27 September 2023
You probably know what an emblem book looks like: a motto, a mysterious allegorical picture and a longer explanation in verse or prose. It’s had that form since Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum liber, first published in 1531.
Emblem from Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum liber (Augsburg, 1531) C.57.a.11.
In fact, Alciato’s manuscript didn’t have the pictures for which he became so famous: they were commissioned by his friend Conrad Peutinger.
This new acquisition is an adaptation in Portuguese of a famous pious emblem book, without the pictures.
Title page of Suspiros e saudades de Deos, exhalados e expostos em breves cantigos, reduzidos e imitados dos Afectos santos (Pia desideria) do P. Hermanno Hugo da Companhia de Jesus, pelo veneravel P. Fr. Antonio das Chagas. (Coimbra, 1830) RB.23.a.40412
The original was by the Flemish Jesuit Hermann Hugo (1588-1629): the Pia desideria were published at Antwerp in 1624, with 48 emblems by Boëtius à Bolswert.
In the words of the Emblem Project Utrecht:
Hugo’s Pia desideria contains emblems constructed on the basis of the three stages of mystical life.
In all it was reprinted 49 times, and 90 translations and adaptations of the Pia desideria were published in all the major European languages. Therefore, the Pia desideria was one of the most widely distributed, most widely translated and imitated religious books (not just emblem books) of the seventeenth century.
Complete with a picture of folly.
Emblem of folly from an edition of Hermann Hugo, Pia desideria emblematis, elegiis et affectibus, S. S. Patrum illustrate (Antwerp, 1529) 1019.g.40.
He (she?) wears the jester’s hat, rides a hobby-horse and – a clear sign of eccentricity – carries a kitten around in a handbag. Wisdom can only cover his eyes to avoid this unfortunate sight.
You’ll see that Chagas in his translation has rendered the motto and the poem and replaces the picture with a verbal description.
Emblem books without illustrations weren’t unusual, as Infantes shows. Nor was it unusual for Peninsular emblematists to draw on German Neo-Latin sources, the most famous example being Saavedra Fajardo and his debt to Julius Wilhelm Zincgref (explained in López Poza’s edition).
Fr António das Chagas (1631-82) was born António da Fonseca Soares. After an exciting life as a soldier and poet, he entered the Franciscan Order and destroyed his poems. In religion he enjoyed a reputation as a prose stylist.
This little book reminds us that an emblem book need not have pictures, and that Portuguese and Spanish authors were reading Germanic authors, provided they were Catholics and wrote in Latin.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
Víctor Infantes, ‘La presencia de una ausencia. La emblemática sin emblemas’, Literatura emblemática hispánica. Actas del I Simposio Internacional (A Coruña, 1994), Sagrario López Poza (ed.). (A Coruña, 1996), pp. 93-109
Diego Saavedra Fajardo, Empresas políticas; edición de Sagrario López Poza (Madrid, 1999) YF.2010.a.32130
30 June 2023
Georgian manuscripts have a long history in the collections of the British Museum and the British Library. The first two manuscripts were acquired by the British Museum in 1837. Today, we hold seven medieval manuscripts, one eighteenth-century manuscript, one nineteenth-century manuscript, and one twentieth-century manuscript. We also hold six contemporary illuminated manuscripts created since 2018.
Our early manuscripts cover a period from the eighth to the seventeenth century. The most important among them is an 11th-century manuscript (Add MS 11281). It is a parchment written in the Georgian monastery of the Holy Cross near Jerusalem, which became an important centre of learning and was known to Western pilgrims as the Monasterium Georgianum.
Lives of the Holy Fathers, 11th-century, Add MS 11281.
Written in the Georgian language by a scribe, who refers to himself as Black John, the manuscript recounts the lives of 15 saints from Palestine, Egypt and Syria. Created during the golden age of Georgian church literature in the 11th century, it remains one of the principal sources of information about monastic life during the Byzantine period. This manuscript includes unique copies of works by Cyril of Scythopolis and Athanasius of Alexandria.
The earliest Georgian manuscript in the British Library collections is a palimpsest with Hebrew commentaries of the 11th or 12th century, written over the original Georgian text (Or 6581). These are three fragments of a parchment leaf with a highly irregular outline. The underwriting is Georgian in large capitals (asomtavruli script), while the overwriting is Hebrew. The Georgian text contains portions of the Book of Jeremiah.
Palimpsest fragments, Or 6581
This manuscript came from the Genizah in Cairo. In England there are also Genizah palimpsests (old Hebrew over Georgian) in both Cambridge and Oxford. They were published by Professor Robert P. Blake in the Harvard Theological Review. He dated this manuscript to the middle of the eighth century, but other scholars consider that it could have been written much earlier. It is also written in asomtavruli and therefore it is one of the rare examples of an Old Testament text in Georgian written in this script.
An 18th-century manuscript (Add MS 47237) consists of three letters from the Georgian Queen Anna Orbeliani of Imereti, a province in western Georgia, addressed to the Emperor Paul, to the Empress Maria Feodorovna, and to an unnamed Russian official. The Queen sought Russian protection and help in recovering her throne.
