Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Travel to Spain (19th Century): An illustrated chronicle of its people and places

Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883) was a French artist, illustrator and sculptor but mainly one of the best engravers ever. One of his most famous works was the collection of illustrations for French edition of Cervante’s “Don Quixote”. Also the work he made to illustrate the Bible is well known. But the majority of Doré biographies never mention one of his most fascinating faces: he was a tireless traveller.

Gustave Doré was strongly influenced by 19th century European romantic tendence and his work served as inspiration for other artists like Van Gogh or Moebius.

In 1862 he made an initiatory travel to Spain and illustrated what he saw with extreme accuracy, visiting cities like Madrid, Toledo, Burgos, Sevilla, Valencia, the Alhambra of Granada… during the following years, he was releasing all the engraves regarding this travel, with Spanish monuments, city views and their people. He represented crafts (waterboys, merchants, barbers, peasants) poor and rich men, bullfights… even thieves and knife fights he saw. His human geography of Spanish gents in 19th Century really impressed me first time I saw it.

Gustave Doré wikipedia bio link here. Text is brief, but has a nice gallery with a complete list of works & references. Project Gutenberg has complete downloadable collection via FTP (I was really surprised about this) here. Arno Schmidt Reference Library has a direct link here to download "Illustrationen zu Don Quijote". It's a 24Mb pdf file with around 120 illustrations, so quality is fair.

Some samples below of his travel to spain;

Birds Hunting

Bullfighting on streets

Matador killed in bullfighting

Teresa Bolsi, female matador

Women at work (Sevilla tobacco manufacturing facility)

Public execution in Barcelona (using "garrote vil")

Fishermen playing cards

Contrabandist with his wife

Knife fighting on streets

Funeral with "jota" dancer and singer

Grand Escorial Palace (Madrid)

Port of Malaga

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Quattro Libri dell'Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture, 16th Century)

This is probably the most ambitious treatise on Architecture ever published. Was composed by Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) in the Republic of Venetia and served as a reference for Architects all over Europe and America even nowadays. Palladio influence became fashionable all over Europe, for example in parts of the famous Loire Valley of France, Britain, Italy, Spain, and later to the new America, especially for Southern States cotton farms. In his Italian Journey, Johann von Goethe describes Palladio as a genius, commending his unfinished Convent of S. Maria della Carita as the most perfect existing work of architecture. Another Palladio admirer was the architect Richard Boyle also known as Lord Burlington, who, with William Kent, designed Cheswick House. The US Capitol building is an example of slightly evolved version of Palladio's works –a replica of this building exists also in Havana, Cuba-. Thomas Jefferson loved this style of architecture and considered also Andrea Palladio as a genius.
Andrea Palladio complete bio is available on the Wikipedia (very detailed), link is here. As a briefing, two remarkable facts: 1) He was strongly influenced by Roman and Greek Architecture (primarily by Vitruvius) and 2) He was incredibly prolific: see the Wikipedia reference list for all Villas, Palaces (Palazzos), Domes, Churches, Theaters and even bridges (pontes)… 

First Book has basics regarding choice of materials, rules of proportion, etc. Second Book has a compilation of projects with a specific description, third Book has specific guidelines for public buildings and infrastructures and fourth Book has a collection of ancient Roman temples, which has been used as a reconstruction of the archaeological remains and ruins of the immortal Rome.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mercator's Atlas, 16th Century

Gerardus Mercator (1512-1524) is considered the father of the modern world atlas. Gerardus was a Cartographer that worked with his own collection of precision-mathematical instruments and also constructed several terrestrial globes, or armilar spheres (there are around 22 existing globes around the world, manufactured by Gerardus). All the persons –I include myself- that studied Oceanic Navigation know Gerardus Mercator because he introduced a revolutionary idea: the concept that a course can be established maintaining the same angle with all meridians crossed among starting and ending point with a single line, making very easy to obtain latitude and longitude (therefore position) with only speed and time of navigation. This method has some inconveniences at high latitudes, but is very accurate when navigation is near (and not so) to Ecuador.
Mercator developed the first detailed map of Palestina, in his "Atlas Cosmographicae Meditationes de Fabrica Mundi".

Gerardus Mercator
Some samples below from Mercator's Atlas. Please check America maps and consider that was discovered only 50-60 years before by Spaniards, thinking that they really arrived to Asia (Cipango) or Oriental Indias. Some details in North and South America cartography surprised me a lot, taking in account that exploration was intense in Central America and Cuba, but not so in other areas like north and south, at least during the first decades of 16th century.
Wikipedia link for Gerardus Mercator BIO (good enough!) is here. Have to say that I do not agree with some of the definitions and aspects provided in this link, like following sentence, which is located on wiki’s head: “This proved very useful to many later navigators who could (using his map) sail across the entire ocean on a straight path (called a rhumb line)”. Accurate description of Mercator principle has been defined in the first paragraph of this post (bold).
There’s a reference in Wikipedia for an online edition of Mercator’s Atlas (Britannica Online Encyclopedia) but doesn’t work: seems like the link is broken, at least I tried in 3 different locations without success. There’re some other online possibilities to admire Mercator’s Atlas like “turn-the-pages” digital editions but have the disadvantage that one must be internet connected...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Herbarium Vivum, 16th Century

