Tag Archives: print culture

The End of the Regency

The Regency Era, that age of conflict, caricature, and couture, formally ended today in 1820 with the death of George III; as the King had been unable to rule from (at least) 1811 his son, the future George IV, served as Prince Regent. In terms of cultural history, the era really extends up to the accession of Victoria in 1837, but I’m being strictly historical here as I want to write about poor George III. Few monarchs in English history have been so maligned; I’ve always felt a bit sorry for him. In part it is because of the sheer length of his reign (he is the third-longest-reigning British monarch, after Victoria and Elizabeth II, including the regency decade) but his depictions and representations are more a consequence of what happened in that long period: war with France and America, the loss of the latter, conflict with Parliament, a huge public debt, and his own insanity–which has received the retrospective diagnosis of porphyria, a hereditary disease of the nervous system. But more than all these factors, I think the increasing freedom of the British periodical press is primarily responsible for the public perception of the King, as its appropriation of the public sphere corresponds with his realm, along with the proliferation of satire and caricature. George was a perfect subject/target–chubby, gouty, and incapacitated at his worst, a rather unsophisticated “Farmer George” at his best. He is often portrayed as tyrannical and always as greedy–and these are the works of British subjects, not American or French citizens!

A Portfolio of George III Images:  even when they are not supposed to be satirical (like the last two Jubilee prints), they somehow are:

George III BM

George 2 Farmer

George 1786 Diamonds

George as Nero BM

George 1805 BM

George III 1810

George III Jubilee 1810 BM

Anonymous contemporary etching of King George III; “Farmer George & his Wife”, pub. by William Holland, 1786; Anonymous hand-colored etching of the “King of Diamonds”/George III, 1786; George III as Nero, anonymous etching, c. 1760-1780; George III as a gouty “dreamer (while his son catches his crown), pub. by William McCleary, c. 1805; Jubilee (1810) prints of George III by Robert Dighton and I.G. Parry.  All, British Museum.


My Favorite Georgians

The public presentation of history is often driven by anniversaries, and Britain is just beginning a long Georgian moment driven by the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian dynasty’s accession in 1714 and commencing (after the birth of little Prince George this summer) with the British Library’s new exhibition Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain. Viewing it from afar (online), I like the exhibition’s emphasis on Georgians rather than the more boring King Georges, and its inclusion of some of the more interesting aspects of the era: the development of “celebrity culture”, the “commercialization of leisure”, the emergence of the novel, and intensifying consumerism in many realms of life. But from my own distant Anglo-American perspective, I’m noticing a distinct lack of a colonial presence. Before the Revolution, we should certainly consider the people who inhabited British America as Georgians, so I’m featuring a few of my favorite American Georgian gentlemen here. Although I don’t have quite the same connection to them that I do for some of the people of the earlier era in which I specialize, there is something compelling about both their images (personas) and their stories, if only because several of them walked on the same streets that I do.

My Georgian Gentlemen: Benjamin Pickman, the dashing Loyalist Salemite and husband of the faithful Mary of my last post. What better Georgian than a Loyalist? Even though he left his family and country, his letters testify to the earnestness of his decision and the pain he endured from the separation. Here John Singleton Copley pictures him as a young man, well before this rift, and I think he looks both dashing and earnest. Jonathan Jackson, a contemporary of Pickman’s from Newburyport, painted in his resplendent blue robe by Copley. Jackson looks a little more “Georgian” here but he was no Loyalist: he converted his merchant ships to privateering vessels during the Revolution and later served as a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress. His first wife, Sarah Barnard Jackson, was the daughter of the Reverend Thomas Barnard of Salem, whose silhouette is below. As a true Georgian, Barnard helped avert what might have become the first clash of the American Revolution in early 1775–an incident called “Leslie’s Retreat”–when he negotiated British Colonel Alexander Leslie’s retreat from Salem.

Georgians Pickman

Georgians Jonathan Jackson

Georgians Thomas Barnard

John Singleton Copley, Benjamin Pickman, c. 1758-61, Yale University Art Gallery; John Singleton Copley, Jonathan Jackson, late 1760s, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Painted Silhouette of the Reverend Thomas Barnard of Salem, late 18th/early 19th century, Skinner’s Auctions.

