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

21 November 2019

‘The Man Who Lost His Homeland’*

“The War was not our War! Yet it somehow found us. It took us in its clutches and threw us where we are now!” Cengiz Dağcı said, and added, “Fifty years! Fifty years away from my homeland, it has become a wound that never heals…”

The Crimean Tatar writer Cengiz Dağcı is one of the most underestimated novelists of the Second World War, with over 22 books on his beloved Crimea and its long suffering through world wars and Soviet oppression. He, like all Crimean Tatars of the time, suffered greatly. He was forced to leave his home and family when he was only 22. Despite being interned by the Nazis he managed to survive and, after liberation, made the arduous journey to London through a war-ravaged Europe. He would never return to his homeland again. Although he made a life in London, his heart was in Crimea. When he died at the age of 92, his body was transferred to his homeland through the cooperation of the Turkish, Ukrainian and British states.

Photograph of Cengiz Dagci

Photograph of Cengiz Dağcı by Zafer Karatay (reproduced with kind permission)

Dağcı was born, the fourth of eight children, on 9 March 1919 in Gurzuf, Crimea. His family moved to Kızıltaş from Gurzuf when he was a small boy. Located on the Simferopol - Yalta route, their house (which still stands today) has a beautiful, big, tranquil garden facing Ayi Dağı (Bear Mountain). Yalta has breathtaking landscapes and deep historical roots. Pushkin, Chekhov and Tolstoy were among many world-famous Russian authors, artists, and poets who lived in the city.

Photograph of Bear Mountain

Photograph of Bear Mountain by Melek Maksudoglu

After the Bolshevik Revolution and establishment of the Soviet Union, private houses were confiscated. The Dağcı family house was seized and three Russian families were settled in it. In 1931, Cengiz Dağcı’s father, Seyt Omer Dagci, was arrested on account of complaints made by a neighbour that the family was not cooperating with Stalin’s collectivisation policy and had hidden goods from the Soviet. Seyt Omer Dagci was labelled an enemy of the state and sent to the Gulag. The policy of collectivisation and the mismanagement of resources led to one of the biggest famines in Ukraine from 1932 to 1933. The Dagci family somehow survived.

A year later, Dagci’s father was released from prison and decided to move his family to Akmescit (Simferopol) from Kiziltas to avoid subsequent humiliation. The family’s new squalid and miserable lodgings are mentioned in Dagci’s memoirs, Letters to my Mother where he writes: “I see, mother, how you are saddened. This move to a miserable place reflects on your face. But how brave you were there and how you turned to God even more”.

Literatura krymsʹkykh tatar cover

A.E. Krymskii, Literatura krymsʹkykh tatar = Kʺyrymtatarlarnynʺ edebiiaty = Literatura krymskikh tatar (Simferopolʹ, 2003). YF.2006.a.11536. A Ukrainian-Tatar-Russian anthology of Crimean Tatar literature from the 20th century

Dagci continued his schooling in Akmescit and started writing short stories. He loved poetry and his early poems were published in 1936 in Crimea’s youth journal Gençlik Mecmuası. His early writings include one poem praising Stalin and the Soviet regime, but in his memoirs he admits that he was asked to write in such a manner. Another poem he wrote about Hansaray (a palace of the Crimean Khanate, the Turkic state which existed from the mid 15th to the late 18th century) in Bakcesaray, which is entitled ‘Söyleyin Duvarlar’ (‘Walls! Talk to us’), was published in the literary journal Edebiyat Mecmuası in Crimea in 1939 and glorifies the Crimean Khanate.

In his second year at university, Dagci enlisted in the Soviet Army and fought shoulder to shoulder with Soviet citizens, consisting of ethnicities such as Ukrainian, Uzbek, Kirgyz, and Tajik. In 1941 he was captured and became a prisoner of war. Throughout his imprisonment, he refused to collaborate with the German troops. When the war ended he tried to return to his homeland but to his dismay the roads were closed. He wanted to go back to his home, finish his studies, and become a good school teacher.

Cover of XX. yüzyılda Kırım with a photograph of 'The Swallow's Nest', a decorative castle located at Gaspra near Yalta.

Feyzi Rahman Yurter, XX. yüzyılda Kırım (Turkey, [1998?]). ITA.2000.a.6. This work, ‘20th-century Crimea’, examines the experience of Crimean Tatar POWs in the Second World War.

In 1945 he joined a Polish émigré group with his wife to seek refuge in the UK. It was a difficult and long journey to London where he built a life for himself and his family. He says in his memoirs; “I created a new home away from home. A home in which I and my wife could take sanctuary and feel safe.” He worked long hours in a restaurant during the day and wrote only at night. He kept writing about his beloved Crimea and the tragedies the Crimean Tatars faced.

All of Dagci’s novels were originally published in Turkish in Turkey. Coupled with the fact that he was living in the UK, this meant that he was able to write about the tragedies of the Crimean Tatar people. However, in the 1980s, Moscow sent a KGB agent to obtain copies of them, which were examined by the authorities and classified as foreign and restricted from the public.

Covers of four books by Cengiz Dagci

A selection of Dagci’s books. Awaiting shelfmarks. 

The most important theme running through all of his novels is the national identity of the Crimean Tatars. He evokes a clear picture of how they lived, their everyday life, customs, beliefs and the structure of their lives revolving around the seasons and their land. The Crimean Tatars lived a double life, having to outwardly demonstrate loyalty to the Soviet Regime that was actively trying assimilate and erase their identity, while keeping that identity alive among themselves, their families and communities, with hidden texts of resistance. They had been resisting Russian rule since 1774. Dagci, in his novels, also suggests that only after the Crimean Tatars become well educated could they ask for, and eventually receive, justice. The Soviet government’s ban on use of their language made it impossible to receive education in their mother tongue and this fact drove some Crimean Tatars to seek higher education in the Soviet system. Many of those educated in this system were subsequently involved in setting up the Crimean Tatar National Movement. 

