Monthly Archives: April 2013

Spring Witches

In central and northern Europe the closing days of April and commencement of Spring converge on Walpurgisnacht, a bonfire festival based on both pagan and Christian traditions. On the eve of May 1, the canonization day of Saint Walpurga, an English Christian nun and missionary based in southern Germany in the eighth century (and presumably was so named to replace a pre-Christian harvest goddess also named Walpurga), witches gather to fly off to the highest mountain (in the case of Germany, Brocken Mountain in the Harz mountain range) to pay homage to the Devil with a night-long bacchanalian celebration. Newly-empowered and inspired, they fly back to society, on broomsticks or goats, to continue their demonic service.

Spring Witches

Hermann Hendrich Die Walpurgishalle in Goethes Faust

Fireworks over the Rhine on Walpurgisnacht, 2012, and Hermann Hendrich’s vision, 1901.

Like Halloween, exactly six months later, Walpurgisnacht is a perfect example of early medieval assimilation, in which a saint’s day is grafted onto an existing “calendar” and there is a clash of evil and good, or perhaps a last hurrah for evil before good prevails in the merry new month of May. Evil is always very, very close–but the actual ritual by which the witch enters into the pact with the devil–described and perceived as in inverse Sabbath–happens far away, in a remote place that one could only access through flight. As I wrote about in an earlier post, fears about a conspiratorial demonic force intensified in the sixteenth century along with the Reformation, resulting in over 100,000 trials for witchcraft in the early modern era. Two hundred years later, after the Devil had lost much of his power, he was revived by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s epic and tragic Faust (1808-1831), with its vivid scenes of Walpurgis Night.

Spring Witches Faust

Spring Witches Faust 2b

Spring Witches Faust 3b

Title page of the 1908 Hayward/Hutchinson translation of Goethe’s Faust, with illustrations of Walpurgis Night by Willy Pogany.

Goethe, along with his near-contemporaries the Brothers Grimm and a host of other authors and artists, was both reflection and inspiration for an intensifying interest in German folklore in the nineteenth century. Witches became more fanciful than fearful; even if it was with or for the devil, they still danced. Given its long association with the witches’ sabbaths, the Brocken and its adjacent Hexentanzplatz  (a plateau long referred to as the “witches’ dancing floor”) became popular tourist destinations. A hilltop hotel on the Hexentanzplatz drew a steady stream of visitors from 1870 on, and the addition of an open-air theater and the Walpurgishalle, a museum dedicated to Goethe and Walpurgis Night, increased their number after the turn of the century. The Hexentanzplatz became a place where everybody could come to dance, on the eve of St. Walpurga’s Day, Beltane, May Day, or simply Spring.

walpurgisnacht pc 1890s

Walpurgisnacht pc 2

Walpurgisnacht in Meissen

The focus is clearly on the Hexentanzplatz hotel in postcards from the 1890s and 1911 (along with the now-naked witches); a century later the more generic Wulpurgisnacht is celebrated in Meissen (photo by Tobi_2008@ Flikr).

Art or Advertising?

I’ve been fixated on this little watercolor painting below ever since I spotted it in the archives of Northeast Auctions a few months ago. Described as a “watercolor trophy with flags and banner with landscapes”, it was painted by C.C. Redmond of Salem in December of 1880. For me, this little image begs the perennial question:  is it art or advertising?

