THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

58 posts categorized "Printed books"

14 September 2017

150 Years of Capital

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The British Library claims an important relationship with Karl Marx and his associates. Arriving to London as an exile in 1849, Marx became a familiar face in the reading rooms of the British Library (then part of the British Museum), making use of their extensive collections to pursue information that would later prove foundational to his famous critique of political economy, Capital. The first edition of this canonical work was received with little fanfare, selling only 1000 copies in its first four years. In 1872, Marx himself presented a copy, published in German, for our collections (C.120.b.1). The donation was acknowledged like any other, with a cursory record in a large, leather-bound index that now sits in our corporate archives. Now, 150 years since its original publication date on 14 September 1867, it is among our most treasured texts.

  Marx register
Marx’s donation index entry. BL Corporate Archives DH53/6

In preparation for the 2018 bicentenary of Marx’s birth, we have been tracing the course of his time with the British Library. It is a well-trodden path; few figures have been subject to as much intense historical and ideological scrutiny, and it is hard to believe that after two centuries our explorations may yield new discoveries. But it would seem that the Library still has secrets to give up. This week, consulting the donation indexes led to the discovery that Marx also presented a second copy of Capital, this one in French.


Marx French
Title page of Le Capital (Paris, 1872) C.120.g.2.

The text, with its intricately-embellished chapter headings and impressive title page, is a thing to behold. Closer inspection also reveals various handwritten annotations in the margins of the page. Words are crossed out, better alternatives suggested, and minor errors deleted. In his search for a common unit of value between two comparable commodities – cloth and coat – the word toile (‘linen’) is substituted for the less accurate drap (‘sheet’): 

Marx corrections 1   Marx corrections 2
Handwritten corrections in the donated copy of Le Capital

There is good reason to suspect that these annotations are written in the author’s own hand. The birth of the French edition was, for Marx, lengthy and tortuous. In his opinion:

although the French edition…has been prepared by a great expert in both languages, he has often translated too literally. I have therefore found myself compelled to re-write whole passages in French, to make them accessible to the French public. It will be all the easier later on to translate the book from French into English and the Romance languages. (Letter to Nikolai Danielson, 28 February 1872, MECW, vol.44, p.327)

One is inclined to feel some sympathy for the long-suffering translator, Joseph Roy, working as he was from the second German edition of Capital handwritten in Marx’s famously dreadful scrawl. Marx was a ruthless editor, and it is easy to imagine the famously rigorous intellectual leafing through the copy en route to the library, unable to resist making a few last-minute alterations.

Marx was also a constantly evolving writer, and the ideas contained in the French edition differed significantly from those of its predecessor. Notably, the much-discussed section outlining the fetishism of commodities was refined. Where the German edition concerns itself with the fantastical appearance of the commodity, the French edition foregrounds the necessary reality of ‘material relations between persons and social relations between things’. In short, then, this is a work unpopulated by phantoms; instead, we begin to see how the workings of capital come to modify the essence of human personhood. Marx himself claimed that the French edition ‘possessed a scientific value independent of the original and should be consulted even by readers familiar with German’. Still, it was long neglected by the Anglophone world, largely due to Engels’s own preference for the earlier German incarnation.

  Marx Register 2
Donation index entry for the final instalment of Le Capital. BL Corporate Archives DH53/7

The donation registers show that the French edition was delivered to the British Library in six instalments, between 12 October 1872 and 8 January 8 1876. This period corresponds with various complications in Marx’s life, with frequent bouts of insomnia and liver disease affecting his ability to work. In a letter to Friedrich Sorge on 4 August 1874 (MECW, vol.45, p.28), Marx lamented that ‘that damned liver complaint has made such headway that I was positively unable to continue the revision of the French translation (which actually amounts almost to complete rewriting)’. So the staggered delivery of the manuscript likely reflects these intellectual and physical obstacles, but it is also revealing of the audience that Marx had in mind for his work. The French edition was initially published in a serialized format in workers’ newspapers between 1872 and 1875. ‘In this form,’ Marx wrote,‘the book will be more accessible to the working-class, a consideration which to me outweighs everything else.’ However, he fretted that the French public, ‘always impatient to come to a conclusion…zealously seeking the truth’, would be frustrated by the wait between instalments. A puzzling concern for a man whose work had hitherto been received with so little public zeal.

For the Library’s administrators, these piecemeal instalments of Capital, and interactions with its author, only proved something of a mild inconvenience. In a letter dated 17 July 1873, the Library’s Assistant Secretary wrote to William Butler Rye, Keeper of Printed Books, with the following request:

Dear Mr. Rye,
I am directed by Mr. Jones to forward to you fasc. IV of the French edition of Das Kapital. In a letter received from Dr. Karl Marx on the 15th, he says: “I feel not sure whether or not I have sent the 6th and last fascicile [sic] of the first volume of the German edition” (of Das Kapital). Would you be so good as to communicate with Dr. Marx on the object: he writes from No.1 Maitland Park Road.
Believe me,
Yours truly,
Thomas Butler

Butler letter 1 Butler letter 2 Butler letter 3
Letter to William Butler Rye, BL Corporate Archives DH4/13

Izzy Gibbin, UCL Anthropology.  (Izzy is working with the British Library on a doctoral placement scheme looking at ways to mark the bicentenary of Marx’s birth)

References

Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Collected works (MECW) (London, 1975-2004) X.0809/543.

11 September 2017

International Collaboration: a Dutch Polymath and a Czech Printer in 17th-Century Rome

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We do not often realise just how much collaboration took place between foreigners working abroad rather than in their native countries in 17th-century Europe. One interesting example of such a collaboration is that between a Dutchman, Cornelius Meyer, and a Czech printer, Jan Jakub (or Giovanni Giacomo) Komárek, who worked and collaborated in Rome, a veritable hive of intellectual activity at that time.

Meyer Arte de restituire tp
Title-page of Meyer’s L’arte di restituire a Roma la tralasciata navigatione del suo Tevere (Rome, 1685), 49.h.10 (1).

Little is known of Cornelius Meyer except that he was born in Holland in 1629, was generally accepted to be a polymath and trained as an architect, civil engineer and an engraver. He moved to Rome, one of the most vibrant and active capitals in Europe, in the 1680s and died there in 1701. He is principally remembered for his studies on technology, particularly his masterminding improvements to the navigability of the River Tiber in his L’arte di restituire a Roma la tralasciata navigatione del suo Tevere.

Meyer Nuovi ritrovamenti Dragon
Title-page of Meyer’s Nuovi ritrovamenti, divisi in due parti (Rome, 1689-96) 49.h.10 (2), showing the alleged dragon seen near the Tiber

He is also remembered for his description and detailed account of the sighting of a dragon ‘nelle paludi fuori di Roma’, in December 1691. Despite his detailed and beautiful engravings of the beast’s skeletal remains, Meyer’s account of the dragon was an elaborate hoax not unlike ‘Piltdown man’ but was so skilfully produced and illustrated that he duped many learned men and scientific experts.

