Rare 16th c. globe restored and on display

A rare 16th century globe has been restored and put on display at the Museo Galileo in Florence.

The terrestrial globe was made by Antwerp cartographer Cornelis De Jode in 1594. Most of his surviving oeuvre is a world atlas, the Speculum Orbis Terrae, he published in 1593. It sold terribly at the time, so today there are only a dozen or so copies known. Dedicated to Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg from 1587 until he was deposed, imprisoned and succeeded by his nephew in 1612, this globe is the only surviving globe by De Jode. It was previously known only from a series of cartographical sections now in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.

Italy’s Ministry of Culture acquired the globe last November for €385,568 ($407,000) on behalf of the Regional Direction of Museums for Tuscany. It had been appeared on the market in 2016 but Italy placed an export ban on it due to its great rarity and historical significance.

It was in dire condition at the time of the sale. The printed paper surface of the globe was badly deteriorated, darked and with several gaps. Its condition was analyzed and assessed for its urgent conservation needs. The non-profit Friends of Florence foundation financed a delicate and complex intervention of cleaning and restoration by the Officina del Restauro in Florence.

The restored globe is now on permanent loan in the Museo Galileo where it will be on display alongside the museum’s important selection of terrestrial and celestial globes.

Historian of Elizabeth I’s reign self-censorship revealed

Draft manuscript of William Camden's Annals with copious cross-outs and overwriting. Photo courtesy the British Library.Numerous passages in a manuscript of William Camden’s contemporary account of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I have been rediscovered 400 years after the historian censored them to avoid angering his patron, Elizabeth’s successor King James. Camden’s Annals of the Reign of Elizabeth I has been considered a largely accurate official record, but the new information that has come to light shows the final published version was significantly more favorable to James than the original draft.

Camden was first commissioned to write the Annals in 1597 by the Queen’s chief adviser William Cecil. Cecil died in 1598; Elizabeth died in 1603. The first three books of the Annals were published in 1615, and after James VI of Scotland ascended the British throne as James I, Camden overwrote or covered up dozens of passages. He glued pieces of paper over potentially sensitive passages and wrote new passages on top. Those paper cover-ups were glued so tightly that they could not be lifted without destroying the page, so even centuries after James’ death, Camden’s original writing was still effectively censored. The end-result was a 10-volume draft manuscript in which hundreds of pages had unreadable paragraphs.

These manuscripts, now at the British Library, have been re-examined using non-invasive transmitted light imagining. The state-of-the-art technology has revealed the long-obscured texts which include some alterations to the accounts of Elizabeth’s excommunication by Pope Pius V in 1570 (original text says Pius was motivated by “spiritual warfare,” whereas the published version accused him of creating “secret plots”) and the 1598 death of King Philip II of Spain. The biggest revelations put James himself in the crosshairs.

Did James plot to assassinate Elizabeth? In 1598, a man named Valentine Thomas confessed to having been sent by King James to murder Queen Elizabeth. Newly studied passages reveal that Camden initially intended to keep this shocking information in the Annals, but he subsequently amended and softened the confession to say that Thomas ‘had accused the King of Scots with ill affection towards the Queen’. James had never plotted against Elizabeth, but he was highly sensitive to any slander against him, having sent other writers to prison for offending him.

Did Elizabeth I name James as her successor? Camden’s Annals ends with Elizabeth I’s obituary, in which she is said to have named James VI of Scotland as her successor on her deathbed. Elizabeth never married and died childless in 1603, to be succeeded on the English throne by Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland. Analysis of the manuscript drafts shows that the deathbed scene was a fabricated addition that Camden did not intend to put into his history. He presumably included it to appease James so that his succession looked more predetermined than it had actually been. Elizabeth was too ill to speak in her final hours, and no other historical evidence points to this deathbed scene being true.

The newly-visible passages in the manuscript volumes are still being examined and translated from the original Latin into English.

Alarming cracks repaired in Siena Duomo’s Cornice of the Popes

A section of the cornice overlooking the Presbytery of the Cathedral of Siena that is decorated with the busts of 171 popes was subject to an urgent intervention when cracks were discovered in two of the travertine slabs. A number of cracks, large and small, were spotted in June by a crew from the Acrobatic Monuments Construction company, specialists who use a double safety rope climbing technique to inspect and repair monuments. The cracks required immediate attention from the expert stone restorers of the Metropolitan Works of Siena, the municipal organization which oversees the cathedral.

Scaffolding was erected in two days, taking measures to protect the extraordinarily ornate marble inlay floor, which is usually covered for its own protection but happened to be in one of only two brief periods a year when it is exposed in all its glory to the visiting public. The urgency of the intervention and its own potential dangers were underscored when a 3.8 magnitude earthquake struck on the first day conservators were at work on the scaffolding 60 feet above the floor. All personnel were forced to dismount and wait for the all-clear. The next day work resumed on repairing the fractures and consolidating the damaged stone elements. The team was able to complete the work in four weeks. The scaffolding was dismantled in time for the last days of the floor’s uncovering.

The Cornice of the Popes lines the central nave and choir of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, aka the Duomo of Siena. They were made by unknown artists between 1497 and 1502. The papal busts begin with Peter on the right of a bust of Christ. It runs clockwise chronologically with every successive pontiff concluding with Lucius III, pope between 1181 and 1185.

