European studies blog

12 posts from February 2014

28 February 2014

A Day to Celebrate Finnish Culture

Mastered by desire impulsive,
By a mighty inward urging,
I am ready now for singing,
Ready to begin the chanting
Of our nation's ancient folk-song
Handed down from by-gone ages.

So starts one of the earliest English translations of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, which tells the stories of mythical heroes and heroines.  The Kalevala is based on poetry in the oral tradition and is an arrangement of material collected by Elias Lönnrot and his assistants during their travels in Finland and Karelia in the first half of the 19th century. Lönnrot was a doctor, researcher and writer, with a particular interest in the Finnish language.

Cover of a biography of Lönnrot with his portrait and an image of an angelic figure playing a harpCover of August Ahlqvist’s biography Elias Lönnrot: elämä-kerrallisia piirteitä (Helsinki, 1884) 10602.d.28(4)).

There are two main editions. The first, published in 1835, was called Kalevala taikka vanhoja  Karjalan runoja Suomen kansan muinosista ajoista (‘Kalevala or old Karelian poems about the ancient times of the Finnish people’) and is known as the ‘Old’ Kalevala. In 1849 a new edition was published with the extra material that Lönnrot had gathered in the intervening years.  It is this second edition, the ‘New’ Kalevala, containing 50 poems and almost 23,000 lines, that is the one most commonly read and referred to when Finns talk of the Kalevala today. 

Title page of the 1835 edition of Kalevala.
Title page of the 1835 edition of Kalevala. Ac.9080 [no. 2]

Both editions were published by Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura (The Finnish Literature Society) which was founded in 1831.  Lönnrot was its first secretary, and his notebooks and manuscripts can still be seen there.  Its website today states that ‘SKS's primary functions are the research and promotion of Finnish oral tradition, the Finnish language and literature’ and in this its aims have remained the same for almost 200 years. It had a central role as a cultural institute at a time of national awakening, after Finland broke away from Sweden in 1809. The Kalevala was a powerful symbol of this developing national identity, and many new works in the fine arts were inspired by it, perhaps most famously the paintings of Akseli Gallen-Kallela.     

Painting of a woman kneeling by the body of her dead sonLemminkäinen's Mother by Akseli Gallen-Kallela.  Image from Wikimedia Commons 

In the British Library, holdings of Kalevala-related material, both primary texts and secondary literature, are extensive.  Searching our catalogue for the term ‘Kalevala’ brings up some 370 entries, revealing a wealth of treasures.  Aside from the 19th-century originals (which appeared in the Proceedings of the Finnish Literature Society, a series we still collect today), there are also later editions and adaptations.  There are translations into many languages, which are an indication of how the work has captured the imagination of readers from all over the world.  Secondary material includes the yearbooks of Kalevalaseura (The Kalevala Society)and a wide range of other research publications. 

Book cover with an image of a young man in a forest blowing a horn Cover of Kalevalavihko (Helsinki, 1909)  11852.v.20

Those researching Lönnrot himself will also find much of interest, including a presentation copy (to his friend J.F. Granlund) of Mehiläinen (‘The Bee’), the first Finnish-language periodical, which he founded, and a copy of Suomalais-Ruotsalainen Sanakirja (‘A Finnish-Swedish Dictionary’) which he edited in his later years.

  Handwritten inscription by Lönnrot
Inscription by Lönnrot on the title page of Mehiläinen. (Oulu, 1836-37, 1839-40)  C.121.b.19

Today, February 28th, is Kalevala Day in Finland and flags will be raised to commemorate the publication of the first edition.  A wreath will be placed at Emil Wikström’s statue of Elias Lönnrot in Helsinki.  It is an occasion for celebrating not just the Kalevala itself but Finnish culture as a whole. 

Barbara Hawes, Curator Scandinavian Studies


The Kalevala, the epic poem of Finland, Translated by J. M. Crawford.  (New York, 1888.)  11557.d.8.

Kalewala taikka Wanhoja Karjahan Runoja Suomen kansan muinosista ajoista.  (Helsinki, 1835, 1849.)  Ac.9080 [nos. 2, 14]

Suomalais-Ruotsalainen Sanakirja. Finskt-Svenskt Lexikon  (Helsinki, 1874-86.)  Ac.9080 [no.50]


26 February 2014

The not-so-wise ‘owl’: Antonín Sova and the ‘covetous dotard’

As Shrove Tuesday approaches, a search through the British Library’s holdings reveals many examples of carnivalesque humour. Among these is a volume published in Prague around 1900, Balada o jednom člověku a jeho radostech (‘Ballad of a man and his pleasures’) by the Czech poet Antonín Sova (1864-1928). Rather like a livelier and less ghoulish Christmas Carol, it recounts the protagonist’s encounters with the spirit of Carnival and other strange apparitions, vividly illustrated by František Kupka.  

  Illustration of a Jester outside a bearded man's windowIllustration by František Kupka  from Sova’s Balada o jednom člověku a jeho radostech (Prague, ca. 1900) 11585.m.13.

Sova’s own birthday (26 February 1864) fell around the time when such wild celebrations usually occur, and his career progressed accordingly. Rarely can a poet have borne a less appropriate name (Sova, in Czech, means ‘owl’), and despite the scholarly spectacles with which he appears in a photograph from 1914 by František Drtikol, wisdom was never his outstanding characteristic.

Photograph of Sova with a facsimile of his signatureDrtikol’s photograph of Sova, from Ladislav Narcis Zvěřina, Antonín Sova: studie jeho básnického vývoje  (Prague, 1918) X.908/3715

Even at school Sova acquired a reputation as a rebel whose misdemeanours included sporting a Czech tricolour tie in a public park. Nor did he find it easy to hold down a job; when lack of funds prevented him from completing his legal studies, he flitted from an editorial post on the famous Otto encyclopedia after only a year to a clerical job in the municipal department of medicine before ending up in 1898 as director of Prague’s Municipal Library, where he stayed until he retired.