From the 19th century we hold the handwritten monthly journal of the Georgian Socialist Revolutionary Party, Musha (1889-1891; Or.5315), which was donated to the British Museum by Prince Varlam Cherkezishvili.
We also have a collection of of four letters and one postcard from the 20th century (Or 16935), written by the prominent Georgian writer Grigol Robakidze (1880-1962), to his friend David Kurulishvili. Robakidze could not tolerate the Soviet regime and left Georgia in 1930. He lived in Germany and then moved to Geneva.
Manuscripts created in the present century have recently been added to the British Library’s collections. In addition to four illuminated manuscripts donated to the Library in 2019 by the Art Palace of Georgia, we have recently received another two.
These two illuminated manuscripts were created in 2022 as a part of the project funded by the grant programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, ‘Support for Diaspora Initiatives’. This was initiated by Tamar Latsabidze and Giorgi Kalandia.
The texts, ‘Life of the King of Kings – David’ and ‘Life of the King of Kings – Tamar’, were copied from the ‘Kartlis Tskhovreba’ (the Georgian Chronicles, literally ‘Life of Kartli’ or ‘Life of Georgia’) by the Georgian artists and calligraphers, Giorgi Sisauri and Otar Megrelidze. The ‘Kartlis Tskhovreba’ is the principal written source for the history of Georgia, a collection of biographies, chronicles and other historical works.
The calligraphers have thus produced two manuscripts that did not exist before in an illustrated form. They were created exclusively for the British Library, and they observe the centuries-old traditions of the Georgian calligraphy school. The calligraphers carefully examined the tradition of writing and illuminating manuscripts. Paper, ink and paint were prepared as they were in early medieval Georgia. In order to maintain historical traditions and in keeping with their cultural roots, both artists employed 12th-century painting principles and used as models the ‘Georgian astrological treatise’, a manuscript dated 1188, and a 12th-centuey Byzantine manuscript known as the ‘Madrid Skylitzes’.
‘Life of the King of Kings – Tamar’ recounts the life of Queen Tamar the Great (1160-1213). It is believed that the author of the work was Basili Ezosmodzghvari, a contemporary historian of the Queen. Created by Giorgi Sisauri, this manuscript consists of 86 pages. Five of its miniatures with gold ink. Among them are portraits of Queen Tamar and her historian. At the end of the manuscript, according to the Georgian tradition, the miniaturist depicted himself.
Portrait of Queen Tamar (‘Life of the King of Kings – Tamar’) [awaiting shelfmark]
Battle scene (‘Life of the King of Kings – Tamar’) [awaiting shelfmark]
‘Life of the King of Kings – David’ tells the life of the Georgian king, David IV Aghmashenebeli (1089-1125). It was written by an unknown historian in the twelfth century. The manuscript presented to the British Library consists of 116 pages. The beginning of each chapter is decorated with floral ornaments and figures of birds of paradise (peacocks, pheasants, doves). The image of King David is depicted on page 91 of the manuscript.
Portrait of King David IV (‘Life of the King of Kings – David’) [awaiting shelfmark]
‘Life of the King of Kings – David’, p. 42-43 [awaiting shelfmark]
These illuminated manuscripts are a significant addition to the Library’s Georgian collections. We held no illuminated Georgian manuscripts prior to this donation. They will thus enhance the significance and usefulness of our collection of Georgian manuscripts. They can be presented alongside our Georgian medieval manuscripts, and they will assist in the promotion of the country’s cultural heritage and contribute to Georgia’s academic and research development.
We are very grateful to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, to Tamar Latsabidze, to Giorgi Kalandia, to the Art Palace of Georgia, and to all who have contributed to this remarkable project.
Anna Chelidze, Curator, Georgian Collections
References and further reading
Robert P. Blake, ‘Catalogue of the Georgian Manuscripts in the Cambridge University Library’, The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 25, no. 3 (July 1932), 207-24. Ac.2692/13.
Robert P. Blake, ‘Khanmeti Palimpsest Fragments of the Old Georgian Version of Jeremiah’, The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 25, no. 3 (July 1932), 225-72.
J. Oliver Wardrop, ‘Catalogue of Georgian Manuscripts’, in Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare, A Catalogue of the Armenian Manuscripts in the British Museum… to which is appended a Catalogue of Georgian Manuscripts in the British Museum. (London, 1913) pp. 397-410. 11925.h.3.
Gregory Peradze, ‘Georgian Manuscripts in England’, Georgica. A Journal of Georgian and Caucasian Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 (Oct. 1935), 80-88. Ac.8821.e.
31 March 2023
Best known for his young adult series Pelle og Proffen and the ‘Elling’ series of novels, Ingvar Ambjørnsen’s first work hardly had the same impact in its own time but is now thought of as Norway’s rarest post-war work. Pepsikyss is a weird and wonderful collection of poems and drawings, which Ambjørnsen produced, published and distributed on the streets of Bergen for three Norwegian Krone each in 1976. Now, if you can even find a copy, they fetch thousands of times that price.
