to a colleague who asked, “Is there a way of finding out whether we have a picture, anywhere in the library, of William Wake?  There’s one at the National Portrait Gallery, but surely we have even an illustration in a book …?”

There is a way, but it is an old-fashioned one.  Periodically librarians go through the collections with an eye to their visual treats.  Someone had taken this to the extreme of having slips printed up with sections for the subject of the picture, the title of the book it is in, and the page.  They went through (how much of the collection? I can’t tell) and completed these slips, in beautiful blue fountain pen script.  The slips are arranged in two sets: topographical views and portraits. They are kept in boxes, about the size of a shoebox, stowed up on some high shelves in the bookstack.  So this is one of our Image Management Systems.

News from the ballads world

A reader was looking at a volume of broadside ballads, Wood 401, with a view to confirming whether the copy of “The wandering Jew’s chronicle” was really from 1634 as labelled in our main online catalogue (converted record).  This got me thinking again about the opportunities we might have to update the ballads database; so far we’ve investigated using a web service, mnemosyne, to link our ICONCLASS codes to a general index of codes, so linking our ballad woodcut material with emblems from other collections. But equally nice would be to allow people who are working on bibliographies of a particular ballad to link in to our examples — to form paths through the collection, that the simple browsing and indexing doesn’t really highlight, only exposes.

Cataloguing prints

On Friday the British Printed Images pre-1700 Project and the CSB jointly hosted a workshop at Birkbeck College on cataloguing prints, to get guidance and report on progress of their web database of prints. So far they plan to have all the British Museum pre-1700 British prints in their online collection.

The main question for consideration, as it is for all cataloguers, was “What are you cataloguing?”  This turns out to be a tricky one for prints. Are you cataloguing the printed page, the image (as a “work”, in the sense of the Platonic idea of the subject), or the uses of a single plate or woodblock? Where do you draw the line between a “variant” and a separate catalogue entry?  The example of the “headless horseman” was shown.  Someone remarked that maybe we should consider this a portrait of the horse!

There were good reasons, based on bibliographic research, for people wanting to know about the uses of a single plate through time, or the uses of each of the separate woodblocks that might be used together, or in different combinations, to create a title page border.