THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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Exploring Europe at the British Library

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Discover the British Library's extensive collections from continental Europe and read news and views on European culture and affairs from our subject experts and occasional guest contributors. Read more

27 November 2017

The Scythians of the North Pontic Area

The Scythians (Σκύθες), currently the subject of an exhibition at the British Museum, were nomadic herdsmen who spoke an Iranian language and inhabited the steppes of modern Ukraine, Moldova and southwestern Russia (the Don River basin). The Scythians appeared in the territory of modern Ukraine in the 7th century BC, having come from the steppes of Inner Asia. After a while the bands of Scythian warriors crossed the Caucasus Range and attacked the states of the Middle East – Urartu, Assyria, Media, Babylonia. Scythian warriors are even mentioned in the Bible (Colossians 3:11). Almost 30 years the Scythians terrorized the Middle East, and then returned to the North Pontic steppes. Here the Greek city-colonies such as Tyras, Olbia, Chersonesus and Panticapaeum, the capital of the Bosporan kingdom, were their neighbors and trading partners.

ScythiansCernenkoMcBrideCover

 Cover (above) and map (below)  from E.V.Chernenko, The Scythians 700-300 BC, colour plates by Angus McBride (London, 1983), X.622/16001

ScythiansCernenkoMap

At the end of the 6th century BC the Scythians became well known throughout the civilized world, having defeated the Persian king Darius I. A century later the “Father of History”, the Greek scholar Herodotus, wrote about this war. He composed a detailed description of Scythia including its borders, which generally coincide with the borders of modern Ukraine, the names of neighboring tribes, the story of the campaign of Darius, the retreat of the Scythians and the further expulsion of the Persians, the description of Scythian life and the burial of Scythian kings in barrows.

ScythiansHerodotCover

 Cover of a Ukrainian translation of Herodotus Istoriï v devi’aty knyhakh (Kyiv, 1993) YA.1998.a.5482

The Scythians were known in the Hellenic world first of all as skilful mounted archers and brave warriors. Scythian mercenaries served in Athens as guardians of order; they were a kind of police. Weapons of Scythian types – short swords, bronze arrowheads, scale armour – have been found not only in Scythia but also in Central Europe, Iran, and Central Asia – wherever the Scythian warriors sent their horses.

Except for the work of Herodotus, the only source for the study of Scythian nomads is their archeological sites – the burial mounds known as kurgans. In the North Pontic Steppes stand thousands of these kurgans of varying heights – from 20-metre-high royal tombs to the low mounds of ordinary herdsmen which are hardly visible. In fact, the archeology of Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire, began with the excavation of Scythian royal burial mounds and Greek cities in the 18th century.

The first of these – Lyta Mohyla – was excavated in 1763 on the orders of General A.P. Melgunov near the modern city of Kropivnitsky. In this kurgan (known also as the Melgunov Kurgan), dated to the early 6th century BC, evidence of the Near Eastern campaigns of the Scythians – a sword, battle-axe and throne decorated with gold in the Assyrian-Urartian manner – was discovered. It is interesting that the first Scythian kurgan to be excavated was found to be the oldest.

ScythiansMelgunovBarrowDescription of  a golden sheath and fragment of sword hilt from Melgunov’s kurgan. From Ellis H.Minns, Scythians and Greeks. A survey of ancient history and archaeology on the north coast of the Euxine from the Danube to the Caucasus. (Cambridge, 1913). 7706.i.19.

In the 19th-early 20th century, such famous kurgans of 4th-century BC Scythian kings as Kul-Oba (1830), Chortomlyk (1862-1863), Solokha (1912) were excavated in the territory of modern Ukraine. It was in these barrows that masterpieces of jewellery with the images of Scythians were found: the golden cup from Kul-Oba, silver amphora and golden gorytus (Scythic bow-case and quiver in one)  from Chortomlyk, and a silver cup and golden comb from Solokha. These finds then went to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg where they are still kept.

ScythiansWikimediaImage3Gold comb with the image of a battle scene. 430-390 BC. From the Solokha kurgan, Zaporizhia Region. Found by N.I.Veselovsky in 1913 during excavations conducted by the Imperial Archaeological Committee (State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg; photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The excavations of Scythian royal kurgans were continued in 1958 by the patriarch of Ukrainian Scythian studies, Professor Oleksiy Terenozhkin, who discovered the Melitopolsky Barrow. 

ScythiansMelitopolBarrow

 Cover of: A.I. Terenozhkin and B.N. Mozolevskiĭ, Melitopolʹskiĭ kurgan (Kyiv, 1988). YA.1992.a.8828

Next came the sensational finds from the Haymanova Mohyla near Zaporizhia (1969), Tovsta Mohyla near Nikopol (1971), Berdyansk Kurgan (1979), and Bratolubivka (1990). At the same time, hundreds of low mounds of ordinary Scythians were unearthed in the Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Kherson, Mykolayiv, and Odessa regions of Ukraine.

ScythiansWikimediaImage2Silver gilded bowl with relief images of Scythian warriors. 4th century BC. From the Haymanova Burial Mound, Zaporizhia Region. Excavated by V.I.Bidzilya, 1969-70. (Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine, Kyiv.)

ScyhiansWikimediaImage1
Gold r
itual vessel with relief images of griffins, lions, horses and deer. 5
th century BC. From the Bratolyubivka Burial Mound, Kherson Region. Excavated by A.I.Kubyshev, 1990. (Institute of Archeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Kyiv.)

All these sites are dated to the 4th-5th centuries BC – the heyday of Scythia. And not without reason, the symbol of Ukrainian archeology became the famous golden pectoral found by Boris Mozolevsky in the Scythian royal barrow of the 4th century BC at Tovsta Mohyla  in 1971.

