THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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32 posts categorized "Exhibitions"

29 August 2017

Hope, Tragedy, Myths - and Curation.

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As our exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths  closes, the curatorial team involved share some memories, favourite items and ones that got away.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator

My research on the exhibition brought me to the State Russian Library in Moscow. I’m extremely grateful to all the  Russian colleagues who work there. They allowed me into their storage rooms and brought piles of folders with Soviet and Russian posters, postcards and other visual ephemera. I wanted to get on loan and show here, in London, everything: colourful candy wrappers with a picture of the brave Cossack Kozma Kriuchkov (eventually we decided to honour him in the exhibition with a poster from the British Library holdings), letter-templatess addressed to relatives from the front lines so that illiterate soldiers could send greetings home, photographs of the devastation in the Moscow Kremlin in November 1917, and many more.

Kriuchkov
Propaganda poster of Kozma Kriuchkov (Moscow, 1915) HS.74/273

But, of course, the one poster that would have been so appropriate was this one – Veriu, sotuiu vstretim godovshchinu! – I believe, we will celebrate the centenary!

Veriu - sotuiu vstretim godovshchinu
Image from http://www.sovposters.ru/view/347

The artist, who created this optimistic image in a pretty avant-garde style was Iurii Bondi (1889-1926). Curiously, his works for the Kostroma ROSTA (the Russian news agency) survived and today can be seen online, although he was best known among his contemporaries as a theatre artist and set designer, whose works often inspired the great Meyerhold, whom Bondi was working with. Bondi’s book illustrations were loved and praised by another big Russian celebrity of the early 20th century – poet Alexander Blok. We did not bring this poster to the British Library and did not ‘celebrate’ the centenary, but here is our one more chance to learn about people who lived through this extraordinary time.

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Susan Reed, Co-Curator

Working on the Russian Revolution exhibition has been a wonderful experience, but also a steep learning curve since I am – full disclosure time! – not a Russian specialist. I found myself learning lots of things I didn’t know about Russia and the Revolution of 1917, and discovering that some things I thought I knew were not as I had believed. I even discovered an unfamiliar bit of my own national history, the intervention of British troops in Northern Russia during the Russian Civil War.

In fact it was researching British involvement in Revolutionary Russia that led to one of my more exciting moments: finding a map in the National Archives drawn by Arthur Ransome for a report advocating intervention, which showed where food supplies were most plentiful. I almost jumped out of my seat! As a child I loved Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books with his hand-drawn maps on the end-papers, and here was a map with the same neat handwriting and detailed annotations, only this time in a deadly serious cause.

Simplicissimus 190218 Trojan Horse
Anti-revolutionary cartoon from  the German satirical magazine Simplicissimus, 19 Februiary 1918, LOU.F549

I was also able to advise on material from my actual area of expertise, Germany, where revolutions broke out in November 1918 and short-lived soviet-style governments were established in several cities. One of my favourite images in the exhibition is a cartoon from early 1918 showing a ‘Trojan Horse’ full of Bolsheviks being towed into Berlin, an example of how fears of revolution spread through Europe following events in Russia. Of course we had less space to deal with the revolutions outside Russia, but if there’s one exhibit I’d have liked to be able to show in this context, it’s Käthe Kollwitz’s picture of the murdered revolutionary Karl Liebknecht. Sadly we don’t have a copy ourselves, and decided not to borrow one, but like so much of Kollwitz’s work, it’s a powerful and moving image.

Kollwitz Liebknecht
Käthe Kollwitz, Memorial for Karl Liebknecht, 1919. (Image from WikiArt)

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Mike Carey, Collaborative Doctoral Student Nottingham University and BL

One thing we didn't get a chance to say much about was the impact of the Russian Revolution on the Chinese Revolution. A favourite item of mine which didn't make the final exhibit list is H.T. Tsiang's 'China Red' . The British Library has a copy signed by the author. He was a Communist, worked for Sun Yat-Sen's secretary up to 1925 during the first United Front, then emigrated to the USA when the KMT-Communist alliance split.

Tsiang - China Red

Cover (above) and author's signature (below) from H.S. Tsiang, China Red (New York, 1932) YD.2008.a.9385. 

Tsiang - Signature

It's a series of letters between an émigré Chinese revolutionary in the USA and his partner who stayed behind, chronicling the split in 1926-7. It opens with a poem about Lenin which is quite eccentric:

"Lenin!
Who is that guy?"

"He is not big
Neither is he high;
He has two hands,
And a pair of eyes;
Just as human
As you and I. ..."

H.T. Tsiang ended up working as an extra in Hollywood films – there’s a show-reel of him on Vimeo playing various caricatures and stereotypes. According to one account he became known in Hollywood for an ‘R-rated, one-man, one-hour adaptation of Hamlet’ which he performed every Friday night for ‘a dozen years’ (this Slate article has more about Tsiang).

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Katie McElvanney, Collaborative Doctoral Student QMUL and BL

Over the past two and a half years, my involvement in the exhibition has included selecting and translating materials, developing storylines and concepts, meeting with curators in Moscow to discus loans, writing object labels and articles on women and journalism for the British Library website, and producing  the timeline for both the website and the book published to accompanying the exhibition. Some of my favourite items on display include a beautiful hand-drawn wall newspaper issued by a local women’s collective in Yalta (complete with a sketch of the ultimate multi-tasking woman!) and an early Soviet propaganda poster promoting literacy.

Multi-tasking woman
The ultimate multi-tasking woman, detail from the wall newspaper The Yalta Female Delegate (1927) Add. MS 57556

One of the most valuable and rewarding aspects of working on an exhibition as part of a CDP is the chance to see how it takes shape over the three year period, from the early research and brainstorming stages through to the opening. As one of two CDP students working on the Russian Revolution exhibition project, I have benefited immensely from the knowledge, experience and support of a wider academic and exhibition team, as well as the wide range of British Library and CDP training and events on offer. While juggling the different aspects of a CDP is not without its challenges, I feel extremely fortunate and proud to have worked on the exhibition and to have gained such a range of experiences outside the immediate academic sphere of the PhD.