*‘The Man Who Lost His Homeland’ is the title of one of Cengiz Dağcı’s books

Melek Maksudoglu, independent researcher

This blog post is based on an article by the author published by OCA magazine in January 2017

References/Further reading

E. Allworth, ed., Muslim Communities Re-emerge: Historical Perspectives on Nationality, Politics, and Opposition in the Former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (Durham, 1994). YC.1995.b.3180

E. Allworth, ed., The Tatars of Crimea: Return to The Homeland (Durham; London, 1998). 98/11840

Alan Fisher, The Crimean Tatars (Stanford, 1978). 81/14726

Isa Kocakaplan, Kirim’dan Londra’ya Cengiz Dagci (Istanbul, 1998)

Brian Glyn Williams, The Crimean Tatars: The Diaspora Experience and the Forging of a Nation (Leiden, 2001). ZA.9.a.11852

Paul R. Magocsi, This Blessed Land: Crimea and the Crimean Tatars (Toronto, 2014). YD.2015.a.1261

Hüseyin Su, ed., Çağdaş Kırım Tatar Öyküsü (Ankara, 2014). YP.2017.a.5735

A.E. Krymskii, Literatura krymsʹkykh tatar = Kʺyrymtatarlarnynʺ edebiiaty = Literatura krymskikh tatar (Simferopolʹ, 2003). YF.2006.a.11536

Feyzi Rahman Yurter, XX. yüzyılda Kırım (Turkey [1998?]). ITA.2000.a.63

 

18 November 2019

British Library x Charles Jeffrey Research Competition launched: show & tell top picks from the European Studies team

Lora Afric, Languages Cataloguing Manager, reflects on some highlights from a year of fashion collaboration at the Library

The British Library has, for the third year running, worked with the British Fashion Council on the Research Collaboration Project. This year Glaswegian radical designer, Charles Jeffrey, joined forces. To mark the start of this collaboration, a catwalk show of Jeffrey’s brand Loverboy SS20 collection ‘Mind’s instructions’ was staged at the Library earlier in the year, followed in October by a Masterclass organised for BA final year and MA students, and a launch of the Research Competition. Charles Jeffrey, considers knowledge to be a ‘form of armor’. His brief instructs students to compile a research-focused fashion portfolio inspired by the BL resources. The show and tell, being the interactive part of the Masterclass, gave curators opportunity to engage with students and inspire them with samples of the visually intriguing collection items.

Image 1

‘Mind’s instructions’ Loverboy SS20 collection – The British Library, May 2019, reproduced with permission

In this blog post the European and Americas team have selected some of the most popular items shown on the day. It is not surprising that items featuring colours, patterns and poetry appealed to fashion students the most. The designs will reveal whether ‘Perhaps peace can still be found in the beautiful and the unexplained?’, as Jeffrey Charles states in his brief.

 

Picture of marble pavements in St Mark's basilica, Venice

Ferdinando Ongania, Dettagli del Pavimento ed Ornamenti in Mosaico della Basilica di San Marco in Venezia, Venice, 1881 (74/tab.1283)

Ferdinando Ongania and his Venetian workshop spent more than 10 years (between 1881 and 1893) publishing the 18 volumes of La Basilica di San Marco in Venezia. Inspired by John Ruskin’s work, Ongania commissioned studies to historians, architects, and archaeologists, and put together an exceptional body of photographs and illustrations. His work depicts every single detail of the exterior and interior of Saint Mark’s Basilica, from the architecture to the sculptures and the decorations. The British Library owns the full set, but the volume I chose for the show and tell focuses solely on the mosaic floors, whose drawings I find particularly inspiring for the kaleidoscopic richness of the details and beauty of the colours.

Valentina Mirabella – Curator, Romance Collections

Abstract floral designs

Abstract floral designs

G. Darcy, Or et Couleurs, Paris, A. Calavas, [n.d.] Probably 1920/1921? (fF5/3743)

The designs in the albums contain a variety of geometric motifs, flowers, plants and birds typical of the Art Deco style. Art Deco fashion, which started in France in the 1920s, and took its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs, was inspired by new artistic movements, most notably Cubism and Fauvism, by the bright colours of the Ballets Russes, and by the “exotic” styles of Japan, Persia, ancient Egypt and Maya art, among others.

The technique of “Pochoirs”, or stencils, used here, was at the height of popularity in France during the 1920s. It was frequently used to create prints of intense colour and the brilliant effects of gold and silver, as expressed in the title of these collections of plates. The full title explains further that the plates were made in the “new taste” for use by “Fabric makers, Decorators, and ornaments designers” – it was for sale at the bookshop of the Arts Décoratifs.

A particularly interesting feature of this item is that it comes from Nottingham Public Library, which acquired it very soon after its publication. It was quite successful, and was borrowed 25 times between 1922 and 1930.

I chose this item because of my interest in the Art Deco movement and the pochoir technique. The plates are very beautiful of course, and the colours are still incredibly vivid, but most of all I think it is fascinating to have a real proof of interest from readers (presumably amateur decorators and fashion lovers) in the 1920s.

Sophie Defrance – Curator, Romance Collections

The Fashion Research Competition and the staff favourite winners will be announced on 31 January 2020 when during the reverse show and tell students will reveal their work inspired by the British Library collections.

For featured American collection items please see the parallel American Collections blog.

14 November 2019

Recreating the Lost Sculptures of Umberto Boccioni

Of the many groundbreaking sculptures Umberto Boccioni created between c. 1913 and 1915, only a handful remain in existence today – most of them were accidentally disposed of on a rubbish dump in 1927. However, using a combination of vintage photographic material taken from books, and cutting-edge 3D printing and milling techniques, four of Boccioni’s destroyed works have now been reconstructed by two digital artists: a volumetric study of a human face titled Empty and Full Abstracts of a Head, and three of the artist’s iconic striding figures. Modern audiences can now ‘see’ these lost masterpieces for the very first time at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in London.

Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913

Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913. (Reproduced by kind permission of the Estorick Collection)

Boccioni’s best known surviving three-dimensional work is undoubtedly Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913). One of the most instantly recognisable of all modernist sculptures, it represents an aerodynamic figure – part man, part machine – racing energetically towards the brave new world envisioned by the Futurist movement, a world ‘multiplied’ by technology, speed and industrialisation.

Portrait of Boccioni

Portrait of Boccioni, from Roberto Longhi’s Scultura Futurista Boccioni (7875.dd.31.): 

This work was in fact preceded by three sculptures on the same theme: Synthesis of Human Dynamism, Speeding Muscles and Spiral Expansion of Muscles in Movement. Until today, all that remained of these earlier works were a number of photographs taken in Boccioni’s studio and at three exhibitions around the world between 1913 and 1917. More clearly than ever before, the reconstructed sculptures reveal the evolution of Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, enabling us to perceive the progressive refinement of Boccioni’s ideas and the streamlining of his sculptural forms.