Meyer Occhiali
Engraving of three wearers of different kinds of spectacles, from Nuovi ritrovamenti

Meyer’s engraving of spectacles and their wearers for his work on various technologies, Nuovi ritrovamenti, divisi in due parti, printed by Komarek on behalf of the Accademia Fisico-matematica, one of the most important scientific academies in Rome, is extremely finely detailed, recalling similar images by Holbein. It imparts a very human perspective on what could have been a dryish discussion of the important science of optics, which had made very considerable advances since Galileo first used the telescope to study the heavens systematically. Moreover, by depicting the wearers of the spectacles in fine detail, two with fulsome beards, all three wearing caps or bonnets, and two wearing beautifully detailed ruffs, thereby modelling their visual aids, Meyer imparts a sense of scale and proportion to his illustration and is able to show the size of the pince-nez spectacles and their respective lenses he has designed (one set of which is even tinted) to their best advantage and how well they would look and fit on the noses of prospective clients.

Meyer Nuovi Ritrovamenti 1689
Title-page of the 1689 volume of Nuovi ritrovamenti, with Komarek’s imprint ‘all’Angelo custode’.

Despite the Italianization of his forenames to Giovanni Giacomo, the printer Jan Jakub Komárek was born in Hradec Králové, in Bohemia, in 1648. He moved to Rome between 1669 and 1672 and was originally employed as a technician in the papal print works of the Congregazione della Propaganda della Fede, founded in 1622. He set up his own printing press at ‘all’Angelo custode’ and later, ‘alla fontana di Trevi’ and was active until 1700, publishing several liturgical works by Giovanni Giustino Ciampini, Andrea Pozzo’s celebrated Prospettiva, and works for the Accademia of the Collegio Clementino. The work is an excellent example of very effective networking and of the creation of considerable synergy between author and publisher and of truly international co-operation: a Dutchman having his work printed by a Czech printer in Italy.

This co-operation is also a very timely reminder of the very great debt that the whole continent of Europe, and Italy in particular, owes to Germany. It was a German, Johannes Gutenberg, who invented printing with moveable type in the 1450s, something which played such an important role in disseminating new texts and ideas, and created an ever-increasing demand for the printed word. But we should also not forget the debt owed by Italy to German printers and engravers, from Albrecht Dürer to Lucas Cranach. From the first introduction of printing to Italy in 1465 by Konrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz, who worked in partnership at Subiaco, printing was firmly established in Italy by German printers.

Denis Reidy, former Curator Italian and Modern Greek Collections 

04 September 2017

No mean achievement: the first Basque New Testament

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The British Library possesses a fine copy of the New Testament in Basque, printed at La Rochelle in 1571. The principal translator was Joanes Leizarraga (1506-1601). Born at Briscous in the French Basque province of Labourd, he trained as a Catholic priest. However, by 1560 he had converted to Protestantism, later taking refuge in the territory of Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre. She herself had converted to Calvinism in 1559 and was the leading promoter of the Huguenot cause.

Leizarraga undertook the translation in 1563 at the behest of the Synod of Pau of the Reformed Church of Navarre-Béarn. The work is dedicated to Jeanne d’Albret, who financed the translation, and her coat of arms appears on the title page. Subsequently, in 1567, she appointed Leizarraga minister of the church of Labastide in Lower Navarre in 1567.

427px-Jeanne-albret-navarre
Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre-Béarn, by François Clouet (1570) (Image from the Gallica Digital Library via Wikimedia Commons)

As elsewhere in Reformation Europe, making the Bible available to the laity in the vernacular was a priority. Leizarraga, however, faced particular difficulties. The earliest surviving book in Basque was printed in Bordeaux as late as 1545. No copy has survived of a reported second book, a Spanish-Basque catechism, printed in Spanish Navarre in 1561. He was thus unable to draw on an established form of written Basque in producing his translation. Moreover, at this period Basque was spoken in a number of dialects and varied noticeably from village to village, ‘almost from house to house’ as Leizarraga himself remarks in the preliminaries addressed to ‘Heuscalduney’, the speakers of Basque. He resolved to create a generalized form of the language, based on three dialects: largely that of Labourd, plus Lower Navarrese and Souletin.

He was assisted in this by four other Basque ministers, of whom at least two came from Soule. Leizarraga and his collaborators based their text on a version of the French Geneva Bible but with regard also to the Vulgate and to the Greek. In so doing they effectively created a Basque literary language, although one that took many words directly from Latin. This is evident in a comparison between the opening verses of the Lord’s Prayer in Leizarraga’s version (L) and one in modern Basque (B). The borrowings from Latin are in bold:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew VI: 9-10).
L: Gure Aita ceruëtã aicena, sanctifica bedi hire icena. Ethor bedi hire resumá. Eguin bedi hire vorondatea ceruän beçala lurrean-ere.
B: Gure Aita zeruetan zaudena, santu izan bedi zure izena. Etor bedi zure erreinua, egin bedi zure nahia, zeruan bezala lurrean ere.

Subsequently, Basque developed in a less learned, more popular direction. Nonetheless, the work is of considerable value to grammarians and philologists when studying the language of Leizarraga’s day and its subsequent evolution.

The 1571 volume contains a number of additional texts. These include glossaries (e.g. of Hebrew and Greek proper names); a topical index to the New Testament; instructions on conducting various religious ceremonies, e.g. marriage; and a catechism for children. Two smaller works by Leizarraga were also published by the same press in La Rochelle in 1571: a religious calendar, including Easter Tables, and a Protestant catechism.

Basque NT
The Basque New Testament, Testamentu berria (La Rochelle: Pierre Hautin, 1571) 217.d.2.

It has been estimated that some 25 copies of the 1571 Basque New Testament survive. Four are in the UK: at the British Library, Bodleian Library, John Rylands Library and Cambridge University Library (from the collection of the British and Foreign Bible Society, presented by Louis Lucien Bonaparte). The BL copy is in the King’s Library and was thus acquired for George III’s collection and then donated to the British Museum in 1823. Its earlier history is unknown. In recent years, two copies have been auctioned in London and acquired by institutions in the Spanish Basque Country. The copy that belonged to the Marquis of Bute was sold at Sotheby’s in 1995 and bought by a Spanish bank, the Caja de Ahorros de Navarra. Since 2014 it has been deposited in the Biblioteca Nacional de Navarra. In 2007 another copy was purchased at Christie’s by Euskaltzaindia, the Basque Language Academy. The high prices paid for these copies at auction, particularly in 1995, indicate the iconic status that Leizarraga’s translation now has for the Basque people.

