4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

Art / Art Trade Timeline


2,800,000 BCE – 8,000 BCE

Acheulean or Mode 2 Industries Circa 1,650,000 BCE – 100,000 BCE

A flint biface, discovered in Saint-Acheul, France.

During the Lower Paleolithic era prehistoric hominins manufactured stone tools, characterized scientifically as Acheulean (Acheulian), across Africa and much of West Asia and Europe. Acheulean tools are typically found with Homo erectus remains.

"The Mode 2 (eg Acheulean or Biface) toolmakers also used the Mode 1 flake tool method but supplemented it by also using wood or bone implements to pressure flake fragments away from stone cores to create the first true hand-axes. The use of a soft hammer made from wood or bone also resulted in more control over the shape of the finished tool. Unlike the earlier Mode 1 industries, the core was prized over the flakes that came from it. Another advance was that the Mode 2 tools were worked symmetrically and on both sides (hence the name Biface) indicating greater care in the production of the final tool" (Wikipedia article on Stone tool, accessed 04-04-2009).

"Providing calendrical dates and ordered chronological sequences in the study of early stone tool manufacture is difficult and contentious. Radiometric dating, often potassium-argon dating, of deposits containing Acheulean material is able to broadly place the use of Acheulean techniques within the time from around 1.65 million years ago to about 100,000 years ago. The earliest accepted examples of the type, at 1.65 m years old, come from the West Turkana region of Kenya although some have argued for its emergence from as early as 1.8 million years ago.

"In individual regions, this dating can be considerably refined; in Europe for example, Acheulean methods did not reach the continent until around one million years ago and in smaller study areas, the date ranges can be much shorter. Numerical dates can be misleading however, and it is common to associate examples of this early human tool industry with one or more glacial or interglacial periods or with a particular early species of human. The earliest user of Acheulean tools was Homo ergaster who first appeared almost 2 million years ago. Not all researchers use this formal name however and instead prefer to call these users early Homo erectus. Later forms of early humans also used Acheulean techniques . . . .

"It was the dominant technology for the vast majority of human history and more than one million years ago it was Acheulean tool users who left Africa to first successfully colonize Eurasia. Their distinctive oval and pear-shaped handaxes have been found over a wide area and some examples attained a very high level of sophistication suggesting that the roots of human art, economy and social organisation arose as a result of their development. Although it developed in Africa, the industry is named after the type site of Saint Acheul, now a suburb of Amiens in northern France, where some of the first examples were identified in the 19th century" (Wikipedia article on Achulean, accessed 04-04-2009).

♦ "These kinds of Acheulean artifacts, as they are known, have been found in Africa dating back about 1.5 million years. But in Europe, the oldest hand axes that had been found dated to only half a million years ago. Scientists have wondered why it took so long for early humans with such refined toolmaking to show up in Europe.

"Now research from two sites in southeastern Spain provides an answer: it didn’t take that long, after all.

"Using paleomagnetic dating, Gary R. Scott and Luis Gibert of the Berkeley Geochronology Center in California have determined that rather than being about 200,000 years old, the two sites, Solano del Zamborino and Estrecho del Quípar, are about 760,000 and 900,000 years old, respectively."

"Dr. Gibert said the finding, which was published in Nature, adds to mounting evidence that humans migrated to Europe from Africa earlier than previously thought.

" 'The question is, which route did they follow?' he said. Rather than coming through the Middle East and then westward, Dr. Gibert said he is convinced they came across at Gibraltar. 'We think the Gibraltar straits were a permeable barrier,' he said. 'It’s a provocative interpretation, but I think there is enough information to support it' " (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/08/science/08obaxe.html?scp=1&sq=stone%20tools&st=cse, accessed 09-12-2009).

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Shell Markings by Homo Erectus May Be the Earliest Engraving Done by Humans Circa 500,000 BCE – 430,000 BCE

An engraved shell with a zigzag marking from a freshwater mussel species, collected in the 1890s by the Dutch palaeontologist Eugène Dubois, at Trinil on the banks of the Bengawan Solo River in Ngawi RegencyEast Java, Indonesia, is the oldest abstract marking ever found. At Trinil Dubois discovered the first Homo erectus fossil — a skullcap — and other ancient human bones, which he called Pithecanthropus erectus. He also brought home dozens of shells excavated from the site. They were examined in the 1930s and later stored in a box in a museum in Leiden, the Netherlands.

"The engraving might have stayed undiscovered, were it not for Josephine Joordens, a biologist at Leiden University. She had been working a project on how H. erectus used marine resources at Trinil, which is around 80 kilometres inland from the Java Sea. She found only freshwater shells, yet some contained small perforations, a few millimetres wide, that were made with a sharp object. This suggested that someone had used a tool such as a shark tooth to crack open the shell — like using an oyster knife, says Joordens.

"A visiting colleague photographed the shells and later noticed a faint zigzag pattern on one. 'People never found this engraving because it's hardly visible,' says Joordens. 'It's only when you have light from a certain angle that it stands out.'

"Close inspection under the microscope suggested that the engraving was intentional. The weathering patterns of the grooves, each of which is about 1 centimetre long, show signs of significant ageing, and there are no gaps between turns, indicating that the maker paid attention to detail. He or she probably made the engraving on a fresh shell, and the newly made etching would have resembled white lines on a dark canvas, Joordens’ team notes. Sand grains still embedded in the shell were dated to around 500,000 years ago.

" 'We've looked at all possibilities, but in the end we are really certain that this must have been made by an agent who did a very deliberate action with a very sharp implement,' says Joordens. Her team tried replicating the pattern on fresh and fossilized shells, 'and that made us realize how difficult it really was,' she says" (http://www.nature.com/news/homo-erectus-made-world-s-oldest-doodle-500-000-years-ago-1.16477, accessed 12-14-2014).

Josephine C.A. Joordens et al, "Homo erectus at Trinil on Java used shells for tool production and engraving," Nature,   http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13962 (2014).

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The Earliest Use of Pigments Circa 400,000 BCE – 350,000 BCE

A sample of geothite, or brown ochre. (View Larger)

Naturally occurring pigments such as ochres and iron oxides were used as colorants since prehistoric times. Archaeologists uncovered evidence that early humans used paint for aesthetic purposes such as body decoration. Pigments and paint grinding equipment believed to be between 350,000 and 400,000 years old were reported in a cave at Twin Rivers, near Lusaka, Zambia.

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The Earliest Known Forms of Human Adornment Circa 132,000 BCE – 98,000 BCE

Photocredit: James Di Loreto, & Donald H. Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution. (View Larger)

Nassarius shell beads found in Es Skhūl, Israel are thought to be the earliest surviving forms of human adornment. Assemblages of perforated Nassarius shells, a marine species significantly different from local fauna, have been recovered from the area, suggesting that Es Skhul people may have collected and employed the shells symbolically as beads, as they are unlikely to have been used as food.

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The Earliest Paint Workshop Circa 100,000 BCE

Ablone shell containing red ochre rich mixture. Image by Grethe Moell Pedersen. (Click on image to view larger.)

At Blombos Cave, 200 miles east of Cape Town, South Africa, Christopher S. Henshilwood, of the University of Bergen in Norway and the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and a team of researchers from Australia, France, Norway and South Africa discovered the earliest paint workshop in 2008. The site contained the tools and ingredients with which early modern humans most probably mixed some of the first known paint.  Accurate dating of the material, and publication of the results did not occur until October 2011. Much of the analysis and dating of the material was directed by Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux in France.

"These cave artisans had stones for pounding and grinding colorful dirt enriched with a kind of iron oxide to a powder, known as ocher. This was blended with the binding fat of mammal-bone marrow and a dash of charcoal. Traces of ocher were left on the tools, and samples of the reddish compound were collected in large abalone shells, where the paint was liquefied, stirred and scooped out with a bone spatula.  

"In the workshop remains, archaeologists said they were seeing the earliest example yet of how emergent Homo sapiens processed ocher, one of the species’ first pigments in wide use, its red color apparently rich in symbolic significance. The early humans may have applied the concoction to their skin for protection or simply decoration, experts suggested. Perhaps it was their way of making social and artistic statements on their bodies or their artifacts.  

"Of special importance to the scientists who made the discovery, the ocher workshop showed that early humans, whose anatomy was modern, had also begun thinking like us. In a report published online on Thursday in the journal Science, the researchers called this evidence of early conceptual abilities 'a benchmark in the evolution of complex human cognition.' " (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/14/science/14paint.html?hp, accessed 10-13-2011).

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Early Attempt to Record Information or Early Art? Circa 75,000 BCE – 73,000 BCE

Pieces of ochre rock decorated with geometric patterns found at Blombos Cave in South Africa, nearly 200 miles from Cape Town, in 2002, have been dated to the Middle Stone Age, equivalent to the European Middle Paleolithic.

"This ocher plaque has marks that may have been used to count or store information. A close-up look at the object shows that the markings are clearly organized. This systematic pattern suggests to some researchers that the markings represent information rather than decoration" (http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/behavior/blombos-ocher-plaque, accessed 05-10-2010).
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The Oldest Known Hand Stencil & One of the Earliest Dated Figurative Depictions: Both Discovered in Maros, Sulawesi, Indonesia Circa 38,000 BCE

Cave paintings on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi were discovered  in the 1950s; however, they were thought to be no more than 12,000 years old, dating to a hunter-gatherer migration to the island. On October 8, 2014 archaeologist Maxime Aubert of Griffith University, Queensland, Australia, and colleagues from Australia and Indonesia reported that uranium-series dating of coralloid speleothems directly associated with 12 human hand stencils and two figurative animal depictions from seven cave sites in the Maros karsts of Sulawesi, proved that rock art traditions on this Indonesian island are at least comparable in age with the oldest European cave art. In addition, a painting of a babirusa (‘pig-deer’) made at least 35.4 thousand years ago is among the earliest dated figurative depictions worldwide, if not the earliest one.

Aubert et al, "Pleistocene cave art from Sulawesi, Indonesia," Nature 514 (October 8, 2014)223-227. 

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The Earliest Known Examples of Figurative Art Circa 38,000 BCE – 33,000 BCE

The Venus of Schelklingen.

"Despite well over 100 years of research and debate, the origins of art remain contentious. In recent years, abstract depictions have been documented at southern African sites dating to approx 75 kyr [75,000 years] before present (bp) and the earliest figurative art, which is often seen as an important proxy for advanced symbolic communication, has been documented in Europe as dating to between 30 and 40 kyr [30-40,000 years before present]. Here I report the discovery of a female mammoth-ivory figurine in the basal Aurignacian deposit at Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany during excavations in 2008. This figurine was produced at least 35,000 calendar years ago, making it one of the oldest known examples of figurative art. This discovery predates the well-known Venuses from the Gravettian culture by at least 5,000 years and radically changes our views of the context and meaning of the earliest Palaeolithic art" (Nicholas J. Conard, "A female figurine from the basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany," Nature, 459, 248-252 (14 May 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature07995).

The small figurine has been called The Venus of Schelklingen (Venus of Hohle Fels). was found near Schelklingen, Germany.  Belonging to the early Aurignacian, at the very beginning of the Upper Paleolithic and the earliest presence of Homo sapiens (Cro-Magnon) in Europe, "the discovery of the Venus of Schelklingen pushes back the date of the oldest prehistoric sculpture, and the oldest known figurative art altogether, by several millennia, establishing that works of art were being produced throughout the Aurignacian.

"The figurine was discovered in September 2008 in a cave called Hohle Fels (Swabian German for "hollow rock") near Schelklingen, some 15 kilometres (9 mi) west of Ulm, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, by a team from the University of Tübingen led by Prof. Nicholas Conard, who reported their find in Nature.

"The figurine, made of a mammoth tusk, is a representation of the female body, putting emphasis on the vulva and the breasts, and is consequently assumed to be an amulet related to fertility. In place of the head, the figurine has a perforation so that it could be worn as a pendant. Archaeologist John J. Shea suggests it would have taken "tens if not hundreds of hours" to carve. The figurine was found in the cave hall, about 20 metres (66 ft) from the entrance, and about 3 metres (10 ft) below the current ground level. It was broken into fragments, of which six have been recovered, with the left arm and shoulder still missing" (Wikipedia article on Venus of Schelklingen, accessed 05-14-2009).

• In 2003 Nicholas Conard reported the discovery of a carved waterbird looking something like a diving cormorant, and a carved horse head from the same Hohle Fels cave. These are thought to date from 31,000 to 28,000 BCE:

N.J. Conard, "Palaeolithic ivory sculptures from southwestern Germany and the origins of figurative art," Nature 426 (2003) 830–832.

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The Oldest Cave Painting Circa 37,000 BCE

Detail of the "Panel of Hands" from the El Castillo Cave. Photo Courtesy of the University of Bristol. (Click on image to view larger.)

Section of the "Panel of Hands" from the El Castillo Cave. Photo Courtesy of the University of Bristol. (Click on image to view larger.)

In June 2012 a team led by Alistair W. G. Pike of the University of Bristol in England dated the cave painting, "The Panel of Hands," which shows the outline of hands on the walls of the Cueva de El Castillo (Cave of El Castillo) in Puenta Viesgo, Cantabria, Spain, at a minimum of 40,800 years old, making it the oldest dated cave painting,  perhaps 4000 years older than paintings in Chauvet Cave in France, which were previously thought to be the oldest cave paintings. The outlines of hands were made by blowing paint onto the wall using hands as stencils.

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Possibly the Earliest Art Created by a Neanderthal Circa 37,000 BCE

An engraving in stone discovered in 2014 deep inside Gorham’s Cave, on the southeastern face of the Rock of Gibralter, may be the first art created by a Neanderthal. A team led by zoologist, paleoanthropologist and paleontologist Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum, which has been excavating the cave since the late 1980s, found that the Neanderthals who called the cave home ate fish, shellfish and birds, and perhaps survived later than their counterparts elsewhere in Europe. . . .

Clive Finlayson et al, "A rock engraving made by Neatherthals in Gibralter," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111 no. 3, September 16, 2014.

ABSTRACT: "The production of purposely made painted or engraved designs on cave walls—a means of recording and transmitting symbolic codes in a durable manner—is recognized as a major cognitive step in human evolution. Considered exclusive to modern humans, this behavior has been used to argue in favor of significant cognitive differences between our direct ancestors and contemporary archaic hominins, including the Neanderthals. Here we present the first known example of an abstract pattern engraved by Neanderthals, from Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar. It consists of a deeply impressed cross-hatching carved into the bedrock of the cave that has remained covered by an undisturbed archaeological level containing Mousterian artifacts made by Neanderthals and is older than 39 cal kyr BP. Geochemical analysis of the epigenetic coating over the engravings and experimental replication show that the engraving was made before accumulation of the archaeological layers, and that most of the lines composing the design were made by repeatedly and carefully passing a pointed lithic tool into the grooves, excluding the possibility of an unintentional or utilitarian origin (e.g., food or fur processing). This discovery demonstrates the capacity of the Neanderthals for abstract thought and expression through the use of geometric forms."
 "Alistair Pike, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton, UK, says that the engravings, if made by Neanderthals, represent a very important find. “It adds permanent rock engraving to the sparse but significant evidence for Neanderthal symbolic behaviour.” Ochre pigment, shell beads and other adornments have also been used to back the idea that Neanderthals possessed the sorts of symbolic cognitive powers that underlie language and religion" (http://www.nature.com/news/neanderthals-made-some-of-europe-s-oldest-art-1.15805, accessed 12-13-2014).
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The Earliest Known Carving of a Mammoth Circa 33,000 BCE

37mm long, 7.5 gram figurine, made from mammoth ivory is some 35,000 years old. It is one of the oldest pieces of art ever found.  Photo: Universität Tübingen. (Click on image to view larger.)

Southern entrance (on left) to the big Vogelherd Cave.  Photo:  Jochen Duckeck. (Click on image to view larger.)

Mammoth carving as found at site.  Photo: Universität Tübingen. (Click on image to view larger.)

The mammoth carving was found in 2007 in the spoil from a dig in 1931 by Riek.  Photo: Universität Tübingen. (Click on image to view larger.)

In 2007 Nicholas J. Conard of the University of Tübingen reported that his team discovered an intact carving of a woolly mammoth from the excavations collected from Vogelherd Cave, about 1 km northwest of Stetten-ob-Lontal, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The cave was known to contain primitive artifacts since it was excavated by Tübingen archaeologist Gustav Reik in 1931. The mammoth carving, dated to roughly 33,000 BCE was found among 7,000 sacks of sedment dug out of the cave by Reik and his crew about eighty years earlier.

"The figure of the woolly mammoth is tiny, measuring just 3.7 cm long and weighing a mere 7.5 grams, and displays skilfully detailed carvings. It is unique in its slim form, pointed tail, powerful legs and dynamically arched trunk. It is decorated with six short incisions, and the soles of the pachyderm's feet show a crosshatch pattern. The miniature lion is 5.6 cm long, has a extended torso and outstretched neck. It is decorated with approximately 30 finely incised crosses on its spine.

"The geological context of the discoveries and radiocarbon dating indicate that the figurines belong to the Aurignacian culture, which refers to an area of southern France and is associated with the arrival of the first modern humans in Europe. Multiple radiocarbon dates from sediment in the Vogelherd Cave yielded ages between 30,000 and 36,000 years ago, the University of Tübingen reports. Some methods give an even older date" (http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/ice-age-art-35-000-year-old-mammoth-sculpture-found-in-germany-a-489776.html, accessed 01-22-2013).

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Probably the Earliest Extensive Collection of Paintings Circa 32,000 BCE – 30,000 BCE

Fighting rhinos and horses. Detail from one of the most important panels of Chauvet.  It contains twenty animals including rhinoceroses and horses. (Click on image to view larger.)

Detail from a panel at Chauvet showing a pride of lions hunting bioson. (Click on image to view larger.)

Much of the earliest recorded information consists of paleolithic cave paintings and Cro-Magnon mobiliary art, including bones with talley marks. The purposes of this art may never be fully understood.

Until the dating of the "Panel of Hands" in the Cueva de El Castillo in Spain in 2012 the oldest cave paintings confirmed by radiocarbon dating were in the Chauvet Cave discovered in the Ardèche region of France in December 1994 by Jean-Marie Chauvet, Eliette Brunel Deschamps and Christian Hillaire. Paintings in the Chauvet Cave date as early as 30,000 BCE. In 1995 Chauvet, Deschamps and Hillaire published a splendid illustrated monograph on the cave: Grotte Chauvet à Vallon-Pont-d'Arc.  In 1996 this was translated into English as Dawn of Art: The Chauvet Cave. The Oldest Known Paintings in the World. Epilogue by Jean Clottes. Foreword by Paul. G. Bahn. The spectacular color images in this book showed most of the paintings, the bones found on the cave floor, and the hand prints done in red ochre.  Some of the paintings appear to show the animals in motion.

Almost immediately after the discovery of the Chauvet cave the French government sealed it with a bank vault style door, had the cave guarded, and allowed extremely limited access only by the most qualified scientists. In 2010 director Werner Herzog was able to obtain permission to film a documentary in the cave under very restricted conditions. This documentary he released in April 2011 under the title Cave of Forgotten Dreams. It was my pleasure to view this documentary in June 2011. The film also includes interviews with Nicolas Conard regarding the recent discovery of the earliest known mobiliary art in German caves. Notably, Herzog shot his documentary in 3-D, thus enabling the viewer to have a far more accurate sense of the depth of the cave, and of the shapes of the rocks on which the paintings were made, than would have been possible with conventional filming.

Because many cave paintings are deep inside caves, often in inaccessible locations, it is evident that they were painted in darkness lit by small oil lamps or torches.  It has been suggested that the paintings may not have been for public display, but might have been revealed to cognoscenti by elders of a tribal community. 

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The Earliest Zoomorphic / Anthropomorphic Sculpture Circa 30,000 BCE

The 'Lion Man,' preserved in the Ulmer Museum in Ulm, Germany. (View a full-scale image.)

 The so-called Lionheaded Figurine, a zoomorphic /anthropomorphic sculpture 29.6 cm high, 5.6 cm wide and 5.9 cm thick. carved out of mammoth ivory, was discovered in 1939 in a cave named Stadel-Höhle im Hohlenstein in the Lonetal, Swabian Alps, Germany.

"Due to the beginning of the Second World War, it was forgotten and only rediscovered thirty years later. The first reconstruction revealed a humanoid figurine without head. During 1997 through 1998 additional pieces of the Sculpture were discovered and the head was reassembled and restored."

"The sculpture shares certain similarities with French cave wall paintings, which also show hybrid creatures. The French paintings, however, are several thousand years younger than the German sculpture.

"After this artifact was identified, a similar, but smaller, lion-headed sculpture was found, along with other animal figures, in another cave in the same region of Germany. This leads to the possibility, that the lion-figure played an important role in the mythology of humans of the early Upper Paleolithic"(Wikipedia article on Lion man, accessed 05-14-2009).

The figurine is preserved in the Ulmer Museum in Ulm, Germany, which maintains a website for the figurine

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The Oldest Known Ceramic Figurine 29,000 BCE – 25,000 BCE

The Venus of Dolní Věstonice. (View Larger)

The Venus of Dolní Věstonice (Czech: Věstonická Venuše), a ceramic Venus figurine, found at a Paleolithic site in the Moravian basin south of Brno,  is, together with a few others from nearby locations,  the oldest known ceramic in the world, predating the use of fired clay to make pottery. It is 111 millimeters (4.4 inches) tall, and 43 millimeters (1.7 inches) at its widest point, and is made of a clay body fired at a relatively low temperature.

"The palaeolithic settlement of Dolní Věstonice in Moravia, then Czechoslovakia, now Czech Republic has been under systematic archaeological research since 1924, initiated by Karel Absolon. In addition to the Venus figurine, figures of animals - bear, lion, mammoth, horse, fox, rhino and owl - and more than 2,000 balls of burnt clay have been found at Dolní Věstonice.

"The figurine was discovered on July 13, 1925 in a layer of ash, broken into two pieces. Once on display at the Moravian Museum in Brno, it is now protected and only rarely accessible to the public. Last time it was exhibited in the National Museum in Prague from 2006-10-11 till 2007-09-02 as a part of the exhibition Lovci mamutů (The Mammoth Hunters).  Scientists periodically examine the statuette. A tomograph scan in 2004 found a fingerprint of a child estimated at between 7 and 15 years of age, fired into the surface; the child who handled the figurine before it was fired is considered by Králík, Novotný and Oliva (2002) to be an unlikely candidate for its maker" (Wikipedia article on Venus of Dolní Vestonice, accessed 05-14-2009).

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The Earliest Representation of Spun Thread Circa 25,000 BCE

A modern replica of the Venus of Lespugue. (View Larger)

The Venus of Lespugue, an ivory Venus figurine discovered by René de Saint-Périer in 1922 in the Rideaux cave of Lespuge (Lespugne) in the Haute-Garonne, is approximately 6 inches (150 mm) tall. It is preserved at the Musée de l'Homme, Paris.

"Of all the steatopygous Venus figurines discovered from the upper Paleolithic, the Venus of Lespugue, if the reconstruction is sound, appears to display the most exaggerated female secondary sexual characteristics, especially the extremely large, pendulous breasts.

"According to textile expert Elizabeth Wayland Barber, the statue displays the earliest representation found of spun thread, as the carving shows a skirt hanging from below the hips, made of twisted fibers, frayed at the end" (Wikipedia article on Venus of Lespugue, accessed 06-04-2014). 

Pétillon, Historique des fouilles de R. de Saint-Périer dans les sites paléolithiques des gorges de la Save (Lespugue, Haute-Garonne). Préhistoire du Sud-Ouest, 20 (2012) no. 2, 213-219.

Barber, Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times (1994) 44.

(This entry was last revised on 06-04-2014.)


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The Venus of Willendorf Circa 24,000 BCE – 22,000 BCE

The Venus of Willendorf. (View Larger)

The Venus of Willendorf, an 11.1 cm (4 3/8 inches) high statuette of a female figure, was discovered in 1908 by archaeologist Josef Szombathy at a paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Lower Austria near the city of Krems. It is preserved in the Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna.

For a long time this sculpture, carved from an oolitic limestone not local to its area, and tinted with red ochre, was thought to be the earliest sculpture of a human.

Since the figure's discovery and naming, several similar statuettes and other forms of art have been discovered, including earlier examples. They are collectively referred to as Venus figurines, although they pre-date the mythological figure of Venus by thousands of years. The purposes of these carvings have been subject to much speculation.

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The Earliest Portrait 24,000 BCE

The oldest known portrait of a woman, sculpted from mammoth ivory during the last ice age around 26,000 years ago.  Photograph: Graeme Robertson for The Guardian. (Click on image to view larger.)

Smaller than a human thumb, an image of a woman's head delicately carved in mammoth ivory about 24,000 BCE is considered the earliest portrait of an individual. The portrait, found found in the Czech Republic at Dolní Věstonice, Moravia, shows a woman with her hair drawn up on the top of her head, with a fringe across her brow. Or possibly the woman is wearing a fur hat. Though earlier images of people survive, this is viewed as the first actual portrait of an individual because of the distinctiveness of the features depicted. When the portrait was exhibited at the British Museum in 2013 the curator Jill Cook said,

"The reason we say it is a portrait is because she has absolutely individual characteristics. She has one beautifully engraved eye; on the other, the lid comes over and there's just a slit. Perhaps she had a stroke, or a palsy, or was injured in some way. In any case, she had a dodgy eye. And she has a little dimple in her chin: this is an image of a real, living woman" (http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/jan/24/ice-age-art-british-museum, accessed 09-02-2013).

The portrait is preserved in the Anthropos Institute at the Moravian Museum.

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One of the Earliest Known Realistic Representations of a Human Face Circa 23,000 BCE

The Venus of Brassempouy. (View Larger)

The Venus of Brassempouy or La Dame de Brassempouy,  a fragmentary ivory figurine from the Upper Palaeolithic, Gravettian industry, discovered in the Grotte du Pape at Brassempouy, France in 1892, by Édouard Piette, is one of the earliest known realistic representations of a human face. 

"She is 3.65 cm high, 2.2 cm deep and 1.9 cm wide. Her face is triangular and seems tranquil. While forehead, nose and brows are carved in relief, the mouth is absent. A vertical crack on the right side of the face is linked to the internal structure of the ivory. On the head is a checkerboard-like pattern formed by two series of shallow incisions at right angles to each other; it has been interpreted as a wig, a hood, or simply a representation of hair.

"Even though the head was discovered so early in the development of modern archaeology that its context could not be studied with all the attention it would have deserved, there is no doubt that the Venus of Brassempouy belonged to an Upper Palaeolithic material culture, the Gravettian (29,000–22,000 BP), more precisely the Middle Gravettian, with "Noailles" burins circa 26,000 to 24,000 BP.

"She is more or less contemporary with the other Palaeolithic Venus figurines, such as those of Lespugue, Dolní Věstonice, Willendorf, etc. Nonetheless, she is distinguished among the group by the realistic character of the representation" (Wikipedia article on Venus of Brassempouy, accessed 05-14-2009).

The Venus of Brassempouy is preserved in the Musée d'Archéologie nationale, Saint-Germain-En-Laye.

Randall White, "The women of Brassempouy: A century of research and interpretation," Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 13.4, December 2006:251ff.

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Cylcons Circa 18,000 BCE

"There are no certain ways to date individual cylcons. The oldest cylcon/message stone found in a dateable archaeological context is about 20,000 years old. The simple line motifs of the oldest cylcons represent the earliest art of the Aborigines, from a very early period of occupation. In Australian nomenclature this is the colonizing period, or early Stone Age, ca. 50,000/40,000-3,000 BC. With the earliest rock-carvings and paintings, the cylcons represent the oldest form of communication and art; and they represent the oldest religion still observed. Only 2 Aborigines have been able to communicate their name of the cylcons: Yurda, and Wommagnaragnara (Heart of the snake), respectively. Other uses as tallies are possible, such as counting of dead people, warriors, emus, measures of nardo seeds, or mapping purposes counting day-marches in various directions. Later the use could also change to other magic rituals, some involving the chipping off smaller flakes, and the practical use for pounding and crushing. Much more research is needed before the cylcons' real age and significance can be properly understood and appreciated.

"The term cylcon is derived from the title of R. Ethridge's publication: The Cylindro-conical and Stone Implements of Western New South Wales and their significance. Ethnological Series No. 2, Memoirs of the Geological Survey of New South Wales, 1916:1-41" (http://www.schoyencollection.org/religionsLiving.html, accessed 03-06-2009)

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The "Sistine Chapel" of the Upper Paleolithic Circa 15,300 BCE

Painting of a dun horse from Lascaux Cave. (Click on image to view larger.)

On September 12, 1940 four teenagers, Marcel Ravidat, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas—together with Marcel's dog Robot, discovered the Lascaux cave complex near the village of Montignac in Dordogne, France. A few days later the boys told M. Laval, a retired schoolmaster, and Maurice Thaon, a young acquaintance of Abbé Henri Breuil, of their discovery. Thaon made a few preliminary sketches of the cave art and brought them to Breuil, the leading authority on paleolithic or cave art.

Breuil arrived at Lascaux on September 21 and spent three days exploring the caves. In "La grotte de Lascaux. Rapport", published in the Bulletin de la Société historique et archéologique du Périgord later in 1940 Breuil announced the discovery and provided the first description of the Lascaux cave paintings. Illuatrations in the brief seven-page paper included reproductions of some of Thaon’s sketches.

Probably because of war publication of the dramatic discoveries at Lascaux proceeded slowly. Breuil published the first photographically illustrated description of the Lascaux cave paintings in a paper entitled "La cueva de Lascaux" in the Spanish journal Atlantis: Actas y memorias de la Sociedad española de antropologia, etnografia y prehistoria 16 (1941) 349-355, plates XXVI-XXXIX. The article reproduced thirteen photographs of the paintings in black and white.

Lascaux Cave Paintings - Virtual Tour from Vimeo Videos on Vimeo.

"The cave contains nearly 2,000 figures, which can be grouped into three main categories: animals, human figures and abstract signs. The paintings contain no images of the surrounding landscape or the vegetation of the time. Most of the major images have been painted onto the walls using mineral pigments, although some designs have also been incised into the stone. Many images are too faint to discern, and others have deteriorated entirely.

"Over 900 can be identified as animals, and 605 of these have been precisely identified. Out of these images, there are 364 paintings of equines as well as 90 paintings of stags. Also represented are cattle and bison, each representing 4 to 5% of the images. A smattering of other images include seven felines, a bird, a bear, a rhinoceros, and a human. There are no images of reindeer, even though that was the principal source of food for the artists. Geometric images have also been found on the walls.

"The most famous section of the cave is The Great Hall of the Bulls where bulls, equines, and stags are depicted. The four black bulls, or aurochs, are the dominant figures among the 36 animals represented here. One of the bulls is 17 feet (5.2 m) long, the largest animal discovered so far in cave art. Additionally, the bulls appear to be in motion. A painting referred to as "The Crossed Bison", found in the chamber called the Nave, is often submitted as an example of the skill of the Paleolithic cave painters. The crossed hind legs create the illusion that one bison is closer to us than the other. This visual depth in the scene demonstrates a primitive form of perspective which was particularly advanced for the time" (Wikipedia article on Lascaux, accessed 08-21-2013).