Images showing Umberto Boccioni with Synthesis of Human Dynamism

Images showing Umberto Boccioni with Synthesis of Human Dynamism, from Laura Mattioli Rossi, Boccioni’s Materia: A Futurist Masterpiece, The Avant-garde in Milan and Paris, New York, 2004 (LD.31.b.256).

Why attempt to recreate long-lost works of art? Surely, only their creator could know how they looked. Projects such as this depend on the quality and quantity of the surviving visual documentation. In the case of Boccioni’s sculptures, sufficient photographic material existed to make reconstruction feasible and worth pursuing. Roberto Longhi’s detailed 1914 essay Scultura Futurista Boccioni concerning Boccioni’s works also provided many important clues as to their appearance. It is crucial to note that the reconstruction process was not undertaken as a mere technical challenge; rather, it is hoped that the resulting pieces will offer new interpretative opportunities for both specialist art historians and the general public, providing fresh insights into Boccioni’s sculptural practice. In this particular instance, the project also represents a fusion of art and technology that would have doubtless appealed to the Futurists.

Images showing the reconstruction process of Synthesis of Human Dynamism 

Images showing the reconstruction process of Synthesis of Human Dynamism 

The reconstruction process went as follows:

1. High resolution photographs of Boccioni’s sculptures were scanned from books or acquired from different museums, publishers and institutions. In total, 21 photographs were used for the four reconstructions. Two books were primarily used:

Laura Mattioli Rossi, Boccioni Pittore scultore futurista (Milan, 2006; awaiting shelfmark) and Laura Mattioli Rossi, Boccioni’s Materia: A Futurist Masterpiece, The Avant-garde in Milan and Paris.

2. Using image software, the contrast of the images was adjusted, and areas in shadow were lightened in order to bring out as much detail as possible.

3. Each of the sculptures was extracted from its surrounding space, effectively producing ‘cut-outs’ from different angles.

4. Using 3D sculpting software, these cut-outs were imported, then set as reference views.

5. The starting point of the 3D model was a ‘blob’ of digital clay which was moulded to fit the contours of the sculpture in all of the reference views. This semi-transparent form made it possible to trace the shapes of the underlying image, just as transparent paper can be used to copy a picture placed below it. The digital moulding tools mimic their real world counterparts and allow easy shaping of the ‘clay’.

6. By taking into account overlapping and receding forms, the time-consuming sculpting process eventually produced a form that was very close to how the actual sculpture must have looked. The mesh resolution was increased when all of the basic shapes were in place, and further enhanced with the addition of increasingly smaller details.

7. Light sources were adjusted in the rendering software to simulate the shadows cast in the original photographs as closely as possible. This helped to establish the size of the protruding and receding shapes, and the work’s overall proportions.

8. The finished 3D model was printed or milled.

Photograph showing visitors looking at the reconstructed statues shown at the Estorick Collection

The reconstructed statues shown at the Estorick Collection. (Reproduced by kind permission of the Estorick Collection)

The reconstructions can be seen at the Estorick Collection until 22 December, and you can see a video detailing the reconstruction process below:

Anders Rådén and Matt Smith, digital artists responsible for recreating four of Boccioni’s destroyed works

References/Further reading:

Umberto Boccioni, Pittura scultura futuriste: dinamismo plastico (Milan, 1914) 7859.de.1. (English translation by Richard Shane Agin and Maria Elena Versari, Futurist painting sculpture: plastic dynamism (Los Angeles, [2016]) YC.2017.b.2375)

Maurizio Calvesi, Alberto Dambruoso, Umberto Boccioni: catalogo generale delle opere; con la collaborazione di Sara De Chiara (Turin, 2016) LF.31.b.14033

John Golding, Boccioni: Unique forms of continuity in space (London, 1985) YV.1986.b.1014

12 November 2019

Ceremonial greetings in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo Principi Sigismundo III… published in Vilnius in 1589 is the oldest book in the British Library’s holdings which includes text in the Lithuanian language. It came to the Library as part of Sir Hans Sloane’s collection – one of the founding collections of the British Museum. It is not known when and how Sloane acquired it.

Title page of Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo Principi Sigismundo III…

Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo Principi Sigismundo III… (Vilnius, 1589) 5890.e.34

Gratulationes, written by the Vilnius academic community, is dedicated to King Sigismund III Vasa who visited Vilnius in 1589. It is an example of ceremonial greetings, a literary genre which became popular in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 16th-18th centuries. Ceremonial greetings were originally written in Latin but later also in other languages. In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania they were used to welcome rulers and noblemen to Vilnius.

There was a set route of ceremonial processions in Vilnius: participants would gather in St Stephen’s Church, the procession would start near the Rūdninkų Gate and finish at the main entrance to the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. Welcoming ceremonies were very elaborate: King Sigismund was greeted in 1589 by a triumphal arch with four towers erected in Rūdninkai Street, adorned by portraits of Jagiellonian rulers and allegorical paintings. When the king was approaching the arch he was welcomed by four students from the Jesuit Academy, coming down from the towers dressed as angels. They symbolised the Republic of Lithuania, Religion, Arts and Sciences, and Vilnius. The main part of the ceremony took place in the Palace and started with six students greeting the king with short maxims about his glorious ancestors. Epigrams were written for each member of the Jagiellonian dynasty, with allusions to ancient Greek and Roman history and mythology. There were also actors personifying Religion, Virtue, Nature, Fortune, Rumour and Glory.

Portrait of King Sigismund III Vasa

Portrait of King Sigismund III Vasa, artist unknown, Uffizi Gallety, Florence (Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Several collections of ceremonial greetings are known to have been published in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo is particularly important as it is the first multilingual collection of greetings prepared by scholars from the Jesuit Academy in Vilnius (later Vilnius University): it includes texts in Latin, Spanish, Italian, French, German, English, and Polish. It also includes the earliest example of ceremonial greetings in Lithuanian, a panegyrical poem – the first Lithuanian text in hexameter, and the first original literary work in Lithuanian in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Inclusion of this text suggests that the Lithuanian language is treated here as equal to other languages, and like other languages capable of expressing complex ideas.

Lithuanian text in Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo Principi Sigismundo III…

Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo Principi Sigismundo III… (Vilnius, 1589) 5890.e.34

Interestingly, another collection of greetings dedicated to Sigismund III Vasa was published in the same year and included welcoming texts in Finnish and Swedish.

Part of court culture, ceremonial greetings were an excellent way for members of the academic community of the Vilnius Academy to show off their erudition, knowledge of rhetoric, mastery of Latin and ability to write in a variety of languages.

Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator, Baltic Collections

References

Eugenija Ulčinaitė, Kalbų varžybos : Lietuvus Didžiosios Kunigaikštystės valdovų ir didikų sveikinimai (Vilnius, 2010), YF.2011.a.17943

09 November 2019

The Revolutionary Year of 1989

Thirty years ago today the crossing-points between two German states opened, marking the end of the Berlin Wall, demolished in the following months. The concrete barrier, separating East and West Berlin from 1961 until 1989, has been a symbol of the Cold War and the division of Europe. It was also a stage of dramatic escapes and a topic frequently explored by artists and writers. 

The demolition of the Berlin Wall generated high hopes about the new order emerging in 1989, after the collapse of authoritarian regimes across Central and Eastern Europe and the subsequent demise of the Soviet Union. Timothy Garton Ash gave one of the most compelling accounts of these events and the spirit of the period. He went to Berlin to study the archival sources on the German resistance to Hitler, but found himself in the middle of a political upheaval in the region and embarked upon writing what he himself described as “history of the present”. He witnessed, among others, the first partly free election in Poland, the celebratory reburial of Imre Nagy (the executed prime minister of the revolutionary government in 1956) in Hungary, and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.

Blog on 1989 - Timothy Garton Ash - We The People
Front cover of Timothy Garton Ash, We the People: the Revolution of ’89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (Cambridge, 1990), YK.1991.a.7367

Front cover of Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern

Front cover of Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern: the Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (London, 2019), ELD.DS.107591 (a revised and updated fourth edition of We the People)

As a major turning point in European history, the events of 1989 have been repeatedly revisited by historians and social scientists. What exactly happened? Did the transition to democracy and free-market economy bring the expected results? Did the end of communism live up to the expectations of the people? Answers to these pertinent questions can be found in two volumes (co-)edited by Vladimir Tismaneanu, a Romanian-American political scientist, who invited leading scholars in the field to rethink the meaning and impact of what is often called an annus mirabilis, a miraculous year.

The issue of bringing to justice people involved in authoritarian regimes has been hotly debated long after the transition to democracy. These debates are particularly vivid around the anniversaries of the revolution. In a large comparative study, edited by Michael Bernhard and Jan Kubik, the commemorations of the 20th anniversary of the changes are analysed in 17 post-communist countries. The authors looked into how the memory of the historical events was shaped by various parties in order to serve their political agenda and concluded that the fractured memory of 1989 undermines democracy in the region.

Front cover of Michael Bernhard, Jan Kubik (eds.), Twenty years after communism

Front cover of Michael Bernhard, Jan Kubik (eds.), Twenty years after communism: the politics of memory and commemoration (Oxford, New York 2014), YC.2014.a.12893

The most recent attempt to rethink the changes of 1989 is a freshly-published book, The light that failed: a reckoning by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes. They critically assess the belief prevalent after 1989 that the liberal democracy was destined to expand worldwide. The book begins with the sarcastic assertion that “the future was better yesterday”.

Andrzej Sadecki, British Library PhD placement student working on the topic ‘Politicisation of commemorative practices in Eastern Europe’ 

References

Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, The light that failed: a reckoning (London 2019), DRT ELD.DS.455162 (EPUB)

Timothy Garton Ash, We the People. The Revolution of ’89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (Cambridge 1990), YK.1991.a.7367

Timothy Garton Ash, The magic lantern: the revolution of '89 witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (London 2019), ELD.DS.107591 (EPUB)

Vladimir Tismaneanu (ed.), The Revolutions of 1989 (London 1999), YC.1999.b.2118

Vladimir Tismaneanu, Sorin Antohi (eds.), Between past and future: the revolutions of 1989 and their aftermath (Budapest, New York 2012), YC.2002.a.8579

Michael Bernhard, Jan Kubik (eds.), Twenty years after communism: the politics of memory and commemoration (Oxford, New York 2014), YC.2014.a.12893

 

07 November 2019

The Book as a Project: Giambattista Bodoni

This is the first of a series of blogs dedicated to Italian typography.

It is not an easy task to write something brief about the Italian typographer Giambattista Bodoni. Bodoni the polyglot, Bodoni the artist, Bodoni who achieved rock-star fame during his lifetime. He made the Italian town of Parma world capital of printing from the second half of the 18th century, an obliged stop for intellectuals and bibliophiles during the Grand Tour. Rulers and princes would visit his workshop and he would dedicate books to them, in order to consolidate his prestige.

Bodoni shells

Illustration from Giuseppe Saverio Poli / Stefano Delle Chiaie, Testacea Utriusque Siciliæ Eorumque Historia Et Anatome Tabulis ... Illustrata, (Parma 1791). 458.g.11-13.

Trained in typography and ‘oriental’ languages in Rome, having unsuccessfully tried to come to London to learn new skills and perfect his technique, in 1768 Bodoni was called to Parma by Ferdinand of Bourbon, with the purpose of establishing and managing the government Royal Printing Office that he would be in charge of for the rest of his life.

Page from Britannia

Robert Hampden, Britannia; Lathmon, Villa Bromhamensis (Parma, 1792). G.10064.

Despite never leaving Parma, Bodoni managed to be known internationally, by choosing his patrons (Napoleon and his family, the monarchs of Spain, Italian rulers), by printing in many languages and scripts, and by setting his much-imitated typographic style. In his own words, he ‘shook the old typographic conventions’, introducing harmony and proportion in the frontispieces, showing neo-classicist taste in his bare, epigraphic compositions. The sense of perspective and the balance between space and font offer optimal readability to his pages. The series of crisp and neat ‘bodonian’ typefaces that he designed in the late 1780s are still very popular today, appreciated for the clear contrast between the thickness of strokes and the thinness of rules and serifs.

Title page from The Castle of Otranto

Horace Walpole. The Castle of Otranto, a Gothic Story. Sixth edition (Parma, 1791). 682.f.22

A lot was printed in his Greek typefaces, and many of his books were in foreign languages, including English. The most celebrated of his works in English were Walpole’s 1791 edition of The Castle of Otranto, on behalf of the London bookseller Edwards, and the 1792 Britannia by Lord Hampden. Of Britannia, the British Library owns the only copy printed on vellum (G.10064.), from the splendid library of Marshal Junot, sold by auction in London in June 1816 and purchased by Thomas Grenville for his rich collection of rare books, which are now part of the British Library.

Page from Britannia

Robert Hampden, Britannia; Lathmon, Villa Bromhamensis.