Geoff West, former Curator Hispanic Collections

References/Further reading

Historia de la literatura vasca. Ed. Patrizio Urquiz Sarasua. (Madrid, 2000) HLR. 899.92

Lafon, René, Le système du verbe basque au XVIe siècle. (Bordeaux, 1943) X.902/3245

Leizarraga, Ioannes, Iesus Christ gure iaunaren Testamentu berria… ed. Th. Linschmann & Hugo Schuchardt. (Bilbao, 1990) [A reprint of the 1900 Strasburg edition] YA.2003.a.33511

Olaizola Iguiñiz, Juan María de, El Reino de Navarra en la encrucijada de su historia: el protestantismo en el País Vasco. 2nd ed. (Pamplona, 2011) YF.2011.a.26524

Villasante, Luis, Historia de la literatura vasca, 2nd ed. ([Oñate?], 1979) YA.1986.a.6853.

06 August 2017

Belarus Celebrates 500 Years of Printing

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On 6 August, Belarus will celebrate 500 years of printing, and also 500 years of East Slavonic printing. On that day in 1517 Francysk Skaryna (in various traditions his name has also been spelt as Francis Skaryna, Frantsisk Skorina, Franciscus Scorina and more) published the Psalter, one of the books of the Bible.

Skaryna C.36.f.4 f242r Portrait of Skaryna from his translation of the Old Testament Books of Samuel and Kings, Bivliia ruska: Knigi tsarstv (Prague, 1518). C.36.f.4

Skaryna was born in the oldest Belarusian city, Polatsk. He was educated in universities in Kraków and Padua, and started his publishing endeavours in Prague – then one of the main centres of printing – and continued in Vilnius, which remained the most important centre of Belarusian culture and history from medieval times until the 1920s.

In the Belarusian cultural pantheon, Francysk Skaryna has a very special place. He was the most outstanding figure of the Renaissance and its humanist tradition in Belarus. He is also the most important Belarusian writer and translator of the period; an educator, philosopher and theologian, a fascinating entrepreneur and innovator, and an example of passionate patriotism.

Skaryna intended to publish the whole Bible. Between 1517 and 1519/20 he managed to produce more than half of the Old Testament – 23 books. These were translated into the Belarusian version of the Church Slavonic language then widely used in the Orthodox Church. Skaryna’s translation is close to the ‘Benatska Bible’ published in the Czech language in Venice in 1506 (C.18.b.2.); however, he consulted texts in ancient Biblical languages, as well as Church Slavonic manuscripts. The text of his Ruthenian Bible (Bivliia ruska) was supplemented by the translator’s prologues and commentaries in the Old Belarusian language.

Skaryna C.36.f.4 f001rBeginning of Bivliia ruska: Knigi tsarstv

In the prologue to the Psalter Skaryna explained his motives: “Seeing the usefulness of this small book, I decided to print the Psalter in Ruthenian words in Slavonic language for the glory of God in the first place [...] and for the good of everyone, because the merciful God sent me to the world from this people.” Skaryna intended his books for distribution among the common people (pospolityj lud) and other classes of his compatriots, the people of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (contemporary Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine). Interestingly, in virtually all prologues to his books, the printer mentioned his birthplace, the glorious city of Polack.

In 1520, Skaryna left Prague for Vilnius, the capital city of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, to open his own printing house. Printed Cyrillic books were still a novelty there, and the underdeveloped market dictated a different kind of literature. In Vilnius, Skaryna published The Small Travel Book (1522) and Apostol (1525) intended for daily prayer use by the largest possible audience, both clerics and lay people, as well as for use in primary schools.

Skaryna C.51.b.5 f001r

 Opening of  the Psalter (Vilna, 1522-1523). C.51.b.5

Scholars and churches in Belarus continue to debate Skaryna’s religious affiliation. It is likely that he was born into an Orthodox family but educated by Roman Catholics. He served as a secretary to Bishop Jan of Vilnius and may have converted to Roman Catholicism. In his own prayers (Orthodox in form), Skaryna referred to Catholic dogmas which allows us to assume that he might have been a convinced Uniate (or a Greek Catholic, in the contemporary terminology). Skaryna travelled widely throughout Protestant Europe and was at least once accused by a polemicist of being a “heretic Hussite”, a follower of Jan Hus who was one of the forerunners of the Reformation. Church calendars in Skaryna’s books have some elements in common with the Protestant tradition.

After Belarus became part of the Russian Empire at the end of the 18th century, all Skaryna’s books were removed from Belarus. They ended up in state libraries in Moscow, St Petersburg, Vilnius and various private collections. Just over 500 books by the first Belarusian and East Slavonic printer are known to survive today, more than half of them in Russia. A significant number of Skaryna’s publications are found in Ukraine. Skaryna’s books were well known in Ukraine and influenced Ukrainian Biblical translation and printing traditions. In Britain, the British Library, Cambridge University Library  and Trinity College Cambridge have copies of Skaryna’s books. The Belarusian Library in London also has a small fragment of one of the Prague editions. Three digitised books printed by Skaryna from the British Library's collections  (Books of Samuel and Kings C.36.f.4; Psalter C.51.b.5; Acts and Epistles; C.51.b.6) will be donated to the National Library of Belarus in September 2017. 

Skaryna C.36.f.4 f065rOpening of part 2 of  Bivliia ruska: Knigi tsarstv

Skaryna C.36.f.4 f139vOpening of Book 3 of  Bivliia ruska: Knigi tsarstv

In 1925, both the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Belarusian community in the western part of the country – then controlled by Poland – celebrated 400 years of Belarusian printing. The date related to the first book Skaryna published in Vilnius. For the occasion, the Belarusian State University Library (now National Library of Belarus) purchased ten of Skaryna’s books from a private collector in Leningrad. Since then, no more of Skaryna’s works were acquired for Belarus until February 2017 when one of the Belarusian banks announced the purchase of a copy of The Small Travel Book for its corporate collection. Currently, this copy is on tour to Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic and Italy - countries where Skaryna lived - before returning in September 2017 to Minsk for a grand exhibition, ‘Francis Skaryna and his epoch’.

DSCN5676

The first 17 volumes of the facsimile edition of Skaryna's books (Minsk, 2013- ) donated to the British Library by the National Library of Belarus.  Catalogued and photographed  by Rimma Lough. ZF.9.a.11377

The National Library of Belarus, meanwhile, is about to complete a multi-volume facsimile reproduction of all Skaryna’s books (picture above). Digital copies for this project were offered by many libraries and collections from around the world. The National Library is donating this publication to major libraries in Belarus and abroad, as well as to all institutions preserving Skaryna’s works. On February 27 this year a delegation from the National Library of Belarus presented a copy of the facsimile edition to the British Library in the special event held in the British Library. 

