European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

Introduction

Discover the British Library's extensive collections from continental Europe and read news and views on European culture and affairs from our subject experts and occasional guest contributors. Read more

10 June 2022

Meet the Curators: A News-themed Session – 23 June 2022

Exploring five centuries of UK news through broadsheets, blogs and objects, the British Library’s current exhibition, Breaking the News, challenges and seeks to change the way we think about news.

Poster with a drawing of a person sitting on a TV and reading a newspaper

A poster advertising the University of Poznań Solidarity journal Serwis Informacyjny Komisji Zakładowej NSZZ «Solidarność» przy UAM w Poznaniu. BL shelf mark Sol. 764

Looking beyond the UK focus of Breaking the News, on Thursday 23 June curators from the European, Americas and Oceania collections will be in conversation about items from their collection areas that speak to the themes of the exhibition and that they think deserve a spotlight. Join us for a friendly look behind the curating scenes as we discover unique collection items that illuminate news and the role it plays in our lives.

This free, online event will take place on Thursday 23 June 2022, 12.30 – 1.30pm. To register, please visit the Library’s event page. Bookers will be sent a Zoom link in advance giving access.

This session is run in partnership with the Library’s Asia and Africa department, whose parallel event takes place on Thursday 16th June 2022.

Breaking The News exhibition advert

07 June 2022

Italian Collections in UK Libraries: Past, Present & Future

We are delighted to bring to you a day-long exploration of the amazing diversity of 600 years of collecting Italian books in the UK. The Study Day, organized by the Italian Studies Library Group (ISLG), will be in person at the British Library Knowledge Centre, (Eliot Room), on Friday 17th June 2022. Booking essential, on the BL website

Portraits of Italian writers

Portraits of Italian writers

The programme is as follows:

09:30: Registration
10:00: Welcome: Janet Zmroczek (Head of European and American Collections, The British Library)
10:05: Welcome: Andrea Del Corno' (Italian Specialist, The London Library, ISLG Chair)

Past
10:10: Abigail Brundin (Director, British School at Rome) and Dunstan Roberts (University of
Cambridge), ‘The Italian collections in National Trust and English Heritage Libraries’

10:40: Tudor Allen (Senior Archivist for Camden Council), ‘Sources for the Study of London's
Italian Quarter: Archives of the Mazzini-Garibaldi Club and the Italian Hospital’

11:00: Stephen Parkin (Curator Printed Heritage Collections, The British Library), ‘The Colt
Hoare collection of Italian topographical books in the British Library’

11:20: Discussion
11:30: Tea and coffee

Keynote Speaker
11:45: Giuliana Pieri (Professor of Italian and the Visual Arts, Head of the School of
Humanities, Royal Holloway University), ‘Beyond Words and Images: Re-thinking twentieth-century
Italian Books’

Present
12:15: Julianne Simpson (Rare Books and Maps Manager, John Rylands Library) and Stephen
Milner (Serena Professor of Italian Studies, University of Manchester) ‘Le Tre Corone: Italian
collections at the John Rylands Library – projects and promotion’

12:45: Tabitha Tuckett (Rare Books Librarian, UCL) ‘Italian rare books and archives in UCL
Special Collections’

13:05: Cristina Dondi (Professor of Early European Book Heritage, University of Oxford)
‘Mapping the early Italian book heritage around the UK: From distribution to dispersal‘

13:35: Discussion
13:45: Buffet lunch

Keynote speaker
14:45: Michele Casalini (CEO, Casalini Libri) ‘Collections aren't built in a day: Changes and
trends in Italian collecting’

Future
15:15: Round table chaired by Andrea Del Corno', with Prof Cristina Dondi, Andrea Mazzocchi
(Bernard Quaritch Rare Books and Manuscripts), Valentina Mirabella (Curator, Romance Collections,
The British Library), Prof Giuliana Pieri, and Maria Riccobono (Librarian, Italian Cultural Institute).

16:30: Katia Pizzi (Director, Italian Cultural Institute)

02 June 2022

Jubilees Habsburg Style

This week Britain is marking the platinum jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Elizabeth is now – at least according to Wikipedia  – the third longest-reigning monarch in recorded history. Her reign is surpassed in length only by those of Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama X) of Thailand, whom she will soon overtake, and Louis XIV of France, who still has a two-year lead, having inherited his throne at the tender age of four.

Portraits of Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary at his coronation and in 1898

Portraits of Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary at his coronation and in 1898, from Unser Kaiser. Festschrift für die vaterländische Jugend zum fünfzigjährigen Regierungs-Jubiläum seiner Kaiserlichen und Königlichen Apostolischen Majestät Franz Josef I. Herausgegeben vom Lehrerhaus-Verein in Wien (Vienna, 1898) 1560/2545.

At number six on Wikipedia’s list is Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary, whose reign lasted from 1848 until 1916, beginning in the aftermath of revolution and ending during a war which would eventually put an end to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its monarchy. Although he never made it to a platinum jubilee, the 50th and 60th anniversaries of his reign were marked with great celebration and, of course, many publications.