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We'd like to thank all the many colleagues within the BL who also put so much work into the exhibition, our external lenders and advisers, and the many people who have come to visit. We hope you have enjoyed seeing the exhibition as much as we enjoyed working on it!

RRCuratorstour290817-09
l-r. Susan, Katya, Katie, Mike.

27 July 2017

Robotic and Quixotic

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The current exhibition at the Science Museum on Robots and their history prompts some thoughts about robots in Spain.

Probably the most famous robot in Spanish literature is the bronze head in the house of Don Antonio Moreno, which appears in Don Quixote (Vol. II, ch. 62). Don Antonio leads Don Quixote into a room with “a table, apparently of jasper, resting on a pedestal of the same, upon which was set up, after the fashion of the busts of the Roman emperors, a head which seemed to be of bronze.” Swearing his guest to the strictest secrecy, he explains:

“This head, Senor Don Quixote, has been made and fabricated by one of the greatest magicians and wizards the world ever saw, a Pole, I believe, by birth, and a pupil of the famous Escotillo of whom such marvellous stories are told. He was here in my house, and for a consideration of a thousand crowns that I gave him he constructed this head, which has the property and virtue of answering whatever questions are put to its ear. He observed the points of the compass, he traced figures, he studied the stars, he watched favourable moments, and at length brought it to the perfection we shall see to-morrow, for on Fridays it is mute, and this being Friday we must wait till the next day. In the interval your worship may consider what you would like to ask it; and I know by experience that in all its answers it tells the truth.”

Quixote Bronze head 1730

 Don Antonio shows the talking head to Don Quixote, from Vida y Hechos del Ingenioso Cavallero Don Quixote de la Mancha ... (Madrid, 1730) 89.b.18.

The next day, Don Antonio takes his wife, Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, and two other gentlemen and ladies to test the bronze head. He approaches first and asks it what he is thinking of:

The head, without any movement of the lips, answered in a clear and distinct voice, so as to be heard by all, “I cannot judge of thoughts.”
All were thunderstruck at this, and all the more so as they saw that there was nobody anywhere near the table or in the whole room that could have answered. “How many of us are here?" asked Don Antonio once more; and it was answered him in the same way softly, “Thou and thy wife, with two friends of thine and two of hers, and a famous knight called Don Quixote of La Mancha, and a squire of his, Sancho Panza by name.”

The guests then ask their questions in turn: one woman wants to know how she can be beautiful and is told, “Be very modest.” The other asks whether her husband loves her and is advised to “Think how he uses thee”

One of the gentlemen asks the straighforward question “Who am I?”:

“Thou knowest,” was the answer. “That is not what I ask thee,” said the gentleman, “but to tell me if thou knowest me.” “Yes, I know thee, thou art Don Pedro Noriz,” was the reply.
“I do not seek to know more,” said the gentleman, “for this is enough to convince me, O Head, that thou knowest everything”.

The other gentleman asks about the wishes of his eldest son and receives the disturbing answer: “to bury thee.”

Don Antonio’s wife wants to know whether she will “have many years of enjoyment of my good husband” and is assured: ‘“Thou shalt, for his vigour and his temperate habits promise many years of life, which by their intemperance others so often cut short.”’

Don Quixote’s turn comes next:

“Tell me, thou that answerest, was that which I describe as having happened to me in the cave of Montesinos the truth or a dream? Will Sancho's whipping be accomplished without fail? Will the disenchantment of Dulcinea be brought about?”
“As to the question of the cave,” was the reply, “there is much to be said; there is something of both in it. Sancho’s whipping will proceed leisurely. The disenchantment of Dulcinea will attain its due consummation.”
“I seek to know no more," said Don Quixote; “let me but see Dulcinea disenchanted, and I will consider that all the good fortune I could wish for has come upon me all at once.”

Finally Sancho asks his questions and is less impressed with the answers than his aristocratic companions:

Head, shall I by any chance have another government? Shall I ever escape from the hard life of a squire? Shall I get back to see my wife and children?” To which the answer came, “Thou shalt govern in thy house; and if thou returnest to it thou shalt see thy wife and children; and on ceasing to serve thou shalt cease to be a squire.”
“Good, by God!” said Sancho Panza; “I could have told myself that; the prophet Perogrullo could have said no more.”
“What answer wouldst thou have, beast?” said Don Quixote; “is it not enough that the replies this head has given suit the questions put to it?”
“Yes, it is enough," said Sancho; “but I should have liked it to have made itself plainer and told me more.”

Quixote bronze head 1755
 Sancho interrogates the head and is rebuked by Don Quixote, from The History and Adventures of the Renowned Don Quixote. …(London, 1755) 12490.k.6.

This episode can be seen as a parody of the talking head of Friar Roger Bacon  but the romances of chivalry which Cervantes mocks consistently are full of automata. Given the magic which pervades the chivalresque genre, all these automata are presented as genuine.

Bronze Head of Friar Bacon
The legendary brazen talking head of Roger Bacon, from Robert Greene, The honorable historie of Frier Bacon and Frier Bongay (London, 1630) 11773.bbb.2.

But what we know and Quixote and Sancho do not is that Don Antonio’s marvellous head is a fake.

Quixote is easily taken in by humanoids: recall the the puppets of Maese Pedro (I, 22), and the windmills (I, 8).

Quixote puppets 1808Don Quixote attacks Maese Pedro’s puppets, from Historia del Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (Barcelona, 1808) 1070.e.17.

I’ve seen a street performer imitating a living statue of the Man of La Mancha in the streets of Cervantes’s home town of Alcalá.

And in 1621 the guild of silversmiths of Mexico City organised a procession of characters from the novel, in which Quixote himself wore a ‘mask of silver’ (máscara de plata) and carried a silver lance.

Superhuman’, a recent exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, examined how the human body has been improved and extended by prosthetics.