Skaryna Kristian Jensen

Kristian Jensen, Head of Collections and Curation, greeting the audience at the Belarusian event in the British Library. 

Alongside this project, the National Library of Belarus has been acquiring as many digital versions of all known copies of Skaryna’s publications as possible to create a comprehensive collection and make it accessible to researchers. The Library has truly been the driving force in celebrating 500 years of Belarusian and East Slavonic book printing. Hundreds of events have taken place in Belarus and abroad, and more are still ahead, among them an International Congress “500 Years of Belarusian Printing” and the most comprehensive exhibition of Skaryna’s works; both are taking place in Minsk in September 2017. 

Skaryna C.36.f.4 f241v

Colophon of Bivliia ruska: Knigi tsarstv with the imprint information: Ū velikom Starom meste Prazskom, Tyseshta Pe̡tsot I Osmʺnadesetʹ 

Ihar Ivanou, Head of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London

Further reading:

Ebenezer Henderson, Biblical researches and Travels in Russia, including a tour in the Crimea; and the passage of the Caucasus: with observations on the state of the Rabbinical and Karaite Jews, and the Mohammedan and Pagan tribes, inhabiting the southern provinces of the Russian Empire (London, 1826).  1048.k.28.

Cyrillic books printed before 1701 in British and Irish collections :a union catalogue, compiled by Ralph Cleminson ... [et al.]. (London, 2000). 2708.h.903 and m01/33811

Alexander Nadson,  Skaryna's Prayer Book in: http://belarusjournal.com/article/skaryna%E2%80%99s-prayer-book-89

Arnold McMillin, Francis Skaryna’s Biblical Prefaces and their Place in Early Byelorussian Literature in: http://belarusjournal.com/article/francis-skaryna%E2%80%99s-biblical-prefaces-and-their-place-early-byelorussian-literature-27

P. V. Vladimirov, Doktor Francisk Skorina: ego perevody, pečatnyja izdanija i jazyk (Munich, 1989). X.0909/738(85)

Frantsisk Skorina i ego vremia : entsiklopedicheskiĭ spravochnik  (Minsk, 1990). YA.1994.b.231

V. F. Shmataŭ,  Iskusstvo knigi Frantsiska Skoriny (Moscow, 1990). 2708.h.486

 E. L. Nemirovskiĭ, Frantsisk Skorina : zhiznʹ i deiatelʹnostʹ belorusskogo prosvetitelia. (Minsk,1990). 2708.e.1972

H. IA. Halenchanka,   Frantsysk Skaryna--belaruski i ŭskhodneslavianski pershadrukar. (Minsk, 1993). YA.1996.a.12908

01 August 2017

Reforming Switzerland

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With 1 August being Swiss National Day and 2017 marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it seems like an good moment to look at the Reformation in Switzerland. The country boasts two of the early centres of European Protestantism, Zurich and Geneva, and the latter city is still in some ways synonymous with Protestantism.

Zurich was the first Swiss city to introduce the Reformation, under the guidance of Huldrych Zwingli, preacher and later canon at the Grossmünster, one of Zurich’s most important churches. From his first appointment in 1519 Zwingli began to introduce reformist ideas, influenced by both Luther and Erasmus, into his sermons and practice.

Reformation Zwingli portrait
Huldrych Zwingli, from Theodore de Bèze, Icones, id est veræ imagines virorum doctrina simul et pietate illustrium ... ([Geneva], 1580). 611.e.3.

But the decisive move, seen as the real start of Zurich’s Reformation, came in March 1522 when Zwingli attended a meal in the house of the printer Christoph Froschauer during which sausages were served. This may sound trivial to modern minds, but the ‘Zürcher Wurstessen’ was no ordinary sausage supper. It took place during the fasting season of Lent when the Church required its members to abstain from eating meat. By condoning the breaking of this fast, Zwingli was openly challenging the Church’s authority. He wrote a defence of the action and general condemnation of fasting, claiming it had no scriptural authority, and followed this up in with an attack on clerical celibacy.

Erkiesen und Freyheit 3905.d.131
An edition of Huldrych Zwingli’s condemnation of religious fasting, Von Erkiesen und Freyhait der Speisen ... ([Zurich, 1522]). 3905.d.131.

 The Reformation progressed in Zurich, but not without controversy. Zwingli was opposed not only by the traditional Church authorities but by more radical reformers who believed he was too compromising in his stance. Zwingli also disagreed with Luther on key points, notably the Real Presence of Christ in the eucharist. A debate between Luther, Zwingli and their respective supporters in 1529 failed to resolve their differences.

Meanwhile, although some Swiss cities and cantons followed Zurich’s reforming lead, others banded together to defend their traditional faith, leading to the first of several confessional conflicts over the coming centuries. Zwingli himself was killed in one of these wars in 1531.

Five years later a young French theologian, Jean Calvin, settled in Geneva. Following a conversion to the reformed faith, Calvin had published Institutio Christianae Religionis (Institutes of the Chrisitan Religion) as an expression of his own faith and an interpretation of reformed religion for new believers, which he would revise and enlarge throughout his life.

Reformation Calvin Institutio
The first edition of Calvin’s Institutio Christianae Religionis (Basel, 1536). C.53.aa.16.

Calvin and his associates began to introduce their brand of religious reform to Geneva. After initial difficulties Calvin was gradually able to develop the city into a centre of Protestantism. It became a magnet for scholars and also a refuge for reformers persecuted in their own countries. Among the latter was William Whittingham, whose English translation of the Bible, known as the ‘Geneva Bible’, became standard in contemporary Protestant Britain and remained popular among noncoformists even after the publication of the King James Bible.

Reformation Calvin portrait
Jean Calvin, From Bèze, Icones...

Another refugee, the Scottish reformer John Knox, described Geneva as ‘the most perfect school of Christ that ever was … since the days of the Apostles’, but not everyone was so impressed. Voltaire would later complain that, by closing down the convents, Calvin and his associates had managed to ‘turn all society into a convent’ and that ‘for more than two hundred years there was not a single musical instrument allowed in the city of Geneva’. Calvin’s Geneva still has a reputation as a rigidly puritanical society run as a near-theocracy, where popular pleasures were banned and moral standards strictly enforced.

Yet like that other European stronghold of Calvinism, the Netherlands, Geneva also developed a reputation in the following centuries for tolerance and would offer refuge to figures such as Voltaire himself, as well as remaining a home of strict Protestant observance. Today the city actually has a higher proportion of Catholic than Protestant residents, but still celebrates its history as ‘the Rome of Protestantism’.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

25 July 2017

A rediscovered incunable

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Books in the iconic King’s Library Tower offer the most publicly visible representation of early printed books in the British Library. Specialist, in-depth catalogue descriptions  help us know and use what is there, but one vellum-bound copy of a popular 15th-century work has somehow sat neglected on its shelves for a couple of hundred years. How can this be?