Obviously I have a preference for Copley, who, like his colleague and compatriot Nathaniel West, represents the Anglo-American/Atlantic world in which the acclaimed artist lived and worked. Both were “American” artists who became “English” artists: they were true Georgians above all. Both left their “country” for good before the American Revolution, along with Henry Pelham, Copley’s stepbrother and the subject of one of his most famous compositions, A Boy with a Flying Squirrel (1765). My favorite illustration of this Anglo-American artistic world is a painting of West’s London studio by his protégé Matthew Pratt: entitled The American School, it hints at the future division.

Georgians Pelham Squirrel

Georgians American School MET

John Singleton Copley, A Boy with a Flying Squirrel, 1765, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Matthew Pratt, The American School, 1765, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It looks like Georgians Revealed depicts British Georgians as a fun-loving, pleasure-seeking people: there are lots of illustrations of drinking, dancing and dressing:  by comparison, American Georgians look rather earnest and restrained. It’s hard to compete with the vibrant print culture that emerged in Britain from the 1780s on, however, just when Americans ceased being Georgians.

Georgians

Georgians New England Psalms Revere

Carousing Georgians in Britain and Psalm-singing Georgians in America: Midnight. Tom and Jerry at a Coffee Shop near the Olympic, illustration by Issac and George Cruikshank in Pierce Egan, Life in London, 1823, British Library; Paul Revere, “the Music Party”, engraving for the frontspiece of William Billings, The New England Psalm-Book, Boston, 1770. Library of Congress.


Black Cat Covers

Many months ago I wrote about a small publishing company in turn-of-the-century Salem named the S.E. Cassino Company with a diverse list of publications that included Black Cat Magazine, a pulp fiction/short story magazine (which featured Jack London and Henry Miller among its authors) that was in publication from 1895-1923. The Cassino company acquired Black Cat after the unfortunate death of its founding editor in 1912, and moved its operations from Boston to Salem, at least briefly–and then there was a twenty-year run of really cute black cat Black Cat covers. I recently came across a treasure trove of these images, and because they are so so striking (and it’s October in Salem) I thought I would feature a series of them. The Cover Cat cuts a pretty conventional silhouette on the first 1895 cover, but as you can see on this series of October covers, he gets bolder with each passing year. My favorite is from 1907, with the squirrels. Unfortunately, I can’t find the artist (s) responsible for these covers; if anyone has any information, please pass it along.

Black Cat 1895

Black Cat 96

Black Cat 1897

Black Cat 1900 cover

Black Cat 1901

Black Cat 1902

Black Cat 1904

Black Cat 1905

Black Cat 1907

Black Cat 1908

Black Cat 1913 cover

October Black Cat Covers from the digital collection of an amazing magazine bibliographer, 1895-1913.

Much, much more unfortunately, I have very bad news about a real black cat:  a kitten, to be more precise. This past Tuesday, someone stole a weeks-old black kitten named Sunshine (with an intestinal condition !!!) from our animal shelter here in Salem: this is just the sort of story that intensifies my dislike and disdain for October in the Witch City.


Intricate Insects

There are beetles in my garden and some West Nile-carrying mosquitoes in Salem: I’ve got bugs on the brain. On a more pleasurable note, the Getty Museum has expanded access to thousands of its digitized images through its new Open Content Initiative. Another treasure trove to explore (and eat up time)! One of the most precious manuscripts in the world is in the Getty collection, the Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta, or Model Book of Calligraphy, the collaboration of two late Renaissance artists who never met! In this first age of printing, when it was feared that the skill and beauty of writing would soon be lost, Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I commissioned his court scribe, George Bocskay, to produce the Model Book; 30 years later, his grandson Rudolf II instructed his court artist, Joris Hoefnagel, to illustrate it. And thus the beautiful little (6+ inches by 4+ inches) was created, over the period from about 1561 to 1591.