ScythiansMozolevskyiCoverCover of Borys Mykolaĭovych Mozolevsʹkyĭ, Tovsta Mohyla (Kyiv, 1979). X.421/20845

The end of the Scythian steppe culture came in the early 3rd century BC. Under the onslaughts of related but hostile newcomers from the east the Scythian entity, already being weakened by internal problems, disintegrated. The remnants of the Scythians migrated west to the Dniester and Lower Danube. Gradually the Scythians were assimilated by the Sarmatians  and Goths  and by the middle of the 3rd century AD they disappeared as a political and ethnic unit.

ScythiansPectoralBlackGold and enamel pectoral – a ceremonial adornment of a Scythian king. Mid-4th century BC. From the Tovsta Mohyla kurgan. Dnipropetrovsk  Region. Excavated by B.M.Mozolevsky, 1971.  (Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine, Kyiv; photo from:  Wilfried Seipel, Gold aus Kiew. 170 Meisterwerke Aus Der Schatzkammer Der Ukraine. Eine Ausstellung Des Kunsthistorisches Museum. (Vienna, 1993)).

Dr Oleksandr Symonenko, Chief Research Fellow in the Institute of Archaeology of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences in Kyiv, Corresponding Member of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Berlin.

Further reading:

E. V. Chernenko, Skifskie luchniki (Kiev,1981).X.629/17920

E.V. Chernenko, Die Schutzwaffen der Skythen (Stuttgart, 2006).X.0415/55(3) [BD.2]

Gold der Steppe: Archäologie der Ukraine (Neumünster, 1991). Awaiting shelfmark

25 November 2017

New Sources for Book History Conference.

On 28 November 2017, the British Library is hosting a conference on Combined Methodological Approaches for Manuscripts and Printed Books (text and images; material evidence; historical bibliographical and documentary sources; sale and auction catalogues; etc.). The conference will be held in the Eliot and Dickens rooms of the British Library’s Knowledge Centre and is organised by Laura Carnelos (Marie Curie Fellow at CERL), Stephen Parkin (Curator, Printed Heritage, British Library), and Cristina Dondi (Lincoln College Oxford, CERL, Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI).

New sources book history ConferencePostcard4

When Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin’s L’apparition du livre (Paris, 1958; 9010.a.1/49) was first published, a new research field was opened up, launching an innovative approach to book history. Studies started to appear not only on the production, distribution and reading of books, but also more widely on the materiality, multiple uses, forms, meanings and influences of the book within a given society. Decades of systematic cataloguing, the integration of records into large databases, the development of digital tools and resources which can handle huge quantities of high-quality bibliographical data now make it possible to undertake new kinds of research.

The main question this one-day conference will try to address is: what sources and methodologies are now used by librarians, historians and other such users and what are the possible outcomes?

The day will consist of four main sessions will follow up during the day, dedicated respectively to manuscripts, blockbooks and 15th-century books, and early modern printed books (16th-19th centuries). The papers for each session are listed below (a copy of the full programme with timings can be found here).

Session 1 (9.15-10.45):
Ivan Boserup (The Royal Library, Copenhagen), Strategies for Separating Authentic and Forged Colonial Manuscripts of the Private Collezione Miccinelli in Naples.
Angéline Rais (University of Oxford), Sir Thomas Phillipps’s purchases of manuscripts in Switzerland: an analysis of sources.
Cristina Dondi (University of Oxford, CERL), From liturgical data to historical evidence in the study of books of hours.

Session 2 (11.15-13.00):
Bettina Wagner (Staatsbibliothek, Bamberg), Methodological approaches to 15th-century blockbooks.
Claire Bolton (Oxford), Measuring skeletons - discovering the printer.
Sabrina Minuzzi (University of Oxford), New tricks for provenance lost in miscellanies: documentary evidence, coloured edges and historical catalogues in MEI.

Blockbook IA.11
A calendar page for November from a 15th-century blockbook ([Leipzig, ca 1490?]) IA.11

Session 3:
Paolo Sachet (Università della Svizzera Italiana), Exploiting Antiquarian Sale Catalogues: Blueprint for the Study of Sixteenth-Century Books on Blue Paper.
Francesca Tancini (University of Bologna), New sources for dating illustrated Victorian popular books: illustrators’ diaries, printers’ ledgers, woodblocks and drawings.
Laura Carnelos (CERL), The study of rare popular books through PATRIMONiT: a combined methodological approach.
Richard Sharpe (University of Oxford), A hidden collection of Irish manuscripts.

In the fourth and last session posters relating to six international projects will be presented by Toby Burrows (University of Western Australia and of Oxford); Ilaria Andreoli (CNRS-ITEM, Paris; Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice) and Ilenia Maschietto (Giorgio Cini Foundation, Venice); Veronika Girininkaitė (University Library of Vilnius); William Stoneman (Houghton Library, Harvard); Helwi Blom, Rindert Jagersma, Juliette Reboul (Radboud University, The Netherlands); and Sofie Arneberg (National Library of Norway).

Other posters will be presented in the Dickens room by Irène Fabry-Tehranchi (British Library), Simona Inserra, Marco Palma and their group (Catania City Library), Cristiana Iommi (Biblioteca civica Romolo Spezioli di Fermo); Rosa Parlavecchia (Catania and Salerno Universities); Christian Scheidegger (Zentralbibliothek Zürich); Sonja Svoljšak and Urša Kocjan (National and University Library’s Early Prints Collection, Ljubljana).

The conference has been organized in collaboration with the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL) and the British Library. A live streaming of the conference will be available on the day in the Dickens Room to a limited number of participants and then on the CERL website to a wider audience.

With the aim of producing a coherent and methodologically innovative volume, subject to peer review, the proceedings will be published on open access and available via the CERL website by March 2018.

The conference and the publication are sponsored by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skolodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 659625. The main conference is already fully booked, but a few places are available in the Dickens room. If you are interested please contact Laura Carnelos: laura.carnelos@cerl.org

Print workshop
A printing workshop, from the title page of Bernardus Mallinckrodt, De ortu ac progressu artis typographicæ dissertatio historica ... (Cologne, 1640) 274.d.12.

23 November 2017

Exhibiting Martin Luther – then and now

Our current Treasures Gallery display focuses on Martin Luther to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. But this is not the first time that our holdings have been showcased for a Luther-related anniversary.

