Archive for April, 2012

Are these Mark Antony and Cleopatra’s twins?

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Statue of Shu and Tefnet, possibly Alexander Helios and Cleopatra SeleneAnother sculpture that has been idling in a museum for ages is getting new attention all of a sudden. Egyptologist Giuseppina Capriotti of the Italian National Research Council believes a statue in the Cairo Museum depicts the twin children of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene. The sandstone statue was discovered near the temple of Hathor in Dendera on the west bank of the Nile in 1918. Cleopatra VII is known to have commissioned works in that temple, most famously a monumental pharaonic relief of herself and her son by Julius Caesar, Ptolemy XV Philopator Philometor Caesar, aka Cesarion.

The Cairo Museum bought the five-foot-tall statue but didn’t pay it a great deal of attention, thinking it a representation of the twin gods Shu and Tefnet, son and daughter of the sun god Atum-Ra.

The statue is of two nude children, one male, one female, who bear the attributes of sun and moon respectively. They have an arm over each other’s shoulders while they hold a serpent in their other hands. The coils of two snakes wind around their legs and the base of the statue.

DetailCapriotti noticed that the boy has a sun-disc on his head,‭ ‬while the girl boasts a crescent and a lunar disc. The serpents, perhaps two cobras, would also be different forms of sun and moon, she said. Both discs are decorated with the udjat-eye, also called the eye of Horus, a common symbol in Egyptian art.

“Unfortunately the faces are not well preserved, but we can see that the boy has curly hair and a braid on the right side of the head, typical of Egyptian children. The girl’s hair is arranged in a way‬ similar to the so-called ‭m‬elonenfrisur‭ (‬melon coiffure) an elaborated hairstyle often associated with the Ptolemaic dynasty, and Cleopatra particularly,” said Capriotti.

The statue dates to between 50 and 30 B.C. Mark Antony and Cleopatra’s twins were born in 40 B.C. so the timing fits, but it’s the unusual iconographic choices which suggest this is not just a statue of Shu and Tefnet. In the Egyptian pantheon, Tefnet, the sister, wears the solar disk, but in this piece the female twin wears the crescent moon and the male wears the sun, in keeping with the Greek tradition of the female moon goddess Selene and the male incarnation of the sun, Helios.

Side view of statueThe twins’ embrace could suggest a solar eclipse, which is significant because when Mark Antony officially recognized the twins as his children three years after their birth, the event was marked by a solar eclipse. That’s when Cleopatra changed their names from plain Cleopatra and Alexander to Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios.

If these are Antony and Cleopatra’s twins, it’s the first representation of the two together ever discovered. The only other image we have is of an adult Cleopatra Selene on coins minted during her reign as Queen of Mauretania. Alexander Helios does not appear to have survived into adulthood, nor his younger brother Ptolemy Philadelphus.

After their parents’ suicides, all three of Antony’s children by Cleopatra were taken to Rome by Octavian in 30 B.C. to march in his triumph as royal captives in gold chains. He handed the three of them over to his sister Octavia, Antony’s third wife, to raise. The boys disappear from the historical record, perhaps dead at Augustus’ hand, perhaps from natural causes. Cleopatra Selene, on the other hand, was married around 20 B.C. to King Juba of Mauretania, a north African client state.

Juba and Cleopatra Selene of MauretaniaBy all accounts she was an accomplished and powerful ruler, working alongside her husband and maybe even bossing him around a little. It’s not often you see coins with the king on the one side and the queen on the other. She even named her son Ptolemy, in keeping with her mother’s tradition rather than the more common practice of naming sons after their fathers, or at least including some reference to the paternal line.


Medieval abbot and insignia found at Furness Abbey

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Furness Abbey todayThe 12th century Furness Abbey in south Cumbria has been in ruins since 1537 when it was disestablished, looted and destroyed by Henry VIII. Large cracks began appearing in the walls of the presbytery in the early 20th century, and English Heritage is currently funding an extensive project of exploration and restoration with the ultimate aim of underpinning the structure to keep it from collapse. They plan to install massive concrete rafts deep into the ground on top of which a steel framework will be built to brace and anchor the walls.