Remarkably, near the village of Eyzies-de-Tayac Sireuil there are 37 decorated caves and shelters, as well as an even greater number of habitation sites from the Upper Paleolithic, located in the open, in a rock shelter, or at the entrance to one of the karst cavities. This is the highest concentration in western Europe. Lascaux is located some distance from the major concentrations of decorated caves and inhabited sites, most of which were discovered further downstream.

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The Venus Impudique: the First Discovery of a Venus Figurine Circa 14,000 BCE

In 1864 the Marquis Paul de Vibraye discovered the Venus impudique or Immodest Venus at Laugerie Basse, France. This was the first discovery of a Venus figurine in France, and probably the first anywhere. Eight centimeters in height, the figurine was carved from ivory, with a flat stomach and could be the figure of a young girl. The head of the figurine was lost.

Discovery of the Venus impudique was among the earliest discoveries of paleolithic mobiliary art and coincided with the first publication on the subject by Edouard Lartet and Henry Christie, also in 1864.

In naming the figurine, the Marquis playfully reversed the appellation Venus pudica ("modest Venus") used to describe a statue type of the Classical Venus which often shows the goddess attempting to conceal her breasts and pubic area from view. The inference the Marquis made was that this prehistoric Venus makes no attempt to hide her sexuality. When viewed in profile, the statuette is comparable to certain cave drawings.

The figurine is preserved in the Musée de l'homme, Paris

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The Lourdes Horse Circa 13,000 BCE

Between 1886 and 1889 the scholar Léon Nelli discovered the Le cheval de Lourdes (Lourdes Horse statuette) in the Grotte des Espélugues (Lourdes, Hautes-Pyrénées). It is 7.3 cm long. The carving was done in exceptionally fine detail, and it was long assumed that like other carvings of this time, the carving was made from Mammoth bone.

In November 2013, Jean-Marc Pétillon, researcher at CNRS, University of Toulouse-Le Mirail, announced in  the "Journal of human evolution" that the little horse from Lourdes was actually carved from whale bone. The presumption is that the bone came from a carcass found on the coast or from barter with coastal people.

Though Léon Nelli intended to publish his discovery of the horse and other art objects found in the Grottes des Espéluges, he left an unpublished treatise on these objects on his death in 1934.  His son, René Nelli, first published his father's manuscript as Chef-d'Oeuvre de la Grotte des Espélugues (Lourdes Htes-Pyr.). Fouilles de Léon Nelli, 1889. This was issued in Toulouse by the Institut d'Etudes Occitanes in 1948 in an edition limited to 100 copies.

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North America's Earliest Rock Art Circa 12,800 BCE – 8,500 BCE

Winnemucca Lake petroglyphs. (Click on image to view larger.)

In August 2013 researcher Larry Benson of the University of Colorado at Boulder published reports of radiocarbon tests of petroglyphs on the west side of Nevada's dried-up Winnemucca Lake that indicating that the petroglyphs are between 14,800 and 10,500 years old, making them the earliest rock art known in North America.  The petroglyphs consist of large, deeply carved grooves and dots forming complex designs on several large limestone boulders. The designs include a series of vertical, chain-like symbols and a number of smaller pits deeply incised with a type of hard rock scraper.

Benson LV et al. 2013, "Dating North America’s oldest petroglyphs, Winnemucca Lake subbasin, Nevada," Journal of Archaeological Science 40, no. 12, pp. 4466–4476; doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2013.06.022

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"The Sorcerer" Circa 12,000 BCE

'The Sorcerer' is one name for this cryptic painting found in the Trois Frères in France by Henri Breuil. Photocredit: Encyclopaedia Britannica(View Larger)

The Sorcerer, an enigmatic therianthrope cave drawing, is thought to have been created about 12000 BCE. It was discovered in the cavern known as "The Sanctuary" in the Trois-Frères cave in Montesquieu-Avantès, Ariège, France. The cave was discovered by the three sons of comte Henri Bégouën in 1912-1914. Exploration of the cave was interrupted by World War I, resuming in 1918. Count Bégouën and Henri Breuil published the image of "The Sorcerer" for the first time in 1920: H. Bégouën and H. Breuil, "Un dessin relevé dans la grotte des Trois Frères à Montesquieu-Avantès (Ariège)," C. r. Ac. Inscr. (1920) p. 45, 303.

The image, which Breuil made famous, has been variously interpreted as some kind of great spirit or master of animals, or a shaman performing a ritual to ensure good hunting. Whatever its original meaning to prehistoric people, it is generally agreed that this was a cult object of great significance to the people who used the cave.

The cave contained so many images, many of them intricately intertwined, that their study took decades. In Four Hundred Centuries of Cave Art, Transl. Mary E. Boyle (1952) Breuil indicated that Max Bégouën first saw and photographed the image. Breuil wrote:

"First of all, the 'God' first called the 'Sorcerer' by Count Bégouën and I, the only figure painted in black of all those engravings in the Sanctuary, four metres above the floor in an apparently inaccessible position, only to be reached by a secret corridor climbing upwards in a spiral. Evidently, he presides over all the animals, collected there in incredible numbers and often in a terribly tangled mass. He is 75 cms high and 50 cms wide, he is entirely engraved but the painting is unequally distributed; on the head there are only a few traces, on the eyes, nose, forehead and the right ear. This head is full face with round eyes with pupils, between the eyes runs a line for the nose, ending in a little arch. The pricked ears are those of a Stag. From a blacked painted band across the forehead rise two big thick antlers with no frontal tines but with a single short tine, fairly high above the base of each branch, bending left. This figure has no mouth, but a very long beard cut in lines and falling on the chest. The fore-arms, which are raised and joined horizontally, end in two hands close together, the short fingers outstretched; they are colourless and almost invisible. A wide black band outlines the whole body, growing narrower at the lumbar region, and spread out round the legs which are bent. A spot marks the left knee-joint. The feet and big toes are rather carefully made and show a movement similar to steps in a 'Cakewalk' dance. The male sex, emphasized but not erect, pointing backwards but well developed, is inserted under the bushy tail of a Wolf or Horse, with a little tuft at the end. Such is the Magdalenian figure considered to be the most important in the cavern and the Spirit controlling the multiplication of game and hunting expeditions" (Breuil, op. cit., 176). 

It may be impossible to put ourselves in the mindset of prehistoric man without projecting our worldview. One way is to study the rituals of present stone-age peoples such as Aborigines (Indigenous Australians), who also create rock paintings. A more recent study, devoid of Breuil's religious bias, that reviews prior or alternative theories and suggests that cave images were derived from trance and magic in shamamistic ritual is the beautifully illustrated book by Jean Clottes and David Lewis-Williams, The Shamans of Prehistory. Trance and Magic in the Painted Caves. Text by Jean Clottes, translated from the French by Sophie Hawkes (1996).

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Pre-Historic Art Created by Children at the Cave of a Hundred Mammoths, Rouffignac Circa 11,000 BCE

Flutings at Rouffignac.  Both children and adults created cave art known as finger flutings in the French caverns of Rouffignac roughly 13,000 years ago. Credit: Jessica Cooney / Leslie van Gelder. (Click on image to view larger.)

In 2006 Kevin Sharpe and Leslie van Gelder published "Evidence for Cave Marking by Paleolithic Children," Antiquity  (2006)  80:310, 937-947.  In this paper they presented evidence that the numerous finger flutings in Chamber A1 of Rouffignac Cave within the French commune of Rouffignac-Saint-Cernin-de-Reilhac in the Dordogne département were made by very young children, 2-5 years old.

"A wall in Gargas Cave, France, shows a baby’s hand held by that of an adult while color is blown over them. Footprints of youngsters have been immortalized into the floors of Pech Merle, Chauvet, Tuc d’Audoubert, and Niaux caves. All these sites also contain prehistoric art. Children were present in the caves, but did they actually produce art or at least deliberately create any of the markings (the corpus of which is called ‘art’ within quotation marks, to recognize the unanswered question as to whether it should count as art)? Whatever the minor impressions of Paleolithic children in caves, this image is often forgotten in favour of the popular image from the Charles R. Knight type of picture that shows the proverbial cave man painting beautiful images of animals – with women and children only looking on. 

"Some specialists of prehistoric parietal ‘art’ believe that children did participate in its creation. Bednarik argues that juveniles were responsible for some of the finger flutings (the lines that human fingers leave when drawn over a soft surface) made in caves in southern Australia at least 30,000 years ago (Bednarik 1986a; 1986b; 1987-88; 1990). (Paleolithic flutings occur in caves through southern Australia, New Guinea, and southwestern Europe.) As will be pointed out below, however, the case Bednarik makes is more suggestive than definitive, relying on a methodology that requires further refinement with forensics.  

"This report introduces a reliable methodology with which to ascertain children’s authorship of flutings, and then provides the results of a study using this. Unlike Bednarik’s, and Sharpe and Van Gelder’s (2004) earlier publications on the subject, definitive evidence is presented that children did indeed create prehistoric ‘art,’ in particular that young children fluted in Rouffignac Cave in the Dordogne, France. This conclusion leads to further questions and insight into the activities carried on in the fluted chamber. . . .


"Young children aged 2-5 made many of the flutings in the fluted subchamber of Chamber A1 in Rouffignac Cave. This is the first demonstrated case of young children creating Paleolithic parietal ‘art.’  

"Given that this can be ascertained with a high degree of probability based on the physical evidence of the flutings, further matters present themselves for research and other informtion may be learned about the fluters. For instance, an aspect of Chamber A1 to notice is the height of the ceiling above the floor. The ceiling flutings are now in places just reachable by a man of 1.8 m. stretching up. It is unreasonable to think that young children marked unaided at such heights, yet the fluting size in some such places is small. Was the height of the ceiling above the floor at the time of fluting much the same as now? If so, or if the height were greater than now, the children would have had to have been held up to flute. In what direction did the children face when held aloft? Were the children acting as ‘paint brushes’ for those holding them up? Were the people holding up the children moving in some prescribed manner, such as in a dance? If so, could their feet and body movements be reconstructed from the flutings?  

"Why did those holding up the children to flute do this? The youngsters could have fluted where they could reach and the holders (if older people) could have marked, not only these sections, but also sections where the youngsters could not reach. Here, however, they raised the children up to flute (and in some alcoves added their own flutings). Further, the low sections of the ceilings that young children could comfortably flute by themselves usually show few or no flutings. //While the archaeologist ought not to approach flutings with strident ideas as to what they mean, the flutings’ illusive meaning should not deter an examination of them. They can offer a rich source of information about the behaviors of the fluters – flutings tell about the fingers and hands that made them and these tell about the people – and the archaeologist ought to look in depth at the flutings as physical objects. Only then can questions be posed that the lines themselves might answer or that experimentation might elucidate. Such investigations logically come before subjective-interpretative and meaning-seeking approaches to flutings and may help support or disprove the various hypotheses as to their connotation or lay a solid foundation for seeking meaning.  

"Similar methodologies are being applied to other flutings in Rouffignac and elsewhere, relating information not only about the ages of the fluters, but also about such data as the fluters’ genders and the number of individuals involved. At least three other forms of flutings besides the Mirian Form exist in Rouffignac (Sharpe and Van Gelder To Appear) and work continues on them in Rouffignac and Gargas caves, to see if it is possible to elucidate further the behaviors and individuals behind their manufacture" (http://www.ksharpe.com/word/AR86.htm, accessed 12-17-2011).

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The Swimming Reindeer Circa 11,000 BCE

Ice age carving of two reindeer swimming.  It is carved from the tip of a mammoth tusk and shows a female reindeer swimming ahead of a male reindeer. (Click in image to view larger.)

In 1866 the Swimming Reindeer was found in two pieces by a French engineer, Peccadeu de l'Isle,  at a rock sheltter at Monastruc near Bruniquel,  in the Midi-Pyrénées region of southern France. It was carved from the tip of a mammoth tusk. In the early 20th century the Abbé Henri Breuil realized that the two pieces fit together to form a single sculpture of two reindeer swimming nose to tail.

"The sculpture shows a female reindeer closely followed by a larger male reindeer. The larger male is indicated by his size, antlers and genitals, whilst the female has her teats modelled. The reindeer are thought to be swimming in illustration of the migration of deer that would have taken place each autumn. It is known that it would be autumn as both reindeer are shown with antlers, and only during autumn do both male and female reindeer have antlers. At this time of year reindeer would be much easier to hunt, and the meat, skin and antlers would be at their best. Each of the reindeer has been marked with a burin to show different colouring and texture in the deer's coat. Oddly there are ten deeper cuts on each side of the back of the leading female reindeer. These may have been intended to indicate coloured markings, but their purpose is unclear. Further studies of Ice Age artifacts gives the hypothesis that the marks may have been made to keep track of how many animals, in this case reindeer, the owner of the carving killed during the hunt. It is thought that women would gather the animals in a rushed group setting. Cleaning and preparing it could not only be hectic but lead to quarrels about who gets what and how much. It could also mean that the owner made it through their 10th season of hunting during the migration, or any other counting related tracking system" (Wikipedia article on Swimming Reindeer, accessed 01-22-2013).

The Swimming Reindeer is preserved in the British Museum.

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The Mammoth Spear Thrower Circa 10,500 BCE

Spear thrower carved as a mammoth.  Source: The British Museum. (Click on image to view larger.)

Carved from a Reindeer antler, the Mammoth Spear Thrower was discovered at the rockshelter of Monastruc, Tarn-et Garonne near Bruniquel, in the Midi-Pyrénées region of southern France about 1866. 

"Spear throwers came into use about 18,000 years ago in western Europe. They consist of a straight handle with a hook at one end. The bottom of the spear fits against the hook and the spear shaft and spear thrower handle are held together with the hook end by the shoulder. Launching the spear in this way sends it with more force and speed and across a longer distance than if it was simply thrown by hand.  

"The hook ends of spear throwers are frequently decorated with an animal. This example from Montastruc shows a mammoth. It is the only known example which has a hole for an eye (which probably held an insert of bone or stone). The hook is also unusual because it is an ancient repair. The original hook carved from the antler broke off and was mended by cutting a slot on the back and inserting a bone or antler replacement. The mammoth's tusks appear on each side of the handle, most of which was broken off in ancient times." 

The Mammoth Speer Thrower is preserved in the Christie Collection in the British Museum.

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The Earliest Surviving Human-Made Place of Worship Circa 9,500 BCE

The Göbekli Tepe, Turkist for 'Potbelly Hill,' is the oldest discovered structure for religious worship. (View Larger)

Göbekli Tepe (Turkish for "Potbelly Hill"), a hilltop sanctuary erected on the highest point of an elongated mountain ridge some 15 km northeast of the town of Şanlıurfa (formerly Urfa / Edessa) in southeastern Turkey, is the earliest surviving human-made place of worship, and the earliest surviving religious site in general. It was discovered in 1964; excavations began in 1994.

The site was erected by hunter-gatherers in the 10th millennium BCE, before the advent of the transition from nomadic to permanent year-round settlement. Together with Nevalı Çori, a site dating from the ninth or tenth millenium BCE, but which was inundated by the dammed waters of the Euphrates, Göbekli Tepe has revolutionized understanding of the Eurasian Neolithic.

"Göbekli Tepe is regarded as an archaeological discovery of the greatest importance since it profoundly changes our understanding of a crucial stage in the development of human societies. It seems that the erection of monumental complexes was within the capacities of hunter-gatherers and not only of sedentary farming communities as had been previously assumed. In other words, as excavator Klaus Schmidt puts it: 'First came the temple, then the city.' This revolutionary hypothesis will have to be supported or modified by future research" (Wikipedia article on Göbekli Tepe, accessed 05-18-2011).

Spectacular renderings and photographs of the site are in Mann, "Göbekli Tepe," National Geographic 219, no. 6, 39-59.

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The Ain Sakhri Lovers Figurine Circa 9,000 BCE

Oldest known representation of two people engaged in sexual intercourse. (Click on image to view larger.)

Found in one of the Ain Sakhri caves near Bethlehem, and preserved in the British Museum, the Ain Sakri lovers figurine, carved from a calcite cobble, is the oldest known representation of two people engaged in sexual intercourse.

"The natural shape of a calcite cobble has been used to represent the outline of two figures in coitus. Their heads, arms and legs appear as raised areas around which the surface has been picked away. The figures have no faces. The arms of one hug the shoulders of the other and its knees are bent up underneath those of the slightly smaller figure.

"This figurine was found by a Bedouin and sold to the French Fathers at Bethlehem . It was then acquired by the French consul and prehistorian René Neuville who attributed it to the cave of Ain Sakhri where he excavated and found Natufian material. Although the source area of the figurine is not in doubt, its association with Ain Sakhri is unproven. This image of a couple making love is also phallic in all aspects. Although unique in showing a couple, simple phallic carvings are known from other Natufian sites. These have been associated with fertility rites but the arguments have tended to be simplistic" (The British Museum Collection online, accessed 06-02-2013). 

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8,000 BCE – 1,000 BCE

A Wallpainting that Could be a Landscape or a Map Circa 6,200 BCE

A  wallpainting, located in Catal Hoyuk, that might be the earliest landscape painting yet discovered, or a map. (View Larger)

In 1961 Catal Huyuk, or Çatalhöyük, a very large Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlement in southern Anatolia (now Turkey) of which the lowest layers date from around 7500 BCE, was discovered.  It is the largest and best preserved Neolithic site found to date.

A wall painting radio carbon dated to approximately 6200 BCE, found in 1963 at this site by archaeologist James Mellaart, may be the earliest landscape painting known, or it may be a map.

"It appears to represent the town itself with eighty rectangular buildings of varying sizes clustered in a terraced town landscape. Mellaart noted the similarity of the representation of the houses to the actual excavated structures found at the site, that is, rows of houses built one beside the other with no space between them. The wall painting shows an active double-peaked volcano rising over the town, likely to be the 3,200 m stratovolcano Mount Hasan, which is visible from Catal Huyuk. Lava is depicted flowing down its slopes and exploding in the air above the town. A cloud of ash and smoke completes the scene" (Rochberg, "The Expression of Terrestrial and Celestial Order in Ancient Mesopotamia," IN: Talbert (ed) Ancient Perspectives: Maps and Their Place in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece & Rome [2012] 10-11).

However, some archaeologists have suggested that the wall painting is more likely a painting of a leopard skin instead of a landscape including a volcano, or a decorative geometric design instead of a map. The painting is preserved in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, Turkey.

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Domestication of the Aurochs, Ancestors of Domestic Cattle Circa 6,000 BCE

Bos primigenius (auroch). (Click on image to view larger.)

Based on image in Van Vuure, C. (2005) Retracing the Aurochs: History Morphology and Ecology of an Extinct Wild Ox. Pensoft Publishers. Sofia-Moscow.  (Click on image to view larger.)


Illustration from Sigismund von Herberstein's book published in 1556 captioned: "I am 'urus', tur in Polish, aurox in German (dunces call me bison) [lit. (the) ignorant (ones) had given me the name (of) Bison"; Latin original: Urus sum, polonis Tur, germanis Aurox: ignari Bisontis nomen dederant. (Click on image to view larger.)

Mounted skeleton of a putative female auroch in the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. (Click on image to view larger.)

Domestication of the aurochs (urus, Bos primigenius), a type of large wild cattle which evolved in India about two million years ago, and migrated to Asia, and North Africa, reaching Europe about 250,000 years ago, is thought to have occurred in several parts of the world about 6000 BCE. 

"The aurochs was regarded as a challenging hunting quarry animal, contributing to its extinction. The last recorded aurochs, a female, died in 1627 in the Jaktorów Forest, Poland, and her skull is now the property of the Livrustkammaren ("Royal Armory") museum in Stockholm, Sweden.

"Representations and descriptions of aurochs appear in prehistoric cave paintings, in Julius Caesar's The Gallic War, and as the national symbol of many European countries, states and cities such as Alba-Iulia, Kaunas, Romania, Moldavia, Turka, Mecklenburg, and Uri. The Swiss canton Uri was named after this animal species" (Wikipedia article on Aurochs, accessed 12-25-2011).

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The Earliest Precursors to Writing in Egypt are Rock Drawings Circa 3,750 BCE

"Rock drawings constitute the earliest of the presursors to writing in Egypt. Drawings date from the earliest habitation of the Nile valley to the Islamic period, but the most salient early examples date to the Naqada I period (ca. 3750-3500 BC). They are located in the Eastern Desert along principle routes to the Red Sea (e.g., the Wadi Hammamat), and in the Western Desert along important land routes (e.g., the Theban Desert Road). Among the more popular motifs displayed are boats, animals and humanoid figures with feathers. Their composition is seemingly narrative, but their meaning is difficult to ascertain.

"There are rare examples of rock art of the late Predynastic period that can be interpreted. The 1936-1938 expeditions of Hans Winkler yielded a serekh (rectangular enclosure with the king's Horus name and a niched facade, surmounted by a falcon) of King Narmer (before ca. 3150 BC) at the site of Wadi el-Qash, in the Eatern Desert. This inscription is composed of an abbreviated version of King Narmer's name (only the nar-catfish is written; the mr-chisel has been left out) within a serekh, and constitue the only definite example of writing from this corpus at such an early date in Egyptian history.

"In general, during the Predynastic period the distinction between purely pictorial rock drawings and hieroglyphic writing is very hard to make. Although the motifs foreshadow those of subsequent periods of Egyptian history, aside from the example at Wadi-el-Qash there are no clear attempts at writing during the Predynastic period presently known to scholars. Instead, these spectacular scenes, carved into living rock, remain frustratingly ambiguous" (Elise V. Macarthur, "The Concept and Development of the Egyptian Writing System," IN: Woods (ed), Visible Language. Inventions of Writing in the Ancient Middle East and Beyond [2010] 116-117, illustrating the drawing with serekh of King Narmer).

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The Earliest Images of a Wheeled Vehicle Circa 3,500 BCE – 3,350 BCE

Bronocice clay pot showing wheeled cart. (Click on image to view larger.)

Drawing showing detail of bronocice clay pot images including wheeled cart. (Click on image to view larger).

Drawing of wheeled cart. (Click on image to view larger.)

Evidence of wheeled vehicles appears from the mid 4th millennium BCE in Mesopotamia, the Northern Caucasus (Maykop culture) and Central Europe, so the question of which culture originally invented the wheeled vehicle remains unresolved.

The earliest well-dated image of a wheeled vehicle, radiocabon dated to 3500-3350 BCE, is on the Bronocice pot, a Funnelbeaker culture ceramic vase discovered in 1976 during the archaeological excavation of a large Neolithic settlement in Bronocice by the Nidzica River, circa 50 km north-east of Kraków.  The vase is preserved in the Archaeological Museum in Kraków.

Images on the Bronice pot include five rudimentary representations of what seems to be a wagon. They represent a vehicle with a shaft for a draught animal, and four wheels. The lines connecting them probably represent axles. The circle in the middle possibly symbolizes a container for harvest. These images suggest the existence of wagons in Central Europe as early as in the 4th millennium BCE. The wagons were presumably drawn by aurochs, ancestors of domestic cattle, whose remains were found with the pot. Their horns were worn out as if tied with a rope, possibly a result of using a kind of yoke,

Other images on the pot include a tree, a river and what may be fields intersected by roads or ditches or the layout of a village.

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One of the Earliest Surviving Examples of Narrative Relief Sculpture and Egyptian Hieroglyphs Circa 3,200 BCE

The Narmer Palette, one of the earliest surviving examples of narrative relief sculpture, was found during excavations at Nekhen (Greek: Ἱεράκων πόλις 'city of hawks', Strabo xvii. p. 817, transliterated as Hierakonpolis, Hieraconpolis, or Hieracompolis; Arabic: الكوم الأحمر‎ Al-Kom Al-Aħmar) in the 1890s. It is also one of the earliest surviving records of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The Narmer Palette is preserved in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities (Egyptian Museum) Cairo.

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One of the Earliest Surviving Works of Narrative Relief Sculpture, Looted in the Iraq War Circa 3,200 BCE – 3,000 BCE

A side-view of the Warka Vase, before the invasion of Iraq. (View Larger)

The Warka Vase, also called the Uruk Vase, a carved alabaster stone vessel, is one of the earliest surviving works of narrative relief sculpture. It was found in the temple complex of the Sumerian goddess Inanna in the ruins of the ancient city of Uruk, located in the modern Al Muthanna Governorate, in southern Iraq.

"The vase was discovered as a collection of fragments by German Assyriologists in their sixth excavation season at Uruk in 1933/1934. The find was recorded as find number W14873 in the expedition's field book under an entry dated 2 January 1934, which read "Großes Gefäß aus Alabaster, ca. 96 cm hoch mit Flachrelief" ("large container of alabaster, circa 96 cm high with flat-reliefs"). The vase, which showed signs of being repaired in antiquity, stood 3 feet, ¼ inches (1 m) tall. Other sources cite it as having been a slightly taller 106cm, with an upper diameter of 36cm. . . .

"The vase has three registers - or tiers - of carving. The bottom register depicts the vegetation in the Tigris and Euphrates delta, such as the natural reeds and cultivated grain. Above this vegetation is a procession of animals, such as oxen and sheep presented in a strict profile view. The procession continues in the second register with nude males carrying bowls and jars of sacrificial elements, such as fruit and grain. The top register is a full scene, rather than a continuous pattern. In this register, the procession ends at the temple area. Inanna, one of the chief goddesses of Mesopotamia and later known as Ishtar in the Akkadian pantheon, stands, signified by two bundles of reeds behind her. She is being offered a bowl of fruit and grain by a nude figure. A figure in ceremonial clothing - presumably a chieftain/priest - stands nearby with the procession approaching him from behind.

A comparison of the Warka Vase before (left) and after (right) it sustained damage as a result of the invasion of Iraq. (View Larger)

"The Warka Vase was one of the thousands of artifacts which were looted from the National Museum of Iraq during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. In April 2003 it was forcibly wrenched from the case where it was mounted, snapping at the base (the foot of the vase remaining attached to the base of the smashed display case. The vase was later returned during an amnesty to the Iraq Museum on June 12, 2003 by three unidentified men in their early twenties, driving a red Toyota vehicle. As reported by a correspondent for The Times newspaper, “ As they struggled to lift a large object wrapped in a blanket out of the boot, the American guards on the gate raised their weapons. For a moment, a priceless 5,000-year-old vase thought to have been lost in looting after the fall of Baghdad seemed about to meet its end. But one of the men peeled back the blanket to reveal carved alabaster pieces that were clearly something extraordinary. Three feet high and weighing 600lb intact, this was the Sacred Vase of Warka, regarded by experts as one of the most precious of all the treasures taken during looting that shocked the world in the chaos following the fall of Baghdad. Broken in antiquity and stuck together, it was once again in pieces.

"Soon after the vase's return, broken into 14 pieces, it was announced that the vase would be restored. A pair of comparison photographs, released by the Oriental Institute, Chicago, showed significant damage (as of the day of return, 12 June 2003) to the top and bottom of the vessel.

"The current condition of the Warka Vase (museum number IM19606) is not known. In June 2007, The Guardian newspaper reported that widespread looting of antiquities is ongoing in Iraq and that the director of the Iraq Museum, Donny George, fled in August 2006 after receiving death threats. The museum's entrances have been bricked up, the building surrounded by concrete walls, and the museum's staff do not have access" (Wikipedia article on Warka Vase, accessed 07-11-2009).

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"The Seated Scribe" or "Squatting Scribe" Circa 2,620 BCE – 2,500 BCE

The Seated Scribe or Squatting Scribe, a painted limestone sculpture of a seated scribe at work, was discovered by French archaeologist Auguste Mariette in 1850 at Saqqara, a vast burial ground in Egypt. It has been dated to the 4th Dynasty, 2620–2500 BCE. The sculpture is preserved in the Louvre.

"The figure is dressed in a white kilt stretched to its knees. It is holding a half rolled papyrus. Perhaps the most striking part aspect of the figure is its face. Its realistic features stand in contrast to perhaps more rigid and somewhat less detailed body. Hands, fingers, and fingernails of the sculpture are delicately modeled. The hands are in writing position. It seems that the right hand was holding a brush, now missing. The body is sturdy with a broad chest. The nipples are marked with two wooden stubs. . . .The dating itself remains uncertain; the period of the 6th dynasty has also been suggested. One additional fact in favor of the earlier date is that the statue is represented in writing' position while it seems that scribes from the period after the 5th dynasty have been portrayed mainly in 'reading' position' (Wikipedia article on The Seated Scribe, accessed 10-10-2013).

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"The World's First Typewritten Document" - James Chadwick Circa 2,000 BCE – 1,700 BCE

Sides A (left) and B (right) of the Phaistos Disc. (View Larger)

The Phaistos Disc, a disc of fired clay from the Minoan Palace of Phaistos on the island of Crete, was discovered in 1908 by the Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier, and remains the most famous document found in Crete.

"It is about 15 cm (5.9 in) in diameter and covered on both sides with a spiral of stamped symbols. Its purpose and meaning, and even its original geographical place of manufacture, remain disputed, making it one of the most famous mysteries of archaeology. This unique object is now on display at the archaeological museum of Heraklion in Crete" (Wikipedia article on Phaistos Disc, accessed 07-26-2009).

Because of the unique features of the disc, and the mysteries surrounding its origin, many people have doubted its authenticity, but no one has yet been able to prove conclusively that it is a forgery.

"The disk has the distinction of being the world's first typewritten document. It was made by taking a stamp or punch bearing the sign to be written in a raised pattern, and impressing this on the wet clay. The maker therefore needed to have as many stamps as there were signs in the script. It has the advantage that even complicated signs can be quickly written, and every example of the same sign is identical and easy to read. The disadvantage is that a considerable outlay of time and effort is required to make the set of stamps before any document can be produced. It is therefore evident that the system was not created solely for a single document; its maker must have intended to reproduce a large number of documents, though it remains some way from being an anticipation of printing.

"It is therefore all the more remarkable that after more than eighty years of excavation not another single scrap of clay impressed with these stamps had been found at Phaistos, or at any other site in Crete or elsewhere. It would be very surprising if there were not somewhere more examples of the script waiting to be found, but the disk remains so far unique, and the suspicion must arise that it was an isolated object brought from some other area.

"This impression of foreign origin can be supported by two arguments. The work of cutting the stamps, whether made directly or perhaps more likely by making moulds into which metal was poured, is a technique very similar to gem-engraving. We might therefore expect the signs to bear a stylistic resemblance to those engraved on seal-stones. In fact the style of art is noticeably different. Secondly, some of the objects depicted by the signs have a distinctly foreign appearance to those familiar with Minoan art" (Chadwick, Linear B and Related Scripts  [1987]  57-58).

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The Earliest Representation of an Organized Fighting System Circa 2,000 BCE

A fresco from tomb 15 of the Middle Kingdom at Beni Hassan (Beni Hasan) Egypt, dating from circa 2000 BCE, remains the earliest representation of an organized fighting system, or system of wrestling. 

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Wooden Drawing Board with a figure of Thutmose III Circa 1,450 BCE

An ancient Egyptian wooden drawing board inscribed with a picture of Thutmose III. It is preserved in the British Library as EA 5645. (View Larger)

A wooden drawing board from ancient Egypt with a figure of Thutmose III, preserved in the British Museum (EA 5601), documents how Egyptian artists used various media for practicing or creating their designs.

"The most common [surviving examples] are ostraka (flakes of stone or potsherds used as drawing or writing pads), but several wooden drawing boards have survived. The surface was coated with gesso and then smoothed; it could then be cleaned and reused. The figure of Thutmose III on this board was perhaps a preliminary drawing that was later to be transferred to a tomb or temple wall, while the other drawings were presumably practice hieroglyphs.