In 1883, George Bullen, Keeper of the Department of Printed Books in the then British Museum Library, organised an exhibition to mark the 400th anniversary of Luther’s birth. In his introduction to the short accompanying catalogue (‘price twopence’), he notes that the anniversary celebrations in Germany had ‘attracted … much notice and sympathy in this country’ and says that a suggestion for an exhibition ‘formed of the numerous books, pamphlets and broadsides contained in the Museum’ had been ‘cordially adopted’ by senior staff there.

BML 1883
Title-page of the 1883 exhibition catalogue (London, 1883) 4999.bbb.17

Looking at the catalogue, it’s gratifying to know that, 134 years later, the team behind our display made selected many of the same items to exhibit as Bullen and his colleagues did. Of course it’s also inevitable since some items were such obvious choices: the 95 theses, the Indulgence that triggered them, the Papal Bull condemning Luther, the ‘September Testament’, and Luther’s first complete German Bible. A surprising omission in 1883 was Luther’s response to criticisms of his Bible translation, the Sendbrief von Dolmetschen – perhaps the more so since Bullen did show Hieronymus Emser’s attack on Luther’s translation (pictured below).

Emser Auss was Grund
Hieronymus Emser, Auss was grund unnd ursach Luthers dolmatschung uber das nawe testament dem gemeinē man billich vorbotten worden sey (Leipzig, [1523]; 1012.c.15).

Two other choices we shared were an edition of Henry VIII’s Assertio septem sacramentorum and a book-binding stamped with portraits of Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, but those currently on display are definitely not the same as the ones shown in 1883: we have a Rome edition of the Assertio while Bullen chose a London one, and the binding we are displaying comes from the collection of Henry Davis which was bequeathed to the British Library in 1977.

Bullen had more space than our modest four cases: his exhibition was mounted in the Grenville Library, to the right of the Museum’s entrance hall (now a gift shop), where he was able to show a wider range of items. In some cases these helped add context to other exhibits. For example there were copies of other writings against indulgences alongside the 95 theses, including German-language pamphlets which took Luther’s arguments to a wider audience. Likewise the Assertio septem sacramentorum was accompanied by the pamphlet De Captivitate Babylonica Ecclesiae which inspired Henry’s response, and by Luther’s own reply to the Assertio.

On Aplass c.37.e.49
On Aplas von Rom kan man wol selig werden
([Augsburg, 1520?]) 3906.b.55. A German pamphlet against indulgences, with a portrait of Luther on the title-page. 

The 1883 exhibiton also had space for more Bibles, including some of some of the first sections of Luther’s Old Testament to be printed, and the splendid Bible of 1541 with manuscript inscriptions by Luther, Philipp Melanchthon and other reformers.

Luther inscription 679.i.15
Inscription in Luther’s hand, with the opening of Psalm 23 and four lines of commentary. From the first volume of Biblia, das ist, die gantze Heilige Schrift (Wittenberg, 1541) 679.i.15

Other exhibits from 1883 touch on areas we couldn’t accommodate, including pamphlets by Luther on theological topics, works of scriptural exegesis, and copies of his services for baptism and the mass. Bullen also found room for some manuscript letters, including one from Luther to Thomas Cromwell (MS Harley 6989, f.56) which had in fact been on my initial longlist but missed the final cut.

Auslegung Deutsch 3905.bbb.22.

Examples of items shown in 1883 but not in 2017. Above: Martin Luther, Auslegung Deutsch des Vatter Unser ... (Leipzig, 1519) 3905.bbb.22, an exegiesis of the Lord’s prayer for German-speaking lay people. Below: Martin Luther, Vom Eelichen Leben (Wittenberg, 1522) 3905.dd.76, Luther’s treatise on marriage.

Vom Eelichen Leben 3905.dd.76

One theme which we chose to feature and Bullen did not was pro-and anti-Lutheran visual propaganda, such as the Passional Christi und Antichristi ([Wittenberg, 1521]; C.53.c.3.) which compares the perceived corruption of the papcy with the life of Jesus, or Thomas Murner’s attack on Luther, Von dem grossen Lutherischen Narren. Perhaps these were seen as too frivolous or too crude for contemporary tastes. A number of pictures from the Department of Prints and Drawings were shown, but these were nearly all straightforward portraits rather than propaganda prints or caricatures.

Murner Narren
Too crude for Victorian visitors? An image of Luther being stuffed into a privy, from Thomas Murner, Von dem grossen Lutherischen Narren (Strassburg, 1522) 11517.c.33. Shown in 2017 but not in 1883

I suspect that our final exhibit of a Playmobil Luther figure and a Luther rubber duck (below) would certainly have raised eyebrows in 1883, but the display then also included commemorative souvenirs, albeit in the less frivolous form of items from the Department of Coins and Medals. And placed on a table in the gallery was ‘a statuette of Luther modelled in terra-cotta by Mr Charles Martin, after Lucas Cranach’s portrait, lent for exhibition by Mr Martin.’ No doubt a more realistic and sober representation than our souvenirs, but that in itself shows how attitudes to the culture of commemoration have changed since Bullen’s day.

Duck and little luther

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

The Treasures Gallery display continues until 4 February 2018. 

21 November 2017

Orwell in Translation

George Orwell’s Animal Farm was first published on 17 August 1945 and on 28 August the Russian scholar and critic Gleb Struve wrote to Orwell to say that he found the book “delightful” and would like to translate it for the benefit of Russians, “who could read the truth about their country only when outside it”. Replying to this letter on 1 September, Orwell wondered “what the procedure is. Are books in Russian published in this country, i.e. from non-official sources?” He told Struve that, at about the same time, he had received a letter from a Pole who wanted to translate the book into Polish. Orwell’s main worry was how to pay his translators, but he said he was “anxious that the book should find its way into other languages. If translations into the Slav languages were made, I shouldn’t want any money out of them myself (The Complete Works of George Orwell (CWGO), vol. 17, pp. 274-5). 

