Archive for the ‘Modern(ish)’ Category

Rare 17th c. Dutch wall map of Australia emerges at auction

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

Willem Janszoon’s Vliege Bay, Dubbelde Rev., R. Visch, and Cape Keerweer, all in Australia, labeled as the southern coast of Nueva Guinea on Hessel Gerritszoon’s map of the Pacific Ocean, 1622.James Cook’s detailed exploration and mapping of New Zealand and eastern Australia during his first voyage (1766-1771) would overshadow the more limited Dutch efforts from more than a century earlier, but the first Europeans to sight and make landfall on the Australian continent and surrounding islands were the Dutch. The first European to step foot on Australia was Willem Janszoon in 1606, although in keeping with the fine tradition of European explorers he had no idea where he was, thinking he was in southern New Guinea. He mapped some of the coastline and made contact with the pointy end of the indigenous people — ten of his men died in the process — but like his compatriots who followed, he didn’t explore thoroughly.

Portrait of Anthony van Diemen, by unknown artist, ca. 1800. Photo courtesy the Rijksmuseum.The Dutch never attempted settlement. Their aims were strictly pecuniary. The Dutch East India Company (VOC), always on the lookout for new lands with the apparently limitless gold, silver and precious gemstones of a Mexico or Peru, received a report from one of their operatives in Japan that he’d heard speak of a country to the south rich with gold. In 1639, the VOC’s Governor-General Antonio van Diemen sent two ships to find this El Dorado of the Pacific. One of them, the Engel, was captained by Abel Tasman. They searched for six months, going as far as 2,000 miles from Japan, 1,000 miles further into the North Pacific than any other European explorer before them, but were unsuccessful.

Abraham Ortelius' Map of the Pacific with the Terra Australis dominating the south, 1589.But the dreams of diving into bottomless vaults of gold like unto Scrooge McDuck never die, and people had been positing that there had to be an unknown large land mass in the Pacific, the Terra Australis Incognita, since antiquity. The discovery of South America ramped up excitement at the prospect of the Terra Australis because philosophically geographers imagined the world had to have some kind of symmetry, so the new continent needed something to balance it out on the other side of the globe.

The VOC sent Tasman out again to find the South Land in August of 1642. His brief was to look south of New Guinea this time, and should he find the new world and make contact with the locals, he was to use the mercantile goods his ships were laden with to trade for gold and silver. Van Diemen’s instructions on this point were clear:

“Keep them ignorant of the value of the same, appear as if you were not greedy for them; and if gold or silver is offered in any barter, you must feign that you do not value those metals, showing them copper, zinc and lead, as if those minerals were of more value to us.”

On November 24th, the crew sighted land. From Tasman’s journal of the voyage:

This land being the first land we have met with in the South Sea and not known to any European nation we have conferred on it the name of Anthoony Van Diemenslandt in honour of the Honourable Governor-General, our illustrious master, who sent us to make this discovery; the islands circumjacent, so far as known to us, we have named after the Honourable Councillors of India….

Drawing of Maori attacking Tasman's ships in what he named Murderer's Bay (now Golden Bay, New Zealand), by expedition artist Isaack Gilsemans, 1642.That island is now known as Tasmania. From there he traveled southeast, sighting what we know as South Island, New Zealand, on December 13th. He named it Staten Landt because he thought it was connected to Stateneiland, Argentina, on the tip of South America. His attempts to make contact with the indigenous people didn’t go well. The Maori were not interested in whatever stuff he had in his cargo hold. They greeted him by attacking his ship and killing four of his men.

After that, Tasman got out of Dodge City with a quickness and headed back to Batavia. He did a little more charting on the way — Tonga, Fiji — but no landing and no contact. On a second voyage in 1644, he made it to Australia, mapping the north coast, but that was the extent it. Seven months after he left, he was back in Batavia.

The VOC was disappointed, to say the least. He found no new trade routes, no new markets for Dutch goods, and worst of all, no gold. He didn’t even do much in the way of exploring or mapping, not that that was any kind of priority for the VOC beyond its usefulness in enabling profitable trade. They thought Tasman had been too timid for the job. The next person they sent to the South Land would be bolder. Only there was no next person, not a Dutch one, anyway. The next person would be the Englishman James Cook 120 years later.

Joan Blaeu, Archipelagus Orientalis sive Asiaticus. Amsterdam, 1659. Photo courtesy Sotheby's.Until Cook, it was the Dutch who had the most information about Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania and the East Indies, and not coincidentally, Dutch maps were considered the cream of the crop in the 17th century. In 1659, Joan Blaeu, official Cartographer to the Dutch East India Company, used all of the VOC’s private records of the exploration of the Terra Australis from Janszoon to Tasman to create a great wall map of Australia, its surrounding islands and Southeast Asia. This would be the first map to label Australia “Nova Hollandia.” “Nova Zeelandia” and some of van Diemen’s Land make an appearance too.

Archipelagus Orientalis sive Asiaticus, detail. Photo courtesy Sotheby's.This map is so rare there are only two known copies complete with Blaeu’s imprint and side panels describing the lands on the map. One of the two (dimensions: 158.7 x 117.4cm) has been rediscovered in an Italian villa where it has remained unrestored in its original condition since at least the 19th century. It is going under the hammer at Sotheby’s Travel, Atlases, Maps & Natural History sale on May 9th in London, along with a second Joan Blaeu wall map, this one of Asia (117 x 155cm), in equally good condition.