"This object is significant because the design has been laid out on a grid. From the Old Kingdom (about 2613-2160 BC) onwards, a system of guidelines, later developed into a squared grid, was used to ensure the correct proportions of the figures. Before the Late Period, standing figures were generally laid out on a vertical grid of eighteen squares measured to the figure's hairline, and seated figures on one of fourteen. The horizontal lap of the seated figure accounts for the missing four squares. Grids were drawn onto the walls and even onto the stone of statues. When the scene was finished the lines were either cut away or painted out. Hence unfinished walls and practice sketches where the grid remains intact, like this one, are of immense value" (http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aes/w/wooden_drawing_board_with_a_fi.aspx, accessed 07-11-2009).

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Self-Portrait of an Egyptian Scribe with his Autograph Signature Circa 1,292 BCE – 1,069 BCE

A self-portrait of the scribe Sesh, arms raised in the presentation of a papyrus scroll and possibly a writing palette. Preserved in the Schoyen Collection as MS 1695. (View Larger)

A sketch in rust-red drawn on a limestone ostracon represents the self-portrait of the scribe, Sesh, wearing a knee-length kilt, his arms raised to present a papyrus roll and possibly a writing pallette. The sketch is signed with the hieroglyph of "scribe", consisting of a palette with wells for red and black ink, shoulder strap, water pot and reed pen. Measuring 11 x 12 cm, it was created in Deir-el-Medina, Western Thebes, 19th or 20th dynasty, and excavated there, circa 1975. It is preserved in the Schøyen Collection (MS 1695).

Deir-el-Medina was occupied by the community of workmen who constructed and decorated the tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. Many pieces, mostly dating from the 19th and 20th Dynasties were recovered from this site—mostly detailed drafts for specific details of a tomb's decoration.

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The Earliest Chinese Inscriptions in Bronze Circa 1,200 BCE – 1,045 BCE

A bronze guang, or ritualistic wine vessel, of the Shang dynasty. (View Larger)

The earliest Chinese inscriptions in bronze date from the late Shang period (c. 1200-1045 BCE), the same period in which the oracle bone inscriptions were produced.

"Discovered at Anyang in Henan province and at sites in the central Yangzi region, Shang bronze objects belonged to members of the royal family and the political elite. Under Zhou rule (104-221 BC) this social level of ownership continued and even widened. In existence today are probably over ten thousand inscribed vessels, weapons, bells and other bronze objects made before the Qin unification of 221 BC.

"Inscriptions on most weapons are prominent and easily visible. By contrast, inscriptions on vessels of the Shang, and the following Western Zhou period (1045-770 BC) were usually placed on the vessels' interior surfaces, where they are much less clearly seen. . . .

"Precise practices at different bronze foundries varied, but nearly all inscriptions were prepared on a clay mould and cast from this on to the metal surface of an object. Most inscriptions are countersunk and positive. That is, characters do not rise above the surrounding metal surface, and the text is not a form of mirror-writing (a negative inscription). Inscriptions in relief were occasionally cast, but they became widespread only in association with ironwork in a much later period. Negative inscriptions are extremely rare. Texts were usually arranged in columns reading from right to left.

"In order to obtain a positive inscription the surface of the mould had to be prepared with the text in a negative form. To do this, the text was written with a stylus on the surface of wet clay. When hardened, this positive version could be pressed into a new supply of wet clay to provide a negative relief. Next, the hardened clay of the second version in negative could be trimmed and fitted as a block into an excavation on the mould core of the whole vessel. The mould and this fitting were then ready to receive the molten metal, which would re-form the inscription back into positive appearance. This method comprises the fewest transfer operations needed to cast a countersunk, positive inscription and allows for the text to be written out freehand in the same form that it will assume in metal.

"Bronze inscriptions are thus preservations of calligraphy in the medium of clay. Writing in wet clay offered a wide range of possibilities for variation and liveliness, and even quite early inscriptions show a concern for style" (Oliver Moore, Chinese [2000] 33, 36).

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1,000 BCE – 300 BCE

The Oldest Known Evidence of the Phoenician Alphabet Circa 1,000 BCE

The Ahiram Sarcophagus, discovered by the French archaeologist Pierre Montet in 1923 in Jbeil, Lebanon (the historic Byblos), is the oldest known evidence of the Phoenician alphabet. It is preserved in the National Museum of Beirut

"Phoenician became one of the most widely used writing systems, spread by Phoenician merchants across the Mediterranean world, where it was assimilated by many other cultures and evolved. Many modern writing systems thought to have descended from Phoenician cover much of the world. The Aramaic alphabet, a modified form of Phoenician, was the ancestor of the modern Arabic and Hebrew scripts, as well as the Brāhmī script, the parent writing system of most modern abugidas in India, Southeast Asia, Tibet, and Mongolia. The Greek alphabet (and by extension its descendants such as the Latin, the Cyrillic and the Coptic), was a direct successor of Phoenician, though certain letter values were changed to represent vowels"(Wikipedia article on Phoenician alphabet, accessed 08-06-2009).

The low relief carved panels of the Ahiram Sarcophagus

"make it 'the major artistic document for the Early Iron Age' in Phoenicia. Associated items dating to the Late Bronze Age either support an early dating, in the thirteenth century BC or attest the reuse of an early shaft tomb in the eleventh century BC. The major scene represents a king seated on a throne carved with winged sphinxes. A priestess offers him a lotus flower. On the lid two male figures confront one another with addorsed [back to back] seated lions between them, read by Glenn Markoe as a reference to the father and son of the inscription. Egyptian influence that is a character of Late Bronze Age art in northwest Canaan is replaced here by Assyrian influences in the rendering of figures and the design of the throne and a table" (Wikipedia article on Ahiram, accessed 08-062009).

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A Pulley Depicted in a Bas-Relief from Nimrud, Assyria Circa 800 BCE

In Nineveh and its Remains: with an Account of a Visit to tile Chaldaean Christians of Kurdistan, and the Yezidis, or Devil-worshippers; and an Inquiry into the Manners and Arts of the Ancient Assyrians (2 vols., 1848–1849) British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard illustrated on Vol. II, p. 32 a bas-relief "originally in the most ancient palace of Nimroud," showing a bucket that appeared to be attached to a rope passing over a pulley, revolving on an iron or wooden pin, and "precisely similar in form to those now in common use."

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One of the Earliest Images of Someone Reading a Papyrus Roll 440 BCE – 435 BCE

One of the earliest surviving images of anyone reading a papyrus roll, preserved in the Louvre. (View Larger)

A tondo, or circular work of art, from the inside base of an Attic red figure cup depicts the teacher Linos (named on the right) reading from a papyrus roll while his pupil Mousaios (named on the left) reads from writing tablets.

Preserved in the Louvre (G457), this school scene is one of the earliest surviving images of anyone reading a papyrus roll. The tondo shows Linos reading the roll vertically, perhaps because of the demands of the artistic composition; the usual method of reading a papyrus roll appears to have been in the horizontal position with the roll rolling to the right and left. To the left of Linos the boy, Mousaios, stands reading from the wood tablets he holds in his left hand. Behind Mousaios the chest depicted is thought to be a storage container for papyrus rolls.  The cup, attributed to the "Eretria Painter," is 9.9 cm high x 25.4 cm in diameter and 33.9 cm wide.  

Lewis, Papyrus in Classical Antiquity (1974) Plate 8 and caption 8 (p. 152).

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The Pronomos Vase: Pictorial Evidence for Theatre in Ancient Greece Circa 400 BCE

The Pronomos Vase from Naples shows the performers of a Greek satyr play. (View Larger)

The Pronomos vase, a red-figure volute-krater was created circa 400 BCE. Depicting an entire theatrical chorus and cast along with the celebrated musician Pronomos, in the presence of their patron god, Dionysos, it is considered the single most important surviving piece of pictorial evidence for theatre from ancient Greece. It was discovered in Ruvo di Puglia, Italy in 1836, and is preserved in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli.

(This entry was last revised on April 13, 2014.)

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300 BCE – 30 CE

The Musawwarat Graffiti Archive Circa 300 BCE – 350 CE

Thousands of graffiti— informal pictorial and inscriptional incisions— adorn the extensive sandstone walls of the Great Enclosure at Musawwarat es-Sufra (المصورات الصفراء al-Musawwarāt as-sufrāMeroitic: Aborepi, Old Egyptian: jbrp, jpbr-ˁnḫ), also known as Al-Musawarat Al-Sufra. This large Meroitic temple complex in modern Sudan, dates back to the 3rd century BCE. The site is located 190 kilometers northeast of Khartoum. Many of the graffiti stem from the Meroitic period (c. 300 BCE to c. 400 CE), but also from the more recent post-Meroitic, Christian and Islamic periods. The graffiti, which name and depict gods, humans, animals — sometimes arranged in scenes, and showing symbols, objects and others — may offer a method for the interpretation of the use of this site over the many centuries of its operation. For example, the graffiti allow a rare view into the interplay between state and folk religion and practices.

In 2011 the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and Humboldt University Berlin began development of the Musawwarat Graffiti Archive. In the "Graffiti in Place Database" a solution was developed for the integration of systematic graffiti-focussed information, and of data on the exact spatial contexts in which the pictorial and inscriptional graffiti were created and used. Such space-related data sets were difficult to publish in traditional paper format, and for this reason were often neglected in research and publication. In March 2014 database entries described 1542 graffiti on 1598 blocks of Temple 300 at the center of Complex 300, one of the most densely marked buildings at the site. The archive also contained more than 2,500 photographs, as well as 900 drawings of the graffiti of Temple 300. 

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The Terra Cotta Army, An Early Example of Assembly Line Production 215 BCE – 210 BCE

One of three excavation pits of the Terracotta Army. (View Larger)

About 215 BCE Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇; pinyin: Qín Shǐhuáng; Wade-Giles: Ch'in Shih-huang) (Ying Zheng) the first Emperor of China, who ruled a unified China from 221 BCE to his death in 210 BCE at the age of 50, ordered construction of the Terracotta Warriers and Horses, otherwise known as the Terracotta Army, near Xi'an, Shaanxi province, ostensibly to help him rule in the afterlife from his vast mausoleum. Varying in height from 183 to 195 cm (6ft–6ft 5in), according to their role, with generals being tallest, the terracotta figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. It has been estimated that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits.

Creation of this vast collection of painted statuary involved one of the earliest implementations of assembly line production:

"The terracotta figures were manufactured both in workshops by government laborers and also by local craftsmen. The head, arms, legs and torsos were created separately and then assembled. Studies show that eight face moulds were most likely used, and then clay was added to provide individual facial features. Once assembled, intricate features such as facial expressions were added. It is believed that their legs were made in much the same way that terracotta drainage pipes were manufactured at the time. This would make it an assembly line production, with specific parts manufactured and assembled after being fired, as opposed to crafting one solid piece of terracotta and subsequently firing it. In those days, each workshop was required to inscribe its name on items produced to ensure quality control. This has aided modern historians in verifying that workshops that once made tiles and other mundane items were commandeered to work on the terracotta army. Upon completion, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits in precise military formation according to rank and duty" (Wikipedia article on Terracotta Army, accessed 06-01-2009).

"Qin Shi Huang remains a controversial figure in Chinese history. After unifying China, he and his chief adviser Li Si passed a series of major economic and political reforms. He undertook gigantic projects, including the first version of the Great Wall of China, the now famous city-sized mausoleum guarded by a life-sized Terracotta Army, and a massive national road system, all at the expense of numerous lives. To ensure stability, Qin Shi Huang outlawed and burned many books. Despite the tyranny of his autocratic rule, Qin Shi Huang is regarded as a pivotal figure" (Wikipedia article on Qin Shi Huang, accessed 12-30-2009).

The Emperor and the Assassin, a Chinese film directed by Chen Kaige based on a screenplay by Wang Peigong and Chen Kaige, depicted the life of Ying Zheng. 

(This entry was last revised on 11-11-2014.)

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The Portland Vase: Classical Connoisseurship, Influence, Destruction & Conservation 30 BCE – 25 CE

The Portland Vase. Shown is the first of two scenes. (View Larger)

A Roman cameo glass vase, the Portland Vase, created between 30 BCE and 25 CE, and known since the Renaissance, served as an inspiration to many glass and porcelain makers from about the beginning of the 18th century onwards. It is about 25 centimeters high and 56 in circumference, made of violet-blue glass, and surrounded with a single continuous white glass cameo depicting seven figures of humans and gods. "On the bottom was a cameo glass disc, also in blue and white, showing a head, presumed to be of Paris or Priam on the basis of the Phrygian cap it wears. This roundel clearly does not belong to the vase, and has been displayed separately since 1845. It may have been added to mend a break in antiquity or after, or the result of a conversion from an original amphora form (paralleled by a similar blue-glass cameo vessel from Pompeii) - it was definitely attached to the bottom from at least 1826."

"The meaning of the images on the vase is unclear and controversial. Interpretations of the portrayals have included that of a marine setting (due to the presence of a ketos or sea-snake), and of a marriage theme/context (i.e. as a wedding gift). Many scholars (even Charles Towneley) have concluded that the figures do not fit into a single iconographic set."

"Cameo-glass vessels were probably all made within about two generations as experiments when the blowing technique (discovered in about 50 BC) was still in its infancy. Recent research has shown that the Portland vase, like the majority of cameo-glass vessels, was made by the dip-overlay method, whereby an elongated bubble of glass was partially dipped into a crucible (fire-resistant container) of white glass, before the two were blown together. After cooling the white layer was cut away to form the design."

"The work towards making a 19th century copy proved to be incredibly painstaking, and based on this it is believed that the Portland Vase must have taken its original artisan no less than two years to produce. The cutting was probably performed by a skilled gem-cutter. It is believed that the cutter may have been Dioskourides, as gems cut by him of a similar period and signed by him."

Traditionally the vase was believed to have been discovered by Fabrizio Lazzaro in the sepulchre of the Emperor Alexander Severus, at Monte del Grano near Rome, and excavated some time around 1582.

The first documented reference to the vase is a 1601 letter from the French scholar Nicolas Claude Fabri de Peiresc to the painter Peter Paul Rubens, where it is recorded as in the collection of Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte in Italy. It then passed to the Barberini family collection (which also included sculptures such as the Barberini Faun and Barberini Apollo) where it remained for some two hundred years, being one of the treasures of Maffeo Barberini, later Pope Urban VIII.

In 1778 Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador in Naples, purchased it from James Byres. "Byres, a Scottish art dealer, had acquired it after it was sold by Donna Cornelia Barberini-Colonna, Princess of Palestrina. She had inherited the vase from the Barberini family. Hamilton brought it to England on his next leave, after the death of his first wife, Catherine. In 1784, with the assistance of his niece, Mary, he arranged a private sale to Margaret Cavendish-Harley, widow of William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland and so dowager Duchess of Portland. She passed it to her son William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland in 1786.

"The 3rd Duke loaned the original vase to Josiah Wedgwood (see below) and then to the British Museum for safe-keeping, at which point it was dubbed the "Portland Vase". It was deposited there permanently by the fourth Duke in 1810, after a friend of his broke its base. The original Roman vase has remained in the British Museum ever since 1810, apart from three years (1929-32) when William Cavendish-Bentinck, 6th Duke of Portland put it up for sale at Christie's. It failed to reach its reserve. It was purchased by the Museum from William Cavendish-Bentinck, 7th Duke of Portland in 1945 with the aid of a bequest from James Rose Vallentin. . . .

"The 3rd Duke lent the vase to Josiah Wedgwood, who had already had it described to him as 'the finest production of Art that has been brought to England and seems to be the very apex of perfection to which you are endeavouring' by the sculptor John Flaxman. Wedgwood devoted four years of painstaking trials at duplicating the vase - not in glass but in jasperware. He had problems with his copies ranging from cracking and blistering (clearly visible on the example at the Victoria and Albert Museum) to the reliefs 'lifting' during the firing, and in 1786 he feared that he could never apply the Jasper relief thinly enough to match the glass original's subtlety and delicacy. He finally managed to perfect it in 1790, with the issue of the "first-edition" of copies (with some of this edition, including the V&A one, copying the cameo's delicacy by a combination of undercutting and shading the reliefs in grey), and it marks his last major achievement.

"Wedgwood put the first edition on private show between April and May 1790, with that exhibition proving so popular that visitor numbers had to be restricted by only printing 1900 tickets, before going on show in his public London showrooms. (One ticket to the private exhibition, illustrated by Samuel Alkin and printed with 'Admission to see Mr Wedgwood's copy of The Portland Vase, Greek Street, Soho, between 12 o'clock and 5', was bound into the Wedgwood catalogue on view in the Victoria and Albert Museum's British Galleries.) As well as the V&A copy (said to have come from the collection of Wedgwood's grandson, the naturalist Charles Darwin), others are held at the Fitzwilliam Museum (this is the copy sent by Wedgwood to Erasmus Darwin which his descendants loaned to the Museum in 1963 and later sold to them) and the Department of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum.

"The Vase also inspired a 19th century competition to duplicate its cameo-work in glass, with Benjamin Richardson offering a £1000 prize to anyone who could achieve that feat. Taking three years, glass maker Philip Pargeter made a copy and John Northwood engraved it, to win the prize. This copy is in the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York.

Vandalism and Reconstruction

"On February 7, 1845, the vase was shattered by William Lloyd, who drunkenly threw a nearby sculpture on top of the case smashing both it and the vase. The vase was pieced together with fair success, though the restorer was unable to replace all of the pieces and thirty-seven small fragments were lost. It appears they had been put into a box and forgotten. In 1948, the keeper Bernard Ashmole received thirty-seven fragments in a box from Mr. Croker of Putney, who did not know what they were. In 1845 Mr. Doubleday, the first restorer, did not know where these fragments went. A colleague had taken these to Mr. Gabb, a box maker, who was asked to make a box with thirty seven compartments, one for each fragment. The colleague died, the box was never collected, Gabb died and his executrix Miss Revees asked Croker to ask the museum if they could identify them. The Duke's descendants finally sold the vase to the museum in 1945.

"By 1948, the restoration appeared aged and it was decided to restore the vase again, but the restorer was only successful in replacing three fragments. The adhesive from this weakened, by 1986 the joints rattled when the vase was gently tapped. The third and current reconstruction took place in 1987, when a new generation of conservators assessed the vase's condition during its appearance as the focal piece of an international exhibition of Roman glass and, at the conclusion of the exhibition, it was decided to go ahead with reconstruction and stabilisation. The treatment had scholarly attention and press coverage. The vase was photographed and drawn to record the position of fragments before dismantling; the BBC filmed the conservation process. All previous adhesives had failed, so to find one that would last, conservation scientists at the museum tested many adhesives for long term stability. Finally, an epoxy resin with excellent ageing properties was chosen. Reassembly of the vase was made more difficult as the edges of some fragments were found to have been filed down during the restorations. Nevertheless, all of the fragments were replaced except for a few small splinters. Areas that were still missing were gap-filled with a blue or white resin.

"The newly conserved Portland Vase was returned to display. Little sign of the original damage is visible and except for light cleaning, the vase should not require major conservation work for many years." (Wikipedia article on Portland Vase, accessed 11-10-2009)

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The Oldest Sculptural Group Found in France Circa 25 CE

The Pillar of the Boatmen (Pilier des nautes), a square-section stone bas-relief with depictions of several deities, both Gaulish and Roman. and dated by imperial inscription, is the oldest sculptural group ever found in France. It dates to about 25 CE.

The pillar, which originally stood in a temple in the Gallo-Roman civitas of Lutetia (Paris, France), is one of the earliest pieces of representational Gaulish art to carry a written inscription.

"It is composed of four blocks that were discovered in 1710, reused in a Late Roman wall found beneath Notre Dame. Their origin remains a mystery-however, all other Early Roman stone blocks discovered on the Île de la Cité came from monuments originally on the city's left bank.

"There have been a number of attempts to reassemble the blocks; the bas-reliefs and inscriptions on all four sides make it certain that they were arranged vertically. Not all of the pieces of the pillar have been found, but we may imagine that it stood on a base, and it is possible that the pillar was topped by some sort of statue.  

"This group is particularly noteworthy because it mixes images from the Greco-Roman pantheon, Celtic divinities and inscriptions highlighted in red ocher. The Boatmen's Pillar is one of the rare testaments to Gallic mythology that has come down to us" (http://www.paris.culture.fr/en/ow_pilier.htm, accessed 06-17-2011).

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30 CE – 500 CE

Roman Portraits Celebrating Literacy Circa 75 CE

A fresco of a Pompein couple with stylus, wax tablets, and papyrus scroll, preserved in the Museuo Archeologico Nazionale. (View Larger)

A fresco of a Pompeian couple with stylus, wax tablets, and papyrus roll from about 75 CE, shows a man holding a papyrus scroll and a woman holding a stylus to her lips for writing on the wax tablets that she holds in her other hand. It is one of several surviving Roman portraits depicting the symbols of literacy.

"This couple, who did not come from the very highest ranks of the Pompeian aristocracy, probably chose to be depicted in this way as a mark of their status—they belonged to the ranks of those who were literate, and they wished to display the fact. In this sense, the portrait is evidence that literacy was far from universal in Roman Pompeii. But it is none the less an impressive fact, typical of the Roman world and difficult to parallel before modern times, that a provincial couple should have chosen to be painted in a way that very specifically celebrated a close relationship with the written word, on the part of both the man and his wife" (Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization [2005] 162-63, plate 7.10).

The fresco is preserved in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.

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The Romance Papyrus Circa 100 CE – 200 CE

The Romance Papyrus. (View Larger)

The Romance Papyrus (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, cod. suppl. gr. 1294, also known as the Alexander papyrus) is one of the few surviving scraps of classical literary illustration on papyrus. It contains two unframed illustrations about an unknown romance set within the columns of text. The fragment is 340 by 115 mm. It was acquired by the Bibliothèque nationale de France in 1900.

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The Earliest Known Image of the Virgin Mary Circa 150 CE

The oldest known image of the Virgin Mary, located in the Cacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria in Rome. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving Christian art is preserved on the walls of tombs belonging to wealthy Christians in the catacombs of Rome. From literary evidence there may also have been panel icons. However, like almost all paintings from classical times, these have disappeared. The earliest known image of the Virgin Mary independent of the Magi episode, is a fresco dated about 150 CE in the Catacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria in Rome that shows her nursing the infant Jesus on her lap.

"Initially Jesus was represented indirectly by pictogram symbols such as the Ichthys (fish), the peacock, or an anchor (the Labarum or Chi-Rho was a later development). Later personified symbols were used, including Jonah, whose three days in the belly of the whale pre-figured the interval between Christ's death and Resurrection; Daniel in the lion's den; or Orpheus charming the animals. The Tomb of the Julii has a famous but unique mosaic of Christ as Sol Invictus, a sun-god. The image of "The Good Shepherd", a beardless youth in pastoral scenes collecting sheep, was the commonest of these images, and was probably not understood as a portrait of the historical Jesus at this period. It continues the classical Kriophoros, and in some cases may also represent the Shepherd of Hermas, a popular Christian literary work of the 2nd century.

"Among the earliest depictions clearly intended to directly represent Jesus himself are many showing him as a baby, usually held by his mother, especially in the Adoration of the Magi, seen as the first theophany, or display of the incarnate Christ to the world at large" (Wikipedia article on Depiction of Jesus, accessed 10-03-2010).

Situated in what was a quarry in Roman times, the Catacombs of Priscilla were used for underground Christian burials from the late second century through the fourth century. The catacombs extend for roughly 13 kilometers on several levels.

"Some of the walls and ceilings display fine decorations illustrating Biblical scenes. The Catacombs of Priscilla are believed to be named after Priscilla, a member of the gens Acilia and who was probably the wife of the Consul Acilius who became a Christian and was killed on the orders of Domitian. They contain a number of wall paintings of saints and early Christian symbols. Particularly notable is the 'Greek Chapel' (Capella Greca), a square chamber with an arch which contains second century frescoes generally interpreted to be Old and New Testament scenes, including the Fractio Panis. Above the apse is a Last Judgment. New, and somewhat controversial research has begun to suggest that the scenes traditionally interpreted as the deuterocanonical story of Susannah (Dn 13) may actually be scenes from the life of a prestigious Christian woman of the second century AD. Near this are figures of the Madonna and Child and the Prophet Isaiah, also dating from the second century" (Wikipedia article on Catacomb of Priscilla, accessed 10-02-2010).

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The Earliest Christian House Church, With the Most Ancient Christian Paintings Circa 232 CE

Dura-Europos church.

The Dura-Europos church, located in Dura-Europos in Syria about 232, is the earliest identified Christian house church and one of the earliest surviving Christian churches. For the first three centuries of the church, known as Early Christianity, Christians typically met in homes because of intermittent persecution before Constantine's Edict of Milan in 313 proclaimed religious toleration throughout the Roman Empire. At many points in subsequent history, various Christian groups worshipped in homes, often due to persecution by the state church or the civil government.

The surviving frescoes in the baptistry room of the Dura-Europos church may be the most ancient Christian paintings.

"We can see the "Good Shepherd" (this iconography had a very long history in the Classical world), the "Healing of the paralytic" and "Christ and Peter walking on the water". These are considered the earliest depictions of Jesus Christ. A much larger fresco depicts three women (the third mostly lost) approaching a large sarcophagus. This most likely depicts the three Marys visiting Christ's tomb. The name Salome was painted near one of the women, who is often considered the same person as Mary Mother of James. There were also frescoes of Adam and Eve as well as David and Goliath. The frescoes clearly followed the Hellenistic Jewish iconographic tradition, but they are more crudely done than the paintings of the nearby Dura-Europos synagogue " (Wikipedia article on Dura-Europos church, accessed 12-24-2011).

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Possibly the Earliest Record of Rabbinic Texts & the Earliest Continuous Cycle of Biblical Narrative Paintings 244 CE – 256 CE

A Frescoe found in Dura Europos depicting scenes from the Book of Ester. (View Larger)


The Dura Europos synagogue, discovered in eastern Syria in 1932, was dated from an Aramaic inscription to 244. It is unique in that it was preserved virtually intact. It was preserved, ironically, when it had to be infilled with earth to strengthen the city's fortifications against a Sassanian assault in 256. The synagogue contains a forecourt and house of assembly with frescoed walls depicting people and animals, and a Torah shrine in the western wall facing Jerusalem. The synagogue paintings, the earliest continuous surviving biblical narrative cycle, are conserved at Damascus.

"The painted scenes of stories include Moses receiving the Law, Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt, and many others. It is thought that the Synagogue was used in part as an instructional display to educate and teach the history and laws of the religion. Some think that this synagogue was painted in order to compete with the many other religions practiced in Dura Europos. The large-scale pictorial art in the synagogue helps to dispel narrow interpretations of historically prohibited visual images" (Wikipedia article on Dura-Europos synagogue, accessed 12-10-2008).

A parchment fragment discovered in the Dura Europos synagogue containing texts highly reminiscent of rabbinic prayer texts, may be the earliest surviving record of rabbinic texts. Reference: Goldstein & Mintz, Printing the Talmud from Bomberg to Schottenstein [2006] no. 1, p. 170.

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A Sarcophagus Showing a Greek Physician in His Library Circa 320 CE

A Roman sarcophagus from Ostia, Italy, dating from about 320 and preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, depicts a Greek physician in his library reading a papyrus roll with a book cabinet in which other rolls are visible. On top of the book cabinet an open case depicts surgical instruments.

A warning inscribed on the sarcophagus in Greek may be translated as:

"If anyone shall dare to bury another person along with this one, he shall pay to the treasury three times two thousand [whatever the unit was]. This is what he shall pay to [the city of] Portus, but he himself will endure the eternal punishment of the violator of graves."

"The tomb's owner is shown seated with an open scroll, the pose of a philosopher, demonstrating that he is a learned man. His profession can be identified by the open case containing surgical tools on the cabinet top. Other scrolls and a basin for bleeding patients within the cabinet offer further proof of his profession. The style of his dress and the language of the inscription indicate that he was one of the many Greeks living in Italy. Beginning in the 300s, Christians would adopt in their art the philosopher pose and the undulating motifs, or strigils, that appear on the sides of the sarcophagus" (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/48.76.1, accessed 10-25-2011).

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The Earliest Egyptian Printed Cloth Circa 350 CE

The earliest Egyptian printed cloth dates from the 4th century.

"In his Natural History, Pliny states that this technique [printing on textiles] was particularly utilized in Egypt. Printed material is only represented by fabrics of the fourth century at the earliest and continues until the Arab period.  In those days, there were great textile centers such as Alexandria, Panopolis, Oxyrhynchus, Tinnis [Tennis] and Damietta, but regrettably we know this only from texts, because any trace of weaving shops and their fragile wooden looms has vanished.  However, by studying the fabrics themselves, scholars are often able to derive their origins. 

"Actually, only two groups of fabrics have been dated with any certainty. One group was a pair of medallions and a band of flax and purple wool coming from a tomb in Hwara in the Fayoum Oasis, which were found together with a coin dated to 340 AD. These medallions are adorned in a manner that is virtually identical with that of painted Egyptian shrouds of the Roman period and fabrics discovered in Syria. Next to the body of Aurelius Colluthus, in his tomb at Antinoe, were discovered sales contracts and his will, all written in Greek between 454 and 456 AD. He was wrapped in a large tapestry with an upper tier showing two busts under arcades supported by two large columns. A geometrical network with florets and leaves covers the space between the columns, which is a composition very similar to the decorations in paintings and mosaics of the same period" (http://touregypt.net/featurestories/fabrics.htm, accessed 01-29-2010).

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The Earliest Dated Codex with Full-Page Illustrations 354 CE

Title page from the Chronography of 354. (View Larger)

The Chronography of 354, also known as the Calendar of 354, is an illuminated manuscript produced for a wealthy Roman Christian named Valentius for the year 354. It is the earliest dated codex with full page illustrations; however none of the original survived. It is thought that the original may have existed in the Carolingian period, when a number of copies were made, with or without illustrations. These were copied during the Renaissance.

♦ The Calender of 354 is signed by Furius Dionysius Filocalus, with the word "titulavit," as creator of the titles which "display great calligraphic mastery. Whether or not he also executed the drawings is unknown" (Alexander, Medieval Illuminators and their Methods of Work [1992] 4), but Furius Dionysius Filocalus is the first known name associated with the production of a specific book.

"The most complete and faithful copies of the illustrations are the pen drawings in a 17th century manuscript from the Barberini collection (Vatican Library, cod. Barberini lat. 2154.) This was carefully copied, under the supervision of the great antiquary Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, from a Carolingian copy, a Codex Luxemburgensis, which was itself lost in the 17th century. These drawings, although they are twice removed from the originals, show the variety of sources that the earliest illuminators used as models for manuscript illustration, including metalwork, frescoes, and floor mosaics. The Roman originals were probably fully painted miniatures.

"Various partial copies or adaptations survive from the Carolingian renaissance and Renaissance periods. Botticelli adapted a figure of the city of Treberis (Trier) who grasps a bound barbarian by the hair for his small panel, traditionally called Pallas and the Centaur.