However, he had quickly made an impression on influential writers including Adolf Heyduk and Jaroslav Vrchlický, who helped him to publish his poetry, and from 1890 onwards he brought out volumes of verses, novels and short stories. While his poetry frequently dealt with themes of love, his fiction addressed social and psychological themes, and reflected his increasingly radical political views.  Together with fellow-Symbolists, he was a founder member, in 1897, of the Máj group, the first official Czech writers’ association. However, that year also saw an episode in which he put his poetic gifts to far more reckless use.

In 1894, the Omladina Trial, held in Prague, convicted 68 Czech Nationalists of radical activities and drew attention to Czech anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism. Sova, an outspoken supporter of their cause, was incensed when the German historian and politician Theodor Mommsen published an article, ‘An die Deutschen in Österreich’ (‘To the Germans in Austria’), in the Vienna newspaper Neue Freie Presse (issue 11923, 31 October 1897) in which he referred to the Czechs as ‘apostles of barbarism’, and claimed that ‘the Czech skull is impervious to reason, but it is susceptible to blows’. The infuriated Sova responded by penning a retort in verse in which he attacked the Prussian professor in the most immoderate terms, calling him a ‘covetous dotard’  with ‘turgid Neronic lips’, an allusion to his most famous work, the Römische Geschichte. Far from detracting from his reputation, this outpouring caused Sova to be regarded as the leading poet of Czech nationalism; having described Mommsen as ‘on the brink of the grave’, he was no doubt gratified when he arrived there in 1903, and when, just over twenty years later, the independent Czechoslovak state came into being.

Sova’s lack of wisdom had other consequences; his marriage to a much younger woman broke down within a few years, and he contracted a disease (probably syphilis) which left him paralysed for the latter part of his life. However, his home in Prague was a magnet for a younger generation of Czech poets, and his writings are a lasting testimony to the vigour and vehemence which characterized the struggle for national autonomy and which ultimately achieved its success.

Susan Halstead, Curator Czech and Slovak Studies

24 February 2014

The Battle of the Floods

The media reports on the recent floods in England regularly mention how the Netherlands deals with floods. That’s not surprising, considering the Low Countries’ long history of struggling to keep their feet dry. The Netherlands are in effect a river delta where three big rivers, the Rhine, Waal and Meuse converge to flow into the North Sea. 18% of the land is under sea level and around 50% sits at less than one metre above the sea. Floods have always been a fact of life for the inhabitants, with floods like the St Elizabeth Flood  in the 15th century creating whole new landscapes – or should that be waterscapes?

It wasn’t only the sea that threatened the country; lakes and rivers flooded equally regularly. Take the Haarlemmermeer for example. This huge inland lake just south of Amsterdam was nicknamed the Waterwolf, for its ferocious appetite for land. As early as the 17th century engineers thought up plans to drain it, but it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the Waterwolf was finally tamed. It is now the location of Schiphol airport, as well as towns, fields and roads.

Detail from a map with a vignette of a lion killing a wolf, and an allegorical poemThe Lion of the Netherlands fights the Waterwolf; image from Provisionneel Concept Ontwerp ende Voorslach dienende tot de bedyckinge van de groote Water Meeren ([Amsterdam], 1641)
BL Maps * 32635.(1.)

The last major flood the Netherlands experienced occurred twenty years ago, when meltwater from the Alps came rushing down the canalised rivers and the Meuse burst its banks, flooding towns, farms and industrial estates in Limburg and South-Holland. Almost 250,000 people had to be evacuated.

The extent of these floods revealed the lack of maintenance of the dykes and other defences against the rivers at the time. Most resources had gone into the sea defences, especially after the flood disaster of 1 February 1953, the biggest natural disaster the Netherlands had seen since the Middle Ages. Circumstances then resembled those along the British coast this year: a violent South-Westerly storm combined with high spring tides caused a surge in sea levels no one had expected and huge waves crashed into the coastal defences. Dykes were breached in numerous places and the low lying houses and farms were flooded in hours, sometimes minutes.

The pictures shown below are from The Battle of the Floods: Holland in February 1953 (Amsterdam, 1953; 09406.l.4), an English edition of De Ramp, which was published soon after the disaster in aid of the flood victims. All authors and photographers contributed to the book for free and the publisher, the Dutch Booksellers’ Association (KVB) kindly gave permission to reproduce the images here free of charge.

The most interesting feature of this book is without doubt the fold-out map (below), showing the extent of the floods, the places were the dikes broke, and the number of casualties. It really brings home the magnitude of this disaster.

Map showing the extent of the 1953 floods in the Netherlands

The photos not only show the damage done to land, houses and livestock (nearly 50,000 were lost), but also the relief effort and the support that came from all over Europe, including Britain. At the time of publication not all facts had been firmly established and had to be adjusted later on, up to 2003, when it was discovered that a newborn baby had drowned.

Photograph of a flood relief team in a town square
Flood relief from Great Britain (from The Battle of the Floods)

The latest information (in English) can be obtained from the Flood Museum’s website. Overall 1,835 people lost their lives, 200,000 hectares of land were flooded, more than 3,000 properties were completely destroyed and 43,000 damaged. The total cost of the damage came to over 1.5 billion guilders.

The events of February 1953 resulted in the 35- year long project known as the ‘Deltaworks’, which not only built dams and dykes around most of Zeeland, but de facto overhauled the whole infrastructure of the islands. Land was redistributed with new roads as boundaries, to make agriculture more efficient. Waterways were cleaned up to reduce the amount of brackish water, thus creating natural wetlands.

The initial decision to close off the Oosterschelde completely was changed in favour of a shutter dam, which could be closed when necessary. This allowed the tides to come in and out and thus saved the mussel banks that are so vital for the local economy. Due to the unprecedented scope and scale of the project new technologies and machineries had to be developed that have subsequently been used all over the world. Somerset got their pumps from the Netherlands for a reason!

