THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

4 posts from December 2018

14 December 2018

Hundertwasser’s 90th and 35 Days In Sweden

The Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser would have been 90 on Saturday. Functionality was not his priority and his thought might deserve to be re-thought unevenly, uninhabitably, uselessly. But, to quote Hundertwasser’s ‘Mouldiness Manifesto’, it’s hard to get away from the ‘straight-edged ruler’ of the page, to bend the blog format ‘with giant steps’ to approach ‘impractical, unusable and ultimately uninhabitable [literary] architecture.’ But let’s at least exercise the freedom to forego a straightforward biography of an artist whose work was anything but straightforward, and simply re-join him during the end of his 35 days in Sweden, an account published in 1967 following an exhibition in the Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Hundertwasser Title Page
Title Page of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, 35 Tage Schweden (Stuttgart, 1967) X.808/5043, number 276 of an edition of 500 copies

In the summer of 1956, Hundertwasser received a letter from his friend Hans Neuffer in Stockholm. Six days later the artist was there himself to begin a brief adventure. He moves from flat to flat, tries unsuccessfully to promote his artwork and the account culminates in two entries: ‘Als Tellerwäscher’ (‘As a dishwasher’) and ‘Als Matrose’ (‘As a sailor). Here are partial translations of these entries:

As a dishwasher
Then my friends said to me: why aren’t you working? Everyone works here. Us too. You should become a dishwasher. Actually, every Viennese student washes plates here. So I joined them. […]
I worked diligently in a restaurant on the Kungstgatan. But I soon noticed that the other dishwashers didn’t work too hard. They were up to their ankles in shards of broken dishes. Out of displeasure or maybe pleasure, they let nearly every third plate crash to the floor when they washed up, especially if there was a plate that seemed particularly dirty. Rarely, a dangerous supervisor would venture over the mountain of shards to check whether the glasses and plates were washed and dried well. She wasn’t too concerned about the mass of shards on the floor. Sweden is a rich country, I thought to myself. Only cleanliness is important. There were white plates like snow fallen from the sky and scrunching underfoot. […]

Hundertwasser Insert 35 Tage Schweden
Picture insert by Hundertwasser from 35 Tage Schweden

As a sailor
So a few days went by. Suddenly Hans Neuffer came to my apartment all agitated to say that I had to go with him to Casablanca straightaway. As a deckhand on an Estonian ship under a Liberian flag. […]
I put down the coffee spoons and went along. To the Estonian Seamen’s Company. They didn’t want me though. But then they didn’t want to engage Neuffer alone. I was supposedly too old to be a deckhand. But then they phoned around and sent me to the doctor for examination to see whether I was fit for service. […] But they didn’t look at me and just asked for a urine sample. I had suffered from jaundice before and I feared that they would notice this in the analysis. I managed, in an unobserved moment, to chuck away half the sample and replace it with tap water. […] I was deemed fit and received my train ticket to Söderhamn.
The ship, the “SS Bauta” was close to the station. […] To my surprise, all the seamen had to go and pick wild berries every day. After a week, we went out to sea. I was at the helm twice a day for two hours, 4am till 6am and 4pm till 6pm. I had never done it before and completely messed up the ship on the first day. Then I got better at it. I also had to wash dishes and turn the oven on at 6am to make coffee for the first mate. Everything had the addition of “FACKING”. For example, I once spoke to someone who was limping. He said: “I went to get the FACKING butter, I fell on the FACKING stairs, I got this FACKING wound. Here is no FACKING doctor on this FACKING ship.”
The stokers argued over whether the war was over yet. Some said yes, but the majority thought that Goebbels had taken over and the war had continued. I didn’t dare contradict them. […]
On board the SS Bauta, I painted the watercolours 274, 275, 276, and 277 , and wrote the novel “BLAU BLUM” together with Hans Neuffer. […]
I was witness to the fact that I really am a very good sailor.