Joan Blaeu, Asiae Descriptio Novissima. Amsterdam, 1659. Photo courtesy Sotheby's.Richard Fattorini, Sotheby’s Director in Books and Manuscripts said: “It is wonderful to find a pair of wall maps in their original unrestored condition, retaining the linen and rollers as decorated for an early, or possibly the first, owner. Wall-maps, by their very nature, are susceptible to damage; mounted on a linen backing, with wooden rods, suspended on a wall, they could be subjected to careless handling, sunlight, heat, damp and soot. They often have a very poor survival rate as, once damaged or geographically superseded, they were readily discarded. As a consequence, they are often found in a frail state.”

Asiae Descriptio Novissima, detail. Photo courtesy Sotheby's.There are some holes, tears and damage with loss of small parts of the drawing and text, but all in all, these are near-miraculous survivals. Because of its seminal importance in the history of cartography and exploration, the Australia map is estimated to sell for 200,000-250,000 GBP ($248,320-310,400). The map of Asia is a comparative steal at 60,000-80,000 GBP ($74,496-99,328).

An excerpt from Blaeu’s commentary on the Australia wall map:

“Papas landt or Nova Guinea, Nova Hollandia, discovered in the year 1644, Nova Zeelandia or New Zealand reached in 1642, Antoni van Diemens land found in the same year, Carpentaria, thus named after General Carpentier, and still other lands, partly discovered are shown in this map. But of all these and of the above-mentioned islands we cannot speak more fully because of the want of space; nor has there yet been published anything, or little concerning these last named; wherefor the reader and spectator must rest content with this map, until I. [Joan] Blaeu, shall publish these and the aforesaid a large book, full of maps and descriptions, which is at present being prepared.”

Klencke Atlas with British Library curators for scale. Image courtesy the British Library.Less than a year later, a group of Dutch merchants compiled a book full of Blaeu’s wall maps as a gift for King Charles II in honor of his restoration to the throne. It is indeed a large book. A very, very large book.

 

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Restoration of Mausoleum of Augustus begins

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

Restoration of the Mausoleum of Augustus begins. Photo by Ettore Ferrari/ANSA.Remember when I wrote that article on the history of the Mausoleum of Augustus, how it got to its current derelict condition and how the mayor of Rome planned to get a restoration started by the end of the year to coincide with the 2000th anniversary of Augustus’ death? That was 2014. The restoration did not get started by the end of 2014. Nor by the end of 2015. Or 2016. But at long last, the Mausoleum’s day has finally dawned. The old mayor, Ignazio Marino, is gone and the new mayor, Virginia Raggi, officially inaugurated the 10-million-euro ($10.9 million) restoration project on Tuesday.

Six million of the total cost was raised from a private donor, not the mysterious Saudi prince who was bandied about by the former mayor as a potential funding source, but the Italian telecom brand TIM. The rest of the money was contributed by the city of Rome and Italy’s culture ministry.

The refurbishment, which will end in a grand reopening in April 2019, will include 3-D effects and the restoration of the 13,000 square metres of a monument that is even bigger than the famed Castel Sant-Angelo, built over the tomb of a later emperor, Hadrian.

The project represents a “model of public and private collaboration we hope will become a model,” said Raggi.

Reconstruction of Mausoleum of Augustus during its heyday.It doesn’t look bigger than Castel Sant’Angelo today, but when Augustus built it when he returned to Rome in 31 B.C. after his final defeat of Mark Anthony at the Battle of Actium, its grandeur was without parallel. It had a lot of competition because the Campus Martius, the “Field of Mars” where troops mustered and tribes gathered to vote just outside the pomerium, the city’s ancient religious boundary, had become a popular location for new temples, public buildings, artworks and the tombs of the rich and noble. Now the sole ruler of Rome, Augustus planned his Mausoleum to contain his ashes and those of his whole family. Made of brick clad in white marble, the interior had a vaulted ceiling and separate corridors for each family member. The entry was flanked by two pink granite obelisks Augustus looted from Egypt, and an earthen tumulus planted with cypresses topped the roof. When it was finished in 28 B.C., the Mausoleum was 295 feet in diameter and an estimated 137 feet high.

Markers for the remains of Agrippina, Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus (Augustus' stepson) and the Emperor Tiberius inside the Mausoleum of Augustus. Photo by Ettore Ferrari/ANSA.Everyone who was anyone in the Julio-Claudian line — minus Augustus’ disgraced daughter Julia, her disgraced daughter Julia and the Emperor Nero who was buried in the tomb of his paternal family — was buried in the Mausoleum, and it was one of the great icons of Rome until the 5th century when the Visigoths plundered it. Following in the Visigoths’ footsteps were the usual suspects of Marker for the remains of  Marcellus, Augustus’ nephew. Photo by Ettore Ferrari/ANSA.late ancient and medieval Rome — popes and endlessly squabbling Roman nobles — who stripped the building of its marble and converted it into a fortress. That’s what happened to Castel Sant’Angelo, formerly the mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian, too, but Castel Sant’Angelo remained in use as a papal fortress and prison for centuries, while the fortifications of Augustus’ tomb were destroyed during a petty war between noble families only decades later.

Stripping the fortress left the Mausoleum in a ruinous state. It found new life in the Renaissance as a sculpture garden, Interior of the Mausoleum of Augustus with marker for remains of Augustus' grandson Gaius Caesar. Photo by Ettore Ferrari/ANSA.amphitheater, a sort of sideshow spectacle venue, and in the early 20th century, an Art Nouveau theater. Then came Benito Mussolini. In 1936, he decided he’d return the Mausoleum to its true Roman origins and tore down all the later additions and modifications, leaving the original brick walls. He planted cypresses on top of the walls in the mistaken belief that Augustus’ architects were as simple as he was, even though anyone who’s ever even seen what trees and vines can do to buildings would have realized this was an incredibly dumb idea.