Trade Sign C.C. Remond 1880

I find this question difficult to answer when it concerns bespoke items, produced not for a mass market but for a single customer or client, and the amazing prices that nineteenth-century trade signs fetch at auctions seems to confirm their artistic status. I wish I had found this watercolor “sign” (?) in an auction listing rather than an archive, because I would have snapped it up:  I love the combination of  lettering and landscapes, and the patriotic symbolism and Salem connection make it even more appealing. Searching around for more information about Redmond, I became even more confused about the art vs. advertising question, as he seems to have presented himself as both artist and “advertiser”, whether out of voluntary inclination or economic necessity I do not know. Charles C. Redmond’s life was short (1850-1889) and busy: he was born in northern Maine, enlisted in the Civil War at age 15 and saw action, and ended up in Salem after the war. He hung his own sign in front of his Essex Street shop in the later 1870s, and the Salem Directory for 1886 includes the following advertisement:  Charles C. Redmond, Sign and Ornamental Painter. Particular attention given to all kinds of Portrait and Landscape Painting. Scroll work on wagons, coaches, etc…243 1/2 Essex Street Salem. Redmond was active in the Salem G.A.R. post, and when Lieutenant-General Philip H. Sheridan visited Salem in 1888, his portrait was painted by Redmond, who was described in a souvenir pamphlet from the following year as “a local artist now deceased, who was possessed of rare genius in line of work”. According to the Smithsonian’s Catalog of American Portraits, Redmond painted at least two other portraits before he died, of Salem photographer-entrepreneur Frank Cousins and President Ulysses S. Grant (whose birthday is today!). Both portraits are in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum here in Salem, but I don’t think they’ve been on view for quite some time.

I would love to see these Redmond portraits (especially the Cousins one; I know what Grant looked like), but I would really love to see more Redmond signs. I searched and searched through all my sources, but no luck. I did find some contemporary wooden signs made in Salem by Redmond’s competitors, but I imagine his to be more “artistic”–whatever that means! (Perhaps these beautiful “spectacles” with some fancy scrollwork naming their maker).

Trade Sign Salem 1880s Pollack Antiques

Trade Sign Spectacles Aldrich

Shoemaker’s trade sign made in Salem c. 1880 and signed “Manderbach”, Pollack Antiques; Spectacle sign by E.G. Washburn, New York City, c. 1875-1900, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.

Flemish Renaissance Revival

I thought I had my architectural revival styles straight–Greek, Gothic, Colonial–but somehow I never accounted for the different varieties of Renaissance revival styles until yesterday, when, in my continuous search for double-parlor inspiration, I came across a beautiful photograph of the interior of a Flemish Renaissance Revival house in a New York Times article about upcoming house and garden tours across the country. This parlor took my breath away, and also took me back, to the Flemish (Northern) Renaissance, of course.

Flemish Renaissance Revival


The parlor of a 1903 Flemish Renaissance Revival House in Park Slope, Brooklyn, one of several houses open to the public during the upcoming Park Slope Civic Council Tour, and Rogier van der Weyden’s triptych, the Seven Sacraments Altarpiece, c. 1445-50, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.

I don’t know why this style is such a surprise to me: there were several Renaissances, so it only makes sense that there would be several Renaissance Revival styles. The Renaissance itself was a revival of sorts; revivals are eternal. I immediately set off on a walk around Salem to see if I could find buildings of similar inspiration here, but to no avail:  this is not a Salem style, perhaps not even a New England one–though I do think there are brownstones in the Back Bay of Boston that feature the distinct roofline. A digital search will have to do for now, but I look forward to future forays. I would expect that this style would flourish in New York, but my preliminary search for more examples of the Flemish Renaissance Revival seems to indicate its particular popularity in the Midwest:  surely the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee, built in 1892 is an exemplar.

Flemish Renaissance Revival Pabst Mansion 1892

Flemish Renaissance Vanderslice Hall 1895-96 Kansas City Art Institute

Flemish Renaissance Parkside West Philadelphia

Flemish Renaissance NYC

Flemish Renaissance Revival houses in America: the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee, Vanderslice Hall in Kansas City (1895-96), built for the Meyer family and now the Kansas City Art Institute, rowhouses in the Parkside neighborhood, West Philadelphia, and at 13-15 South William Street, Manhattan.

Bruges Getty Images

in-bruges-poster1The inspiration:  the beautiful, storybook city of Bruges (Getty Images), and I’m throwing in the great 2008 film here too, just because I also think it’s converging on CLASSIC, the basis for any revival.

A Few Scraps of Shakespeare

  They have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps.

Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1594

April 23 is a big day for Anglophiles, marking the birth (and death) of William Shakespeare and the Feast of St. George, the patron saint of England. I have never really understood how St. George became the patron saint of England, so I’m going with Shakespeare. And as I’m not a literary scholar, I’m going for scraps, bit of ephemera that were quite the rage in the nineteenth century, when scrap-booking became a popular leisure activity, and scrap screens began appearing in parlors on both sides of the Atlantic.


Decoupage screen decorated by Jane Carlyle in 1849, in the Drawing Room at Carlyle's House , London

Title Page of Shakespeare’s First Folio, 1623, British Library; Jane Carlyle’s Scrap Screen, 1849, at the Carlyle House in London, Treasure Hunt.

There’s nothing particularly novel about pasting images in a book or on a wall, but printing and paper technologies in the nineteenth century commercialized the activity, like everything else. Scraps for sale first appeared as black and white engravings at the beginning of the century, and by the latter half they were colored by chromolithography, embossed, die-cut and sold as sheets at the local stationer. Mrs. Carlyle’s screen above is made of more “found” examples, but many people seem to have  preferred the more glossy materials that could be found at the shop. In the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, there are some wonderful scraps of Shakespearean characters, vividly bringing them to life for those that could not see them on the stage. Sigmund Hildesheimer & Company’s Characters from Shakespeare. A Series of Twelve Relief Scraps depicted characters played by popular actors, and were sold in packs costing one shilling in the 1890s. My favorites are below:  Romeo and Juliet, Richard III and the two “princes in the tower”, Ophelia and Hamlet, and Cromwell and Wolsey from Henry VIII.

Shakespeare Scrap RJ

Shakespeare Scrap Richard

Shakespeare Scrap Hamlet

Shakespeare Scrap Henry VIII

Shakespearean Scraps by Siegmund Hildesheimer & Co., c. 1890, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Two Tudors

It is been an EXHAUSTING week living in the present; I’m retreating to the past. To my favorite period and my academic specialty:  the Tudor era. Before they were as fashionable as they are now due to an explosion of cultural depictions in the last decade or so, I set my sight on this dynasty. This is a big day in Tudor history as it marks the death of its founder, Henry VII, and the accession of his (second) son, the much-more notorious Henry VIII. These were very different men, very different kings, very different Tudors.

NPG D34139; King Henry VII; King Henry VIII; King Edward VI after Unknown artist

King Henry VII of England (r. 1485-1509) & King Henry VIII of England (r. 1509-1547); 1677 print, National Portrait Gallery, London.

I’ve always preferred the father to the son.  Henry VII was a reluctant warrior-turned king: disciplined (physically reinforced by his slender physique), a bit defensive, definitely wary, prudent, calculating, somewhat severe, on the job. He was determined to bring order, stability, and prosperity to England after the tumultuous Wars of the Roses, and equally intent on liberating the Crown from parliamentary and noble interference. These two policies had both positive and negative consequences:  increased industry and trade, a more centralized administration, an “isolationist” foreign policy which shifted England away from the Continent, the Court of Star Chamber, revenue collection that ventured into the realm of “avarice” according to the Tudor historian Polydore Vergil. It could just be the so-called “Tudor myth”, but England seems dark and divided at the commencement of Henry VII’s reign and more illuminated and integrated at its end. And then came Henry VIII.