Avoiding a progressive line through the Hundertwasser biography to home in on a scene and a limited edition of that scene might do justice to the anti-linear freedom of an ‘automatist’, 90 years old today.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

Further reading:

Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Schöne Wege: Gedanken über Kunst und Leben (Munich, [1983]) YA.1986.a.6708

Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Hundertwasser architecture : for a more human architecture in harmony with nature (Hong Kong; London, 2007) LC.31.b.4874

Wieland Schmied, Hundertwasser, 1928-2000: Persönlichkeit, Leben, Werk (Cologne, 2005) YF.2007.b.2545

Walter Koschatzky, with Janine Kertész, Friedensreich Hundertwasser: the complete graphic work, 1951-1986, translated by Charles Kessler (Zurich, 1986)

Pierre Restany, Hundertwasser (London, 2010) LC.31.b.9497

Friedensreich Hundertwasser: Gegen den Strich: Werke 1949-1970, herausgegeben von Christoph Grunenberg und Astrid Becker ... Anlässlich der Ausstellung in der Kunsthalle Bremen 20. Oktober 2012 - 17. Februar 2013 (Ostfildern, 2012) YF.2013.b.1960

11 December 2018

A Mysterious Linguistic Enclave in Southern Poland

Wilamowice, a small town in southern Poland in the Silesian voivodeship, is the home of speakers of one of the most endangered languages on the linguistic map of Europe according to UNESCO’s Atlas of the world’s languages in danger (Paris, 2010; fm10/.1073). The language is known under a few names: Wymysorys, Vilamovian or Wilamowicean. Linguists tend to consider it one of the West German dialects, though the origin of the speakers is not clear.

Wilamowice postcard
An early 20th-century postcard of Wilamowice, reproduced in  Antoni Barciak (ed.), Wilamowice : przyroda, historia, język, kultura oraz społeczeństwo miasta i gminy  (Wilamowice, 2001) YF.2005.a.19308

In the 13th century, during the Mongol invasion the native Slavic population of the area was greatly reduced. It was later colonised by German, Scottish and Flemish settlers. In the course of a few centuries the foreign colonists blended into the local communities, with one exception, i.e. Wilamowice. The inhabitants of this town have always considered themselves to be people of Flemish descent preserving their distinctive language, costumes and customs.

Wilamowice women 010291i.38
Women from Wilamowice in the 1930s. The two on the right wear traditional costumes, the two on the left wear a more modernised variation. From Viktor Kauder, Das Deutschtum in der Wojewodschaft Schlesien (Plauen, 1937) 010291.i.38

After the partition of Poland in the late 18th century the area was under Austrian rule until the end of the First World War. German and Polish were the dominant languages. To sort out the linguistic issue of Wilamowice, in 1875 the authorities introduced Polish as an official language. This was the first step towards the polonisation of the town. Although education was offered both in Polish and German, most parents chose to send their children to Polish-language schools with German and the local dialect also taught. The only period when German became compulsory was during the Nazi occupation of Poland in the years 1939-1945. The Polish language was abandoned and, in some cases, forbidden from the official use, whereas Vilamovian, viewed by the Nazis as the local dialect of German, was even promoted. However the slow decline of the dialect had already started at the end of the 19th century, and apart from this short revival in the Second World War, it got almost extinguished in the Polish People’s Republic.

The Vilamovians were regarded by the post-Second World War communist authorities as Germans despite the fact that they stressed their Flemish origin. During the war the majority of the Vilamovians had been forced to accept the Volksliste and as a result they were subject to a harsh treatment in communist Poland. In the postwar period many people were arrested and their property was confiscated; some families were persuaded to relocate to the “Recovered Territories”. A decree issued in 1946 banned the use of the dialect and costumes. Soon people stopped speaking and teaching Vilamovian to avoid severe punishment. The social structure of the town also changed and many newcomers mixed with the native population. The ban was eventually lifted, but by that time no young people could speak or understand the language. The postwar period was the most traumatic in the long history of Wilamowice.