Marja Kingma, Curator Dutch Language Collections

Photograph of the Oosterschelde sea-dam
The Oosterscheldekering. Image by Vladimír Šiman from Wikimedia Commons

21 February 2014

Handel – Händel – Hendel: Anglo-German composer

Today we celebrate the 329th birthday of George Frideric Handel, or Georg Friederich Händel, a composer whose life epitomises the virtues of Anglo-German relations at the time of the Hanoverian succession. Born in Halle on 23 February 1685, Handel spent the last 36 years of his life in London, at 25 Brook Street. Though his social circles in London were mainly English-speaking, and most of his music sets English or Italian words, Handel remained German in his core. He would write private notes to himself in German on his manuscripts and, perhaps through frustration at his English acquaintances demonstrating their ignorance of the umlaut and mispronouncing him ‘Mr Handel’, he often signed his name ‘Hendel’.

Portrait of Handel in a decorative border
Handel, from the Walsh and Randall edition of Alexander’s Feast (BL RM.7. f.5)

The tercentenary of George I’s arrival from Hanover to the British throne affords a good opportunity to reconsider Handel’s connections with the royal family, in which his shared nationality certainly played an important part. In fact, Handel enjoyed the patronage of three British monarchs during his lifetime: Queen Anne, George I, and George II. Employed by George I when he was still the Elector of Hanover, Handel had the advantage of knowing the new king before his coronation in 1714. While he was employed as court composer to the Elector of Hanover, he spent much of his time in London, and wrote a birthday ode for Queen Anne.

When George I arrived in London, he did not speak English and maintained a German-speaking court, which gave Handel a distinct advantage over many of his fellow musicians in London. Although he was not appointed Master of the King’s Musick, Handel was favoured by George I and his family, while the appointed Master was left to compose music for smaller, less significant occasions. As a foreigner, Handel was not entitled to hold a court position, and he was appointed ‘Composer to the Chapel Royal’ with a pension rather than a salary, composing only for significant events. He also tutored the royal princesses, for which he was paid the princely sum of £200 per annum. Handel went on to compose the coronation anthems for George II, including most famously ‘Zadok the Priest’ which has been performed at every British coronation since, as well as the Music for the Royal Fireworks and the Water Music.

  Original manuscript of Handel's 'Zadok the Priest'
The opening bars of  Handel's manuscript of ‘Zadok the Priest’ (RM.20.h.5)

Handel’s connections with the Hanoverian succession form the subject of a new exhibition at the Foundling Museum, which runs until 18 May 2014. As well as several loans from the British Library’s collections, the display draws heavily on the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, held at the museum, as well as significant loans from Lambeth Palace, Westminster Abbey, the National Portrait Gallery and the Bate Collection.

After Handel’s death in 1759, his amanuensis and manager John Christopher Smith inherited all his music manuscripts, which were later presented to George III. They formed part of the Royal Music Library, which was presented to the British Museum Library by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1957. They now form one of the greatest treasures of the British Library’s music collections, and plans are now well underway for all of the Library’s holdings of Handel’s autograph manuscripts to be made freely available through our Digitised Manuscripts website.

Nicolas Bell, Curator, Music Collections, with Katharine Hogg, Librarian of the Gerald Coke Handel Collection at The Foundling Museum

19 February 2014

Light links : Lithuania to Königsberg & Kyiv to Rembrandt

In the British Library's Lithuanian collections, probably the most important item is the only surviving fragment of the first printed Lithuanian Bible (C.51.b.13), translated into Lithuanian by Samuel Bogusław Chyliński. The printing started in London in 1660. Although the whole Bible was translated, due to various disagreements only a part of it was printed (Genesis-Joshua). At the beginning of the 20th century only three copies of the printed part were known. The second one, known as the Vilnius copy, kept in St. Petersburg, has been lost since World War I. The third one, known as the Berlin copy, has been missing since World War II. Apart from the printed fragment of the Old Testament the library has also Chyliński's manuscript of his translation of the New Testament. It contains his private notes on the first and last leaves [Add.41310].

Watermark research on the first book ever printed in Lithuanian, the Catechismvsa Prasty Szadei,  by Martynas Mažvydas (Königsberg, 1547) of which there are only two known copies in the world (one in the Library of Vilnius University, the other in the Library of Torun University, Poland) and of a rare Cyrillic book Наука о седми сакраментах албо тайнах (Treatise on the Sacraments, Kyiv, 1657) by Sylvestr Kosiv (two copies in Marsh's Library in Dublin),  has revealed watermarks where it was thought there were none and has shown surprising links with Western Europe.

The author, thanks to support from the Bibliographical Society, has been able to image every page of the 1547 Lithuanian Catechism. This has revealed the crown watermark which has also been found in a 1548 book in the British Library.

Pages showing a crown watermark
Crown Watermark, pages 2, 7, 10 and 15 from Catechismus (1547). Image courtesy of Vilnius University library.

Pencil sketch of a crown watermark
Sketch of a watermark from  Johann Funck, Ein Sermon... (Königsberg, 1548) 1578/6335. Image courtesy of Vilnius University library.

The use of digital image processing has also allowed every gathering of this octavo to be re-assembled. The resultant Photoshop files have 19 layers. Eight are of the front-lit pages. Eight are of the back-lit pages. By selecting the appropriate layers one can therefore choose to view the re-assembled sheet either by conventional reflected light or by light passing through the sheet. Two other layers contain the page numbers. The top layer of the 19 is a rule which can be moved over the images and so rotated as to allow measurements. This facility was used to confirm that the chain line separation in both the books is 25 mm. Here are thumbnail images of the reassembled sheets:-

Images of gathering E of the Lithuanian Catechism
Image courtesy of Vilnius University library

The watermark in the paper used throughout both copies of the Kyiv printed Treatise is a fool’s cap. The fool’s cap was widely used. Use of the on-line Bernstein watermark facility shows that the fool’s cap watermark in the Treatise is remarkably similar to one found in a Rembrandt etching.