Back view of Mausoleum of Augustus today. Photo by Ettore Ferrari/ANSA.The Mausoleum never recovered from that disastrous “restoration.” It was closed to the public in the 1970s because it was structurally unsound and dangerous. For decades it has been a crumbling shadow of its former self, a virtually unknown and unrecognized ruin in the middle of a wide Fascist-era piazza, shelter to homeless people and junkies, used as a litter receptacle by passersby.

The restoration project will hopefully reverse this appalling history of neglect and incompetence. The tomb will be closed to the public for the duration, although some “special” visits may be arranged for small groups (VIPs, I’m guessing), until the grand reopening in 2019.

 

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Rodin’s unique Absolution on display for the first time

Monday, May 1st, 2017

Absolution on display in Kiefer-Rodin exhibit, Musée Rodin, Paris. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.Absolution, a unique and mysterious work by Auguste Rodin, has gone on display at Paris’ Musée Rodin for the first time since its creation in around 1900. Very little is known about this sculpture. There is no documentation about it in the artist’s archives, and he never made a marble, terracotta or bronze version of it. It’s such an experimental piece with no directly comparable works in Rodin’s oeuvre that curators aren’t even sure if it’s finished. The fact that he kept it at all suggests Rodin was at least satisfied with it.

Absolution before treatment. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.It has never been exhibited before because it is incredibly fragile. Three plaster sculptures are draped with a fabric coated in plaster, the latter of which posed a particularly thorny conservation challenge. It was kept in storage wrapped in paper, and when conservators removed the wrapping, they found the piece coated in dust and broken in several places. The three plaster figures had come apart and the fabric had lost a good portion of its plaster coating. In order to even get to the figures, the draping had to be lifted which, given its extreme fragility, was a risky operation. Then the broken figures had to be put back together and the fabric, cleaned and repaired, put back in place. They had to accomplish all of this with just an old black and white photograph of how the sculpture had once looked to go on.

This video shows the difficulties conservators had to overcome to stabilize Absolution enough to put it on display, albeit in a glass box to protect it from even the smallest breeze that might cause the textile to move.

Ugolino absolved by the Earth in "Absolution," during conservation. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.Rodin was one of the first sculptors to include textiles in his artworks. He took advantage of the flexibility of the medium to drape and mold the fabric, which he would then coat in plaster. The integration of textiles lent his sculptures a soft, fluid element in marked contrast with the hardness of plaster and stone. In Absolution the textile envelopes the figures of a man, Ugolino della Gherardesca, betrayer of his benefactor, condemned to the lowest circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno; a woman, representing the Earth; and the head of a martyr. The draping obscures many details of the sculpture within, framing and highlighting the thematic significance of the kiss of forgiveness, the eponymous absolution.

Scaffolding erected around "Absolution" for conservation. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.Absolution has been on display since last month at the Kiefer-Rodin exhibit. The exhibition commemorates the centenary of Rodin’s death by pairing his work with pieces by contemporary artist Anselm Kiefer that were inspired by sculptures and drawings by Rodin. Like Rodin, Kiefer experimented with contrasting media, hard and soft, textile and stone. By putting Kiefer and Rodin together, the exhibition emphasizes the modernity of Rodin’s vision. It will run through the end of the year.

Conservators use an old photograph as a guide during conservation. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.The original plan was for Absolution to travel to the Barnes in Philadelphia where it would be on display from November 2017 until March 2018 before returning for permanent display in Paris, but the Musée Rodin’s conservators determined that it is impossible to transport the delicate sculpture anywhere, never mind across the Atlantic, without damaging it. The textile is the main sticking point. Any vibration or movement can cause the gypsum to flake off, and because of the way it is draped over the plaster figures, it can’t be packed or wedged in a way that supports it during transit. Figuring out protective packaging for the textile would be so complex and experimental an engineering challenge that the Musée Rodin is unwilling to take the risk.

So Absolution is staying in Paris, safe from people’s breath and air currents in its glass box.

 

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Tour Ireland’s Sheela-na-Gigs with Heritage Maps

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

Sheela-na-Gig, Kilpeck Church. Photo by Nessy-Pic.Ireland’s Heritage Council and Heritage Maps have launched a new dataset mapping all the Sheela-na-Gigs in situ and in collections around Ireland. Sheela-na-Gigs are female figures often characterized by bands across the forehead, visible ribs, and most notably, their hands spreading their vulvas wide open. They are found in the UK and to a lesser degree on the continent (mainly France and Spain), but Ireland has the greatest number of Sheela-na-Gigs. They are most commonly seen in churches and monasteries, usually ones of medieval Romanesque design or in newer ones that incorporate salvaged elements of earlier religious structures on the site. They are also found in lay buildings like castles.

Discussing the launch of this new cultural resource and the St. Patrick connection, renowned UCC folklorist Shane Lehane suggests “that perhaps the key to understanding the inherited notion that St Patrick had a wife, Sheela, is to explore the hugely interesting archaeological manifestation that also bears her name: the Sheela-na-Gig”.

Sheela-na-Gig, Cavan County Museum.“In Ireland, there are over 110 examples of these, oft misunderstood, medieval stone carvings of naked, old women exposing their genitalia. They are often positioned in medieval tower-houses, medieval church sites and holy wells. Up to recently these were seen as figures representing the evils of lust or as ways of averting the ‘evil eye’. More convincing reassessments have reinterpreted the Sheela-na-gig, in line with the Cailleach, as belonging to the realm of vernacular folk deities associated with the life-giving powers of birth and death. Placed with the cycles of both the natural and agricultural year and the human life cycle, she can be regarded as the embodiment of the cycle of fertility that overarches natural, agricultural and human procreation and death”.