Decorative book cover with a portrait of Franz Joseph

Cover of Leo Smolle, Fünf Jahrzehnte auf Habsburgs Throne 1848-1898. Festschrift aus Anlass des fünfzigjährigen Regierungsjubiläums Seiner Majestät des Kaisers Franz Josef I (Vienna, 1898) 10703.bbb.63.

Of course there were the usual commemorative books, often lavishly illustrated and bound, looking back at the emperor’s reign and the changes it had seen within the Empire. However, their celebratory tone also carried an edge of sorrow. No writer could overlook the death of Franz Joseph’s only son Rudolf in 1889 (although they skated over the sordid details of Rudolf’s suicide). Although it happened too late to be covered in most of the 1898 commemorative volumes, the murder of Franz Joseph’s consort Elisabeth in September 1898 understandably led to a cutting back of the jubilee celebrations that year, and by 1908 this blow too was described as one of the many heavy burdens borne by the emperor.

Decorative book cover with a portrait of Franz Joseph

Cover of Carl Weide, 60 Jahre auf Habsburgs Kaiserthrone: ein Gedenkbuch zum Jubiläum der sechzigjährigen Regierung des Kaisers Franz Josef I (Vienna, 1908) 10706.m.29.

But alongside the more familiar types of commemorative publications there were all manner of local and subject-specific ones which used the jubilee as an occasion to review the previous 50 or 60 years through the prism of their own interests. In 1898 a group of industrialists produced a six-volume work celebrating Austria’s major industries and the Ministry of Agriculture looked back at 50 years of agriculture and forestry. The Austrian Geographical Society also devoted a volume to the progress of its discipline under Franz Joseph’s reign, and as part of a larger commemorative volume, the director of the Imperial Mint set the pulses of numismatists racing with a review of 50 years of coinage reforms.

On a local level, the people of Czernowitz (now Chernivtsi in south-western Ukraine) linked Franz Joseph’s celebration of 60 years on the throne with the 500th anniversary of the first official record of the city in 1408. In 1898, the canny people of Budweis (now České Budějovice in the Czech Republic) recycled memories of an imperial visit three years previously as a jubilee publication.

Book cover

Cover of Reinhold Huyer, Regentenbesuch in Budweis. Zum 50-jährigen Regierungsjubiläum Sr. Maj. des Kaisers Franz Josef I. Als Erinnerung an die Kaisertage von 1. bis 4. September 1895 (České Budějovice, 1898) 09315.e.17.

These locations are a reminder of the sheer scope of the empire that Franz Josef ruled over, but his jubilees were not marked by celebrations in all his territories. Both the golden and diamond jubilees coincided with periods of constitutional crisis and diplomatic tension, in Bohemia and the Balkans respectively, and attempts to present the commemorations as a symbol of imperial unity no doubt rang hollow to many there. Hungary officially ignored the jubilees of 1898 and 1908, considering Franz Joseph only to have been their legitimate ruler since he was crowned King of Hungary in 1867; there were however some Hungarian commemorative publications for the 25th anniversary of that coronation in 1892.

Nonetheless, as the selection of publications described above shows, the jubilees were seen by many as a cause – or at least an excuse – for celebration. Like Queen Elizabeth today, Franz Joseph had been a constant presence in the lives of most of his subjects due to the length of his reign, and the efforts of industrialists, geographers, local councils and others to link their own spheres of interest to that reign offer insights into the ways in which people identify with the symbolism of monarchy.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Decorative title page

Title-page of Joseph Schnitzer, Franz Joseph I. und seine Zeit. Cultur-historischer Rückblick auf die Francisco-Josephinische Epoche (Vienna, 1898) 1899.f.9. (Image from a copy in the  Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

 

References/Further Reading

Die Gross-Industrie Oesterreichs. Festgabe zum glorreichen fünfzigjährigen Regierungs-Jubiläum seiner Majestät des Kaisers Franz Josef I., dargebracht von den Industriellen Oesterreichs, 1898. (Vienna, 1898) 1809.b.15.

Friedrich Umlauft, Die Pflege der Erdkunde in Oesterreich, 1848-1898. Festschrift der K.K. Geographischen Gesellschaft aus Anlass des fünfzigjährigen Regierung-Jubiläums Sr. Majestät des Kaisers Franz Joseph I. (Vienna, 1898) Ac.6068/3.

Geschichte der österreichischen Land- und Forstwirtschaft und ihrer Industrien 1848-1898. Festschrift zur Feier der ... fünfzigjährigen Wiederkehr der Thronbesteigung ... Franz Joseph I. (Vienna, 1899-1901) 1572/357.

Josef Müller, ‘Die Münz-Reformen in Osterreich während der fünfzigjährigen Regierung des Kaisers Franz Josef I.’, in Anton Mayer (ed.) Festschrift zum fünfzigjährigen Regierungs-Jubiläum, 1848-1898, seiner Kaiserl. und Königl. Apostolischen Majestät Franz Josef I. (Vienna, 1898) 1855.dd.2.

Raimund Friedrich Kaindl, Geschichte von Czernowitz von den altesten Zeiten bis zur Gegenwart. Festschrift zum sechzigjährigen Regierungsjubiläum Sr. Majestät Kaiser Franz Joseph I. und zur Erinnerung an die erste urkundliche Erwähnung von Czernowitz vor 500 Jahren (Chernivtsi, 1908) 10205.h.5.