This was recently reported in an article in the journal Solanus. Here are images for comparison:

Two images of a fool's cap watermark
Image courtesy of Marsh’s Library

The image on the right shows the watermark NL-RHA-84 found in paper used by Rembrandt for a drypoint etching created in Amsterdam. The etching is of Saint Jerome beside a pollard willow and is currently held in the Rembrandthuis. It is signed and dated.

The full potential of the imaging techniques as described above is being realised across the globe. The author is eager to contribute to that process and would welcome comments at:

Ian Christie-Miller,
Information on the British Library’s Lithuanian Collections from Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator and Cataloguer, Polish-Baltic Collections.

‘Treatise on the Sacraments, 1657 -  Two Copies Compared:  The Paper and a Rembrandt’, Solanus: International Journal for Study of the Printed and Written Word in Russia and East-Central Europe. New Series,Vol. 23 (2013) 2716.a.2.

17 February 2014

50 years of exhibitions: a celebration

The recent Georges Braque retrospective in Paris (the catalogue is held by the British Library at shelfmark LF.31.b.9601) was the latest in the impressive series of exhibitions organised by the Réunion des musées nationaux (RMN) in the Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, a wing of the vast exhibition and museum complex built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle. These prestigious exhibitions benefit from the collaboration of major foreign museums, the combined resources of the organising institutions being instrumental in securing important loans.

Cover of the book '50 ans d'expositions'Renée Grimaud’s 50 ans d'expositions au Grand Palais, Galeries nationales (Paris, 2009; shelfmark YF.2011.b.277), is a lavishly-illustrated survey of some 180 exhibitions staged since 1959, initially in the Louvre, the Orangerie des Tuileries and the Petit Palais, and, since 1966, in the Grand Palais. The presentation is chronological, with a short article describing the most important exhibitions each year, together with factual information about all the others: dates, attendance figures, number of works.

Typically, there are four exhibitions every year, two in the autumn and winter, and two in the spring and early summer; a monographic show is usually coupled with a thematic one (on a civilisation, an artistic movement, a historical figure, or a type of artefact). There have been several unforgettable exhibitions in both categories (no visitor to the great Manet exhibition in 1983 is ever likely to forget the experience). Particularly important, because they define the image of an artist for a whole generation of visitors, have been the monographic exhibitions on French artists, from Poussin to Vuillard; some artists – Courbet, Renoir, Monet, Cézanne – have benefited from two. Exhibitions now tend to be less comprehensive since insurance costs have become so prohibitive and museums, for conservation reasons, are wary of lending major works from their collections.

Exhibition catalogues are the enduring records of temporary events, and the ones published by the RMN (and by their co-organisers in their respective countries and languages) have always been among the best, with introductory essays, detailed entries for each work, high quality illustrations, and comprehensive bibliographies. Several have become standard reference works. A personal selection of the most important ones is given at the end of this article but I would like to describe in more detail two outstanding catalogues, one monographic and one thematic .

The Seurat centenary exhibition in 1991 was, astonishingly, the first major exhibition of the artist’s  work in France. Seurat’s works, paintings and drawings, were sold by his family after his death and most of them left the country. Of the six large-scale paintings he produced, only one (Le Cirque) is now in a French public collection, bequeathed to the Louvre in 1924 (by an American collector!) and now in the Musée d’Orsay.  This exhibition was, therefore, something of a homecoming. Only two of these paintings could be borrowed but the absence of the other four was compensated by the abundance of preparatory drawings and painted sketches (some 30 for La Grande Jatte alone!) which, as it has often been pointed out, have a spontaneity and poetic freedom that the finished, monumental works lack. Seurat was one of the greatest draughtsmen, and his remarkable Conté crayon drawings – mysterious, brooding, melancholy – formed the backbone of the exhibition and are magnificently illustrated in this catalogue.

Picture by Seurat of a seated nude youth
Georges Seurat,  Seated Nude: Study for ‘Une Baignade’, 1883.  (Scottish National Gallery; image from Wikimedia Commons)

Cover of the book 'L'Ame au corps'L’Âme au corps, arts et sciences, 1793-1993 was one of the largest (the catalogue lists 1005 entries, many consisting of several items) and most ambitious ever staged at the Grand Palais. It was also one of the most unfortunate, as its run was curtailed when an unsafe roof necessitated the closure of the gallery for several weeks. The exhibition examined the interconnections between science and visual arts from the 18th century to the present. Focusing on representations of the human body, it brought together a wide range of objects – anatomical drawings and wax figures, automata – and a wealth of subject matter – physiognomy, phrenology, magnetism, theories of evolution, Lombroso’s theory of anthropological criminology, spiritism – all examined in eight large sections of the catalogue.                               

I would, however, like to finish on a more personal note, with a look at one of the first exhibitions I saw at the Grand Palais, in 1976.

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898) was an artist previously mainly encountered, like Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon, in general discussions of Symbolist art. The decision to stage a major exhibition of his work was, therefore, a brave one. The organisers, like those of the Seurat exhibition several years later, faced the problem of having to represent the artist’s major works, his numerous decorative mural cycles that adorn museums and other public institutions in France, through clusters of preparatory studies – drawings, oil sketches and portable studies or reduced-scale replicas of the monumental works. They rose to the challenge magnificently and the exhibition revealed the peculiar genius of this artist: his refined, dream-like, elegiac arcadian scenes, his pared-down compositions, and also his delicate colourism and cool palette. Finally, in the audiovisual introduction to the exhibition, there was the inspired combination of Puvis’s allegorical pastoral scenes and visions of antiquity with Debussy’s Danse sacrée et danse profane, for harp and strings (1904).