Speaking about the launch of the Sheela-na-Gig map, Beatrice Kelly, Heritage Council Head of Policy & Research, stated, “Sheela-na-Gigs are very evocative symbols of the feminine in old Irish culture and their prominent positions in medieval churches and castles attests to the importance of the female in Irish society. As modern Ireland strives for equality in all aspects of life this map can help us all to understand the important place women have traditionally held within our culture and society.”

There are probably more Sheelas that haven’t been officially documented yet. The Heritage Council is hoping to add to the layer with new information and asks that members of the public contact them if they know of any Sheela-na-Gigs that are not yet marked on the map.

As the name suggests, Heritage Maps is a collection of culture-related data sets marked on a map of Ireland. You can select different layers to view on the map — shipwrecks, UNESCO World Heritage sites, burial grounds, walled towns, museums, protected architectural sites, and hundreds more — and create the mother of all heritage tours customized to your interests. There are more than 150,000 sites pinpointed in all of the layers, and the number increases all the time.

To view the new Sheela-na-Gig dataset, click on the Archaeology category in the Layer List and check the Sheela-na-Gig box. You’ll see the map populate with data points. Click on one of the points and then on the right arrow after the name for the full information to drop down, including a photo (just thumbnails, alas).

 

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Massasoit Ousamequin’s relics to be reburied

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Statue of Massasoit Ousamequin in Plymouth, Massachusetts, erected in 1921.Artifacts and remains of the Wampanoag leader who forged the first alliance with the Pilgrims are being reburied in his original grave after a two-decade search for the scattered relics.

The Pilgrims called him Massasoit as if it were his first name and it has stuck, but in fact it’s a hereditary title meaning “Great Leader.” His name was Ousamequin. As Great Leader of the Pokanoket Wampanoags, he held the allegiance of numerous chieftains and villages in the Wampanoag Confederation stretching from Narragansett Bay east to Cape Cod, most of modern-day southeastern Massachusetts.

In the six years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth, two smallpox outbreaks had decimated the Pokanoket, reducing their warrior ranks from a formidable 3,000 to a mere 300. With their enemies the Narragansetts at their doorstep (they controlled the territory west of Narragansett Bay), ready to take advantage of the Pokanoket’s military weakness, in March of 1621 Ousamequin entered into a treaty of nonaggression and mutual defense with the newly arrived English colonists. They agreed not to attack each other and to come to each other’s aid if either one were attacked by third parties.

Massasoit Ousamequin smoking a peace pipe with Governor John Carver when the alliance was made in 1621.The English had weapons and the ability to use them; the Pokanoket knew how to grow, make and find food. The military alliance was advantageous to both, since the Narragansetts were as ill-disposed towards the English as they were toward the Pokanoket, and good relations with their indigenous neighbors were essential to the survival of the colony. Without them, the Plymouth colony would quickly go the way of their countrymen at Jamestown and starve to death. As it was, they only had a place to live because they had moved into a Pokanoket village (Patuxet) left abandoned after a smallpox epidemic, and although Ousamequin didn’t know this, at the time of the alliance barely three months after their arrival, almost half of the colonists and Mayflower crew had already died from diseases contracted during the Atlantic crossing.

The alliance lasted 40 years, ending only with Massasoit Ousamequin’s death in 1661. English sources acknowledge that the colony would almost certainly have died on the vine in those difficult first few years without his invaluable aid and recognized him as a man of unimpeachable integrity, loyalty and generosity. That didn’t stop the growing colony from encroaching ever more on Pokanoket lands, of course, and as the decades passed, the alliance became increasingly strained. Under pressure from all sides, Ousamequin chose to keep the alliance together and repeatedly sold the colonists ever-larger sections of Pokanoket territory. In 1653, he and his eldest son Wamsutta sold land known as Sowams which included most of the present-day towns of Warren and Barrington, Rhode Island, and Somerset, Massachusetts, for 35 pounds sterling. The buyers were a who’s who of early New England history: Miles Standish, Josiah Winslow, William Bradford, John Winslow, et al.

Marker noting supposed location of Massasoit Spring in Warren, Rhode Island. Photo by Christopher Hightower.One small piece of Sowams was not part of the sale: the “neck,” meaning the uplands overlooking the bay. Called Montaup, anglicized as Mount Hope, this was Ousamequin’s hometown and was to be reserved for the Pokanoket until such time as they chose to leave. After his death, he was buried there. By the end of King Philip’s War (King Philip was the English name of Massasoit Metacom, Ousamequin’s second son, who took up arms against the Plymouth Colony in 1675 to stop their untrammeled expansionism) in 1678, the surviving Pokanoket fled to Maine and Mount Hope Neck was absorbed into Warren, Rhode Island.

Massasoit Ousamequin's knife, recovered artifact to be reburied. Photo courtesy the  Wampanoag Confederation.Neglected and unprotected, Massasoit Ousamequin’s grave was destroyed during construction of the Providence, Warren and Bristol Railroad, which opened in Warren on July 4th, 1851, 190 years after Massasoit’s death. His wasn’t the only grave on the hilltop, and souvenir hunters and archaeologists (who at this time were also largely souvenir hunters) dug up the site, collecting artifacts and human remains which wound up dispersed throughout personal collections and museums.

In 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act made it federal law that grave goods and human remains held in collections, institutions of learning and museums be returned to related tribes for reburial according to their religious traditions.

Massasoit Ousamequin's beads, artifact to be reburied. Photo courtesy the Wampanoag Confederation.Members of the Wampanoag Nation have spent 20 years tracking down the remains and artifacts of Massasoit Ousamequin. It was their “spiritual and cultural obligation,” said Ramona Peters, who coordinated the effort. [...]

Ousamequin’s artifacts include a pipe, knife, beads and arrowheads.