Front cover, Ingvar Ambjørnsen’s Pepsikyss ([Bergen, 1976]), RF.2023.a.77
The library has recently acquired a pristine copy of this rarity. Copies of Pepsikyss are hard to come by, with about 200 or so in existence, after Ambjørnsen threw away half of his 500-copy print run once he had recouped his printing expenses and was finished with his experiment. Reviewed in the countercultural magazine Gateavisa, it is not quite true that it made no impact. Its DIY, anti-establishment ethos with accompanying psychedelic drawings struck a chord with a cult audience. Although it was not until 1981 when Ambjørnsen officially debuted with his novel 23-salen.
Contents page with the message in the corner, ‘To hell with the publishing capital!’
While Ambjørnsen always saw himself as a writer (despite an early-career foray into horticulture), it might have taken a while to get used to the idea of a publisher, judging by the note on Pepsikyss’s inside cover: ‘TIL HELVETE MED FORLAGS KAPITALEN’ – to hell with the publishing capital!
The young poet picks off the symbols of capitalist society and government in his direct, unflinching language. En plass i solen, the opening poem, features an image of a top-hatted rat sucking the dismembered head of poor society, as he basks in the sunshine of wealth. The poem ends with society waiting ‘in the shadows of commercial buildings and banks’ for a new day. Perhaps a little too in your face but the tone is certainly set for the rest of the collection.
The title poem, Pepsikyss, is, as you might expect about a kiss at a party from a woman who’d just had a sip of what Ambjørnsen at the end calls ‘Nixon piss’. The rest of the poem is a description of a visceral party feeling and he is here and in other poems like Rolle, keen to capture something of the immediacy and buzz of love, friendship and partying.
The collection includes a comic strip Underlige Jensen and a piece of prose, more a playlet featuring the ‘prodigal son’ and the ‘prodigal father’, Fortapte familie, which closes the book.
Pepsikyss joins a wide range of publications by Ingvar Ambjørnsen in the library’s collections, and is a precursor to the author’s continued preoccupation with outsider characters and the margins of society. It is a cross between free, unfiltered, doodled naivety and studied social criticism. Yet its content is only part of a story that took this copy from the streets of Bergen to the stacks of the BL.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic collections
03 March 2023
On until 18 March, the exhibition Editorial Tables: Reciprocal Hospitalities at The Showroom brings together publishers, artists, and curators with an interest in ‘independent, experimental and artist-led publishing, with a focus on intersecting feminist and decolonial perspectives’. We were glad to receive the back catalogue of one of the featured publishers, Rab-Rab Press, based in Helsinki and founded by Sezgin Boynik.
Rab-Rab: journal of political and formal inquiries in art, Issue 01 (2014). Awaiting shelfmark.
Rab-Rab Press publishes Rab-Rab: journal of political and formal inquiries in art, which is a platform for politically charged interventions in an art world that has surrendered to its ‘ideological blindness’, to the dominant language of ‘liberal capitalist paranoia’. The journal itself and the range of books published by Rab-Rab are seen as part of a “writerly” art practice that, according to the first issue’s opening article by John Roberts, stemmed from Conceptual art’s dismissal of the ‘intellectual division of labour’, the strict separation of the work of the art practitioner and the art critic.
Reprint of E. P. Thompson’s, The Railway: An Adventure in Construction (Helsinki, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark.
Rab-Rab Press is also engaged in publishing, and often translating for the first time, out-of-print forgotten works. Twentieth century and contemporary political thought from across Europe finds a home at Rab-Rab, from the work of Slovenian sociologist Rastko Močnik to two lectures by the Polish-Georgian avant-gardist Ilia Zdanevich. There is a reprint of E. P. Thompson’s, The Railway: An Adventure in Construction, on the international labour brigades in Yugoslavia, and most recently a translation of the increasingly influential artist and thinker Karel Teige’s Jarmark umění, The Marketplace of Art.
Karel Teige’s Jarmark umění, The Marketplace of Art (Helsinki, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark.
Lastly, Rab-Rab’s focus also turns to surprising cultural political moments, whether that is the Archie Shepp-Bill Dixon Quartet playing the 8th World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki 1962 (Free Jazz Communism), Mao Zedong’s last meeting with the Red Guards in 1968 (The Conclusive Scene), or the release of London-based Practical Music’s LP, Albanian Summer: An Entertainment, in 1984 (From Scratch: Albanian Summer Picaresque).
With such an eclectic range of publications bringing lost writing and moments to light, we look forward to what Rab-Rab Press takes on next. In the meantime, there is still a chance to catch the exhibition.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic collections
30 December 2022
C is for Czechoslovak Independence Day, which marks the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak State in 1918.
D is for Digitisation, including the 3D digitisation of Marinetti’s Tin Book.
E is for Annie Ernaux, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in October.
Examples of Fraktur letter-forms from Wolfgang Fugger, Ein nützlich und wolgegründt Formular manncherley schöner Schriefften ... (Nuremberg, 1533) C.142.cc.12.
F is for Festive Traditions, from songs to fortune telling.