To prepare for the concrete rafts, Oxford Archaeology North was contracted to excavate four deep holes, two north of the presbytery on the site of the abbey cemetery and two inside the presbytery. As expected, a number of graves, all of them disturbed over the centuries, were found during the cemetery excavation. When they moved inside, just 13 feet (four meters) northwest of the high altar they discovered the undisturbed grave of a medieval abbot, still wearing his ecclesiastical ring on his finger and holding his crozier, the staff of office shaped like a shepherd’s crook.

Intact grave of abbot with crozierThis find was not at all expected. The abbey was looted thoroughly after the Dissolution; it was thoroughly dug up by archaeologists in the late 19th century, and it was even more thoroughly and deeply dug up in the last century during work to shore up the failing foundations. Finding an undisturbed grave would have been shocking in and of itself, never mind one of an ancient monastic leader still wearing his accouterments.

It’s also of major historical significance because this is the first intact abbot’s grave discovered and excavated under modern archaeological conditions.

An initial examination of his skeleton, which is currently in the care of Oxford Archaeology North, indicated that he was probably between 40 and 50 years old when he died. Like many monastic burials of middle-aged and older men, he had a pathological condition of the spine often considered to be associated with obesity and mature-onset (Type II) diabetes. The grave – which could date to as early as the 1150’s – also included the decorated crozier and a gemstone ring. The grave was situated in the presbytery, the most prestigious position in the church and generally reserved for the richest benefactors. Most Cistercian abbots were buried in the chapter house.

Kevin Booth, Senior Curator at English Heritage, said: “This is a very rare find which underlines the Abbey’s status as one of the great power bases of the Middle Ages. While we don’t yet know the identity of the abbot, he was clearly someone important and respected by the monastic community. Given that the crozier and ring have been buried for over 500 years, they are in remarkable condition.”

Crozier discovered at Furness AbbeyThe crozier is made of gilded copper and on the inside of the loop has a depiction of the Archangel Michael defeating a dragon. The end of the crook is shaped like the head of a serpent (looks like a dog to me). A small piece of the wooden staff which the crozier capped has survived, as have the pointed iron spike that was at its base and some fragments of the linen and silk cloth used to keep the abbot from sweating all over the wood as he held the staff.

Ring found in abbot's grave at FurnessThe ring is gilded silver with a clear gem or crystal. There’s a hollow behind the stone — perhaps used to store a holy relic — and the inside of the bezel where the ring touched the top of the finger comes to a point. Abbots in the 12th century were supposed to eschew the kind of ornamentation common among the princes of the Church. They even had to get special permission to wear an ecclesiastical ring. The pointed ring, which doubtless caused its wearer some amount of irritation and pain, may thus have served double duty as insignia of authority and as mortifier of the flesh. Certainly the abbot was devout. The arthritis in his knees bears mute witness to many hours spent in prayer.

Radiocarbon dating is ongoing. Until we have the results we can’t know who this man was. Should the results come back within a few decades’ range, it should be possible to pinpoint the abbot based on the information we have from his burial. He might not be an abbot at all. Bishop William Russell from the Isle of Man was buried in Furness Abbey in 1374. He would have had and been buried with a crozier and episcopal ring.

The crozier and ring will go on display at Furness Abbey for just a few days, from Friday, May 4th until Monday, May 7th.


Seizure-inducing but awesome 1930s France

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Fair warning: this entry is not for the faint of eyeball.

A few months ago, photography enthusiast and Redditor AlexisfromParis found a wooden box in a thrift store in Paris’ 15th arrondissement. The box contained approximately 50 glass plates of side-by-side stereographic pictures of France in the 1930s, and it came with a period stereograph viewer.

Anaglyph of France in the 1930sAlexis took the box home and scanned the side-by-side stereograms. He converted them into anaglyphs, superimposed red and cyan images which when viewed through 3D glasses integrate into one image with the illusion of dimensional depth. Then, for those of us not equipped with 3D glasses, he combined the two slightly offset black-and-white images into an animated GIF that flickers like crazy, but if you can get past that does convey some of the depth you’d see looking through the stereograph viewer without having to use any external equipment.