The Rhode Island Historical Society has repatriated about 75 items to the appropriate tribes since the law’s passage, including artifacts belong [sic] to Ousamequin. They were donated as relics in the 1800s, but collections aren’t assembled in that way today, said Kirsten Hammerstrom, director of collections.

“Grave goods are not something we dig up and accept. They belong to the tribe,” she said. [...]

The Wampanoags have collected hundreds of funerary objects that were removed from the burial ground on the hill and held dozens of burials for their ancestors whose graves were disturbed, Peters said.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be able to do this for our ancestors,” she said.

Now it’s Massasoit Ousamequin’s turn.

Massasoit Ousamequin's pipe, one of the recovered artifacts to be reburied. Photo courtesy the  Wampanoag Confederation.

 

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Church mural painted by Jewish “degenerate artist” revealed after 44 years

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Mural reappears behind piles of brick from demolished wall. Photo courtesy the Coventry Telegraph.A monumental mural painted by Jewish artist Hans Feibusch in St Mark’s Church in Coventry has been revealed after spending 44 years hidden behind a brick wall. It’s been hidden more than four times longer than it was in view, but now it’s out in the open for good.

A Victorian Gothic Revival church built in 1868, St Mark’s managed to survive the levelling of the Medieval city of Coventry by German bombing raids in World War II. The great stained glass window in the west wall was the only casualty. The church couldn’t afford to replace the window in the lean war and post-war years, so they bricked up the hole and the church was left with a very large, very plain wall where the window had once been.

Hans Feibusch paints "Ascension" at St Mark's Church, April 2nd, 1963. Photo courtesy the Coventry Telegraph.In 1963, Hans Feibusch was commissioned to paint a mural depicting the Ascension of Christ on that plain wall. Born in Frankfurt in 1898, Feibusch served two years on the Eastern Front during World War I. After the war, he studied art and began working as a professional artist in 1925. He was quickly successful, winning an award from the Prussian Academy of Arts in 1931. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Feibusch saw the writing on the wall and hightailed it out of Germany to England.

Hitler visits the blockbuster Degenerate Art exhibition in 1937.While he built a new life for himself in England, back in Germany Hitler’s personal taste in art was being enshrined as the ideal while the avant-garde that had thrived under the Weimar Republic was reviled as “degenerate,” the nobility of classical forms distorted and deformed by Jewish contamination of the culture. In 1937, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels put together a Degenerate Art (Entartete Kunst) exhibition in Munich that collected the modern art his ministry had pulled from the walls of galleries, museums and private collections. Feibusch’s work was displayed alongside Jankel Adler’s and Marc Chagall’s next to the slogan “Revelation of the Jewish racial soul” written on the wall.

Detail illustrating man's brutality to man in the bottom right of the "Ascension" mural. Photo courtesy the Coventry Telegraph.Feibusch’s career really took off in England after the end of World War II, thanks largely to the destruction wrought by German bombs. He became known as a muralist, especially as a church muralist. His main patron was the Bishop of Chichester Dr. G.K.A. Bell, who commissioned murals in Chichester Cathedral and in the bishop’s palace. Churches in Brighton, Portsmouth, Eastbourne and other cities small and large also commissioned murals from Feibusch. He ultimately painted murals for 30 churches, including St Mark’s, and major civic buildings like Dudley Town Hall in Worcestershire.

St Mark’s Church was deconsecrated in 1973 and converted into the outpatients department of the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital. For the mural’s own protection (and maybe to make the space a little less obviously a church), the Ascension was bricked over. Even though out of view, it wasn’t forgotten.

Feibusch's mural revealed. Photo courtesy the Coventry Telegraph.The Coventry Society said: “Feibusch’s work is now recognised as being of national importance. In 2011 the Coventry Society noted that the listing particulars for the building did not include the mural. We therefore put in a formal request to English Heritage to amend the listing to include the mural and revise other details of the listing. This was approved by the Secretary of State for Culture, Leisure and Sport in January 2013.”

“In March 2017 it was announced that the building is to be re-opened as a City Centre Resource Church in September 2017. We are delighted to learn that the future of the building is now safe and that it is going to be restored.”

Hans Feibusch lived a very long life, dying four weeks shy of his 100th birthday in 1998. He not only outlived all of the Nazis who labelled his art degenerate, but also all of his fellow so-called “degenerate artists.” He is buried in Golders Green Jewish Cemetery.

 

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Florence Nightingale’s Egyptian artifacts to go on display

Monday, April 24th, 2017

Florence Nightingale standing with owl, Athena. Lithograph by F. Holl after a sketch by Florence's sister Parthenope. Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images.Florence Nightingale wasn’t even 18 years old when she first realized the expected life of an elegant young woman of her milieu — husband, children, charitable causes — was not for her. One of two much-loved daughters of wealthy, upper class parents, Florence grew up at Embley Park in Hampshire, spending the summers in the manor house of Lea Hurst on her father’s estate in Derbyshire. Her parents had progressive views of women’s education, and both Nightingale daughters received a thorough classical education from their Cambridge-graduate father William. On February 7th, 1837, at Embley, Florence felt “God called her to His service.”

Embley Park, Hampshire. Drawing by Parthenope Nightingale. Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome ImagesWhat form this service would take she wouldn’t know for some years, but at least by 1844, nursing was on her mind. American poet and author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic Julia Ward Howe recalled that while she and her husband Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe were visiting the Nightingales at Embley that year, Florence asked Dr. Howe, “If I should determine to study nursing, and to devote my life to that profession, do you think it would be a dreadful thing?” He replied that it would be a good thing, a response that buoyed her hopes.