Bugs About Hoefnagel Getty

Bugs About Hoefnagel 2 Getty

Hoefnagel (1542-1601) worked in every medium and all over Europe: though generally classified as a Netherlandish artist he also spent time in England and really flourished in central Europe at the courts of two major royal patron-collectors, Albert V, the Duke of Bavaria, and Rudolph II, who was in the process of assembling the largest Kunst- and Wunderkammer (“Cabinets” or collections of art and natural wonders) of the era. While in Munich, he completed his three encyclopedic collections of  zoological and botanical miniatures, Animalia Aqvatilia et Cochiliate (Aqva), Animalia Volatilia et Amphibia (Aier), and Animalia Rationalia et Insecta, between 1575 and 1580. These images are amazing blends of art and science, and while the animals are compelling (especially the hairy people–more in a later post), the insects almost jump off their pages!

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Insects Hoefnagel 2

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Joris Hoefnagel’s insect miniatures, watercolor and gouache on vellum, 1575-1580, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Is Hoefnagel’s inspiration primarily artistic or scientific? Sometimes it’s hard to tell, really. He is a transitional artist in so many ways–transitioning between the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution, between manuscript culture and print culture, between the medieval miniature and the early modern still life with his precise eye for detail. But at the same time he is merging all these things rather than evolving from one to another. At about the same time that he was engaged in his “collaboration” with Bockskay, Hoefnagel was part of another artistic partnership, this time with his son, the teenaged Jacob Hofsnaegel, whose collection of printed botanical and entomological engravings, Archetypa Studiaque Patris (1592)  was inspired by his father’s early allegorical drawings and accompanying verse. You can see more of the younger Hoefnagel’s images here and here, as well as at the British Museum.

Hoefnagel Allegory of Winter Louvre

Hoefnagel Insects and the Head of a Wind God

Hoefnagel Archetypa frontspiece

Hoefnagel Archetypa 2 BM

Hoefnagel Archetypa 3 BM

Joris Hoefnagel, Allegory of Winter, c. 1589 (The Louvre, Paris); and Insects and the Head of the Wind God, c.  1590-1600 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); Jacob Hoefnagel, frontspiece and plates from Archetypa Studiaque Patris Georgi (Joris) Holfnaegeli, 1592 (British Museum, London).

Below: Art and nature, father and son, INSECTS:  Allegory on Life and Death, Prague, 1598: Figure and landscape within oval drawn by Jacob Hoefnagel, surrounding flora, fauna and bugs, by Joris Hoefnagel, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Hoefnagel Allegory of Life and Death Met


Poison Vessels

News of the discovery of a late medieval poison ring in eastern Europe has intrigued me; I know that “poison rings” (alternatively called “pillbox rings” with built-in receptacles) were popular in the Renaissance and after, but very few of them actually served to contain or convey poison–more likely the held articles of remembrance. But this Bulgarian bronze ring, with its little channel, looks like the real thing! It instantly reminded me of one of my favorite (also late medieval) woodcut illustrations of a woman poisoning her husband–through a much larger pipeline–and set me off on a hunt for more man-made vessels for poison, besides the proverbial poison arrow.

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Poison 1481

Book of Wisdom of the Ancient Sages, 1481; The Illustrated Bartsch. Vol. 83, German Book Illustration before 1500: Anonymous Artists, 1481-1482.

Well of course the most obvious vessel is a cup:  whether medieval depictions of Socrates drinking his hemlock or later prints of supposed royal assassinations, the poison is generally conveyed in a cup, or, more seriously, a chalice, as in Shakespeare’s This even-handed justice Commends thingredients of our poisoned chalice (Macbeth). Somehow a chalice is more reverent, and at the same time menacing, than a mere cup. John Foxe’s Protestant martyrology, Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, Touching Matters of the Church (1563) shows King John being poisoned by English monks offering his majesty a chalice of wassail, of all things. The chalice and the mortar and pestle become the two most “medieval” vessels associated with poison, as in the line from Danny Kaye’s Court Jester (1955): the pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!