Animated version of stereographic picture

I love the stillness of the posed people against the hyperactive background. My favorite animation along those lines is this one:

Paris balcony, 1930s

It’s as if Whistler’s Mother were sitting in a club while strobe lights illuminated the background.

Just one more and then I’ll link you to the rest. Here is a man either dancing with or bowing before a lion:


Here is Alexis’ gallery of anaglyphs. Here are the raw 3D side-by-sides. Here is the gallery of animations.

The animation technique Alexis used is known as wiggle stereoscopy, for obvious reasons, and is a fun toy if you’re not prone to seizures or motion sickness. The New York Public Library has a nifty tool for people to create animated GIFs from the library’s massive collection of 40,000 stereographic pictures: the Stereogranimator.

The Library of Congress has almost 9,000 stereographs from the Civil War available online. They don’t have a wiggle stereoscopy tool to make them dance, but they’re still fascinating to browse, and you can always put them together yourself in any photo editing software that creates animated GIFs (GIMP is free, although not what I would call intuitive).


Is this a statue of a female gladiator?

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Is this bronze statue depicting a female gladiator?University of Granada researcher Alfonso Manas believes a bronze statue in the permanent collection of Germany’s Museum für Kunst und Gewerbein of Hamburg is an extremely rare depiction of a female gladiator, sword raised in victory while she looks down at an unseen defeated opponent. The statue is of a woman wearing nothing but a loincloth and a bandage around her left knee. In her left hand she raises aloft a sica, a short curved blade used by the thraex or Thracian type gladiator.

Thracians, however, also carried a small shield and wore armor — a helmet, greaves, an arm and shoulder piece called a manica, or sleeve — while this figure does not. The lack of armor suggests an athlete rather than a gladiator. The curved implement could be a strigil, a cleaning tool used to scrape oil and dirt off the body. Athletes were often depicted in the act of strigiling themselves, but the raised arm doesn’t fit with that tradition at all. The strigil stays connected to the body, or at least close to it, during the cleaning process. Holding a strigil aloft makes no sense. It’s much more in keeping with gladiatorial gestures of victory than with athletic hygiene.

In addition, female athletes in the Roman world did not go completely topless, as they would wear a bikini or “a tunic that left one breast exposed,” Manas pointed out. “In any case, female athletes never performed with bare breasts,” at least not with both exposed. Gladiators, on the other hand, tended to be slaves or people of low social status; depicting them topless would have been considered more acceptable. The bandage the woman is wearing on her knee is also a common feature of gladiators.

Altogether, this evidence “seems to indicate that the statuette at the MKG [the museum] represents a gladiator, thus becoming the second piece of visual evidence we have of female gladiators,” Manas writes in a recent issue of the International Journal of the History of Sport.

The other piece of visual evidence is a marble relief discovered in the ancient Greek city of Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum, Turkey) and now in the British Museum. The relief depicts two gladiatrices called Amazon and Achillia who have fought valiantly to a draw (stantes missio, meaning “dismissed while still standing”), a rare event requiring exceptional combat on both sides. Like the bronze, they are topless and wearing loincloths. Unlike the bronze, they wear traditional gladiatorial armature including greaves, a manica and a shield.

It is possible that the statue was carrying a shield in her right arm which is broken just above the wrist. The lack of helmet could be explained by her victorious posture, since gladiators removed their helmets as gesture of victory. She might just have been stripped of gear to present a more erotic nude figure for decorative purposes. The relief of Amazon and Achillia took a more businesslike approach since it was probably affixed to the ludus, or gladiator training school.

If there were any sexual implication of the nude gladiator, it would’ve been due to her low social status. “In the Roman mind, there would have [been] certain associations with the sexual availability of slaves,” [Ohio State University professor Anna] McCullough said. “Slaves were sort of expected to be sexually available to anyone at anytime, especially their masters.”

To, “depict a female gladiator, or a slave, nude was really no big deal,” she said. “It was an indication of their extremely low status.”