G is for Guest bloggers, whose contributions we love to receive!
H is for Hryhorii Skovoroda, the Ukrainian philosopher and poet whose anniversary we marked in December.
I is for our series on Iceland and the Library’s Icelandic collections.
J is for Jubilees.
Abetka (Kyïv, 2005). YF.2010.a.18369.
K is for Knowledge systems and the work of Snowchange Cooperative, a Finnish environmental organisation devoted to protecting and restoring the boreal forests and ecosystems through ‘the advancement of indigenous traditions and culture’.
L is for Limburgish, spoken in the South of the Netherlands.
M is for Mystery – some bibliographical sleuthing.
N is for Nordic acquisitions, from Finnish avant-garde poetry to Swedish art books.
O is for Online resources from East View, which are now available remotely.
Giovanni Bodoni and Giovanni Mardersteig, Manuale tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura di Giovanni Mardersteig. (Verona, 1968) L.R.413.h.17.
Q is for Quebec with a guest appearance by the Americas blog featuring the work of retired French collections curator Des McTernan.
R is for Rare editions of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar.
T is for Translation and our regular posts to mark Women in Translation Month.
Alphabet Anglois, contenant la prononciation des lettres avec les declinaisons et conjugaisons (Rouen, 1639). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)
V is for Victory – a contemporary Italian newspaper report of the Battle of Trafalgar.
W is for Richard Wagner who wrote about a fictional meeting with Beethoven.
X is for... (no, we couldn’t think of anything either!)
Y is for You, our readers. Thank you for following us!
Z is for our former colleague Zuzanna, whom we remembered in February.
Azbuka ōt knigi osmochastnye̡, sirěchʹ grammatikii (Lviv, 1574). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)
26 October 2022
The Nordic Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale has been transformed for the first time into ‘The Sámi Pavilion’. Three Sámi artists, with the guidance of Sámi elders, have created works that ‘celebrate the art and sovereignty of the Indigenous Sámi People’. One of the chosen artists, Pauliina Feodoroff, a ‘Skolt Sámi theatre director, artist and land guardian from Keväjäu’rr (Finland) and Suõ’nnjel (Russia)’, works with Snowchange Cooperative, a Finnish environmental organisation devoted to protecting and restoring the boreal forests and ecosystems through ‘the advancement of indigenous traditions and culture’. Honoured with the 2021 St Andrews Prize for the Environment, Snowchange, led by its President and leading climate scientist Tero Mustonen, have a long list of publications, most of which have recently been acquired by the Library.
As the Climate Emergency creeps up the priority list of governments, often reticent to disturb centuries-long systems of global extraction, indigenous and traditional communities at geographical extremes have been experiencing its devastating effects for decades. For hundreds of years, colonising economic powers have exploited the natural resources of the Arctic. That dispossession depended culturally on the imposition of new knowledge systems and languages that would normalise the exploitative relationship to the land. It is ironic and necessary that we now rely on ancient indigenous wisdom to re(dis)cover nature’s balance, beauty, wildness, in order to survive. Snowchange’s work tells us that by protecting the lands of Sápmi, we protect the Sámi peoples, and vice versa. In Pauliina Feodoroff’s words:
Sámi knowledge is knowledge about how to be with your environment, how to have your relationships with humans and with the world. Therefore, the most effective ways of controlling a people involve destroying the things that compromise the reality of that people. In the North this ancient knowledge has been beaten and destroyed for centuries in order to make the Indigenous peoples forget this knowledge. If there is nothing else to do to stop this, at least we can try to prolong things. To buy us a bit more time to survive. We can try to gather traditional knowledge from the elders who are still holding onto it. We can try to create safe havens of ecosystems, which can contain our knowledges – the fjells, forests, and lakes which remain in pristine condition. (The Eastern Sámi Atlas)
Cover of The Eastern Sámi Atlas (Awaiting Shelfmark)
Snowchange’s list of publications, many of which are available to read online, comprise not only scientific reports but also personal histories of significant community figures, hunters and fishermen, as well as novels and poems. This eclectic mix reflects the core idea that the environment, thought broadly, can only be changed by bringing together Western science and traditional knowledge, empirical research and storytelling, the intimately personal, the cosmic and the global.
The monumental Eastern Sámi Atlas ‘provides a clear view of the histories, land use and occupancy’ of the perhaps lesser-researched communities in the Kola Peninsula, speakers of Skolt, Kildin, Ter, and, before their recent extinction, Kemi and Akkala Sámi languages. It contains over 60 maps, unique artwork and photography, poems, songs, and chapters outlining the history, geopolitics and environmental developments in the region.
On the ground, Snowchange is involved in major restoration projects such as the Landscape Rewilding Programme, stretching over 52,000 hectares of which Snowchange owns 3100 hectares in five different areas across Finland, with its flagship site in Linnunsuo, North Karelia. Or, up in the Skolt Sámi area, the Näätämö River collaborative management project is described as the first of its kind in Finland, centring indigenous observations on biodiversity in the river basin to develop new models to protect a major Atlantic Salmon spawning site.