"The Vatican Barberini manuscript, made in 1620 for Peiresc, who had the Carolingian Codex Luxemburgensis on long-term loan, is clearly the most faithful. After Peiresc's death in 1637 the manuscript disappeared. However some folios had already been lost from the Codex Luxemburgensis before Peiresc received it, and other copies have some of these. The suggestion of Carl Nordenfalk that the Codex Luxemburgensis copied by Peiresc was actually the Roman original has not been accepted. Peiresc himself thought the manuscript was seven or eight hundred years old when he had it, and, though Mabillon had not yet published his De re diplomatica (1681), the first systematic work of paleography, most scholars, following Schapiro, believe Peiresc would have been able to make a correct judgment on its age" (Wikipedia article on the Chronography of 354, accessed 11-25-2008).

In December 2013 a digital facsimile from the Codex Vaticanus Barberini latinus 2154 (=R1) as reproduced in Josef Strzygowski, Die Calenderbilder des Chronographen vom Jahre 354, Series: Jahrbuch des Kaiserlich Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts. vol. 1. Berlin:G. Reimer (1888), was available at this link. That website also included much valuable scholarly apparatus. A digital version of Strzygowski's complete work was available at this link.

The standard printed edition is Salzman, On Roman Time: The Codex-Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Late Antiquity (1990).

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Herald of Christianity and Magus: One of the Oldest Surviving Illustrated Codices Circa 380 CE

Vergilius Vaticanus

The Vergilius Vaticanus (Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Cod. Vat. lat. 3225; also known as the Vatican Virgil or Vatican Vergil) is an illustrated manuscript written in Rome in rustic capitals toward the end of the fourth century, containing fragments of Vergil's (Virgil's) Aeneid and Georgics. It is one of the oldest sources for the text of the Aeneid,  and one of the oldest surviving illustrated codices on any subect. Therefore some of its images represent firsts in book illustration. For example, the image of the seige of Troy on leaf 19 recto is probably the oldest image of warfare in a codex.

The Vatican Virgil is also the oldest of three surviving lllustrated manuscripts of classical literature. The two others are the Vergilius Romanus (circa 450) and the Ambrosian Iliad (Ilias Ambrosiana) (493-508). Before passing into the Vatican Library, the Vergilius Vaticanus, of which seventy-five leaves survive, belonged to the humanist and poet, Giovanni Giovano Pontano, to the poet, literary theorist and cardinal Pietro Bembo, and to the humanist, historian and archaeologist, Fulvio Orsini.

"It is Italy that has left us the greatest legacy of books and literature from the late Roman world. In the Italy of the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries there were probably still stationers who employed scribes to produce books and well as scribes and artists who worked independently. The Codex Vaticanus [same as Vergilius Vaticanus] of Virgil and the Quedlinburg fragment of the Book of Kings in the Vetus Latin version are two products of this professional scribal activity from the end of the fourth century. Both manuscripts might have originated in the same scriptorium" (Bernhard Bischoff, Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne [2007] 3-4).

Note: In his dating of the Quedlinburg fragment, and his consideration that both might have been produced by the same shop, Bischoff, who originally wrote his essays in German between 1966 and 1981, differs from later scholarship. 

"Even as the Roman empire collapsed, literate men acknowledged that the Christianized Virgil was a master poet.. . . . The Aeneid remained the central Latin literary text of the Middle Ages and retained its status as the grand epic of the Latin peoples, and of those who considered themselves to be of Roman provenance, such as the English. It also held religious importance as it describes the founding of the Holy City. Virgil was made palatable for his Christian audience also through a belief in his prophecy of Christ in his Fourth Ecologue. Cicero and other classical writers too were declared Christian due to similarities in moral thinking to Christianity.

•"In the Middle Ages, Virgil was considered a herald of Christianity for his Ecologue 4 verses (Perseus Project Ecl.4) concerning the birth of a boy, which were read as a prophecy of Jesus' nativity.

•"Also during the Middle Ages, as Virgil was developed into a kind of magus, manuscripts of the Aeneid were used for divinatory bibliomancy, the Sortes Virgilianae, in which a line would be selected at random and interpreted in the context of a current situation" (Wikipedia article on Virgil, accessed 12-03-08).

Possibly coincident with the type facsimile publication in 1741 of the text of the fifth century Codex Mediceus of Virgil, an edition of the illustrations of the Vergilius Vaticanus and the Codex Romanus engraved by Pietro Santi Bartoli was published in Rome: Antiqvissimi Virgiliani codicis fragmenta et picturae ex Bibliotheca Vaticana : ad priscas imaginum formas a Petro Sancte Bartholi incisae. Romae : ex Chalcographia R.C.A., apud Pedem Marmoreum, 1741. This contained 58 engraved plates reproducing images from the Vergilius Vaticanus plus 6 additional illustrations from the Codex Romanus. Catalogue records indicate that Bartoli's images may have been first published separately in 1677.

In 1782 Bartoli's engravings were reissued in an excellent edition combining images from both Virgil manuscripts together with related images from ancient engraved gems depicting events in Virgil.  The new edition was entitled Picturae antiquissimi Virgiliani codicis Bibliothecae Vaticanae a Petro Sancte Bartoli aere incisae accedunt ex insignioribus pinacothecia picturis aliae veteres gemmae et anaglypha, and published in Rome by Venantius Menaldini. The frontispiece, engraved title and dedication of this edition are spectacular. The 1782 edition contains 124 images plus the engraved frontispiece, title, and dedication.

In 1899 the Vatican Library issued a black and white facsimile of the Vatican Vergil as the first of its facsimile series, Codices e vaticanis selecti phototypice expressi, vol. 1. In 1980 they followed this with a facsimile in color as Codices e vaticanis selecti phototypice expressi, vol. 40. The best and most exact facsimile was issued by Akademische Druck-u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz, Austria in 1984. That edition reproduced the manuscript and its 19th century red morocco binding precisely, and included a commentary volume in English by David H. Wright. The definitive study of the manuscript, which places it within the artistic and cultural context of its time, is Wright's The Vatican Vergil. A Masterpiece of Late Antique Art (1993).

Reynolds, Texts and Transmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics (1983) 434.

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The Oldest Surviving Illustrated Biblical Manuscript Circa 390 CE

The recto side of Folio Two of Quedlinburg Itala. (View Larger)

The Quedlinburg Itala fragment consists of six folios from a large  illuminated manuscript of an Old Latin translation of the Bible. It is the oldest surviving illustrated biblical manuscript, and according to Bernhard Bischoff, it may date from the end of the fourth century. If so, it was probably created in Rome.

"The fragments were found in the bindings of books in the town of Quedlinburg. The illustrations are grouped in framed miniatures occuping an entire page. There are between two and five miniatures per page, with the corresponding text being on separate pages. The illustrations, although much damaged, are done in the illusionistic style of late antiquity. . . .

"Much of the paint surface is lost revealing the underlying writing that gives instructions to the artist who should execute the pictures. Translation of the text: "You make the tomb [by which] Saul and his servant stand and two men, jumping over pits, speak to him and [announce that the asses have been found]. You make Saul by a tree and [his] servant [and three men who talk] to him, one carrying three goats, one [three loaves of bread, one] a wine-skin." (Wikipedia article on Quedlinburg Itala fragment, accessed 11-29-2008).

The fragment is preserved at the Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin.

Bischoff, Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne (2008) 5.

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The Charioteer Papyrus Circa 400 CE

The Charioteer Papyrus, a fragment of an illustration from an unknown work of literature, was arguably produced in Alexandria about the year 400.

"It is one of the finest surviving fragments of classical book illustration. Unlike other surviving illustrated fragments of papyrus, such as the Romance Papyrus and the Heracles Papyrus, which have illustrations that are little more than mere sketches, the Charioteer Papyrus is sensitively drawn and finely colored. It shows portions of six charioteers in red or green tunics. Although there is not any text on the fragment, it undoubtedly served an illustration for a literary work, perhaps serving as an illustration for the chariot race at the games at the funeral of Patroclus in the Iliad."

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A Diptych Depicting Roman Orators Holding Papyrus Rolls Circa 400 CE

There appear to be very few surviving depictions in ancient art of how papyrus rolls were actually used in daily life. One that might be more symbolic and ceremonial than "realistic" in our sense is the ivory diptych of Rufius Probianus, which celebrates his installation in Rome as Vicarius urbis Romae. According to Berger's Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law, Vol. 43, 764, the Vicarius in urbe (Roma) was the "head of the administration of the southern part of the dioecesis Italia. . . ." 

In the diptych Probianus appears with his right hand lifted in an oratorical gesture to indicate that he is either speaking or has the right to speak. However, from the perspective of book history what may be more significant about this diptych is not the large seated depiction of Probianus, but the depiction to his left and right of secretaries recording his speech on polyptica, or groups of wax tablets tied together like codices, and of orators in the panel below him pointing with their right hands while they hold open papyrus rolls in their left hand with their fingers used as place markers. This shows how orators held papyrus rolls open for reference while they spoke.

A clearer image of the Probianus diptych than that in Wikipedia commons appears in Wright, The Roman Vergil and the Origins of Medieval Book Design (2001) 8. Quality images of both covers, each subtly different, with commentary are reproduced in Weitzmann (ed) Age of Spirituality. Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century (1979) no. 53.

The diptych is preserved in the Staatsbibliothek, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Ms. theol. lat. fol. 323.

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The Oldest Surviving Consular Diptych 406 CE

The mentioned diptych, portraying Emperor Honorius in both panels.

The oldest surviving diptych that can be called a consular diptych was commissioned by Anicius Petronius Probus, consul in the western empire in 406. It is the only consular diptych to bear the portrait of the emperor (Honorius in this instance, to whom the diptych is dedicated in an inscription full of humility, with Probus calling himself the emperor's "famulus" or slave) rather than a portrait of the consul. It is preserved in the cathedral treasury at Aosta.

Honorius was Emperor of the Western Roman Empire from 393 until his death in 423. Ascending to the throne at the age of only ten, Honorius was an especially weak military leader. In this diptych, however, he is portrayed in elaborate armor, holding an orb surmounted by a Victory, and a standard with the Latin words translated as "In the name of Christ, may you always be victorious." In actuality Honorius never led his troops in battle. At his death he left an empire on the verge of collapse.

A pair of linked panels, generally in ivory, wood or metal with rich sculpted decoration,  a diptych could function as a wax tablet for writing. More specifically a consular diptych was also intended as a deluxe commemorative object, commissioned by a consul ordinarius, and distributed to reward those who had supported his candidacy, and to mark his entry to that post.

"The chronology of such diptychs is clearly defined, with their beginnings marked by a decision by Theodosius I in 384 to reserve their use to consuls alone, except by an extraordinary imperial dispensation, and their end marked by the consulship's disappearance under the reign of Justinian in 541. Even so, great aristocrats and imperial civil-servants bypassed Theodosius's ban and produced diptychs to celebrate less important posts that the consulship - Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, for example, distributed some to commemorate his son's quaestorian then praetorian games in 393 and 401 respectively (Wikipedia article on consular diptych, accessed 11-19-2010).

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The Earliest Image of Codices in a Book Cabinet and Possibly the Earliest Image of a Bookbinding in Wall Art 426 CE – 450 CE

A mosaic in the so-called Lunetta di San Lorenzo in the Byzantine Mausoleo di Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy, represents the earliest image of codices in a book cabinet or book press or armarium— specifically codices of each of the Four Gospels lying flat on book shelves with the edges of the book blocks rather than the edges of the spines facing outward. To the right of this cabinet, on the other side of the marble lunette, the mosaic depicts the standing evangelist holding a large cross in one hand and an open codex in a chemise binding in the other hand.  This may be the earliest image of a bookbinding in wall art.

Clark, The Care of Books (1901) 41.

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The Earliest Treasure Bookcovers: Made of Ivory or Precious Metals Circa 450 CE

"The earliest treasure bookcovers can be divided into those made of ivory, and those made of precious metals. The ivory covers found their direct models in the diptychs of the late Empire. These diptychs, luxurious versions of the traditional Roman wax writing tables in hinged pairs, were distributed as gifts by various Roman high officials to commemorate their entries into office. Ivory diptychs are first mentioned in a sumptuary edict of 384, enacting that ivory might be used for the diptychs only of the two annual consules ordinarii, whose assumption of office on 1 January (though their once-powerful title was now purely honorary) inaugurated the civil year. Because of the division of the Empire, consuls were elected in pairs both in Rome and Constantinople, and so their diptychs were manufactured in both cities. Until the extinction of the consular office, in 534 in Rome and 541 in Constantinople, many thousands of consular diptychs must have been created, presumably in workshops under the direction of the Imperial scrinia, or chancery. Those surviving, less than a hundred, mostly owe their preservation to their reuse in the Middle Ages as decorations for bookcovers.

"The earliest ivory plaques made explicitly as bookcovers rather than as diptychs or casket pieces are probably a famous pair in the Cathedral Treasury of Milan. Their layout is precisely that of the most luxurious consular diptychs, those meant for presentation to the emperor himself. But in place of Imperial symbolism, the panels are covered with scenes from the lives of Christ and Mary, together with the evangelist symbols and portraits. The center panels of each cover bear respectively an Agnus Dei and a cross, worked in silver-gilt and stones and attached to the ivory. The covers must have been made for a deluxe, large-format Gospels codex, now missing. They have been dated to the second half of the fifth century, and they come from the Western Empire, but have not been more precisely localized" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbinding 400-1600 [1979] 21-22).

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The Only Illustrated Homer from Antiquity 493 CE – 508

Achilles sacrificing to Zeus from the Ambrosian Iliad. (View Larger)

Fifty-eight miniatures cut out of a 5th century illuminated manuscript on vellum of the Iliad of Homer are known as the Ilias Ambrosiana (Ilia picta). The manuscript is thought to have been produced in Constantinople during the late 5th or early 6th century, specifically between 493 and 508. "This time frame was developed by Ranuccio Bandinelli and is based on the abundance of green in the pictures, which happened to be the color of the faction in power at the time" (Wikipedia article on Ambrosian Iliad, accessed 11-30-2008).

The images from the Ambrosian Iliad are the only surviving portions of an illustrated copy of Homer from antiquity. Along with the Vergilius Vaticanusand the Vergilius Romanus, this incomplete manuscript of the Iliad is one of only three illustrated manuscripts of classical literature that survived from antiquity. The Iliad images

"show a considerable diversity of compositional schemes, from single combat to complex battle scenes. This indicates that, by that time, Iliad illustration had passed through various stages of development and thus had a long history behind it. It seems mere chance that neither an illustrated Odyssey nor any of the other Greek epic poems has survived" (Weitzmann,  Late Antique and Early Christian Book Illumination [1977] 13).

Before it was preserved in the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana, Milan, the Ilias Ambrosiana fragment was in the library of humanist, botanist, and collector, Gian Vincenzo Pinelli, whose library of hundreds of manuscripts and roughly 8500 printed works was probably the greatest in 16th century Italy.

Nuovo, "The Creation and Dispersal of the Library of Gian Vincenzo Pinelli", Mandelbrote et al (eds) Books on the Move: Tracking Copies Through Collections and the Book Trade (2007) 39-68.

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500 CE – 600

Probably the Most Beautiful of the Earliest Surviving Scientific Codices Circa 512

An illustration of illustration of the species 'Akoniton napellus,' folio 67v. (View Larger)

The oldest surviving copy of Pedanius Dioscorides's treatise on medical botany and pharmacology, De materia medica, is an illuminated Byzantine manuscript produced about 512 CE. Dioscorides, a Greek military physician who served in the Roman army of the emperor Nero, wrote De materia medica in the first century CE. The Anicia Juliana codex also contains the earliest illustrated treatise on ornithology. It is one of the earliest surviving relatively complete codices of a scientific or medical text, one of the earliest relatively complete illustrated codices on any medical or scientific subject, and arguably the most beautiful of the earliest surviving scientific codices. It also contains what are probably the earliest surviving portraits of scientists or physicians in a manuscript.

The manuscript was produced for the Byzantine princess Anicia Juliana, the daughter of Flavius Anicius Olybrius, who had been emperor of the western empire in 472 CE. "The frontispiece of the manuscript, the first donor portrait in the history of manuscript illumination, features her depiction, flanked by the personifications of Magnanimity and Prudence, with an allegory of the "Gratitude of the Arts" prostrate in front of her. The encircling inscription proclaims Juliana as a great patron of art" (Wikipedia article on Anicia Juliana, accessed 11-22-2008).

For this and other commissions Juliana may be considered the first non-reigning patron of the arts in recorded history.

"Splendid though the figures in the Codex Vindobonensis are, they reveal a naturalism so alien to contemporary Byzantine art that it is obvious that they were not drawn from nature but derived from originals of a much earlier date—as early, at least, as the second century AD. They vary, however, very much in quality and are clearly not all by the same hand, possibly not even all after the work of a single artist. In the text accompaying eleven of them there is association with the writings of Krateuas. All these figures are admirable, and clearly by the same hand; it must therefore seem certain that they, at all events, are derived from drawings by Krateuas himself" (Blunt & Raphael, The Illustrated Herbal [1979] 17).

The story of the manuscript's survival is relatively well documented:

"Presented in appreciation for her patronage in the construction of a district church in Constantinople, the parchment codex comprises 491 folios (or almost a thousand pages) and almost four hundred color illustrations, each occupying a full page facing a description of the plant's pharmacological properties. . . .

"In the Anicia codex, the chapter entries of De Materia Medica have been rearranged, the plants alphabetized and their descriptions augmented with observations from Galen and Crateuas (Krateuas), whose own herbal probably had been illustrated. Five supplemental texts also were appended, including paraphrases of the Theriaca and Alexipharmaca of Nicander and the Ornithiaca of Dionysius of Philadelphia (first century AD), which describes more than forty Mediterranean birds, including one sea bird shown with its wings both folded and open" (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/aconite/materiamedica.html, accessed 11-22-2008)

From the time of its creation "Nearly nine centuries were to pass before we have further knowledge of the whereabouts of the codex. Then we learn that in 1406 it was being rebound by a certain John Chortasmenos for Nathanael, a monk and physician in the Prodromos Monastery in Constantinople, where seveteen years later it was seen by a Sicilian traveler named Aurispa. After the Muslim conquest of the city in 1453 the codex fell into the hands of the Turks, and Turkish and Arabic names were then added to the Greek. A century later it was in the possession of a Jew named Hamon, body physician to Suleiman the Magnificent, and it was presumably either by Hamon or by his son, who inherited it, that Hebrew names were also added" (Blunt & Raphael, op. cit., 15).

"Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, ambassador of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I to the Ottoman court of Süleyman, attempted to purchase the Anicia codex in 1562 but could not afford the asking price. As he relates at the end of his Turkish Letters (IV, p.243),

"One treasure I left behind in Constantinople, a manuscript of Dioscorides, extremely ancient and written in majuscules, with drawings of the plants and containing also, if I am not mistaken, some fragments of Crateuas and a small treatise on birds. It belongs to a Jew, the son of Hamon, who, while he was still alive, was physician to Soleiman. I should like to have bought it, but the price frightened me; for a hundred ducats was named, a sum which would suit the Emperor's purse better than mine. I shall not cease to urge the Emperor to ransom so noble an author from such slavery. The manuscript, owing to its age, is in a bad state, being externally so worm-eaten that scarcely any one, if he saw if lying in the road, would bother to pick it up.

"In 1569 Emperor Maximilian II did acquire the Anicia codex for the imperial library in Vienna, now the Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek), where it is designated Codex Vindobonensis Med. Gr. 1. (from Vindobona, the Latin name for Vienna) or, more simply, the Vienna Dioscorides." (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/aconite/materiamedica.html, accessed 11-22-2008)

(This entry was last revised on 05-03-2014.)

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How the Middle Ages Processed and Recycled Roman Culture Circa 524 – 1300

"An interest in classical antiquity never waned altogether during the centuries of the Middle Ages. In the West and particularly in Italy, the great Latin classics never ceased to be studied in the schools and cherished by individuals with a bent for letters. It is true that writers like Tacitus and Lucretius, Propertius and Catullus, just to give a few leading examples, fell quickly into oblivion after the Carolingian age, only to reappear again with the rise of humanism. But Virgil and Cicero, Ovid and Lucan, Persius and Juvenal, Horace and Terence, Seneca and Valerius Maximus, Livy and Statius, and the list is by no means complete, were always read. Virgil became also a prophet of Christianity by the fourth century and a sorcerer in the twelfth century. Some of Ovid's poems were given a Christian interpretation, while Seneca, besides being hailed as the traditional exponent of ancient morality, was also cherished as the correspondent of St. Paul, which he certain was not. Even after the fall of the Roman Empire, the idea of Rome as 'caput mundi' never faded out in the West. Neither Constantinople nor Aachen ever succeeded in achieving the universal prestige of Rome, just as neither Ravenna nor Antioch, nor Milan, nor Aquileia, nor Treves, had ever come near it during the last centuries of the Empire. The very Barbarians who invaded Italy succumbed to Latin civilization, just as some centuries before the Romans had surrended to that of conquered Greece. Towns were proud of their Roman origins. At Pavia an inscription, testifying to the existence of the town in Roman times, was preserved as a relic in a church, while the equestrian statue of a Roman Emperor, known as the 'Regisol' and removed from Ravenna, adorned one of its squares and was the visible symbol of the town and its traditions until its destruction at the hands of the French in 1796.

"That some interest in the ancient monuments remained alive is not surprising, just as it is not surprising that even smaller antiquities, such as coins, ivories, or engraved gems, were continually sought after during the Middle Ages. 'What was lost, notwithstanding the reminder contained in St. Augustine's Civitas Dei, was the Varronian idea of 'antiquitates'— the idea of a civilization recovered by systematic collection of all the relics of the past.' What led to the collection of antique objects during the Middle Ages was not their antiquity but their appeal to the eye or their rare or unusual materials, or simply because they were different; or even in some cases because they were thought to be endowed with magical powers. The antiques preserved in the treasuries of cathedrals were kept there because their materials or their craftsmanship were considered precious, not becuase they were ancient. Even those few who had a genuine interest in Antiquity were drawn to it by an attraction tempered by utilitarian considerations. The Latin classics were considered above all as repositories of unusual information or moral teachings or as collections of fine phrases suitable for quotation or insertion into one's own writings. They were certainly not seen as the expressions of a great civilization. Roman remains were employed as building materials, or as architectural models, as can be seen for instance in the interior of Autun Cathedral and on the façade of that of Saint Gilles, or they could influence sculpture, as happened in France during the early thirteenth century, when art acquired there a new vitality through the study of ancient marbles. The inscriptions left wherever Rome had ruled were sometimes considered useful models, and as such were transcribed and imitated. Statues and sarcophagi were used again, while smaller antiques were often employed for various purposes. Roman cinerary urns were frequently turned into small stoups for holy water, as may be seen in more than one church in Rome, or could even be provided with a fresh inscription, as was the inscription in honour of St. Agnes and St. Alexander, placed there during the thirteenth century by Marco, Abbot of Santa Prassede. The ivory diptychs of the consuls became covers of gospel books or were even employed to record the dead of a particular church as happened for instance to the Boethius diptych of 487, on which were entered the names of the deceased of the church of Brescia. Sometimes the figures of the consuls carved on them were turned into saints or biblical characters, as happened in a diptych now at Monza, where they became King David and St. Gregory, and in one at Prague, where the consul was transformed into none other than St. Peter himself. Engraved gems went to adorn crowns and diadems, crosses, reliquaries and book covers. Thus the cross [of Lothair] given to the Minster at Aachen by the Emperor Otho III has an ancient cameo of the young Augustus; and also at Aachen the eleventh century ambo still displays some antique ivory tablets with decidedly pagan deities.

"One thing that must be borne in mind is that the Middle Ages did not envisage classical antiquity as a different civilization or a lost Paradise. Despite the difference in religion, until Petrarch medieval men failed to notice a fracture between the classical age and their own times. To them Frederick Barbarossa was as much a Roman Emperor as Augustus or Trajan and only differed from Constantine by his having been born several centuries after him. The medieval empire and that founded by Augustus were believed to be one and the same, and classical myth was often used for decoration in a religious setting. In fact the frequent warnings that pagan art was dangerous found little response even in ecclesiastical circles. During the early Middle Ages a vigorous classical revival took place under the Carolingians. This was in many ways a real renaissance, and the widest in scope ever witnessed before that which illuminated the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. . . ." (Roberto Weiss, The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity [1969] 2-3).

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Considered the Oldest, Well-Preserved Illustrated Biblical Codex Circa – 540

The Vienna Genesis. (Click to view larger.)

Considered the oldest, well-preserved, illustrated biblical codex, the Vienna Genesis  is an illuminated manuscript, probably produced in Syria.  It is preserved in Vienna at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (cod. theol. gr. 31).

"The text is a fragment of the Book of Genesis in the Greek Septuagint translation. The text is frequently abbreviated. There are twenty-four surviving folios each with a miniatures at the bottom of both sides. It is thought that there were originally about ninety-six folios and 192 illustrations. It is written in uncials with silver ink on calfskin parchment dyed a rich purple. This shade of purple dye was also used to dye imperial cloth.

"The illustrations are done in a naturalistic style common to Roman painting of the period. The manuscript's illustrations are, in format, transitional between those found in scrolls and later images found in codices. Each illustration is painted at the bottom of a single page. However, within a single illustration, two or more episodes from a story may be included, so that the same person may be represented multiple times within a single illustration. There are both framed and unframed illustrations. The illustrations contain incidents and people not mentioned in the text of Genesis. These incidents are thought to have been derived from popular elaborations of the story or from a Jewish paraphrase of the text" (Wikipedia article on the Vienna Genesis).

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The Syriac Bible of Paris Circa 550 – 650

Folio 46r from the Syriac Bible, depicting Job. (View Larger)

The Syriac Bible of Paris, an  illuminated Bible written in Syriac, is thought to have been created in northern Mesopotamia in the sixth or seventh centuries. The manuscript has 246 extant folios. Large sections of text and the accompanying illustrations are missing. The folios are 312 by 230 mm. In the archaic style, the text is written in three columns.

"The illumination consists of miniatures introducing each of the books of the Bible and set into one or two of the text columns. The miniature for the Book of Genesis which may have been the most sumptuous miniature is missing. Although most of the miniatures are full length author portraits, some depict scenes from the following book. For example, the miniature before the Book of Job depicts Job on the dung heap. This miniature combine several scenes from the Book of Job. Job is pictured lying naked on the dung heap, covered with sores. Below him his wife is talking to him. To the left are his three friends. One of them is seen rending his garments, while the other two are seated, and talking to him. The Book of Exodus also has a narrative miniature before it. It depicts Moses and Aaron requesting permission to depart from Pharaoh. It is hard to understand why this scene, rather than one of the many more popular scenes was chosen to be the sole illustration for Exodus. Other miniatures are allegorical groups. The miniature before the Book of Proverbs shows the Virgin and Child, flanked by Solomon, representing the wisdom of the Old Testament, and Ecclesia, a personification of the Christian Church. Only one New Testament miniature survives, that of James the Apostle. The miniatures show mixture of Hellenistic heritage and a native Syriac tradition. Some of the miniatures, especially the miniature before Exodus, show stylistic similarities to the miniatures in the Rabula Gospels. Based on this it is unlikely that this manuscript was made much later than the Rabula Gospels which were made in 586." (Wikipedia article on Syriac Bible of Paris, accessed 11-29-2008).

The manuscript is thought to have come from the Episcopal library of Siirt near Lake Van in Turkey, where it may have been produced. It is preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS syr. 341.

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The First Surviving Metal Bookcovers Circa 550

The Antioch Chalice, with which the bookcovers were found.

"The first surviving metal bookcovers originated in the Eastern Empire. Four pairs of repoussé silver covers are known, all dated to the second half of the sixth century. Two of the pairs were apparently found in [Antioch?], Syria, together with the famous Antioch chalice, and two were found near Antalya, in southern Turkey. In all cases, the front and back covers are virtually identical. Three pairs depict standing figures of Christ or saints, two representing the figures within arched porticoes, the third showing two saints flanking a large cross. The fourth pair represents a large cross between two trees, again within an arched portico. The earliest western metal work bookcovers (though their origin has been disputed) are the pair presented by the Lombard queen, Theodelinda (d. 625) to the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Monza. The covers again are identical, each bearing a gem-encrusted cross over a gold background surrounded by a frame of red glass cloisonné" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 22).

The pair of metal bookcovers found with the Antioch chalice are preserved, along with the chalice, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They are described and illustrated in Minor (ed.) The History of Bookbinding 525-1950 AD (1957) nos. 3 & 4, plate II.

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One of the Oldest Surviving Illuminated Manuscripts of the New Testament Circa 555

An illumination of Christ found in the Rossano Gospels. (Click to view larger.)

The Rossano Gospels, preserved in the Cathedral of Rossano (Calabria), Southern Italy, were written following the reconquest of the Italian peninsula from the Ostrogoths by the Byzantine Empire, after a war which began in 535 and ended decisively in 553. The codex includes the earliest surviving evangelist portrait, showing Mark writing on a scroll.

"Also known as Codex purpureus Rossanensis due to the reddish (purpureus in Latin) appearance of its pages, the codex is one of the oldest surviving illuminated manuscripts of the New Testament. The now incomplete codex has the text of the Gospel of Matthew and the majority of the Gospel of Mark, with only one lucanae (Mark 16:14-20). A second volume is apparently missing. Like the Vienna Genesis and the Sinope Gospels, the Rossano Gospels are written in silver ink on purple dyed parchment. The large (300 mm by 250 mm) book has text written in a 215 mm square block with two columns of twenty lines each. There is a prefatory cycle of illustrations which are also on purple dyed parchment.

"The codex was discovered in 1879 in the Italian city Rossano by Oskar von Gebhardt and Adolf Harnack in cathedra Santa Maria Achiropita.

"The text of the Codex is generally Byzantine text-type in close relationship to the Codex Petropolitanus Purpureus. The Rossano Gospels, along with manuscripts N, O, and Φ, belong to the group of the Purple Uncials (or purple codices). Aland placed all four manuscripts of the group (the Purple Uncials) in Category V" (Wikipedia article on Rossano Gospels, accessed 01-02-2010).

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The Earliest Surviving Manuscript Written in Ireland, the Oldest Surviving Irish Manuscript of the Psalter, and the Earliest Recorded Historical Case-Law on the Right to Copy Circa 560 – 600

A page from the Cathach of St. Columba. (View Larger)

The Cathach of St. Columba (The Cathach/The Psalter of St. Columba) a late sixth century or early early seventh century Irish Psalter, of which 58 leaves of the original circa 110 leaves survive, was traditionally associated with the copy "made at night in haste by a miraculous light" by St. Columba of a Psalter loaned to him by St. Finnian. St. Finnian disputed Columba's right to keep the copy, and King Diarmait Mac Cerbhaill attempted to settle the dispute by making the judgment ‘To every cow belongs her calf, therefore to every book belongs its copy’. The arbitration failed and the Psalter of St Columba passed into the hands of the O'Donnells after the pitched battle of Cúl Dreimhne in 561, in which many men were killed. As penance for these deaths caused by the dispute over the copy, Columba suggested that he work as a missionary in Scotland to help convert as many people as had been killed in the batle. He also promised tomove from Ireland and never again to see his native Ireland. The Cathach is the oldest surviving manuscript written in Ireland and the second oldest surviving Latin Psalter. However scholars doubt that the manuscript was actually written by St. Columba. 

"The Cathach is the first Insular book in which decoration begins to assume a significant role in articulating the text, with its decorated initials (their crosses and fish perhaps influenced by manuscripts associated with production in Rome under Pope Gregory the Great, combined with native Celtic ornament) and the diminuendo effect of the following letters linking them to the actual text script. Herein lie the origins of the magnificent full-page illuminated incipits of the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells." (Michelle P. Brown, Preaching with the Pen: the Contribution of Insular Scribes to the Transmission of Sacred Text, from the 6th to 9th Centuries [2004]).