Constantly in competition with his fellow typographers (notably with the Didot brothers in France, known for the rigour of their editions), Bodoni liked to re-edit books published by others, trying to make them better. A case in point is the Oratio Dominica (a polyglot edition of the Lord’s Prayer), which Bodoni was invited to produce by Pope Pius VI when he stopped to see him in Parma. The Pope said that, during his recent visit to Paris for the coronation of Napoleon, in December 1804, he was gifted with a copy of the Oratio Dominica in 150 languages, by Jean-Joseph Marcel, director of the Imprimerie Nationale, and he challenged Bodoni to produce something finer and in more languages, to prove his skills.

In less than a year, Bodoni put together an acclaimed Oratio Dominica, in 155 languages, using 215 typescripts (including Phoenician, Tibetan, and Etruscan), some of which were missing from the French edition.

Pages from Oratio Dominica

Oratio Dominica in CLV. Linguas Versa Et Exoticis Characteribus Plerumque Expressa (Parma, 1806). Cup.652.m.4.

However, Bodoni’s masterpiece was certainly printed after his death, in 1813. Having produced his own types since 1771, in 1788 he published the first manual Manuale tipografico containing a hundred Roman type alphabets, 50 italics and 28 Greek alphabets. His alphabets were improved during the course of his career, and this project was accomplished by his widow, Margherita Dall’Aglio, with the posthumous publication of the final Manuale Tipografico in 1818.

The fruit of more than 40 years of work, this manual in two volumes was composed of 265 pages with roman types, capital letters, Greek and oriental types, borders, ornaments, numbers, and musical examples.

Bodoni’s Manuale Tipografico established high standards for typography. It offers an overview of the uniformity of design, neatness and good taste that made him famous and inspired generations of typographers up to the present day. But, this is a topic for my next blog…

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

Further Reading

Of the over 1400 ‘Edizioni Bodoniane’ (listed by H C Brook’s Compendiosa Bibliografia delle Edizioni Bodoniane) printed while Bodoni’s presses were active, in 1834, the BL collections has over 200, of which 38 are available digitally 

Giovanni Battista Bodoni, Manuale Tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura di Giovanni Mardersteig. (Verona, 1968). L.R.413.h.17.

Franco Maria Ricci, Bodoni, 1740-1813 (Parma, 2013) LF.31.b.11849

Andrea De Pasquale / Massimo Dradi, B Come Bodoni: i Caratteri di Bodoni a Brera e nella Grafica Contemporanea (Milan, 2013). YF.2014.a.22184

Hugh Cecil Brooks, Compendiosa Bibliografia di Edizioni Bodoniane (Floerence, 1927) 2704.bp.2.

05 November 2019

‘The Ark of Unique Cultures’: the story of a remarkable handmade book

The British Library recently received an unusual donation from the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Tallinn: a handmade book – The Ark of Unique Cultures: The Hutsuls – celebrating the history and culture of the Hutsuls, an ethnic group from the Carpathian Mountains. It is one of a limited series of 35 books, which were donated to major libraries around the world. As well as poems in the Hutsul dialect and English translation, the book includes postcards, photographs and even specimens of Carpathian plants. Slavonic curator Katie McElvanney spoke to Eric Johnson, a volunteer at the Centre, to find out more about the project.

Copies of The Ark of Unique Cultures: The Hutsuls

Copies of The Ark of Unique Cultures: The Hutsuls (Tallinn: Ukrainian Cultural Centre, 2014). (Reproduced by kind permission of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre)

How did the book project come about and what was its aim? 

The Ark of Unique Cultures is one of the many creations of Anatoli Ljutjuk, a Benedictine friar born in Western Ukraine who has been a resident and citizen of Estonia for decades. Anatoli’s greatest creation is Tallinn’s Church of the Virgin with Three Hands, who is the protector of all living beings who have been falsely accused or unjustly persecuted. The church is affiliated with the secular Ukrainian Cultural Centre (UKK to use its Estonian initials). From the beginning, Anatoli’s conception for the small Eastern-rite Catholic church included the natural world around it. As a result, the UKK’s first book project focused on those vanishing plants and animals that we humans have unjustly persecuted. And so The Poetics of Endangered Species was born (both books in this series were kindly donated to the British Library by the UKK. See YF.2017.b.1281 (Estonia) and YF.2017.b.1282 (Ukraine)).

After the first edition of The Poetics of Endangered Species appeared, Anatoli soon realized that not just plants and animals are in danger of disappearing from our world but also entire human subcultures. As it happens, Estonia became the new home to a fair number of Hutsuls who speak their own dialect and observe many distinct traditions. Known for their forestry skills, Hutsuls were hired in Soviet times to help manage Estonia’s forests. When the Soviet Union collapsed, some of those who chose to remain in Estonia helped Anatoli build his new church.

So Anatoli first came up with the idea of The Ark of Unique Cultures as a way to honour all those ethnic groups whose traditions are in danger of being overwhelmed by the larger groups around them. The goal of this Book Ark is to document and preserve each culture’s unique features for future generations. In the case of the Hutsuls, it also serves as a 21st-century update to Sergei Parajanov’s landmark film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965).

BL copy page

The British Library’s copy of the book. Awaiting shelfmark.

What can you tell us about the poems included in the book?

Ukrainian Poet Mariya Korpanyuk is widely regarded as the best poet writing in the Hutsul dialect. Although she had already written a short series of poems about the life and customs of the Hutsuls, she agreed to expand her series after meeting Anatoli. Each poem is dedicated to a unique feature of Hutsul culture that was in danger of disappearing.

Because many unique Hutsul words are unknown even to Ukrainians — or a seemingly familiar word may hold a different meaning — Anatoli decided that the poems should be translated into English to help tell the Hutsul story to the world. The UKK is working to secure funding to print a facsimile edition of The Ark of Unique Cultures so that the book and its wonderful cycle of poems can reach an even wider audience.

Hutsulka page

Pages from the book featuring postcards, photographs and Mariya Korpanyuk’s poems.

How and where did you collect the plants, postcards and photographs?

The plants were collected by Anatoli and his friends on one of his ‘expeditions’ up into the Ukrainian side of the Carpathian Mountains. They were then dried and used as inclusions in the handmade paper made at the UKK’s hand paper mill in Tallinn.

