European studies blog

11 posts from February 2015

27 February 2015

Florio’s Montaigne – and Shakespeare’s?

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne was born on 28th February 1533, and by the time of his death 59 years later had enriched French literature with a new genre – the essay. Brought up by his father to speak Latin as his first language, he rapidly lost his mastery of it when at the age of six he was despatched to the Collège de Guyenne  in Bordeaux so that, by the time that he left, he claimed that he knew less than when he arrived. However, throughout his life he retained a love and reverence for classical authors including Cicero, Plutarch and Seneca, which shaped not only his philosophy but his chosen form of literary expression, and ultimately made him one of the most beloved and accessible authors to readers outside his native land.

Montaigne 1st editionThe title-page of the first edition of Montaigne’s Essais (Paris, 1580) British Library G.2344.

Witty and aphoristic, the collection of essays, first published in 1580, comprises three books divided into one hundred and seven chapters on topics ranging from coaches, cruelty and cannibalism to thumbs and smells. Their discursive nature reveals many details about their author and his milieu, drawn from his experiences as a Gascon landowner and official who rose to become mayor of Bordeaux, his travels through Italy, Germany and Switzerland, the turbulent years of the Wars of Religion, and his family life, in which we catch glimpses of his masterful mother, his wife Françoise, and his only surviving child Léonor – a household of women from which, at times, he would retreat to the peace and solitude of his tower, fitted with curving shelves to accommodate his library, to enjoy the company of his cat – another female – who has achieved immortality through his observations of her at play.

Montaigne catMarginal picture of a man with a cat, drawn by Pieter van Veen in his copy of Montaigne’s Essais (Paris, 1602) British Library C.28.g.7.

The Essais rapidly achieved wide popularity, and not only in France. They ran into five editions in eight years, and in 1603 an English translation appeared, the work of John Florio. Florio, born in 1533 as the son of an Italian father and an English mother, had left England as a small child when the accession of Mary Tudor to the throne had sent his family into exile, and as they wandered around Europe he acquired a knowledge of languages which equipped him to earn his living on returning to England as a teacher of French and Italian and the author of an English-Italian dictionary (London, 1578; 627.d.36).

It was at the behest of his patroness, the Countess of Bedford, that he set about translating the Essais, assisted by a multitude of collaborators who, through the Countess’s offices, tracked down quotations and publicized his work, earning fulsome dedications by doing so. His lively and spirited version contains colourful turns of phrase which sometimes expand the original, as when, in Book 1, chapter xviii, ‘des Loups-garous, des Lutins et des chimeres’ emerge as  ‘Larves, Hobgoblins, Robbin-good-fellowes, and other such Bug-bears and Chimeraes’ – a catalogue which, as Sarah Bakewell points out in her How to Live: a life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer  (Bath, 2011; LT.2011.x.3266) is  ‘a piece of pure Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

Shakespeare did in fact know Florio, and Bakewell speculates that he may have been one of the first readers of the Essaies, possibly even in manuscript form. Scholars have taken pains to detect echoes of Montaigne in Hamlet, which was written before the published translation appeared, and frequently cite a passage from his last play, The Tempest, which, as Gonzalo evokes a vision of civilization in a perfect state of nature, is strikingly close to Montaigne’s account of the Tupinambá, an indigenous people from South America whom he encountered when a group of them visited Rouen.

Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn or wine, or oil;
No occupation, all men idle, all.

Montaigne remarks of the Tupinambá that they have ‘no kind of traffike, no knowledge of Letters, no intelligence of numbers, no name of magistrate, nor of politike superioritie; no use of service, of riches or of povertie; no contracts, no successions, no partitions, no occupation but idle; no respect of kindred, but common, no apparel but natural, no manuring of lands, no use of wine, corn or mettle’.

Such passages were eagerly seized upon in the controversy in the 18th and 19th centuries about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, and in 1901 Francis P. Gervais published his Shakespeare not Bacon: some arguments from Shakespeare’s copy of Florio’s Montaigne in the British Museum (London, 1901; 11765.i.18.). However, Edward Maunde Thompson countered with Two pretended autographs of Shakespeare (London, 1917; 11763.i.37), which argued that not only the signature ‘William Shakespere’ in an edition of the Essaies in the British Museum Library (but also that in a volume of Ovid in the Bodleian Library) was false, subjecting both to rigorous calligraphic analysis.

Shakespeare signatureAlleged signature of William Shakespeare on the flyleaf of The Essayes, or Morall, Politike, and Millitarie Discourses of Lo: Michaell de Montaigne ... Now done into English by ... John Florio. (London, 1603) C.21.e.17

Whatever the truth of the matter may be, we can make an educated guess at Montaigne’s response. An even-handed and balanced man who needed all his reserves of philosophy and Stoicism to confront the horrors of a century which saw the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and decades of conflict springing from religious extremism, he would no doubt have advocated a similar perspective on the resurgence of similar dangers in the 21st. And to those who argued about the authenticity or otherwise of these notorious signatures, he would certainly have recommended the phrase from the Greek philosopher Pyrrho which became his motto, engraved on his medallion:  ‘Epekhō – I suspend judgement’.

Susan Halstead Curator Czech & Slovak

25 February 2015

Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaia: London Adventures and An Unlikely Friendship

Nadezhda Krupskaia, the Russian Bolshevik activist and politician, is perhaps best known as the wife of Vladimir Lenin from 1898 until his death in 1924. In 1902, the young couple moved to London to publish Iskra (‘The Spark’), the newspaper of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP).

Krupskaia wrote about their time in London in her memoirs Vospominania o Lenine (‘Reminiscences of Lenin’). As this week sees the anniversary of not only Krupskaia’s birth but also her death, it seems a perfect opportunity to re-visit her time in London and, in particular, her connections to the British Library. 

Photograph of Nadezhda Krupskaia

Nadezhda Krupskaia, photograph dated before 1910. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Arriving in London in April 1902, Krupskaia and Lenin were immediately overwhelmed by the city, or, in her own words, “citadel of capitalism”. She later described their first impressions and struggles as they battled with the “filthy” weather, incomprehensible language and “indigestible” British food:

When we arrived in London we found we could not understand a thing, nor could anybody understand us. It got us into comical situations at first.

While Krupskaia unfortunately doesn’t expand on the “situations” she and Lenin found themselves in, she does give a fascinating and detailed account of the year they spent in London between 1902 and 1903. In between attending meetings and revolutionary activities, Lenin and Krupskaia found time to explore London, with Primrose Hill being their spot of choice. The pair were also regular visitors to the British Museum, where, Krupskaia notes, Lenin spent half his time in the library.

Lenin's application letter for a British Museum reader's ticket

Lenin’s application (under the pseudonym Jacob Richter) for a reader’s ticket for the British Museum Library. British Library MS Add 54579

While there is no record of Krupskaia holding a reader’s ticket during her time in London, the British Library does hold a rare pamphlet autographed by Krupskaia in 1923. Written for the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic publication Put’ prosveshchenia (‘The Path of Education’, P.P.1213.ce.), the pamphlet discusses the Faculty of Social Education at the Kharkiv Institute of Continuing Education.  Although the exact details are unknown, Krupskaia appears to recommend the pamphlet to a fellow comrade, most likely in her capacity as head of the government’s Adult Education Division.

Offprint from Put’ prosveshchenia (Kharkiv, 1922) with Krupskaia’s autograph inscriptionOffprint from Put’ prosveshchenia (Kharkiv, 1922) with Krupskaia’s autograph inscription. RB.23.a.36382.