Rendered invulnerable (in his own estimation) by his plate armour, his grasp extended by his lance and his speed multiplied by his horse (likewise armoured), is not the Don himself a type of automaton?

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References:

Miguel de Cervantes, The ingenious gentleman : Don Quixote of La Mancha : a translation with introduction and notes by John Ormsby. (London, 1885). 12489.k.4. (Available online at: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Don_Quixote)

Jesús Duce García (ed.), Antología de autómatas en los libros de caballerías castellanos (Alcalá, 2016) YF.2016.a.16418

José Rojas Garcidueñas, Presencias de Don Quijote en las artes de México (1965)
X.0972/39.b.(1.)

28 April 2017

Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths

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The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens today, marking the 100th anniversary of the Revolution, an event that changed history and profoundly influenced the course of the 20th century. The exhibition follows Russian history from the reign of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, to the death of Lenin in 1924, telling the story not only from the perspective of key players and ‘great men’ but from that of the ordinary people who lived through these extraordinary times.

On entering the gallery, visitors will see two vast maps of ‘European’ and ‘Asian’ Russia before the First World War, giving an idea of the sheer scale of the Russian Empire. Alongside them is our rare first edition of the Communist Manifesto, the slim 24-page pamphlet whose influence would help to overturn that huge empire.

Intro pic
The introduction to the exhibition (picture by Sam Lane Photography)

The first main section of the exhibition explores the last years of Tsarist Russia in more detail, looking at the vast social and ethnic diversity of the Empire, at the growing political opposition to the monarchy and at the revolutionary events of 1905 which led to the establishment of Russia’s first parliament (Duma). Star exhibits here include the lavish album published to commemorate Nicholas II’s coronation and Lenin’s letter applying for a reader’s ticket for the British Museum Library.


Coronation-7-X2
An opening from the Coronation Album, Les Solennités du saint couronnement (St Petersburg, 1899) L.R.25.c.20 (picture by Sam Lane Photography)

The second section takes us from the outbreak of the First World War to the Revolutions of February and October 1917, the latter of which saw Lenin’s Bolshevik faction seize power. Among the documents on display are a copy of the Tsar’s abdication declaration, and ‘Order no.1’ issued by the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies on 1(14) March 1917, which overturned traditional military discipline and had a powerful effect far beyond the Petrograd garrison to which it referred. And one exhibit has a hidden personal story: a display of banknotes issued by the Provisional Government come from the family of the exhibition’s lead curator.

Order no. 1
‘Order no.1’ ([Petrograd, 1917]) HS.74/1870

In the third section we look at the Civil War which engulfed Russia in the aftermath of the October Revolution. In order to try and explain some of the complexity of this period – more correctly referred to as Civil Wars in the plural rather than a single two-sided conflict – a large animated map shows how the different factions gained and lost control. The formation of the Red Army is examined, with hand-written memoranda by Trotsky among the items displayed, but also in this section are some examples from the British Library’s collection of rare propaganda from the White (anti-Bolshevik) movement, ranging from seemingly uninspiring pamphlets on cheap paper to striking posters.

Cavalry
A White Army recruitment poster for Caucasian Muslim cavalrymen (1919). 1856.g.8.(30)

As the Civil Wars raged, the Bolshevik party were trying to consolidate and maintain their grip on power, and this is the theme of the fourth section. The devastating famine that spread through Russia and the Bolsheviks’ war on religion are also examined here, and of course we look at the fate of the Tsar and his family. Yet alongside these tragic events there was an outpouring of optimism among some that a better world was being born. We show some striking art and propaganda produced not only by avant-garde artists such as Mayakovsky but also by a group of women factory workers from Yalta, who produced their own ‘wall newspaper’, with essays, poems and pictures celebrating their work and their new-won literacy. This section also looks at the cult of Lenin that developed in Soviet Russia and at the experience of flight and exile for opponents of the new state.

Make%20Your%20Own%20Propaganda-1-X2
‘The Yalta Female Delegate’, Wall Newspaper (1927) Add.MS.57556 (picture by Sam Lane Photography)

The last section looks at international dimensions of the Revolution, first from the perspective of foreigners living in Russia during the period: journalists reporting on the situation, soldiers involved in allied anti-Bolshevik intervention during the civil war, and spies reporting on Russia’s new rulers. Then we turn to the influence of the Revolution outside Russia. The Bolsheviks hoped that revolution would spread from Russia, ‘setting the world on fire’, and indeed revolutions did break out in many European states, notably Germany and Hungary, but there were short lived ‘soviets’ in many other places, and communists around the world advocated the Soviet cause and formed links with Russian institutions. A banner presented to the Young Communist League of Shipley by Russian textile workers, and on loan to the exhibition from the People’s History Museum, illustrates such connections. Finally we look at the struggles for independence in states of the former Russian Empire and the formation of the Soviet Union in the early 1920s.

Moor Flame
A worker setting the world on fire with revolution, image from Dmitrii Moor, Azbuka krasnoarmeitsa ([Moscow, 1921]) Cup.401.g.25.

Finally, an epilogue looks at how the Revolution was depicted on film and in literature in the 20th century, featuring clips from famous and less well-known Soviet films, and the work of four Russian Nobel literature laureates.

The exhibition runs until 29 August, and we hope it will inform, inspire and intrigue visitors, taking them on a journey through a world-changing period of history and raising questions about how it should be understood today,and what contemporary resonances might be found in the events of 100 years ago. There is also a season of events with something for everyone from a late-night ‘Storming of the British Library’ to readings and lectures. Full details can be found on our website.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies, and Co-Curator of Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths

Red Army poster c British Library
Detail from Dmitrii Moor, ‘Have You Volunteered?’, Red Army recruitment poster (1920). HS.74/2009(10)

23 February 2017

Stefan Zweig’s Literary and Musical Treasures

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To mark the 75th anniversary of the death of the Austrian writer and collector Stefan Zweig (23 February 2017), the British Library has this week opened the display: ‘Stefan Zweig: The Magic of Manuscripts’ in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery.