Covers of (above) Drowning Reindeer, Drowning Homes and (below) Kotoperäinen maailma. Kuivasjärven ympäristöhistoriaa, an environmental history of Kuivasjärvi Lake in the Pirkanmaa region (both awaiting shelfmarks).
While the organisation regularly updates through scientific reports available online, the research often leads to longer form publications, such as the Atlas mentioned above and the significant Life in the Cyclic World: A Compendium of Traditional Knowledge from the Eurasian North. In the latter, Tero and Kaisu Mustonen ground the two-volume collection of Indigenous observations and perspectives on biodiversity in ‘an attempt for a dialogue, a meeting, perhaps an encounter between the knowledge systems’. In acquiring and promoting these books, we hope the library is doing its small part in surfacing traditional knowledge and joining the conversation.
Indeed, while we have to accept that ‘Indigenous societies of the Arctic feel their viewpoints and understanding of their worlds and cultures has not happened’ when it comes to a matter of ‘decisions regarding the North’, cultural organisations in Northern Europe and beyond are recently engaging in more and more projects that bring to the fore the heritage of Europe’s only Indigenous population. Sámi literature was a focus of the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2019, when Norway was guest of honour. The British Museum’s exhibition Arctic: Culture and Climate worked closely in collaboration with Arctic communities. And, most relevant to the Library perhaps, the Digital Access to Sámi Heritage Archives project seeks to locate and make available Sámi cultural heritage in archives and collections across Europe on their upcoming platform, Nuohtti.
Cover of It is the Sámi who own this Land (Awaiting Shelfmark)
Inspired by such projects, we have begun the process of assessing the library’s own Sámi items, identifying our own potential contributions to Nuohtti, and thereby furthering that dialogue between cultural worlds. But that’s the subject of another post. For now, we thank Snowchange for sharing with us their publications and their knowledge, as only when we try to understand those different cultural worlds, can we start to live justly in the world we share.
We were delighted to hear from Tero Mustonen, chair of Snowchange Cooperative, who wanted to comment on this collaboration:
Whilst initially being pleasantly surprised by the contact from the British Library, we responded swiftly to the exchange and deep understanding the Curators saw in our work. Now all publications by the knowledge holders, scientists, reindeer herders, Indigenous women, fishers and Elders are in the esteemed British Library. Acts of kindness, learning and cultural dialogue can only be achieved by individuals who offer the first gesture. This has now happened. We thank the Library and especially Pardaad Chamsaz for being the guiding light in creating a connection between small northern villages and the Library. For these efforts we will dedicate a recovering boreal peatland – a central site in the fight against climate change and maintenance of northern biodiversity – to the British Library in the spring 2023 to mark the dialogue, mark the courage and ultimately, mark the understanding across cultures that the world needs. In this way, this will be remembered and there will be a physical, natural symbol of this act. We thank the Library.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
An area of boreal peatland restored by Snowchange (photo: Tero Mustonen)
19 July 2022
As part of the events programme accompanying our current exhibition, ‘Breaking the News’, curators from the European, Americas and Oceania Collections department took part in an online 'Meet the Curators' event to introduce some stories about news media in the countries they cover. This blog post is based on one of the talks given at that event.
‘Breaking the News’ also means reporting events of historical importance. Battles often are. The Battle of Trafalgar was one of the most famous battles in British naval history, worth reporting internationally. On the 21st of October 1805 the victory of the British fleet, led by Admiral Lord Nelson, contained Napoleon’s ambitions to invade Britain. Lord Nelson was mortally wounded during the battle and the official despatch was written by his second, Admiral Collingwood.
How was this event reported in European news? How long it did it take for the ground-breaking news of the victory to circulate, in an age of slow-travelling information?
Cover of Relazione della battaglia navale seguita ne’ giorni 22 e 23 del passato Ottobre 1805 nanti Cadice, tra le squadre combinate Gallo-Ispana e l’Inglese (Genoa and Turin, 1805). Awaiting shelfmark
We have recently acquired a very rare Italian account of the battle, a bifolium published in Italy, by the Frugoni printing-house in Genoa and by Carlo Bocca in Turin, in 1805. It is titled Relazione della battaglia navale seguita ne’ giorni 22 e 23 del passato Ottobre 1805 nanti Cadice, tra le squadre combinate Gallo-Ispana e l’Inglese [...]. Not many other copies of this account are recorded in Italy, and this is the only one in the UK.
Last page of the Relazione with a list of the English ships and the imprint details
The account opens with a description of the composition of the Royal Navy fleet against the combined fleets of the French and Spanish navies, followed by a report of the circumstances in which Lord Nelson lost his life. The description is in accordance with Admiral Collingwood’s despatch from the battle, published in the London Gazette on the 6th of November 1805. This proves that the author of this document read Collingwood’s despatch. Perhaps the news arrived by postal ship from Spain to Genoa and from there it was carried by horse to Turin, where it was translated to Italian and then printed. The only thing we know for sure is that this account was published in the same year 1805, so sometimes between November and December.
The age of the Napoleonic wars was the moment communication started to become global; transmitting information and news from various corners of the empires become essential for the European powers.