Another thread linking Krupskaia to the British Library is her early friendship with Ariadna Tyrkova-Williams, a Russian politician and journalist who was active in the anti-Bolshevik campaign during the Civil War. The British Library holds a unique collection of letters and papers of Tyrkova-Williams and her husband Harold Williams relating to the activities of the Russian Liberation Committee in London.

Tyrkova-Williams and Krupskaia studied together at the gymnasiia in St Petersburg as girls and remained friends throughout their teenage years. Tyrkova-Williams describes her friendship with Krupskaia, as well as Krupskaia’s early life, in her memoirs and letters, noting that it was Krupskaia who first introduced her to Marx’s work at the age of seventeen. The two women went on to choose politically opposing paths, with Tyrkova-Williams joining the Constitutional Democratic Party (Kadets), a liberal Russian political party, and Krupskaia becoming a Bolshevik revolutionary.

In a letter dated May 1931, Tyrkova-Williams refers to her friendship with Krupskaia. Responding to a flattering description of Krupskaia’s appearance, Tyrkova-Williams somewhat unkindly writes that she “did not have a single beautiful feature”, instead resembling a “piglet”. Krupskaia is believed to have suffered from Graves’ disease, which caused her eyes to bulge. Despite her somewhat cruel response to Krupskaia’s looks, Tyrkova-Williams declares in her letter that she loved her and, to a certain extent, still does.

Katie McElvanney, CDA PhD student


Krupskaya, Nadezhda, Vospominania o Lenine, Parts 1 and 2, (Moscow, 1932).

Krupskaya, Nadezhda, Reminiscences of Lenin. Translated by Bernard Isaacs. (Moscow, 1959). 010600.c.43.

Tyrkova-Williams, Ariadna, Nasledie Ariadny Vladimirovny Tyrkovoi: dnevniki, pisʹma, ed. N. I. Kanishcheva, (Moscow, 2012). YF.2014.a.894.

Tyrkova-Williams, Ariadna, To chego bol’she ne budet: vospominaniia izvestnoi pisatel’nitsy i obshchestvennoi deiatel’nitsy A.V. Tyrkovoi-Vil’iams, 1869-1962 (Moscow, 1998). YF.2006.a.5200.




23 February 2015

The Champion of Slavonic Peoples: the Andrija Kačić Miošić collection in the British Library

Andrija Kačić Miošić (1704-1760) was a Franciscan friar, reader in theology and philosophy at religious schools in Venetian Dalmatia, and a national poet. He wrote three works in his lifetime, all printed in Venice: Elementa peripatethica juxta mentem subtilissimi doctoris Joannis Duns Scoti in 1752, a philosophical textbook derived from the works of John Duns Scotus; Razgovor ugodni naroda slovinskoga (‘Pleasant Conversation of the Slavonic People’); and Korabglicza (‘Little Ark’), a collection of biblical stories and Slavonic chronicles from the beginning of the world to his time which was his last work, published in 1760. The most important of these, for which he is best known, is Razgovor ugodni, an epic history of the Slavonic peoples in prose and in 136 epic poems, first published in 1756 with a definitive second edition in 1759.

T.p. V1                             Title page of Razgovor ugodni  (Vienna, 1836). RB.23.b.7396 (vol. 1)

The significance of Razgovor ugodni lies not in its literary merit but in the influence it had on generations of Slavonic people in the Balkans. Kačić Miošić wrote mainly in the Ikavian (ikavica) variant of the Štokavian dialect in Latin script, a language which the common people could read and understand as their own everyday spoken language. The Štokavian dialect became the foundation of the literary languages developed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia in the 19th century.

Razgovor ugodni aimed to instruct and inspire the people of the Balkans by their glorious past and to instil the values of national heroism and confidence in the struggle against the Turks. Kačić Miošić wanted the people to remember who they were and where they came from as the important legacy of their honourable past. His poetry did not aim to achieve literary heights, nor did his prose strive for historical accuracy based on documentary evidence. He drew mainly on the available Latin, Italian and Croatian printed sources, as well as on the scarce historical records, but his true inspiration came from his enthusiasm for the Slavonic peoples, especially his admiration for their common efforts in the long struggle against the Turks in the Balkans over a period of two centuries. Kačić Miošić travelled extensively to learn at first-hand about this struggle from people who had orally preserved their national tradition, myths and legends and passed them on for generations. His poetry celebrates the unity, endurance, dignity and faith of the Slavonic peoples and their allies against their oppressors and laments those who have not yet set themselves free.  

T.p. V2
Title page of Razgovor ugodni: ‘Serbsko-dalmatinske vitežke narodne pjesme’. RB.23.b.7396 (vol.2)

Razgovor ugodni was therefore inspired by the idealised history, folk tradition and myth of the Slavonic peoples which Kačić Miošić presented passionately to his readers in stylized decasyllabic verses modelled on national folk poetry. No book before or since has seen more editions in Croatian literature. It was referred to as ‘the people’s songbook’ and became an all-time favourite, printed in 64 known editions from 1756 to 2011. Kačić Miošić was the first Croatian writer to whom a monument was erected, in Zagreb in 1891. Razgovor ugodni was printed in 12 Cyrillic editions from 1807 to 1939.

Front cover of the volume 1 of the ‘Imperial edition’ of Razgovor ugodni. Vienna, 1836) RB.23.b.7396

In 1836 one Venceslav Juraj Dunder (a pseudonym for Vjekoslav Babukić published the 10th edition of Razgovor ugodni in Vienna as ‘Novo Vandanje’. An elegant and richly decorated two-volume bibliophile copy of this edition named ‘Carsko Vandanje’, (the imperial edition), was beautifully printed on fine paper with gilded edges, and decorated with an ornament on each page. The volumes were bound by C. G. Müllner’s workshop in Vienna in calf leather, blocked in colours with gilt and black tooling with leaf corner-pieces. (For a more detailed description see the British Library database of bookbindings.)  This ‘imperial edition’ was not a complete edition of Razgovor ugodni. It includes 58 poems from the definitive 1759 edition.

MSCyrillicManuscript inscription in Russian with a dedication to Nicholas I, Emperor of Russia. RB.23.b.7396, volume 2

This unique copy of Razgovor ugodni was produced as a presentation copy for Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. In the period of national revivals in 1830-40s Kačić Miošić was celebrated and reprinted as a national poet whose vision was the Slavonic peoples’ interdependence and the common purpose of unity and collaboration for cultural and political progress, freedom and emancipation. It is evident from this presentation copy that Dunder shared Kačić Miošić’s sentiments and his understanding of the mutual Slavonic ties and goals.

MSLatinDunder’s autograph inscription in Croatian dedicated to Nicholas I, Emperor of Russia. RB.23.b.7396, volume 2

There are three manuscript inscriptions in the second volume on ornamented flyleaves. The first is in Russian, dated 24 June 1835 and recommending the book to the Tsar as a learned work created in the “Slavonic homeland.” The second is a Croatian dedication to the Tsar, and the third is Dunder’s six-page discussion of the “Serbo-Illyrian language” and the correct reading of the new orthography.