Tudors BL Arundel 66 1490 Henry VII

Tudor Henry MIchael Sittow 1500


(c) Bristol Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Henry VII in life, death, and after:  British Library MS Arundel 66, c. 1490; portrait by Estonian court painter Michael Sittow, c. 1505, National Portrait Gallery, London; deathbed scene by Sir Thomas Wriothesley, BL MS Additional 45131; the avarice label sticks: Thomas Edwin Mostyn’s 1919 painting, King Henry VII Fining the Citizens of Bristol Because Their Wives Were So Finely Dressed, 1490, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Henry VIII is of course a more iconic figure than Henry VII, more so because of his personal life and portraits than his policies. As momentous as it was, the English Reformation cannot trump the six wives in the public mind, although scholars are not so similarly focused. I drag my students through the “Tudor revolution in government” (a point of continuity between the two Henrys) and the Reformation, but I know we’ve also got to cover the wives: Anne Boleyn, in particular seems to have become an object of singular obsession for this particular generation. And when I show them pictures of the young Henry, they gasp, so fixed in their mind are the Hans Holbein images and their derivations. Because of the emphasis on the personal, Henry VIII seems to have emerged as a more human figure than his father, warts and all. He is portrayed and perceived as both pious and gregarious, educated and arbitrary, charming and tyrannical. Everyone seems to agree that he was self-indulgent and wasteful, lacking his father’s discipline in all matters, but somehow compensating for this weakness by his larger-than-life personality. He does indeed get bigger and bigger in his contemporary portrayals, and ultimately this magnitude extends to his historical image. Henry VIII’s ability to project his image transcended that of his father–he had more at stake and more tools at his disposal–but there is no getting around the fact that Henry VII was the first Tudor.

Tudors Henry VIII 1540 NPG

NPG 157; King Henry VIII after Hans Holbein the Younger

Tudors Great Bible 1538 BL Henry VIII

Tudors Henry and Barber Surgeons 1541 Hunterian

(c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Henry VIII through the ages: at about 30, in a c. 1520 portrait by an anonymous artist, and in a c. 1536 portrait after Hans Holbein, National Portrait Gallery, London; Henry handing down the word of God in the frontspiece to the “Great Bible” of 1538, British Library, and among (above!) the Barber-Surgeons of London in 1541, Hunterian Museum, Glasgow; a rather romantic image of a key moment in the “King’s Great Matter”:  Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon before Papal Legates at Blackfriars, 1529 by Frank O. Salisbury, 1910, Palace of Westminster Collection.

Patriotic Patterns

Given my armchair observance of Patriots’ Day, and then everything that happened on that sad day (and is still happening), I thought I’d retreat into a safe material world and examine some of the patriotic products that were produced in the decades after the American Revolution, some in the new country and some for the new country. It seems appropriate to continue exploring expressions of patriotism; after all, the real anniversary of Lexington and Concord is today. Right after the Revolution (literally) home furnishings which reflected the revolutionary spirit were produced both in this country and oddly enough, in Britain. Maybe it’s not odd:  Britain was in the midst of the Industrial Revolution which was initiated by what I’ve always considered a uniquely pragmatic entrepreneurial attitude. I wish I could see the imagery more clearly in this first woodblock-printed wallpaper, but obviously it has deteriorated with time. Here is the catalog description from the Cooper Hewitt Museum: perhaps it will help you make out the Lexington Minuteman and his associates: Beside an Indian maiden, representing America, a patriot tramples British laws underfoot and extends the declarations of July 4, 1776, to Britannia, who weeps over a pedestal containing an urn, or a tomb. The whole is contained within a curtained arch. Printed in black, white and gray on a light colorless ground.

Patriotic pattern Minuteman

This paper was produced in America in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the same time as the textiles below, which are obviously in much better condition: The Apotheosis of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington  is a copperplate-printed toile fabric produced in several colorways in Britain between 1785-1800, right after the first big defeat of the British Empire. I love George Washington’s leopard-driven carriage!

Patriotic pattern Apotheosis Winterthur 2

Patriotic Pattern Apotheosis

Patriotic Pattern Apotheosis Bed Valence Dumbarton

Apotheosis of  Benjamin Franklin and George Washington fabrics in black and red colorways, collections of the Winterthur Museum and the Society of the Cincinnati; bed valence at Dumbarton House/National Society of the Colonial Dames of America.

British pottery manufacturers were also quick to take advantage of the newly-independent emerging American market. Even if you’re just a casual picker, I’m sure that you have run into some of the blue-and-white transferware of the Clews Brothers, James and Ralph, decorated with American scenes and symbols at their factory in Cobridge, England in the 1820s and 1830s. You see it everywhere, in all sorts of forms.