Animal Farm Polish

Cover page of Polish translation: Zwierzęcy folwark ....(London,1947). 012642.pp.100.

The first translation of Animal Farm into a Slavic language – in fact, into any language! – was into Polish. It was made by Teresa Jelenska, the wife of a Polish diplomat, and published at the turn of 1946 and 1947 in London by the League of Poles Abroad.

Teresa Jelenska was also instrumental in putting her son’s friend, a young Polish-born Ukrainian Ihor Szewczenko  in touch with Orwell. Szewczenko, then aged 25, wrote to Orwell in April 1946 immediately after he had read Animal Farm and saw at once, as he put it, “that a translation of the tale into Ukrainian would be of great value to my countrymen” (CWGO, vol. 19, p. 72). Szewczenko (who later changed the spelling of his name to Ševčenko, the heading under which his works can be found in the British Library’s catalogue), translated Animal Farm while commuting between Munich, where he lived with his wife and mother-in-law, both Soviet-Ukrainian refugees, and Quackenbrück in the British zone of Germany, where he worked for a Polish newspaper.

A year later, when the translation was ready for publication by the Munich publisher Prometheus, Szewczenko wrote to Orwell again asking him for a preface for the book and Orwell, although he was “frightfully busy”, did indeed write the preface to the Ukrainian edition, which remains his most detailed explanation of his motives for writing the “fairy story”. He was particularly glad to find out from Szewczenko, who published his translation under the pseudonym of Ivan Cherniatynskyi, that his publishers in Munich were the Soviet Ukrainians, who defended the “acquisitions of the October revolution”, but turned against the “counter-revolutionary Bonapartism” of Stalin and the Russian nationalistic exploitation of the Ukrainian people. Orwell was “encouraged to learn that that kind of opposition exists in the USSR” (CWGO, vol. 19, p. 73).

Animal Farm Ukrainian

Cover of  the Ukrainian translation. Kolhosp tvaryn: kazka. Translated by ‘Ivan Cherniatynskyi’ with an introduction by George Orwell. ([Munich, 1947?]) 12593.f.40.

The first Ukrainian edition was not very lucky. Orwell informed his friend, writer Arthur Koestler on 20 September 1947 (CWGO, vol. 19, pp. 206-7), that “the American authorities in Munich have seized 1500 copies of it and handed them over to the Soviet repatriation people, but it appears 2000 copies got distributed among the DPs (Displaced Persons) first”. In the same letter Orwell told Koestler that he had given Szewczenko his address and added: “I have been saying ever since 1945 that the DPs were a godsent opportunity for breaking down the wall between Russia and the West”. Shortly before that, in his review of James Burnham’s book The Struggle for the World (London, 1947; 8011.ee.32.), he expressed a similar thought even more directly: “one of the most important problems at this moment is to find a way of speaking to the Russian people over the heads of their rulers” (CWGO, vol. 19, p. 105).

It was precisely the plan to send Animal Farm into the Soviet Union that made Orwell agree to fund the publication of Gleb Struve’s translation into Russian by the DP publisher Possev. Approached by Possev six months before his death, Orwell immediately supported the idea of publishing the translation in a book form (it had already been serialized in the publisher’s weekly magazine of the same name (no. 7-32, 1949) and smuggling it into the USSR, but he still wanted to know for sure who he was dealing with. “I suppose the editors of this paper are bona fide people and also not Whites?” – he asked his recent acquaintance, a German communist Ruth Fischer in a letter of 15 July 1949 (CWGO, vol. 20, p.146). The first part of his question could easily be confirmed, but it was more complicated with the second. As Orwell had feared Possev, unlike the Ukrainian publishers of Animal Farm, were indeed “Whites”. They enjoyed Orwell’s satire of the Soviet regime, but could not stomach him satirising the church and religion and the role they played in society. That is why – as it became known much later, in the 1980s – they censored Orwell and cut out from Animal Farm two paragraphs describing the role of Moses, the tame raven, who tells the animals about “Sugarcandy Mountain, to which all animals went when they died.”

Animal Farm Russian

Title-page of the  Russian translation. Skotskii khutor. ([Frankfurt am Main], 1950). 12654.de.12.

This was of course only the beginning. Eventually Animal Farm was translated into at least 70 languages, including Esperanto, but it is worth stressing that the Slavic languages (Polish, Ukrainian, Russian) were among the first. The French publication appeared later than expected, only in October 1947, because, as Orwell wrote to Koestler in January 1946, “The French publisher, who had signed a contract to translate Animal Farm, has got cold feet and says it is impossible «for political reasons»” (CWGO, vol. 18. p.28) – this no doubt was the result of the 1945 elections in France, when the Communists became the largest party in the French National Assembly. But those whose countries were directly under the Communist rule continued publishing the book abroad – in 1952 Animal Farm came out in Lithuanian and in 1955 in Serbian.

Animal Farm Lithuanian

Cover of the  Lithuanian translation. Gyvulių ūkis. Fantastině apysaka. (London, 1952). X.950/31145

Masha Karp, editor of The Orwell Society Journal and author of a forthcoming  Russian biography of George Orwell

References/Further reading

The Complete Works of George Orwell edited by Peter Davison (London, 2000-2002). Vols. 17 (YC.2001.a.13719), 18 (YC.2001.a.16202), 19 (YC.2002.a.23095) and 20 (YC.2002.a.23177)

Masha Karp. ‘The Raven Vanishes’. The Orwell Society Journal. No. 9, December 2016, pp. 16-19

Ksenya Kiebuzinski. ‘Not Lost in Translation: Orwell’s Animal Farm Among Refugees and Beyond the Iron Curtain’, The Halcyon: Newsletter of the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library, no. 59, June 2017.  