She began to plan in secret to pursue her vocation. The plan was to learn the job by working as a nurse at Salisbury Hospital for a few months and then come home and display her newly acquired skills to such great advantage caring for the sick and destitute in the local village of West Wellow that any doubts her family might harbor would be instantly dispelled.

She didn’t even make it to the first step. Her mother was so horrified by the idea of Florence working as a nurse in a hospital that the plan was stillborn. It wasn’t the gross aspects of the job that so terrified Mrs. Nightingale. Disease, exposed body parts, gruesome operations, rivers of blood paled in comparison to the sexual shenanigans doctors and nurses were reputed to indulge in on hospital wards. Nurses were widely seen as little more than doctors’ paid mistresses.

Portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell from "Biographie des sages femmes celebres," by Alois Delacoux. 1834. Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images.To her parents’ credit, they both looked into the idea, contacting their many friends in the medical profession to ask their opinions. William Nightingale even argued Florence’s case in correspondence with a doctor friend, but the responses were uniformly negative. Nursing was no job for a moral, religiously devout, rich, attractive, highly educated and marriageable gentlewoman. Even pioneering female physician Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell told Florence that a young lady she knew decided the only way for her to be taken seriously as a nurse without being assumed to be some doctor’s side-piece was to dress in pantaloons, cut her hair short and hope her deep voice kept the wolves at bay. A head nurse in a London hospital told Florence “she had never known a nurse who was not drunken, and that there was immoral conduct practised in the very wards, of which she gave me some awful examples.”

Florence was passionately opposed to the life expected of her. She felt her calling to the marrow of her being. She wanted to be a “savior” in God’s name, for her existence to have a profound purpose. The Nightingales hoped some travel might distract their determined daughter, maybe even inspire her to follow her many intellectual pursuits instead of nursing. In 1847, Florence was sent to Rome with some friends of the family. She loved it, but as soon as she returned to London in 1849, she found work inspecting hospitals and working at schools for poor children.

Faience amulet acquired by Florence Nightingale in Egypt. National Museums Liverpool.And so the prospect of more foreign travel was dangled before her. This time her father was sending her, again with friends of the family, to Egypt and Greece. Again she loved it. On her trip to Egypt in 1850, she picked up several easily transported figurines as souvenirs. They were not fancy things, and as a group she had a rather low opinion of them, but there were some she really liked. She wrote to her sister Parthenope:

As for the Egyptian rubbish, you may do just what you like with it, keep it or give it away. There is nothing that reminds me of what I have seen, nothing that savours of my Karnak except the bronze dog, the brick seals which sealed the tombs at Thebes, and the four little seals in the light box … you don’t know how difficult it is to get anything at Cairo – for I know you will think, and very truly, what I have sent home very shabby.

Faience figurine acquired by Florence Nightingale in Egypt, 1850. National Museums Liverpool.Parthenope kept them, and they remained in the family for almost a century. The last owner was Rosalind Nash, daughter of Florence’s cousin and her close friend and confidante. In 1949, she donated the group to what is now the National Museums Liverpool. On April 28th, they will go on display for the first time in Liverpool World Museum’s new Egyptian gallery, home to the second largest collection of Egyptian antiquities in the UK (the British Museum has the largest).

Ashley Cooke, the senior curator of antiquities at the World Museum, is delighted to display her amulets at last. They included four to the protective goddess Taweret, particularly cherished by women during childbirth.

Shabti of Pa-di-Neith acquired by Florence Nightingale in Eygpt, 1850. National Museums Liverpool.“What she brought back is fascinating to us, but I think she expected to be offered ancient treasures and she was very disappointed with what was available,” he said. “Ironically we are displaying some of the objects which she did rate and was very pleased at getting hold of – which have turned out, alas, to be fakes.” [...]

In a later letter she mentioned the most precious of her seals again: “I possess an antiquity though which I really do value, an official seal, of the time of Rameses the Great, my hero, with his cartouche upon it. An undoubted reality. Who will dare to open letters sealed with the great Rameses’ own seal?”

Cooke said kindly: “Unfortunately the four little seals are all forgeries but at least they gave her some pleasure and they are quite pretty little things.”

Florence Nightingale tending to wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. National Library of MedicineNot even all the wonders, fake or real, of Egypt could keep Florence from achieving her goal. Five years after her trip to Egypt, Florence Nightingale went to tend to the wounded of the Crimean War, and the rest, as they say, is history. Her role in the war may have been overstated in hindsight, but her struggle against societal disapproval to even get a chance at nursing played an essential role in her many great accomplishments after her experience in the Crimea. She built nursing into a profession with standards of care and commitment, founded the first secular nursing school and advocated tirelessly for improving healthcare for people of all social strata.

 

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1627 Knight’s Tomb in Jamestown conserved

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

Since late last year, Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists have been excavating the Memorial Church, built in 1907 over the foundations of three 17th century churches, the earliest being the 1617 timber-frame church in which the Jamestown colonists held the first representative assembly in English North America in 1619. (The second was built in 1640, the last in 1680.) The site was excavated in 1901 by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (today known as Preservation Virginia) before construction of the Memorial Church. The foundations of the 1617 church were discovered in that dig, but archaeological priorities and methods were different then, and the APVA team poured concrete between the remains of foundation and wall thinking it would keep them intact. Archaeologists today are removing the concrete (no small task — some sections are as much as five feet deep) to uncover elements in the soil that their predecessors wouldn’t have noticed or cared about but that contain potentially significant information about the construction of the 1617 church.

Knight's Tomb in the chancel aisle of Memorial Church. Photo courtesy Historic Jamestowne.One of the aims of the new excavation is to conserve a unique ledger gravestone (a marker that lies horizontally covering the full length of a grave) known as the Knight’s Tomb. Moniker notwithstanding, there is no knight, or anyone else for that matter, buried under the stone. There was originally, but sometime in the 17th century it was moved to the chancel aisle, just inside the doorway of the brick church, and recycled as a paver. It is the only surviving ledger stone in the United States.