The postcards, designed by Anatoli, were hand printed on the UKK’s press by Labora — as the UKK’s paper, print, and other workshops are known in distinction to the church (Ora). On another trip to the Carpathians, Anatoli and friends distributed the postcards in Hutsul villages and asked the villagers to send the postcards back to the UKK in Tallinn with their comments on the Ark’s poems or any other aspects of Hutsul life they wanted to highlight. Thanks to the postcards, the Ark became a real community-wide project.

The pre-Second World War (and in many cases pre-First World War) photos were selected by the wonderful National Museum of Hutsulshchyna & Pokuttya Folk Art — the UKK’s partner for this book project — located in the town of Kolomyia and dedicated to preserving and promoting all things Hutsul. Kolomiya is the largest town on traditional Hutsul territory, in the foothills of the Carpathians.

Bride and groom page from book

Pages from the book featuring postcards, photographs and Mariya Korpanyuk’s poems.

Can you talk us through the book-making process?

The book’s illustrations and overall design are the work of Anatoli. All of the UKK’s original books are made pretty much entirely in its Labora studios, which employ a small group of calligraphers, printers, artists, and bookbinders who can create handmade books — or indeed illuminated manuscripts — in similar ways to a medieval monastery. The UKK and Labora are actively involved in teaching book-related crafts, from ink-making to bookbinding, to future generations through workshops, classes, and various partnerships.

The handmade paper — usually made from a combination of cotton, linen and rag — is beaten in a Hollander Beater before each sheet is hand-pulled by one of the UKK’s paper makers using handmade molds and deckles. The smaller plants are added right into the pulp or slurry. Larger ones are added onto the wet sheets of paper before they are pressed and dried.

Paper sheets before pressing

The paper making process (Reproduced by kind permission of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre and Labora)

What other book projects is the UKK currently working on?

In addition to publishing a facsimile edition of The Ark of Unique Cultures: the Hutsuls, the UKK is working on several other book projects including Sanctuarium: The Story of the Church of the Virgin with Three Hands and Horse Tales, an illustrated picture book by Anatoli Ljutjuk about goodness during wartime which will be released around the same time as a new Ukrainian documentary film about Anatoli and his travels with his wooden horse.

Of course, the UKK is also always on the lookout for new country partners to create new volumes — beyond the current two about Estonia and about Ukraine — for its two series The Poetics of Endangered Species and The Ark of Unique Cultures, dedicated to ethnic groups in danger of disappearing.

With kind thanks to Eric Johnson, and to the Ukrainian Cultural Centre for donating a copy of The Ark of Unique Cultures: the Hutsuls to the British Library. A digitised copy of the book is available via the National Library of Estonia. 

01 November 2019

Franco Arminio: Poetry and Paesology

The attempt to reanimate poetry requires great courage, especially considering the Italian literary landscape of the last 30-40 years, a time during which poetry’s trend transitioned from “a sea of subjectivity” in the 1970’s (as Maria Borio puts it in his 2018 study Poetiche e individui: la poesia italiana dal 1970 al 2000) to the never-ending postmodern turning towards itself.

Poetry needed Franco Arminio’s kiss of life.

This meant somehow going back to the glorious times of 20th-century poetry (Ungaretti, Quasimodo, Pasolini), taking the risk of sounding rhetorical, or even banal. Arminio is not afraid of taking that risk: his poems have recently reached a wide audience through his books and through social media.

Born and living in Bisaccia, a small town in the region of Campania, which borders with Basilicata and Puglia, where he works as a primary school teacher, Franco Arminio coined the word ‘Paesologia’, from ‘paese’ (meaning: countryside town or village) and calls himself ‘paesologo’. His tours and talks are recorded and scheduled in La Casa della Paesologia.

Franco Arminio Portrait

Franco Arminio with a slogan reading ‘do yourself a favour – read poetry’ (Reproduced by kind permission of Franco Arminio)

In his ‘Introduction to Paesology’ Arminio explains, “The paesologist isn’t a local erudite who knows the name of all the petty lords who have dominated a paese or who knows all the proverbs. It’s someone who studies the inner-working of the peculiar organisms that paesi are. The work of the paesologist takes place in situ. There are very few books about paesi, because most writers live in cities, and those who live in the paesi continue to think that life remains in cities.” (translation by Patrick Barron)

The poetry in Arminio’s writing, be it in prose or in verse, embeds his paesology and serves to frame with a certain sacredness even the lowliest moments that living in a remote village sometimes involves:

Wander around where nobody goes, be the tourists of mercy, be the travellers who not only seek beauty, harmony, sunshine, but also the loneliest and most disconsolate places – places waiting for someone to look at them, to recognize them before they become bereft of their history as well as their geography. (Franco Arminio, ‘On Places and Looking’. Translation by Serenella Iovino)

Franco Arminio Cartoline dai morti

Cover of Franco Arminio, Cartoline dai morti 2007-2017 (Milan, 2017) Awaiting shelfmark

The “inner-working of the peculiar organisms that paesi are” is expressed through his prose (Nevica e ho le prove, 2009; Cartoline dai morti, 2010) and poems (Cedi la strada agli alberi, 2017; Resteranno i canti (2018). Arminio’s work takes the reader through a journey inside the life of people living (and dying) in the small villages of southern Italy with their daily struggles, loneliness, hypochondria. Cartoline dai morti (‘Postcards from the dead’), as the title suggests, are cards written by dead people, and even though it recalls the model of Spoon River Anthology, the protagonists of the epitaphs are remote, rural people with no historical reference.

Nessuno mi aveva spiegato niente.
Ho dovuto fare tutto da solo: rimanere fermo e muto,
raffreddarmi, iniziare a decompormi.

Nobody explained anything to me.
I had to manage all by myself: staying still and silent,
getting cold, beginning to decompose (My translation)

Arminio strips his texts of any kind of trend, the trend which, by definition, is subject to, and demands a superseding: light, short, calming even when intense, distilled and powerful.

Mi sono sempre sentito affannato e fuori posto nella vita.
Adesso finalmente riposo tranquillo e in pace nella tomba vicino alla mia.

I have always felt filled with anxiety and out of place in life.
I can finally rest now in tranquillity and peace in the grave next to mine. (My translation)

Franco Arminio Resteranno i canti

Cover of Franco Arminio, Resteranno i canti (Florence, 2018) YF.2019.a.10782

In Resteranno i canti Arminio’s paesology touches upon the issue of emigration from the south and the sense of loss for those who remain.