17 November 2017

A woman for all seasons: Halldis Moren Vesaas

To English-speaking readers, the name Vesaas is perhaps best known through the work of the Norwegian poet and novelist Terje Vesaas (1897-1970), whose most famous work, Is-slottet (‘The ice palace’: Oslo, 1963; X.908/1343) was filmed in 1987 by Per Blom, winning the Grand Prix at the Flanders International Film Festival in 1988. In Norway, however, it equally calls to mind his wife, the poet, translator and children’s author Halldis Moren Vesaas, who was born on 18 November 1907 in Trysil, in the county of Hedmark.

  Moren Vesaas house
View of Trysil from Halldis Moren Vesaas, Sven Moren og heimen hans (Oslo, 1951) 10763.a.20.

Both of them came from farming backgrounds in rural Norway, but broke away to pursue a teaching career. Terje Vesaas suffered pangs of guilt for years over his decision not to take over the family farm in Telemark, but Halldis grew up in an environment more favourable to her literary gifts, as her father was Sven Moren, a poet and playwright. The eldest child and only daughter in a family of five, she showed a natural aptitude for teaching and went away to train in Elverum before taking posts in Hamar and Oslo. However, after publishing her first collection of poems, Harpe og dolk (‘Harp and Dagger’: Oslo, 1929; YF.2011.a.23158) at the age of 22, she set off for Switzerland the following year to work as a secretary; her next volume of poetry, Morgonen (‘Morning’)  came out in this year.

Moren Vesaas Morgonen
Cover of Morgonen (Oslo, 1930) YF.2012.a.6610

After spending three years in Switzerland, she returned to Norway and married Tarjei Vesaas in 1934. They returned to his home district of Vinje and settled on the Midtbø farm there when he took up an appointment at a local school. For both of them, nature and the Norwegian landscape in all its pitiless grandeur were important sources of inspiration and a reminder of the timeless renewal of the natural world during the dark days of the German occupation. Their use of the Norwegian Landsmål (Nynorsk) fully explored its potential as a world literary language, capable of expressing with subtlety and directness the darker psychological themes of guilt and mortality as well as the eerie splendour of an ice-cave or the beauty of the mountain pastures in spring.

Halldis Moren Vesaas’s poetry celebrates every stage of woman’s life from girlhood through marriage and motherhood to the sorrow and solitude of widowhood (Terje Vesaas died in 1970) and the joy of discovering new love in later years. As well as composing eight books of poetry, she wrote and translated for the theatre, acting as a consultant for Det Norske Teatret in Oslo and sitting on the board of the Riksteatret (1949-69). One of her most notable translations is her version of Racine’s Phèdre (Fedra: Oslo, 1999; YF.2011.a.5500), where her poetic language fully conveys the passion and drama of the original. Her fascination with Greek subjects is also evident in Den gode gåva (‘The good gift’: Oslo, 1987; LB.31.a.2374), a retelling in verse for children of the myth of Demeter and Persephone with exquisite illustrations by Kaja Thorne. Her achievements were recognized not only in Norway, where she was awarded the Bastian Prize (1961) and the Norsk kulturråds ærespris (1982) and made a Commander of the Order of St. Olav in 1984, but also in France, where she was honoured with its second-highest order as a Knight of the National Order of Merit. She died in 1995.

Halldis Moren Vesaas had the ability to speak not only to adult audiences on the world stage but also to children. In 2007 a  a lively and playful collection of poems for the young by both Halldis and her husband, Eg sette brillene på min katt (‘I put spectacles on my cat’), was published, colourfully illustrated by Inger Lise Belsvik. 

Moren Vesaas Katt
Cover illustration by Inger Lise Belsvik from Eg sette brillene på min katt  (Oslo, 2007)  LF.31.a.2134

Halldis's experience as a teacher had equipped her to write for younger readers with verve and charm, without a trace of condescension but with an intuitive understanding of the child’s world and emotional and psychological needs, in verse and stories such as Hildegunn (1942) and Tidleg på våren (‘Early in spring’: 1949).

Her poetry evokes the joy of life with such sensuous vigour that it seems only fitting to allow it to speak for itself:

That you laughed aloud with gladness
when the rain came, and the first drop
fell, so strangely heavy and warm
and lay on your cheek a second or two –

that the wind which whirled the leaves
so brusquely round the trunk of the tree
sent a wave of happiness
and frost through all my blood –

that something that was nothing
still can follow me everywhere,
so that you know that nothing
as happened to me since that time –

Just because we were together?

Halldis Moren Vesaas, ‘At du –’, from I ein annan skog (‘In another forest’) Translation © Susan Reynolds Halstead, 2017).

Susan Halstead, Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services.

Moren Vesaas En annan skog
Cover of  I ein annan skog (Oslo, 1955) 01565.e.107

 

13 November 2017

Magic swords just aren’t cricket

Did you have to hand in your wand when you came to the British Library to see Harry Potter: A History of Magic? There’s a reason for that.

When Arnau de Cabrera entered judicial combat with Bernat de Centelles in Barcelona in 1274, both parties had to declare before King Jaume I “I swear I am carrying no magical weapons” [quod non deferebant aliquid quod haberet virtutem].

Swords combat Harley 4418 f56

Mediaeval knights in combat from Jean d'Arras, Roman de Mélusine, c. 1450. MS Harley 4418, f. 56.

Arnau de Cabrera however denounced his opponent for bearing the sword of Vilardell: no-one who bore it could be defeated or killed [“portavit ensem de Villardello, qui quidem ensis habet virtutem ut nullus subcumbere vel superari possit qui illum in bello detulerit”]. It also had the quality that if it was put point down it righted itself.

Apparently, Bernat’s father, like any good parent, had bought the sword for him for 500 maravedis. He had also asked the Prior of St Paul’s in Barcelona for a shirt which again prevented its owner from being vanquished in battle.

And what’s more Bernat was wearing an iron cap which contained a precious stone called diamas, supplied by his brother Gilabert: the bearer’s bones could not be broken.

The king found for Arnau.

The Sword of Vilardell acquired its powers because it was forged at a particularly propitious astrological conjunction.

Swords Villardel and Griffin
Relief from Barcelona Cathedral showing Vilardell fighting a griffin with his magical sword. (Photograph by Pere López from Wikimedia Commons.