Lost portrait of cross-dressing Chevalier d’Eon found

Monday, April 16th, 2012

The Chevalier d'Eon by Thomas Stewart, 1792British art dealer and art detective Philip Mould was sleuthing in the saleroom of the Thomas Cornell Galleries in Patchogue, Long Island last November when he came across an arresting portrait of what appeared to be a rather masculine middle-aged woman. Named “Portrait of a Woman with a Feather in her hat” and attributed to painter Gilbert Stuart, the oil painting was part of the estate of Ruth Stone, daughter of Samuel Klein, founder of Edith Bunker’s department store, S. Klein’s.

His spidey sense tingling, Mould purchased the portrait at the auction and brought it back to his gallery in London for conservation and further research. A thorough cleaning revealed that the artist was not Gilbert Stuart, the American portraitist most famous for having painted the unfinished Athenaeum Portrait of George Washington, a replica of which is the face on the US dollar bill. Old varnish and dirt had obscured the signature of the real artist: Thomas Stewart, an 18th century English painter who is not very well known today, but who starting in the 1780s was a successful painter specializing in portraits of actors. Next to the “T. Stewart” signature is the date “1792.”

Documentary research uncovered that the misattribution to Gilbert Stuart is longstanding. A painting answering to this one’s description is included in Lawrence Park’s 1926 catalogue raisonné of Gilbert Stuart’s work. At some point in the early 20th century, the portrait was sold to an unknown US buyer by Ellen Anne Simonds, who had inherited it by descent from Sir Thomas Pelham Hayes, or perhaps his father Sir John Macnamara Hayes, military surgeon and the personal physician of the future George IV. The original owner was Francis Hastings Rawdon, the 2nd Earl of Moira, a collector of exotica who had also served in the American Revolution. After its move across the Atlantic, the painting disappears from the record.

The cleaning also revealed another telling detail: a noticeable five o’clock shadow on the lady’s face. Moira is known to have owned a portrait of the Chevalier d’Eon, and the Chevalier was known to always wear a black dress and the medal of the Order of St. Louis, which he had been awarded by Louis XV for his work as a spy. D’Eon was living in London in 1792, making a living doing demonstration fencing matches, so that fits with the timing and focus of Thomas Stewart’s work.

Print of the Chevalier d'EonConnecting all the dots points to this portrait being of Charles Genevieve Louis Auguste André Timothée D’Eon de Beaumont, aka the Chevalier D’Eon, a biological male who spent his first 49 years dressed as a man, fighting in the Seven Years’ War, fomenting political intrigue as part of Le Secret du Roi, King Louis XV’s personal secret spy network, and serving as Minister Plenipotentiary in London in 1763. When an aristocrat was appointed ambassador demoting d’Eon to a secretarial position, he threatened to publish secret correspondence and blow the lid off Le Secret du Roi.

Mademoiselle de Beaumont, le Chevalier d'Eon, aka LiaThe blackmail garnered him a pension in 1766, but after the king died, he had to strike a whole new deal with Louis XVI to secure his pension and be allowed to return to France. The 1774 treaty, drawn up by Louis’ representative Pierre Beaumarchais (the playwright who most famously wrote The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro), required d’Eon to return the secret letters and, since he now claimed to be biologically female, to wear women’s clothing instead of the military uniform he wore in public. He still wore male clothing at times, but now it would get him arrested.

By the time he returned to England permanently in 1785, he was wearing women’s clothes full time. According to witnesses, he made no attempt to adopt feminine mannerisms. He hiked up his dress to run up stairs and fenced with manly vigor. Yet, the question of his sex was widely debated in society at the time. There was even a bet running on the London Stock Exchange.

"The Fencing-Match between the Chevalier de Saint-George and the Chevalier d'Eon" by Charles Robineau; the Prince of Wales, wearing the Star of the Garter, stands watching

In 1792, the French Revolutionary government stopped paying d’Eon a pension. He was deeply in debt and had to sell his extensive library to make ends meet. His fencing skills and notoriety still ensured him an income from fencing performances until he was severely wounded in 1796. After that, he had to sell even his precious Order of St. Louis medal to keep himself out of debtor’s prison. It wasn’t enough. He struggled the rest of his life.