Zweig_display_210217-01
The display in the Treasures gallery (Photograph: Elizabeth Hunter)

Fast re-becoming a household name in the English-speaking world, Stefan Zweig was the most-translated author of his day. His short stories, his biographies and his memoir, Die Welt von gestern (The World of Yesterday), quickly became bestsellers but his writing was only one part of his work. From an early age, Zweig began collecting the manuscripts of creative figures he admired like Goethe and Beethoven. Soon, he owned one of the most prestigious manuscript collections in Europe and Zweig considered this group of ‘sublime figures’ as much of an artwork as his writing. Exile to England in the 1930s precipitated the dispersal of his collection – some items were donated to appropriate institutions, most were sold. What was left was the essence, the refined core of his original idea and in 1986, Stefan Zweig’s heirs donated this great collection to the British Library.

Zweig London 1938
Stefan Zweig in London, 1938

Our display will celebrate the breadth and eclecticism amongst the literary, historical and musical manuscripts. It begins with a case dedicated to the many close friendships Zweig made across Europe, with manuscripts from Romain Rolland, Hermann Hesse and ‘the dear master’ Sigmund Freud. We move onto showing how Zweig’s writing often reflected his collection through figures such as Marie Antoinette (the subject of an incredibly successful biography by Zweig), Leo Tolstoy and Lord Byron.

Zweig_ms_171_f001r
Letter from Marie Antoinette to Count Xavier von Rosenberg (1775) Zweig MS 171, f.1.

Zweig was motivated by the ‘secret of creation’ and the way for him to get closer to that secret was through manuscripts that were ‘still warm from writing’. In other words, working drafts, works-in-progress, corrected proofs – anything that showed the mess of production. This is precisely what the third case displays with a leaf from the monumental bound corrected proofs of Honoré de Balzac’s Une Ténébreuse Affaire, which is certainly the collection’s most emphatic example of the creative process. Works by Goethe, John Keats, Paul Verlaine and Oscar Wilde join the Balzac in revealing the deviations, re-imaginings and second thoughts at the heart of the creative process.

Zweig_ms_163_recto
John Keats, lines from the poem ‘I stood tip-toe upon a little hill’ (1816) Zweig MS 163

The final case belongs to Zweig’s musical manuscripts, since music would dominate his later collecting period. In exile in the 1930s and more and more uncomfortable with the German language which was becoming contaminated by Nazism, music became a less-complicated artistic refuge. Manuscripts by Richard Strauss, Mozart and Schubert each tell a story about Zweig’s later life. In Schubert’s ‘An die Musik’, we hear the famous line repeated so often in Zweig’s memoirs: ‘Thou lovely art, how often in dark hours, when life’s wild tumult wraps me round, have you kindled my heart with loving warmth, and transported me to a better world.’

Mozart, Das Veilchen Zweig MS 56
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, ‘Das Veilchen’, a setting for voice and piano of a poem by Goethe. Zweig MS 56, f.1.

Other musical treasures from Zweig’s collection are also on longer-term display in the section of the gallery devoted to Music: a cantata by Gluck (Zweig MS 34), sketches for Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella (Zweig MS 94), and one of the greatest treasures in the collection, and indeed in the British Library, Mozart’s thematic catalogue of his own works (Zweig MS 63).

‘The Magic of Manuscripts’ will be on display until 11 June 2017 and to accompany the exhibition and celebrate the publication of the catalogue of the literary and historical manuscripts in the collection the Library will be hosting a study day and an evening of music and poetry from the Zweig Collection on 20 March. Tickets for these events are available through the links.

 Pardaad Chamsaz, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Student, British Library/University of Bristol

07 December 2016

Commemorating the Russian Revolution

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Last week the British Library announced some of our forthcoming cultural highlights for 2017. Among them is a major exhibition to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution. For the curators involved, this will be the culmination of many months of planning: deciding on the exhibition’s ‘storyline’ and selecting items from our rich collections to illustrate it, complemented by loans of artefacts from other institutions.

The exhibition will begin in the reign of the last Tsar, looking at social and political conditions in Russia in the early years of the 20th century, and exploring the growth of revolutionary movements. Exhibits will include the lavish album published to commemorate the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II and, at the other end of the political spectrum, a letter from Lenin (under the pseudonym ‘Jacob Richter’) applying for a reader’s ticket for the British Museum Library.

LR.25.c.20-Khodynka
Crowds celebrating the Coronation of Nicholas II from the album Les Solennités du saint couronnement... (St Petersburg, 1896). The scene here later turned to tragedy when there was a stampede for souvenir gifts, food and drink in which over 1,300 people were killed.

Among the items illustrating the Revolution itself, alongside images of events and key players, will be Order No. 1, published by the Petrograd Soviet in March 1917. This initiated a new era of soldier–officer relations, requiring officers to treat soldiers respectfully and giving soldiers the same rights as civilians when off duty, overturning centuries of traditional military discipline.

Order no. 1
Prikaz No. 1 (Order no. 1), 14 (1) March 1917. HS.74/1870

The Civil War which engulfed Russia in the aftermath of the Revolution is also examined, with material from both sides of the conflict. A striking White Army recruitment poster aimed at Muslim communities in the Caucasus is a reminder of the huge geographical, ethnic and linguistic scope of Russia and of the conflict that arose from the Revolution.

Recruiting Poster 1856.g.8.(30)
White Army recruituing poster, with text in four langauges: Russian, Arabic, Circassian and Nogay. 1856.g.8.(30)

The combination of War, Revolution and Civil War brought huge problems to Russia, and the tragedy of famine for people on all sides and none of the conflict. For many supporters – or perceived supporters – of the old order, the Revolution also led to exile from their homeland. Meanwhile the Bolsheviks were trying to consolidate and maintain power and to create and celebrate their new world. Drives for popular literacy and to encourage workers’ co-operation led to the creation of material such as a striking hand-painted and hand-lettered ‘wall newspaper’ produced by a local women’s committee in Yalta. It contains reports on their joint achievements, amateur poetry and stories intended to inspire and promote new communist values.