Poison Cup Socrates

Poison Cup BM

Poison Cup MET

National Library of the Netherlands MS RMMW, 10 A 11 (c. 1475), John Foxe, Acts and Monuments  (1563); NYPL Digital Gallery.

Another English monarch who was threatened with assassination by poison (and other means) was Elizabeth I: a Jesuit-inspired French plot involving a poisoned saddle is illustrated in George Carleton’s Thankful Remembrance (1627). This might or might not be the basis of the purely fictional poisoned dress scene in the 1998 film Elizabeth. In any case, it was foiled.

Poison Saddle BM

George Carleton, A Thankful Remembrance of God’s Mercy, 1627.

Things seem to get more straightforward in the modern age, when poison was contained in boldly labeled and brightly colored apothecary bottles, dispensed collectively in war and from planes, self-induced through various addictive substances, and trivialized by mid-century modern “name your poison” bar sets. But obviously the most effective poisons would have no vessel at all.

Poison Sign

Name Your Poison Glasses Etsy


Essex County Seats

Salem is the county seat of Essex County, which extends from north of Boston to the New Hampshire border, encompassing a great marsh, a rocky coastline, the Merrimack River,and what used to be fertile farmland in between. Now much,but not all, of it is residential, but because of its early development (just after Plymouth, to the south of Boston), the marsh, and some early conservation and preservation efforts there remains a seemingly-eternal landscape that is both natural and man-made. The county is full of long-established towns with clearly-defined centers and commons, even though progressive sprawl has blurred the lines of distinction among them. There are seventeenth-century, “First Period” houses in several Essex County towns (with Ipswich claiming the most) and eighteenth-century houses everywhere. When I was a teenager and in my early 20s, Essex County was just a place to drive through, between Boston and my hometown in southern Maine, but then I began turning off route 95 and exploring a little: first the old seaports, Salem, Gloucester, Newburyport, then the smaller coastal and inland towns between the ports and the highway, and then the Merrimack Valley, still bearing the structures of its early industrial revolution. Now that I live here, I still go exploring, and find new (old) houses, roads, and landmarks every time.

Over a century ago, Boston lithographer and publisher George H. Walker encouraged the exploration of Essex (and other) counties by issuing a series of  “driving maps”, birds’ eye views, and lithographs of the notable structures of the region: “stately” homes, factories, educational establishments, public buildings. A large collection of his Essex County lithographs was donated to the Archives of Salem State University earlier this summer, and they are now online, with great descriptions written by a former student of mine. Published in 1884, in the midst of an age of dynamic growth and industrialization, these images seem to harken back to an earlier Arcadian age. They are beautiful in a very idealized way: prancing horses dance about and even the factories are pristine. But as you can see below (in just a sampling of the entire collection), where I’ve managed to contrast a Walker lithograph with a standing structure, the architectural details are quite delineated.

Essex County Kernwood

Essex County Kimball

Silsbee House, Salem

Essex County Peabody

John Bertram House, Salem

Walker’s Salem Lithographs: the Kernwood Estate in North Salem (now radically reconstructed as the clubhouse of the Kernwood Country Club), the Kimball House (built by Nathaniel Silsbee and now the Knights of Columbus) & the George Peabody House (now the John Bertram House, a senior living community).

Essex County Appleton

Essex County Oak Hill

Two long-lost houses in nearby Peabody: the very eclectic Appleton estate, and Samuel McIntire’s “Oak Hill” shown in Victorian guise–now the site of the Northshore Shopping Center!

Essex County Peabody Beverly

Essex County Danvers

St. John's Prep administrative building

Another Peabody (family, not town) house: the summer residence at Light House Point in Beverly, where President Taft summered, and the Spring residence in Danvers, now the administrative building of St. John’s Preparatory School.

Essex County Elm Vale Cottage N Andover

Essex County Moulton Hill

The very charming Elm Vale Cottage in North Andover (I don’t know if this is still standing; I’ll have to go exploring), and the long-gone Moulton Castle in Newburyport, situated on the Castle Hill that is now part of Maudslay State Park.