Vilamovian has seen a revival of interest among young members of the community in the last decade. Academics have also engaged in language revitalization, and Vilamovian can now be studied at the University of Warsaw. Nowadays about 300 people can understand it and approximately 60 people have the ability to speak it with varying degrees of fluency. It has been recognized as a separate language by a number of international bodies, but in Poland it has not yet been given the official status of a regional language.

You can read some poems in Vilamovian (with Polish and German translations) here, and listen to the language being spoken by a native of Wilamowice in this YouTube clip.

WilamowceBlog
A modern regional folk ensemble from Wilamowce  (Photo by Wymysojer from Wikimedia Commons
) 

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

Further reading:

Tomasz Wicherkiewicz, The making of a language: the case of the idiom of Wilamowice, southern Poland, Trends in linguistics. Documentation; 19. (Berlin, 2003). YD.2005.a.3195

Józef Latosiński, Monografia miasteczka Wilamowic, (Kraków, 1910). 10292.s.8.

Zbigniew Rokita, ‘Kumże tu!’ in: Polityka, no. 13, 2017. MFM.MF1241D

Hermann Mojmir, Wörterbuch der deutschen Mundart von Wilamowice. (Kraków, 1930-1936.) Ac.750/109

07 December 2018

Russian Cats 2: The Hermitage Cats

I wonder whether you were suitably confused by the first post about Russian cats that didn’t make it to the British Library exhibition Cats on the Page. Now, I want to tell you a story about more Russian cats on the page. No, I’ll start again: they are not all quite Russian, but they live in Russia. And they do not live quite on the page or in libraries, because the heroes of this blog live in museums. To be precise, in one particularly important and beautiful museum – the Hermitage in St Petersburg. In 2009, curators who work in the Hermitage, published a book about the cats in their collection – cats on canvas, cats on lithographs and prints, in other words, all drawn, painted, photographed and sculptured cats.

Image 1
Cover of N. Gol’, M.Khaltunen, Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe (St Petersburg, 2009) YF.2011.a.360.

The book tells how cats were sacred in Ancient Egypt and how cats’ lives were worth more than human lives. Readers would also learn how Ancient Greeks smuggled cats in amphorae and how having a cat as a pet was a sign of wealth in the antiquity.

Image 2
Fragment of a red-figure vase, South of Italy, 4th century B.C., reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe
.

In mediaeval and early modern Europe cats were believed to possess demonic power and attributes. But later cats became just naughty. For example, they were portrayed numerously by a Flemish painter Frans Snyders to animate his game still lifes.

Image 3
Detail (above) from Frans Snyders, Cook at a Kitchen Table with Dead Game, 1634-37 (below), reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe

Image 3a

Cats in China are believed to be descended from the Sacred Tiger. While the Tiger was busy safeguarding good men by protecting them from evil, he found it very difficult to maintain his responsibility to protect fields from rodents. Once, accidently touched by a mouse, escaping from him, he sneezed a cat out of his nostril and thus – delegated his responsibilities.

Image 4
This Chinese picture from the Hermitage collections (late 19th/early 20th century) shows cats scaring mice who are enjoying a wedding procession. Reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe.

Cute Japanese okimono of waving cats bring luck. Legend has it that one poor woman said goodbye to her cat because she could not feed it any more. The loyal cat, instead, gave her a good advice to make a clay figurine of him waving his paw. And so she did! And her figurine sold well. And so were more figurines. So we can conclude: always listen to your cat and do what he says.

Image 5
 Okimono and netsuke from the Hermitage collections. Reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe.