Ialtinskaia-delegatka-1927
Ialtinskaia delegatka (The Yalta Female Delegate), hand-lettered wall newspaper, 1927. The four women pictured are the main authors and artists.
Add MS 57556.

The Bolsheviks also hoped to export the revolution, and Socialist revolutionary movements flourished briefly in several European countries immediately after the First World War. At the same time, many of Russia’s former imperial possessions fought for independence from the new Russian state with greater or lesser degrees of success.

Red Army Alphabet World on Fire-Cup.401.g.25
Exporting Revolution: in this ‘Red Army Alphabet’ the letter G stands for the Russian word for ‘to burn’ (goret’). The picture caption reads: ‘The Earth burns with a fire / Lit by the worker’s hand.’ Dmitri Moor, Azbuka krasnoarmeitsa (Moscow, 1921). Cup.401.g.25

As well as the familiar figures and key players of the Revolution – the Romanovs, Rasputin, Lenin, Trotsky – the exhibition also seeks to convey the lives of ordinary people during these turbulent years, using quotations from contemporary diaries and letters. As the exhibition title, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths, suggests, there are many sides to the story of the Revolution, and many aspects that have been mythologised by subsequent generations. We hope that our telling of that story, based on the most recent research, will introduce it to new audiences and bring a fresh perspective to those familiar with it.

The exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths will run from 28 April until 29 August 2017 in the PACCAR Gallery. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website.

20 September 2016

Ira Aldridge's Polish Journey: Developing the Shakespearean Canon and Influencing Local Politics

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I was delighted to discover that the British Library’s recent exhibition Shakespeare in 10 Acts chose to tell the remarkable story of Ira Aldridge’s career – albeit only part of it. Although the famous black Shakespearean actor acquired star status in the UK provinces, he was never fully accepted in London by the cultural elites. Nevertheless his acting was celebrated on the Continent wherever he went. He toured extensively from 1852 to 1867: he went as far as Imperial Russia, including Poland and Ukraine, and visited Mongolia and Turkey.

Aldridge’s contribution to Shakespeare’s performance history was not limited to the question of race and his pioneering acting feats as Othello or King Lear (in whiteface). In the non-Anglophone reception of Shakespeare Aldridge is a very special case in the dissemination of his work. At the time not many proper translations were available to non-English speakers and thus Shakespeare was not staged frequently, in some places not at all (for example, in 1858 Aldridge brought Shakespeare to Serbia for the very first time with his Richard III) .

Ira Aldridge Lear 11797.a.32
Ira Aldridge as King Lear, from  S.Durylin, Aira Oldridzh  (Moscow, 1940). 11797.a.32

I will relate only one of Aldridge’s many continental success stories, one not mentioned in the exhibition, which took place in Poland (then occupied by Russia, Prussia and Austria). Some Polish scholars believe that Ira Aldridge is of unique importance in the reception of Shakespeare in Poland as his six visits, over the period 1853-1867, may not only have inspired more and better Polish translations of Shakespeare’s plays but also influenced the acting style of many Polish actors for years to come. Undoubtedly his first performances of Othello with German companies motivated Józef Paszkowski (1817-1861) to prepare a Polish translation of the original, which was used for the first time by a Warsaw troupe during Aldridge’s visit in 1863.

Ira Aldridge Othello
Othello and Desdemona from an edition of  Paszkowski’s Shakespeare translation (Warsaw,1875-1877). 11765.g.3. 

Most Polish reviews of his performances praised his realistic renditions of the roles. When touring, as a rule he performed in English with actors from a given country playing in their native languages but it is often claimed that because of his acting genius he proved that the imposed barriers of languages and cultures could be transcended, which he achieved by the ‘sweetness and softness of his voice’ and passion too.

In continental Europe Aldridge was awarded medals and honours wherever he went, including honorary memberships of many academies and arts societies. He consorted with kings, queens and emperors. But the famous black tragedian was also sensitive to the somewhat delicate political situation in partitioned Poland. When Poles boycotted him in Cracow because he played in a German theatre, for the first time he leaked to the press news of his involvement with the abolitionist movement in the USA, to prove that he sided with the oppressed, including Poles. As a result he was under constant surveillance by officials of Tsarist Russia who did not like it that Poles identified with Aldridge as an oppressed man in his self-professed exile. In the press he was often referred to as ‘our brother’ and his performances quickly became political events.

Aldridge died  in Łódz in provincial Poland where he was given a splendid funeral. A long funeral procession crossed the city, with members of the local theatre society carrying his medals and orders on red velvet cushions and a laurel wreath, while local people covered his grave with flowers. The grave is cared for by the Łódz Appreciation Society and many anonymous citizens decorate his grave on a regular basis with fresh flowers and candles. His tomb was renovated in 2001. In November 2014 a commemorative plaque designed by a renowned Polish artist, Professor Marian Konieczny, was unveiled at the entrance to the Museum of Cinematography in Łódz  (the former location of the theatre and Hotel Paradyz in which Aldridge was invited to perform); you can see a recording of the event made by Professor Sławomir Kalwinek of the National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź, here

Ira Aldridge memorial plaque Memorial Plaque to Ira Aldridge, Museum of Cinematography, Łódz [Image from http://www.polskaniezwykla.pl/]

Two plays about Ira Aldridge in Poland have been written and staged to date: Maciej Karpiński’s Otello umiera [‘Othello Dies’], first published in Dialog monthly, 2003, no. 1/2 (P.P.4838.kob); and Remigiusz Caban’s Murzyn może odejść [‘The Negro must leave’] (2010). Both plays were staged.