"An Cathach (meaning ‘the Battler’) was a very important relic used by the Clan Ó Domhnaill (O’Donnell Clan), the old Gaelic royal family in Tír Chonaill (mainly modern County Donegal) in the west of Ulster. It was used as a rallying cry and protector in battle. It was said to protect and guarantee victory in war to the Donegal leaders. Before a battle it was customary for a chosen monk/holy man (usually attached to the McGroarty clan, and someone who was sinless) to wear the Cathach in its cumdach around his neck and then walk three times around the troops of O’Donnell. It is the oldest surviving manuscript in Ireland, and the second oldest Latin psalter in the world. The name of the book derives from the Irish Gaelic word cath (pronounced KAH) meaning ‘battle’. An Cathach means ‘the battler’. The hereditary protectors/keepers of An Cathach were the Mag Robhartaigh/McGroarty clan from Ballintra in south Donegal. An Cathach, the Battler, has been dated to around the period 590 to 600 AD. The decoration throughout An Cathach is limited to the initial letters of each psalm. An Cathach is now housed in the Royal Irish Academy (entrusted to them in 1842).

"The manuscript was rediscovered in the cumdach in 1813, and given by its last hereditary keeper to the Royal Irish Academy in 1843. The leaves were stuck together until carefully separated at the British Museum in 1920; the manuscript was further restored in 1980-81.

"The specially made cumdach or book shrine is in the National Museum of Ireland. The initial work on the case was done between 1072 and 1098 at Kells, but a new main face was added in the 14th century with a large seated Christ in Majesty flanked by scenes of the Crucifixion and saints in gilt repoussé (NMI R2835, 25.1 cm wide).This was done by Cathbharr Ó Domhnaill, chief of the O'Donnells and Domhnall Mag Robhartaigh, the Abbot of Kells. The shrine cover consists of a brass box measuring 9 inches long, 8 inches wide and 2 inches thick. The top is heavily decorated with silver, crystals, pearls and other precious stones. It shows an image of the Crucifixion and an image of St Colm Cille " (Wikipedia article on Cathach of St. Columba, accessed 01-01-2012).

The Oldest Historical Case Law on Copyright

"The earliest recorded historical case-law on the right to copy comes from ancient Ireland. The Cathach is the oldest extant Irish manuscript of the Psalter and the earliest example of Irish writing. . . . It is traditionally ascribed to Saint Columba as the copy, made at night in haste by a miraculous light, of a Psalter lent to Columba by St. Finnian. A dispute arose about the ownership of the copy and King Diarmait Mac Cerbhaill gave the judgement 'to every cow belongs her calf, therefore to every book belongs its copy.' (Wikipedia article on History of Copyright Law, accessed 01-01-2012).

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The Ashburnham Pentateuch Circa 580 – 620

A folio from the Ashburnham Pentateuch depicting Cane and Abel. (View larger)

The Ashburnham Pentateuch (sometimes called the Tours Pentateuch), a late sixth century or early 7th century illuminated manuscript of the Pentateuch, is the only western illuminated manuscript with narrative rather than purely decorative or iconic images that bridges the period between late antique and the Carolingian renaissance. It has been described by some scholars as Spanish, but probably came from Italy. One theory of its origin is that it was produced in the imperial scriptorium of Rome on commission from Galla Placidia to educate her son Emperor Valentinian III in the Christian doctrine. 

Though the manuscript originally contained all five books of the Pentateuch, it now lacks the whole of Deuteronomy as well as sections of the other five books. In Early Medieval Bible Illumination and the Ashburnham Pentateuch (2004) Dorothy Verkerk argued that the manuscript was written in Rome in the early seventh century, whence it traveled north to Fleury,

"where it was refurbished and given a decorated initial in the eighth century. From Fleury it was taken to Tours where a ninth-century addition was inserted and where it was studied, amended, copied, and emulated in manuscripts and frescoes. The manuscript was deposited at some point in the library of St. Gatien, and was moved to the Bibliothèque Municipale [at Tours] during the French Revolution, from where it was stolen, brought to England, and then finally returned to France in the nineteenth century" (Verbeek 58-59).

"It has 142 folios and 19 miniatures, and measures 372mm by 321mm. It is thought to have originally included as many as 68 full page miniatures. A full page table containing the Latin names of the books and Latin transliterations of the Hebrew names serves as a front piece to Genesis. The table is enclosed within a curtained arch. Some of the full page miniatures, such as that containing the miniature of Noah's Ark (folio 9r), contain a single scene. Other of the full page miniatures, such as that telling the story of Cain and Abel, contain many scenes which are placed in a register, with each scene having a different color background" (Wikipedia article on the Ashburnham Pentateuch, accessed 11-26-2008).

♦ The manuscript was at Tours when it was stolen in 1842 by mathematician, historian of science, palaeographer, and book thief, Guglielmo Libri, and sold by Libri in 1847, along with many other stolen manuscripts, to Bertram, 4th Earl of Ashburnham. In 1888 after a long and well-publicized dispute with the curator of manuscripts at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Léopold Delisle, the fifth Earl of Ashburnham sold the manuscript, along with other ancient French codices his father had purchased from Libri, to the Bibliothèque nationale de France, where it is preserved today.

For a detailed account of Guglielmo Libri's role in the history of the Ashburnham Pentateuch see my book, Scientist, Scholar and Scoundrel (2013).

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600 – 700

The Earliest Western Metalwork Bookcovers Circa 600

(View Larger)

"The earliest western metalwork bookcovers (though their origin has been disputed) are the pair presented by the Lombard queen Theodolinda (d. 625) to the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Monza. The covers again are identical, each bearing a gem-encrusted cross over a gold background, surrounded by a frame of red glass cloissonné.

"As with the Syrian and Byzantine silver covers, it is not known what codex Theodelinda's covers might have contained. Not until Carolingian times can the covers of treasure bindings be connected to the original codices, and even then clear-cut examples are few" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 22).

The source of the image may be found at this link.

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The Bobbio Orosius, Containing the Earliest Surviving Carpet Page in Insular Art Circa 625

The Bobbio Orosius (Milan, Bibliotheca Ambrosiana MS D 23. Sup.), an early seventh century Insular manuscript of the Chronicon by the fourth century Gallaecian priest, historian and theologian Paulus Orosius, was probably written in the scriptorium of Bobbio Abbey.  

"It contains the earliest surviving carpet page in Insular art. The carpet page is on folio 1v. Although it is simpler in design than later carpet pages and contains motifs not found in later carpet pages, it shows a subtlety of pattern and alternation of colors common to Insular manuscripts. It consists of a large central rosette surrounded by four corner rosettes, all contained within a rectangular frame. The vertical panels of the frame contain cable motifs; the frame on the left has a single larger cable of white on pink, while the frame on the right has two smaller cables of white on pink separated by a yellow bar. The upper and lower panels are broken into smaller square panels separated by thin bars. The smaller panels are composed of chevrons and triangles that alternate in pink and yellow. The side top and bottom panels continue to the right edge of the frame. Above the left vertical frame there are two square frames containing circular motifs; the top with a cross inside a circle, and the bottom with a rosette. The cross within the circle in the top panel is similar to the cross within a circle found in the center of the carpet page on folio 192v of the Book of Durrow. Six concentric circles surround the central rosette. The page is faded and damaged so that it is difficult to be certain of its original appearance. It has been suggested that the carpet page is later addition to the manuscript" (Wikipedia article on Bobbio Orosius, accessed 10-29-2013).

The Bobbio Orosius appears in a catalogue of the Bobbio monastery library prepared in 1461. When the Biblioteca Ambrosiana was founded by Cardinal Federico Boromeo in 1609 the monks at Bobbio gave the manuscript to the Ambrosiana, where it remains. 

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700 – 800

Creation of the Lindisfarne Gospels 715 – 720

Folio 27r of the Lindisfarne Gospels. (View Larger)

Between 715 and 720 Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, undertook the production of the Lindisfarne Gospels. Among the many features of this masterpiece are the compass marks, grids and lead-point drawings visible on the backs of the carpet pages. These show how the scribe created the designs for the elaborate illuminations, and reflect clear connections with the design methods used in sculpture and metalwork from the region. The Celtic designs of the manuscript observe the rules of sacred geometry, and are thought to reflect a blend of Eastern "eremitic"  and Western monastic traditions.

"Details were added freehand with a lead-point, the forerunner of the pencil. The use of this was apparently invented by the artist-scribe some 300 years ahead of its time as an alternative to the usual hard-point of bone or metal, which would hae trapped the apint of the fine web of oranment in the furrows it produced (as it did not elave a graphic mark on the page but only dented impressions" (Brown, Painted Labyrinth, 34).

According to a colophon added in the tenth century by Aldred at Chester-le-Street, the Lindisfarne Gospels were created by

"the artist-scribe Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne (698-721); the binder Bishop Aethilwald of Lindisfarne (c. 721-750); the metalworker who adorned the binding or book-shrine (now replaced by a 19-century treaure binding), Billfirth the Anchorite, or hermit (who died sometime before 840). Aldred says that the work was undertaken for God and St. Cuthbert. An inscription added some 250 years later cannot be taken at face value, and Ireland, Echternach in Luxembourg and Jarrow have also been proposed as possible places of production of the Lindisfarne Gospels. However, historical and stylistic evidence indicate that the colophon may be right" (Michelle P. Brown, Painted Labyrinth. The World of the Lindisfarne Gospels [2004] 14). 

"The Gospels are richly illustrated in the insular style, and were originally encased in a fine leather binding covered with jewels and metals made by Billfrith the Anchorite in the 8th century. During the Viking raids on Lindisfarne, however, this cover was lost, and a replacement made in 1852. The text is written in insular script" (Wikipedia article on Lindisfarne Gospels, accessed 12-15-2008).

The Gospels were taken from Durham Cathedral during the dissolution of the monasteries ordered by Henry VIII, and were acquired in the early 17th century by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton from Thomas Walker, Clerk of the Parliaments. Cotton's library came to the British Museum in the 18th century, and from there to the British Library.

Brown, The Lindisfarne Gospels. Society, Spirituality and the Scribe (2003).

In February 2014 selected pages from the Lindisfarne Gospels were available from the British Library at this link.

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The Earliest Known Example of an Historiated Initial and One of the Earliest Witnesses to Bede's Text Circa 750

The oldest known historiated initial, found in the St. Petersurg Bede, also known as the Leningrad Bede.

The earliest known example of an historiated initial—an enlarged letter at the beginning of a paragraph or other section of text which contains a picture—is in the St Petersburg Bede, an Insular manuscript, which was written about 750 CE. Only four 8th century manuscripts of Bede survive. The St. Petersburg Bede and the manuscript known as the "Moore Bede", preserved in Cambridge University Library, are the earliest witnesses to Bede's text.

The Saint Petersburg Bede

The Saint Petersburg Bede (Saint Petersburg, National Library of Russia, lat. Q. v. I. 18), formerly known as the Leningrad Bede, is one of the two earliest surviving illuminated manuscripts of Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People). Traditionally, it was attributed on palaeographic grounds to Bede’s monastery at Wearmouth-Jarrow. It has also been traditionally dated to 731/732 × 746 on the basis of the so-called Memoranda, a series of retrospective dates found in the margins of Bede’s recapitulo in Book V Chapter 24. The validity of these Memoranda (and similar notes in the Moore Bede) as evidence for the precise year in which the manuscript was copied has been vigorously challenged, and while it may not be possible to assign the manuscript to a specific year, it seems unlikely that it was copied much after the middle of the eighth century.

After the huge disruption of French monastic libraries during the French Revolution, the manuscript was acquired by  Russian  diplomat, paleographer, secretary of the Russian Embassy in France, and collector of manuscripts and books, Peter Petrovich Dubrovsky, who later sold it to the Russian Imperial Library.

M. B. Parkes, The Scriptorium of Wearmouth-Jarrow, Jarrow Lecture 1982.

The Moore Bede

"The Moore Bede is traditionally dated to 734 × 737 on the basis of the so-called Moore Memoranda, a series of chronological notes preserved on f. 128v. Although the validity of these (and similar notes in The Leningrad [St. Petersburg] Bede) as evidence for the manuscript’s date has been challenged vigorously, the manuscript can be dated securely to the eighth century on palaeographic and codicological grounds.

"The manuscript is now thought "likely to be English in origin" (Ker 1990). Bischoff has shown that the manuscript was at the Palace School at Aachen around CE 800 (Bischoff 1966–1968, 56). Parkes suggests that it may have been sent to there from York at the request of Alcuin (Parkes 1982, 27, n. 35)" (Wikipedia article on the Moore Bede, accessed 11-22-2008).

The Earliest Surviving Copies of Caedmon's Hymn

♦ The Moore Bede and the St. Petersburg Bede also contain the earliest known copies of Caedmon's Hymn, the only surviving work of the earliest English poet whose name is known. 

"The poem is one of the earliest attested examples of Old English and is, with the runic Ruthwell Cross and Franks Casket inscriptions, one of three candidates for the earliest attested example of Old English poetry. It is also one of the earliest recorded examples of sustained poetry in a Germanic language" (Wikipedia article on Caedmon, accessed 01-12-2010).

(This entry was last revised on 08-24-2014.)

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The Stockholm Codex Aureus, Looted Twice by Vikings Circa 750

Folio 11 of the Codex Aureus, inscribed in Old English. (View Larger)

The Stockholm Codex Aureus (also known as the "Codex Aureus of Canterbury") was produced in the mid-eighth century in Southumbria, probably in Canterbury, England.

"The codex is richly decorated, with vellum leaves that alternately are dyed and undyed, the purple-dyed leaves written with gold, silver, and white pigment, the undyed ones with black ink and red pigment. The style is a blend of that of Insular art . . . and Continental art of the period.

"In the ninth century it was stolen by the Vikings and Aldormen Aelfred had to pay a ransom to get it back.  Above and below the Latin text of the Gospel of St. Matthew is an added inscription in Old English recording how, a hundred years later, the manuscript was ransomed from a Viking army who had stolen it on one of their raids in Kent by Alfred, ealdorman of Surrey, and his wife Wærburh and given to Christ Church, Canterbury" (Wikipedia article on Stockholm Codex Aureus, accessed 06-25-2009).

The Old English inscription on folio 11 reads in translation:

 + In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I, Earl Alfred, and my wife Werburg procured this book from the heathen invading army with our own money; the purchase was made with pure gold. And we did that for the love of God and for the benefit of our souls, and because neither of us wanted these holy works to remain any longer in heathen hands. And now we wish to present them to Christ Church to God's praise and glory and honour, and as thanksgiving for his sufferings, and for the use of the religious community which glorifies God daily in Christ Church; in order that they should be read aloud every month for Alfred and for Werburg and for Alhthryth, for the eternal salvation of their souls, as long as God decrees that Christianity should survive in that place. And also I, Earl Alfred, and Werburg beg and entreat in the name of Almighty God and of all his saints that no man should be so presumptuous as to give away or remove these holy works from Christ Church as long as Christianity survives there.



Alhthryth their daughter

The manuscript remained at Canterbury until the 16th century when it travelled to Spain. In 1690 it was bought for the Swedish Royal Collection, It is preserved in the National Library of Sweden, Kungliga biblioteket, Stockholm (MS A. 135).

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One of the Great Treasures of Early Carolingian Metalwork 760

The ornate cover on the Lindau Gospels, located in the Pierpont Morgan Library. (View Larger)


The gilt silver, enamel, and jeweled lower cover on the Lindau Gospels, MS M1 in the Morgan Library & Museum, was executed in Austria, possibly in Salzburg, during the second half of the 8th century.

"In 1899, Pierpont Morgan purchased the Lindau Gospels from the heirs of the 4th Earl of Ashburnham; it was the first major mediaeval manuscript to enter his collections. He acquired, in this single volume, three outstanding examples of Carolingian book art: an important ninth-century illuminated manuscript from the scriptorium of St. Gall, and two of the finest surviving Carolingian metalwork bookcovers. The two covers, however, may be separated by as much as a century, and it is certain that the older of the covers did not originally belong to this codex, however early it was assimilated to it. The covers and codex can be traced back as an entity no further than 1594, the date stamped on the red morocco spine of the volume. It has not been determined whether the jewelled covers were added to the codex then, or whether repairs were made at that date to an existing bound volume, already with jewelled covers. Nor has it been established where the volume was in 1594; the first explicit record placing it in the Benedictine nunnery of Lindau, from which it takes its name, comes in 1691. Lindau is on a small island in Lake Constance, just offshore near the northeast corner. St. Gall, where the Gospels was written, is southwest of Lindau, across the lake and inland, at a direct distance of about twenty miles."

"It has long been recognized that the lower cover of the Lindau Gospels is considerably earlier than the date of the manuscript, and could not have been designed for it. This cover is one of the great treasures of early Carolingian metalwork. It has elicited a considerable literature, characterized by widely varying opinions concerning its localization and date. Such a diversity of opinion is understandable, for although the cover was clearly designed as a unit, a variety of techniques and motifs make up its individual components. The basic layout consists of an enamelled cross (both champlevé and cloisonné) within an enamelled flrame, over four background silver-gilt panels of complex engraved animal interlace patterns. The cross-in-frame motif is similar to that of Queen Theodelinda's bookcovers, mentioned above, though an interval of as much as 200 years separate the two peices of work; and, on both, the arms of the cross broaden where they join the frame (cross pattée). The four cloisonné representations of the bust of Christ on the Lindau cover, one on each arm about the center of the cross, may be related to the late seventh-century gold Cross of Duke Gisulf, each arm of which contains two repoussé portrait heads, presumably Christ's.

"Many scholars have been struck by the resemblance of the animal interlaces on the quadrants to Hiberno-Saxon decorative schemes, and several have noted a general resemblance in layout to several of the carpet-pages in the Lindisfarne Gospels of ca. 700, on which a cross pattern is brought out against an animal-interlace background. An even more specific stylistic connection has been established for the animal interlaces in the two gilt silver engraved medallions laid into the vertical arms of the cross: these follow precisely the 'gripping-beast' pattern of Viking animal ornament. Their earliest appearance in Viking art is on objects from the Oseberg ship-find, which have been dated to between 800 and 850. It has sometimes been asserted that the Viking gripping-beast style was derived from Carolingian prototypes, but this cannot be documented—unless indeed the Lindau Gospels lower cover is considered as a precedent Carolingian example" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 25-26).

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The Contributions of the Emperor Charlemagne and the Educator Alcuin to the Carolingian Renaissance Circa 780 – 820

 "The classical revival of the late eighth and early ninth centuries, without doubt the most momentous and critical stage in the transmission of the legacy of Rome, was played out against the background of a reconstituted empire which stretched from the Elbe to the EbroCalais to Rome, welded together for a time into a political and spiritual whole by the commanding personality of an emperior who added to his military and material resources the blessing of Rome. Although the political achievement of Charlemagne (768-814) crumbled in the hands of his successors, the cultural movement which it fostered retained its impetus in the ninth century and survived into the tenth.

"The secular and ecclesiastical administration of a vast empire called for a large number of trained priests and functionaries. As the only common denominator in a heterogeneous realm and as the repository of both the classical and the Christian heritage of an earlier age, the Church was the obvious means of implementing the educational program necessary to produce a trained executive. But under the Merovingians the Church had fallen on evil days; some of the priests were so ignorant of Latin that Boniface heard one carrying out a baptism of dubious efficacy in nomine patria et filia et spiritus sancti (Epist. 68), and knowledge of antiquity had worn so thin that the author of one sermon was under the unfortunate impression that Venus was a man. Reform had begun under [Charlemagne's father] Pippin the Short; but now the need was greater, and Charlemagne felt a strong personal responsibility to raise the intellectual level of the clergy, and through them of his subjects. . . ." (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd ed [1991] 92-93).

In 780, at Parma Charlemagne, King of the Franks, met the Anglo-Saxon monk Alcuin, who was head of the episcopal school at the Cathedral of York. Charlemagne took scholarship seriously. He had learned to read as an adult, although he never quite learned how to write. At this time of reduced literacy outside of the clergy, writing of any kind was an achievement for kings, many of whom were illiterate.

Recognizing that Alcuin was a scholar who could help him achieve a renaissance of learning and reform of the Church, in 782 Charlemagne induced Alcuin to move to the royal court as Master of the Palace School at Aachen, where Alcuin remained until 796. This school was attended by members of the royal court and the sons of noble families. At Aachen Alcuin established a great library, for which Charlemagne obtained manuscripts from Monte Cassino, Rome, Ravenna and other sources.

"Books are naturally attracted to centres of power and influence, like wealth and works of art and all that goes with a prosperous cultural life. Some arrive as the prerequisites of conquest, or as the gifts that pour in unasked when the powerful have made thier wishes plain, some in response to the magnetic pull of an active and dynamic cultural movement. Others were actively sought out by those promoting the educational and cultural aims of the revival. There was such a break in the copying of the classics in the Dark Ages that many of the books that provided the exemplars from which the Carolingian copies were made must have been ancient codices, and this immediately raises a fundamental question; where did all the books that have salvaged so much of what we have of Latin literature come from? As far as we can tell from the evidence available, the total contribution of Ireland and England, Spain and Gaul, was small in comparison with what came from Italy itself, from Rome and Campania and particularly, it would seem, from Ravenna after its capture by the forces of Charlemagne. Nor did the wholesale transference of classical texts to northern Europe exhaust the deposits in Italy, for Italy continued, down to the end of the Renaissance and beyond, to produce from time to time texts which, as far as we can tell, had been unknown north of the Alps. 

"Gathering impetus with each decade, the copying of books went on apace through the length and breadth of Charlemagne's empire. Such ancient classical manuscripts as could be found, with their imposing majuscule scripts, were transformed, often at speed, into minuscule copies, and these in time begot further copies, branching out into these complex patterns to which the theory of stemmatics has reduced this fascinating process. The routes by which texts travelled as they progressed from place to place were naturallty governed in part by geographical factors, as they moved along the valleys of the Loire or Rhine, but even more by the complex relationships that existed between institutions and the men who moved between them. There are so many gaps in our knowedge, and so many of pieces in this puzzle have been irrevocably lost, that we can never hope to build up a convincing distribution map for the movements of texts in this period. But certain patterns are discernible, and the drift of texts south and west through the Low Countries and northern France, and down the Rhine to the shores of Lake Constance, appears to point to a fertile core in the area of Aachen, and this would confirm the crucial importance of the palace as a centre and a catalyst for the dissemination of classical texts" (Reynolds & Wilson, op. cit. 97-98).

Also at Aachen, and later at Tours to which he retired in 796, Alcuin promoted the development of the Carolingian minuscule, which became the writing standard for the eighth and ninth centuries.

"The use. . . of a script more compact in the body and needing less time to write, may have been decided upon in view of the plans to proceed with a State educational project, the greatest ever undertaken in the West, or perhaps anywhere at any time in the Roman Empire. For such an enterprise the employment of an accelerated script would become an interest of State, or, to be accurate, of State and Church" (Morison, Politics and Script. . . . Barker ed. [1972] 143).

Regarding the origin of Carolingian minuscule there is little consensus. In the words of palaeographer Stan Knight:

"Some authorities detect Roman (ie.half-uncial) roots, others French pre-Carolingian, some even see Insular influence (perhaps seeking a link with Alcuin), others cursive or semi-cursive scripts. Various combinations of these influences are also suggested. The opinions are many and bewildering.
        "The problem is made more complicated because the actual emergence of Carolingian minuscule appears to have been rather haphazard. There is no solid evidence to suggest that it emanated from just one center, nor can any systematic development of the script be discerned (apart from the natural maturing observable in the work of energetic scriptoria like that at Tours). . . . My considered opinion is that Carolingian minuscule was a modification of the ancient and serviceable half-uncial script, incorporating certain features gathered from other current scripts, and that the Abbey of Corbie led the field in this vitally important calligraphic development" http://dh101.humanities.ucla.edu/DH101Fall12Lab1/items/show/8, accessed 08-07-2014).

Alcuin revised the church liturgy, and also revised Jerome's translation of the Bible. Alcuin and his associates— particularly the Visigothic writer, poet and bishop Theodulf of Orleans, who produced his own, competing, edition of the Bible — were responsible for an intellectual movement within the Carolingian Empire in which many schools were attached to monasteries and cathedrals, and Latin was restored as a literary language. Along with these schools there was a flowering of libraries and manuscript book production.

Charlemagne's Admonitio generalis, a collection of legislation known as a capitulary issued in 789, covered educational and ecclesiastical reform within the Frankish kingdom, established his religious and educational aspirations for the kingdom, and became a foundation for the Carolingian Renaissance.  

"Before the surge of education following the Admonitio Generalis and subsequent Carolingian Renaissance, it was difficult for the Frankish people to connect with Christianity and the church. Peasant life was very hard; the people were illiterate and Latin, the language of the church, was not their native language, making Christianity and the Bible difficult to access. Nobles also were largely uneducated and uncultured, with few devoted Christians among them. Only the clergy were consistent in having some level of education, and thus they had the best understanding and exposure to the Bible and the full extent of Christianity. The schools, which the Admonitio ordered established by the monasteries and cathedrals, began a tradition of higher learning in Carolingian Europe, leading the revival known as the Carolingian Renaissance. The fulfillment of Admonitio Generalis meant that the study of language, rhetoric and grammar in these institutions, as well as the standardizing of writing scripture and Latin, was undertaken in order to make religious texts and books accessible to the clergy, as well as their correction and standardization. However this strengthened all forms of Carolingian literature, and book production, as well as developments in law, historical writing, and uses of poetry all flourished in these schools. In fact, the capitularies themselves, and the level of language they use, are examples of the increasing importance of writing within the Frankish kingdom. As well as language, the Admonitio Generalis ordered other arts such as numbers and arithmetic, ratios, taxes, measure, architecture, geometry, and astrology to be taught, leading to developments in each field and their application within society. Charlemagne pushed for an educated clergy who could help lead reform, because it was his belief that the study of arts would aid them in understanding sacred texts, which they could then pass on to their followers. During the Carolingian Renaissance, Charlemagne unified religious practices and culture within his realm, creating a Christian kingdom, and ultimately unifying his empire" (Wikipedia article on Admonitio Generalis, accessed 08-06-2014).

"The Carolingian programme of renewal was consciously based on Antiquity. Order and stability lay in a vigorous revival of that which was useful and applicable from the Roman past: e.g. its imagery and art forms, such as the human figure as the central theme of art, or its reliance on the written word. Although, culturally, its upward trajectory had peaked by AD 877, this Carolingian renewal had by then insured the survival of ancient art and literature. The text of virutally every ancient Latin author is today edited largely from Carolingian manuscripts. Texts of only a handful of ancient authors—TibullusPropertiusCatullus among them—are not reconstructed from manuscripts of the Carolingian renaissance" (Rouse, "The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns ed. The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal [1992] 46-47).

(This entry was last revised on 08-19-2014).

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The First Treasure Binding Associated with its Original Codex 783 – 795

A facsimile of the Dagulf Psalter, also known as the Golden Psalter. (View Larger)

The Dagulf Psalter, sometimes also called The Golden Psalter, is a collection of the 150 Psalms made for Hildegard, the wife of Charlemagne. The main part of the writing was done by the scribe Dagulf who signed the book in a dedication poem to Charlemagne. The work covers two decisive phases of the Carolingian School of painting. The section carried out between 783 and 789 was done in Worms and Metz, and the work was completed in Aachen between 790 and 795. 

The treasure binding covers of the manuscript are preserved in the Louvre, Paris, while the manuscript is preserved in Vienna at Austrian National Library, Cod 1861.

"Not until Carolingian times can the covers of treasure bindings be connected to their original codices, and even then clear-cut examples are few. The earliest would seem to be the ivory covers of the Dagulf Psalter, presented by Charlemagne to Pope Hadrian I (772-95); although covers and text are now separate, Dagulf's dedicatory verses make explicit mention of the cover decoration. This separation of covers and codex is more the rule than the exception. Rare in any case is the book written before the fifteenth century that has not been rebound. Jewelled covers are particularly susceptible to migration from one codex to another, because they are not integral to the bookbinding. Unlike leather covers, they were tacked on the wooden boards in an operation completely separate form the binding process proper; nor would the artisans who made them be bookbinders. Jewelled covers might easily be removed and added to another codex without any necessity for disbinding or rebinding.

"The expression 'treasure bindings' has a reference broader than just to the materials used in their manufacture. In Jerome's day, when the monastic movement was young and disorganized, jewelled bindings may have been owned by private indviduals. But later they almost invariably belonged to monasteries, cathedrals, and other collegial institutions. Within these institutions they played a specific role; they were part of the liturgical equipment used in celebrating the divine service. This equipment, including crucifixes, eucharistic vessels, vestments, reliquaries, the altar itself, was often of the highest luxury and constituted the 'treasure' of a church. Thus, both finds of sixth-century silver covers referred to above were excavated together with other silverwork liturgical articles. Jewelled covers were ordinarily made for service books, particularly Gospels and Evangeliaries, and may be considered as part of the altar fittings. Because of their special function, they would not be stored in the library presses or library room of their foundations, in or near the cloister. They would be kept quite separate, with the other liturgical objects, convenient to the altar or within the altar itself, under the care of the sacristan" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 22-23).

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The Gellone Sacramentary: a Masterpiece of Carolingian Manuscript Illumination Circa 790

An image depicting the crucifixion of Christ, found in the Gellone Sacramentary. (View Larger)

"The Carolingian period is the first great epoch of book illumination on the continent since antiquity. Its ornamental book art perpetuates types current in the Merovingian period and at the same time in many places reflects the influence of Insular decoration. Furthermore, it harks back directly to motifs from antiquity (tendrils, palmettes, acanthus, meander) which then had the result that the repertoire of forms of the centuries immediately preceding were banished, or else mixed styles came about. In figural representation antique and early Christian models were followed closely and their study set free new and original facets of creativity.

"A demonstration of what richness in initial forms and motifs a virtuoso and imaginatively inspired late-eighth-century miniaturist could employ is given by the master craftsman who wrote the Gellone sacramentary" (Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antquity and the Middle Ages [1990] 208-9).

The Gellone Sacramentary is preserved at the Bibliothèque nationale de France.  In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available at this link.

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800 – 900

The Book of Kells Circa 800

The Book of Kells.

The Book of Kells, sometimes known as the Book of Columba, contains a richly decorated copy of the Four Gospels in a Latin text based on the Vulgate edition (completed by St Jerome in 384 CE). The gospels are preceded by prefaces, summaries of the gospel narratives and concordances of gospel passages—a kind of cross-indexing system—attributed to the fourth century Roman historian, exegete, Christian polemicist and Bishop, Eusebius of Caesarea.

The book "was transcribed by Celtic monks ca. 800. The text of the Gospels is largely drawn from the Vulgate, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination. It is also widely regarded as Ireland's finest national treasure."

"The illustrations and ornamentation of the Book of Kells surpass that of other Insular Gospels in extravagance and complexity. The decoration combines traditional Christian iconography with the ornate swirling motifs typical of Insular art. Figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts, together with intricate knotwork and interlacing patterns in vibrant colours, enliven the manuscript's pages. Many of these minor decorative elements are imbued with Christian symbolism and so further emphasize the themes of the major illustrations.