When he was examined by a physician after his death in 1810, many people were shocked that his genitals were found to be intact and entirely male. The Chevalier d’Eon was so strongly associated with gender ambiguity that psychologist and researcher Havelock Ellis coined the term “eonism” to describe cross-dressing and other transgender behaviors. The British transgender and cross-dressing support organization, The Beaumont Society, is named after the Chevalier. They have an excellent short biography of the Chevalier here (pdf).

Although prints of the Chevalier in a black dress wearing the Order of St. Louis medal are extant, this portrait is the only known oil painting of him. It may be the first formal portrait of a cross-dressing man wearing women’s clothing. According to Mould, the National Gallery has expressed serious interest in acquiring it.

If you’d like to visit the Chevalier in person, the picture will be on display in the Phillip Mould & Company gallery on Dover Street, London until Friday, April 20th (excluding Wednesday morning). If you’d like to see a bizarre but awesome fictionalization of his life, check out the anime Le Chevalier d’Eon. Talking baby skulls and zombies that bleed mercury are involved, so you know it’s good.


Cezanne stolen in Zurich found in Belgrade

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Serbian police guard recovered Cezanne, "The Boy in the Red Vest"On February 10, 2008, three armed men wearing ski masks walked into the E.G. Buehrle Collection in Zurich, Switzerland. While one of them held staff and visitors at gunpoint, the other two helped themselves to four Impressionist masterpieces: Claude Monet’s Poppies near Vetheuil, Edgar Degas’ Count Lepic and his Daughters, Vincent Van Gogh’s Blossoming Chestnut Branches and Paul Cezanne’s The Boy in the Red Vest. It was one of the largest heists in Europe in terms of market value. The four paintings were worth an estimated $163.2 million.

Converting famous paintings into quick cash is rarely as easy as thieves imagine, however. The Van Gogh and Monet were found a week later in a car parked outside a Zurich psychiatric hospital. The remaining two disappeared without a trace.

Witnesses at the Zurich museum testified that the thieves spoke German with Slav accents. Two years ago, Serbia’s Anti-Organized Crime Unit, in collaboration with the police of several other European countries, opened an investigation into the theft. They uncovered a plan by four men to sell the Cezanne to a Serbian buyer for three million euros (about $4 million). The plan was thwarted when ringleader Ivan Pekovic was cornered in a parking lot after a high-speed chase through the streets of Belgrade.

The Cezanne was found in his car along with a cache of firearms and more than £1 million ($1.6 million) in cash. Police arrested two other men thought to be part of the ring, one in Belgrade and one in the southern town of Cacek.

A museum curator quoted by Serbia’s Blic newspaper said criminals smuggle artwork stolen in Western Europe through Serbia and on to Montenegro where they are then sold for cash to members of the Russian oligarchs eager to get their hands on a masterpiece.

Another network takes stolen art to Kosovo where thieves sell it to rich Albanians.

The recovered painting has been authenticated by a Swiss expert. It is indeed the missing Boy in the Red Vest, one of four slightly differing versions made by the Impressionist master. The other three are in museums in the United States.

That leaves only the Degas still to be found. According to this BBC article, Serbian interior minister Ivica Dacic said that the Degas had been found in 2009, but I’ve searched high and low and I can’t find anything about this in the 2009 press. You’d think it would have made just as much of a splash as the recovery of the other three have made.


“Blackguard of the Titanic” vindicated. Again.

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

Sir Cosmo Duff GordonWhen Titanic sank 100 years ago today, one of the last lifeboats to be launched was the captain’s emergency boat, a small wooden rowboat that in theory could carry 40 people but had only 12 on board on the night of the tragedy. Seven of them were stokers from Titanic’s crew, two were American male passengers, and the last three were Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, a Scottish baronet, his wife Lucy, scandalous designer of the couture fashion house Maison Lucile, and her secretary, Laura Francatelli. An officer on deck, who reportedly later would shoot himself rather than drown, ordered the stokers to row hard and fast at least 200 yards away from the sinking ship. They did, and all 12 people survived.