Dunder’s text on the new Serbo-Croatian orthography which he promoted, RB.23.b.7396, volume 2

Stamp Tsarskoe Selo1Both volumes bear the stamp “Bibliothèque de Tsarskoe Selo” (left) which reveals the book to have been part of the private library of Tsar Nicholas I at Tsarskoe Selo near St Petersburg. It must have left the Russian Imperial Library in or before 1933 as it was advertised for sale on 20-21 June 1933, with other treasures from Austrian and Russian Imperial libraries, by the auction house of Gilhofer and Ranschburg. It is entry no. 227 in the catalogue of the sale (11910.t.27.) and images of the front cover and spine of volume one are shown in plate 21. The book was valued at 160 Swiss francs. The Zagreb daily Obzor reported on the auction and appealed to the public to raise 2000 Yugoslav dinars for the purchase of “the lavish edition” of Kačić Miošić.

Razgovor ugodni was partly translated into Latin by Emericus Pavić (1716-1780), a Franciscan from Buda, in 1764 (Descriptio soluta et rythmica regum, banorum, cæterorumque heroum Slavinorum seu Illyricorum; 9475.b.9.). This translation led to a wider interest in Kačić Miošić’s works. Alberto Fortis’s translations into Italian from Razgovor ugodni introduced Kačić Miošić’s poems to Western readers for the first time during the Romantic period.  

The British Library holds a significant collection of Razgovor ugodni collected over a period of over 160 years, from 1847 to the present day. This comprises nine 19th century editions of Razgovor ugodni, seven in Latin and two in Cyrillic scripts:

Dubrovnik, 1826; RB.31.b.368. A facsimile reprint of an 1801 Venice edition, with an additional poem “Pisma od Napoleona” (Letters from Napoleon);

Vienna, 1836; RB.23.b.7396. The ‘imperial edition’, discussed above;

Zadar 1846; 12264.aa.10.

Zagreb, 1851; 11303.l.25. A inexpensive edition called “Pjesme” (Poems) printed in the spirit of Kačić Miošić to be affordable by ordinary people;

Zagreb, 1862; Another inexpensive edition with Babukić’s introduction revealing that he had prepared Razgovor ugodni for publication in Vienna in 1836 under the pseudonym “V. J. Dunder”

Zagreb, 1876; 11586.df.18. The first of several of Lavoslav Hartman’s (later Kugli and Deutsch, then St[jepan] Kugli) editions;

Zagreb, 1886; 011586.ff.55

The first of the two Cyrillic editions that the library holds (011586.f.74.) printed in Zemun in 1849-50 in two volumes with the title  Србско-народне витежке пјесме (‘Serbian-folk chivalrous poems’), is a selection from Razgovor ugodni.  The other (012265.e.5/81.) was printed in Pančevo in 1890 in the Braće Jovanović bookshop’s popular series Narodna biblioteka (National library) and was presented together with 250 books from this series to the Library by the Serbian Legation in 1920.

There are four 20th-century editions of Razgovor ugodni in the Library of which it is worth mentioning a critical edition of both the  1756 and 1759 editions,  published in Zagreb in 1942 (Ac.741/14.); and a 1946 edition ( which was one of 500 Yugoslav books donated by the Yugoslav government to the Library in April 1948.

The Library also holds a critical edition of the 1760 edition of Kačić Miošić’s Korabljica (Little Ark) published in 1945 (Ac.741/14.). We continue to collect works by and about Kačić Miošić as a highlight of our Croatian collections. The most recent acquisitions include a new critical edition of Razgovor ugodni (Zagreb, 2006: YF.2007.a.19001).

Milan Grba, Curator South-Eastern European Collections

Digital versions of Razgovor ugodni

Trieste [i.e. Dubrovnik], 1831 (from the National Library of Austria)

Dubrovnik, 1839 (from the National Library of Austria)

Vienna, 1836 [vol. two only] (from the National Library of the Czech Republic)

Zadar, 1851 (from the University of Wisconsin – Madison)

Zagreb, 1862 (from Harvard University)

Digital versions of Korabglicza

Venice, 1782 (from the National Library of the Czech Republic)

Dubrovnik, 1833 (from the National Library of the Czech Republic) 



Fortunato Karaman, Andrija Kačić Miošić e i suoi canti. (Pula, 1889).

Danilo A. Živaljević, “Andrija Kačić Miošić slovinski pesnik”. Letopis matice srpske, 1892, III, 171, pp. 1-36. Ac.8984.

Vojislav M. Jovanović, “Deux traductions inédites d’Albert Fortis”. Archiv für Slavische Philologie, 1909, Bd. xxx. Hft. 4. Sonderabdruck, [586]-596. 011586.g.94.(5.).

Nikola Žic, “Carsko izdanje Kačićeva razgovora” . Obzor, 1933, 147, p. 3. MFM.MF693

Gašpar Bujas, Kačićevi imitatori u Makarskom primorju do polovine 19. stoljeća. (Zagreb, 1971). Ac.741/19[30]

Francesco Saverio Perillo, Rileggendo Kačić: tra storia e folklore. (Bari, 1979). YF.2004.a.17241

Andriia Kachich Mioshich i bŭlgarite. Editor Rumiana Bozhilova. (Sofia, 2000). YF.2012.a.21898

Stipe Botica, Andrija Kačić Miošić. (Zagreb, 2003). Includes a bibliography of Andrija Kačić Miošić (pp. [269]-319). YF.2005.a.29437

Fra Andrija Kačić Miošić i kultura njegova doba. Editor Dunja Fališevac. (Zagreb, 2007). YF.2008.a.10573

20 February 2015

Overwintering: the Dutch search for the Northwest Passage

The phrases  ‘Overwintering on Nova Zembla’ and ‘The Saved House’ are ubiquitous in Dutch culture. They refer to one of the most remarkable events in Dutch maritime history that took place at the end of the 16th Century. To this day every Dutch schoolchild learns about Willem Barents and Jacob van Heemskerck’s ill-fated expedition of 1596, which saw its 17 members stranded on Novaya  Zemlya  for ten months during the polar winter.

Novaya Zemlya, detail from Caerte van Nova Zembla, de Weygats, de custe van Tatarien en Ruslandt (Amsterdsm, 1598) British Library 436.b.18.(3.)

The aim of the expedition was to find a passage through the Arctic to Asia, thus shortening trade routes, as well as avoiding the Portuguese, who were still masters of trade in the East. For centuries efforts were made to discover a route through the Arctic, based on the mistaken belief that sea water could not freeze.

Our current exhibition ‘Lines In The Ice: Seeking the Northwest Passage’  tells many stories of adventure, bravery and extreme suffering, endured in search of a Northwest passage through the Arctic. A previous post on our Americas blog discusses how British crews dealt with the cold, darkness and boredom that came with staying the winter in the Arctic during the 19th century. 250 years earlier Barents’ and Van Heemskerck’s  expedition had ended up on Novaya Zemlya (or Nova Zembla as the Dutch know it) for the winter, after their ship also got stuck in the ice. One of their fellow-officers , Gerrit de Veer,  kept a diary during the expedition, from 16 May 1596 to 1 November 1597, which was published in Amsterdam in 1598 and is one of the first items in the exhibition.

Illustration from Gerrit de Veer’s Waerachtighe Beschrijvinghe van drie seylagien... (Amsterdam, 1598, British Library C.133.e.34)

In his diary Gerrit de Veer also describes the previous two polar expeditions undertaken by Barents, in 1594 and 1595. It must be every historian’s dream to be locked up for months with the person whose travels you are writing about.

The illustrated title-page of Gerrit de Veer’s account

De Veer writes fluently, in an almost literary style, which makes for a gripping read.  He vividly depicts how the ships had to navigate skilfully to avoid icebergs, whilst sailing ever further North.  The commander of one of the ships, Jan Cornelisz Rijp decided not to continue and returned to Amsterdam. The following year he would meet the survivors of the expedition on the Kola peninsula.