 

 

27 May 2022

‘Breaking the News’: Tajny Detektyw – crimes and sensationalism in interwar Poland

On Sunday 23 August 1931 the front page of Tajny Detektyw (‘Undercover Detective’), a Polish weekly tabloid, featured a photograph of a beautiful woman ominously titled ‘Iga’s Tragedy’. The paper ran a story on a popular Warsaw dancer Iga Korczyńska shot and killed by her former fiancé Zacharjasz Drożyński. The story appealed to masses easily fascinated by classic tropes of love, high-life, obsession, adultery and crime. This was only one of many juicy articles that Tajny Detektyw chose to print that day.

Front page of Tajny Detektyw, no. 32 featuring Iga Korczyńska

Front page of Tajny Detektyw, no. 32 featuring Iga Korczyńska (Kraków, 1931) BL shelf mark RF.201.b.79

Extract from the article ‘Tragedja Igi’ in Tajny Detektyw

Extract from the article ‘Tragedja Igi’ in Tajny Detektyw, no. 32 (Kraków, 1931)

The newspaper was one of the most sensationalist titles in interwar Poland and made quite a name for itself. The weekly newspaper’s circulation of 100,000 used to sell out almost immediately. The title was owned by a Polish entrepreneur and publisher, the biggest and the most influential press magnate of the Second Polish Republic, Marian Dąbrowski

Tajny Detektyw’s creators had an ambition for the newspaper to become something more than a regular penny paper. The periodical’s intricate graphic design was conceived and executed by Janusz Maria Brzeski a modernist artist, photographer and an avant-garde filmmaker headhunted by Dąbrowski. With determination not to be another ‘penny blood’ Tajny Detektyw’s publishers claimed that the paper’s mission was to ‘fight crime’.

United under this banner the periodical’s journalists did not shy away from any subject. They ventured deep into the realms of social pathology, murder, burglary and rape. They published gruesome stories and were uncompromising in the choice of protagonists that ranged from petty criminals, through corrupt civil servants to crooked judges and police officers. While the featured stories were grisly, their linguistic side had a certain poetic and literary quality to it. However, the newspaper quickly was blacklisted by various organisations, the Catholic Church amongst them. The paper was criticised for doing the exact opposite of what its mission was supposed to be – it was accused of propagating crime and corrupting public morals.

Front page of Tajny Detektyw, no. 25, with the headline ‘W sidłach sekty satanistów’ – ‘In the Clutches of the Satanic Cult’

‘W sidłach sekty satanistów’ – ‘In the Clutches of the Satanic Cult’, gory details of a mysterious death in Warsaw. Front page of Tajny Detektyw, no. 25 (Kraków, 1934)

Back page of Tajny Detektyw, no. 37, with the headline ‘Zbrodnia nad Prutem’ – ‘Crime by the Prut’: members of the local authorities and police officers photographed over the body of a victim of an unknown perpetrator.

‘Zbrodnia nad Prutem’ – ‘Crime by the Prut’: members of the local authorities and police officers photographed over the body of a victim of an unknown perpetrator. Back page of Tajny Detektyw, no. 37 (Kraków, 1932)

Front page of Tajny Detektyw, no. 48 featuring skyscrapers

Tajny Detektyw’s graphic designer, Maria Brzeski, favoured collages in his artistic practice. Under his guidance the newspaper produced many exquisite examples of this technique such as this front page of Tajny Detektyw, no. 48 (Kraków, 1931)

It was rumoured that some criminals treated Tajny Detektyw as their training manual. In the end, Dąbrowski was forced to close down the title in 1934. It was a widely-discussed criminal trial of a married couple, Jan and Maria Malisz, that became the final nail in Tajny Detektyw’s coffin. The couple, a painter and his wife, committed a burglary resulting in a double homicide and bodily harm. The scandal and the court proceedings not only exposed the brutal reality of societal poverty in the Polish Second Republic and shed the light on desperation of those struggling for survival, but also became Dąbrowski’s newspaper damnation (see Stanisław Salomonowicz’s book, Pitaval krakowski (Kraków 2010) YF.2014.a.27456 ). Jan and Maria Malisz testified that their deed was inspired by an article in Tajny Detektyw describing a murder of a postman committed in Toruń. The couple thought that they could improve on the already existing scenario. Although, the plan backfired, they instead succeeded in finishing off the most popular criminal chronicle of its time of the social life of the Polish Second Republic. After a turbulent public discussion the newspaper was finally closed down.

Pages from Tajny Detektyw, no. 30, featuring the article ‘Strzały w Hotelu Carlton’ – ‘Shots at Carlton Hotel’

‘Strzały w Hotelu Carlton’ – ‘Shots at Carlton Hotel’, one of the articles from the newspaper targeted at readers hungry for juicy gossip from abroad. Pages from Tajny Detektyw, no. 30 (Kraków, 1931)

‘Breaking the News’, a current exhibition at the British Library, offers more insight into ways that public opinions and beliefs influence the news and vice versa, including the ways in which scandal and violent crime are depicted. Visit the British Library website to learn more.

Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections 

Breaking the News exhibition advert

 

23 May 2022

Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages

After a two-year hiatus, we are pleased to announce that the annual Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages will resume on Monday 13 June 2022 in the Bronte Room of the British Library's Knowledge Centre. The programme is as follows: 

11.00 Registration

11.30  CHRISTIAN ALGAR (London)
            The incunabula of J. B. Inglis in the British Library

12.15 Lunch (Own arrangements).

1.30  JOHN DUNKLEY
            Editing Destouches’s Le Philosophe marié (1727)

2.15  JOHN D. MCINALLY (Liverpool)
            Conflicting and Connected Messages in the Margins: (Para)textual Dynamics in Rwandan Testimonies of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

3.00 Tea

3.30  SHANTI GRAHELI (Glasgow)
            Foreign readers of Ariosto’s Orlando furioso between language acquisition and collecting practices, 16th and early 17th century

4.15  LLUÍS AGUSTÍ (Barcelona)
            Spanish Republican Exile Printing in Mexico

The Seminar will end at 5.00 pm.

The Seminar is a free event and all are welcome, but please let the organisers, Barry Taylor and Susan Reed (contact details below), know if you wish to attend. 

Barry Taylor (barry.taylor@bl.uk; tel 020 7412 7576)
Susan Reed (susan.reed@bl.uk; tel 020 7412 7572)

Two men working a printing press

11 May 2022

The Art of Noises

“In antiquity, life was nothing but silence. Noise was really not born before the 19th century, with the advent of machinery. Today noise reigns supreme over human sensibility.” Luigi Russolo

Photograph showing Luigi Russolo and his collaborator Ugo Piatti with their intonarumori

Photograph showing Luigi Russolo and his collaborator Ugo Piatti with their intonarumori, from Luigi Russolo, L’arte dei rumori (Milan, 1916). X.629/13035.

Futurism was a multidisciplinary artistic and social movement. Futurists wanted to reinvent all art forms: painting, sculpture, literature, photography, architecture, book production, dance, even cuisine... Futurist ideals were very radical, both artistically and politically.

Italian futurists, led by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, had a huge impact on the avant-garde of the twentieth century and gave popularity to art manifestos. Of the many futurist manifestos, the 11 March 1913 one titled L’arte dei rumori. Manifesto futurista (The Art of Noises. Futurist Manifesto), by Luigi Russolo, had a very long-lasting influence.

Portrait of Luigi Russolo

Portrait of Luigi Russolo, L’arte dei rumori.

L’arte dei rumori is a manifesto of futurist music. It was subsequently published as a monograph in 1916 in Milan by Edizioni Futuriste di “Poesia”, Marinetti’s own publishing house and official publisher of Italian futurists since 1905. The monograph, also titled L’arte dei rumori, expands on the 1913 manifesto and includes pictures and musical scores.

This book is the first to introduce the notions of noise as sound and sound-art. Noise was a product of the industrial revolution and therefore, for Russolo, futuristic. Onomatopoeic and cacophonic ‘words in freedom’ were already linked to the concept of noise as poetry in the early productions of futurist literature, so noise as sound appears a natural evolution of Marinetti’s Parole in Libertà.

The author of this book, painter turned musician Luigi Russolo, categorizes various types of noises and also created 21 rudimentary experimental noise making machines able to reproduce some noises for the futurist orchestra: intonarumori, including ‘howlers’, ‘bursters’, 'cracklers', ‘hummers’. These Leonardesque magic boxes with levers and trumpets were used for a composition, which reproduces the noise of the urban industrial soundscape: Risveglio di una città (Awakening of a city).

Concerts with intonarumori were organized in 1913 in Modena, and in 1914 in Milan and London, with 10 shows in the Coliseum. Most of Russolo’s instruments were destroyed during WWII and there is only one surviving phonograph recording of the instruments playing together with an orchestra. The full score of Risveglio di una città is also missing, apart from the two pages of notation reproduced below. Nevertheless, attempts to rebuild Russolo’s instruments and reproduce his musical performances happened in the course of the last century.

Score for Risveglio di una città

Score for Risveglio di una città, from L’arte dei rumori.

Russolo’s efforts to emancipate noises and to broaden the definition of music were truly revolutionary, but futurist music was not well received by the audience. The public was not ready at the time. However, the use of synthesizers, the invention of noise music, concrete music, soundscape art, sound-art, electroacoustic and electronic music, are all linked to Russolo’s production of writings, music, and instruments. Musicians who were directly influenced by his work include Pierre Schaeffer, Edgard Varèse and John Cage.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator, Romance Collections

Further reading

Claudia Salaris, Marinetti Editore, (Bologna 1990) YF.2009.a.20485

Luigi Russolo, The Art of Noise (futurist manifesto, 1913), translated by Robert Filliou, Originally published in 1967 as a Great Bear Pamphlet by Something Else Press, 2004 

Barclay Brown, ‘The Noise Instruments of Luigi Russolo’ Perspectives of New Music, vol. 20, no. 1/2, 1981, pp. 31–48 PP.8000.mn 

If you are interested in finding out more about our Italian collections, join us at the upcoming event: Italian Collections in UK Libraries: Past, Present & Future, on Friday 17 June, in person at the British Library. Bookings are open on the BL website