"The manuscript today comprises 340 folios and, since 1953, has been bound in four volumes. The leaves are on high-quality calf vellum, and the unprecedentedly elaborate ornamentation that covers them includes ten full-page illustrations and text pages that are vibrant with historiated initials and interlinear miniatures and mark the furthest extension of the anti-classical and energetic qualities of Insular art. The Insular majuscule script of the text itself appears to be the work of at least three different scribes. The lettering is in iron-gall ink, and the colors used were derived from a wide range of substances, many of which were imports from distant lands" (Wikipedia article on The Book of Kells, accessed 11-22-2008).

During the later medieval and early modern periods the Book of Kells was kept in the Abbey of Kells (Mainistir Cheanannais in Irish) in Kells, County Meath, Ireland, 40 miles north of Dublin. The Abbey is thought to have been founded in 804 by monks fleeing from St Colmcille's Iona monastery to escape Viking invasions. It is possible that The Book of Kells was produced by the monks of Iona Abbey in the years leading up to 800. It is also possible that much of the manuscript may have been created at Kells. In Insular Manuscripts 6th to the 9th Century (1978) p. 73 J. J. G. Alexander cites a theory that the manuscript might have been produced in northern England or even in the Pictish kingdom because of its similarity in layout and organization to the Lindisfarne Gospels. Clearly historians cannot be certain of the exact date and circumstances of its creation.

The Book of Kells is preserved at Trinity College, Dublin. In 2012 Bernard Meehan, Head of Research Collections and Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity College Library, and author of numerous prior studies of the manuscript, published a spectacular and elegant analysis of the manuscript in art book format entitled simply The Book of Kells.

In February 2014 a complete digital facsimile of the Book of Kells was available from Trinity College Dublin at this link.

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Carmina Figurata Word Pictures Circa 810

One of the most outsanding illumated manuscripts of De luadibus sanctae crucis, preserved in the Vatican Library, depicting Christ. (View Larger)


About 810 Frankish Benedictine monk, Hrabanus Maurus, wrote De laudibus sanctae crucis, a collection of 28 encrypted religious poems in praise of the holy cross. Arranged in the carmina figurata style of word pictures, in which shapes appropriate to the textual context are created by the outlines of letters, phrases or verses of poetry, these became much-admired and often copied.

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of an excellent 11th century illuminated manuscript of the text was available from the Burgerbibliothek, Bern, Switzerland at this link.

Bischoff, Latin Paleography: Antiquity and Middle Ages (1990) 210.

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An Unusual, Energetic Style of Illustration Circa 816 – 841

A portrait of Matthew from the Ebbo Gospels. (View Larger)

The Ebbo Gospels, a Carolingian illuminated Gospel book known for an unusual, energetic style of illustration, was produced at the Benedictine abbey of Hautvillers, near Reims, under the patronage of Ebbo, Archbishop of Reims. Because it contains a poem to Ebbo, it has been dated from the times that Ebbo was archbishop of Reims (c. 816-835, and 840-841).

"Each page is 10 in by 8 in. The illustration has its roots in late classical painting. Landscape is represented in the illusionistic style of late classical painting. Greek artists fleeing the Byzantine iconoclasm of the 8th century brought this style to Aachen and Reims (Berenson, 163). The vibrant emotionalism, however, was new to Carolingian art and also distinguishes the Ebbo Gospels from classical art. Figures in the Ebbo Gospels are represented in nervous, agitated poses. The illustration uses an energetic, streaky style with swift brush strokes. The style directly influenced manuscript illumination for decades, as the Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram bears witness (Calkins, 211). The Utrecht Psalter is the most famous example of this school (Berenson, 163).

"Commentators have noted the similarity between the Utrecht Psalter and the Ebbo Gospels. The evangelist portrait of Matthew in the Ebbo Gospels is similar to the illustration of the psalmist in the first psalm of the Utrecht Psalter (Benson, 23; Chazelle, 1073). Other images in the Ebbo Gospels appear to be based on distortions of drawings which may have been from the Utrecht Psalter (Chazelle 1074)" (Wikipedia article on Ebbo Gospels, accessed 12-25-2008).

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The Utrecht Psalter, "The Most Frequently Studied of All Illuminated Books" Circa 816 – 850

Page from Utretch Psalter.

Page from Utretch Psalter.

The Utrecht Psalter, one of the most influential of ninth century illuminated manuscripts, with among the most unusual histories of ownership, contains 166 pen illustrations, one accompanying each of 150 psalms and 16 canticles in the manuscript. It was written in imitation rustic capitals. According to the most recent study (1996) the manuscript was written at the monastery of Hautvillers, near Reims, France as it is related in style to the Ebbo Gospels. It may have been sponsored by Ebbo, Archbishop of Reims, in which case it would be dated between 816 and 835. Others have argued for a date circa 850, believing that the psalm illustrations draw from the travels of Saxon theologian Gottschalk of Orbais, and the illustration with the Athanasian Creed and other details pertain more to Archbishop Hincmar, Ebbo's successor.  

The Utrecht Psalter has been characterized as "the most frequently studied of all illuminated books" (van der Horst 24), the authors of which also state that "it occupies a prominent position in every handbook or outline of the history of Western art."

Named for its ownership in Utecht, where it is preserved in the Universiteitsbibliotheek (MS Bibl. Rhenotraiectinae I Nr. 32), the psalter was, after its rediscovery in the library at Utrecht in 1858, thought for a period of time to be a sixth century work because of the archaic style of its rustic capitals. 


"A period spent in the late 9th century in the area of Metz, perhaps at the court of Charles the Bald, has been suggested on the basis of apparent influences from the manuscript in the art of the area. The manuscript had reached Canterbury Cathedral by c. 1000, at which time a copy began to be made of it; this, the Harley Psalter, is in the British Library as MS Harley 603. The Psalter was copied in full three times in the Middle Ages, the second copy being the Eadwine Psalter (Cambridge, Trinity College Library, MS R.17.1) of 1155–60, with additions 1160–70, and the texts extended to five versions of each psalm. The last copy is a fine version in full colour with gold backgrounds that is known as the "Anglo-Catalan Psalter" or MS Lat. 8846 in the BnF, of 1180-90 (Morgan, 47-9). This was half-illustrated by an English artist in about 1180-1200, and completed by a Catalan artist in 1340-50, naturally using a different Gothic style. The images are necessarily somewhat simplified, and the number of figures reduced.

"Earlier there were derivative works in other media; similar groups of figures appear in a Carolingian engraved crystal in the British Museum (the Lothair Crystal, stylistically very different) and metalwork, and some late Carolingian ivories repeat figure compositions found in the Utrecht psalter (Calkins, 211).

"The original manuscript spent at least two centuries at Canterbury from the year 1000, and after the English Dissolution of the Monasteries (Canterbury was a monastic cathedral) came into the possession of Robert Bruce Cotton, the famous English antiquary, at which point it was rebound, with his arms on the cover. Cotton lent the manuscript to the great collector [Thomas Howard], the [21st] Earl of Arundel, who took it into exile with him during the English Civil War; it was taken to the Netherlands in around 1642 and sold on Howard's death by his widow and son. It reached Utrecht University in 1716, at which point it was incorporated into the University Library. It was rediscovered in the library in 1858."


"The Utrecht Psalter is generally considered to be important to the development of Anglo-Saxon art in the late tenth century, as the artistic style of its artwork seems to have been drawn on and adapted by Anglo-Saxon artists of this time. Although it is hardly likely that this single manuscript was solely responsible for beginning an entire new phase, the style which developed from it is sometimes known as the 'Utrecht' style of outline drawing, and survived almost unchanged into the 1020s (Wormald).

"The Psalter is the earliest and most fully illustrated of a 'narrative' group of Carolingian Psalters and other manuscripts; the much greater freedom of their illustrations may represent a different, probably monastic, audience for them from the more hieratic productions for the court and the altar. Images are unframed, often varied and original in iconography, showing a 'liveliness of mind and independence of convention' not found in the more formal books. Other members of the group are the Golden Psalter of St. Gall and the Drogo Sacramentary, which made the important innovation of placing most illustrations in inhabited initials. The Byzantine Chludov Psalter represents a comparable tradition in the East (Hinks, 115-119), and the Reims style was also influenced by artists fleeing Byzantine iconoclasm (Berenson, 163). Meyer Schapiro is among those who have proposed that the Psalter copied illustrations from a Late Antique manuscript; apart from an original perhaps of the 4th or 5th centuries, details of the iconography led him to believe in an intermediary Latin model' of after about 700 (Shapiro, 77, 110 and passim). That the miniatures are in large part based on an earlier manuscript, initially disputed by some (Tselos, 334 etc.), seems to have gained general acceptance, though the precise nature and dates of earlier postulated versions vary.

"The style of the outline drawings is dramatic, marked by activity, leaping creatures and fluttering folds of drapery set in faintly sketched landscape backgrounds stretching the full span of a page. Several different episodes may be shown in an illustration, some interpreting the text very literally, indeed over-literally in typical medieval fashion, others building on an association with the text to create elaborate images, including New Testament scenes or motifs from Christian iconography (Pächt, 168-170). Despite the individuality of the style, the hands of eight different artists have been detected" (Wikipedia article on Utrecht Psalter, accessed 08-01-2011).

A beautiful and authoritative study of the manuscript, placing it within context of related works of the time, is van der Horst, Noel, and Wüstefeld (eds.) The Utrecht Psalter in Medieval Art. Picturing the Psalms of David (1996).  The first facsimile of the Utrecht psalter was published as Latin Psalter in the University Library of Utrecht in 1875. A second printed facsimile was published in Graz, Austria, in 1984.

In February 2014 a digital facsimile was available from the University Library of Utrecht at this link.

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"A Perfect Relationship between Text and Picture" Circa 820 – 830

Leaf 2r of the Stuttgart Psalter (Folio Bible 23 in the Wurttenmbergische Landesbibliothek). (View Larger)

The Stuttgart Psalter, which may have been produced in Saint Germain, France, is the earliest surviving psalter with a full set of illustrations—316 in all.

"Unlike similar codices, which restrict the illustrations to the margins, or the Utrecht Psalter, where they are placed at the beginning of each Psalm, the Stuttgart Psalter has on the average a picture for every ten verses, and often two or more lively scenes represented in each. The multi-colored initials and beginning words, and the elegant, open minuscule text in two colors add further dimensions to this brilliant book design. [It is] ". . . the first codex to be designed so that there is a perfect relationship between text and picture" (Wilson. The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle [1976] 30, 31).

The Stuttgart Psalter is preserved in the Württembergische Landesbibliothek. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available at this link.

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"The most ingenious and expressive work of narrative art known from all of Late Antiquity" 820

Detail of folios 4v/5r of the Vaticanus Latinus 3868.  Please click to view entire image.

Vat. Lat. 3868, an illuminated manuscript of the comedies of Terence preserved in the Vatican Library, containing illustrations of 141 scenes from the plays, is one of four surviving copies of late antique illuminated manuscripts most probably copied at the court of Louis the Pious in the second decade of the ninth century.

In a monograph entitled The Lost Late Antique Illustrated Terence (2006) David Wright attempted to reconstruct the lost exemplar from which the manuscript was copied. He characterized this lost exemplar as "the most ingenious and expressive work of narrative art known from all of Late Antiquity."

"He argues that it was made at Rome around 400 AD, under the supervision of Calliopius, who is named on fol. 1v and 92r Feliciter Calliopio Bono Scholastico. Scholasticus could mean a teacher or a grammarian, it is not a term obviously linked to book production, though Wright regards the colophon as ‘a trade mark and an advertisement for the workshop’ and suggests that Calliopius was ‘the master of the scriptorium’. The final colophon Hrodgarius scripsit, in excellent large capitalis script, identifies the scribe, who has not been found elsewhere. The best of the three artists wrote the inscription Adelricus me fecit on the right-hand side of the cornice of the aedicule on fol. 3r. . . .

"The copying of classical texts on parchment in codices, rather than on papyrus rolls, was a fourth-century innovation, and the lost exemplar was ‘something of a pioneer in the design of a sumptuously presented codex’. Illustrations to Terence did not exist, and Wright suggests that staged performances of Terence's plays had ended some three centuries earlier. So the exemplar of the Vatican manuscript contained illustrations of the scenes which depended on the artist reading the text. Most impressive are the full-page frontispiece with two actors flanking an author portrait, and the full-page depictions of aedicules with masks for all of the characters in the individual plays (of which two were lost).  

"The copy is the work of three artists, of whom Adelricus was the best, though he had the smallest share of the work. The parchment is calf rather than sheep, and it has numerous minor defects, including holes in pages 9, 11, 19, 36, 43 (in body of figure), 53, 56 and 64. The figures are generally shown standing on a coloured baseline: on fol. 36v there are two figures in a garden, and in several scenes the figures stand in front of doorways, sometimes fitted with a central curtain or a decorated grille. Properties include a square-shaped casket (fol. 29r p. 51), a ring, birds and fishes as food, and money bags. Cratinus the lawyer holds wax tablets on fol. 82r and v. Many of the figures wear scarves and gesture with them. The figures are named in capitalis script, but in several cases the names are given to the wrong figure in a scene. Wright argues that there were names in the exemplar, which must imply that the scribe who copied them was singularly inept. The curious position of the prologue to the Phormio on fol. 77v, where the figure is to the left of a block of text, is not commented on.  

"The illustrations do not seem to have influenced manuscript illumination except for additional illustrated copies of Terence. The ninth-century Reims manuscript, Paris, BNF, Lat. 7899, has a full set of illustrations, while a Corbie copy has much cruder illustrations on the first eleven folios and spaces for further illustrations. Wright thinks both were copied from the lost exemplar. Adelricus was an accomplished artist, and presumably had a career. It may not be possible to explain why the court of Louis the Pious made such careful copies of late antique manuscripts, but it is important to recall that it did, and to envisage the possible resonances of such a response to non-Christian models. According to Thegan's biography Louis never raised his voice in laughter, and when the people laughed at scurri et mimi cum coraulis he did not smile. Paschasius Radbertus, in his memorial for Abbot Wala of Corbie, included a substantial passage from Terence, showing that he had studied the plays, as had Hincmar. The glosses in Vat. Lat. 3868 reveal that it was rapidly treated as a text to be studied, rather than simply a luxury book. Unfortunately Wright is silent on any evidence to be derived from these glosses, which are thought to be a Carolingian composition but which incorporate earlier material.  

"The scribe Hrodgarius wrote a very distinctive capital ‘H’ with an elongated ascender on the right slanting upwards from the crossbar to trail over the following letter. Such a form of ‘H’ is also found in fifth-century manuscripts and was presumably copied from the exemplar. He used an ‘or’ ligature with a prominent ‘r’. His form of ‘a’ lacks any upper shaft, and the upper bow of ‘g’ is generally open. The ligatures ‘ri’ and ‘ro’ occur infrequently. So far his script has proved impossible to localize. It is worth noting that fifteen verses from the prologue to the Heautontimoroumenos were copied onto the first leaf of Paris, BNF, Lat. 2109 in a script which E.K. Rand described as ‘decent rustic capitals’. The manuscript, a copy of Eugippius' Excerpta, was copied at St Amand at the same time as Vat. Lat. 3868. So there probably was a capitalis exemplar at St Amand which may have been the manuscript Wright is trying to reconstruct.  

"Wright reconstructs an exemplar of some 220 folios, each with an illustration of a single scene, with the text copied in rustic capitals in 22 lines per page. In his stylistic parallels for the date of this exemplar he strangely makes no mention of the mosaics of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, which Byvanck discussed in detail, though they show many similar poses and gestures. The scenes on the Susanna crystal have groupings of figures not unlike the Terence illustrations. We are getting a clearer sense of how Carolingian artists imitated Roman models of sacred art. That they were equally moved by the superb quality of secular illustration should remind us that beauty, old and new, is always powerful enough to be loved and to transform. That the exemplar of the Vatican Terence was so challenging to a group of artists in the 820s may be the most important of the features that Wright has so carefully recovered for us" (review by David Ganz http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-, 0254.2009.00292_20.x/full, accessed 09-15-2010).

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A Studio for Royal Mayan Scribes in the Ninth Century Circa 825

In 2011 a small painted room was excavated at the extensive ancient Maya ruins of Xultun in the Petén lowlands of northeastern Guatemala, dating to the early 9th century CE. The walls and ceiling of the room were painted with several human figures, and scientists concluded that the room was a studio for royal scribes with "a taste for art and a devotion to the heavens as the source of calculations for the ancient culture’s elaborate calendars." Two walls also displayed a large number of delicate black, red, and incised hieroglyphs. Many of these hieroglyphs, written on the walls like we might write on a blackboard, howed astronomical computations, including at least two tables concerning the movement of the Moon, and perhaps Mars and Venus. Calculations of this type were central to Mayan astrology and rituals, in which astronomy was driven by religion. These writings, which are the earliest writing preserved in the Western hemisphere, may shed light on tables preserved in the Dresden Codex which dates from the 11th century.

"David Stuart, professor of Mesoamerican art and writing at the University of Texas at Austin, who deciphered the glyphs, said, 'This is tremendously exciting,' noting that the columns of numbers interspersed with glyphs inside circles was 'the kind of thing that only appears in one place — the Dresden Codex.'  

"Some of the columns of numbers, for example, are topped by the profile of a lunar deity and represent multiples of 177 or 178, numbers that the archaeologists said were important in ancient Maya astronomy. Eclipse tables in the Dresden Codex are based on sequences of multiples of such numbers. Some texts 'defy translation right now,' he said, and some writing is barely legible even with infrared imagery and other enhancements" (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/11/science/archaeologists-unearth-ancient-maya-calendar-writing.html?hp, accessed 05-10-2012).

William A. Saturno, David Stuart, Anthony F. Aveni, Franco Rossi, "Ancient Maya Astronomical Tables from Xultun, Guatemala," Science  11 May 2012: Vol. 336 no. 6082 pp. 714-717 DOI: 10.1126/science.1221444

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Lavishly Illuminated for Charles the Bald 846

An illustration of the psalms from the Vivian Bible. (View Larger)

Count Vivian, the lay abbot of St. Martin at Tours, commissioned the lavishly illuminated Vivian Bible from the scriptorium at Tours, and presented it to Charles the Bald in 846 on Charles's visit to the church. It measures 495 mm by 345 mm, and has 423 folios. 

Charles the Bald loved ostentation. "When, in the sixties and seventies, he had ostentatious manuscripts made in one of his residences (probably Soissons), achievements made in the Rheims and Tours schools were also absorbed into the new court style" (Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages [1990] 210). 

The manuscript is preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

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A Byzantine Iconophile Psalter from the Time of the Iconoclasm Circa 850

A depiction of David from the Chludov Psalter. (View Larger)

The Chludov Psalter, a Byzantine illuminated manuscript from the time of the Iconoclasm, is one of only three illuminated Byzantine Psalters to survive from the 9th century.

"According to one tradition, the miniatures are supposed to have been created clandestinely, and many of them are directed against Iconoclasts. Many contain explanations of the drawings written next to them, and little arrows point out from the main text to the illustration, to show which line the picture refers to. The polemical style of the whole ensemble is highly unusual, and a demonstration of the furious passions the Iconoclast dispute generated.

"The psalter measures 195 mm by 150 mm and contains only 169 folios. The outer edges of the pages are normally left blank in order to be covered with illustrations. The text and captions were written in a diminutive uncial script, but many of these were rewritten in crude minuscule about three centuries later. The book contains the Psalms in the arrangement of the Septuagint, and the responses to be chanted during their recitation, which follow the Liturgy of Hagia Sophia, the Imperial church in Constantinople.

"Nikodim Kondakov hypothesized that the psalter was created in the famous monastery of St John the Studite [Stoudios] in Constantinople. Other scholars believe that the liturgical responses it contains were only used in Hagia Sophia, and that it was therefore a product of the Imperial workshops in Constantinople, soon after the return of the Iconophiles to power in 843.

"It was kept at Mount Athos until 1847, when a Russian scholar brought it to Moscow. The psalter was then acquired by Aleksey Khludov, whose name it bears today. It passed as part of the Khludov bequest to the Nikolsky Old Believer Monastery and then to the State Historical Museum" Moscow. (quotations from the Wikipedia article on Chludov Psalter, accessed 12-25-2008).

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Gregory the Great Writing, as Depicted in an Ivory Book Cover Circa 850

A carved ivory book cover produced circa 850 depicts Pope Gregory I (Gregory the Great) in the Lateran Palace in Rome writing in a codex, with the Holy Spirit, depicted as a dove, whispering in his ear. In a panel below three monk scribes are shown writing. The Carolingian book cover, preserved in Vienna at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, has been attributed to the "Master of the Gregory Tablet."

"Pope Gregory the Great is regarded as the author of the liturgical texts spoken by the priest during Mass in the Roman Catholic Church. Charlemagne later made them obligatory throughout his newly-founded Roman Empire. Legend tells of a scribe who spied the dove of the Holy Spirit whispering the prayers in Gregory’s ear before the saint dictated them to him in a loud voice.

"The genius ivory carver responsible for this work retains the motif of divine inspiration but depicts the pope as an author, pausing to listen to the voice of inspiration before continuing to write. The composition is extended over two storeys and set inside the Lateran Palace. We are eye-witnesses to the divine word becoming text and its subsequent dissemination in the form of books" (from the Kunsthistorische Museum online text, accessed 08-06-2014).

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The Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram 870

The Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram, a lavishly illuminated Gospel Book, was written on purple vellum by the monks Liuthard and Beringer for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles II (the Bald) at his Palace School. It was given by Charles to Arnulf of Carinthia, who later donated it to St. Emmeram Abbey in Regensburg, from which its name is taken. It is a very large volume measuring 420 x 330 mm. Because this was the age of itinerant courts, it has been difficult for scholars to identify the atelier where the manuscript was created, but the Basilica of St. Denis, where Charles was secular abbot from 867 to his death, has been frequently suggested.

The treasure binding on the codex, decorated with gems and repoussé relief figures in gold, is one of finest of the very few surviving from this period; it has been dated precisely to the year 870, and is probably also a product of Charles's Palace School. Though there are differences in style, the upper cover of the Lindau Gospels preserved in the Morgan Library and Museum was probably made in the same atelier. 

At the center of the cover of the Codex Aureus is Christ in Majesty seated on the globe of the world and holding on his knee a book with a Latin inscription which may be translated,  

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me." 

So impressive was this volume that in 1786 it became the subject of one of the very earliest monographs on an illuminated manuscript and a treasure binding: Sanftl, Dissertatio in aureum, ac pervetustum ss. evengeliorum codcem ms. Monasterii S. Emmerami Ratisbonae. The author, Presbyter of a Benedictine monastery, professor of theology, and a librarian, dedicated this 254 page quarto volume to Pope Pius VI.  Included in the volume were three folding black & white engraved plates which illustrated the upper cover of the binding, an illuminated page of the manuscript, and the incipit to the Book of Luke in their original size.  The full-size folding engraving of the treasure binding cover drawn by J.G. C. Hendschel and engraved by Brother Klauber is a spectacular work in its own right.

The Codex Aureus is preserved in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München (Clm 14000).  In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the manuscript, minus the treasure binding, was available at this link

Walther & Wolf, Codices illustres. The world's most famous illuminated manuscripts 400 to 1600 (2005) 98-101 contains a superb color reproduction of the upper cover of the treasure binding.

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The Magnificent Upper Cover of the Lindau Gospels Circa 875

The upper cover of the Lindau Gospels. (View Larger)

The Lindau Gospels, MS M1 in the Morgan Library & Museum, was written and illuminated in the Abbey of St. Gall, Switzerland, possibly by the scribe, Folchard, who also may have been the artist. It contains four title and four incipit pages in gold on vellum stained purple, twelve canon tables on purple backgrounds, lettered in gold and silver, 2 carpet pages.

"The magnificent upper cover of the Lindau Gospels can be fitted more closely than the lower cover into a recognized tradition of Carolingian goldsmiths' work. It is one of three major pieces ascribed to a Court School of Charles the Bald (regn. 840-77), grandson of Charlemagne. A number of works in other media--illuminated manuscripts, ivories, and carved rock crystals--have also been ascribed to the school. Much ink has been spilt in trying to locate these stylistically related ateliers, a question particularly difficult to answer for the age of itinerant courts: St. Denis, where Charles was secular abbot from 867 to his death, has frequently been suggested.

"The two other pieces with which our cover has been associated are the Arnulf Ciborium, or portable altar, and the cover of the Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram. Both are now in Munich, but were for many centuries part of the treasure of the monastery of St. Emmeram, Regensburg. . . .

"The provenance of the Lindau Gospels upper cover is, unfortunately, much less clear. We have already noted the attempt to identify this volume with the Gospels commissioned by Abbot Hartmut of St. Gall before 883, and decorated by him with gold silver and precious stones; in any case, the Lindau Gospels was written in St. Gall at much the same time its upper cover was made, the latter part of the ninth century. But it is difficult to imagine that a goldwork masterpiece from the royal workshop was created specifically for the abbot of St. Gall, and although the Lindau Gospels is a handsome manuscript, it has not a tithe of the spendor of the Codex Aureus, which is roughly the degree of luxus we should expect to find. Even within the St. Gall scriptorium, the Lindau Gospels does not represent the highest level of luxury. It seems likely that our cover was originally made to fit a much more highly decorated manuscript (though of smaller format than the Codex Aureus), and one more closely tied to the Frankish court. The question of how and when it joined its present codex is as much a mystery for the upper cover as for the lower" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 28-28).

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900 – 1000

Possible Inspiration for Picasso's Guernica? June 19, 960

An artwork from the 'Biblia de Leon,' or the Bible of St. Isidore. (View Larger)

The Visigothic-Mozarabic Bible of St. Isidore, also known as the Biblia de León was completed in the Monastery of Valeránica, Spain on June 19, 960 by Iberian Christians who lived under Moorish Muslim rule in Al-Andalus, the portions of the Iberian Peninsula governed by Muslims at various times in the period between 711 and 1492. It is considered the best-documented Mozarabic bible as it includes the names and portraits of its scribe, Sancho, and its miniaturist, Florencio.  The codex contains all the books of the Old and New Testaments, as well as prologues, biblical commentaries and other texts, written in lowercase visigothic-mozarabic lettering with initial capital letters in the interlaced Saxon style and decorated with biblical scenes and roundels. Annotated in both Arabic and Latin, it is preserved in the Cathedral of León.

Florencio's miniature paintings in this work "offered new departures in pictorial art, blending elements originating in Saxon, Visigothic, and Islamic art with new features from Carolingian sources" (http://www.omifacsimiles.com/brochures/bib_leon.html)

On April 20, 2009 the following notice appeared in Artdaily.org:

"Several experts from the world of art have stated that there is an extraordinary likeness between the figures that appear in the Guernica painted by the artist and those in a Mozarabic Bible from the 10th Century, which is housed in the Cathedral in Leon, to the point where it has been discarded that it was fruit of a coincidence. This Bible was exhibited in Barcelona in 1929 and in Paris in 1937, a time when the Cubist genius could have discovered the expressionist drawings that appear in the medieval text, according to the head of the Cathedral of Leon Museum, Máximo Gómez Rascón.

"Several experts consulted by news agency EFE arrived at the same conclusion and base it on the relative aspects of the double view, in front and to the side, of the figures in the painting, as well as in the horse and the bull.

Picasso's Guernica. (View Larger)

"In this way, the director of the museum, has explained that the similarities are seen especially in the bull, which in the Bible symbolizes Saint Luke and which is “almost exactly” as the one that Picasso painted on Guernica.

"The similarity also manifests itself in the horse’s head that appears in the painting and, to a lesser extent, in the faces of the persons, as well as some of the profiles that also allude to the ones appearing in the bible.

"It has been pointed out that in the bible there is also a lion, with its tongue out, whose face and expression are very similar to the horse that appears in Guernica, or to the one that has a type of knife coming out of its mouth.

"The head of the museum has discarded the idea that the similarities are fruit of a coincidence and is convinced that Picasso “without a doubt” had seen this bible, which was created by Deacon John in 920 [sic] and written in parchment with Visigothic letters.

"Even though that during those times codices were illustrated with those kinds of symbols, Gómez Rascón has emphasized the singularity with the one in Leon, one of the most important from that era.

"Painter Benito Escarpizo, former professor from the School of Applied Arts in Leon, is completely convinced: 'If the similarities are enormous in the painting, they are even greater in the sketches' " (http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=2∫_new=30316).

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The Earliest Picture Cycle of the Life of Christ in Manuscript Illumination Circa 977 – 993

A portrait of Egbert, Archbishop of Trier, from the Codex Egberti. (View larger)

The Codex Egberti, commissioned by Egbert, Archbishop of Trier between 977 and 963, opens with a dedication and a portrait of the Bishop on a double page in gold and purple. Two monks at Egbert's feet, Kerald and Heribert of the Benedictine Abby on the Island of Reichenau, present the volume to the donor. This is followed by four impressive full-page illustrations of the Evangelists, and 51 narrative pictures comprising the earliest picture cycle of the Life of Christ in the history of manuscript illumination. Some of the images have been attributed to the Master of the Registrum Gregorii.

“The Reichenau school reached its apogee in the last third of the tenth century and was productive into the first half of the eleventh. Without being strongly rooted there  the 'Master of the Registrum Gregorii', one of the most important Ottonian book illuminators, whose activity had been in the upper Rhine region and in Trier, stood connected with it. Reichenau manuscripts were in such demand  that pope Gregory V 'pensionis nomine' requested that the abbot of the monastery should delivery a scaramentary, an epistolary, and a gospel book to Rome for the confirmation of his installation " (Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages [1990] 220).

The manuscript is preserved in the Stadtbibliothek Trier.

In November 2013 images from the Codex Egberti were available from the Penn Libraries Fine Arts Library Image Collection.

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1000 – 1100

Construction of the First Camera Obscura 1012 – 1021

A Qatarian postage stamp portraying Ibn al-Haitham. (View Larger)  <p>Persian scientist Abu Ali Al-Hasan <a href=,

Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham  (أبو علي، الحسن بن الحسن بن الهيثم‎), frequently referred to as Ibn al-Haytham (Arabic: ابن الهيثم, known in the west as Alhazen, built the first camera obscura or pinhole camera—significant in the history of optics, photography, and the history of art.

In his Book of Optics, written in Cairo between 1012 and 1021, Ibn al-Haytham used the term “Al-Bayt al-Muthlim", translated into English as "dark room."

"In the experiment he undertook, in order to establish that light travels in time and with speed, he says: 'If the hole was covered with a curtain and the curtain was taken off, the light traveling from the hole to the opposite wall will consume time.' He reiterated the same experience when he established that light travels in straight lines. A revealing experiment introduced the camera obscura in studies of the half-moon shape of the sun's image during eclipses which he observed on the wall opposite a small hole made in the window shutters. In his famous essay 'On the form of the Eclipse' (Maqalah-fi-Surat-al-Kosuf) he commented on his observation 'The image of the sun at the time of the eclipse, unless it is total, demonstrates that when its light passes through a narrow, round hole and is cast on a plane opposite to the hole it takes on the form of a moon-sickle'.