This 16th century fascinating herbarium is a compilation of wild flowers, plants, ferns, horsetails, crops, etc. It has two particularities that strongly impressed me first time I saw it. First, flowers and leaves are in their original condition, but those that were partially preserved, have been completed by hand painting –even their specific biotope!- A hard and very detailed work. Second thing that makes this manuscript a treasure… Well, we can see the first specimens of tomato and tobacco plants that were imported from America to Europe!

This herbarium was done by Jerome (Hieronymus) Harder (born in 1523 in Meersburg, Germany and buried on April 27th 1607 in Ulm). Jerome was a German botanist and Latin schoolmaster. Besides his teaching activities, Harder dealt with botany and collected plants for 12 herbariums -nowadays stored in Heidelberg, Munich, Rome (Vatican Library), Salzburg, Ulm, Vienna, Linz, Überlingen, Zurich and Lindau-. Link to wikipedia Hieronymus biography (poor) is here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Book of the Knight (Epitre d’Othea), 15th Century

This manuscript could be something like a guideline for young knights during 15th Century. Contains instructions and best practices for young knights with spiritual and moral poems. The codex contains around 100 chapters, each consisting of extreme lavish and detailed illustrations and verse texts. Original title for this codex is “Epître d’Othea”, by Christine de Pisan, a Venetian-born woman of the medieval era who strongly challenged misogyny and stereotypes prevalent in the male-dominated medieval culture. As a poet, she was well known and highly regarded in her own day. A brave woman. She composed around 41 pieces during her 30 year career (1399–1429).

Christine de Pizan (also seen as de Pisan) (1363 – c. 1430)

Christine de Pisan was a surprise for me, never heard about her. Wikipedia has a brief biography here. I discovered during my investigation that her most successful literary works are The Book of the City of Ladies and The Book of the three virtues. City of Ladies is my personal target for another post because serves as her response to Jean de Meun's The Romance of the Rose -another delightful codex-: Christine combats Meun's misogynist beliefs by creating an allegorical city of ladies. She defends women by collecting a wide array of famous females throughout history. These women are "housed" in the City of Ladies, which is actually Christine's book. As Christine builds her city, she uses each famous woman as a building block for not only the walls and houses of the city, but also as building blocks for her defense of female rights.

The codex is decorated with about a hundred masterful miniatures. One of these contains the dedication of the work and shows four figures, identifiable as Philip the Good, Charles the Brave, and the two noble bastards David and Anton of Burgundy. I attach some high-res samples below,

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Books of Hours (continued) "Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis cum calendario", 14th Century

Title for this jewel is HORAE BEATAE MARIAE VIRGINIS CUM CALENDARIO. It's written in bold gothic letters, long lines, 15 to a full page. It has a complete french callendar in blue, red and gold letters with “Les Quinze joyes de Nre Dame”. Every page of this codex has a lateral border of rich decoration in floreate scrolls and natural flower and fruits and numerous fine illuminated ornamental initials, a total of 12 full page finely painted and richly illuminated arched miniatures surrounded by borders of elaborate floreate decoration and 7 smalls of Saints.

Subjets of large miniatures comprise: S. John in Patmos, The Annunciation, The Visitation (Mary and Elizabeth), The Nativity, The Angels appearing to the Shepherds, Presentation in the Temple, Flight into Egypt, David Praying, Pentecost, Burial Service, the Trinity, Archangel Michael Slay, The Dragon, John the Baptist carrying Lamb and Flag, St Anthony preaching to the Beasts, Mary Magdalene reading, etc.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Books of Hours

We start this biblio-adventure with one of the most incredible -at least for me- manuscript type of all surviving medieval illuminated manuscripts, the "Book of Hours". Like every manuscript, each Book of Hours is unique, but most contain a similar collection of texts, prayers and psalms, often with appropriate decorations, for Christian devotion. Illumination or decoration may be extremely lavish (see examples below), with full-page miniatures. Books of hours were usually written in Latin (latin name for them is horae) during 14th and 15th century, although there are many entirely or partially written in vernacular European languages like ancient german, french or even italian. So far I've never seen a spanish (castellan) written one, it's my personal investigation in Spanish museums. If I find, I'll update this post.

It's very difficult to obtain a original Book of Hours. Sotheby's has auctions from time to time, but prices reach even more than 150.000 euros for a standard -not lavish- Book of Hours, poorly illuminated from 16th or 17th century. It's easier, however, to buy a simple vellum page. Some art merchants recommend owners to dis assemble the Book for a better selling. No comments.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

So we start up! from this weekend, new updates regarding rare books and ancient manuscripts!