The final pope was originally supposed to be the one before Lucius, Alexander III (1159-1181), because he was a native of Siena and consecrated the cathedral in 1179. Lucius was added after the bust of Pope John VIII (872-882) was removed because he was confused for one of the church’s mythical medieval scandals: the female Pope Joan, who, legend has it, reigned under the pontifical name John VIII from 855 to 857, only to be exposed when she gave birth on the streets of Rome after being thrown from her horse. The myth of Pope Joan had long been refuted when the cornice was made, but the legend persisted and the actual John VIII paid the iconographic price.

Massive tapestries hung again after 22-year restoration

The National Trust’s longest-running textile conservation project — the cleaning and repair of 13 of Britain’s oldest and largest tapestry series — has come to an end more than 22 years after it began. The Gideon Tapestry set covers 230 feet, the full length of the long wall of the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, and each tapestry took thousands of hours of stitching and two years to clean and stabilize. They are now hanging again, reunited for the first time in more than two decades.

The tapestries depict scenes from the story of Gideon, one of the Judges from the eponymous book in the Old Testament. Called by God to deliver Israel from the Midianites, Gideon led an elite army of 300 of the best Israelite warriors against them and won. He was offered a crown but declined the kingship, declaring that only God could rule the people of Israel.

The Gideon Tapestries were woven in 1578 for Sir Christopher Hatton whose coat of arms and initials were woven into the original tapestry. They were made at Oudenaarde in Belgium by an unknown weaver whose mark was a six-pointed star. The entire workshop would have been involved in the production of monumental pieces like this. Apprentices would work on the background while master weavers stitched the difficult details like faces. The design was inspired by the 13 Gideon tapestries bought by Cosimo I de’ Medici in Brussels in 1561. Today only three of the Medici series survive, and two of them match two of the Hardwick tapestries.

After Sir Christopher’s death, it was bought by the formidable Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, known as Bess of Hardwick, in 1592 for what was then the huge sum of £326. She had patches woven of her own coat of arms and stitched them over his. The tapestry was the backdrop to dozens of portraits hung over it on the gallery’s long wall for centuries.

Hundreds of years of exposure to the sunlight, soot and dust were not kind to the tapestries. In 2001, the National Trust took on the many challenges of a full conservation of these massive tapestries. Even simply taking them down from the wall required tower scaffolding, never mind cleaning and repairing them. The largest of the tapestries, number 11 in the series, required a trolley, a level wooden track and rolling it vertically with turn handles. The Gideon Tapestry project is the largest textile conservation project in the National Trust’s history.

The lower and top borders of the tapestries were unstitched to make the mainfield easier to transport, and the hessian lining removed revealing the brilliant original color of the tapestry on the underside. The rolled tapestries were transported National Trust’s in-house Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk for initial documentation and preparation before being sent to a specialist facility in Belgium for wet cleaning. Upon their returns, textile conservators in Norfolk repairs holes, restitched the borders and Bess of Hardwick’s coat of arms patches.

The tapestries were individually rehung in Hardwick Hall after conservation was complete at each stage of the process. The thirteenth tapestry has just been rehung, bringing the whole gang back together again.
The portraits will eventually return as well, but for the next two years the Gideon Tapestry series is being hung on its own so visitors can see it in all its massive glory.

Leonardo’s models take virtual flight

Google Arts & Culture, in collaboration with 28 museums, libraries and historic sites with collections of works by Leonardo da Vinci, has created an online hub dedicated to art, inventions and writings of the great Renaissance polymath. Inside a Genius Mind is the largest online retrospective of Leonardo’s works ever assembled with high-resolution scans of more than 3,000 drawings on 1,300 pages of Leonardo’s notebooks. His sketches, architectural designs, anatomical studies, weapons systems, flying machines and more, many of them never before available online, have been digitized and uploaded to the portal.

The online hub offers visitors a traditional route through Leonardo’s story. You can read his biography, examine his individual paintings in high definition with extensive annotations, and explore the notebooks. You can also find out more about his life and works by accessing the Leonardo Library, browsing categories of knowledge (architecture, anatomy), specific codices and different subjects in his sketches and types of inventions.

One of the world’s foremost experts in Leonardo da Vinci’s oeuvre, University of Oxford art historian Martin Kemp, has been enlisted to help curate the portal, alongside a curation team that includes a Machine Learning element. This curation team organized Leonardo’s notebooks into five themes — Secrets of Flight, Spirals, Earth as a Body, Perpetual Motion and Destruction — to allow users to move through his ideas and creative processes in the same lateral, thought-skipping way Leonardo himself used when he wrote them.

My favorite section is 10 Leonardo Inventions in 3D. Seeing models created from his notebooks has always been a highlight of museum exhibitions dedicated to Leonardo’s genius. It is sheer joy seeing his ideas and sketches converted into realistic 3D animations. The Leocopter, which the colossal bronze statue of him holds in one hand at the entrance to Fiumicino Airport in Rome, and the armoured tank both make the cut.

3D animated model of Leonardo da Vinci's flying machine.