Barents and Van Heemskerck pressed on further North. Although they managed to round the northern tip of Nova Zembla, they did not get far after that.  They had to turn back because of the ice and eventually their ship got stuck and they could go no further.

We feel their horror as they realise they are trapped, with winter approaching. We follow in detail how they built a cabin (‘Het Behouden Huys’, i.e. ‘The Saved House’) from fallen trees and some wood from the ship. Then they hauled the cargo from the ship into the cabin, including a clock, which they managed to keep running until it froze due to the extreme temperatures. The crew kept track of time using the ship’s navigation instruments and the twelve hour glass.

Hauling wood to build ‘The Saved House’

On 7 December they narrowly escaped death from carbon monoxide poisoning when they burned coal, whilst having plugged every hole in the cabin to keep the cold out. They just managed to open the door. By Christmas despair gripped the men - the cold was almost insufferable, they got snowed in and they couldn’t wait for the sun to return. The firm leadership of Barents and Van Heemskerck kept the discipline and the men’s spirits were lifted by a ‘feast meal’ on Epiphany of rations they had put aside. On New Year’s Day they started using the wine; because there was no end in sight to their adventure some men kept this ‘for emergencies’(!). 

When they did go out they kept themselves busy building traps to catch arctic foxes for food (they made hats from the fur), inspecting the ship and playing sports. They killed several polar bears, but did not eat the meat, apart from one time when they cooked a liver. That made them very ill with hypervitaminosis A, which De Veer was the first to describe.  After that experience they left off the bear meat and only used the fat to burn oil lamps.

Killing and butchering polar bears

De Veer was also the first to describe a natural phenomenon that is now known as the Novaya Zemlya Effect.  Two weeks before the sun was due to re-appear he and others saw it rise. De Veer describes how he tried to verify his and other’s observations by making calculations of their position. He was not to know that the sun he saw was only a mirage.

De Veer’s image of the Novaya Zemlya effect

The men suffered from scurvy, and one fell ill and died. When the sun finally did return they waited to see if the ship would come free of the ice. When this did not happen they prepared two open boats and set sail for Kola. Again De Veer details their progress from day to day in milage. When they arrived they were warmly greeted by some Russians - and by their fellow explorer Rijp!

Welcomed by the Russians on Kola

Only 12 of the original 17 crew made it back to Amsterdam. Four men, including Barents himself died during that perilous journey  in open boats, exposed to the elements. Their graves have never been found.

No wonder then that Gerrit de Veer’s account of the overwintering became an instant hit. It was published in Dutch in 1598; in the same  year  Latin and French translations were published in Amsterdam by C. Nicolaas , and a German translation appeared in Nuremberg . An  English translation, followed in 1609 (The full text is available via Early English Books Online).

De Veer’s account has also been published by the Van Linschoten Vereeniging, a publisher specializing in accounts of explorations by the Dutch (Ac.6095.), by and its English counterpart, The Hakluyt Society (Ac.6172/12).

However, arguably the best known depiction of the overwintering on Nova Zembla is the work by history painter and illustrator Johan Herman Isings (1884-1977), pictured below.  Printed on a large format, mounted on canvas like a map these plates were used in history classes to illustrate the topics discussed.  

From: J.A. Niemeijer, J.H.Isings. (Kampen, 2000) Reproduced with kind permission of Kok Uitgeverij


Gerrit de Veer, Waerachtighe Beschrijvinghe van drie seylagien, ter werelt noyt soo vreemt ghehoort, drie jeeren achter malcanderen deur de Hollandtsche ende Zeelandtsche schepen by noorden, Noorweghen, Moscovia, ende Tartaria, na deconinckrijcken van Catthay ende China, so mede vande opdoeninghe vande Weygats, Nova Sembla, eñ van't landt op de 80. gradẽ, dat men acht Groenlandt te zijn ... (Amsterdam, 1598) C.133.e.34. and  436.b.18.(3.)

French translation:  Vraye description de trois voyages de mer ... faicts en trois ans par les navires d’Hollande et Zelande au Nord ... vers les royaumes de China et Catay ... Par G. Le Ver  (Amsterdam, 1598). G.6617.(3.) and 455.b.10.(3.)

Latin translation:  Diarum nauticum, seu vera descriptio Trium Navigationum ... factarum a Hollandicis & Zelandicis navibus ad Septentrionem, supra Norvagiam, Moscoviam & Tartariam, versus Catthay & Sinarum regna ... [Translated by Charles de l'Écluse.] (Amsterdam, 1598) G.6832.(2.) and 566.k.15.(5.)

German translation: Warhafftige Relation. Der dreyen newen unerhörten, seltzamen Schiffart, so die Holändischen vnd Seeländischen Schiff gegen Mitternacht, drey Jar nach einander, als Anno 1594. 1595. vnd 1596. verricht. Wie sie Nortvvegen, Lappiam, Biarmiam, und Russiam, oder Moscoviam ... umbsegelt haben. [Translated by Levinus Hulsius] (Nuremberg, 1598) 978.d.1.  and C.114.c.9.

English translation: The true and perfect description of three voyages so strange and woonderfull, that the like hath neuer been heard of before: done and performed three yeares, one after the other, by the ships of Holland and Zeland, on the north sides of Norway, Muscouia, and Tartaria, towardsthe kingdomes of Cathaia & China. ... (London, 1605)  303.c.5. and G.2757.

Marja Kingma, Curator Low Countries studies


17 February 2015

Barcelona and the Avant Garde

Barcelona was more open to outside influence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries than the Spanish capital, Madrid. It witnessed the flowering of modernisme, the Catalan variant of art nouveau, whose most notable exponent was the eccentric architect Antoni Gaudí. He continued his most extravagant project, the Sagrada Familia, until his death in 1926.

However, by 1906 modernisme was considered overly aesthetic and had given way to noucentisme. Initiated by Eugeni d’Ors, this cultural and intellectual movement, literally ‘of the new century’, was urban, middle-class and distinctly nationalist both politically and culturally. In the visual arts and literature, noucentisme can be seen as a return to order, to Classicism and social cohesion after the individualism of modernisme. In fact, Catalan artists and writers were influenced by movements from elsewhere in Europe, but remained true to local traditions, spirit and language. The avant-garde movement in Barcelona should be seen against the background of noucentisme, sometimes emerging from it, at other times provoked by it.

Spain’s neutrality in the FirstWorld War brought a number of foreign artists to Barcelona. They included Serge Charchoune and Hélène Grunhoff, Albert Gleizes, Robert and Sonia Delaunay who went to nearby Sitges, and most notably Francis Picabia who published the first four issues of his Dadaist periodical 391 in the city in 1917 (1960 reprint, British Library X.902/721). Picasso returned from Paris to Barcelona  the same year, while Joan Miró continued to study and work in the region.

The key figure in the contemporary artistic life of the period was Josep Dalmau, who had opened his Galeries Dalmau in 1911. The following year he organized the first avant-garde art exhibition in Spain there, the ‘Exposició d’art cubista’ and also exhibited paintings from Picasso’s Blue Period. Dalmau mounted Miró’s first one-man show in 1918. However, with the end of the war, most of the foreigners left the region, while native artists were free again to travel abroad.