The first cats came to the Old Rus’ and Muscovy in the 13th century and for the next 200 years remained an expensive curiosity. Since then cats in Russian folklore have occupied their place next to babies’ cots mewing lullabies, as ‘pioneers’ first entering newly built houses and showing the best and the worst corners, and in the kitchen forecasting the weather: curled-up cats mean frost the next day, while stretching cats predict a nice day ahead and pleasant visitors. And of course, like in many other countries, they are in confrontation with mice. One of the most popular stories presented on cheap prints sold for home decoration in the 19th century, shows a funeral procession where mice are taking their cat neighbour to the cemetery. We are still not quite sure whether the cat is dead or alive. We can treat this story as we feel fair and depending where our sympathies lie: the cat is trying to give the bothersome mice a lesson, pretending to be dead and then suddenly scaring them away (or worse, if you like!), or being naughty and greedy he indeed had fed on mice and died of surfeit (awful!).

Image 6
Russian popular print (lubok) showing mice burying a cat 
(1879), reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe.

And, of course, I don’t need to remind you about the pussy-cat who visited the Queen.  Some lucky Russian cats not only visited Tsars and Tsarinas, but were courtiers. The book tells us about the rules how palace cats were catered for. Catherine the Great imposed people’s social structure on cats, who were divided into two uneven categories: general palace cats (business class) and room cats (first class).

Image 7
Dasha Chernova made this picture when she was 8 years old. Reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe.

 

Image 8
These well-fed cats eating asparagus in a palace garden came to Russia from France on Princess’s Dagmar of Denmark’s fan and settled down in the Winter Palace among other things that belonged to Maria Feodorovna, Empress of Russia.

The last chapter of this book is devoted to the cats who live in the Hermitage now. If you are to travel to St Petersburg and visit the Hermitage, say hello to Ksiusha, Dasha, Wonderful Prince, Vas’ka, Timur, Tishka, Katya, Lana, Vlada, Lera, Matilda, Liutik and Van Dyck.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The free exhibition Cats on the Page continues until 17 March 2019, with a series of accompanying events for all ages and interests.

04 December 2018

(Not?) Petrarch’s Cat

The last home of the poet and humanist Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304-1374) in the small Northern Italian town of Arquà became a place of literary pilgrimage and tourism early on. Successive 16th-century owners of the house emphasized its connection with Petrarch, among other things by commissioning frescoes depicting his life and works, and welcomed travellers to see the home of the great man.

Travel accounts from the late 16th century onwards describe the house and its various artefacts associated with the poet. Alongside the things one would expect to see in such a place – Petrarch’s chair, the cupboard where he kept his books and so on – the accounts also mention the rather ghoulish exhibit of a mummified cat. In a mock epitaph inscribed beneath its body, the cat claims to have been dearer to the poet even than his beloved muse Laura because, while Laura inspired Petrarch’s verses, the cat ensured their survival by protecting the manuscripts from the gnawing teeth of mice.

Weston  Petrarchiana 1048.k.17.(2.)
The mummified cat, with epitaph, from Stephen Weston, Petrarchiana, or, Additions to the Visit to Vaucluse... 2nd edition (London, 1822) 1048.k.17.(2.)

The French traveller Nicholas Audebert (whose account is preserved in the British Library, Lansdowne MS 720) visited the house in 1575 and was told that the cat had belonged to Petrarch and used to accompany him everywhere. Accounts by Fynes Moryson and Giacomo Filippo Tomasini, published in 1617 and 1623 respectively, also mentioned the feline monument, and in 1635 the first picture of it appeared in a work by Giacomo Filippo Tomasini, Petrarcha Redivivus. Here the poor creature is exposed on a plinth, rather than in a niche with the epitaph beneath as it is more usually shown and described, although Tomasini does reproduce the text of the epitaph.

Tomasini 137.d.18
The cat as reproduced in Giacomo Filippo Tomasini, Petrarcha Redivivus, integram poetæ celeberrimi vitam iconibus ære celatis exhibens. Accessit nobilissimae foeminae, Lauræ brevis historia. (Padua, 1635) 137.d.18

The cat continued to capture the attention of visitors. Byron – himself a keeper of many pets – was apparently delighted by it and the German poet August von Platen dedicated an epigram to it. The monument still features in modern tourists’ TripAdvisor reviews. The story of Petrarch’s beloved pet, the faithful companion and comfort of his last years has appealed to generations of cat-lovers. 