Dr Aleksandra Sakowska (MA University of Warsaw, PhD King's College London) 

References:

Krystyna Kujawinska-Courtney and Maria Łukowska, eds., Ira Aldridge 1807-1867 on the Bicentennial Anniversary of His Birth (Frankfurt am Main, 2009) YD.2009.a.9405

Krystyna Kujawinska-Courtney, Ira Aldridge 1807-1867: dzieje pierwszego czarnoskórego tragika szekspirowskiego (Krakow, 2009)


You can find out more about all aspects of Shakespeare’s life and works, including famous performances and performers on our Shakespeare web pages

17 August 2016

Umberto Boccioni 1882-1916

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On 17 August 1916 the Italian artist Umberto Boccioni, who was stationed in an artillery regiment near Verona, died from the injuries he suffered after he was trampled by his horse in a riding accident.

CM Boccioni Fig.1
A photograph of Boccioni taken shortly before his death. Reproduced in Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), genio e memoria, Edited by Francesca Rossi. (Milan, 2016). British Library LF.31.b.11722.

His untimely death – he was only 33 – deprived the Futurist movement of one of its key members. To mark the centenary of Boccioni’s death a major exhibition, “Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), genio e memoria”, was organised in Milan earlier this year, accompanied by a remarkable catalogue.

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Cover of the catalogue Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), genio e memoria

It was worthy tribute paid to the artist by the city he celebrated in some of his greatest paintings, making it the symbol of the modern metropolis. The rapid transformation and expansion of Milan can be seen in a series of works Boccioni painted between 1908 and 1911, which include his famous self-portrait showing him on the balcony of his apartment in Via Castel Morrone, in the Porta Venezia area.

  CM Boccioni Fig.3
Boccioni, Self portrait (1908) Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera.

In the background can be seen, in what were still the outskirts of city, several recently-erected buildings, one of them still under scaffolding. A similar urban landscape also features in two works painted in 1909 and 1910, Twilight and Factories at Porta Romana.

  
CM Boccioni Fig.4

Above: Twilight (Crepuscolo) 1909. Private Collection; Below: Factories at Porta Romana (Officine a Porta Romana) 1909-10. Milan, Gallerie d’Italia –Piazza Scala.

CM Boccioni Fig.5

Sharing an identical viewpoint, this time from the balcony of the apartment in 23 Via Adige, in the Porta Romana area, where Boccioni now lived with his mother and sister, but painted a few months apart, they show the rapid changes in the city. “The city rises” (to mention the title of one of Boccioni’s most famous paintings) so to speak in front of our very eyes. By the time Boccioni painted The Street enters the House (1911), showing his mother looking from the balcony into the the street below, the area has been even more dramatically transformed. The mood of this celebration of the modern city, full of dynamism, movement and activity, is not unlike that of several early Impressionist depictions of Baron Haussmann’s Paris.

CM Boccioni Fig.6
The Street enters the house
(La Strada entra nella casa), 1911. Hanover, Sprengel Museum. 

The exhibition in Milan (which will also be shown in Rovereto this autumn) demonstrated the enormous variety of Boccioni’s output both before and after he joined the Futurist movement in late 1909 or early 1910 becoming, with Marinetti, its major theorist. It also showcased two major recent discoveries of Boccioniana, both of them among the papers of Guido Valeriano Callegari, Boccioni’s brother-in-law, bequeathed to the Biblioteca Civica di Bologna in 1955 by his widow, Boccioni’s sister Amelia. Callegari was a noted scholar of Pre-Colombian America and the Boccioni material had remained unnoticed and uncatalogued among his papers for over half a century until it was discovered in 2009 on the occasion of a small exhibition the library organised to commemorate the centenary of the first Futurist manifesto. As well as books from Boccioni’s own library, it also includes a group of 22 large sheets pasted on cardboard, on which were mounted 216 cuttings from illustrated magazines reproducing works of art.

CM Boccioni Fig.7
A sheet from the ‘Memory Atlas’, reproduced in Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), genio e memoria

The images in this compilation – now called ‘Atlante della Memoria’ (‘Memory Atlas’) and reproduced in their entirety in the catalogue of the exhibition – a range from Medieval and Renaissance works of art to contemporary paintings and show the variety of visual influences on Boccioni between 1899 and 1909. Several works featured in the Atlas were included in the exhibition, where they were juxtaposed with works by Boccioni. After 1909 the compilation of the Atlas stopped and was replaced by a collection of cuttings of hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles about Futurist events, similarly pasted on large cardboard sheets. They were kept in three folders, the third of which was compiled after Boccioni’s death perhaps by his sister and brother-in-law.

Chris Michaelides, Curator Romance Collections

References:

Chris Michaelides, ‘Umberto Boccioni, Milan and Rovereto’, The Burlington Magazine, July 2016, CLVIII, pp. 578-80. P.P.1931.pcs.

Maurizio Calvesi, Ester Coen, Boccioni (Milan, 1983). LB.31.b.279.

Roberto Longhi, Umberto Boccioni (Florence, 1914). 7875.dd.31.

16 May 2016

One that got away. Daniel Urrabieta Vierge’s illustrations of Don Quixote (1906)

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Curating an exhibition inevitably involves a process of selection or, better maybe, de-selection. Items are chosen to support a coherent narrative, but practical considerations inevitably supervene. The copy of a particular book may be in poor condition, too tightly bound to open safely, or its dimensions prevent the inclusion of other books, as one simply has too many. In the case of the edition of Don Quixote illustrated by Daniel Vierge and first published by Scribner’s in New York in 1906-7, this could be included in the British Library’s exhibition ‘Imagining Don Quixote’ only at the expense of two smaller volumes. This was regrettable as his illustrations are highly original and stand out from many of those produced in the 19th century.

Daniel Urrabieta Vierge (1851-1904) was born in Madrid, but spent all his working life in France. He had an active early career illustrating events in the Franco-Prussian War and the third Carlist War. He also produced illustrations for works by Victor Hugo. However, in 1881 he suffered a paralysis to the right side of his body, which also affected his speech. He then taught himself to draw with his left hand and his career resumed.

Daniel-Vierge-Sketch-by-Himself-Engraved-by-Clement-BellhnDaniel Vierge. Sketch by Himself, engraved by Clement Bellenger.