The first properly avant-garde movement in Catalonia can be dated to 1916 and the appearance of the first issue of Troços (‘Pieces’), founded by Josep Maria Junoy, a poet and art critic closely associated with Dalmau. Its content set a pattern for similar publications with its mixture of art criticism and verse, often calligrammatic and related thematically to the visual arts.  Junoy published a collection of poems, Poemes i cal.ligrames (RB.23.b.6900), in 1920, including a version of his earlier visual poem ‘Oda a Guynemer’ in memory of the French air ace Georges Guynemer.  The work earned him the praise of Guillaume Apollinaire.

It was the presence of Miró, the Catalan Uruguayan Joaquín Torres-García and the Uruguayan JoanSalvat-Papasseit2Rafael Barradas that gave greatest impetus to this first expression of the avant garde in Barcelona. All three contributed to the publications initiated by Joan Salvat-Papasseit, arguably the most significant Catalan avant-garde writer in spite of his early death at the age of 30. 

Joan Salvat-Papasseit, statue in Port Vell, Barcelona (picture by Tommykavanagh from Wikimedia Commons)

In 1917 Salvat-Papasseit founded the periodical Un enemic del poble (‘An Enemy of the People’, 1917-19) whose subtitle Fulla de subversió espiritual (‘Leaflet of Spiritual Subversion’) is indicative of his political radicalism. Salvat-Papasseit subsequently edited two further periodicals, Arc-voltaic (‘Arc-Lamp’; one issue, 1918) and Proa  (‘Prow’; two issues, 1921). In all three there is a similar collaboration between text and image, already manifest in Troços. A female figure by Miró appeared on the cover of Arc-voltaic, while the drawing by Barradas on an inside page is an example of his vibracionismo, a variant of Italian Futurism, illustrating the pulsating dynamism of the modern city. The texts included Italian and French versions of Torres-García’s ‘Art-evolució (a manera de manifest)’, a call for individuality and constant change in art which had already appeared in Catalan in Un enemic del poble the previous year. Salvat-Papasseit himself contributed a calligrammatic poem describing the city of Barcelona. The following year he issued Contra els poetes amb minúscula. Primer manifest català futurista (‘Against Lower-case Poets.  First Catalan Futurist Manifesto’), a call for an unspecified modernity in poetry. (Arc-voltaic, Un enemic del poble and Contra els poetes amb minúscula are all reprinted in the 1994 facsimile edition RF.2009.b.12.)

Barradas’ ‘Vibrationist’ image from Arc-voltaic

Another volume of avant-garde verse, L’irradiador del port i les gavines (‘The Harbour Light and the Seagulls’), appeared in 1921, and also included a number of visual poems. The poet who showed most clearly contemporary influences from France and Italy was Joaquim Folguera who published Catalan versions of Italian futurist poems and works by Apollinaire in the noucentiste journal La Revista (1917; P.903/309).  Some of these were republished in his posthumous Traduccions i fragments of 1921 (YF.2009.a.11345).

Joan Salvat-Papasseit, L’irradiador del port i les gavines (Barcelona, 1921). YF.2009.a.11418

The early Catalan literary Avant Garde ended with the military coup  of 1923 that imposed the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera and effectively suppressed Catalan nationalism. Dalmau meanwhile continued his work in Barcelona, mounting an exhibition by Picabia in 1922 and Salvador Dalí’s first one-man show in 1925. Miró moved to Paris and Dalí to Madrid, but neither ever severed their links with Catalonia. After the premature deaths of Folguera and Salvat-Papasseit, J.V. Foix remained as the sole major writer of the Catalan avant garde. The author of Gertrudis (1927; 1983 edition YA.1986.a.4647) and KRTU (1932; 1983 edition YA.1987.a.14346), both illustrated by Miró, he also had a key role in the important contemporary journal L’Amic de les arts (Sitges, 1926-29; 2008 facsimile at LF.37.b.135).

Two of the collaborators on L’Amic de les arts were the art critic Sebastià Gasch and the writer Lluís Montanyà.  In 1928, together with Dalí, they produced the most strident of avant-garde manifestos in Catalan, the Manifest antiartístic català, but generally known as the Manifest groc (‘Yellow Manifesto’) because of the colour of its pages. It championed modernity: cinema, jazz, contemporary architecture, photography, motor cars and ocean liners, and contemporary figures: Picasso, Gris, Le Corbusier, Stravinsky, Tzara…  Its targets however were specifically local, for it attacked modern Catalan poetry and music, while venerable cultural institutions such as the music society, the Orfeó Català, were rubbished as old hat, lacking in boldness and invention.

With the advent of the Second Spanish Republic  in 1931, Catalan nationalism and cultural life were revived in the visual arts and architecture. Most prominent among the artistic organisations was ADLAN, Agrupació ‘Amics de l’Art Nou’ (‘Association of Friends of New Art’) which was founded in 1932 and became the major champion of the Avant Garde. Its members included Dalí, Miró, Foix, Gasch, the composer Robert Gerhard, the architect Josep Lluís Sert and other members of the association GATCPAC (Grupo de Arquitectos y Técnicos Catalanes para la Arquitectura Contemporánea). ADLAN mounted three Miró exhibitions, the first Picasso retrospective (1936) and the Exposició logicofobista which included almost all avant-garde Catalan artists. It also organized shows devoted to leading figures of the wider avant garde: Alexander Calder (1933) and both Hans Arp and Man Ray in 1935.  Concerts of contemporary music, especially jazz, cinema showings, poetry readings (by García Lorca, for example) figured in their other activities. In 1934, ADLAN and GATCPAC were responsible for the special issue, devoted to twentieth-century European art, of the classy cultural magazine D’ací i d’allà (ZA.9.d.386). Miró designed the cover and an accompanying pochoir.  All this creative energy and enterprise was crushed by the Fascist uprising of 1936 and the ensuing Spanish Civil War.

Geoff West, Lead Curator Hispanic Studies

This is an edited version of my article in Breaking the Rules. The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937, ed. Stephen Bury (London: the British Library, 2007), pp. 71-73. YC.2008.b.251

You can find out more about the arts in Barcelona at our event  ‘Barcelona Kaleidoscope’, on 27 February


13 February 2015

‘Of all fairy-tales, the most beautiful…’ Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s Undine

It would seem unlikely that one of the most ethereal creatures to capture the imagination of translators and illustrators in the nineteenth century should have been created by a Prussian officer and inspired by the writings of Paracelsus, the founder of the science of toxicology. Nevertheless, this was the pedigree of Undine, the heroine of Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s romance of the same name, who would inspire operas, ballets and numerous adaptations. Her elusive form can be glimpsed behind Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ and Dvořák’s Rusalka, a symbol of all that is mysteriously enchanting and ultimately unattainable.

Fouqué, born in 1777 into a family of Huguenot origins, was the grandson of one of Frederick the Great’s generals, and although he had not planned a military career he gave up his studies at the university of Halle in 1794 to fight in the campaign against Napoleon which ended in 1806 with Prussia’s defeat by the French forces at the battle of Jena and Auerstedt. However, the years which followed saw a remarkable renaissance in Prussia’s cultural and political life, and after the magical interval of seven years, Napoleon suffered defeat at the hands of Prussia and her allies in the ‘Battle of the Nations’ at Leipzig in 1813.  

Portrait of Fouqué in military uniform, ca 1815, artist unknown (Image from Wikimedia Commons

Among the notable events of 1811 were the foundation of the new University of Berlin and the publication of one of the best-loved works of German fantasy and the only one of its author’s writings to be familiar to readers two centuries later. Undine appeared as the work of ‘the author of the Todesbund’, in a modest little book of which the British Library holds a first edition (Hirsch III.852). It contains no illustrations, but this lack would soon be made good by distinguished artists including John Tenniel (1457.d.19) and Arthur Rackham. Among the German artists drawn to illustrate the story was Ludwig Ferdinand Schnorr von Carolsfeld, in a series of twenty-two exquisite images.