Patriotic Patterns  Clews at Skinner Auctions

Patriotic Patterns Clews Platter Skinner

“American” transferware, including a “States Design” platter below,  made by James and Ralph Clews in England,c. 1819-36, Skinner Auctioneers Archives.

And how many gilt mirrors emblazoned with eagles were produced in the Federal era (or reproduced afterwards)? So many, and again, produced in all shapes and sizes in both America and England. Below is a particularly nice eglomise (reverse-painted) example featuring the USS Constitution made in Providence by Peter Grinnell & Son right after the War of 1812. And from the next decade, a beautiful “patriotic overmantle painting” from a Rockport, Massachusetts home. It is tempera on plaster (I’m wondering how they took it off the wall???), and sold for $61,ooo at a Christie’s auction in 2008.

Federal Mirror Eglomise Providence

Patriotic Overmantle painting Rockport MA

This last painting does not really qualify as a commercially-produced product or a pattern, but it is so beautiful I wanted to include it. My last item–a handmade woven wool and linen coverlet with patriotic themes and symbols–dates from the mid-nineteenth century (1851 to be precise), just before patriotism becomes divided and divisive with the coming of the Civil War. Actually, even before 1850 the Abolitionist and Temperance movements produced their own patriotic/promotional objects. This lovely coverlet expresses a more personal patriotism, but also one in keeping with the functions of these other objects:  Americans wanted the symbols and imagery of their new nation on their walls, on their tables, and on their beds.

Patriotic Woven Wool and Linen Coverlet 1851 Skinnersp

Addendum:  Last night on Salem Common: thousands walking, running, praying in support of Boston.

Salem News David Le Staff Photo

Salem News:  David Le/Staff Photo.

Streets of Boston

Like everyone else, I was thinking about Boston a lot yesterday and as it was a non-teaching day I was very vulnerable to the drip drip of media “updates” while at home. So I turned off everything and looked through some books about Boston:  its history, its architecture, its culture. Much better! Then I began assembling some of my favorite images and impressions of the city, and as that seemed like a somewhat productive enterprise I began to feel even better. So what I have today is a very random sample of my “collection”, including old favorites, new discoveries, and images of past and near-present. Boston is a dynamic city which has experienced a lot of change in the past few decades, but when I look at these images I still see a recognizable city, with the exception of the harbor views–visual reminders that Boston’s first and foremost identity for several centuries was that of a port. Paul Revere would draw on these prints a few decades later for his pre-revolutionary depiction of the occupation of Boston by British ships.

PicMonkey Collage with border

Two James Turner etchings of Boston’s wharves in the mid-eighteenth century from The American Magazine (Boston: Rogers and Fowle, 1743-46) and a hand-colored etching by John Carwitham of “A South East View of the Great Town of Boston in New England in America” (London: c. 1730-60), American Antiquarian Society, Worcester.

A century later, it’s more about the streets of Boston, the emerging “hub of the universe” and “Athens of America”. The mid- to late-nineteenth century were heady days for Boston, which of course had left Salem in the dust. During my hunt yesterday, I was particularly surprised to find that my favorite British pioneering photographer, Francis Frith, had included several images of Boston in his “Universal Series”. Artworks of varying mediums–watercolor, oil, another photograph–to depict other city scenes at around the same time.

Boston Francis Frith

Boston Frish State house

Boston Benjamin Champney 1851

Boston Railraod Jubilee on Boston Common William Sharp 1851

Boston Tremont Street 1860

Francis Frith photographs of Boston Common and the Massachusetts State House, 1850s, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Benjamin Champney, Washington Street, Boston, 1850, Princeton University Graphic Arts Department; William Sharp, Railroad Jubilee on Boston Common, 1851, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Tremont Street, 1860, Halliday Historic Photograph Company, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

And then there are the novel views of the city, created by creative and entrepreneurial publishers, cartographers, and balloonists! The nineteenth century loved the “big picture”.