Nessuno pensa più alla vita di tutti,                                            
figuriamoci a quella dei luoghi.                                                    
Se esco stasera                                                                                 
trovo ragazzi che non conosco                                                      
in un bar che una volta                                                                   
era un consorzio agrario.                                                               
Di fronte a casa mia c’era Enza                                                    
e nella curva il pasticciere                                                             
e zio Giovanni,                                                                                 
in fondo eravamo pochi anche allora                                          
ma sembravamo tanti

Nobody thinks about the life of everybody any longer,
let alone that of places.
If I go out this evening
I find boys I don’t know
in a bar which once
was an agricultural consortium.
In front of my house there was Enza
and in the curve the baker
and uncle Giovanni,
we were few even back then after all 
but it felt like we were many (My translation)                                                                     

Franco Arminio reading

Franco Arminio (centre) reading aloud to a group on a guided ‘paesological walk’. (Reproduced by kind permission of Franco Arminio)

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

References/ Further reading

Maria Borio, Poetiche e individui: La poesia italian dal 1970 al 2000 (Venice, 2018) YF.2018.A.15763

Franco Arminio, ‘Introduction to Paesology’, in Gianni Celati, Towards the river’s mouth, introduction by Patrick Barron; edited and translated by Patrick Barron. (Lanham, 2019) ELD.DS.360506

Franco Arminio, ‘On Places and Looking: Italy’s Silent Epiphanies’ (Translated by Serenella Iovino) in Italy and Environmental Humanities: Landscapes, Natures, Ecologies. (London, 2018) YC. 2018.a.16407

Franco Arminio, Nevica e ho le prove: cronache dal paese della cicuta (Rome, 2009) YF.2010.a.19442.

Franco Arminio, Circo dell’ipocondria (Florence, 2006) Awaiting shelfmark

 

29 October 2019

UNOVIS – the Bauhaus of the East

This year is the centenary of the Bauhaus, prompting worldwide celebrations from Brazil to the UK, from Germany to China. The Bauhaus as a school of art and architecture is long gone, but as a marketing and PR campaign it has not yet run out of steam. The history of art has put it on a pedestal, and for decades it has been widely recognised as the undisputed primary source of inspiration for Modernism, but is it?

The almost fanatical reverence for the Bauhaus in the West certainly overshadows its most influential contemporary, the People’s Art School, which was located in a small provincial town in modern-day Belarus called Viciebsk (Vitebsk), hundreds of miles from any major cities.

Professors at the People's Art School in Viciebsk

Teachers at the People’s Art School in Viciebsk, July 1919 (Wikimedia Commons)

The school was the brainchild of Viciebsk’s most famous son, Marc Chagall. It was approved in August 1918 by Anatoly Lunacharsky, head of the People’s Commissariat for Education, and officially inaugurated in January 1919, just over two months before the Bauhaus and amid the upheaval of the Russian Civil War. But it was what happened next that actually cemented Viciebsk’s place in the history of modern art. The following year in November 1919, Chagall invited the maverick of 20th century modern art, Kazimir Malevich to teach in his humble art school in Viciebsk.

Title page of O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve with Malevich's black square

Kazimir Malevich, O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve (Viciebsk, 1919), C.114.n.46.

2019 therefore marks the centenary of Malevich’s arrival in Viciebsk, and under Malevich, the People’s Art School became a completely different breed with a singular voice. Malevich was in fact persuaded to move from Moscow to Viciebsk by a young teacher who was already teaching there, El Lissitzky, who would later become a celebrated artist worldwide in his own right. With Malevich came his Suprematism, and a clash with the pluralistic approach to styles preferred by Chagall was inevitable. Lissitzky very soon was won over by Suprematism and created his famous/ infamous pro-Bolshevik propaganda poster ‘Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge’ (1919), a powerful image that graces the floor of the art school (now a museum) today.

El Lissitzky  ‘Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge’ (1919)

El Lissitzky, ‘Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge’ (1919) (Wikimedia Commons)

Next year will be the centenary of another significant event in modern art history: the emergence of UNOVIS, and this warrants separate mention. The group was first founded by students from the People’s Art School on 19 January 1920 under the Russian acronym MOLPOSNOVIS, meaning ‘Young Followers of the New Art’, but within days, the group was joined by the teachers and was renamed POSNOVIS, meaning ‘Followers of the New Art’.

On 14 February 1920 it was renamed again, this time UNOVIS, meaning the champions, or the affirmers of the New Art – not followers any more. The architect of this cult-like group was Malevich, and it counted many future superstars among its converts, including Lissitzky, Vera Ermolaeva (who was also director of the School for a time), Nina Kogan, and Lazar Khidekel. The transition of the school from the influence of pluralistic individualism championed by Chagall to collective, impersonal and non-objective art was now complete – all the works created by UNOVIS were signed with Malevich’s iconic black square for anonymity.

Title page of Suprematizm. 34 risunka with Malevich's black square

Kazimir Malevich, Suprematizm. 34 risunka (Viciebsk, 1920). Wikimedia Commons. The British Library holds two facsimiles of this work in Russian and English (X.419/3137 and YA.1997.a.15443).

The whole town of Viciebsk soon became their testing ground as members decorated it with Suprematist art in all its forms, but the group’s ultimate goal was to apply Suprematism to the largest and most permanent art form with a more lasting impact on society: architecture. Although the group did not actually realise any architectural projects during its ephemeral existence, its Suprematist aesthetics inspired and continue to inspire many architects, even its antagonists, throughout the 20th century and up to this day, including the late Zaha Hadid, one of world's most sought-after ‘starchitects’ of recent decades.

The Bauhaus as a school is famous for its short life-span which ended in 1933, but UNOVIS was even more short-lived, it lasted just over 2 years and was dissolved in May 1922 for various reasons including financial ones. Nevertheless, UNOVIS had announced its presence to the world and had a far-reaching impact on 20th-century art and architecture beyond its very short life. The legacy of Viciebsk was re-affirmed by a major exhibition held at the Centre Pompidou in Paris last year (the catalogue is available at the British Library, LF.31.a.6493). The Viciebsk Centre of Modern Art is also planning a series of UNOVIS centenary publications and events next year, including exhibitions, a conference, and a poster competition.

Issue of Supremus newspaper

Issue of Supremus, a newspaper dedicated to Malevich and the legacy of Suprematism (Moscow/Zurich, 1991-2001). HS.74/803

There are a number of additional items related to this intensely creative period in Viciebsk in the collections of the British Library. Most notably, they include an original copy of Malevich’s manifesto Bog ne skinut: iskusstvo, tserkov', fabrika (‘God is not cast down: art, church, factory’; Viciebsk, 1922; C.114.n.33.). The Library also holds the first issue (1919) of the Viciebsk journal Revoliutsionnoe iskusstvo (‘Revolutionary Art’; C.191.b.6), which includes articles by Chagall and Malevich, as well as a facsimile of Almanakh UNOVIS 1 (Moscow, 2003; LF.31.b.1837), which was originally published in 1920. In addition, there is a strong collection of works by and about individual members of UNOVIS, as well as a wealth of secondary literature on the group.