The sword’s original owner, Vilardell, went out one day with an ordinary sword to cut wood. He did a kind deed for a poor man who replaced his old sword with a new one and then disappeared. Vilardell tested the new sword by splitting a rock with it (still to be seen) and then slayed a dragon. So in the early accounts it was a holy weapon not a magic one.

The sword eventually found its way to the Musée de l’Armée  in Paris, where you can see it.

Virtually nobody in the Middle Ages doubted the existence of magic, or its efficacy. What the Church for instance objected to was the use of magic for evil ends.

Modern-day surveillance equipment will (hopefully) pick up any concealed weapons, but magic ones (and I don’t want to alarm you) might be beyond its reach.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References/Further reading

Martí de Riquer, Llegendes històriques catalanes (Barcelona, 2000) YA.2001.a.38498

Robert Bartlett, Trial by Fire and Water: The Medieval Judicial Ordeal (Oxford, 1988) YC.1988.a.7138

Sword

 

09 November 2017

Alberto Savinio. The social utility of Surrealism

One day in 1937, in Paris, André Breton, read to me a page in which he wrote that in the time before WWI, the name of my brother, Giorgio de Chirico, and mine, stand among the leaders of that art-form which later took the name of “Surrealism”’.

This is how Alberto Savinio begins the preface to his collection of short stories titled Tutta la vita (‘A whole life’). The stories were published in various newspapers and magazines between 1942 and 1944, before being gathered and published under that title in 1946. The British Library holds the edition published in 1953, which contains in addition 13 illustrations of his paintings and drawings.

Savinio tp
Title page with the author’s self-portrait from Alberto Savinio, Tutta la vita (Milan, 1953) 12472.e.9.

Now, what happens then when a surrealist painter transfers his skills into writing?

Pieces of furniture talk among themselves revealing uncomfortable secrets to Candido Bove about his wife, while he is sitting on the sofa, sleeplessly overcome with grief as she died just the day before. This is what happens! (In the story ‘Poltrondamore’ [Lovesofa])

Savinio Nonna

‘La nonna’ picture by Savinio reproduced in Tutta la vita (facing p. 49).

A taxidermist, nicknamed God Almighty, kills and embalms his wife and his assistant, after finding them naked under the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden he made in his house. This is what happens! (In the story ‘Il Paradiso Terrestre’ [Heaven on Earth]).

Savinio Adamo Eva

 ‘Adamo ed Eva’, picture by Savinio reproduced in Tutta la vita (facing p. 96)

When Miss Fufù receives the piano she ordered, she notices that it looks bigger; the morning after she finds it breathing heavily and surrounded by little pianos: the piano was pregnant. This is what happens! (In the story ‘La pianessa’ [Miss Piano]).

Savinio Sorelle
 ‘Le due sorelle’, picture by Savinio reproduced in Tutta la vita (facing p.257)

In Savinio’s short stories “A whole Life” is injected in pretty much everything, in fact, we could say that objects are more alive than people. What these short stories have in common is that the surreal events their main characters experience have a formative function, that is, surrealism here has a social purpose: it aims at shaking the reality of the main characters, whose life is flattened by loneliness, self-absorption, surrender. As Savinio continues in his preface:

... surrealism, as many of my literary works and paintings demonstrate, does not content itself with representing the shapeless and expressing the unconscious, but it wants to give shape to the shapeless and consciousness to the unconscious

This becomes clearer in Anima, the story of Nìvulo, a child described by his father as a typical old house in Milan, where façades do not face the street, but the rear garden: a child with the face turned inward. Nìvulo has the soul of his brother, who died at birth 32 years before, trapped in his body, this has prevented him to live his life, in fact, has prevented him from even learning to talk.

The social purpose of Savinio’s work is more explicit in the tale titled ‘Scendere dalla collina’ (Walking down the hill).

Parents, do not let your children grow up under the shadow of a great man… Equally, do not let them grow up under the shadow of a memorable event or a remarkable idea, and, let me also add: do not let your children grow up under the shadow of a famous name.

It is difficult not to read here a certain autobiographical reference since Alberto Savinio, whose real name was Andrea Francesco Alberto de Chirico, changed his last name so that he would not be eclipsed by his more famous brother.

Savinio L45-2089 cover

The British Library also holds a copy of the prestigious first edition of Alberto Savinio, pittura e letteratura (Milan, 1979; L45/2089, pictured above), a volume with black silk covers printed in gold, the pages printed in Bodoni characters on azure blue paper, and numerous beautiful plates of Savinio’s paintings glued on the pages.

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

References/Further readings

Filippo Secchieri, Dove comincia la realtà e dove finisce – Studi su Alberto Savinio. (Florence, 1998). YA.2202.a.24958

Matteo Marchesini, Soli e civili – Savinio, Noventa, Fortini, Bianciardi, Bellocchio. (Rome, 2012) YF.2017.a.21214)

Alberto Savinio, musician, writer and painter (Milan, New York, 1995.) q95/27443

08 November 2017

Heroes and victims of the Revolution

 In November 1918, the first anniversary of the Bolshevik military insurrection (as the October Revolution was then known) was ‘celebrated in style’ in Soviet Russia. Around 3,500 metres of red fabric was allocated for decorating the Kremlin in Moscow. Over 400 metres of ropes were supposed to hold posters and panels during the celebration. On 7 November 1918 Lenin, who had made a remarkably prompt recovery after being seriously wounded in an assassination attempt some two months earlier, managed to give several speeches in different parts of Moscow. A large memorial plaque in commemoration of those who lost their lives “in the struggle for peace and the brotherhood of nations” was unveiled on Red Square and a temporary monument to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was also erected in the centre of the capital. A mass show “The Pantomime of the Great Revolution” was staged in the streets. Such mass festivals and reenactments of “revolutionary events” would soon become a usual feature of each commemoration and celebration in the early years of Soviet Russia. You can see photographs of those first anniversary celebrations here.