Anonymous Authors

The revelation that J.K. Rowling is actually “Robert Galbraith”, the author of the now-bestselling crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, got me thinking about anonymous authorship in general and in history. I’ve never really understood the motivation:  all that work and no credit? But of course there were lots of individual motivations depending on the context:  political, religious, and social factors which favored, or mandated, discreet publication. Pseudonyms or pen names became a way for female authors to publish when that just wasn’t done, and for intellectuals to public works that seemed a little beneath their areas of expertise:  children’s works, satires, common novels.  For a variety of reasons, it seems to be common practice for contemporary mystery and romance authors to publish under pseudonyms, so perhaps that was Rowling’s motivation.

Pseudonym Cuckoo

alice_in_wonderland_H  middlemarch_H

J.K. Rowling’s / Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling and two other books issued under pen names: Lewis Carroll/ Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and through the Looking Glass and George Eliot/ Mary Ann Evans’s Middlemarch. These editions are from Penguin‘s series of clothbound classics, with covers designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith. I want every single title in the series, whether I like the book or not.

Pseud Penguin

In the period that I study and teach, anonymous authorship by pseudonym or initials was very common: this was the first age of print, a conspicuous craft, and also an era of intense religious division in much of Europe. Authors who penned strident religious (or political, because the two go hand in hand in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) had to be careful, but I think that anonymity was used by authors of less controversial, more entertaining works to conjur up an air of mystery or provoke a guessing game, almost as a marketing tool. The best examples of satirical, oppositional anonymous authorship in early modern England are the tracts penned by “Martin Marprelate” in 1588-89, protesting Archbishop of Canterbury Richard Whitgift’s increasing control over the press and espousing early Puritan sentiments. Martin’s identify was never revealed, and he was resuscitated on the eve of the English Revolution several generations later.

Marprelate_Martin_pseud-The_protestatyon_of_Martin_Marprelat-STC-17459-433_10-p1

The Protestation of Martin Marprelate, 1589: who “makes it known unto the world that he fears neither proud priest, anti-Christian pope, tyrannous prelate, nor godless cater-cap”. STC 17459, 1589.

Jumping forward to the end of the eighteenth century, when two of that era’s most influential works were both published anonymously:  Common Sense (1776), “written by an Englishman” soon revealed to be Thomas Paine, and An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) by Joseph Johnson, later identified as Thomas Malthus. I can understand why both men would wish to retain their anonymity, at least at first: Paine was inciting a revolution (once “outed” he would donate the proceeds from his immensely popular pamphlet to the Continental Army), and Malthus’s analysis of the relationship between population growth and natural resources was both frightfully modern and thoroughly dismal.

Pseudonyms

Pseud Malthus

Annotated copies:  the first edition of Common Sense, and Charles Darwin’s edition of Thomas Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population, from the Cambridge University Library’s digital exhibition,”Books & Babies:  Communicating Reproduction”.

Another big jump, to the near present. Even though it seems like ages ago, I remember the sensational revelation that the author of the bestselling roman à clef  of the first Clinton campaign, Primary Colors, was in fact Newsweek columnist Joe Klein, who published the book as “Anonymous” in an effort to protect his sources and preserve his journalistic integrity. That seems like a rather quaint motivation now, twenty years later.

Pseudonyms Primary Colors


Battlefield Bystanders

With two big battle anniversaries converging–that of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775 and Waterloo on June 18, 1815–I was looking at contemporary and commemorative images of both contests and noticed the preponderance of bystanders, observers, and public reaction perspectives. These two battles seem very public, but of course all battles are, and these two were particularly epic, marking the commencement of the American Revolution and the defeat, finally, of Napoleon.

Bunker Hill

Waterloo Sketch

View of the attack on Bunker’s Hill (really Breed’s Hill), with the Burning of Charles Town, June 17,1775, drawn by Mr. Millar, engraved by Lodge (1775), Library of Congress; Print of an anonymous etching of the Battle of Waterloo with the key officers (c. 1815), British Museum.