When they were safely aboard the Carpathia, Sir Cosmo gave each of the stokers who had rowed the boat £5 to thank them and to defray their losses, since everything they owned had gone with the ship. One of the recipients spread the word about this payment, describing it as a bribe from a heartless plutocrat who wanted to get as far away from Titanic as quickly as possible instead of going back to collect victims from the freezing water after the ship went down. According to the sensationalist news stories, at least one of which falsely claimed to have been written and signed by Lucy herself, Duff Gordon paid the stokers to keep them from returning to the site because he was concerned suction from the huge ocean liner’s sinking would drag their dinghy down with the ship. Also, he smoked cigars on the rowboat, and his twirled-up mustache definitely had the look of villainy about it.

Lady Lucy Duff GordonThe bribery story made the Hearst news and was widely picked up by the British press, so by the time the Duff Gordons returned to England it was a full-blown scandal. Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon were forcefully questioned on the stand at the 1912 Board of Trade inquiry. You can read the full testimony of Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon (day one) here, (day two) here, and of Lady Duff Gordon here. They really went after them both, especially Sir Cosmo, who as a man was seen as particularly iniquitous because he took a seat that could have saved a woman or child.

In fact, he had refused to get in two previous lifeboats, and although he encouraged them to go without him, his wife and her secretary refused to be budged from his side. When they got in that final rowboat, they and the two American gents were the last passengers on that deck, and the officer who directed the stokers to row was only too glad to see any passengers at all rescued. Interestingly, the American men were not vilified in the press for having snatched seats out from under women and children, just Duff Gordon.

Francatelli affidavitAccording to the Duff Gordons’ testimony, there was no discussion at all on the lifeboat about returning to collect drowning, freezing victims. Laura Francatelli submitted an affidavit confirming their testimony, and the Board of Trade exonerated him of all wrongdoing.

It was too late. Duff Gordon’s reputation as the “blackguard of the Titanic” stuck. He spent the rest of his life in increasing seclusion until his death 19 years almost to the day of the sinking of the Titanic. Even today Duff Gordon is still being used as an example of selfish first class passengers who let 1500 people drown rather than risk any danger or inconvenience to themselves.

Perhaps a newly discovered trove of letters found in the files of the law firm that once represented Duff Gordon will rescue him from perpetual ignominy. The documents were discovered by two summer interns who were assigned what has to be the best law firm intern task of all time: going through old papers looking for anything that could be returned to living descendants of deceased clients. The papers include letters to friends and family written days after the sinking, detailed descriptions of the events of that night and a complete inventory of their lost possessions.

“I took off my nightgown which was underneath my padded dressing gown,” [Lucy Duff Gordon] writes, “put on my chemise and my thick silk drawers and my woollen drawers. Then I put on a warm silk vest with long sleeves. I deliberately thought I would not put my corsets on in case that if I got into the water I should not be able to swim, and put back my warm dressing gown and on top of that… my warm purple dressing gown, and then I put on my little warm motor hat.”

That was not all. Her life jacket was next, topped by her moleskin fur coat with Astrakhan muff. She took a last look at her “lovely little cabin” with its lace, cushions and photographs and a large basket of lilies of the valley. “It didn’t seem possible there could be any danger.” Cosmo took with him into the unknown the Edwardian aristocrat’s survival kit: a flask of brandy, a colt [sic] automatic pistol and a handful of cigars, which he later handed out to the seamen in his rescue boat.

Sir Andrew Duff Gordon and his wife read his grand-uncle's documentsRegarding the so-called bribe, Sir Cosmo wrote: “Indeed at that moment I would have given anything that I possessed to anybody who wanted it, as my heart was full of thanksgiving that the two women in my charge and myself were where we were.” The documents rebut every other point raised against them at the Board of Inquiry and in the press.

The documents are now in the possession of Sir Cosmo’s grand-nephew Sir Andrew Duff Gordon who hopes they will be the final word on the topic. It’s still just their testimony, though, not independent verification, so I don’t know if the papers will rehabilitate Sir Cosmo, and his wife has something of a saucy, flippant writing style which doesn’t exactly scream empathy.

“Well, my beloveds,” she writes to her family. “You know how I always said I longed for experiences and adventures and sensations, well, I’ve had it this time and no mistake.”