Painting of bathers in a lake surrounded by wooded countryside
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, L’Été (Summer), 1891. (The Cleveland Museum of Art; image from Wikimedia Commons)

The exhibition was the starting point for a revaluation of the work of Puvis de Chavannes and his influence in late nineteenth-century art. It was followed by numerous exhibitions and publications that culminated in the 2002 mammoth show in Venice which aimed to demonstrate that Puvis exerted a wide-ranging influence in Europe, from Degas, Burne-Jones, and Munch to Carrà, Matisse and Picasso. It also led to the publication of the two-volume catalogue raisonné of his work in 2010.

Chris Michaelides, Curator, Italian and Modern Greek Studies

Some notable catalogues (all published by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris):

Monographic exhibitions

Puvis de Chavannes, 1824-1898 (1976-77)  X:421/9091 or X:410/6307

Manet, 1832-1883 (1983) YV.1986.b.114

Watteau, 1684-1721 (1984) YV.1987.b.415

Fragonard (1987-88) YV.1988.b.334

Seurat (1991) LB.31.c.3713 (English language edition: J/X.0415/274(65) and LB.37.c.134) [Pictured right]

Géricault (1991-92) LB.31.b.6572

Degas (1988) f88/0467 (English language edition)

Toulouse-Lautrec (1992) LB.31.c.4079 (English language edition)

Nicolas Poussin, 1594-1665 (1994-95) LB.31.b.10584

Vuillard (2003-04) LC.37.b.18

Thematic exhibitions
L'Âme au corps:  arts et sciences 1793 – 1993 (1993-1994) LF.31.b.7049

Le Siècle de Titien: l’âge d’or de la peinture à Venise. (1993) YA.1994.b.502

Mélancolie, génie et folie en occident (2005-2006) LF.31.b.2337

Other publications
From Puvis de Chavannes to Matisse and Picasso: toward modern art, edited by Serge Lemoine. (London, 2002) YC.2002.b.1307

Aimée Brown Price, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (New Haven, Conn., 2010). LC.31.b.7242 (vol. 1) and LC.31.b.7243 (vol.2)

Debussy, la musique et les arts (Paris, 2012) YF.2013.b.325

Jean-Michel Nectoux, Harmonie en bleu et or: Debussy, la musique et les arts (Paris, 2005) LF.31.b.2571

14 February 2014

‘Tonight put on perfection…’: the Valentine’s Day wedding which gave us the Georgians.

In February 1613 London was en fête in preparation for a royal wedding. A pageant on the Thames, mock sea battle and firework display in which St. George fought a dragon which exploded with a roar and vanished were staged to precede the great event: the Princess Elizabeth, eldest daughter of James I, was to be married to Frederick, the Elector Palatine.

Although the bride’s mother, Anne of Denmark, had initially looked down on this Protestant match and predicted that her daughter would be known merely as ‘Goody Palsgrave’, she was gradually mollified, and on Sunday, 14th February  she gathered with the king and the court to witness the ceremony in the chapel of the Palace of Whitehall. The 16-year-old princess, dressed in cloth of silver and adorned with pearls and diamonds, was given away by her father to a bridegroom clad in silver and capable of pronouncing his vows in a service conducted wholly in English, although the young couple normally conversed in French.

The wedding was the occasion for a masque designed by Inigo Jones  featuring Native Americans, small boys dressed as baboons, and a water pageant representing the ‘Marriage of Thames and Rhine’, organized by Sir Francis Bacon. Literature, too, was not forgotten: Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men, presented ‘before the Princess Highness the Lady Elizabeth and the Prince Elector Palatine fourteen several plays’ including The Tempest, and poets and ballad-makers composed numerous epithalamia, the most famous of which was John Donne’s Epithalamium on the Lady Elizabeth and the Count Palatine being married on St. Valentine’s Day .

The British Library holds several first editions of poems composed for the occasion, including Abraham Aurelius’s In nuptias illustrissimi principis Frederici V. comitis Palatini et illustrissimae lectissimaeque virginis Elizabethae (London, 1613;  1070.m.5 (2.), pictured below) and the Epithalamium et gratulatio  by Joannes Gellius of Gellistoun (Heidelberg, 1613; 837.k.8 (2)).

Title-page of Abraham Aurelius’s In nuptias illustrissimi principis Frederici V. comitis Palatini et illustrissimae lectissimaeque virginis Elizabethae
The choice of date for the union of ‘these young turtles that were coupled on St. Valentine’s Day’, as the bride’s father described them, proved auspicious. The arranged marriage developed into an exceptionally happy one, despite the vicissitudes which they were to encounter. On New Year’s Day 1614 Elizabeth produced her first child, a son, whose arrival was celebrated by the Scots poet John Forbes in a Latin ode.

Title page of John Forbes, 'Genethliaca Friderici v. Comitis Palatini Rheni, et Elizabethæ ... primogeniti filij'John Forbes, Genethliaca Friderici v. Comitis Palatini Rheni, et Elizabethæ, Jacobi Magnæ Britanniæ regis filiæ unicæ, primogeniti filij, nascentis Cal. Jan. ... 1614. (Heidelberg, 1614) 837.k.8 (1)

Even before the wedding it had been rumoured that Frederick might soon rise in the world. King James disclosed to the Spanish ambassador that he might do so  ‘in respect of the crown of Bohemia, because they pretend it to be elective’. This came to pass in October 1619, when the new King and Queen of Bohemia ceremonially entered Prague, welcomed by the townspeople and four hundred Hussite  peasants rejoicing at the replacement of the Habsburg oppressors by a Protestant monarch. Crowned in St. Vitus’s Cathedral and lodged in the palace of Hradcany, the couple delighted their new subjects when, two months later, the Queen gave birth to a son, her third, named Rupert in honour of an earlier Elector Palatine. Yet within a year the Thirty Years’ War had broken out and, with a Bavarian army advancing on Prague, the ‘Winter King and Queen of Snow’  were forced to flee with such haste that the infant prince was almost left behind and was hurriedly thrown by a courtier into the back of the departing coach.