"In his experiment of the sun light he extended his observation of the penetration of light through the pinhole to conclude that when the sun light reaches and penetrates the hole it makes a conic shape at the points meeting at the pinhole, forming later another conic shape reverse to the first one on the opposite wall in the dark room. This happens when sun light diverges from point “ﺍ” until it reaches an aperture and is projected through it onto a screen at the luminous spot. Since the distance between the aperture and the screen is insignificant in comparison to the distance between the aperture and the sun, the divergence of sunlight after going through the aperture should be insignificant. In other words, should be about equal to. However, it is observed to be much greater when the paths of the rays which form the extremities of are retraced in the reverse direction, it is found that they meet at a point outside the aperture and then diverge again toward the sun as illustrated in figure 1. This an early accurate description of the Camera Obscura phenomenon."

"In 13th-century England Roger Bacon described the use of a camera obscura for the safe observation of solar eclipses. Its potential as a drawing aid may have been familiar to artists by as early as the 15th century; Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519 AD) described camera obscura in Codex Atlanticus. . . .

"The Dutch Masters, such as Johannes Vermeer, who were hired as painters in the 17th century, were known for their magnificent attention to detail. It has been widely speculated that they made use of such a camera, but the extent of their use by artists at this period remains a matter of considerable controversy, recently revived by the Hockney-Falco thesis. The term "camera obscura" was first used by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler in 1604.

"Early models were large; comprising either a whole darkened room or a tent (as employed by Johannes Kepler). By the 18th century, following developments by Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke, more easily portable models became available. These were extensively used by amateur artists while on their travels, but they were also employed by professionals, including Paul Sandby, Canaletto and Joshua Reynolds, whose camera (disguised as a book) is now in the Science Museum (London). Such cameras were later adapted by Louis Daguerre and William Fox Talbot for creating the first photographs" (Wikipedia article on Camera obscura, accessed 04-24-2009).

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Book-Shaped Reliquary from the Circle of the Master of the Registrum Gregorii Circa 1020

The front of the book-shaped reliquary. (View Larger)

A spectacular book-shaped reliquary preserved at the Cleveland Museum of Art has been attributed to the circle of the master manuscript illuminator, known as the Master of the Registrum Gregorii, who was active at Reichenau in the late 10th century. The metalwork reliquary incorporates an ivory plaque set within a frame of gilt silver, gems, and pearls on a core of wood. It measures 31.6cm x 24.4cm x 7.5cm. In February 2014 images were available from the Cleveland Museum of Art website at this link.

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The Norman Conquest Recorded on the Bayeux Tapestry 1077

A scene from the Bayeux tapestry, showing Odo, Archbishop of Canterbury, on horseback. (View Larger)

The Bayeux Tapestry, an embroidery roughly 70 meters long, was produced in England, possibly in Canterbury, commemorating events leading up to and after the Battle of Hastings.

"The tapestry has text in Latin describing what is happening in the scenes. This work of art includes 623 humans, 202 horses, 41 ships, 2000 Latin words and 8 different colors of yarn."

A view of one half of the gallery in which the Bayeux tapestry is preserved. (View Larger)


"The tapestry was most likely first put on display in the Cathedral of Notre Dame [in Bayeux] built by Bishop Odo in 1077. Then, no mention of it is found for the next 300 years. Then, it was mentioned in 1750 when it was referred to in a book by the name of Palaeographia Britannicus. Soon afterward, the people of Bayeux, who were fighting for the Republic, needed cloth to cover their wagons. As such, the tapestry was removed from the cathedral and used to cover an ammunition wagon. A lawyer saved the tapestry by replacing it with another cloth. In 1803 Napoleon seized it and transported it to Paris. Napoleon wanted to use the tapestry as inspiration for his planned attack on England. When this plan was cancelled, the tapestry was returned to Bayeux. The townspeople wound the tapestry up and stored it like a scroll. The tapestry spent World War II wound up in the Louvre. Now it is stored in a museum in a dark room with special lighting to avoid damaging it."

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1100 – 1200

Medieval Handbook of Applied Arts Including Book Production 1100 – 1120

Folio 1 of Codex 2527, preserved at the Austrian National Library. (View Larger)

Between 1100 and 1120 Benedictine (?) monk Theophilus Presbyter (possibly same as Roger of Helmarshausen) wrote Schedula diversarum artium ("List of various arts") or De diversibus artibus ("On various arts"), containing detailed descriptions of various medieval applied arts, including drawing, painting, manuscript illumination, and bookbinding.

"The work is divided into three volumes. The first covers the production and use of painting and drawing materials (painting techniques, paints, and inks), especially for illumination of texts and painting of walls. The second deals with the production of stained glass and techniques of glass painting, while the last deals with various techniques of goldsmithing. It also includes an introduction into the building of organs. Theophilus contains perhaps the earliest reference to oil paint."

Volume 1 includes directions for making glue and gold leaf.

"Vol. III on metal work covers: openwork sheets of silver and copper for book covers inter alia (chapter 72); die-stamping, also used for book covers (chapter 75); studs for fastening leather covers to the boards (chapter 76) and repoussé work for book covers (chapter 78)" (Pollard, Early Bookbinding Manuals [1984] no. 3).

Theophilus also provides some of the earliest instructions for the use of metalpoints in drawing:

"Indications of the use of metalpoints for artistic purposes, other than those mentioned in connection with manuscripts, were rare until the late fourteenth century, a period which can be associated with the early fourishing of drawing as an important art form. Therefore, instructions for the use of metalpoints by the monk Theophilus, written sometime during the tenth to twelfth centuries, were exceptional. In Diversarum Artium Schedula Theophilus wrote that preparatory designs for windows were delineated upon large boards or 'tables' which had been rubbed with chalk. Over this surface one drew images with lead or tin. Moreover, in his directions for design figures to be incised on ivroy Theophilus recommended that the ivory tablet be covered with chalk, upon which one drew figures  with a piece of lead. These medieval 'grounds' of chalk dust were antecedents of a rudimentary method of preparing metalpoint surfaces with the dust of bones, chalk, or white lead which was described by Cennino in the late fourteen or early fifteenth century, and of a similar practice used during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries for quickly preparing a metalpoint ground for sketching outlines for miniatures or for writing on little ivory sheets.

"It is impossible to determine when metalpoint media were first used for producing sketches and studies in the form and character we now assign to master drawings. But during the fourteenth century both Petrarch and Boccaccio mention drawing with the stylus. The former, in his sonnets to Laura, wrote of Simone (Martini) taking the likeness of his love with the metalpoint and the latter in the Decamerone expressed his admiration for the skill of the incomparable Giotto in the statement that there was nothing in nature which the master could not draw or paint with the stylus, pen, or brush. Although we may hesitate to accept these statements at face value, nevertheless they indicate that the metallic stylus was an accepted instrument for drawing by artists of the late middle ages" (Watrous, The Craft of Old Master Drawings [1957] 4).

The oldest surviving copies of Theophilus's work are Codex 2527 preserved at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, and Codex Guelf 69 preserved at the Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel.

For centuries after the Middle Ages Theophilus's work was forgotten until the poet, philosopher, and critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing rediscovered the text while he worked as librarian in Wolfenbüttel around 1770.

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The Codex Ebnerianus and Early Manuscript Scholarship Circa 1110

The Codex Ebnerianus, a Greek language illuminated manuscript of the New Testament, was probably written in Constantinople at the beginning of the 12th century during the Comnenian Period.

"Its full-page illustrations make it one of the finest of a large group of manuscripts which are the most important representatives of the Comnenian revival in pictorial art.

"The cycle of illustrations is unique among surviving Greek New Testament manuscripts in that it places author portraits and scenes connected with the authors at the beginning, not only of the Gospels, but also at the beginning of Acts and some of the Epistles" (Meredith, "The Illustration of Codex Ebnerianus", Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes XXIX (1966) 419.

The codex is named after the Nuremberg diplomat, historian, scholar and patron, Hieronymus Wilhelm Ebner von Eschenbach who founded a library, the Bibliotheca Ebneriana, using his extensive collection. While the codex belonged to Ebner von Eschenbach in 1738 the scholar Conrad Schoenleben issued a pamphlet on it entitled Egregii codicis graeci Novi Testamenti manuscripti quem Noribergae servat vir illustris Hieronymous Gvilielmus Ebner. According to Roland Folter, Schoenleben's 44-page pamphlet with two illustrations was the first publication about a specific medieval manuscript, and also probably the first publication on a specific book in a private library.

The Codex Ebnerianus is preserved in the Bodleian Library. According to Macray's Annals of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, A. D. 1598-A.D. 1867 p. 229, the Bodleian bought the Codex in 1820 from booksellers Payne and Foss. McCray also mentions that Schoenleben's pamphlet was incorporated by De Murr in his Memorabilia Bibliothecarum publicarum Norimbergensium published in 1788, part ii., p. 100. To that version De Murr added "thirteen well-engraved plates of the illuminations, binding and text. It was formerly bound in leather-covered boards, ornamented with gold, with five silver-gilt stars on the sides, and fastened with four silver clasps. This covering being much decayed, Ebner cased the volume in a most costly binding of pure silver, preserving the silver stars, and affixing on the outside a beautiful ivory figure (coaeval with the MS.) of our Saviour, throned, and in the attitude of benediction. Above the figure, Ebner engraved an inscription in Greek characters, corresponding to the style of the MS., praying for a blessing upon himself and his family" (McCray, p. 230). 

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An Illuminated Medieval Travel Guide and Music Compendium Circa 1150

Detail of page from the Codex Calixtinus–or Liber Sancti Jacobi / Book of Saint James Calixtinus–or Liber Sancti Jacobi / Book of Saint JamesCodex Calixtinus–or Liber Sancti Jacobi / Book of Saint James.

Formerly attributed to Pope Callixtus II, but now believed to have been arranged by the French scholar, monk and pilgrim Aymeric Picaud, the Codex Calixtinus was intended as an anthology of background detail and advice for pilgrims following the Way of St. James to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great, located in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain.

The codex is alternatively known as the Liber Sancti Jacobi, or the Book of Saint James. It includes sermons, reports of miracles and liturgical texts associated with Saint James, and a most interesting set of polyphonic musical pìeces. The Codex Calixtinus was intended to be chanted aloud, and contains the first known composition for three voices, the conductus Congaudeant catholici (Let all Catholics rejoice together); however, the extreme dissonance encountered when performing all three voices together has led some scholars to suggest that this was not the original intention. The popularity of the music has continued to the present day with modern recordings commercially available. It also contains descriptions of the pilgrimage route, works of art to be seen along the way, and the customs of the local people.

"The origins and authorship of the Codex Calixtinus have been the subject of much debate amongst scholars. It is generally believed to have been written by a number of different authors and then compiled as a single volume, possibly between 1135 and 1139 by the French scholar Aymeric Picaud. It is thought that in order to lend authority to their work, the authors prefaced the book with a forged letter purportedly signed by Pope Callixtus II, who had already died in 1124.

"The earliest known edition of the codex is that held in the archives of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela,[2] and dates from about 1150. It was lost and forgotten for many years until rediscovered in 1886 by the Jesuit scholar Padre Fidel Fita. A copy of the Santiago edition was made in 1173 by the monk Arnaldo de Monte,[3] and is known as The Ripoll (after the monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll in Catalonia). It is now kept in Barcelona. The book was well-received by the Church of Rome, and copies of it were to be found from Rome to Jerusalem, but it was particularly popular at the Abbey of Cluny.

"The first full transcription of the Codex was done in 1932 by Walter Muir Whitehill, and published in 1944 in Madrid by the Spanish Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, together with a musicological study by Silos's Dom Germán Prado O.S.B., and another on the miniature illustrations by Jesús Carro García" (Wikipedia article on Codex Calixtinus, accessed 07-07-2011).

The manuscript was preserved in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. On July 5, 2011 it disappeared from a safe in the archives of the Cathedral. The theft was under investigation when I wrote this entry on July 7, 2011.

♦ On July 8, 2011 an article appeared on theolivepress.es concerning the left: http://www.theolivepress.es/spain-news/2011/07/07/codex-calixtinus-stolen-from-santiago-de-compostela-cathedral/, accessed 07-07-2011.

On July 11, 2011 an article concerning the codex and the theft appeared in time.com: "Codex Caper: Medieval Guidebook Stolen from a Spanish Church: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2082071,00.html

♦ On July 4, 2012, one day less than a year from the day it was announced stolen, the Codex Calustinus was recovered from a garage in Santiago. A former caretaker and his wife, son, and another women were arrested by Spanish police in connection with the theft.

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The Hunterian Psalter Circa 1170

Folio 7v of the Hungarian Psalter: a miniature depicting, on top, the creation of Adam, and, on bottom, the temptation of Adam by Eve. (View Larger)


The Hunterian Psalter, a striking example of Romanesque book art, was produced in England in the latter part of the twelfth century.

"It is uncertain where or when, exactly, the manuscript was produced, or for whom. It has been suggested that it was produced for Roger de Mowbray (d. 1188), a prominent 12th century crusader and religious benefactor known to have founded a number of Augustinian and Cistercian monasteries and nunneries. The book also contains three commemorations to Augustine of Hippo, which has led some scholars to conclude that the manuscript might have been created for a house of Augustinian Canons, or by someone with a connection to the Augustinian order.

"The fact that there is no mention of the 29 December feast of Thomas Becket on the page for December is thought to indicate that the book was produced before Becket's canonization in 1173. For most of its history, it was thought to have been the product of a scriptorium in the north of England, owing to its inclusion of a number of

Folio 22r of the Hungarian Psalter, a miniature which incorporates the Beatus Initial. (View Larger)northern saints such as Oswald of Northumbria and John of Beverley (who very seldom occur outside northern manuscripts), although modern scholarly consensus puts its likely origin in the southwest of England.

"There is no definite consensus about the number of artists who worked on the book. It has been suggested that a single master oversaw the work of several assistants, and it has also been put forth that it is the work of an artist working alone, copying and adapting templates from other illuminated manuscripts. It is thought to have been the work of skilled tradesmen, not monks" (Wikipedia article on Hunterian Psalter, accessed 03-27-2010).

Today the manuscript is considered the finest book in the library of 10,000 printed books and 650 manuscripts formed by the physician and connoisseur collector, William Hunter, who bequeathed all his collections to the University of Glasgow. It is preserved in the University of Glasgow Library (Sp Coll MS Hunter U.3.2) (229). In addition to manuscripts and books Hunter made important collections of coins, paintings, minerals, shells, anatomical and natural history specimens.

Hunter acquired this volume at the auction sale conducted by Guillaume-François de Bure of the library of Louis-Jean Gaignat in Paris on April 10, 1769, along with several other books. His French agent, Jean B. Dessain, bought it at the auction on Hunter's behalf for fifty livres and one sou. It was described in the sale catalogue as a "codex pervetustus" (a very old codex), and the price was considerably lower than many of the printed books in the sale, reflecting the tastes and market prices of the time. (The Gaignat library included such treasures as the Gutenberg Bible printed on vellum in the British Library.)

Young & Aitken, A Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of the Hunterian Museum in the University of Glasgow (1908) no. 229.

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Limoges Enamel Book Cover Plaque Circa 1185 – 1210

The earliest known textual reference to the enamels produced in the city of Limoges, France, from the twelfth through fourteenth centuries concerns a book cover seen in the Abbey of Saint Victor in Paris in the 1160s and intended for an English abbot.

Though this book cover seems not to have survived, it might have been similar in some ways to a cover preserved in the Metropolitan Museum which dates from circa 1185 to 1210.

"Plaques showing Christ in majesty surrounded by symbols of the evangelists, usually paired with a plaque showing the Crucifixion, were produced in large numbers by Limoges enamelers. The variety of textures and patterns created through the masterful engraving and stippling of the five appliqué figures make this a particularly noteworthy example of a product for which Limoges artists were widely recognized and admired" (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/17.190.757, accessed 10-25-2011).

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1200 – 1300

The Suanpan Circa 1200

A scence from the long scroll 'Along the River During Qing Ming Festival,' in which a fifteen column saunpan is visible next to the account book and doctor's prescriptions. (View Larger)

A version of the abacus appeared in China, called suanpan in Chinese. On each rod this abacus had 2 beads on the upper deck and 5 on the lower deck.

The suanpan style of abacus is also referred to as a 2/5 abacus. The 2/5 style survived unchanged until about 1850, at which time the 1/5 (one bead on the top deck and five beads on the bottom deck) abacus appeared.

♦ "In the famous long scroll Along the River During Qing Ming Festival painted by Zhang Zeduan (1085-1145) [a native of Dongwu (present Zhucheng, Shandong)] during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), a 15 column suanpan is clearly seen lying beside an account book and doctor's prescriptions on the counter of an apothecary.

"The similarity of the Roman abacus to the Chinese one suggests that one could have inspired the other, as there is some evidence of a trade relationship between the Roman Empire and China. However, no direct connection can be demonstrated, and the similarity of the abaci may be coincidental, both ultimately arising from counting with five fingers per hand. Where the Roman model and Chinese model (like most modern Japanese) has 4 plus 1 bead per decimal place, the old version of the Chinese suanpan has 5 plus 2, allowing less challenging arithmetic algorithms, and also allowing use with a hexadecimal numeral system. Instead of running on wires as in the Chinese and Japanese models, the beads of Roman model run in grooves, presumably making arithmetic calculations much slower.

"Another possible source of the suanpan is Chinese counting rods, which operated with a decimal system but lacked the concept of a zero as a place holder. The zero was probably introduced to the Chinese in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) when travel in the Indian Ocean and the Middle East would have provided direct contact with India and Islam allowing them to acquire the concept of zero and the decimal point from Indian and Islamic merchants and mathematicians."

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Le Roman de la Rose: A Medieval Best Seller Circa 1230 – 1275

Folio 1r of Fr. 1573 at the Bibliotheque Nationale, the earliest extant copy of 'Le Roman de la Rose.' (View Larger)

Around the year 1230 French scholar and poet Guillaume de Lorris wrote the first section (4058 lines) of Le Roman de la Rose (Romance of the Rose), a book-length poem in Old French, in which the narrator enters a dream world and falls in love with a Rose—an allegorical representation of a young woman. During his pursuit he instructs readers on the art of courtly love, with frequent bawdy comments and detours into alchemy and astronomy. Le Roman de la Rose became one of the best-sellers of the Middle Ages, of which at least 270 medieval manuscripts survive— many illuminated— from the 13th to 16th centuries. The earliest, dating close after the completion of the work, is in the Bibliothèque national de France (BnF fr. 1573).

The Roman de la Rose Digital Library, a joint project of the Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins University and the Bibliothèque nationale, intended to make virtual copies of at least 150 of the extant manuscripts of this work available with page turner software.

de Lorris' ". . . part of the story is set in a walled garden or locus amoenus, one of the traditional topoi of epic and chivalric literature. In this walled garden, the interior represents romance, while the exterior stands for everyday life. It is unclear whether Lorris considered his version to be incomplete, but it was generally viewed as such.

"Around 1275, Jean de Meun composed an additional 17,724 lines. Jean's discussion of love is considered more philosophical and encyclopedic, but also more misogynistic and bawdy. The writer Denis de Rougemont felt that the first part of the poem portrayed Rose as an idealised figure, while the second part portrayed her as a more physical and sensual being " (Wikipedia article on Roman de la Rose, accessed 12-30-2008).

"The date of this second part is generally fixed between 1268 and 1285 by a reference in the poem to the death of Manfred and Conradin, executed in 1268 by order of Charles of Anjou (d. 1285) who is described as the present king of Sicily. M. F. Guillon (Jean Clopinel, 1903), however, considering the poem primarily as a political satire, places it in the last five years of the 13th century. Jean de Meun doubtless edited the work of his predecessor, Guillaume de Lorris, before using it as the starting-point of his own vast poem, running to 19,000 lines. The continuation of Jean de Meun is a satire on the monastic orders, on celibacy, on the nobility, the papal see, the excessive pretensions of royalty, and especially on women and marriage. Guillaume had been the servant of love, and the exponent of the laws of "courtoisie"; Jean de Meun added an "art of love," exposing with brutality the vices of women, their arts of deception, and the means by which men may outwit them. Jean de Meun embodied the mocking, sceptical spirit of the fabliaux. He did not share in current superstitions, he had no respect for established institutions, and he scorned the conventions of feudalism and romance. His poem shows in the highest degree, in spite of the looseness of its plan, the faculty of keen observation, of lucid reasoning and exposition, and it entitles him to be considered the greatest of French medieval poets. He handled the French language with an ease and precision unknown to his predecessors, and the length of his poem was no bar to its popularity in the 13th and 14th centuries. Part of its vogue was no doubt because the author, who had mastered practically all the scientific and literary knowledge of his contemporaries in France, had found room in his poem for a great amount of useful information and for numerous citations from classical authors" (Wikipedia article on Jean de Meun, accessed 12-29-2008).

"At least 270 manuscripts and manuscript fragments of the Roman de la Rose survive from the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. These works are kept mainly in European libraries, and most remain in France where the majority of these books were produced. Thirty Rose manuscripts are now in different repositories in the US, including the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore (Walters 143), the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles (Ludwig XV7) and the Morgan Library & Museum in New York (Morgan 948).

"There are also several Rose manuscripts in private collections, two of which are part of the Rose Digital Library (Cox Macro Rose and Ferrell Rose); two are now owned by Senshu University in Japan (Senshu 2 and Senshu 3) and can also be found on this site. One of the oldest surviving Rose texts is a manuscript now in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris (BnF fr. 1573), made in the late 13th century, not long after Jean de Meun finished his section of the poem. Two early illustrated texts of the Rose are Paris, BnF, fr. 378 and Paris, BnF, fr. 1559. Both of these date from the late 13th century as well. The last illustrated Roman de la Rose manuscript is the Morgan Rose. With 107 miniatures, this late work was produced c. 1520, after the first printed editions of the Rose text had already come out, around the turn of the 16th century (Rosenwald 396 and Rosenwald 917).

"Many Rose manuscripts are illustrated, some with large cycles of miniatures, and lavishly painted with gold and colored pigments. Others are unillustrated and represent a less costly undertaking. In a number of these manuscripts spaces were left for illustrations that were never begun, possibly because the bookmakers ran out of time, or because the patron ran out of money" (Keefe, Manuscripts of the Rose Digital Library, accessed 12-30-2008).

The well-known novel and film by Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (1980), alludes to the literary tradition of Le Roman de la Rose.

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The "De Brailes Hours," The Earliest Surviving English Book of Hours Circa 1240

The "De Brailes Hours" (British Library MS Add. 49999), the earliest surviving separate English book of hours, was probably created about 1240 for an unknown laywoman whose generic "portrait" is shown four times in the manuscript. It has been suggested she was from North Hinksey near Oxford, and possibly called Suzanna. 

The illuminator of the manuscript, William de Brailes, is one of only two English artists of the 13th century whose name is associated with surviving works, and the only 13th-century English non-monastic illuminator known to have signed his work. In this manuscript he signed his name twice. It is also possible that de Brailes may have been a scribe.

The surname de Brailes means "from Brailes", a town in Warwickshire, about 30 miles north of Oxford. Documentary sources reveal that de Brailes lived and worked in Oxford, with his wife Celena, in a bookmaking community based around the present site of the chapel of All Souls College. The "De Brailes Hours" includes two self-portraits. The initial 'C' shows a tonsured figure praying, with the hand of God above. To the left the red inscription reads "W de brail q. me depeint"  (W. de Brailes, who painted me").

In July 2014 a digital facsimile of the De Brailes Hours was available from the British Library at this link.

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1300 – 1400

The Hereford Mappa Mundi, "The Greatest Extant Thirteenth Century Pictorial Manuscript" Circa 1300

The Hereford Mappa Mundi. (View Larger)

The Hereford Mappa Mundi preserved at Hereford Cathedral, in Hereford, England, was drawn by "Richard of Haldingham or Lafford" (Holdingham and Sleaford in Lincolnshire) about 1300.  

"Superimposed on to the continents are drawings of the history of humankind and the marvels of the natural world. These 500 or so drawings include images of around 420 cities and towns, 15 Biblical events, 33 plants, animals, birds and strange creatures, 32 images of the peoples of the world and 8 pictures from classical mythology. '... it is without parallel the most important and most celebrated medieval map in any form, . . . and certainly the greatest extant thirteenth-century pictorial manuscript" (Christopher de Hamel, quoted on the Hereford Cathedral website, accessed 07-16-2011)."

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The Oldest Surviving Ashkenazi Illuminated Manuscript Circa 1300

The Bird's Head Haggadah. (View Larger)

The oldest surviving Ashkenazi illuminated manuscript, The Bird's Head Haggadah, produced in Southern Germany about 1300, takes its name from the birdlike human figures illustrated in its margins. It is preserved in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. 

"This motif is apparently related to the biblical (Second Commandment) prohibition against creating graven images. In the Birds' Head Haggadah, discovered by Jewish art historian Bezalel Narkiss in 1946, the realistic human figure is avoided by providing it with the head and beak of a bird, but also by distorting or hiding it — with helmets, bulbous noses, and blank faces.

"The adult males are shown wearing on their birds' heads the conical 'Jew's Hat' which was compulsory for Jews in Germany and other lands of the Holy Roman Empire from 1215 until the late Middle Ages. This early S. German haggadah is richly illustrated with biblical, eschatological and ritual scenes - the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, Moses receiving the Tablets of the Law, the manna and quails falling from the sky, and the preparation of matzah for Passover. It written by the scribe Menahem, as indicated by marked letters in the text.

"The representation of human figures with animal heads is typical of South German medieval manuscripts. In the 12th-century Ashkenazi community in southern Germany, several codifiers forbade the realistic representation of human figures, yet ruled that it was permissible to draw human figures without faces. Rabbi Ephraim of Regensburg (12th cent.) permitted the painting of animals and birds, and of two-dimensional humans, as long as they had no faces. Though he believed that as prayerbook illustrations they were a distraction , he said they did not violate the Second Commandment because they were not concrete or sculptural. 

"The great French scholar, Rashi, was more lenient; he knew of and apparently did not object to wall frescoes (presumably in the home) depicting biblical scenes, such as the fight between David and Goliath. In 12th-century France, in general, many Torah scholars discussed and permitted even the three-dimensional representation of the human form, provided that it was incomplete.

"When the art of illuminating Hebrew manuscripts emerged in Northern Europe not later than the 13th century, the inhibition as regards depicting the realistic or complete human form lingered. By presenting the human figures with animal faces and bird heads, the illustrated Hebrew manuscripts retained at least marginally the traditional prohibition against representational art" (Jewish Heritage Online Magazine, accessed 04-07-2009).

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Ivory Booklet with Scenes of the Passion Circa 1300 – 1320

An ivory booklet preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art may be one of the rarest forms of medieval books. The booklet was carved in Northern France circa 1300 and painted, and gilded in the Upper Rhine circa 1310-1320. 

"Secular examples were common, but tablets with religious subjects were extremely rare and are known primarily from surviving inventories. The exterior covers of this unusual booklet show scenes of the passion and death of Christ, while the interior covers present scenes of the Virgin. Two of the interior "pages" include painted images added at a later date; these spaces originally must have been intended for some other purpose. All the other interior panels have raised edges, creating a recess for wax that the book's owner could incise with a stylus. The wax tablets within might have contained prayers of intercession or the litanies of saints" (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1982.60.399, accessed 10-25-2011).

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The Metz Pontifical: An Unfinished Medieval Masterpiece Circa 1303 – 1316

Folios 7v-8r of the Metz Pontifical.

The Metz Pontifical, an illuminated manuscript produced for Renaut de Bar, Bishop of Metz (1303-1316), and preserved at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, has the added virtue, from the standpoint of historical research, of being unfinished. Its manner of production is shown in an interesting flash animation on the Fitzwilliam website at this link. The manuscript was donated to the Fitzwilliam Museum by Henry Yates Thompson through the auspices of the museum's director, Sydney Cockerell.

Fifty-two other illuminated manuscripts owned by Yates Thompson are preserved in the British Library, which has an extensive article about Thompson and his fabulous collection at this link.

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Islamic History Containing the Earliest Notice of Chinese Printing from a Non-Chinese Source 1307

A scene from Rashid al-Din Tabib's 'Jami al-Tawarikh' in which the Ghazan Khan is converted to Islam. (View Larger)

In 1307 Persian physician of Jewish origin, polymathic writer and historian from HamadanRashīd al-Dīn Tabīb (Persian: رشیدالدین طبیب) also Rashīd al-Dīn Fadhl-allāh Hamadānī (Persian: رشیدالدین فضل‌الله همدانی), a convert to Islam, wrote in the Persian language a history, very long for the time, entitled Jami al-Tawarikh.  

"It was in three volumes with a total of approximately 400 pages, with versions in Persian, Arabic and Mongol. The work describes cultures and major events in world history from China to Europe; in addition, it covers Mongol history, as a way of establishing their cultural legacy. The lavish illustrations and calligraphy required the efforts of hundreds of scribes and artists, with the intent that two new copies (one in Persian, and one in Arabic) would be created each year and distributed to schools and cities around the Ilkhanate, in the Middle East, Central Asia, Asia Minor, and the Indian sub-continent. Approximately 20 illustrated copies were made of the work during Rashid al-Din's lifetime, but only a few portions remain, and the complete text has not survived. The oldest known copy is an Arabic version, of which half has been lost, but one set of pages is currently in the Khalili Collection, comprising 59 folios from the second volume of the work. Another set of pages, with 151 folios from the same volume, is owned by the Edinburgh University Library. Two Persian copies from the first generation of manuscripts survive in the Topkapi Palace Library in Istanbul. The early illustrated manuscripts together represent 'one of the most important surviving examples of Ilkhanid art in any medium' and are the largest surviving body of early examples of the Persian miniature"( Wikipedia article on Jami al-Tawarikh, accessed 01-25-2012).

This history contained a discussion of printing in China. The description of the printing process bears very strong resemblance to the processes used in the large printing ventures in China under Feng Dao (932–953):

"When any book was desired, a copy was made by a skillful calligrapher on tablets and carefully corrected by proof-readers whose names were inscribed on the back of the tablets. The letters were then cut out by expert engravers, and all pages of the books consecutively numbered. When completed, the tablets were placed in sealed bags to be kept by reliable persons, and if anyone wanted a copy of the book, he paid the charges fixed by the government. The tablets were then taken out of the bags and imposed on leaves of paper to obtain the printed sheets as desired. In this way, alterations could not be made and documents could be faithfully transmitted. Under this system he had copies made, lent them to friends, and urged them to transcribe them and return the originals. He had Arabic translations made of those works he composed in Persian, and Persian translations of works composed in Arabic. When the translations had been prepared, he deposited them in the mosque library of the Rab'-e Rashidi" (Wikipedia article on Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, accessed 08-20-2014).

"This is the earliest notice of Chinese printing, aside from the making of paper money, outside of East Asiatic sources. It is evident that Rashid had a reasonably reliable source of information and that the printing in which he was interested was the printing of books, especially historical records. Where he failed was in not grasping the importance of the new art as an economical means of disseminating literature and in seeing it merely as a means of authenticating the exact text—a characteristic of Chinese official printing that has already been noticed . . . ." (Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed[1955] 173).

In 1980, a 120-page illuminated version of Rashīd al-Dīn's manuscript in Arabic was sold at Sotheby's to Nasser David Khalili of London for £850,000, then the highest price ever paid for an Arabic manuscript. In August 2014 an extensive description of Khalili manuscript was available from Saudi Aramco World at this link.

♦ Also in August 2014 a digital facsimile of the Jami al-Twarikh of Rashid al-Din in Edinburgh University Library, which was considered another portion of the identical manuscript from which the Khalili portion originated, was available from Edinburgh University Library at this link. The Edinburgh portion was collected by Colonel John Baillie and donated to Edinburgh University in 1876.