Those Russian artists who embraced the Bolshevik Revolution were happy to glorify it in arts. Vladimir Mayakovski was quite active in promoting the celebrations. For the first anniversary he wrote a ‘comic opera’ – Misteriia-buff (Mystery-Bouffe) – which was accepted to be part of the festivities. Staged by the famous theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold with designs by Kazimir Malevich the play was premiered on 7 November 1918 and then shown two more times. The author also appeared on stage as a ‘common man’, but then had to play a couple more roles as some actors did not turn up.

Image 1 - Misteriia Buff-Mayakovski-Ac.4635.ca.6

Above: Designs by Kazimir Malevich, from Istoriia sovetskogo teatra ed ited by V.E.Rafalobich, Vol.1 (Leningrad, 1933). Ac.4635.ca.6; Below: Vladimir Mayakovski, poster for Misteriia-buff, 1918. From The Soviet theatrical poster (Leningrad, 1977). HS.74/2256

Image 2 - Misteriia-Buff poster

Seven pairs of ‘clean’ (‘bloodsuckers’) and seven pairs of ‘unclean’ (‘workers’), as well as The Hysterical Lady, The Common Man (The Man of the Future), Devils, Saints (including Leo Tolstoy and Jean-Jacques Rousseau) performed a ‘satirical drama’ in The Entire universe, The Ark, Hell, Paradise, Land of Chaos and finally – in The Promised Land. By the end of the year the play was published as a separate edition.

Image 3 - 1st edition

Cover by Mayakovski for the 1st edition of Misteriia-buff. (Petrograd, 1918). C.135.g.23

The Revolution affected everyone in the country, but it was also important for avant-garde artists and the Bolsheviks as well to stress the final divide between the past and the present, the rich and poor, the victors and losers, the heroes and victims and leave no space in between so that each and every one should clearly take sides. This irreversible split was also presented in another work by Mayakovski created for the anniversary – the album of drawings and short verses Geroi i zhertvy revoliutsii (Heroes and Victims of the Revolution’; Cup.410.c.81). Heroes (Worker, Red Army Soldier, Farm Labourer, Sailor, Seamstress, Laundress, Motorist, Telegraph Operator and Railway Worker) and Victims (Factory Owner, Banker, Landlord, Kulak, Lady, Priest, Bureaucrat, General and Merchant) are presented by four artists: Kseniia Boguslavskaia , Vladimir Kozlinskii, Sergei Makletsov and Ivan Puny.

Below are four of the album’s Heroes’: the Red Army soldier, Laundress,  Motorist and Railway worker:

Image 4 (3)


  Image 4 (7)

Image 4 (8)


Image 4 (10)

And here are some of the Victims’: Merchant, Kulak, Lady and Priest

  Image 4 (1)

Image 4 (14)

    Image 4 (15)

Image 4 (16)

It was proven before and happened this time again – Revolution devours its children. In 1919, Boguslavskaia and Puny left Russia for good; in 1930 Mayakovski committed suicide; in 1935, Malevich died of cancer having been banned from exhibiting ‘bourgeois’ abstract art; and in 1940, Meyerhold was shot dead in Stalin’s purges as an ‘enemy of the people’.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

03 November 2017

Domesticating the Goddess ‘Liberty’ during the First World War

Ahead of her talk for the British Library’s Feed the Mind lunchtime lecture series  on Monday 20 November 2017 (12.30-13.30), Collaborative PhD student Cherie Prosser delves into the British Library’s French poster collection to discuss the changing female representation of ‘Liberty’. Tickets for Cherie’s talk can be purchased online, or in person at the box office.

Liberty and her Republican compatriot Marianne are perhaps among the most enigmatic of the French national symbols. Liberty was known in France since Roman times as the goddess who freed slaves while her compatriot Marianne became popularised during the French Revolution as the mocking nickname of the French Republic. Significantly, the French Revolution opened to the door to the reinvention and popularisation of imagery representing new Republican France. Yet rarely is there any discussion of change or challenge to the assumption that female figures of nationalism are important trans-historically and remain a force today.

In my forthcoming Feed the Mind talk, I will demonstrate the transfiguration of Liberty and Marianne in the pictorial poster imagery during the First World War. Shadowing the progression toward modernism, how were these allegorical figures of strategic importance in the redefinition of French political, social and moral values? While continuing to occupy a key role in the popular imagination throughout the war, Liberty and Marianne were able to transcend this catastrophic time.

Feed the Mind Cherie Prosser Marianne La France Libre from Images OnlineLéon Reni-Mel, La France libre, journal socialiste (Paris, 1918). Tab. 11748.a

Their use in poster propaganda during the First World War, as shown in the British Library’s French poster collection, invites an analysis of the ways in which allegories were used to negotiate complex political and social change. Throughout the war, Liberty and Marianne provided a perspective on historical social values as well as current events of the war as they unfolded. Posters were a primary source of propaganda during the war in all the belligerent countries and provide an insight into communication of social and political narratives during war time and beyond.

Feed the Mind Cherie Prosser Marianne with drummerMarcel Falter, 4e Emprunt de la Défense nationale (Paris, 1918) Tab. 11748.a

When we compare Liberty and Marianne with International female counterparts, Columbia, Italia and Britannia, we see the way that France became connected to an allied response to the war. Taking this comparative approach, I want to suggest new insights into the use of posters as a source for understanding socio-cultural and historical change, with a particular focus on the First World War as well as the progression to Modernism.

So join me on 20 November and take a journey back in time as we uncover a series of events that background the significance of these posters from the British Library collection in Paris during the First World War 

References/further reading

Maurice Agulhon, Marianne into battle, republican imagery and symbolism in France, 1789-1880 (Cambridge, 1981) X.800/30696

Marina Warner, Monuments and maidens, the allegory of the female form (London, 1985). YC.1986.b.12

Cherie Prosser is undertaking a collaborative PhD with the British Library and University of Sheffield on visual propaganda in France and Britain during the First World War.