The copy of Modus legendi abbreviaturas has a shelfmark 166.i.21 but has no British Library catalogue record; this effectively means nobody has been in a position to know about its existence.

Modus legendi f.1
The first printed page of Modus legendi abbreviaturas (166.i.21). The stamp used to identify King George III’s books is pressed over its first line of type.

Lists of books must be arranged meaningfully to be useful. Historically, many fashions and rules for description have been followed but key components are expected: authors and titles; the places and dates of printing and the name of the printer. A book’s title page is easily taken for granted – but how do you describe a book without the quickly accessible information contained on a title page or in a book’s colophon?

Modus legendi abbreviaturas is a reference book for studying Roman and Canon law, a glossary for unpicking the thousands of abbreviations, contractions and symbols used in Latin legal manuscripts and texts. It is, perhaps, the first manual of palaeography. More than 40 editions were printed in the 15th century alone; the first is thought to date from 1476.

Our copy that has lurked at 166.i.21 presents a problem because it is ‘Absque ulla nota’, i.e. it has no identifying marks such as printer, location or date. This may be one of the reasons why it was neglected. Past librarians could identify the work from the text but crucially could not specify where, when and by whom the book was printed.

Modus legendi KL cat Entry for 166.i.21 in the Bibliothecae Regiae Catalogus

 The Bibliothecae Regiae Catalogus compiled after George III’s death by F.A. Barnard and privately printed between 1820 and 1829, lists the book under the subject heading, ‘Jurisprudentia’ (its author was unknown at the time). Details about its 34 lines (of type) and 48 pages are given as distinguishing features. The shelfmark 166.i.21 is written in pencil but this information was apparently never carried over into the Library’s main catalogue.

Over the centuries, librarians and bibliographers have collated close studies of printers’ type to help identify where early hand-press printed works may have originated. Our copy here has a note in pencil, ‘Not in Panzer’, a reference to its absence from what was the first comprehensive attempt to catalogue incunabula, Georg Wolfgang Panzer’s Annales Typographici  (1793-1797).

 As closer bibliographic study of print type and other evidence has progressed it has been possible to identify or estimate the people, places and dates associated with elusive ‘unsigned’ works.

Modus legendi GK1

The beginning of the entry for the numerous editions of Modus legendi abbreviaturas in , ‘GK1’ - the first general printed catalogue of books in the British Museum, published in the 1890s. The attribution to the ‘R-Printer’ (now believed to be Adolf Rusch) is an example of how print types are used to identify or describe unsigned editions. The ‘161.i.21’ edition, in the collection for 70 years by this time, is missing from the record.

Research into books printed in the Low Countries suggest that the edition represented in the copy at 161.i.21 is the work of Gerardus de Leempt (active 1473-1488) and that it was probably printed in Utrecht, Nijmegen or even Cologne. De Leempt was a journeyman printer – first and foremost a skilled type-cutter – who collaborated with others to produce books. Few of his books were signed.

Modus legendi Historia colophon

Gerardus de Leempt’s name at the end of his printing of Petrus Comestor’s Historia scholastica (1473) IB.4 7031 – if only he had signed his name at the end of his other imprints, like 161.i.21!

The Incunabula Short Title Catalogue  states that there are ten known surviving copies of this particular de Leempt imprint; the rediscovery of this book happily adds another.

Fittingly for a work dedicated to deciphering texts, further research on the text of Modus legendi abbreviaturas suggests that the author’s identity – Werner von Schussenried, a jurist from Speyer – is concealed/revealed in an acrostic formed by taking the first letters of each line in a section of the book’s text (it doesn’t exactly jump out of the page though!).

The rediscovery of this copy provides opportunity to examine the particular edition more closely and it is quite exciting to see that the watermark on the paper used for de Leempt’s edition suggests that it may actually be the earliest of the 40 or so editions of von Schussenried’s legal glossary.

Modus legendi watermark

Watermark from a page in the 161.i.21 copy of Modus legend abbreviaturas – a bull’s head, curved muzzle, and cross – used on paper in the Low Countries in 1473, perhaps dating Leempt’s book to three years before what is thought to be the first edition from 1476.

 So how was this copy saved from obscurity? Many might think it reprehensible that the book has been missed for so many years, but arguably its rediscovery is also a sign of the Library’s good custodianship. It was found by the Library’s dedicated Collections Audit Officer undertaking systematic checks of shelf ranges against catalogue holdings.

It’s not unusual for ‘unrecorded’ copies of incunabula to be discovered sitting shyly on shelves in other national libraries. A comment in a review of a new catalogue of incunabula in the Summer 2014 issue of  The Book Collector (P.1901/86.), nails it somewhat, “If one wonders how it can be that so many generations have missed incunabula sitting on the shelves ... at the same time one must be grateful that a thorough search is now being made.”

 Christian Algar, Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 Further reading:

Wytze Gerbens Hellinga and Lotte Hellinga, The Fifteenth-Century Printing Types of the Low Countries. Translated from the Dutch by D. A. S. Reid. (Amsterdam, 1966) L.R.412.d.6

Incunabula printed in the Low Countries: a census edited by Gerard van Thienen & John Goldfinch. (Nieuwkoop, 1999). 2745.a.3/36

Victor Scholderer,  ‘The Author of the Modus legendi abbreviaturas,’ The Library, third ser., II, 1911, pp. 181-182. Ac.9670/24.

19 July 2017

A French Revolution Primer for Bastille Day!

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01 Order de Marche

Ordre de marche pour la Confédération. Qui aura lieu le 14 juillet, & dispositions dans le Champ-de-Mars. ([Paris], 1790). R.659.(32.)

Last Friday, 14 July, the Library’s French Collections curators attended the annual celebrations of the “Fête nationale” at the French Embassy in London. While a current exhibition at the British Library is commemorating the anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution the national celebration of 14 July in France gives us the opportunity to provide a sweeping summary of the events surrounding the 1789 French revolution, highlighting the presence of a major collection of c. 50,000 French revolutionary books, pamphlets and periodicals in the library collections, along with primary sources originating from the library of King George III, and a collection of items (manuscripts and prints, as well as engravings and paintings) relating to the doctor, journalist and revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat, donated by his bibliographer, François Chèvremont, at the end of the 19th century.

08 Te Deum

A political parody, Le nouveau Te Deum français (Paris, 1790) F.R.82.(4.)