Vierge’s involvement with Spain and with Don Quixote extended over some 30 years and culminated in the Scribner’s edition of Thomas Shelton’s 17th-century translation two years after his death (the British Library holds an edition published in London in the same year by Unwin). His earliest illustrations of the novel appeared in an incomplete part-work edition, published in Paris in 1875. None of those illustrations appear to have been re-used in the 1906 edition.

Vierge travelled to Spain in 1893. In this he was following in the footsteps of Gustave Doré, who had been in Spain in 1855 and 1861 before producing his highly successful illustrations for the 1863 editon of Viardot’s French translation of Don Quixote. Vierge executed a number of watercolours that were then used to illustrate the account of the Spanish journey of his friend, August F. Jaccaci.

Some of Vierge’s many watercolours and ink wash drawings were re-worked in pen and ink as a basis for the engravings of his edition of Don Quixote. The use of the new photogravure process permitted greater fidelity to the artist’s original and a finely detailed result. This is especially evident in the image of the preliminaries of the joust – which then never actually took place – between Don Quixote and the Duke’s lackey, Tosilos (Part II, ch. 56).

JoustVierge

 Preparing for the joust, Vierge’s illustration from Miguel de Cervantes, The History of the Valorous and Witty Knight-Errant Don Quixote of the Mancha … (London, 1906-07). British Library Tab.538.a.9

Another feature of Vierge’s illustrations is the impression that they create of a real, lived-in world, as in the drawing that appears in the preface of the Scribner’s edition (below).

DQhomeVierge

The picture shows Don Quixote at home, with his housekeeper, his niece and the odd-job man (Don Quixote, I, ch. 1). His greyhound can be seen behind the curtain.

Vierge’s travels in rural Spain gave him access to a world which had changed little from the time of Cervantes.

Geoff West, former Curator Hispanic Collections

References:

Daniel Urrabieta Vierge (1851-1904), creador de imágenes, ilustrador gráfico (Madrid, 2005). LF.31.a.2458.

Miguel de Cervantes, The History of the Valorous and Witty Knight-Errant Don Quixote of the Mancha, translated by Thomas Shelton; the illustrations by Daniel Vierge… (London, 1906-07). Tab.538.a.9

August F. Jaccaci, On the trail of Don Quixote: Being a Record of Rambles in the ancient province of La Mancha (London, 1897.) 10161.de.30, and available online

04 May 2016

The 'Shakespearomania' of Karl Marx

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Karl Marx's magnum opus Das Kapital (Hamburg, 1872; British Library C.120.b.1.) may have a reputation as an exceedingly dry and difficult book (causing William Morris to suffer acute ‘agonies of confusion of the brain’ in his reading of the great critique of political economy), but the toil is lightened by his frequent and often comic allusions to classical and European literature, from Aeschylus to Cervantes and Goethe.

His favourite though was always Shakespeare. Eleanor Marx, Karl’s daughter, described Shakespeare’s works as the Bible of the household, ‘seldom out of our hands and mouths’, and the German socialist biographer of Marx Franz Mehring pictured the whole family as practising ‘what amounted practically to a Shakespearian cult’. Marx reportedly read Shakespeare every day, and the family would entertain themselves on the walk back from their regular Sunday picnics on Hampstead Heath by dramatically reciting extracts from Shakespeare’s plays.

Marx’s friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels, co-author of the famous Communist Manifesto (London, 1848; C.194.b.289), displayed a similarly fierce passion for the bard in a letter to Marx, with characteristic invective, after the German dramatist Roderich Benedix  criticized Shakespeare’s overwhelming popularity:

That scamp Roderich Benedix has left a bad odour behind in the shape of a thick tome against ‘Shakespearomania.’ He proved in it to a nicety that Shakespeare can't hold a candle to our great poets, not even to those of modern times. Shakespeare is presumably to be hurled down from his pedestal only in order that fatty Benedix is hoisted on to it…

ShakespeareMarxBenedix

Marx and Benedix: United by the beard, divided by the bard. (Images from Wikimedia Commons)

Much has been written of Marx's use of the ‘old mole’ from Hamlet as a metaphor for revolution in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (for an interesting discussion of this theme see the article by Peter Stallybrass cited below), but also noteworthy is Marx’s repeated use of a passage from Timon of Athens which, he says, shows how ‘Shakespeare excellently depicts the real nature of money’:

Gold? Yellow, glittering, precious gold?
No, Gods, I am no idle votarist! ...
Thus much of this will make black white, foul fair,
Wrong right, base noble, old young, coward valiant.
... Why, this
Will lug your priests and servants from your sides,
Pluck stout men’s pillows from below their heads:
This yellow slave
Will knit and break religions, bless the accursed;
Make the hoar leprosy adored, place thieves
And give them title, knee and approbation
With senators on the bench: This is it
That makes the wappen’d widow wed again;
She, whom the spital-house and ulcerous sores
Would cast the gorge at, this embalms and spices
To the April day again. Come, damned earth,
Thou common whore of mankind, that put’st odds
Among the rout of nations.

ShakespeareMarxTimon1829 watercolour by Johann Heinrich Ramberg depicting Timon 'laying aside the gold'. (Image from Wikimedia Commons, original at the Folger Shakespeare Library).

Many literary critics have written interpretations of Shakespeare from a Marxist perspective, and several prominent commentators on Shakespeare (like George Bernard Shaw and Bertolt Brecht) drew on Marxian ideas in their understanding of his body of work. The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, unusually steeped in European literary culture for a Bolshevik, sought to explain what was so interesting about Shakespeare to Marxists:

In the tragedies of Shakespeare, which would be entirely unthinkable without the Reformation, the fate of the ancients and the passions of the mediaeval Christians are crowded out by individual human passions, such as love, jealousy, revengeful greediness, and spiritual dissension. But in every one of Shakespeare’s dramas, the individual passion is carried to such a high degree of tension that it outgrows the individual, becomes super-personal, and is transformed into a fate of a certain kind. The jealousy of Othello, the ambition of Macbeth, the greed of Shylock, the love of Romeo and Juliet, the arrogance of Coriolanus, the spiritual wavering of Hamlet, are all of this kind…

For Trotsky, Shakespeare represents the birth of modern literature by placing the individual man, his own personal desires and emotions, in the centre of the narrative, symbolizing the equally progressive and destructive aspirations for personal emancipation characterizing the bourgeois revolt against feudalism. After Shakespeare, he writes, ‘we shall no longer accept a tragedy in which God gives orders and man submits. Moreover, there will be no one to write such a tragedy.’