Undine Schnorr von Carolsfeld
Ludwig Ferdinand Schnorr von Carolsfeld  ‘Des Ritters Trauung mit Undinen’ from XX. Umrisse zur Undine von Friedrich Baron de la Motte Fouqué (Leipzig, 1816) 1322.m.79.

The legend was ideally suited to the taste of the early 19th century and to artists like the members of the Lukasbund, fired by ideals of mediaeval chivalry and craftsmanship. Like the French legend of Mélusine, it tells of a water-sprite, Undine, who can gain an immortal soul only through marriage to a mortal. Living under the care of a fisherman and his wife in a simple hut, she is discovered by the knight Huldbrand when he is on a quest in the forest to fulfil a mission for Berthalda, whom he has seen at a tournament and whose glove he light-heartedly requested as a favour. A fateful meeting with Kühleborn, the shape-changing guardian and uncle of Undine, sets events in motion; Huldbrand marries Undine, but when she reveals that Berthalda is in fact the daughter of the fisherman, tensions arise between the three, and Kühleborn emerges from the River Danube to snatch Undine to safety. Thinking that he has lost her for ever, Huldbrand prepares to marry Berthalda despite attempts to dissuade him, unaware of the terrible price of infidelity to his other-worldly bride.  Sure enough, when Berthalda demands that the castle well be opened to wash away the freckles that reveal her plebeian background, Undine appears from the depths to give Huldbrand a last kiss which proves fatal to him. 

Undine Rackham
Undine and Huldbrand, by Arthur Rackham, from Undine ... Adapted from the German by W. L. Courtney and illustrated by Arthur Rackham (London, 1909). 12410.h.21.

Within three years the story had been turned into an opera by E.T. A. Hoffmann, and in 1817 George Soane translated it into English, adapting it for the stage in 1821. In Vasily Zhukovsky’s Russian translation it became the basis for another opera by Tchaikovsky, and Margot Fonteyn created the title role in a ballet to a score by Hans Werner Henze (1957; Document Supply MUSIC W87/6573). Fouqué himself died in comparative obscurity in 1843, having lived to see Undine surpass all his other tales of the world of Norse mythology and mediaeval legend and become a bestseller throughout Europe.

Although, on the eve of St Valentine’s Day, this story may not appear to presage the happiest of outcomes, its enduring message of mystery and enchantment, which caused George MacDonald to declare ‘of all fairytales I know, I think Undine the most beautiful,’ is as irresistible as ever.

Susan Halstead, Curator Czech & Slovak

 Undine Sumner
Title-page of an English edition of Undine, illustrated by Heywood Sumner (London, 1888). C.109.n.1.

11 February 2015

Spaniards in Victorian London, 1841 and 1856

The second edition of Gil de Tejada’s guide to London for Spaniards (Guía de Lóndres. London, 1856. British Library 10351.d.33) has been in the British Library since it was received by legal deposit in 1856.  I was able to buy the first edition from a dealer in Spain in 2006.

Tejada Guia 1841(BT)Guia del extrangero en Lóndres, por D. Antonio Gil de Tejada (Lóndres: en la Imprenta de Vicente Torras, No. 7, Palace Row, New Road, 1841. Publicado por Houlston y Hughes, 154, Strand, entre Somerset House y King's College, 1841). British Library RB.23.a.29673.

All I know about Gil de Tejada is gleaned from his two books. From 1843 to 1849 he was a teacher of Spanish in the University of London (University College, I presume, but note that the publisher of the first edition was next to King’s College); in 1856 his book was to be had from his guest house (“en la casa de huéspedes del autor, 30, Harley Street, Cavendish Square”) and the principal bookshops of the United Kingdom. I can only assume that, like the other teachers of Spanish in the University at the time such as Alcalá Galiano, he was a political exile. (His first printer’s offices were steps away from that hotbed of liberalism, 142 Strand.) He waxes lyrical about the freedom of cults: he does though refer to “us catholics” and looks askance at the Protestant work ethic: the only religious holidays are Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day, because “time is money” (1856:135).

The 1856 edition is much expanded from the first. In 1841 there is mostly tourist information with a historical bent (he begins with a citation of Tacitus). In 1856 there is more help for the Spaniard who wants to understand British life and values.  

On Boxing he writes: “The English call this exercise with gloves Sparring; but the iniquitous and often fatal misuse which has been made of it is unworthy of a civilised people; and more barbaric beyond compare  [sic]  than our bullfights” (1841:119).

In 1856 he lists Spanish firms in London and London firms that deal with Spain (37).

The section on prisons (1841:36-43) is much expanded in 1856 (86-101) with new information on charitable institutions such as workhouses and hospitals and “hospitales de dementes”. Pride of place is given not to Bedlam (97) but Hanwell (97-101), “the best asylum in the world.” “Nothing better paints the progress of human society since the beginning of the century than the changes in treatment of the patients.”  

All the rooms have their heaters and are gaslit. The patients work as cabinet-makers, printers, tailors, and glaziers. There are inspections every fortnight. The sexes are educated separately, studying vocal and instrumental music, and recreational applications of physics and chemistry; leisure facilties include dominos, billiards, and cards; there are pianos and a library.  The cure rate is 60 per cent (“¡un 60 por 100!” he exclaims).

Gil makes little comparison between Britain and Spain, but his knowledge in 1856 appears to be the product of first-hand experience and mature reflection. Gil had used his years between lecturing in Spanish and running a guest house wisely.

Tejada casa de huespedes (BT)
 Gil de Tejada’s guest house, from Guía de Lóndres, 2nd ed.,  facing p. 57.

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


José Maria Jiménez de Alcalá, A grammar of the Spanish language for the use of students in King's College, (London, 1833) reproduced in facsimile from the second edition (1840)  with an introduction by David Hook.  (London, 1998).  YC.2003.a.15962

Rosemary Ashton, 142 Strand: a radical address in Victorian London (London, 2006).  YC.2007.a.14696

09 February 2015

The Grand Budapest Hotel: The Vanished World (of Autograph Manuscripts)

With five awards atThe_Grand_Budapest_Hotel_Poster Sunday’s BAFTAs and nine nominations at the upcoming Oscars, The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson, 2014) has shown surprising staying power in the memories of the voting members, following its early release last year. We might say that the film’s stylised nostalgia – it’s a kind of a nostalgic film about nostalgia (one gets lost in all the narrative layers) – managed to evoke its own pang of nostalgia in the minds of the judges, when they came to vote.

Left: Theatrical release poster for Wes Anderson's film, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).

It is precisely that yearning for a long-gone ‘age of security’ that is said to link the atmosphere of the film to the writings of Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), the Austrian bestseller who went into exile before the start of the Second World War. Drastic change and destruction in the first half of the 20th century cut Zweig’s care-free, aesthetic period so sharply, he would later refer to his ‘three lives’, a life dissected by war and exile. Writing in his memoirs, Zweig can see only too clearly, with decades of distance, how fragile the security of pre-war life was:

Today, now that the word ‘security’ has long been struck out of our vocabulary as a phantom, it is easy for us to smile at the optimistic delusion of that idealistically dazzled generation, which thought that the technical progress of mankind must inevitably result in an equally rapid moral rise (The World of Yesterday, translated by Anthea Bell,  p. 26).