Boston Balloon View 1860

Boston Birds Eye Triptych

James Black, Boston, as the Eagle and Wild Goose See It”, 1860, Metropolitan Museum of Art; a Birds Eye View of Boston Triptych, 1903, ArtHouseGraffiti.

Of the later nineteenth- and early twentieth-century “Boston painters’, I think Arthur Clifton Goodwin was particularly adept at capturing Boston streetscapes in his impressionistic way. There are lots of Goodwin paintings to choose from (in auction archives and the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which gave him his own posthumous show in the 1970s), but I went with Copley Square (1908). Of course I had to include a painting from his fellow Boston Impressionist, the more well-known Childe Hassam, so I went for Mount Vernon Street (1919) one of the most beautiful, and reproduced, streets of Boston. Jump forward thirty years, and you’re looking at “old” Beacon Hill with the financial district rising above it from across the Charles River in Cambridge in an amazing (oil!) painting by Thomas Adrian Fransioli. I love the “modern” look of this painting, although I believe that Fransioli is referencing the present, the past, and the future. Boston looks like the “shining city on the hill” that it has always been.

Boston Copley Square 1908 Arthur Clifton Goodwin MFA

Boston Mt Vernon Street Childe Hassam 1919 Christies

Boston Beadon Hill Fransioli 1947 MFA

Arthur Clifton Goodwin, Copley Square, London , 1908, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Childe Hassam, Mount Vernon Street, Christies; Thomas Adrian Fransioli, Beacon Hill, 1947, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Patriots’ Day 2013

As I grew up in Maine and have lived the past few decades in Massachusetts, Patriots’ Day is a holiday that I have celebrated my entire life, traditionally with a walk along the Battle Road in Lexington, Lincoln and Concord. The holiday commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, and as Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820 it is recognized in my home state as well as my adopted one, a rare moment of concurrence for these two very different states. It is a day that has always had a spirit of collective festivity for me, as it coincides with both the coming of spring and the Boston Marathon, though this particular year that was obviously not the case as explosions at the finish line killed at least 3 people (including an 8-year-old boy) and wounded over 130 more. Someone took advantage of that collective festivity. An irritating cold kept me at home for the first time in many years, watching everything unfold throughout the day, bright morning to dark afternoon, from the vantage point of my bedroom television. Over the day, the contrast of reenactment and reality was striking, among other contrasting scenes. So much color and so much smoke: the images of the blasts on Boylston Street rising above the waving flags representing the nationalities of the 23,000+ participants in the Marathon–the last mile of which was dedicated to the victims of Newtown– struck me as particularly horrific in their juxtaposition of pride and terror.


Patriots Day Ap photo Michael Dwyer diverted runners

Patriots’ Day morning and afternoon:  the King’s Regular reenactors confront their militia counterparts on Lexington Green (Joanne Rathe/Boston Globe Staff); diverted runners walk down Commonwealth Avenue in Boston after the blasts (Michael Dwyer/AP photo).


I have been feeling a bit run down lately, which I attributed first to the typical murky New England spring weather and secondly to the end-of-semester rush, or some combination thereof. Then I realized it wasn’t just fatigue but also a certain sadness, brought on by the fact that I have been lecturing about assassinations all week. Teaching takes its toll! By coincidence, I was covering eras of extreme violence in two of my courses: a survey of the Renaissance and the Reformation and an introduction to European history. In the former, we’re in the midst of the religious wars of the second half of the sixteenth century, while in the latter we’re in the later nineteenth-century Belle Époque, which wasn’t all that belle if you ask me. So in just the last week, I’ve referenced the assassinations of  William I of Orange, leader of the Protestant opposition in the Dutch Revolt against Spain (1584), the French kings Henri III (1589) and Henri IV (1610), as well as (jumping forward three centuries) Tsar Alexander II of Russia (1881), U.S. President James Garfield (1881), President Carnot of France (1894), Prime Minister Cánovas del Castillo of Spain (1897), Elisabeth, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary (1898), King Umberto I of Italy (1900) and President William McKinley of the United States (1901). And then I woke up this morning to realize that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on this day in 1865–the icing on the cake.