 

05 May 2022

John Cruso of Norwich: a man of many parts

John Cruso (b. 1592/3) of Norwich, the eldest son of Flemish migrants, was a man of many parts: author, virtuoso networker, successful merchant and hosier, Dutch church elder and militia captain. His literary oeuvre is marked by its polyvocality. He wrote verse in English and Dutch, often sprinkled with Latin and French. He was also a noted military author, publishing five military works, which made a significant contribution to military science before and during the English Civil Wars. These works display Cruso’s knowledge of the canon of classical and Renaissance literature, allowing him to fashion himself as a miles doctus, a learned soldier, and to contribute to military science in Stuart England. Cruso’s great nephew, Timothy, studied with Daniel Defoe at the Dissenters’ Academy in Newington Green, London, and thus inspired the name of Defoe’s great literary creation, Robinson Crusoe.

Cruso’s parents, Jan and Jane, left Flanders in the years after the Iconoclastic Fury and Alva’s Council of Troubles. They arrived in Norwich, which already had a thriving Stranger community and Jan worked as a textile merchant.

The Strangers’ Hall in Norwich

The Strangers’ Hall in Norwich, the merchants’ house of the Flemish Strangers (Image from Wikipedia Commons)

Their eldest son, John, received a classical humanist education at Norwich free grammar school, which he would draw on in his published verse and prose. He became a freeman and took over running the family hosiery and cloth business from his father. In 1622, he published his first verse, a Dutch elegy. This appeared in a collection of Latin and Dutch elegies to the late minister of the London Dutch church, Simeon Ruytinck. It included verses by Constantijn Huygens and Jacob Cats and is arguably the most important Anglo-Dutch literary moment in the seventeenth century. In the late 1620s, Cruso wrote three English elegies, including one sonnet, on the late minister of St. Andrew’s Church, Lawrence Howlett. He was also the subject of an English verse by the Norfolk prelate and poet, Ralph Knevet.

Between 1632 and 1644, Cruso published several military works. In 1632, he published Militarie Instructions for the Cavallrie, which was the first book published in England devoted solely to the cavalry. This was republished in 1644. In 1639 and 1640, Cruso published his English translations of two French military works, one of which was re-published in 1642. In the same year, as the opening shots in the First English Civil War were being fired, he published two military handbooks on the construction of military camps and the order of watches. He also had time, it seems, to publish two Dutch verses, an elegy to Johannes Elison, the late minister of the Dutch church in Norwich and an amplificatio on Psalm 8. His final publication, in 1655, was a collection of 221 Dutch epigrams, printed in quarto by Arnold Bon in Delft.

Title page of John Cruso, Militarie Instructions for the Cavallrie

John Cruso, Militarie Instructions for the Cavallrie (Cambridge, 1632) 717.m.18

Title page of John Cruso, Castrametation

John Cruso, Castrametation, or the Measuring out of the quarters for the encamping of an army (London, 1642) 1398.b.7.

Most of Cruso’s works are in the British Library. A copy of the epigram collection, EPIGRAMMATA Ofte Winter-Avondts Tyt-korting (‘Epigrams or Pastimes for a Winter’s Evening’), shelfmark 11555.e.42.(4.), is the only known copy of this work.

Title page of I. C., Epigrammata, ofte Winter Avondts Tyt-korting

Title page of I. C., Epigrammata, ofte Winter Avondts Tyt-korting (Delft, 1655) 11555.e.442 (4).

On the title page, Cruso uses his initials, I.C. In this copy someone has made C into O with a pen. Beneath the title are two lines from the Roman epigrammatist, Martial, which hint at the scabrous nature of some of the verses: ‘Non intret Cato theatrum meum: aut si intraverit, spectet’ (‘Do not let Cato enter my theatre: or if he does enter, let him look’), and ‘Innocuos permitte sales: cur ludere nobis non liceat?’ (‘Allow harmless jests: why should we not be allowed to joke?’). Many of Cruso’s Dutch epigrams are like Latin epigrams written by Sir Thomas More, and Cruso may have been inspired by some of these. One example is Epigram 94:

In Nasutissimum
Vergeefs ghy voor u Huys een Sonne-wijser stelt;
Want gaapt maar, en men stracx aan uwe Tanden telt
De Uyren van den Dach. De Son dat wijst gewis
End uwen langen Neus den besten Gnomon is.

(On someone with an extremely large nose.
In vain, you place a sundial in front of your house;
For just open your mouth and people will be able to
Count the hours of the day by your teeth. And the sun shows
That for sure your long nose is the best style (gnomon) for the sundial.)

We know little about the reception of this collection, but the fact that the British Library has the only extant copy is one example of the importance of the Library to modern scholarship.