I would like to draw your attention on my favourite element of this document, which you can see in the image above. This is an illustration showing, by means of typographic elements, the order of battle of the two sides, and their two successive changes of formation, for a total of three positions. I find this a rather clever use of typography, which visualizes Nelson’s strategy better than prints, or his manuscript memorandum that is held in our collections [https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/admiral-nelsons-trafalgar-memorandum].
Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections
Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections
14 July 2022
One of the most influential artists of the last century, Christian Boltanksi, died one year ago today. Although, he would have had you believe he actually died many times before: ‘When you are asked to make a retrospective, it basically means you’re dead’ (from an interview with Alexis Dahan for the Brooklyn Rail). The son of Holocaust survivors, Boltanski was born in 1944 in Paris, where he continued to be active throughout his life. His work was often preoccupied with memory, memorialisation and the archive, using everyday objects, personal or administrative material, and the concepts of listing and cataloguing to evoke the profundity of what is lost by displaying the infinity of what we know, have and record.
For an exhibition at Malmö Konsthall in 1994, Boltanski made the artist’s book Les Habitants de Malmö, a copy of which has recently entered the British Library’s collections. It comprises the city’s real telephone directory from 1993 only with a new cover displaying its new title and a four-page insert of errata that Boltanski introduces with the line: ‘You can’t reach these inhabitants of Malmö on the phone anymore. They died in 1993.’
Cover of Christian Boltanski, Les Habitants de Malmö (Malmö, 1994) YF.2022.b.994
Looking at it now, this directory (if not all phone directories) has lost its functionality in the internet age, as its function is more aesthetic and metaphorical. However, Boltanski’s point was that its pragmatic function was already in question in 1994 when he issued a bunch of them with his front cover. As Ernst van Alphen has suggested, ‘the finiteness of pragmatic listing is illusionary’, the directory is merely ‘the temporary fixation of an ongoing process’, which soon ‘over time […] becomes a memorial of all the former inhabitants of Malmö’. Besides, when removed from its original context, the 90s Malmö phone box say, the hundreds of pages of names and numbers lose any referentiality. We simply take stock of a long list of people who may now have joined the ranks of the errata list of deceased. This is what van Alphen terms the ‘Holocaust effect’, an experience of a certain aspect of the Holocaust, here evoked somewhere between the sheer mass of names (like public memorials that list the names of the deceased in full) and the memorialisation of these former inhabitants.
Title Page of an 18th-century Danish auction catalogue for the possessions of …, 821.b.11.(4.)
As Boltanski’s work stages the archival, making once functional lists into memorials, we might ask ourselves at the library about the endless lists and catalogues housed in our collections. For example, some 17th- and 18th-century catalogues for auctions of the estates of deceased persons have recently come to light via our collection audit colleagues. Cataloguing these lists of personal effects, whose title pages list every single category of item for sale, you can’t help imagining them in a Boltanski exhibition. With their referential function lost in time and space, we might see these lists more symbolically as the things that represented someone’s life as opposed to items for sale. At the very least, Boltanski’s lists allow us to dwell on the natural imperfection of our own archives, lists and catalogues, reminding us of the ongoing process of describing our items for new times and new readers.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
Ernst van Alphen, Staging the Archive: Art and Photography in the Age of New Media (Chicago: 2014) YC.2016.a.1489
04 January 2022
In European Collections, where we focus on printed books post-1850, many of our acquisitions come through regular contracted suppliers. These suppliers are equipped to provide the breadth of publications the Library needs to stay relevant as an international research organisation. Occasionally, however, we acquire by different means, perhaps when the publication is more niche, or second-hand, or when we have a connection to a publisher or author, amongst other reasons. As we enter a new year, I wanted to reflect briefly on the quirkier material that has entered the BL’s Nordic collections in just such ways in 2021.
Valtatiet (‘Highways’) is an early example of the Finnish avant-garde, an illustrated poetry collaboration between Mika Waltari, Olavi Lauri Paavolainen and the artist Sylvi Kunnas, who provided its striking front cover.
Cover of Valtatiet (1928) by Sylvi Kunnas, awaiting shelfmark
Waltari and Paavolainen were prominent members of the Tulenkantajat (‘Torch Bearers’) group of artists and writers, who introduced the trending movements of European modernism to Finland. Valtatiet was itself inspired by Filippo Marinetti’s Futurism in its manifesto-like poetry of ‘machine romanticism’ (Kaunonen), while Kunnas’s cover certainly betrays an interest in Cubist style. Both poets increasingly became more politically engaged, despite their early preference for the aesthetics and experience of modernity and modern life, and both visited Nazi Germany in the 1930s, with Paavolainen producing perhaps his most famous work as a result, Kolmannen Valtakunnan vieraana (‘Guest of the Third Reich’, 1936). This acquisition complements an extensive European avant-garde collection at the Library and importantly expands it to incorporate an example of its unique Finnish expression.