Zimmermann 8409.bbb.8
Petrarch and his cat, engraving by Jacob Wilhalm Mechau from a drawing by Christian Gottlieb Geyser, in vol. 4 of Johann Georg Zimmermann, Ueber die Einsamkeit (Leipzig, 1785)  8409.bbb.8.

However, there is one drawback to this touching tale: we have no evidence that Petrarch ever owned a cat. Although he makes some mention of his dogs in his letters, and a 2-line epitaph to a little dog called Zabot is attributed to him, there is nothing about any cat. This is surely particularly surprising if he owned a cat so dear to him that he chose to commemorate it after its death. Also, both the mummified cat and the inscription are thought to date from the 16th century, long after Petrarch’s death. So how did the association come about?

The most likely theory is that it originates from early depictions of Petrarch in illuminated manuscripts where he is sometimes shown with a small dog (a reference to little Zabot?) and occasionally with a cat. In one manuscript of ca 1420, held in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence (MS Strozzi 172), a cat is even depicted chasing a mouse in Petrarch’s study, the very job described in the epitaph of his supposed pet. But rather than a realistic depiction of Petrarch’s domestic life and pets, it is more likely that both animals are, in the words of J.B. Trapp, “in some sense a replacement for the lion that legend gave to St Jerome for a companion in his studies.”

St Jerome Add MS 15281 f3v
St Jerome and his lion, from the Prayer book of Sigismund of Poland, 1574, Add. 15281 f.3v

Nonetheless, it is credible that familiarity with such images might have inspired the 16th-century owners of Petrarch’s house to invent the story of the poet’s beloved cat. It has even been suggested by the author of the Shaping Sense blog that the monument was set up as a kind of mockery of the cult of literary pilgrimage and literary relics that its creators were simultaneously trying to encourage.

Whatever the truth, the cat’s story continues to flourish, especially in the online world. An internet search brings up both sober discussions of the story’s reliability and fanciful tales about the mutual affection of the animal and its master. Various German websites (such as this one) even attribute to Petrarch the words, “Humanity can be roughly divided into two groups: cat lovers and those who are disadvantaged in life”, and you can buy a variety of tote bags, fridge magnets and the like bearing this decidedly un-Petrarchan saying with its undoubtedly false attribution.

Rime vol 2 638.i.7Caught between his two loves? Petrarch gazes at a picture of Laura while his cat looks on. Engraving by Bartolomeo Crivellari from a drawing by Gaetani Gherardo Zompini, from vol. 2 of Le Rime del Petrarca brevemente esposte per L. Castelvetro ... (Venice, 1756) 638.i.7.

Whether or not Petrarch truly owned and loved a cat, we can safely say he would have been astounded by the physical and literary afterlife of such a creature.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

References/further reading:

Fynes Moryson, An Itenerary written by Fynes Moryson, Gent … Containing his ten yeeres travell through the twelve dominions of Germany, Bohmerland, Sweitzerland, Netherland, Denmarke, Poland, Italy, Turky, France, England, Scotland, and Ireland (London, 1617) 214.e.16.

Niccolò Franco and Ercole Giovannini, Li duo Petrarchisti dialoghi di Nicolo Franco, e di Ercole Giovannini … (Venice, 1623) 1161.d.10.

J. B. Trapp, ‘Petrarchan Places. An Essay in the Iconography of Commemoration’ Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 69 (2006), pp. 1-50. Ac.4569/7.

Achim Aurnhammer, Petrarcas Katze: die Geschichte des kätzischen Petrarkismus (Heidelberg, 2005). YF.2007.a.9350

The free British Library exhibition Cats on the Page continues until 17 March 2019, with a series of accompanying events for all ages and interests.