Christopher Joby, Adam Mickiewicz University

Christopher Joby is Professor in Dutch Studies at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland, and Visiting Scholar at the Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan. His research focusses on the intersection of the Dutch language and culture and other languages and cultures in a historical context. His latest book is John Cruso of Norwich and Anglo-Dutch literary identity in the seventeenth century (Cambridge: D S Brewer, 2022) DRT ELD.DS.659151 (non-print legal deposit)

27 April 2022

Reframing the Tin Book

In 1913, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), founder and chief promoter of Italian Futurism, extended the Futurist revolution to the field of typography:

My revolution is aimed at the so-called typographical harmony of the page, which is contrary to the flux and reflux, the leaps and bursts of style that run through the page. On the same page, therefore, we will use three or four colours of ink, or even twenty different typefaces if necessary […]. With this typographical revolution and this multi-coloured variety in the letters I mean to redouble the expressive force of the words, Destruction of Syntax –Imagination without Strings – Words in Freedom (1913).

The so-called ‘Tin Book’ is one of the best examples of the radical rethinking that the Futurists applied to the arts and the book in particular.


 

3D model of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti/Tullio d’Albisola Parole In Libertà Futuriste Olfattive Tattili Termiche (Rome, 1932). HS.74/2143, Courtesy of Archivio Tullio d’Albissola

The British Library's copy of the Tin Book, digitised as part of the AHRC funded project Interdisciplinary Italy 1900-2020. Interart/Intermedia, was manufactured in Savona in 1932. A selection of word-in-freedom texts by Marinetti are accompanied, on the verso, by a ‘chromatic-poetic’ Futurist synthesis by Tullio d’Albisola (1899-1971), a second generation Futurist whose activities spanned ceramics, poetry, and design. The arrangement has been seen by critics as a potential flaw of the project: we cannot read simultaneously Marinetti’s words-in-freedom and d’Albisola’s visual chromatic-poetic response. Be that as it may, this object-book is no less revolutionary in the way it invites an expanded multi-sensorial reading, signalled by the proper title of the book: Parole in Libertà Futuriste Olfattive Tattili Termiche (‘Futurist Words in Freedom - Olfactory, Tactile, Thermal’).

Portrait of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

Portrait of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti/Tullio d’Albisola Parole In Libertà Futuriste

The act of opening the book and turning the pages is first and foremost an acoustic experience. Italian artist and critic Mirella Bentivoglio performed a reading in 1982 at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. The performance piece was called Jouer la page. This is how she describes it: ‘air pressed between the pages at different times and distances from the microphone produced unexpected results. The tin book proved to be a regular instrument furnished with a sounding-box. The cylinder of the spine is an elementary flute through which the pages seem to materialize as sounds’.


 

3D model of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti/Tullio d’Albisola Parole In Libertà Futuriste

The Tin Book took an industrial material and turned it literally into poetry, fusing art and industry. The metallic sound evokes the ‘infinite variety of noises’ of modern life which Luigi Russolo (1885-1947) saw as part of the extraordinary diversity of sound (including music-sound and noise-sound) that would generate the new Art of Noises (The Art of Noises. A Futurist Manifesto, 11 March 1913).

The material and its sonic qualities de-familiarize the reader with the traditional sensorial experience of reading a paper (or digital) book. The association with industrial sounds, turns the book into a machine, and, on a more ordinary level, reminds the reader of the colourful packaging of tin boxes and glossy advertising metal plates that were part of interwar material and visual culture.

The smooth and rough surfaces of the pages have a visual equivalent in shiny and duller areas of the lithographed images, blurring the boundary between text, image, and object. The act of reading the Tin Book pushes meaning to the surface, allowing the reader to experience a multi-sensorial perception in which meaning is not principally held by the words in the book. The process recalls also the principles of the tavole tattili which Marinetti had composed in the later 1910s, especially during the war years. In the 1921 Manifesto of Tactilism, Marinetti introduced the new art of touch—tactilism—which was a means to reconnect with the sense of touch and use it as another important channel of communication and means to experience the world.

The introduction of concrete elements in poetry was a seismic shift in the concept of literature: the fundamental overlapping between word and image (and their connection to sound and touch) opened up new pathways to explore the boundaries between the arts, exposing the artificial separation between arts and media. The Futurist tin books, by playing with the sonic qualities of the book as object, took literature into the realms of sculpture, design and modern technology.

Giuliana Pieri, Professor of Italian and the Visual Arts and Executive Dean (School of Humanities), Royal Holloway University of London

Further reading

Futurist Manifestos, ed. by Umbro Apollonio (London, 2009).

Giovanni Lista, Le Livre Futuriste. De libération du mot au poème tactile (Modena, 1982).

Mirella Bentivoglio, ‘The Reinvention of the Book in Italy’, The Print Collector’s Newsletter, 24.3 (1993). 93-96. 6613.160000

'The Tin Book', European Studies Blog, 12 March 2014

If you are interested in finding out more about this topic, Prof Giuliana Pieri is among the speakers of the upcoming event: Italian Collections in UK Libraries: Past, Present & Future, on Friday 17 June, in person at the British Library. Bookings are open on the BL website.

23 March 2022

The Man who Discovered his Homeland; or, a Polymath without Publications

Title page of Martín Sarmiento, Disertacion sobre las virtudes maravillosas...

Martín Sarmiento, Disertacion sobre las virtudes maravillosas y uso de la planta llamada carqueyxa, conocida en Galicia por este nombre, y en otras provincias de [sic] reyno por una voz análoga á la misma pronunciacion, Escrita por … en el año de 1749, y reimpresa y aumentada por D. Josef Felix Maceda (Segovia: Antonio Espinosa, 1787). RB.23.a.39569

There’s a lot to unpack about this small recent acquisition: ‘Martín Sarmiento’, ‘carqueyxa’, ‘Galicia’.