Illustration by Sylvi Kunnas accompanying the poems entitled ‘Credo’ by Olavi Lauri Paavolainen
Our Finnish collections also recently welcomed a much more contemporary literary work, Fun Primavera by Elsa Tölli, which we kindly received directly from the author. Elsa won this year’s Tanvissa karhu (‘Dancing bear’) prize for poetry, the first time it has gone to a self-published work. Thrilled to be asked for a copy by the Library, Elsa sent us a beautiful note along with the book, which she described as her “wild and extravagant poetry explosion”. Thank you, Elsa! And for those of us still needing to hone our Finnish, an English translation by Kasper Salonen is available.
From Fun Primavera by Elsa Tölli (awaiting shelfmark)
Reaching out to creators has been an interesting way to learn about contemporary publishing in the region. I came across the work of Johannes Samuelsson through conversations around Swedish art books and projects centred on social action. Samuelsson, an artist and photographer, has developed an art practice that is directly concerned with uplifting his community in Umeå, making books that document but also form part of that social action. Johannes generously sent his work to the Library and I was particularly struck by the book Skäliga anspråk på prydlighet: En bok om kampen för en korvvagn (‘Reasonable claims for neatness: A book on the fight for a hot dog stall’).
Cover of Johannes Samuelsson’s Skäliga anspråk på prydlighet, featuring hot dog stall owner, Helmer Holm
When the Umeå authorities introduced new regulations for the design of hot dog stalls, Helmer Holm fought to retain his stall, which contravened the new rules. Samuelsson documents what he calls the “hot dog war”, amplifying Holm’s campaign, which was eventually successful, and the project is brought to life in the photobook. Attempting to represent the cultural life of the Nordic region, our collections need to be broad and relevant, identifying projects that also speak to universal issues and therefore that cut across the Library’s collections. With this Swedish perspective on local activism, on gentrification of common urban space, on art as social practice, we are hopefully adding richness to collections that interrogate similar ideas.
Cover of Art of Welfare, (Oslo, 2006) YD.2021.a.1210
We are always keen to incorporate independent publishing and smaller presses, especially where the publications complement the collections we already hold and the themes central to them. Art publishing tends to be produced with an international market in mind, with many books from the Nordic region appearing in English. After acquiring the Office for Contemporary Art Norway’s recent trilogy of new Indigenous writing, following a survey of contemporary publishing related to Sámi culture, we were fortunate to receive all outstanding issues of the publisher’s Verkstad series from them directly. Exhibition catalogues are often the place for leading thinkers to be creative, and there are unique essays throughout this series. Take, for example, Art of Welfare, produced for Elmgreen & Dragset's exhibition, ‘The Welfare Show’ – initially produced by Bergen Kunsthall, – at the Serpentine Gallery in London in January 2006.
As we constantly shape our collections to reflect the worlds they represent, working with authors, artists and independent publishers is an indispensable way to get at the heart of these cultural landscapes and to broaden the perspective of our own. We hope to continue to supplement our Nordic collections in this way, developing this unofficial “acquisitions through conversations” approach.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
Leena Kaunonen, ‘Avant-Garde Moments in Nykyaikaa etsimassa by Olavi Paavolainen’, in A Cultural History of the Avant–Garde in the Nordic Countries 1925–1950 (Leiden, 2019) Avant-garde critical studies; 36. pp. 746-760. 1837.116580
08 November 2021
Naturally, we tend to focus on the Anglosphere legacies of English-language literary classics, but when it comes to fantasy fiction, like the works of Lewis Carroll and J. R. R. Tolkien, their international reception and illustrated editions are very much part of the phenomena. The worlds evoked transcend age- and language-barriers, with illustrations often inflected by specific geographical, cultural and historical contexts, given the genre’s endless capacity for reinterpretation.
Covers of new acquisitions of works illustrated by Tove Jansson
The Library has recently acquired a number of books illustrated by the genius that was Tove Jansson - the Finnish-Swedish creator of the Moomins, and also ‘novelist, short-story-writer, memoirist, painter, illustrator and cartoonist’, as the volume Tove Jansson Rediscovered importantly underlines. These acquisitions include translations of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, Alice in Wonderland, and Tolkien’s The Hobbit, as well as a 1946 issue of the short-lived journal Litteratur, Konst, Teater.
Image accompanying Roger Richard’s poem ‘The Sleeping Woman’ / Den sovande kvinnan in Litteratur, Konst, Teater 1946, RF.2021.a.10
Jansson’s work never departs from view for too long in the UK’s cultural events landscape, as evidenced by the recent exhibition and walking trail at Walthamstow Wetlands and The William Morris Gallery, or by the big-budget Moomins animation, or the 2017-18 Jansson retrospective at Dulwich Picture Gallery. This goes alongside the stream of reissues, biographies, edited scholarly volumes and translations, including Letters from Tove and Tove Jansson: life, art, words: the authorised biography, both translations published by Sort Of Books in the last decade. Unattributed quotations in this blog are taken from the latter.