Stefan Zweig ca 1912. (Image from  Wikimedia Commons)

Through its framed narrative, The Grand Budapest Hotel adopts a similarly debunked perspective, which shows the demise of all the decadent features of European high culture that the hotel once represented. An unpopulated and worn-down anachronism it may be, but, as the proprietor (and the third or fourth layer of the narrative structure, depending whether we include Zweig himself, whose introduction to his novel Ungeduld des Herzens is quoted directly) Zero Moustafa deems, ‘I love it all, just the same. This enchanting, old ruin’ (Screenplay, p. 7).

The film plays on this tension between vivifying the traditions of old and dismantling them at every turn. As Nelson has it, Anderson ‘has always played around at collapsing with one hand the same meticulous dollhouse structures he’s built up with the other’ (Los Angeles Review of Books). The old world is not only threatened by the most obvious narrowing restrictions of a growing fascist presence (lead by ‘Henckels’, played by Ed Norton), but every paradigm of that world is undercut somehow. Monsieur Gustave’s (Ralph Fiennes) neo-romantic, and often nonsensical, verse is always interrupted, for example. Elsewhere, the Dutch-style portrait ‘Boy with Apple’, in pride of place in the mansion of the deceased Madame D, is replaced by an Egon Schiele nude, shocking its ornamental surroundings (before it, too, and the modernity it represents, is smashed to pieces). Zweig’s own neo-romantic beginnings (see his first collection of poetry, which he later disowned, Silberne Saiten,  British Library, W30/2847) and his uneasiness towards the radical turn in modernist culture (‘artificial wildness with desperate haste’, The World of Yesterday, p. 323) parallel these moments.

Zweig and Gustave are united in the European-ness of the hotel, this ‘refined, highly-cultivated society’ (Screenplay, p. 73), and when the hotel is not the main setting, the film moves to a train or another transitional space (Richard Brody). Yes, it is true that such settings lend a temporariness to the experiences, contributing to the threat of the coming fascism or modernity. Yet, they are simultaneously suggestive of a free Europe, of the potential for encounter, of new experiences. Zweig, as the quintessential European mediator of culture and ideas, felt, with the advent of restrictions to freedom of travel, the end of his life’s thrust. And, true to his model, Monsieur Gustave also begins to lose faith, after being first accosted during a security check on a train:

‘You see? There are still faint glimmers of civilisation left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed, that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant -- (sighs deeply) Oh, f**k it’ (Screenplay, p. 31).

In an interview between George Prochnik, author of The Impossible Exile, an exploration of Zweig’s exile period, and Wes Anderson, printed in the collection The Society of the Crossed Keys, the director links this idea of Europe and encounter to the idea of ‘collection’. He says:

You can see why this turn of events would be the beginning of everything that became too much to bear. Not only because he was someone who had friends all over Europe and collected people actively […] He also collected manuscripts and books and musical scores, and he was gathering things from all over – among artists he admired (p. 15).

As Monsieur Gustave decides to sell his valuable artwork and move away with his lobby-boy companion, Zweig, too, sold the majority of his collected items by 1936. What remains, as ‘The Stefan Zweig Collection of Musical and Literary Autograph Manuscripts’, was officially donated to the British Library by Zweig’s heirs in 1986, while the hundreds of other once-owned manuscripts are mostly housed in the foundation of their original buyer Martin Bodmer in Geneva (Oliver Matuschek has produced a catalogue of Zweig’s pre-sale collection). Prochnik refers to the collection as a ‘museum of Europe’, so fitting for the Grand Budapest Hotel, ‘that would serve as a microcosm of the whole vast continent before it all got blown asunder’ (The Society of the Crossed Keys, p.16). Zweig lived inside, what he once termed, the ‘Welt der Autographen’ (world of autograph manuscripts), this museum of Europe. Yet, even in this world of creative nostalgia, elements of that same destruction are present in the form of the notes for a speech by Adolf Hitler (Zweig MS 158), sat between poems by Hesse and Hofmannsthal, and an article by Mussolini (Zweig MS 174).

Grand Budapest - Hofmannsthal
Vor Tag’, poem by Hugo von Hofmannsthal from  Zweig's collection (Zweig MS 159)

Describing the films of Wes Anderson, Michael Chabon relates them to the ‘boxed assemblages of Joseph Cornell’, and imagines both men summing up their work in the phrase: ‘I have put the world in a box’ (introduction to The Wes Anderson Collection, p. 23). Stefan Zweig , too, created his world in a box –  the manuscripts of European giants, ‘im brüderlichen Schrank’ (in the fraternal cabinet), where there is the productive encounter with ideas, creativity, difference.

As The Grand Budapest Hotel slowly retreats from its inner narratives, our storyteller adds: ‘To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it -- but, I will say: he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvellous grace!’ (Screenplay, 116). This world has indeed ‘vanished’ and yet continues to be ‘sustained’ through its staging in nostalgic homage, through representation – the ‘framing’, or ‘boxing’ of European cultural memory.

Pardaad Chamsaz,  Collaborative Doctoral Student

References and further reading:

Wes Anderson, Screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Society of the Crossed Keys: Selections from the writings of Stefan Zweig, (London, 2014). YK.2014.a.19878

Stefan Zweig, Die Welt von gestern : Erinnerungen eines Europäers. (Stockholm, 1942) YA.1990.a.17913. English translation The World of Yesterday (trans. Anthea Bell), (London, 2009). YC.2011.a.55

Stefan Zweig, Ungeduld des Herzens (Stockholm, 1949) X.989/77992. Englsh translation, Beware of Pity (trans. Anthea Bell) (London, 2011) H.2012/.6135

Matt Zoller Seitz, The Wes Anderson Collection, (New York, 2013). LC.31.b.13686

Arthur Searle, Catalogue of the Music Manuscripts, The British Library Stefan Zweig Collection (London, 1999).  MUS 780.164 BRI

Oliver Matuschek, Ich kenne den Zauber der Schrift: Katalog und Geschichte der Autographensammlung Stefan Zweig (Vienna, 2005) YF.2006.a.13265

Stefan Zweig Collection: Music, literary and historical manuscripts, (British Library, Zweig MS 1-218)

Richard Brody, ‘Stefan Zweig, Wes Anderson, and a longing for the past’ (The New Yorker, 14/03/2014)

Max Nelson, ‘Wes Anderson’s Elegy to Stefan Zweig’, (Los Angeles Review of Books, 14/03/2014)

06 February 2015

Love it or hate it!

Across much of Europe it is carnival time.  Another year of sheer fun and exuberance.  Although its exact timing varies from place to place, the main events usually take place during February. The old, pagan tradition was for evil spirits to be shooed away in anticipation of the new spring cycle.  In later times these rituals were frowned upon by the Christian Church but tolerated when they took place in the period before the beginning of Lent.  A central feature has always been masks and masquerading.  They provided a way for people to try to understand and exert influence on their natural surroundings.  Some also believed that masks had magical powers allowing wearers to connect with their ancestors and with the spirit world. 

Carnival Čoroje Image 1802
Čoroje, a carnival character from the Dubrovnik region in the early 19th century From Notizie istorico-critiche sulle antichità, storia e letteratura de' Ragusei (Ragusa, 1802) British Library

Slovenia and Croatia are two countries where the traditions are preserved and interest remains strong.  Slovenia’s major event is the festival Kurentovanje, held in Ptuj, its oldest city.  Here the central carnival figure in the parades is the Kurent, a high-spirited demon, dressed in sheepskin.  The leather masks of Kurents from different villages will have their own individual features but most are decorated with colourful flowers and ribbons, and with prominent long red tongues.   Attached to the costumes are cow bells and as the Kurents pass through the streets they shake their bodies to sound the bells.