In May 1789, in the context of increasing financial difficulties in the kingdom of France, King Louis XVI summoned the Estates General (les états généraux), who met according to their ancient structure of Clergy, Nobility and Commons. An immediate, defining and most contentious issue was how the voting system was to be decided – by head or by Estate. In June, fearing that military manoeuvres around Versailles were intended to disband the Estates General, the Third Estate, together with members of the other two Estates declared itself to be the Assemblée Nationale and vowed, by means of the Tennis Court Oath, not to separate until a constitution had been written for France. By this act, the Assemblée Nationale declared itself to be the supreme legislative authority for a unified Nation-State called France (instead of a collection of provinces with different laws and customs) owing loyalty to the same monarch.

03 Prospectus

 Prospectus d’une souscription civique, proposée aux Amis de la Constitution, pour l’exécution d’un Tableau... représentant le serment fait à Versailles dans un jeu de Paume, par les Députés des Communes, le 20 juin 1789 (Paris, 1790) R.68.(4.)

After the Paris insurrection, which involved the emblematic storming of the Bastille prison, on 14 July 1789, the National Constituent Assembly took a series of measures establishing major legal and administrative changes, promoting liberty, equality and fraternity, abolishing privileges and feudalism, and adopting the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. A first Constitution written by the National Assembly was accepted by the king in September 1791, sealing the end of the absolute monarchy; it was a period of governmental crisis and political discord and upheaval.

04 Adresse

 Pierre Athanase Nicolas Pépin Dégrouhette, Adresse aux Français de la Société fraternelle des deux sexes, défenseurs de la Constitution séante aux Jacobins S. Honoré (Paris, 1791) F.R.82.(17.)

In the summer of 1792, after the invasion of the Tuileries Palace by the Parisian people, Louis XVI and his family were imprisoned in the Temple prison. The monarchy was overthrown and a new constitution and government were needed. Elections led to the creation of the National Convention, which declared France a republic on 22 September 1792. About a year later, a new revolutionary calendar, replacing religious references with seasonal one, was adopted, using this date as its starting point. While France was at war with Austria and Prussia, Louis XVI, who may have hoped a foreign victory against the French army would restore the absolute monarchy, was tried for high treason by the Convention and beheaded on 21 January 1793.

05 Sentinelle

 Revolutionary periodical: no. 73. 21 Novembre. L’An 1er de la République Française. La Sentinelle, sur Louis le Dernier (Paris, 1792) F.902.(15.) ‘Dieu a calculé ton reigne, et l’a mis a fin, tu as été mis dans la balance et tu as été trouvé trop leger…’

A new Constitution was proclaimed on 24 June 1793, the Constitution of the Year I, but it was not enacted: while counter-revolutionary movements spread, especially in the West of France, Maximilien Robespierre and members of the radical Moutain (Montagnards) party, after having ousted the moderate ‘Girondin’ members of the Convention, started a dictatorial reign of Terror led through the Committee of Public Safety.

06 Constitution

Constitution de la République française, starting with the Déclaration des droits et des devoirs de l’homme et du citoyen (Lons-Le-Saunier, [1795/96]). RB.23.a.37642

In autumn 1795, about a year after the fall and execution of Robespierre on 9 thermidor an II (26 July 1794), the new Constitution of the Year III established a new regime, the Directory. It was governed by five individuals, and established two chambers of Parliament (le Conseil des Cinq-Cents and le Conseil des Anciens). It dealt with wars inside and outside of France and lasted until Napoléon Bonaparte’s coup d’Etat in 1799, which was followed by the Consulate and Empire.

07 Robespierre

 L. Duperron, Vie secrette, politique et curieuse de M. I. M. Robespierre... (Paris [1793/94]) R.112.(17.)

The collection of French Revolutionary tracts now in the British Library, the second largest in the world after that of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, was acquired from the politician and writer John Wilson Croker in three stages in 1817, 1831 and 1856: each set starts with a different shelfmark F, FR and R, and is bound in a different colour, brown, red and blue. Croker was a devoted collector and bibliophile, who enabled the first large scale purchase of revolutionary tracts from a bookseller in Paris. The British Museum later acquired some of Croker’s own collection.


02 Basement

The world of print changed dramatically during and after the French Revolution: the intense political debates leading to the birth of the French republic, and the abolition of the ancien régime corporations removed restrictions on setting up presses. Both in Paris and in different cities, towns and regions of France, small presses were used by groups and individuals eager to share their views in the increasingly public debate, thus contributing to the emergence of a public opinion.

09 Nous mourons

 Alphonse Louis Dieudonné Martainville. Nous mourons de faim, le peuple est las, il faut que ça finisse (Paris, 1794) F.357.(1.)

Pamphlets of various sizes could be printed cheaply and quickly in a standard format and disseminated in relation with current concerns and events. The British Library’s French revolutionary tracts, usually short pieces but occasionally involving longer texts (including the first French translation of Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790, FR.327(5)), cover a variety of subjects, and in our collection are bound thematically, grouping political ideas and reports on the activities of public bodies such as the états généraux or the Assemblée nationale, economic thought and discussion of financial issues, the death penalty, military events, religious matters, revolutionary festivals...

10 Discours

 Louis Claude de Cressy, Discours sur l’abolition de la peine de mort (Paris, 1791) F.R.223.(6.)

They bear witness to the development of new legislation, social change, power transfer and use of violence in this turbulent period. Under the Terror, many tracts were printed in defence of accused citizens trying to reach the committees in charge of their fate. The collection also includes many newspaper issues, such as L’Ami du Peuple (1789-93), written by Jean-Paul Marat, or the Journal des Amis de la Constitution (1790-91).

The three series of Revolutionary tracts are currently undergoing conservation to repair volumes whose bindings have been damaged by time and use. These books, periodicals and pamphlets, which tell the history of French constitutional government at the time it was formed, are a printed testimony to the growth, evolution and activity of a newly created Nation-State which owes its existence to a seminal event of the modern world.

11 Chanson civique

 Derante, Chanson civique au sujet de la Fédération du 14 juillet... dédiée à tous les bons patriotes. [Paris, 1790]) F.296.(4.)

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator, Romance Collections

References/further reading:

British Library Collection guides, “French Revolutionary Tracts”. 

Audrey C. Brodhurst ‘The French Revolution Collections in the British Library’, Electronic British Library Journal (1976) 

Jacques de Cock, ‘The ‘collection of Marat's bibliographer’ at the British Library’, Electronic British Library Journal (1993) 

French Revolution Digital Archive (Stanford University Libraries and the Bibliothèque nationale de France) 

French Revolutionary Collections in the British Library: list of contents of the three special collections of pamphlets, journals and other works in the British Library, relating chiefly to the French Revolution. Compiled by G. K. Fortescue; revised and augmented by A. C. Brodhurst. (London, 1979) X.800/31072.