Both battles were followed pretty quickly by reports from “near observers” for audiences hungry for results, and details: the deaths of Major Pitcairn and Dr. Joseph Warren at Bunker Hill, dashing displays of bravery in both battles, the capture of Napoleon (finally) several weeks after Waterloo. With time, as both events become part of history and national memory, the people get more involved with the emphasis on observation and reception, which is particularly apparent in composed  images of the battles.  I particularly like the “watching from the rooftops” images of Bunker Hill, which began with Winslow Homer’s 1875 engraving for Harper’s, and continued through a series of popular postcards published by Raphael Tuck & Sons.

Bunker Hill Harpers

EdwinHowlandBlashfield--Suspense-TheBostonpeoplewatchingfromthehousetopsthefiringatBunkerHill

Battlefield Bystanters Raphael Tuck

Battlefield Bystanders Tuck

Battlefield Bystanders Tuck 1910

Winslow Homer, The Battle of Bunker Hill–Watching the Fight from Cobb’s Hill in Boston, Harpers Weekly, June 26, 1875; Edwin Howland Bashfield, Suspense: The Boston people watching from the house tops the firing at Bunker Hill (1882); Raphael Tuck & Sons postcards, circa 1910.

I remember reading the sections on the Battle of Waterloo in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and thinking: it seems like they’ve gone right from the ballroom to the battlefield (which they did) and what is Becky doing there? This was a strange battle, but certainly a momentous one. You can certainly ascertain the intense interest of civilians both in the vicinity of the battle and on the homefront in two striking images: the first, from William Mudford’s Historical Account of  the Campaign in the Netherlands in 1815 (1817), is of the observatory tower commissioned by the King of the Netherlands, erected so all of those people at the ball could see the battle. The second is David Wilkie’s Chelsea Pensioners (1822), in which a very inclusive British public receive news of the big victory at Waterloo.

Battlefield Bystanders Waterloo Mugford

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James Rouse painting, from Mudford’s Historical Account (1817);  Sir David Wilkie, Chelsea Pensioners Receiving the London Gazette Extraordinary of Thursday, June 22 1815, Announcing the Battle of Waterloo (1822), Dulwich Picture Gallery.


Book Arts, past and present

I have read so many articles lately about the impending and inevitable obsolescence of the book, that it is rather comforting to focus on the book as a work of art, as it certainly was in the past and remains so in the present. Surely books will survive as things, decorative or otherwise. The Morgan Library & Museum is exhibiting its precious sixteenth-century “Van Damme” Book of Hours this summer in celebration of the manuscript’s facsimile publication by Faksimile Verlag. This tiny little book is like a jewel, made the more so by its encasement in a silver filigree case that looks like a clutch purse, the commission of a previous owner.

Books Van Damme Hours

The Van Damme Hours and case, Antonius van Damme, scribe, and Simon Bening, illuminator, 1531, Morgan Library & Museum.

I am jumping forward several centuries and into a genre that I’m not quite sure can be raised to the level of art: children’s shape (or shaped) books which were first issued in America in the 1860s by L. Prang of Boston with verse and designs by Salem’s own Lydia Very. I’ve been interested in the low profile Very for a while and I admire her spirit from afar: the sister and lifelong caretaker of “eccentric” poet Jones Very (they were the children of unwed first cousins of a very old Salem family), she taught in the Salem public schools while also maintaining a prolific publishing career, which included poetry, garden essays, and these shape books for children, which were part of Prang’s popular “Doll Series”. Despite Prang’s claim that the form “originated with us”,  European publishers issued these novelty items at the same time, in all sorts of shapes: boxes, bears, cats.

Books Very

Books Arts RedBooks Arts Red 2

SONY DSC

Lydia Very, Good Two Shoes, (L. Prang, n.d.), Aleph-Bet Books, and Red Riding Hood (L. Prang, 1863) E. Wharton & Co., and Castell Brothers, London, cat-shaped book, Bromer Booksellers.