James I, attempting to negotiate a Spanish marriage for the Prince of Wales, felt unable to offer a refuge to the fugitives and their family (which finally numbered eleven), and in April 1621 they fetched up in The Hague as guests of a distant relative, the Prince of Orange, which became their permanent home. The defeat of the King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus, at the battle of Lützen on 6th November 1632 dealt Frederick a blow from which he never recovered, and on 19th November he succumbed to the plague, leaving his wife bereft of ‘the best friend that I ever had, in whom was all my delight’, as she wrote to her brother Charles I.

Determined to stay and fight for her eldest son’s right to inherit, Elizabeth did not return to London until 1661, after the coronation of her nephew Charles II, in her 66th year. Here, before removing to Exeter House, she was the guest of William, Lord Craven, who had generously supported the Stuart cause for many years, leading to the sequestration of his Berkshire estates. With the Restoration, these were returned to him; he owned a splendid house in Drury Lane, and he and Elizabeth were often seen together at the theatre, leading to rumours that they had contracted a secret marriage. Although this is unlikely, the Earl undertook the building on his estates at Ashdown of a house in the Dutch style as a hunting lodge and refuge from the plague. The British Library possesses an engraving (pictured below) by Knyff and Kip (Maps K.Top.7.42) of ‘Ashdowne Park in the county of Berks’, which came to the Library  from  George III’s collection in 1829.

Engraving of Ashdown House and surrounding forested parkland

Ashdown House is now owned by the National Trust, and one can imagine, walking through the park on a fine spring day in agreeable company, the pleasure that Lord Craven found in planning it to delight his guest. Sadly, Elizabeth never saw the building; she died in 1662 before it was completed, but not before, in June 1660, her youngest daughter Sophie, Electress of Hanover, had given birth to the future George I, founder of the Hanoverian dynasty.

Susan Halstead,  Curator Czech and Slovak Studies.

12 February 2014

The First ‘Kobzar’

*This blog post was updated following the discovery that the British Library holds a 1914 facsimile of the first edition of Shevchenko’s 'Kobzar' and not the original as previously thought. We are grateful to Luiza Ilnytska (Vasyl Stefanyk National Scientific Library of Ukraine) for her help in correctly identifying the facsimile.

On February 12 (old style) 1840 the Russian censor in St Petersburg, Petr Korsakov (1790-1844) gave permission to publish a small book of poetry by an unknown Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko.

Pages from the 1914 facsimile of KobzarCensor’s approval to publish, from the facsimile of the first edition of Taras Shevchenko, Kobzar (L’viv, 1914) C.121.a.20.

On February 25 (old style) the poet celebrated his 26th birthday. Of the 26 years of his life he had lived 24 as a serf, being the property of rich Russian landowner Pavel Engelhardt, and only two as a free man.  His liberation from serfdom came in 1838 due to the efforts of Russian and Ukrainian intellectuals in the imperial capital who spotted the young Shevchenko’s talent as a painter and decided to buy him out of serfdom by selling in a lottery a portrait of the Russian Romantic poet Vasily Zhukovsky  by the renowned classicist painter Karl Bryulov (portrait below from Wikimedia Commons). The portrait was sold for 2,500 roubles.

Seated portrait of Vasily Zhukovsky

The small-format book, which duly appeared in 1840, although with censored passages, was entitled Kobzar. The title refers to blind Ukrainian musicians, often former Cossacks, who travelled throughout Ukraine singing epic poems and playing a stringed instrument called the kobza.  Shevchenko himself had often listened to kobza players in his childhood as they sang epic poems about the legendary past of Ukraine, about Cossacks who defended their homeland from its enemies, and about the heroic figures of the peasant rebels.

The first Kobzar consisted of only eight works, yet this small book changed the history of Ukrainian literature forever. Although the British Library does not hold a first edition (of which only around 1,000 were printed in St Petersburg in 1840), it holds a rare facsimile of the original, which was given to the Library by the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain for safekeeping in 1951. The Library’s copy bears the personal library stamp of the book’s former owner, Adam Stankievič (1892-1949), a Belarusian Roman Catholic priest, historian, politician and publisher.

Published in L’viv in 1914 to mark the centenary of Shevchenko’s birth, the facsimile was produced by the Shevchenko Scientific Society in a print run of 3,000 copies. In early September, just a few months after the book was published, Eastern Galicia (of which L’viv – known in German as Lemberg – was the principal city) fell under the occupation of the Imperial Russian Army. Tsarist officials pursued a policy of Russification and the Shevchenko Scientific Society was banned and its buildings and printing presses were confiscated.

The 1914 facsimile is so similar in format, paper and print to the 1840 original that a number of museums and private collectors, including the British Library, have mistakenly considered it to be the first edition. As noted by the Shevchenko expert Maria Korniychuk in her 2010 article, the key differences can be found in the saturation and sharpness of the print (sharper and more saturated in the original), the paper (higher quality and trimmed in the original and lower grade with uneven, poorly trimmed edges in the facsimile), font (slightly elongated in the original), and typographic marks (the facsimile is missing a number of typographic marks including the figure ‘3’ on p. 53, an asterisk on p. 55 and the figure ‘4’ on p. 77).

A digitized version of the original 1840 edition (made from the copy from the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine) is available from the World Digital Library.

Frontispiece of 'Kobzar', showing a kobzar playing his instrument

Engraving of a kobzar by Vasil Shternberg, a close friend of Shevchenko in the St Petersburg Academy of Arts. Frontispiece of Kobzar (L’viv, 1914) C.121.a.20.

Like all Romantic poets of the first half of the 19th century, especially those from stateless nations, the Ukrainian poet turned his attention to the glorious past and  painful loss of freedom. Two ballads about the Zaporozhian Cossacks  called  ‘Ivan Pidkova’ and  ‘Tarasova nich’ (The Night of Taras) tell the stories of brave Cossack endeavours.  A shorter poem, ‘Perebendya’  tells the story of an itinerant kobzar. Sad thoughts about the fate of the subjugated Ukrainian people pervade the poem  ‘Dumy moi, dumy moi...’ (‘O my thoughts, my heartfelt thoughts’) which opens the book.  Another poem, Do Osnovianenka (‘To Osnovyanenko’), is dedicated to the Ukrainian writer Hryhory Kvitka-Osnovyanenko, and laments the destruction of the semi-autonomous Cossack state of Zaporozhian Sich  by the Russian empress Catherine II in 1775 and the enslavement which followed.