The slab is six by three feet in dimension and has inset carvings which once held brass plates that identified and glorified the deceased. You can see the bolt holes that once affixed the plates to the stone. In the upper right hand corner is a shield, whose brass inlay would have been a family crest. Across from it is a scroll, and in the middle is a knight in plate armor standing on a rectangular pedestal which likely contained the full funerary inscription.

Because of the loss of the brass plates, researchers aren’t certain who the knight in question was, but there aren’t a ton of candidates. There are in fact only two knights who were buried in the 1617 church: Thomas West, Lord De La Warre, who died on the transatlantic voyage and was buried in Jamestown in 1618, and Sir George Yeardley, who actually managed to land in the Americas alive and well. He was Governor of Virginia during that first General Assembly meeting held in the original church in 1619. He died in 1627 and was buried in the church.

“When you’re studying mortuary practices, when you’re studying monuments, you never want to go to the records of the person who died, you want to go to the records of their offspring, of their family members who are still living,” said [Assistant Curator with Preservation Virginia Hayden] Bassett. “They’re the people who are largely going to be dealing with the logistics of getting a massive stone over here.”

Bassett said after searching through the journals of both men’s extended families, he thinks Preservation Virginia may have found mentions of the stone by Yeardley’s step-grandson Adam Thorowgood II, whose mother married Yeardley’s youngest son, Francis.

“What they mention is that they would like to have a black marble tomb with the crest of Sir George Yeardley and the same inscription as upon the broken tomb,” Bassett said. “We believe that might reference this stone.”

Gravestone conservation expert Jonathan Appell begins to remove the Knight's Tomb from the cement. Photo courtesy Historic Jamestowne.It was unearthed by the APVA in the 1901 dig. Its brass plates were long gone by then, and the stone was broken in several fragments, all of them quite large, one of them the full bottom half of the stone. They decided to keep it pretty much where they found it, moving it just a foot south. To seal it in place and fill the joins between the fragments, the team poured Portland cement around it and into the cracks. People loved their Portland cement back then because it’s so hard and durable, but as a preservation material it’s unfortunately terrible. The contrast between its hardness and the more porous, softer period materials causes moisture problems and puts undue stress on the historic structures.

The Knight’s Tomb is no exception. To ensure its long-term health, Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists knew they’d have to get it out of that cement trap and into the hands of modern conservators who use materials that can be reversed should they cause problems down the line. On April 10th, conservator Jonathan Appell of of Atlas Preservation, an expert in the conservation of historic monumental stone memorials and gravestones, began the difficult job of releasing the ledger stone.

The cement around the edges of the gravestone was hand-chiseled away. Thankfully, the people who installed it in the floor of the Memorial Church in the early 20th century did not set it in a bed of Portland cement. Instead it was placed on slate shims over a mortared brick base, so once the cement was removed from the sides and under the edges, the stone could be pried off its base relatively easily. Once the Portland cement was gone, the stone came up in the same fragments it was first found in back in 1901. Very carefully and painstakingly, the team moved the stones up wooden ramps onto a platform where the detailed conservation will take place.

You can see some of their hard work explained by Jonathan Appell in this wonderful video on the Jamestown Rediscovery YouTube channel:

That YouTube channel is a gem, very much worth following and/or bookmarking. They have several videos documenting the current excavation of the 1907 Memorial Church.

Unrelated to the church and its tombs, this video about the discovery and conservation of the most complete set of jacks of plate (an armoured vest of overlapping plate sewn onto canvas) in the United States is just plain cool.

 

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Second parchment manuscript of Declaration of Independence found in UK

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

The Sussex Declaration. West Sussex Record Office Add Mss 8981.Harvard researchers have discovered a second manuscript written on parchment of the Declaration of Independence in a county archive in Chichester, UK. The only other parchment manuscript is the original Matlack Declaration in the National Archives, the large-scale, or “engrossed,” in the parlance of 1776, version with John Hancock’s John Hancock that everyone pictures when they think of the Declaration of Independence. The newly discovered one is engrossed too, at 24″ x 30″ the same dimensions as the Matlack Declaration, only this one is oriented horizontally instead of vertically.

In August 2015, Emily Sneff was working on a database of every known example of the Declaration of Independence for Harvard’s Declaration Resources Project when she came across a reference to a copy of the Declaration kept in the West Sussex Record Office. The document was described in the archive’s catalog as “Manuscript copy, on parchment, of the Declaration in Congress of the thirteen United States of America.”

She initially suspected it would turn out to be a printed copy of a kind that were widespread in the 19th century because she had encountered such errors — copies mistakenly catalogued as manuscripts even though they were later prints — in other archives. The reference to parchment, however, was unusual and intriguing. She contacted the West Sussex Record Office and they sent her a CD with photographs of the document.

Detail of the List of Signers on the Broadside of the Declaration of Independence produced by Mary Katherine Goddard, 1777. From the New York Public LibraryThe pictures made it clear that it was indeed a manuscript, not a printed copy, and that wasn’t the only uncommon feature. The names of the signatories were not in their traditional order, with Hancock’s signature first and the rest grouped according to the states they represented in the Second Continental Congress. The punctuation of the text is idiosyncratic and there’s very little of it. There appears to be a spot of erased text at the top, and the neat, compact handwriting was unlike any Sneff had seen before.