Tszwai So, co-founder of Spheron Architects, is a London-based artist and architect

 

25 October 2019

Dutch Literature takes Centre Stage at the British Library

The New Dutch Writing campaign came to the British Library on Saturday 12 October. Martin Colthorpe from Modern Culture and the Library’s Events team had organised a day packed full of great names from Dutch literature, society and culture and topped it all with a keynote by Simon Schama.

Three panels, consisting of Joris Luyendijk and Naema Tahir, Esther Gerritsen and Herman Koch, and Jeroen Olyslaegers and Bart van Es, talked about tolerance, identity and belonging.

There were around 70 people in the audience, including pupils from the Rainbow School, a Dutch school in London, and undergraduates from the Dutch department of UCL.

Panel 1: left to right Joris Luyendijk, Naema Tahir, Henriette Louwerse
Panel 1. From left to right Joris Luyendijk, Naema Tahir, Henriette Louwerse (chair). (Photo: Marja Kingma)

Naema Tahir was born of Pakistani parents who moved first to the UK and then to the Netherlands. She herself has lived all over the world. She has written several books about immigration as seen through the eyes of the immigrant.

Cover of Eenzaam Heden

Cover of Eenzaam Heden (Amsterdam, 2008) YF.2008.a.22909

Brits and Dutch alike get confused about her, because she does not answer to any of their stereotypes. She regards the Dutch as tolerant, but believes that they only accept immigrants to a certain point, never wholeheartedly. They are not interested in the heritage of the immigrants.

Joris Luyendijk can relate to that. He has lived abroad for many years and did projects on subjects unfamiliar to him. The most famous example of this is his blog for The Guardian on the 2008 financial crisis in the UK and the subsequent book Swimming With Sharks. Luyendijk sees Dutch ‘tolerance’ as ‘enlightened indifference’, a belief that as long as immigrants totally conform, become like the Dutch, it is all fine. This may stem from the time when the Dutch regarded themselves as the guide country of the world. He sees problems arising when immigrants live according to their own traditions and values, which sometimes clash with Dutch liberal attitudes or long running traditions.

Title page Swimming With Sharks

Title page Swimming With Sharks (London, 2015) YK.2016.a.1327

Current Dutch literature has moved away from a very introspective view, agonising about one’s own identity, and family relations within very ‘Dutch’ families. This had made it hard to sell abroad. Today novels feature global topics, such as immigration, terrorism, globalization and climate change, which identity issues are made a part of.

Panel 2. From left to right: Suzi Feay (chair), Esther Gerritsen, Herman Koch
Panel 2. From left to right: Suzi Feay (chair), Esther Gerritsen, Herman Koch (photo: Marja Kingma)

I wonder whether Dutch citizens would finally embrace their fellow immigrant citizens if they participated in the ‘free market’ on Dutch National Day, or ‘King’s Day’. After all, that day is where the real character of the Dutch comes out in full, observes Herman Koch in his latest novel The Ditch. Adults actively encourage children to stake out a plot on the street as their market stall, which they guard jealously against anyone who dares to trespass. And all in order to sell junk to each other.

Like Koch, Esther Gerritsen is interested in the dark side of the human psyche, including infidelity. In her novel Roxy the eponymous protagonist goes in search of an enemy to take revenge on, after she discovers her husband’s affair when he and his lover die in a car accident. She is an outsider both in the glamorous world of her late husband and in the working-class environment she came from. The road trip she embarks on with two other women she hardly knows and her toddler daughter is a belated coming-of-age journey, where she finds she doesn’t really belong anywhere. Gerritsen feels similarly an outsider, or as someone ‘from the cold side’, a Dutch expression referring to the ‘in-laws’. Being from a working-class background she doesn’t always feel at home in the Dutch literary scene.

Panel 3. From left to right: Helen Fry (chair), Jeroen Olyslaegers, Bart van Es
Panel 3. From left to right: Helen Fry (chair), Jeroen Olyslaegers, Bart van Es (photo: Marja Kingma).

The Second World War was a time when ‘identity’ was a matter of life and death. Bart van Es won the Costa Book Award in 2019 for his story The Cut-Out Girl, about Lien, a Jewish girl who lived in hiding with his family and stayed with them after the war. It wasn’t until fairly recently that Lien felt she belonged somewhere and was loved. Not surprising if you lose all of your family when you are not even ten, when you are constantly on the run from your oppressors, moving from one hiding place to the next as a Jewish girl amongst Christians. As Lien said, “Without family you have no memory.” Bart himself discovered things about his family he never knew.

Jeroen Olyslaegers’ Will is a novel based on real events during the War, set in Antwerp. In it Olyslaegers examines people’s choices during times of oppression and danger. As a police officer ordered to take Jewish families out of their houses, what do you do? What did others do? Did they resist, or were they bystanders? All of Olyslaegers’ characters in Will are ambiguous; they are first and foremost looking after themselves, trying to survive, and that means not always acting morally correctly.

Cover of Will

Cover of Will (London, 2019) ELD.DS.455850

Despite the countless books written about the war, both Van Es and Olyslaegers are convinced that there are many more stories out there that want to be told, written down, and translated into new stories for a new audience.

Simon Schama closed the day with a passionate talk about Rembrandt. I stopped taking notes, hanging on his every word. Schama sees Rembrandt as a great intellect, a learned man, considering the large archive of drawings he kept, which he later was forced to sell.

Rembrandt. ‘Judas Returning Thirty Pieces of Silver’

Rembrandt. ‘Judas Returning Thirty Pieces of Silver’ (1629, private collection.) Reproduced in Simon Schama, Rembrandt’s Eyes (London, 1999) YC.1999.b.9511.

Rembrandt mastered the two criteria set by Alberti for being a great artist: craftsmanship and creativity. Rembrandt had both in spades. Schama placed Rembrandt in the midst of Amsterdam’s transformation from almost rural backwater to the city that became the trading centre of the world. Rembrandt ended up alongside Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael, by being known by his first name only. Now that is some identity.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections (Dutch languages specialist)