Like that of other prominent Slavonic Romantic poets, as well as poets of  the Celtic nations, the poetry of Shevchenko is deeply rooted in folklore and oral history passed from generation to generation. Ukrainian folklore, especially its historical epic poetry called dumy, is extremely rich and was fervently collected by 19th-century folklorists. In turn, many of Shevchenko’s poems became part of Ukrainian folklore and were known by heart by numberless Ukrainian peasants in the 19th century and beyond.

A deep empathy with the fate of peasant women characterizes Shevchenko’s poetry and ranks among the most powerful descriptions of their fate in world literature. The first Kobzar has two long ballads about their fate: tragic love for a young Cossack who never came back from battle in Topolia (‘Poplar-tree’), and the story of a suicide in Kateryna. One shorter poem – a young orphan girl’s lament about her fate – is called Dumka (‘Ballad’) and starts with a question, ‘Nashcho meni chorni brovy?’ (‘What good are my dark brows to me’). Black brows and brown (hazel) eyes were traditionally attributes of beauty in Ukrainian folklore, but even they can’t improve the fate of the poor orphan girl: ‘There is no one who will ask me / Why my eyes are weeping. / There is no one who can tell me / What my heart is seeking’ (translation by Vera Rich).

The tragic fate of the beautiful peasant girl Kateryna, seduced by a Russian officer, then abandoned  with a child and thrown out by her own parents who are ashamed of her, is known in all corners of Ukraine. Generations of Ukrainian women shed tears over her fate, repeating after Shevchenko: ‘Kateryna, my poor darling / Woe has struck you, surely! / Where, with your orphan, in this world / Is there a place for you?’ (translation by Vera Rich). Shevchenko wrote ‘Kateryna’ in 1838 and dedicated it to Vasily Zhukovsky, ‘In memory of 22 April 1838’ (the date Shevchenko received his certificate of freedom from serfdom). Being a painter as well as a poet, Shevchenko also painted Kateryna in 1842 (painting below from Wikimedia Commons)

Picture of the peasant girl Kateryna, with her soldier lover riding away from her

During his short life Shevchenko published two fuller editions of Kobzar: one in 1844 and another in 1860 (11585.d.43.). The latter edition has been digitised as part of the British Library Google Books digitisation project. This book achieved a very special place in the cultural heritage of the Ukrainian people, and Shevchenko himself is known as ‘Kobzar’.

Two English-language translations of fuller versions of Kobzar were published in 2013 to mark the 200th anniversary of Shevchenko’s birth in 2014: one by Glagoslav Publishers, translated by Peter Fedynsky, and another by Mystetstvo (Art) publishers in Kyiv, translated by Vera Rich (YF.2014.b.264). It is to be hoped that these translations will catch the eyes of reviewers and readers in the English-speaking world. The history of Romanticism in Europe is incomplete without Shevchenko’s poetry.

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Ukrainian Studies


Luiza Ilnytska, ‘Pershe vydannia “Kobzaria” T. H. Shevchenka 1840 r. u bibliotekakh, muzeiakh i pryvatnykh kolektsiiakh…’, Zapysky L'vivs'koi natsional'noi naukovoi biblioteky Ukrainy imeni V. Stefanyka, 2014, vyp. 6, pp. 3-43. 

10 February 2014

The history of Spain in 40,000 lives

Spain has eight academies, founded in the 18th century on the French model.

The Academy of the Spanish Language, Real Academia Española (RAE), has a good record of publication. Its first dictionary, the Diccionario de Autoridades, so called because it provided citations from approved authors for every entry, came out in 1726 (BL shelfmark 1505/273.). The first Academy grammar, Gramática de la Lengua Castellana (236.d.32), came out in 1771.

The RAE has not wanted for detractors.  The Dictionary was mocked for its definition of ‘dog’ as ‘animal the male of which which raises its hind leg to urinate’. The entry for the passive in the Grammar explains ‘the passive voice is little used in Spanish’.

The Diccionario Histórico de la Lengua Española (Historical Dictionary of Spanish) launched in 1933 and  stalled in 1936 having  reached from A to Ce  (LEX.83). It has since been revived in electronic form.

The Spanish Academy of History, Real Academia de la Historia, also has a history of tribulations in publishing.  Palencia’s history of the reign of Isabella, the Gesta Hispaniensia,  was written 1450-92;  publication was mooted by the Academy in 1835, but it was issued in an authoritative edition only in 1998-99 (ZA.9.a.9553) and at the time of writing is incomplete.

The Catalans produced an excellent Biographical Dictionary (Diccionari biogràfic) in four volumes in 1966-70 (HLR 920.046). But the Spanish Biographical Dictionary, Diccionario biográfico español, first mooted when the Academy was founded in 1735, only finally began to appear in 2009.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Press coverage paid lip service to the huge scale of the project (nearly 40,000 lives) and focused more heavily on the politics. Many of the contributors were in their 70s; many went back to the days of the Franco regime and were proud of it. The life of Franco was by his friend Prof. Luis Suárez Fernández. When challenged as to why he didn’t call Franco a dictator, he replied: ‘Franco never dictated anything’.

There were calls for the entire Dictionary to be pulped, or for corrections to be made in any future electronic edition (as yet it’s paper only). It’s now been agreed that revisions of some of the most contentious entries will be issued.

The complete Dictionary is now on the open shelves in the Humanities 1 Reading Room (HLR 920.046) and researchers can make up their own minds. Currently shelved on the far wall as you enter the Reading Room, its 50 volumes – bound in sky blue – beckon to readers as soon as they pass the security checks.