Portrait of Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond (1735-1806) by George Romney ca. 1777. National Portrait Gallery, UK.Sneff took the pictures to her colleague Danielle Allen, and together they worked for two years to unlock its mysteries. They dubbed the manuscript the Sussex Declaration, which is more than a geographical designation. They believe the Sussex Declaration to have belonged to Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond, also known as the “Radical Duke” for his avowed anti-colonialist stance and support of American independence. It was likely made in America, probably New York or Philadelphia, and then sent overseas to the Duke, but who commissioned it and whose is the wonderful hand that wrote it remain uncertain.

Official portrait of Supreme Court Justice James Wilson.The leading candidate for the commissioner of the parchment is James Wilson of Pennsylvania, himself a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, one of the greatest legal minds of the nascent republic who played a large part in the drafting of the US Constitution and was appointed by President George Washington as one of the first six justices of the Supreme Court. He believed fervently that the principles of the Declaration should play a central role in the political ideology of the United States, despite its not having the strength of law. The Sussex Declaration, notably the arrangement of names, may be making a political statement about the importance of the new country having a strong federal government if it is to succeed.

Analysis of the parchment, handwriting and spelling date the Sussex Declaration to the 1780s, a period when these issues were front and center in a United States in dire financial straits, fraught with conflict about the role of central government versus the states and still governed by the loose Articles of Confederation.

Among the chief political debates of the era, Allen said, was whether the new nation had been founded on the basis of the people’s authority or the authority of the states. By reordering the names of the signers, perhaps the most conspicuous feature of the parchment, the Sussex Declaration comes down squarely on one side of the argument.

Image 6 Engraving of the Declaration of Independence by L.H. Brigham, 1836. Photo by Danielle AllenOn most documents of the era, Allen said, the protocol was for members of each state delegation to sign together, with signatures typically running either down the page or from left to right, with the names of the states labeling each group. An exception was made for a small number of particularly important documents — including the Declaration, which was signed from right to left, and which omitted the names of the states, though the names were still grouped by state.

“But the Sussex Declaration scrambles the names so they are no longer grouped by state,” Allen said. “It is the only version of the Declaration that does that, with the exception of an engraving from 1836 that derives from it. This is really a symbolic way of saying we are all one people, or ‘one community,’ to quote James Wilson.”

Read about Sneff’s and Allen’s use of handwriting and parchment analysis and their examination of spelling errors in the names of the signatories in their first published paper on the Sussex Declaration (pdf). Their second paper (pdf) focuses on James Wilson, the evidence indicating he commissioned the Sussex Declaration and why. They’re both fascinating, but I was particularly captivated by the second because I knew nothing about James Wilson and he deserved far better from me.

 

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Gold coin hoard found in piano declared treasure

Friday, April 21st, 2017

1906 Broadwood & Sons upright piano donated to The Community College of Bishops Castle. Photo by Peter Reavill.Last November, piano tuner Martin Backhouse was having a hard time with some sticky keys on a 1906 Broadwood & Sons upright piano he was overhauling for The Community College of Bishops Castle. Martin found the problem when he removed the keys: eight parcels full of gold coins.

The school alerted the Finds Liaison Officer for the region, Peter Reavill, and he and his colleagues at the Portable Antiquities Scheme examined and catalogued the hoard. Inside seven cloth-wrapped parcels and one suede drawstring pouch, they counted 913 gold sovereigns and half-sovereigns ranging in date from 1847 to 1915, issued in the reigns of Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V. The weight of the coins totals more than 6 kilos (13+ pounds) of gold bullion.

Gold sovereign from the reign of Queen Victoria (1898 – Jubilee Bust of Victoria), from the hoard. © Portable Antiquities Scheme/The Trustees of the British Museum. Photo by Peter Reavill.One of the pouches was packed with cardboard that provided an important clue to when the hoard was hidden. It was an ad for Shredded Wheat created after 1926 and likely before 1946. Attempts to trace the ownership history of the piano to determine who might have stashed the coins inside it went nowhere. After its manufacture by Broadwood & Sons of London, it was sold to music teachers Messrs. Beavan & Mothersole of Saffron Walden, Essex. There is no trace of its movements for almost 80 years. The trail picks up again in 1983 when it was acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Hemming, also of Saffron Walden, for the children to learn on. It remained with the Hemmings until last year when they donated it to the Bishops Castle Community College.

On April 20th, John Ellery, senior coroner for Shropshire, held an inquest in Shrewsbury and declared the gold coins treasure according to the 1996 Treasure Act, which means they now officially belong to the Crown. The British Museum will convene a Treasure Valuation Committee to assess the market value of the coins. Local museums will be given the chance to acquire the hoard for the assessed sum, which will then be split between finder Martin Backhouse and the piano’s owners, the Bishops Castle Community College.

Suede drawstring pouch and coins from the hoard. © Portable Antiquities Scheme/The Trustees of the British Museum. Photo: Peter Reavill.Coins made of precious metals that are more than 300 years old qualify as treasure, but these coins are comparatively recent. The determination that they are treasure is based on three criteria: 1) they are made of gold, 2) they were deliberately hidden with the ultimate aim of recovering them at a later date, 3) the owner and/or heirs are unknown. This was the standard applied to the Hackney Double Eagle hoard discovered in a London backyard in 2010, whose coins are also gold and have almost the exact same date range (1854-1913). The publicity from that case resulted in the identification of the legitimate owner, the son of the original owner who had died in 1981.

That has not happened in this case, despite the coroner adjourning the inquest twice to give any potential claimants the chance to come forward. Surprising absolutely nobody, many claimants came forward, almost 50 of them, hoping to get their hands on some of that sweet, sweet gold sovereignage, but no evidence was found to substantiate any of the claims, hence the treasure verdict.

This video from the British Museum’s YouTube channel tells the story of the Piano Hoard.

 

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