Tove Jansson’s illustration for the cover of Solveig von Schoultz’s Nalleresan (Teddy Bears’ Journey), originally 1944, here the 2007 facsimile reprint, YF.2008.a.5876
While Jansson illustrated a dozen or so books early in her career, she would devote most of her illustrative output to her own iconic creation. That is, apart from when the opportunities to illustrate Carrol and later Tolkien were presented to her. Unable to resist collaborating with publisher and translator, Åke Runnquist, and co-translator, Lars Forsell, on a book of ‘pure modern nonsense verse’, Jansson accepted the commission for The Hunting of the Snark (Snarkjakten) in 1958 and it was published a year later.
Jansson’s illustrations for the sections, ‘The Hunt’ (‘Jakten’) and ‘The Beaver’s Lesson’ (‘Bäverns läxa’) from Snarkjakten, RF.2021.a.7
While it wasn’t reprinted, the publishers deemed the collaboration a success, with the illustrations considered of the ‘highest class’. Jansson had not seen the original illustrations by Henry Holiday and their respective styles could not be more different, evident in their interpretations of ‘The Landing’ (‘Landstigningen’), the first “fit”, or part of the poem (rendered frossbrytning in the Swedish, almost a fit of shivering, or chill).
Henry Holiday’s original illustration (above) and Tove Jansson’s (below) of ‘The Landing’
Jansson depicted a cast of large-eyed, long-snouted moominesque figures in contrast to Holiday’s caricatured, large-headed humans, both bringing the absurd to life in their own ways.
The year after the publication of Snarkjakten, Jansson received a letter from the author of Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren, who aimed to entice her fellow author to illustrate a new Swedish translation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit (Bilbo: En Hobbits Åventyr, RF.2021.a.8). Much has been written on Jansson’s illustrations by Tolkien fans and much of it critical of her inventive departure from the author’s descriptions. For Jansson, it was a chance to move away from the Moomin figures, while building on affinities between her own world and Tolkien’s landscape, what she describes as ‘Forests of living horror, coal-black rivers, moonlit moors with fiery wolves – a whole world of catastrophe […]’.
Bilbo surveys the Misty Mountains
Indeed, Tove’s hopes to capture the dark immensity of Tolkien’s world were slightly clipped by Lindgren and the publishers, as they wanted it to be situated firmly within children’s literature and for it to make Bilbo more prominent and therefore less awed by his environment. The world of catastrophe had to be seen as navigable to the book’s young readers.
Gollum according to Tove Jansson
One particular bone of contention for Tolkien fans is the depiction of Gollum, who is nothing like the later film’s rendering. Jansson shows us a friendlier, perhaps more human figure, twice the size of the Gollum we can all picture. All in all, as Westin puts it, many readers ‘saw Jansson, where they would have preferred Tolkien’. The book was no success by any objective measure and only one edition appeared.
Bear vignette from The Hobbit
Whatever superfans make of the fidelity of the illustrations, they are undoubtedly fine achievements, down to the small vignettes used to head chapters, figures which Jansson drew iteratively ’20, 40, 60 times till it looked fairly free’ and then glued them together, giving them a real dynamism.
Alice down the Rabbit-Hole
The lack of reception for her Hobbit illustrations might have stunted the desire to collaborate on works that were not her own. Jansson was however drawn back to Carroll in 1965, this time Runnquist’s translation of Alice in Wonderland (Alice I Underlandet, RF.2021.a.9), Carroll’s original manuscript of which we hold here at the BL. Like what she found compelling in Tolkien, Jansson read Alice as a ‘horror’, telling Runnquist, ‘the story is terrifying and can in no way be seen as an idyll, but it causes shivers of pleasure’. The translator however could not agree and sought something altogether more pleasant.
Alice, cat and bats in the tall grass
The horror is still there in Jansson’s illustrations, in the uncanny, magnified or magnifying underworld, as the artist gives pictorial life to Carroll’s inherently uneasy and confounding fantasy. Jansson’s use of colour, often rendered quite light on the page, makes them almost dreamlike.
Alice encounters a blue caterpillar on a mushroom
Runnquist hailed the work as a masterpiece. As Mikiko Chimiori writes, Jansson captures the ‘the transitional period between childhood and adolescence’, often proving ‘even more imaginative and fantastic than the original’. To understand that comment, we should bear in mind that the ‘original’ was illustrated by Carroll himself, with engravings by John Tenniel for the published first edition, illustrations which Jansson herself thought definitive.
The Mock-Turtle’s Story
Tove Jansson was a prolific and multitalented writer and artist rightly best known for her Moomins but quickly becoming so much more than that in our cultural landscape, such is the richness and continued relevance of her oeuvre.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
Tove Jansson, Letters from Tove, edited by Boel Westin and Helen Svensson, translated by Sarah Death, 2019, ELD.DS.463620
Boel Westin, Tove Jansson: life, art, words: the authorised biography, translated by Silvester Mazzarella, 2018, YK.2018.a.7552
Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull, The art of the Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (London, 2011), LC.31.a.13046
Mikiko Chimori, ‘Tove Jansson’s Alice Illustrations’, in Tove Jansson Rediscovered, ed. by Kate McLoughlin and Malin Lindström Brock (Cambridge, 2007), m08/.23195
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