31 October 2017

500 Years of Reformation

On 31 October 1517 the Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailed a document to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg containing 95 theses for academic debate. The topic was the sale of indulgences – certificates granting believers time free from purgatory – in order to fund the rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Luther was angry that the money of ordinary Christians was being taken to help a wealthy church establishment pay for a lavish building project, and he condemned the idea that divine forgiveness could be bought and sold rather than coming from the believer’s true spiritual repentance.

Luther portrait
Lucas Cranach the elder, Portrait of Martin Luther as a monk. Detail from the frontispiece of Luther's pamphlet De Captivitate Babylonica Ecclesiæ (Strassburg, 1520) 697.h.21, 

This has come to be seen as the start of the Protestant Reformation that fractured the religious unity of Western Europe and changed the way many Christians viewed and practised their faith. Although many historians today doubt that Luther actually did nail his theses to the church door on this or any other date, let alone in the dramatic public gesture often depicted in later images, 31 October has been celebrated for centuries as the birthday of the Reformation and in this fifth centenary year commemorations have been held all over the world.

Luther theses
An idealised 19th-century image by Gustav König of Luther posting the 95 theses, from  Dr Martin Luther der deutsche Reformator (Hamburg, 1847-51) 4885.f.13. 

The British Library is playing its modest part with a display in our Treasures Gallery looking at Luther and his impact, which opened by happy coincidence on 31 October and runs until 4 February 2018. Exhibits include an original printing of the 95 theses (C.18.d.12.) and a copy of the indulgence that triggered Luther to write them (C.18.b.18.).

95 Theses Latin
The 95 Theses, ‘Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum’. Copy printed in Nuremberg in 1517. C.18.d.12.

The huge debate and controversy stirred by the Reformation is illustrated by some of the polemical pamphlets of the time both for and against Luther. One of the most famous is Passional Christi und Antichristi, with woodcuts by Lucas Cranach the elder. The book compares the life of Christ and the perceived corruption of the Papacy, showing for example Christ’s explulsion of moneylenders from the temple contrasted with the Pope raking in money from the sale of indulgences. But Luther’s opponents could attack him with equal force. In keeping with the scatalogical humour of the age, Thomas Murner’s attack on Luther, Von dem grossen Lutherischen Narren (Strassburg, 1522; 11517.c.33) includes a caricature of Luther being pushed into a privy.

Christ und Antichrist
Christ and the moneylenders compared with the Pope and indulgence-sellers. Woodcuts by Cranach the elder from Passional Christi und Antichristi ([Wittenberg, 1521])  C.53.c.3.

In Germany, Luther is as celebrated for his contribution to the language through his Bible translation as for his influence on religious life. We show copies of his first translations of the New Testament and of the whole Bible, the latter in a copy with beautifully hand-coloured woodcuts.

1534 Bible tp and coat of arms
Hand-coloured title-page from the first complete edition of Luther’s Bible translation (Wittenberg, 1534) 1.b.9.

When his translations came under attack, Luther defended them in an open letter, the Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen, where he famously stated the need to listen to the everyday speech of ordinary people – ‘the man in the marketplace, the mother in the house, the children in the street’ – to create a vernacular Bible that would truly speak to them. His translation influenced William Tyndale who wanted to create an English Bible that ‘the boy that driveth the plough’ could read and understand. However, the copy of Tyndale’s New Testament which we are displaying to represent that influence belonged to someone much at the other end of the social scale: Queen Anne Boleyn.

Tyndale titlepage
Illuminated title-page from Anne Boleyn’s copy of  The newe Testament, dylygently corrected and compared with the Greke by Willyam Tindale... (Antwerp, 1534) C.23.a.21.

This Bible is not the only English connection on display. We also show a copy of Henry VIII’s 1521 attack on Luther, Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Rome, 1521; G.1210). This earned him the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ from Pope Leo X – a title he kept for himself as head of the English Church when he broke away from Rome over a decade later. We also show a later and happier example of Luther in England: a history of St George’s German Lutheran Church in the East End of London, established for the many German immigrants who came to London in the 18th and 19th centuries. The copy on display belonged to the Church’s own library which the British Library acquired in 1997.

Kirchen-Geschichte
Title-page of Johann Gottlieb Burckhardt, Kirchen-Geschichte der deutschen Gemeinden in London (Tübingen, 1798) RB.23.a.16354. This copy, from the church’s library was  originally presented to the Pastor of St George’s Lutheran church in Whitechapel by the church organist.

The language of Luther’s Bible and the spread of Lutheran churches around the world are only a part of his legacy. Luther’s belief in the importance of music in Christian worship helped to create traditions of congregational hymn-singing and of church music which have influenced church music of many denominations and enriched the canon of Western classical music, in particular through the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. Luther’s most famous hymn ‘Ein Feste Burg’ is shown in an early edition along with the manuscript of one of Bach’s cantatas written for the Lutheran church of St Thomas in Leipzig.

Zweig MS 1 f3r
Manuscript page from Bach’s Cantata for the 19th Sunday after Trinity, ‘Wo soll ich fliehen hin?’ (1724). Zweig MS 1

To mark ‘Reformation 500’ many souvenirs of all kinds have been marketed, and we show two examples, including the Luther figure created by the toy company Playmobil, which became its best-selling figure ever. But Luther memorabilia is nothing new: in the decades immediately after his death in 1546 Luther’s image began to appear on coins, medals, ceramics and bookbindings. Our contemporary souvenirs, like this year’s Luther commemorations, are part of a long tradition.

Luther Davis 628
16th-century decorative bookbinding with a portrait of Luther, on a copy of Ius civile manuscriptorum librorum (Antwerp, 1567) Davis 628

The British Library will also be holding a Study Day on Monday 27 November looking at the 16th-Century Reformation outside Germany. Details and booking information can be found here. On the same day the British Museum and Library Singers will be performing a free lunchtime concert of music from and inspired by the Reformation in the Library’s entrance hall.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies


Luther Zweig MS 200 detail
Luther’s signature from Zweig MS 200, a collection of handwritten dedications by Luther and other reformers.