The volumes of the Diccionario Biográfico Español

Diccionario biográfico español (Madrid, 2009- )

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


Raúl Prieto, ¡Vuelve la real madre Academia! Crítica científica, aunque irrespetuosa y cachonda, del Diccionario de la lengua española, edición XX, 1984, de la Real Academia Española.  (México, 1985).  YA.1989.a.15497

E. Jiménez Ríos, La crítica lexicográfica y el ‘Diccionario de la Real Academia Española’: obras y autores contra el Diccionario (La Coruña, 2013)

‘El Diccionario Biográfico Español, revisado una vez que se termine’, El País, 12.3.2013 (

07 February 2014

Children’s author wins LGBT award

Last  Sunday, the Netherlands Association for the Integration of Homosexuality COC. (N.V.I.H. COC) announced the winners of this year’s Bob Angelo medal. The medal is awarded to a person who has in some way advanced the interests of LGBT people. One of this year’s winners is children’s and teens’ author Carry Slee. Slee writes about LGBT issues in a down-to-earth way, rather than emphasising the ‘otherness’ of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. In doing so, the jury remarked, Slee made a special contribution to the emancipation of young LGBT people especially, by making it easier for them to identify with the characters in her books.

The fight against prejudice for LGBT people in the Netherlands has come a long way, but remains necessary.

The N.V.I.H.-C.O.C. is the world’s oldest still active advocacy group that works to support equal rights for LGBT people and is one of very few gay rights organisations with a special advisory status at the UN. It was founded in 1946 as ‘The Shakespeareclub’, but changed its name to Centre for Leisure and Culture C.O.C.

It had to tread very carefully and meetings were held in secret, because of the semi-illegal nature of homosexuality in those days. Article 248bis of the Dutch Penal Code rendered non-heterosexual activity practically illegal. It wasn’t finally scrapped until 1971.

Advocating equality for LGBT people remains necessary, even in the Netherlands with its reputation of tolerance towards people of different sexual orientation. The British Library’s Dutch language collections include works on the history of homosexuality in the Netherlands.  D.J. Noordam, Gert Hekma and Rob Tielman all discuss the infamous prosecutions against homosexual men in 1731, resulting in severe punishments, including death. We can get a glimpse of these practices from a series of sentences, handed to 33 men accused of ‘sodomy’. They all went on trial at the Court of Holland, Zeeland and Vriesland on the 5 October 1731. The verdict is printed as a standard document of barely two pages long, in which only the name of the defendant needed to be inserted. They were all sentenced to banishment for life from the lands under the jurisdiction of the Court and all their goods were confiscated.  

Title-page of a 1731 Dutch law against 'sodomy'

Sententien van den Hove van Holland, tegens verscheide Persoonen ter saake van gepleegde sodomie: in dato 5 October 1731. (’s Gravenhage, 1731) BL shelfmark D.NA.4.

The British Library holds two bound volumes of the journal Vriendschap (‘Friendship’), COC 1950-1954. The recommended book lists it contains give a clue as to which authors were gay.

Cover opf 'Vriendschap' from 1950 with an image of a man running with a bannerAn early issue of Vriendschap. (Reproduced by kind permission of the COC)

This journal was superseded by Dialoog, co-edited by the Dutch novelist and polemicist Gerard van het Reve.

The Netherlands’ best novelist, Louis Couperus, was known to be homosexual, although he could not openly express this. He hints at it in some of his novels, such as De Komedianten (‘The Comedians’). Similar authors are Anna Blaman (1905 -1960), and Gerard Reve (1923-2006). While Blaman and Reve were gay, Harry Mulisch (1927-2010) was straight. Yet he wrote Twee Vrouwen (‘Two Women’), generally regarded as a very sensitive depiction of lesbian relationships. The novel brought him great acclaim from the international lesbian movement. (Dutch lesbians were less impressed: see Marita Mathijsen, Twee vrouwen en meer: over het werk van Harry Mulisch [Amsterdam, 2009;  YF.2009.a.26196].) In 1979 the novel was made into a film with Bibi Andersson and Anthony Perkins. 

In the 1980s the Gay & Lesbian Switchboard Nederland was founded and a few years later published a small guide to Amsterdam for gays and lesbians. It lists gay cafes and bars, coffee shops, clubs, shops and cinemas.

Cover of the Gay Switchboard's guide to Amsterdam, with a picture of two sailors
Front  cover of  Information Amsterdam (Amsterdam, [1988?] ) YF.2014.a.3001. (Reproduced by kind permission of Switchboard Netherlands)

In the 21st century the topic of sexual diversity has become mainstream in Dutch literature – and not just for adults.

Marja Kingma, Curator Low Countries Studies


D.J. Noordam, Riskante relaties: vijf eeuwen homoseksualiteit in Nederland, 1233-1733. (Hilversum, 1996) YA.1996.b.1210.

Gert Hekma, Homoseksualiteit in Nederland van 1730 tot de moderne tijd (Amsterdam, 2005) YF.2005.a.7764

Rob Tielman, Homoseksualiteit in Nederland. [2e druk.] (Meppel, 1982.) YA.1994.a.4386

Vriendschap : Maanblad voor de leden van het Cultuur- en ontspanningscentrum. (Amsterdam, 1950-1954)

Dialoog : Tijdschrift voor homofilie en maatschappij. (Amsterdam, 1969- )

Louis Couperus, De komedianten (Rotterdam, 1917) [English translation: The Comedians. A story of ancient Rome …  trans. by Jacobine Menzies Wilson (London, 1926) 12582.t.13]

Anna Blaman, Op leven en dood. (Amsterdam, 1955) 012580.b.11. [English translation: A Matter of Life and Death (New York, 1974) X.989/35532]

Gerard Reve, The Acrobat and other stories (Amsterdam, 1956) X.908/35371.

Harry Mulisch, Twee Vrouwen (Amsterdam, 2008). YF.2012.a.14789