Carqueyxa is in English common broom (genista tridentata), used in folk medicine and modern homeopathy as a medicine. As Sarmiento explains, taken as a syrup it purifies the blood; in a bath it eases rheumatism. He describes cases of patients in the region of Segovia who had read a previous edition of his work (he calls it a pamphlet, pliego) and used broom with success. (One thinks of the ‘unsolicited testimonials’ which purveyors of medicines boasted in the 20th century.) Don Miguel Dovalin (his name suggests he was a Galician) was forbidden chocolate owing to stomach problems. After drinking broom tea, he was able to eat chocolate freely. (I sense a business opportunity). And many more…

Drawing of English common broom (genista tridentata)

Drawing of common broom (genista tridentata) in Adam Lonicer, Kreuterbůch (Frankfurt am Main, 1564). 447.i.6.

But Sarmiento was no snake-oil merchant: his book is scientific and non-commercial.

Galicia in North-Western Spain was the author’s homeland and it came to loom large in his Weltanschauung. He was actually born in Leon in 1695, as Pedro Joseph García Balboa. Educated in Galicia, in 1710 he moved to Madrid and entered the Benedictine order, where he became a friend of Feijoo: Martin was the patron saint of his monastery and Sarmiento his mother’s family. (I do wonder if the name of ‘vine shoot’ was attractive to him because of his interest in the soil.)

He fulfilled the duties of a man of God which he combined with a life of erudition, discovering manuscripts, botanising and, from 1745 on – already in his fifties --, travelling in his homeland, where he studied its language, archeology and natural history. It was a turning-point: he realised ‘he knew more about China than his own land’.

Portrait of Sarmiento

Portrait of Sarmiento by Francisco Muntaner. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Like other scholars of the time, he published very little in print (his only publication in his lifetime was his defence of Feijoo, the Demostración crítico-apologética del Theatro Crítico Universal) but a lot in manuscript. He counted 10,400 pages of manuscript in 1767. Men of erudition gathered in his cell on Sunday mornings. He wrote reports to government on cultural projects such as a new royal library and the decoration of the royal palace. And the foundation of the Botanical Gardens of Madrid. Like Feijoo he was up to date with the latest European journals. He died in 1772.

Galician now has co-officiality with Castilian in Galicia. The language of the Spanish troubadours (and not just those born in Galicia), in Sarmiento’s time its glory days were well past and it had to wait for the 19th-century Rexurdimento. Sarmiento was an enthusiastic writer on the language and its etymologies (note the -ei- in carqueyxa) but he had no option but to write up his research in Castilian. But in Galician verse he did write one thing, the Coloquio de 24 gallegos rústicos, which he modestly described as an exercise to ‘bring together many Galician words and write them with their true orthography’.

Like the ethnobotanists of today, early botanists learned much of their subject conversing with peasants, and when writing his broom book Sarmiento had the pleasure of combining language and lore.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance collections 

References 

Ramón Mariño Paz, ‘Unha biobibliografía do padre Martín Sarmiento (1695-1772)’, in A lingua galega, historia e actualidade. Actas do I Congreso Internacional (Santiago de Compostela: Consello da Cultura Galega / Instituto da Lingua Galega, 2004), pp. 385-99.

15 March 2022

Swedish Bird Books

Many of us would have taken part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, the much-loved annual mass participation birdwatch at the end of January. At the Library, we were delighted to catch a rare sighting ourselves. Colleagues in our Collection Audit team rediscovered a volume of collected booklets of bird illustrations, shelf-marked but hitherto unavailable in the catalogue. Magnus and Wilhelm von Wright’s Svenska foglar (Stockholm, 1828-38; 74/781.k.31) is one of the finest examples of bird illustration in a long history of Scandinavian ornithological literature.

A great tit by Wilhelm von Wright

A great tit by Wilhelm von Wright

The brothers Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright were pioneers of Finnish painting, who early on developed a passion for depicting birds on their hunting trips with their father Henrik Magnus von Wright. While Magnus would go on to develop a reputation as a landscape painter as well, the brothers are well known for their work on birdlife in service of both art and science. Having moved to Stockholm to begin his artistic training, Magnus was given the opportunity by Count Nils Bonde, the master of Hörningsholm manor on the island of Mörkö, to illustrate an ambitious work on Swedish birds, Svenska foglar. Efter naturen och på sten ritade af M. och W. von Wright. So overwhelming was the commission, Magnus brought in the help of his brother Wilhelm, and by the end of the project, Ferdinand, who later painted the iconic The Fighting Capercaillies, would also be involved, despite his young age. Svenska foglar became a hugely popular series.

A song thrush drawn by Magnus and lithographed by Wilhelm von Wright

A song thrush drawn by Magnus and lithographed by Wilhelm von Wright

Between 1828 and 1838, 30 booklets were published, each containing up to six plates of hand-coloured lithograph birds, with 137 species represented across the 186 birds. In the early 19th century, one of the ways to catch a good enough look at a bird was to shoot it, a skill the von Wright brothers regularly deployed, as well as buying specimens and studying others in the natural science museums in Helsinki, St Petersburg and Stockholm (Lehtola, Lokki and Stjernberg).