France Diplomatie, ‘The 14th of July : Bastille Day’ (01/07/2017)

L’Elysée, ‘La fête nationale du 14-juillet’ (01/07/2017)

Des McTernan, ‘The printed French Revolution collections in the British Library’, FSLG Annual Review, 6 (2009-10), 31-44 https://frenchstudieslibrarygroup.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/fslg-annual-review-2010.pdf

The Newberry Library's French Revolution Collection digitised on the Internet Archive 

The Oxford handbook of the French Revolution, ed. David Andress (Oxford, 2015) YC.2016.b.1415

 

14 July 2017

Coppet, Constant and Corinne: the colourful life of Madame de Staël

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‘And what does one do on the fourteenth of July? Does one celebrate Bastille Day? […] Might one sing on Bastille Day?’ she asked. ‘Might one dance in the streets? Somebody give me an answer.’

David Sedaris, in his memoir Me Talk Pretty One Day (London, 2000; YK.2001.a.13423), recalls his language teacher’s increasingly exasperated efforts to get her class of foreign students to discuss traditional ways of celebrating France’s Fête Nationale. But although the fall of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 was quickly recognized as a turning-point in the French Revolution, in 1817 there was one house in Paris where the mood that day was far from festive. Within it Anne Louise Germaine, Madame de Staël, lay dead.

DeStaelPortrait.10667.i.4Portrait of Madame de Staël from: J.Christopher Herold, Mistress to an Age. A Life of Madame de Staël (London, 1959). 10667.i.4

Born on 22 April 1766 as the daughter of the Swiss financier Jacques Necker, Director-General of France under Louis XVI, the young Germaine was fortunate in having a mother who hosted one of the most brilliant salons in Paris. Suzanne Curchod, the daughter of a Swiss Protestant pastor, frequently received Edward Gibbon, the Comte de Buffon and other distinguished guests, and planned to raise her daughter according to Calvinist principles but also those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, allowing the little girl to mingle freely with the intellectuals who frequented their home. However, when Necker was dismissed from his post in 1781 the family moved to an estate at Coppet on Lake Geneva, only returning to Paris four years later.

Finding a suitable match for Germaine did not prove easy; not only had she shown signs of precocious brilliance, but eligible Protestants were scarce. Just before her 20th birthday, however, she was married in the chapel of the Swedish Embassy in Paris to Baron Erik Magnus Staël von Holstein, a Swedish diplomat 17 years her senior; despite the social advantages which it conferred, the marriage, though never dissolved, effectively ended with a legal separation in 1797.

After experimenting with drama and publishing a less than impartial volume of Lettres sur les ouvrages et le caractère de J. J. Rousseau (Paris, 1789; R.407. (17.)), Madame de Staël turned to fiction, the field in which she achieved renown with Delphine (1802) and Corinne, ou l’Italie (1807). The first of these suggests a less malicious version of Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons dangereuses: similarly written in the form of a series of letters, it describes the efforts of the eponymous heroine, a young widow, to manipulate the fate of a distant relation, Matilde de Vernon, by arranging a match for her with Léonce de Mondoville, only to become embroiled in a hopeless passion for him which ends in her suicide. The second, composed after the author had travelled in Italy, recounts in twenty chapters the love of the poetess Corinna and a young Scottish nobleman, Lord Oswald Nelvil, alternating between Rome, Naples, Scotland and Florence and depicting not only the landscapes, costumes and artistic glories of Italy but a gifted and independent woman far in advance of her times who nevertheless comes to a tragic end.

MadameDeStaelCorinne
Title-page of  Corinne, ou l’Italie (Paris, 1807) 1578/5030

The author’s life proved no less picturesque and eventful. With the outbreak of the French Revolution, she took an increasingly active role in politics, supporting the constitutionalist cause and rejoicing at the meeting of the Estates-General in May 1789 which launched the events leading to the downfall of Louis XVI. Despite the departure of her father after being dismissed from office yet again in 1790, she enjoyed diplomatic protection because of her husband’s position and took advantage of this to frequent the National Assembly and hold court in the Rue du Bac, where Talleyrand and other prominent figures frequented her salon. It was not until 1792 that she was forced to flee on the eve of the September massacres, first to Coppet where she established another salon and then to England before her husband’s reinstatement allowed her to return to Paris in 1794 after the fall of Robespierre.

Baron de Staël’s death in 1802 set his widow free to embark on further adventures, characterized by a running battle of wits with Napoleon, who put her under surveillance before finally, in 1803, forbidding her to reside within forty leagues of Paris. Accompanied by her lover Benjamin Constant, she decamped to Germany and over the next eight years ricocheted between that territory, Coppet, Italy, Russia, Sweden and England, collecting a train of distinguished friends and admirers including August Schlegel, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Lord Byron and the Duke of Wellington. Her turbulent relationship with Constant, commemorated in his novel Adolphe, ended with his marriage to the less volatile Charlotte von Hardenberg, and in 1811 she privately married a young Swiss officer, Albert de Rocca, three years her junior, producing a son the following year at the age of 46. The next year she published De l’Allemagne  an account of the political, social and cultural conditions which she had noted during her German travels.

MadameDeStaelAllemagneTitle-page of the second edition of De l'Allemagne (Paris, 1814) 1570/2030

Both her health and that of Rocca were in decline, and they travelled to Italy in October 1815. She had already met the Duke of Wellington before Waterloo, and their friendship was instrumental in persuading him to reduce the numbers of the Army of Occupation following Napoleon’s defeat. Despite continuing ill-health, she continued to run her Paris salon until her death from a cerebral haemorrhage on 14 July 1817, shortly after a conversion in extremis to Roman Catholicism.

Madame de Staël’s colourful and productive life has been seen as an example for women throughout Europe who, with the collapse of the old order, seized the heady freedoms which the new one offered. It can certainly be argued that, applauding the principles of the French Revolution, she embraced to the full the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity which it proclaimed.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Services

10 July 2017

The British Library’s Romanian collections.

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Without a specific Romanian acquisitions policy or a qualified Romanian Curator until the mid 1980s, the British Library historically acquired books selectively as they were offered to the Slavonic and East European department by Romanian and other European libraries. Since then we have endeavoured systematically to enrich our collections in the field of the humanities and social sciences with works in Romanian or of Romanian interest in any other language.

Although early printed Romanian books are poorly represented in the collections, a small number of them were acquired in the 19th century. These include the third oldest Romanian imprint: the Gospels in Church Slavonic printed in Târgoviște in 1512 by the Serbian monk Macarie, and Sbornik (Brașov, 1569; RB.23.c.388), a service book in Old Church Slavonic, printed by the Transylvanian deacon Coresi.