  Carnival Kurentovanje Ptuj 2014
Kurents at the 2014 Kurentovanje in Ptuj.

They also carry sticks with hedgehog skins attached to the tips.  The origin of the Kurent is not completely understood but its purpose appears to have been to chase away winter and bring good fortune to the countryside for the season ahead.  As well as participating in the parades, groups of Kurents visit houses and farms in the area.  Where they are welcomed they will bring good luck, where they are not, they roll themselves on the ground and this means bad luck will follow.  The Kurent has inspired authors and artists alike. 

Carnival France Mihelič Book cover
France Mihelič’s painting of a Kurent. From Milček Komelj, Miheličev Kurent : zgodba o živem mitu. (Ljubljana, 2002.) LF.31.b.6232

For those who cannot attend the carnival itself, the museum in Ptuj castle has an excellent permanent display of masks and costumes. 

In Croatia in more recent times the festive season of carnival has become punctuated by masked balls and parades like the one in the city of Rijeka.  Of its older customs, the best preserved are the Zvončari, the bell men, now included in UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The Croatian town of Kastav and its surrounding area are home to the Zvončari.  The rich ethnographic history of this area is somewhat comically described in Ivo Jardas’s Kastavština, written in Chakavian dialect.  The Zvončari are best known as performers of pagan carnival magic. 

Carnival Zvončari from village of Veli Brgud2
Zvončari from village of Veli Brgud. © Larisa Afrić

On their visits to neighbouring villages they move in rows of two or three, merging towards each other, sounding their huge bells.  The sound is overwhelming and leaves one with a mixture of feelings, from excitement and fear, to curiosity and thrills.  On their backs they wear long sheep fur while their hats, klobuk or krabujosnica, are the real sign of the spring to come.  Abundantly colourful displays of hand-made, paper flowers are interspersed with fir tree or asparagus branches, and ribbons.  The hats were first introduced after the First World War, when one half of the Kastav region fell under Italian rule and animal-like masks were banned.  This explains why today Zvončari from the west wear hats and Zvončari from the east wear the masks.  Although over the years the nuances of costume went through many a transformation, the custom itself looks like it’s here to stay.   

  Carnival Petar Kurschner Photography
Carnival. © Petar Kürschner Photography, reproduced with permission

Lora Afric, Cataloguer Southern Slavonic Langauges, and Barbara Hawes, Curator Scandinavian Studies

Further Reading:

Niko Kuret, Maske slovenskih pokrajin. (Ljubljana, 1984.)  X.421/27014

O pustu, maskah in maskiranju: razprave in gradiva. (Ljubljana, 2003.)  YF.2011.a.21529

Ivo Jardas, Kastavština: građa o narodnom životu i običajima u kastavskom govoru, in Zbornik za narodni život i običaje, knj. 39. (Zagreb, 1957.) Ac.741/15

Lidija Nikočević, Zvončari i njihovi odjeci. (Novi Vinodolski, Zagreb, Pazin, 2014.) YF.2015.a.2654

Gary Edson, Masks and masking: faces of tradition and belief worldwide. (London, 2005.)  YC.2006.b.904

Masque et carnaval dans la litterature europeenne,  ed. Edward Welch. (Paris, 2002.)  YA.2003.a.11995. 

04 February 2015

“A master craftsman in the European tradition”

As the Chinese Year of the Sheep is approaching, it is a good time to write about a wonderful artist from Ukraine whose centenary was celebrated last week. Yakiv Hnizdovsky (known as Jacques Hnizdovsky) was born on 27 January 1915 in Ukraine. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, then, after escaping from war-torn Poland,  at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. In 1949 he moved to the United States. Hnizdovsky’s Wikipedia entry describes him as “a Ukrainian-American painter (working in oil, acrylic, tempera and watercolor), printmaker, sculptor, illustrator and lettering designer”.  Another description of him comes from a  lovely book of poetry called Birds and Beasts by American poet William Jay Smith: “Throughout his life, which ended in 1985, Hnizdovsky remained a master craftsman in the European tradition, an artist whose interpretations of animals, plants, and figures were immediately recognizable for their vigor, strength, and quiet humor”.

Hnizdovskye357_selfportriait_10mb (2)                 Hnizdovsky. Self-portrait. Reproduced with the permission of the Hnizdovsky Estate

 Hnizdovsky was a very prolific artist. He produced prints, primarily woodcuts and linocuts, as well as fine etchings. Some of them can be found on the website created by his family for the Centennial Celebrations this year. Another site about the life and work by Hnizdovsky has been in existence for over 12 years:

The British Library offers researchers the possibility to find out more about the life and work of this outstanding Ukrainian-American artist by collecting his better- and less well-known books. Our holdings include works illustrated by Hnizdovsky:  Flora Exotica by Gordon deWolf (Boston, 1972; Wf2/1968); The Auk, the Dodo  and the Oryx: Vanished and Vanishing Creatures by  Robert Silverberg (Kingswood, 1973; X.319/6596);  Birds and Beasts (Boston, 1990; YD.2007.b.2096);  a collection of poems by Thomas Hardy (London, 1979; X.989/53376) as well as catalogues of his numerous exhibitions.

We also have his earliest works, published in the famous Ukrainian émigré artistic journal Arka (‘Arch’; Munich, 1947-1948; P.P.4842.dnr); in the jubilee edition of Slovo o polku Ihorevi  (‘The Tale of Prince Ihor’s campaign’; Philadelphia, 1950; J/11586.i.36); in a lovely collection of Ukrainian folk tales translated by Marie Halun Bloch (London, 1964; X.990/127).

Collage of books illustrated by Hnizdovsky and catalogues of his exhibitions from our collections

In 1986 Stephanie Hnizdovsky, the artist’s widow, published a small artistic book Jacques Hnizdovsky Ex Libris (Brtish Library's shelfmark YF.2010.a.21249) with beautiful bookplates made for his family, friends, collectors, libraries and museums.  In it Hnizdovsky explained:

My interest in ex libris goes back to the early thirties. Bookplates were popular then in Western Ukraine.[...] I have not created many bookplates.[...] Nevertheless I feel that the ex libris is one of the most personal and intimate art forms. It requires close cooperation between the artist and the consumer, and mutual respect on the part of each. Today when grandiosity, attention seeking “shock tactics” prevail in the art field, the ex libris offers a refreshing alternative. It may be small in size, but it certainly is not a “small” art”.

                     Hnizdovskyexlibris_jh_sheep (4)Ex Libris Jacques Hnizdovsky (Sheep in a Pen). Reproduced with the permission of the Hnizdovsky estate

Hnizdovsky’s best-known print is ‘The Sheep’, for which he was awarded the First Prize at the Boston Printmakers annual exhibition in 1962 (below on the left, with Flock of Lambs below right,  both reproduced with the permission of the Hnizdovsky Estate; more sheep and rams are to be found here). Lovers of nature and beauty and collectors worldwide remember and cherish this fine artist. Once you have seen Hnizdovsky’s works you will keep them in your memory forever. And you will smile when hearing his name. I do.

HNIZDOVSKYw_34sheep (3)                                     HNIZDOVSKYl_219flockoflambs (4)
























Olga Kerziouk, Curator Ukrainian Studies