Her flimsy airmail letter includes a small drawing of their boat, snagged at a dangerous angle as it was lowered 90 ft down to the water. “The behaviour of all the people on the poor Titanic is beyond praise,” she writes. “Hearing all the thrilling blood-curdling tales of some of the survivors and all the excitement of the last few days has quite worn me out but I’m perfectly well and have never turned a hair.”


Brown University librarian finds rare Paul Revere print

Friday, April 13th, 2012

"Buried with Him by Baptism," engraved print by Paul RevereMarie Malchodi, a technical assistant in the preservation department of Brown University’s John Hay Library, was looking through a collection of books donated by Solomon Drowne, a physician and graduate of Brown’s class of 1773, when she came across an engraved print stuffed inside the back cover of the 1811 edition of The Modern Practice of Physic by Robert Thomas. Labeled “Buried with Him by Baptism,” the print is an engraving of Jesus being baptized by John in the river Jordan. A crowd of onlookers watch from the shore while angels look down from on high. God is represented by a sun with Hebrew lettering inside. (EDIT: the lettering is YHWH in reverse. Revere neglected to engrave the lettering on the plate backwards so all the prints he made from that plate spell the name of the God backwards instead.) He speaks through one of the rays of the sun saying: “This is my beloved Son, – hear ye him.”

The design is not what you would call top of the notch. Dürer was in no danger of being eclipsed by this particular printmaker. It was the “P. Revere Sculp” signature in the bottom right that made Malchodi realize the piece might be historically significant. She brought it to Richard Noble, the rare materials cataloguer for the John Hay Library, and he recognized the style as typical of the work of silversmith and Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere’s print work. “That’s just crude enough to be him,” is how he put it.

Noble did some research to see if he could confirm the print was made by Paul Revere. He found out that not only is the print documented as one of Paul Revere’s engravings, but it’s extremely rare with only four other copies known to exist. Even rarer, this print is the only one of the five to have the full plate mark visible. The other four have been cropped, removing the mark left by the edges of the metal plate when it was pressed against the paper.

“The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regiment,” engraving by Paul RevereRevere began making prints in 1765, most of them on political themes supporting the colonial cause. He didn’t always make the original drawing, however. One of his best known prints, “The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regiment” was copied from an original drawing by Henry Pelham.

Why did Revere create the print in the first place? How did the Drowne family come to own it? Based on Jesus and John’s position chest-high in the water, Noble categorizes it as a theo-political cartoon depicting a Baptist ceremony. In his book, Brigham indicates that he could find no evidence that it was ever used publicly in a book or religious pamphlet. He also could find no model in any British book or periodical that Revere might have used as inspiration for this style of baptism depiction. Noble believes it may have been a one-off printing, meaning that Revere only made a few at a time to give to friends and close acquaintances who requested it, which also explains why the print is so rare.

“It appears to be an American original, by an American original. The son of French Huguenot refugees who eventually became, by all accounts, a Unitarian. The print thus marks a stage in the evolution of that aspect of Revere’s life,” Noble said.

Solomon Drowne and his family were prominent members of the First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island, also known as the First Baptist Church in America because it was in fact the first Baptist church in America, founded by Roger Williams in 1638. Drowne was dedicated to the Revolutionary cause, serving as a surgeon for the Continental Army from 1776 to 1780 and then as ship’s surgeon on the privateer sloop Hope. (He published a journal about his time on board the Hope; pdf here.) It’s certainly conceivable that Paul Revere might have given the print to Drowne, but he could have gotten it any number of ways.


Two Chinese artifacts worth millions stolen

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Late at night on Thursday, April 5th, burglars broke through the brick wall of Durham University’s Oriental Museum, smashed two display cases and stole two Qing Dynasty artifacts worth a combined $3.2 million. That’s undervalued in terms of market pricing, I’m sure, because Chinese antiquities are breaking sales records left and right these days, and it’s undervalued in terms of historical and artistic significance. The museum considers the artifacts, high quality pieces from China’s last imperial dynasty, priceless.