BG Chetvoroblagovestie C.25.l.1

Gospels in Church Slavonic, Chetvoroblagověstie (Târgoviște, 1512). C.25.l.1

Notable acquisitions of the 17th and 18th centuries were Indreptarea legii (Targoviste, 1652; C.112.g.5.), the first Wallachian code of laws, in a national language; and three works by Dimitrie Cantemir , Prince of Moldavia: Divanul, sau gîlceava ințeleptului cu lumea sau giudețul suffletului cu trupul (Iași, 1698; C.118.g.2.), the first Romanian philosophical writing; The History of the Growth and Decay of the Othoman Empire, first printed in London in 1734 (148.g.3.), translated into English from the author’s orginal Latin manuscript Historia incrementarum atque decrementarum Aulae Othomanicae; and Beschreibung der Moldau, also translated from Cantemir’s Latin manuscript and with the first Romanian map of Moldavia.

BG Portrait 572.d.9

 Portrait of Dimitrie Cantemir from his Beschreibung der Moldau, (Frankfurt & Leipzig, 1771). 572.d.29. 

Two seminal works of the early 19th century bear Buda imprints: George Șincai’s Elementa linguae Daco-Romanae sive Valachicae (Buda, 1805; 12962.dd.10.(1.)), followed in 1812 by Petru Maior’s Istoria pentru începutul românilor in Dachiia, an influential historical study of the origins of the Romanian people.

BG Istoria 804.d.3.

 Istoria pentru începutul românilor in Dachiia (Buda, 1812). 804.d.3.

In the middle of the 19th century Vasile Alecsandri, the Moldavian poet, playwright, politician and diplomat personally presented the British Museum Library with several of his poetic and dramatic works. The collections include significant runs of scholarly periodicals of this period such as Mihai Kogălniceanu’s Dacia Literară, (Iași, 1840; P.P.4838.ecb), Convorbiri Literare (Iași, 1867; P.P.4838.eca), edited by Iacob Negruzzi,  as well as Viața Românească (Iași,1906-1939; PP.4838.ecc), a literary and scientific journal, edited by Constantin Stere and Paul Bujor.

Of the early 20th century avant-garde journals selective issues of Contimporanul and Unu (Bucharest, 1928-1932; Cup.410.c.73) have been acquired.

BG Contimporanul C.192.b.2.
 Title-page of Contimporanul, vol. 1 no. 4 (Bucharest, 1922) C.192.b.2.

Major Romanian chroniclers – Grigore Ureche, Miron Costin, Ion Neculce , or the writers and poets Vasile Alecsandri, Mihai Eminescu, Ion Creangă – are represented by collected editions of their works originally published in Cyrillic script as classics of the Moldavian SSR. Their original Romanian editions historically formed part of the Library’s Romanian Collections. Latterly, regularly purchased material of Romanian interest, also published in the languages of the country’s ethnic minorities (Hungarian, German, Serbian, Romani, Ukrainian etc.) continues to enrich the collections, offering an independent-spirited reappraisal of events of the past decades.

Bridget Guzner, Formerly Curator Hungarian and Romanian Collections.

 

26 June 2017

Patterns for 16th-century Stitchers

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It was a recent cataloguing query from a colleague that led me to the pattern-books of Johann Schwartzenberger. One three-part work by him, Ain New Formbüchlin der Weissen Arbait …, was bound with a similar but separate work, Ain New Modelbüchlin des Porten gewürcks …, which had no catalogue record. That was easy to rectify, and I ordered the volume for cataloguing. When it arrived I was delighted and intrigued to discover that all four parts consisted mainly of woodcuts of pattern samples.

Modelbuechlein
Above: Title-page of  Johann Schwartzenberger, Ain New Modelbüchlin des Porten gewürcks... (Augsburg, 1534) 555.a.7.(1). 
Below: Title-pages of the three parts of Ain New Formbüchlin der Weissen Arbait … (Augsburg, 1534-1536) 555.a.7.(2-4).

Formbuechlein 1

Formbuechlin 2

Formbuechlin 3

At first glance I assumed that these were designs for woodcut borders to decorate books, not least because Schwarzenberger was described as a ‘Formschneider’, a word I associated with woodblock-cutters in the printing trade. A closer look at the title-pages made it clear that this was not the case, but still left me uncertain about what actually was the case. There were references in the titles to ‘weisse Arbeit’, and the terms ‘geschnürlet’ and ‘geböglet’. These last two meant nothing to me. I couldn’t trace them in modern or older dictionaries, and searching online didn’t help.

However, a closer look at the illustrations on two of the title-pages offered a clue. They showed figures sitting at what I had first assumed to be writing-desks, but which were in fact embroidery frames:

Modelbuechlein detail
Detail from the title-page of  Ain New Modelbüchlin des Porten gewürcks...

 I remembered that I’d heard white-work (i.e. ‘weisse Arbeit’) as used an English term relating to embroidery. That enabled me to refine my internet search, which now led me to an article from 1909 about Schwarzenberger’s pattern-books. This explained that ‘geschnürlet’ and ‘geböglet’ refer to raised and flat embroidery techniques. The initially mysterious ‘Porten’ in the Modelbüchlin title also became clear as ‘Borde’, a border or edging.

So these were embroidery patterns. But not for your average home hobbyist, even if such a person existed in 1534. They are designed for professional embroiderers, both male and female as the title-page images show, no doubt working for wealthy and aristocratic clients who would want the finest and most detailed work.

Some designs are fairly simple geometric patterns, or simplified figurative ones:

Geometric single page

Oaks and inscription

Narrow borders


Others are more ambitious, involving more naturalistic images of plants and animals:

Parrots and bear

Animals and putti

And there are some pages of with detailed pictures of individual animals, birds and insects. Presumably these were for inserting in other designs or embroidering separately:

Animals page 1

Birds page 3

There are also designs for scenes from Biblical stories or classical mythology:

Samson and Delilah
Samson and Delilah

Judgement of Paris
The Judgement of Paris (with Salome and Lucretia below)

Pyramus and Thisbe
Pyramus and Thisbe

Some are very complex. It’s hard to imagine working on these detailed patterns without the benefit of modern lighting:

Detailed borders

Roundels

A few, however, do provide a grid for guidance of the sort familiar to modern cross-stitchers:

Squared patterns 1

Squared patterns 4

Squared patterns 5

And on one page, someone has copied part of a pattern by hand: an embroiderer testing their copying skills before transferring the pattern? Or just an idle owner of the book doodling in the margin?

Doodle

If any keen stitchers out there fancy trying any of these, do show us the results in a tweet to @BL_European!

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

References:

Theodor Hampe, ‘Der Augsburger Formschneider Hans Schwarzenberger und seine Modelbücher aus den Jahren 1534 and 1535’, Mitteilungen aus dem Germanischen Nationalmuseum (1909), pp. 59-86. PP.3542.aa (and available online at http://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/mittgnm/article/view/28773/22461)

Otto Clemen (ed.), Hans Hofer’s Formbüchlein. Augsburg 1545. Zwickauer Faksmiledrucke; 23 (Zwickau, 1913). K.T.C.109.b.1/23.

Rabbits