Taking another big leap up to the present, and some very elegant and detailed examples of “pop-up books”, another Victorian innovation:  these “book sculptures” by Justin Rowe cross over into a new genre, but still, the book is the foundation, as well as the material i(n more ways than one). Here are images of his “Little Red” Riding Hood (compare to Very’s above) and “Shoot the Moon”.

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Images © Justin Rowe, 2012.

So that brings us to what looks like a flourishing book-related movement? field? endeavor? (searching for the right word here). Artists’ books are exactly that:  books made by artists in very (or singular) limited editions, inspired by themes and utilizing book crafts and materials, books that are composed (or simply made) in more of an artistic than literary manner. There seem to be many definitions and classifications of artists’ books out there, so I just made up my own–I hope it suffices and stand to be corrected! There are also many examples of artists’ books out there to feature, so I’ve just chosen two, to illustrate the range of work. The first images are of the cover and all the “pages” of renown book artist Julie Chen’s “Cat’s Cradle” from her beautiful website Flying River Press, while the last is of a hand-made botanical book from the Etsy shop modestly: the book lives on in many forms.

catscradle1-lg

catscradle2-lg

Book Arts Modestly


Wondrous Whales

Over the past week or so I’ve had whales on the brain, and I’ve encountered them in numerous places: at the Smithsonian’s recently-opened Whales:  from Bone to Book exhibit, in the pages of an old Salem-published book I picked up at a yard sale last weekend, and searching for examples of wonder in various digital archives of sixteenth and seventeenth-century English printed books. For early modern Englishmen and -women, few things were as “wondrous”, or providential, as the appearance of a “monstrous fish”, a “sea-monster”, or a whale. Their Christian worldview and precedents (Jonah and the whale, St. Brendan’s “island”) guaranteed that something big was up when one of these creatures appeared.

Whale Granger_Timothy-A_moste_true_and_marueilous_straunge-STC-12186-385_01-p1

Whale St Brendan 1621

Whale Dow 1925

Timothy Granger, A Moste true and marveilous Straunge wonder (1568); St. Brendan holding mass on the back of a whale, from Caspar Plautius, Nova Typis Transacta Navigatio (1621); Illustration from George Francis Dow, Whale Ships and Whaling: a Pictorial History (1925).

Every maritime culture appears to have its whale lore, but I’m only (vaguely) familiar with the western variety, and still trying to figure out quite a few whale tales. I’m not entirely certain why whales were so wondrous, so monstrous, so shocking, so noteworthy in the early modern era; after all, there were the ancient precedents as well as more recent medieval references, most notably to ambergris. Though there were diverse theories about its exact source, everyone seemed to accept that whales were somehow connected to the exotic substance.

Whale Medieval

Birthwort, serpent & a sperm whale in a Salerno herbal, British Library  MS Egerton  747,  c. 1280-1310.

Centuries later, it is apparent that it was not just whales that were wondrous in early modern England but beached or stranded whales, gigantic creatures that were far from their natural surroundings. And I can understand the fascination; I remember discovering the remains of a whale (just a blubbery part really) on a rocky beach in Maine when I was a child and running home to tell my parents, small bone in hand, quite vividly. Another memory I have of a whale comes from much later, when I was researching my dissertation and came across a seventeenth-century pamphlet reporting the foiled attempt of a Jesuit to sneak into England in the body of a whale. Few things were as threatening as Jesuits in post-Gunpowder Plot England, so this secret papal mission of sorts makes sense in the scheme of things, but I lost track of the reference and never found that source again. This past weekend, I found something similar:  A True and Wonderfull Relation of a Whale with a “Romish Priest” in its belly, no doubt the tract of my faulty memory.

Whale 1645

Two seventeenth-century tracts that look slightly more “scientific” but also contain “prodigious” accounts are A True Report and Exact Description of a mighty Sea-monster, or Whale (1617) and Strange News from the Deep, Being a Full Account of a Large Prodigious Whale (1677). These accounts date from the same century when the English were actively engaging in whaling well off-shore in the North Atlantic, so apparently it was only whales at home that were wondrous. Those in the deep possessed another characteristic–value–which would only increase in the coming centuries.

Whale 1617

Whale 1677


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