The objects are an intricately carved, dark green jade bowl from 1769 and a Dehua porcelain figurine depicting seven fairies in a boat from the 17th century. The bowl has a poem engraved on the inside bottom. The figurine is covered inside and out in a milk-white glaze known as blanc de Chine that is characteristic of the Dehua area kilns. They are easily portable and highly desirable to unscrupulous collectors.

Qing Dynasty jade bowl, 1769 Qing Dynasty jade bowl, poem engraved insideDehua porcelain fairy boat, 17th century

The senior investigating officer, Det Supt Adrian Green said he estimated the burglars had been in the premises for only a minute or two at the most once they forced entry.

“It seems very clear that this was a well-planned, highly organised break-in. They have spent around 40 minutes creating a hole in an outside wall and when it has been big enough, they have entered the gallery and made straight for these two items,” said Det Supt Green.

“I am sure this job has been planned for quite some time and I would think the artefacts have been stolen to order, for someone who has already identified a potential market.”

Alarms did go off, alerting museum security and the police, but the burglars were able to escape before the authorities got there.

Durham Police are pursuing the case with vigour. They are looking for any information people might have regarding the movements of a light blue Audi A3 and an orange Renault Megane. The cars were spotted in the area right before and after the crime. They’ve also arrested five people already on suspicion of assisting the thieves or conspiracy to commit burglary. The five suspects were interrogated and then released on bail, but police want one of them back. The authorities have released the pictures of two people they’re particularly keen on interviewing, Lee Paul Wildman (35) who was one of the five suspects detained earlier, and Adrian Mark Stanton (32).

Should you have any information about the burglary, suspects or cars, please call the Durham Constabulary at 0345 60 60 365 or Crimestoppers at 0800 555111. Sadly, the museum will be closed until further notice.


Volunteers help document historic Irish cemeteries

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Tifeaghna graveyard, KilkennyHeadstones are a rich source of information for historians and genealogists, but since they’re not easily scanned like paper documents, you usually have to visit in person. Thanks to a program funded by a tax on plastic bags and staffed primarily by volunteers, people looking for their Irish forebears will be able to view headstones from selected historical cemeteries in Ireland.

Experts train local volunteers for two weeks. The volunteers take pictures or good ol’ fashioned pencil rubbings of headstones, and then collect any other information — stories, legends, audio of oral histories and video of the headstones — associated with the graves. Smartphones, digital cameras and GPS devices facilitate data collection and digitization. The data is then uploaded to the Historic Graves website where people can search for specific graves using keywords, family names, year of birth, or year of death. You can also search by graveyard, or, if you don’t know the cemetery’s name, by map.

It’s a brilliant way to utilize the knowledge and passion of local heritage groups, parks employees, schools and volunteer graveyard maintenance organizations to share a wealth of Irish history with people who might otherwise never have a chance to see where their ancestors are buried, or even just to enjoy the beauty of and history behind these cemeteries.

[Project coordinator John] Tierney said historic graveyards were full of heritage and character and were “unique connectors between people and place”.

“The goal is that communities will develop a richer view of their local heritage with benefits for locals and for tourists who find Irish historic graveyards so fascinating. Many of the 19th and early 20th century Irish city graveyards have links across to families and communities in the UK and by making the burial data available via the web and smartphone devices, it is hoped to connect into the growing area of genealogical tourism.”

Abbeylands graveyard, CorkThe data will be parlayed into handy county, area, and national cemetery trails for local and international heritage tourists to follow. There will also be a separate mausoleum trail.

The survey started eight months ago and there are already over 6,000 graves from 80 graveyards in 12 counties recorded and published on the website. Data from various older surveys has been centralized and added to the site, which is why there are graveyards in England and Scotland visible on the map. They have a long ways to go, though. There are over 3600 historic cemeteries in Ireland and the ultimate aim of the project is to document and digitize every one of them.

If you’d like to help, you can sign up to transcribe memorial inscriptions from the photographs. Register to be a transcriber here, then view the pictures and transcribe the names and dates. Your transcription will be published as soon as you submit it, making that record instantly searchable.

See some beautiful cemeteries and surveyors at work on the Historic Graves YouTube channel.







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