Wilhelm would go on to concentrate his artistic efforts on scientific illustration, taking on another commission from Count Bonde to illustrate a guide to butterflies, Svenska fjäriler, before eventually undertaking his greatest achievement, Skandianviens fiskar (Scandinavian Fish), with Bengt Fries, also in the library (BL 727.l.26.).

The brothers made substantial contributions to zoology beyond offering these precise and captivating illustrations. They travelled extensively, making trips to the far North to places such as Tromsø in the Norwegian Arctic and Aavasaksa in Finnish Lapland, where they kept journals and made drawings that furthered ornithological knowledge. They were at the heart of what Björn Dal has called the Swedish ‘Zoological Golden Age’. Of course, the von Wrights, while figuring prominently in Swedish zoology, were Finnish, and Magnus’s unfinished work on his homeland’s avifauna was issued posthumously as Finlands foglar in 1873 (BL Ac.1094.4.).

A Eurasian Jay from Olof Rudbeck’s Book of Birds

A Eurasian Jay from Olof Rudbeck’s Book of Birds

The brothers entered the ornithological picture when the discipline was burgeoning, a few decades after Linnaeus had pioneered zoological nomenclature and at a time when global exploration proliferated knowledge, interest and possession of the natural world. This handy list of Swedish bird books is comprehensive, locating the first mention of birds in Olaus Magnus’ Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus, the classic work on the history and culture of Scandinavia originally published in Rome in 1555 (152.e.9 and two other copies). Illustrated copiously with woodcuts, it contains plenty of insights into our relationship with birds, including a not-so-faithful image of two men hauling a net full of swallows out of a muddy lake.

The next major contribution we might mention is Olof Rudbeck the Younger’s bird book, a set of astonishing illustrations that some say were unrivalled until the age of Audubon. Rudbeck’s work helped him deliver lectures on ornithology and his images and classifications form the basis of some of the species listed in the tenth edition of Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae (956.e.6.7), the accepted starting point of zoological nomenclature. Rudbeck was Linnaeus’s mentor and patron. The watercolour birds, which were the artistic work of Rudbeck himself, Andreas Holtzbom and potentially others, were accomplished around 1693-1710 but were not published until 1985, with a monumental English edition appearing in 1986 (HS.74/99). The editor’s introduction suggests that had the planned book materialised in its own time, then ‘eighteenth century ornithology, at least as far as Sweden is concerned, would have received an impetus towards unprecedented achievements.’

A golden eagle from Wilhelm von Wright

A golden eagle from Wilhelm von Wright

One of Linnaeus’s disciples, Anders Sparrman, would produce the ‘earliest monumental pictorial work on ornithology published in the North’ (Anker), known as the Museum Carlsonianum (Stockholm, 1786-89; 32.g.8), a bird book based on the collection of Johan Gustav von Carlson. It is the first large illustrated work to use the Linnaean naming system and the birds are from around the world, making it of significant scientific interest. Some of these plates, the work of Jonas Carl Linnerhielm, would make it into Sparrman’s subsequent ambitious compilation Svensk Ornitologi (1806), published the same year as another important work, Johan Wilhelm Palmstruch’s Svensk Zoologi (Stockholm, 1806; 454.b.20.).

With vast pictorial works on birds and fauna abounding across Europe and America in the early 19th century, Sweden was no different. Soon the von Wrights’ booklets would appear followed two decades later by Carl Sundevall’s impressive Svenska foglarna (Stockholm, 1856-1886; Cup.1256.aa.18) with illustrations by Peter Åkerlund and Paulina Sjöholm. Sweden’s contribution to zoology and botany in the 18th and 19th centuries is often confined to the (albeit immense) influence of Carl Linnaeus and his disciples. However, through its ornithologist-artists, whose work is distributed in a host of epic illustrated bird books, we get a sense of its wider contribution to our understanding of birds, not least through the plates of the von Wright brothers.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic collections 

Further reading

Björn Dal, Sveriges zoologiska litteratur : en berättande översikt om svenska zoologer och deras tryckta verk 1483-1920 (Kjuge, 1996), YA.2003.b.2445

Erkki Anttonen and Anne-Maria Pennonen, The von Wright Brothers: Art, Science and Life (Helsinki 2017), YD.2018.b.404

Anto Leikola, Juhani Lokki and Torsten Stjernberg, ‘The von Wright brothers and bird research’, in Anttonen and Pennonen (above)

Olof Rudbeck, Olof Rudbeck’s Book of Birds: A Facsimile of the Original Watercolours [c.1693-1710] of Olof Rudbeck the Younger in the Leufsta Collection in Uppsala University Library (Stockholm, 1986)

Jean Anker, Bird Books and Bird Art: An Outline of the Literary history and Iconography of descriptive Ornithology (Copenhagen, 1938), LR.106.a.8

Claus Nissen, Die illustrierten Vogelbücher: ihre Geschichte und Bibliographie (Stuttgart, 1953), 2731.y.1