Assassination Lincoln 1865 LOC

A pretty somber week indeed, but also an opportunity to explore the comparative natures of early modern and modern assassinations. I know the earlier era so much better, so it is easier for me to comprehend the religious environment that created the motivations and rationales for violent acts. This was a civil holy war between Christianity, and both sides were absolutely certain of the rightness and urgency of their cause. Nevertheless, in an age of divine-right rule, these assassinations were still shocking, particularly that of William of Orange, the first leader to be killed by a handgun.

Assassination William the Silent

PicMonkey Collage

Assassination Henri IV German Broadside 1610 BM

An 18th century image of William of Silent’s assassination, and variant covers of Lisa Jardine’s 2005 book:  The Awful End of Prince William the Silent. The First Assassination of a Head of State with a Handgun. German broadside illustration of the assassination of King Henri IV in 1610, British Museum.

As alarming as these murders were and are, it is the modern assassinations that I find even more chilling; even though they were targeting single individuals, they were seldom personal but rather acts of public relations–the propaganda of the deed.  Their frequency is equally chilling: in the last decade of the nineteenth century alone the leaders of nearly every western European nation were struck down, along with poor Empress Elisabeth (“Sisi”) of Austria, stabbed in the chest with a nail file while she was walking down a Geneva promenade accompanied only by her maid. Clearly no on was safe, and that was the central message that “organized” anarchism meant to convey.

Assassination Carnot 1894

Assassination Elizabeth

Aroused! Puck Magazine illustration with lady law and order preparing to slay the anarchist snake and President Carnot’s body lying in state, 1894; the front page of the San Francisco Call for September 11, 1898, reporting the assassination of Empress Elizabeth, both Library of Congress.

Ferns of North America

Desperate for green, and while I am waiting for my own ferns to pop out of the ground, I have been perusing various botanical books, several of which led me to some spectacular plates published right here in Salem in the later nineteenth century: Daniel Cady Eaton’s The Ferns of North America: Colored Figures and Descriptions, with Synonomy and Geographical Distribution of the Ferns (Including Ophioglossaceae) of the United States of America and the British North American Possessions (Salem, MA: S.E. Cassino, 1877-80) contains 81 beautiful lithographs hand-colored by James H. Emerton and C. E. Faxon. Another Salem surprise; I’m familiar with Cassino, whose diverse publications included everything from Black Cat Magazine to Bleak House, but this Eaton book is really spectacular.

PicMonkey Collage

Ferns of North America 2

Ferns of North America

I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised:  Cassino was trained as a naturalist before he turned to publishing, and seems to have been part of a New England circle surrounding the eminent Harvard naturalist Asa Gray which included Eaton and also John Robinson, head of the Botany Department at the (then) Peabody Academy of Science, whose somewhat less scholarly Ferns in Their Homes and Ours was also published by Cassino during this same time: the illustrations in Robinson’s book are less detailed and naturalistic (and certainly expensive) than those in Eaton’s, but still charming. Robinson designed the garden of the Ropes Mansion on Essex Street and his own large garden on Summer, right around the corner from my own house. While the former is still there, the latter is unfortunately buried under a parking lot. The Robinson house is still standing, however, and the garden plans are in the Library of Congress: they detail several fern borders similar to the illustration below.

Ferns Robinson 1

Ferns Robinson 2

How the Victorians loved their ferns, inside and out! The demand for books about ferns seems to be insatiable in the pre-1914 period, and the production of jardinières impressive. In the Victorian language of flowers, ferns were assigned mystical meanings, but also represented shelter, which might explain some of their interior attraction.

PicMonkey Collage

Ferns 1902 Binding by Margaret Neilson Armstrong

Plates from Shirley Hibberd’s Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste (1870); another recent find:  Frances Theodora Parsons’  How to Know the Ferns (1902) with an amazing cover by esteemed binding designer Margaret Nielson Armstrong.

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