Mike Carey, CDA Student

References

Julius Roderich Benedix, Die Shakespearomanie (Stuttgart, 1873) 11766.g.14.

Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (London, 1970). X.519/4753.

Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, On Literature and Art (Moscow, 1976). X.809/42007.

Franz Mehring, Karl Marx: The Story of His Life (London, 1936). 010709.e.52.

Peter Stallybrass, ‘“Well Grubbed, Old Mole”: Marx, Hamlet, and the (Un)Fixing of Representation’, Cultural Studies 12, 1 (1998), 3-14. ZC.9.a.1419

Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (New York, 1925). 011840.aa.17.

The British Library’s current exhibition Shakespeare in Ten Acts is a landmark exhibition on the performances that made an icon, charting Shakespeare’s constant reinvention across the centuries and is open until Tuesday 6th September 2016.

21 January 2016

Imagining Don Quixote

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‘Imagining Don Quixote’, a free exhibition focusing on how Cervantes’ novel has been illustrated over time, opened in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery on 19 January and runs until 22 May. It explores how different approaches to illustrating the work have reflected changing interpretations both of Don Quixote, the novel, and of its eponymous protagonist. The most significant shift has been in the perception of Don Quixote as figure of burlesque fun to noble idealist brought low. This blog post looks at the depiction of Don Quixote himself.

Miguel de Cervantes’ El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha, published in two parts (1605, 1615), tells how Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, his squire, set out to win fame by righting wrongs and succouring the weak and distressed. Cervantes gives succinct descriptions of Don Quixote: ‘approximately fifty years old; his complexion was weathered, his flesh scrawny, his face gaunt’ (DQ I, 1); later Don Diego de Miranda was ‘amazed by the length of his horse, his height, his thin, sallow face… a form and appearance not seen for many long years’ (DQ II, 16). Even so depictions of Don Quixote have varied over time and differences reflect changing views of the novel. In the 17th century it was appreciated for its burlesque, often physical humour, and character was subordinate to narrative. Illustrators do portray Don Quixote as tall and elderly, Sancho as shorter and more stout, but the contrast is not an exaggerated one, as in this anonymous English illustration:

Don Quixote Cerv.336
Frontispiece of Miguel de Cervantes, The History of the Most Renown’d Don Quixote (London, 1687) British Library Cerv.336

In the 18th century the editors of the first scholarly edition (1738) saw the novel as a satire directed against fantastical literature which caused readers to confuse fiction with history. They restricted the physical humour in the illustrations and sought to elevate the character of Don Quixote. Here he courteously greets two women as noble ladies, although Cervantes’ text indicates that they are prostitutes (DQ I, 2).

Don Quixote 86.l.2-5
Miguel de Cervantes, Vida y hechos del ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (London, 1738)  86.l.2-5

John Vanderbank’s illustration adds a nobility of gesture to Quixote’s height, as prescribed by Cervantes. 

One artist was crucial in establishing a sympathetic image of Don Quixote: Gustave Doré (1832-1883). The illustrations of his monumental edition (Paris, 1863) have been reproduced in many later editions. Doré’s Quixote is elongated and thin indeed but his bearing is altogether more heroic, especially in outdoor scenes. This portrayal – looking upwards, lance pointing skyward - accords with the growing Romantic tendency to see Don Quixote as an idealist brought low by harsh reality and the mockery of others (DQ I, 3).

Don Quixote Doré 12491.m.2
Miguel de Cervantes, The History of Don Quixote…. (London, 1876-1878)
12491.m.2

Until around the middle of the 19th century not only book illustration, but also prints, drawings and paintings had depicted specific episodes of the novel. However, Doré’s contemporary Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) focused almost exclusively on the two protagonists. The skeletal figure of the tall, thin knight on a painfully bony horse is instantly recognizable and has become part of our collective imagery. Here, Sancho Panza is represented only by the smaller, rotund figure in the background.

Don Quixote Daumier 2
Honoré Daumier, Don Quixote (1868). Neue Pinakothek, Munich.

Mention Don Quixote and Sancho today to most people and the image of a tall, thin man, accompanied by a short, fat man will come to mind. And that is without having read Cervantes’s novel. The image they are recalling, however vaguely, is most probably Picasso’s pen-and-ink drawing of 1955.

Don Quixote Picasso
Picasso  ‘Don Quixote’ (1955). (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Don Quixote is long of face and body; his horse, Rocinante, more haggard still; by contrast, rotund Sancho Panza sits comfortably on his donkey. Picasso’s drawing continues the restricted representation begun by Daumier in the previous century. Picasso also includes the windmills that appear in the best-known episode, when Quixote mistakes them for giants. The sun makes the drawing more emblematic of Spain.

Separation of the image of Don Quixote from the novel’s narrative has also enabled its use in many other contexts: propaganda, advertising, postcards, playing cards, ceramics, porcelain figurines…  All of which serve to keep the picture of the tall, thin knight and his rotund squire in our collective mind. 

Geoff West, former Head of Hispanic Collections

References/further reading

Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, translated by Edith Grossman (London, 2004). Nov.2005/1526

La imagen del ‘Quijote’ en el mundo (Barcelona, 2004). LF.31.b.1670

Patrick Lenaghan, Imágenes del Quijote: modelos de representación en las ediciones de los siglos XVII a XIX (Madrid, 2003). LF.31.a.88

Rachel Schmidt, Critical Images: the Canonization of Don Quixote through Illustrated Editions of the Eighteenth Century (Montreal & Kingston, 1999 2708.h.767