(This entry was last revised on 08-20-2014.)


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The Speculum humanae salvationis 1309 – 1500

The Speculum humanae salvationis or Mirror of Human Salvation, a bestselling anonymous illustrated encyclopedic work of popular theology, originated between 1309 (since it refers to the Pope being at Avignon) and 1324, the date on two copies.  A preface, probably from the original manuscript, states that the author did not identify himself out of humility, though numerous suggestions of authorship have been made. The author was almost certainly a cleric, and there is evidence he was a Dominican. A leading candidate for authorship is Ludolph of SaxonyVincent of Beauvais has also been proposed.

The Speculum humanae salvationis falls into the category of encyclopedic speculum literature concentrating on the medieval theory of typology, in which events of the Old Testament foretold events of the New Testament. The original version was in rhyming Latin verse, describing a series of New Testament events, each of which was prefigured by three Old Testament events. The work must have been very widely copied, as it remains one of the most widely preserved of illuminated manuscript texts; over 350 medieval manuscript copies survive in Latin, and the text was also translated and copied into Dutch, French, German, English and Czech. Almost all the copies were illustrated, following the pattern of the manuscripts dated 1324, but from an exemplar that was probably lost. "In the prologue is the statement that the learned can find information from the scriptures, but the unlearned must be taught by pictures, which are the books of the lay people" (Wilson & Wilson 24). It was also one of the most widely printed texts in the fifteenth century, both in blockbook and editions printed from movable type. There were four blockbook editions (two in Latin and two in Dutch), and sixteen editions printed from movable type by 1500. 

"No works of the late Gothic had more influence on artists working in all the media than the Biblia pauperum and the Speculum humanae salvationis. The influence of the typological text and illustrations of the latter can be seen in the fourteenth-century stained glass windows of churches at Mulhouse, Colmar, Rouffach, and Wissembourg. The woodcuts of the blockbooks clearly appear in designs of the fifteenth-century sculptures of the church of Saint-Maurice at Vienne and in the famous tapestries of the Life of Christ at La Chaise-Dieu and the series at Rheims. Mâle states that one could be sure that any Flemish artist of importance had in his atelier manuscripts of these two works. Jan van Eyck, in 1440, worked from a Speculum in the triptych for the church of Saint-Martin in Ypres. The typological treatment of the Nativity was traditional and one might assume that Van Eyck could find it in other sources, but on the exterior of the side panel is the earliest example, in panel painting, of the Annunciation to Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl just as it appears in the Speculum. This subject entered the artistic iconography specifically through the Speculum text and image. There was a copy also in the atelier of Roger van der Weyden, as can be seen in the famous Bladelin triptych, where the same prefigurations of the Nativity are pictured. The use of both books as sources, in a single work of art, is not uncommon" (Wilson & Wilson, A Medieval Mirror. Speculum humanae salvationis 1324-1500 [1984] 28-29).

In November 2013 a digital facsimile of an illuminated manuscript of the Speculum humanae salvationis produced in Paris or Flanders circa 1430-1450 and preserved in Einsiedeln at the Stiftsbibliothek was available from e-codices at this link.  Another digital facsimile of an illuminated manuscript, preserved in Sarnen at the Benediktinenkollegium, written in 1427, possibly by Brother Thomas de Austria ordinis sancti Johannis, was available from e-codices at this link.  

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The Luttrell Psalter, Preserving the Memory of Ordinary Folk Alongside the Mighty and the Wealthy 1320 – 1340

Between 1320 and 1340 Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, Lord of the Manor of Irnham, Lincolnshire, England, commissioned the Luttrell Psalter (British Library Add. MS 42130). This psalter, written by a single anonymous scribe and illustrated by at least five different anonymous artists, contains one of the most extensive collections of images of everyday rural life of both nobles and ordinary people in medieval England. While the Luttrell Psalter was not the first to include scenes of contemporary rustic life, the number of its images and their fascinating details, and their lively and often humorous aspects provide a virtual "documentary" of work and play during a year on an estate like Sir Geoffrey's. Because of the number of collaborators involved in its production it is thought that the psalter could not have been created in the small village of Irnham, but was perhaps created in the larger town of Lincoln.

"The Luttrell Psalter is one of the most intensely personalized of medieval books and betokens a heightened level of intimacy between patron, planner and maker. It is interesting that such audacious experiments in achieving a fully synthesized relationship between the conventional major decorated components of a liturgical or devotional manuscript and innovative didactic/entertaining images in its marginal space, should have been undertaken in a commission by a 'new man' with social aspirations, at the junction between the rural knightly classes and the great barons of the realm. Perhaps only such previously unploughed ground could successfully nurture the seeds of such innovation, free of the strangling conventions surrounding the production of books for royalty and the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

"In such cases, the relationships between the work's planners, patrons and makers in producing a combined 'text' bears comparison with the modern film industry. As in the collaboration between director, producer, production team and actors, each can contribute their own aspects of 'reading' or interpretation, without necessarily departing from an established 'script' or storyboard. Film is not usually 'history' or temporally disembodied 'art' (though it can be both) - neither is the Luttrell Psalter. It represents one of the most imaginative attempts in art to provide not only metaphorical and literal illustrations of the text, with word-images playing upon individual phrases, words or syllables  (as on f. 152v where two naked men are foot wrestling, taking their cue from the Latin word passer on the line above, which in courtly French indicates pas, 'step/foot', and also the past, passé, with which such exotic peoples were often associated in the medieval imagination and f. 87v, where the star announcing the birth of Christ to the Magi and the shepherds hangs from the phrase nati sunt, 'are born'), but to relate them to the trials and tribulations, boons and blessings of everyday life. The temporal continuum links past, present and future: its images seek not only to depict fourteenth century realities but also to explore eternal meanings" (Michelle P. Brown, The World of the Luttrell Psalter [2006] 56-57).

The Luttrell Psalter was acquired by the British Museum in 1929 with the assistance of financier and collector J. P. Morgan who loaned the museum the very high purchase of price of 30,000 guineas (£31,500) interest free. Because of the wide social appeal of its imagery, and its other unique features, the manuscript was the subject of extensive scholarship since it passed into public ownership. There were also two printed facsimile editions, the second of which (in full color) was issued by The Folio Society in 2006 with a commentary by Michelle P. Brown. In August 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available from the British Library at this link. With the digital facsimile the British Library posted a very detailed table of contents of the manuscript plus a bibliography of the most significant scholarly works about it. Also in August 2014 a portion of the manuscript was available from the British Library through its "Turning the Pages" program at this link. A collection of captioned still images from the psalter was available from Wikimedia at this link. In 2010 Lincolnshire Heritage Filmakers produced a 20 minute dramatization of events depicted in the manuscript entitled The Luttrell Psalter Film.

The contents of the manuscript, as listed by the British Library are as follows:

 ff. 1r-12v: Calendar, with the feasts of the following English saints included: Edward (18 March), Augustine (26 May), Translation of Thomas of Canterbury (7 July), Wilfrid (12 October), Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln (17 November); Edmund (20 November); Thomas of Canterbury (29 December). The title 'Papa' and references to the feasts of Thomas of Canterbury (except his Translation) have been scored through with a pen; ff. 13r-259v: Psalter, Gallican version; ff. 259v-283r: Canticles and the 'Quicunque Vult'; ff. 283v-293v: Litany; ff. 293v-295v: Five collects: Deus cui proprium est (ff. 293v-294r); Omnipotens sempiterne deus quie facis mirabilia (ff. 294r); Pretende domine famulis et famulabus (ff. 294r-294v); Deus qui es sanctorum tuorum splendor (ff. 294v-295r); Deus propicius esto michi mierimo peccatori (ff. 295r-295v). ff. 296r-309v: Office of the Dead, use of Sarum, incomplete, breaking off at the 3rd versicle after the 9th lesson, with musical notation. Marginal additions (14th-15th century) give alternative cues for the responses to the 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th lessons at Matins, e.g., 'Subvenite sancti dei', (f. 303), 'Domine secundum actum meum', (f. 308). Decoration: The Calendar (ff. 1r-12v) contains: 10 large hybrids in colours in the outer margins, 12 decorated initials with foliate partial borders in colours with gold and initials in red, blue and gold with penwork decoration. The Psalter (ff. 13r-259v) contains: One framed bas-de page miniature with full border (f. 202v). Over 400 decorated borders with bas-de page scenes in colours with gold, containing a variety of figural, foliate, monstrous, genre and religious motifs (on every page from f. 13r to 215r and infrequently to f. 259v). 10 large historiated initials at beginning of the major Psalms. The remainder of the volume (ff. 259v-309v) contains: 1 historiated initial (f. 263v) with partial border in colours with gold. A full border with a bas-de page scene (f. 266r). Framed initials in colours with gold, with zoomorphic or foliate decoration, at the beginning of the remaining psalms. Square and diamond-shaped musical notation on a stave of four red lines in the Office of the Dead (ff. 296r-309v). The subjects of the large historiated initials in the Psalter are: f. 13r: Psalm 1, David playing the harp; f. 51r: Psalm 26, A saint pointing to his eye; f. 75v: Psalm 38, David pointing to his tongue; f. 97v: Psalm 51, A saint pulling out the tongue of a seated man; f. 98v: Psalm 52, Standing fool; f. 121v: Psalm 68, David, crowned and naked, standing in water; f. 149r: Psalm 80, David playing a psaltery; f. 174r: Psalm 97, Five clerics chanting with a psalter containing musical notation; f. 177v: Psalm 101, Man kneeling before the Lord in the heavens; f. 203r: Psalm 109, David, seated at the Lord's right hand. The subjects of the smaller historiated initials are: f. 14v: Christ blessing; f. 15v: Head of a young man; f. 16v: David praying to a head with a halo; f. 18r: Head of a king; f. 20v: Christ showing wounds; f. 28r: Head of a fool; f. 38v: A man knocking at the door of a shrine, surrounded by waves (?); f. 40r: David praying; f. 46v: Head of a bearded man; f. 53v: The beheading of John the Baptist by a blue-coloured executioner with a golden sword (the execution takes place in a building resembling the Tower of London).f. 61r: A lady playing a rote; f. 68r: Head of a lady; f. 79v: A man confronted by two beggars; f. 81r: Christ with a kneeling soul; f. 86r: The Virgin and Child, with a bird; f. 88r: Christ with David kneeling; f. 89r: David with seven men, all clapping hands; f. 90r: Grotesques; f. 157r: David praying to a head with a halo; f. 158v: A monk reading and a grotesque; f. 165r: Christ standing and blessing; f. 166v: Christ holding a book, with a kneeling man; f. 170v: Two trumpeters; f. 171v: Two laymen singing; f. 176v: Two birds singing; f. 180r: A soul praying to a head with halo; f. 185v: Christ hearing confession; f. 205v: Three boys kneeling;f. 263v: Two clerks singing with music on a lectern.The subjects of the bas-de-page scenes include: ff. 86r-96v: Scenes from the life of Christ;f. 147v: Archers practising;f. 158r: A miller in his windmill;f. 161r, Bear-baiting;f. 161v, A ship in full sail;f. 163v: A wattle pen full of sheep;f. 164v: The city of Constantinople;ff. 169v-174v: Scenes from country life such as ploughing and weeding;f. 181r, A watermill;ff. 181v-182r: A carriage decorated with eagles and gold fabric, with royal ladies inside, pulled by a team of five horses;f. 193r: Women spinning;f. 196v: A boy stealing cherries from a tree;f. 202v: Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, mounted, armed, and attended by his wife Agnes (nee Sutton, d. 1340) and his daughter-in-law Beatrice, (nee Scrope), with the heraldic devices of the three families.ff. 206v-207r: Preparations for a feast;f. 207v, Serving the feast;f. 208r: The Luttrell family feasting.Coats of arms are found throughout the manuscript, including ff. 59, 157, 163, 171 (Luttrell); f. 41 (Sutton); f. 161 (Scrope)." 

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A Painted Wood Panel that Once Covered an Account Book 1343

A painted wood panel preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and dated 1343 once covered an account book compiled by the biccherna of Siena, a committee who served as administrators and treasurers of the commune. 

"The scene at the top shows three of the five committee members, all of whose names are listed in the inscription below. The carmarlingo, or secretary, wearing the white robes of a Cistercian monk, counts a bag of money before two officers with record books. The painted book cover belongs to a long tradition of Sienese civic commissions. For some 500 years beginning in 1258, the commune hired local painters to decorate the covers of the financial books at the end of each fiscal term" (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/10.203.3, accessed 12-03-2013).

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The Earliest Depiction of Eyeglasses in a Painted Work of Art 1352

The first depiction of spectacles in art: a portrait of Cardinal Hugo of Provence at his writing desk, painted by Tommaso de Mondena in fresco in the Basilica San Nicolo in Treviso, Italy. (View Larger)

"The earliest depiction of spectacles [eyeglasses] in a painted work of art occurs in a series of frescoes dated 1352 by Tommaso da Modena in the Chapter House of the Seminario attached to the Basilica San Nicolo in Treviso, north of Venice. Cardinal Hugo of Provence [Hugh de St. Cher] is shown at his writing desk wearing a pair of rivet spectacles that appear to stay in place on the nose without additional support. The Cardinal actually died in the 1260s and could never have worn spectacles! Across the room Cardinal Nicholas of Rouen is depicted using a monocular lens in the style of later quizzing glasses. The artist has even tried to represent the physical effort of straining to see the book through the lens. The men depicted in this series of paintings are Dominicans (like Fra Rivalto), members of a dynamic monastic order founded in 1217 and regarded as 'the carrier of the sciences'. It is notable that visual aids are portrayed as devices for the use of literate men as well as aesthetes - they had, after all, commissioned this important work of early Renaissance art" (London College of Optometrists web page on the Invention of Spectacles, accessed 06-22-2009).

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1400 – 1450

The Bedford Hours and its History Circa 1410 – 1430

The Bedford Hours, a late medieval book of hours, was probably produced in Paris for John, Duke of Bedford to celebrate his marriage to Anne, daughter of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Production was was in several stages from about 1410 to about 1430, with new material added as the manuscript passed from owner to owner. Some of its miniatures have been attributed to the Bedford Master (possibly Haincelin of Hagenau, who was working in Paris at the time), or to the Chief Associate of the Bedford Master, or simply to the "Bedford Workshop".

The work of the Bedford Master and the Bedford Workshop have been identified in other manuscripts from the period, including the Salisbury Breviary (Bibliothèque nationale de France MS.lat. 17294), also owned by the Duke of Bedford. The style and quality of the illumination in the Bedford Hours is also related to that in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry illuminated by the Limbourg brothers. It is also possible that some of the miniatures in the Bedford Hours were based on images in the Très Riches Heures.

"The origins of the manuscript are not known with certainty, nor is there agreement on its initial patron. The inclusion of certain heraldic symbols in its decorative programme may suggest an original patronage in the French royal family, perhaps the dauphinLouis of Guyenne (d. 1415). Or this first stage in production might have taken place later, after Louis's death, the heraldic symbols having no immediate reference to patronage, but simply being part of the standard iconographic programme of the workshop.

"In the early 1420s the manuscript was in the possession of John of Lancaster, the Duke of Bedford and regent of France on behalf of his nephew Henry VI from 1422 until his death in 1435. In 1423, he gave the manuscript to his wife Anne of Burgundy as a wedding present. Personalizing additions to the manuscript's illumination that commemorate its ownership by the Duke and Duchess of Bedford include two large portrait miniatures (ff. 256v and 257v), showing John kneeling before St George and Anne of Burgundy kneeling before St Anne.

"In 1430 Anne gave the manuscript as a Christmas present to the nine-year-old Henry VI, who was staying with the Bedfords in Rouen before his coronation as king of France. This gift was memorialized in the manuscript itself, on f. 256r, in an inscription made at the duke's request, written by John Somerset, Henry's tutor and personal physician. It is possible that it was in preparing the book as a gift to Henry that the portrait miniatures of the Bedfords were added, along with other additions to the programme of illumination.

"Later owners include King Henry II of France and his wife Catherine de' Medici (identifiable by their coats of arms, added to the manuscript), and Frances Worsley (1673-1750), wife of Sir Robert Worsley, 4th baronet of Appuldurcombe. Edward Harley probably purchased the manuscript from Frances Worsley, but he did not will it to his widow with the rest of the Harley collection, instead bequeathing it directly to his daughter, Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland...." (Wikipedia article on Bedford Hours, accessed 11-07-2013). 

After the death of the Duchess of Portland, on May 24, 1786 the English bookseller James Edwards purchased the Bedford Hours for £213.3s. at the sale of her collections. Edwards commissioned the antiquarian and writer Richard Gough to prepare a monograph on the manuscript. This work entitled An Account of a Rich Illuminated Missal Executed for John Duke of Bedford, Regent of France under Henry VI, and afterwards in the Possession of the Late Duchess of Portland, was printed by John Nichols and published by T. Payne in London in 1794. A work of 86 pages in quarto format, with 4 black and white engraved plates depicting full-page illuminations in the manuscript, this was the first monograph on an illuminated manuscript published in English, and may be considered the beginning of English scholarship on illuminated manuscripts. Most of its text was devoted to explaining details in each of the 59 full-page miniatures, and discussing details of its prior owners. My copy, which bears the bookplate of the Bibliotheca Lindesiana, contains pencil notes on p. 82 tracing later owners of the copy from which I quote:

"Subsequently belonged to the 5th Duke of Marlbourgh (£687.15.0). John Milner (£800) & Sir John Tobin of Liverpool (£1250), & in Jan. 1852 it was sold by the Rev. John Tobin, son of the last-named, with five other MSS to the bookseller William Boone, who ... transferred all six MSS... to the British Museum for £3000 (2 Feb. 1852)."

The Bedford Hours is preserved in the British Library (Add. MS 18850). In February 2014 a digital facsimile of all aspects of the manuscript was available at this link.

Backhouse, "A Reappraisal of the Bedford Hours" (1981).

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Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry Circa 1413 – 1416

Folio 64v of Les Très Riches Heures, for the month of June. (View Larger)

About 1413 to 1416 artists Herman, Paul, and Johan Limbourg, working for their patron, Jean, Duc de Berry created the paintings for the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. It is a very richly decorated book of hours containing prayers to be said by the lay faithful at each of the canonical hours of the day.

This book, with its spectacular miniature paintings, has been called the most important illuminated manuscript of the late 15th century, and "le roi des manuscrits enluminés." It remained unfinished at the death of the Duc de Berry in 1416; the artists died the same year, leading to the suggestion that the deaths of artists and patron were caused by plague.

"The Très Riches Heures consists of 416 pages, including 131 with large miniatures and many more with border decorations or historiated initials, that are among the high points of International Gothic painting in spite of their small size. There are 300 decorated capital letters. The book was worked on, over a period of nearly a century, in three stages, led by the Limbourg brothers, Barthélemy van Eyck, and Jean Colombe....

"The writing, illuminated capitals, border decorations, and gilding was most likely executed by other specialists who remain mostly unknown. The Limbourg brothers left the book unfinished and unbound at their, and the Duke's, death in 1416. The work passed to the Duke's cousin, the royal art lover and amateur painter René d'Anjou, who had an unidentified artist, the so-called Master of the Shadows, who was probably Barthélemy van Eyck, work on the book in the 1440s. Forty years later Charles I, Duc de Savoie commissioned Jean Colombe to finish the paintings between 1485 and 1489.The paintings of Colombe are easy to distinguish, as are those of the Master of the Shadows (Barthélemy d'Eyck)" (Wikipedia article on the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, accessed 11-22-2008).

The manuscript is preserved in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, France.

A detail from folio 14v of Les Très Riches Heures. (View Larger)

John of Valois, the Magnificent, "Jean, Duc de Berry", Duke of Berry and Auvergne and Count of Poitiers and Montpensier, has been called the greatest patron of illuminated manuscripts of his age. His library was probably the most artistically significant of all private libraries collected during the late Middle Ages. The third son of King John II of France and Bonne of Luxemburg; his brothers were Charles V, King of France, Louis I of Anjou, King of Naples and Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.

Jean maintained numerous estates, including vast collections of art works of many kinds. He also died heavily in debt. Even though his library was much smaller in number than other collections it is far better preserved and accounted for since, for example, items with precious metal may have been melted down, and gemstones dispersed.

Numerous inventories of Jean's library were preserved, the earliest from 1402. Ironically perhaps, because of the many debts that Jean left at his death, aspects of his estate had to be liquidated, and the inventory of his books in the Chateau de Mehun prepared for Jean Bourne, "contrôleur de sa maison," was preserved, including appraised values of the 162 manuscripts, the greatest of which were recognized to be of immense monetary value at the time. This inventory, preserved at the Bibliothèque de Saint-Geneviève, Paris, was published completely for the first time by as La librairie de Jean, duc de Berry, au château de Mehun-sur-Yèvre, 1416, publiée en entier pour la première fois des notes by Hiver de Beauvoir (1860). 

A detail from folio 147v of Les Très Riches Heures. (View Larger)

The most comprehensive study of Jean, Duc de Berry's library, which collated all extant inventories and listed a total of 297 manuscripts with their references in the manuscript inventories, was by Léopold Delisle. In this comprehensive study Delisle included an index by author and subject, and provided an inventory of extant manuscripts from the Duc de Berry library in French and foreign libraries. This was Recherches sur la librairie de Charles V. Partie II. Inventaire des livres ayant appartenu aux rois Charles V et Charles VI et à Jean, Duc de Berry (1907). The study of the library of Jean, Duc de Berry, appears on pp. 217-331.

When Delisle published nearly all of the Berry manuscripts were in institutional collections, primarily in France. Manuscripts remaining in private hands included some the most important: "Second morceau des Heures dites de Turin", and The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux illuminated by Jean Pucelle, formerly in the collection of Madam la baronne Adolphe de Rothschild, now at The Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Les Belles Heures du duc de Berry" in the collection of M. le baron Edmond de Rothschild, and now also at the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The library of Sir Thomas Phillipps contained "Débat sur le roman de la Rose," and Henry Yates Thompson owned "Tomes I et II du Miroir historial, en français", "La Bible historiale donnée par le duc de Berry à Jean Harpedenne", and "Le second volume de la Cité de Dieu en français."

Longnon & Cazelles, The Tres Riches Heures of Jean, Duc of Berry (1969) reproduces the manuscript in facsimile with an introduction that includes information concerning the history of the ownership of the manuscript before it was deposited in the Musée Conde by Henri d'Orleans, Duc d'Aumale in 1897.

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The Earliest Dated European Woodblock Print 1418 – 1423

St. Christopher woodcut, 1423.

The earliest dated European form of xylographic or woodblock prints are religious souvenirs known as "helgen." The earliest recorded helgen is a portrait of the Virgin dated 1418 in the Royal Library of Brussels, however, "there is the probability that it is only a copy, made about 1450, of an earlier print now lost, on which the artist retained the date of the original" (Clair, A Chronology of Printing [1969] 7).

The earliest known dated European woodblock print or woodcut is a portrait of St. Christopher dated 1423 preserved in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, England.

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The Aztec Calendar Stone 1427 – 1479

The Aztec Calendar Stone. (View Larger)

The Aztec calendar stone or Aztec Sunstone Calendar, carved in basalt, is 3.6 meters (12 feet) in diameter and weighs about 24 metric tons. Containing images representing Aztec measurement of days, months, and cosmic cycles, the stone was completed during the 52 year period between 1427 and 1479 CE. It was originally placed atop the main temple in Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire, facing south in a vertical position and was painted a vibrant red, blue, yellow and white.

When the Spaniards conquered Tenochtitlan in 1521 they buried the stone, and built the cathedral of Mexico City on the site. For over 250 years the stone was lost until December of 1790 when it was excavated by accident during repair work on the cathedral. Today it is located in the  Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Mexico City.

"The stone was first described by the Mexican astronomer, anthropologist and writer, Antonio de León y Gama in Descripción histórica y cronológica de las dos piedras: que con ocasión del empedrado que se está formando en la plaza Principal de México, se hallaron en ella el año de 1790. Impr. de F. de Zúñiga y Ontiveros, 1792. "In it Leon y Gama described the discovery in 1790 of two of the most important pieces of aztec art in the Zócalo, main plaza of the city of Mexico: the sun stone and a statue of Coatlicue, an aztec goddess. Leon y Gama also included in it most of his knowledge and theories on how Aztecs measured time. The work, as opposed to authors of previous centuries, praised Aztec society and their scientific and artistic achievements in line with the growing Mexican nationalism in the late 18th century. It was published by Felipe de Zúñiga y Ontiveros, [scientist and cartographer and] owner of one of the most important printing establishments in America at the time. In addition to print the book had three folded manuscript watercolor drawings [presumably hand-colored engravings.] Thanks to the publication of the book Leon y Gama is considered by many the first Mexican archeologist" (Wikipedia article on Antonio de León y Gama, accessed 01-01-2010).

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The Earliest Known Artist to Produce Copperplate Engravings 1435 – 1455

A rendition of the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian by the Master of Playing Cards, preserved at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. (View Larger)

The first artist known to produce copperplate engravings, and the "first personality" in the history of printmaking, the "Master of the Playing Cards," was active in Germany from roughly 1435 to 1455. Of this artist about 100 engravings are known. He is associated with playing cards because sixty of his engravings are playing cards— the first cards printed from intaglio plates.

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Description of Textile Printing and Manuscript Illumination as Well as Painting July 31, 1437

Il Libro dell Arte, often translated as "The Craftsman's Handbook," by Italian painter Cennino d' Andrea Cennini of Colle Val d'Elsa, Tuscany

"is a "how to" on Renaissance art. It contains information on pigments, brushes, panel painting, the art of fresco, and techniques and tricks, including detailed instructions for underdrawing, underpainting and overpainting in egg tempera. Cennini also provides an early, if somewhat crude, discussion of painting in oils. His discussion of oil painting was important for dispelling the myth, propagated by Giorgio Vasari and Karel Van Mander, that oil painting was invented by Jan van Eyck (although Theophilus (Roger of Helmerhausen) clearly gives instructions for oil-based painting in his treatise, On Divers Arts, written in 1125)" (Wikipedia article on Cennino Cennini, accessed 01-26-2012).

Cennini's handbook includes a description of methods used by Europeans for textile printing.  The work was first published in print in Italian by Tambroni (Rome, 1821) from a codex dated July 31, 1437 discovered in the Vatican Library by the Italian cardinal and humanist Angelo Mai. It was first translated into English by Mrs. Merrifield and published (London, 1844) as A Treatise on Painting. . . .containing practical directions for painting in Fresco, Secco, Oil, and Distmper with the art of Gilding and Illuminating Manuscripts adopted by the Old Italian Masters. The first English translation contained an elaborately chromolithographed and gilt frontispiece emulating the design of medieval manuscripts.

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The Most Extensively Portrayed Late Medieval Scribe and Author Circa 1449 – 1472

Detail of painting showing presentation by Jean Miélot to "Philip the Good," Duke of Burgundy, of his translation of the Traité sur l'oraison dominicale. Miniature by Jean le Tavernier, 1454-7, Brussels.  Please click to see entire image.

Detail of grisaille style painting of Jean Miélot writing in his scriptorium. Please click to see entire image.

Detail from a fine portrait of Miélot, by an unknown miniaturist.  Please click to view entire image.

During his employment from 1449 to 1467 as secretary to Philip the GoodDuke of Burgundy, the Burgundian author, translator, manuscript illuminator, scribe and priest Jean Miélot (Miéllot) was primarily engaged in the production of deluxe illuminated manuscripts for Philip's library. Miélot translated many works, both religious and secular, from Latin or Italian into French, and wrote or compiled books himself; he also composed verse. Between his own writings and his translations Miélot produced some twenty-two works while working for Philip, the leading bibliophile in Northern Europe at the time. In the years after his death in 1472 many of Miélot's works appeared in print, influencing the development of French prose style. 

While Miélot usually personally wrote out Philip's copies of his various writings, and was responsible for creating a "minute" or dummy of the planned book showing the subject and location of the various miniatures and illuminated letters, Miélot would not have had the time to produce the miniatures for so many manuscripts, and it is likely that he was influential in allocating commissions to various miniaturists who created the manuscript illuminations. Because the miniaturists were indebted to him for the work, and because of the Burgundian fashion at the time for presentation miniatures, in which the author is shown presenting the book to the duke or other patron, an unusually large number of portraits of Miélot as author and scribe appear in the ducal copies of Miélot's works. 

"Philip the Good was the leading bibliophile of Northern Europe, and employed a number of scribes, copyists and artists, with Miélot holding a leading position among the former groups.... His translations were first produced in draft form, called a 'minute', with sketches of the images and illuminated letters. If this was approved by the Duke, after being examined and read aloud at court, then the final de luxe manuscript for the Duke's library would be produced on fine vellum, and with the sketches worked up by specialist artists. Miélot's minute for his Le Miroir de l'Humaine Salvation survives in the Bibliothèque Royale Albert I in Brussels, which includes two self-portraits of him richly dressed as a layman. The presentation portrait to La controverse de noblesse, a year later, shows him with a clerical tonsure. His illustrations are well composed, but not executed up to the standard of manuscripts for the court. His text, on the other hand, is usually in a very fine Burgundian bastarda blackletter script, and paleographers can recognise his hand" (Wikipedia article on Jean Miélot, accessed 11-04-2013). 

In Miélot's translation of the Traité sur l'oraison dominicale produced for Philip between 1454 and 1457, and preserved in the Bibliothèque Royale, Brussels (Ms. 9082 fol. 1r) there is a miniature by the Flemish painter Jean Le Tavernier showing Miélot presenting the manuscript to Philip. An excellent reproduction of this appears in Wilson & Wilson, A Medieval Mirror (1984) p. 49. About 1456. Miélot completed his manuscript compilation of the Miracles de Notre Dame for Philip. In this manuscript, preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Flemish artist Jean Le Tavernier, an expert in the grisaille technique of manuscript illumination, included a splendid grisaille portrait of Jean Miélot writing in his scriptorium, probably in the ducal library. The portrait, which appears on folio 19r, includes very detailed renderings of the room's furnishings, and the writer's materials, equipment, and activity. Still another fine portrait of Miélot, by an unknown miniaturist, appears in Brussels Royal Library, MS 9278, fol. 10r.

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1450 – 1500

Model Book for Manuscript and Printed Book Illumination Circa 1450

The Göttingen Model Book, dating to the mid-15th century, contains instructions for the ornamentation of books and the creation of pigments. These methods can be seen in practice in several early Gutenberg Bibles. (View Larger)

The Göttingen Model Book, preserved at Niedersächische Staats- und Universitäts Bibliothek Göttingen,

 "is a painting book for the drawing of leaves, initials and patterned backgrounds in different color combinations; even the composition of the colors is described in detail. The book decorations described in this manuscript can be found in the earliest period of printing in several Gutenberg Bibles, including the Göttingen copy of the B42" 

The manuscript arrived in Göttingen in 1770 with the bequest of the library of Johann Friedrich Armand von Uffenbach. It was published in print as Lehmann-Haupt (ed) The Göttingen Model Book. A Facsimile Edition and Translation of a Fifteenth-Century Illuminators' Manual (1972). 

In August 2014 a digital facsimile of the Göttingen Model Book was available at this link

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The Hours of Philip the Good, Illuminated with Miniatures Using the Grisaille Technique 1450 – 1460

Detail of page from Philip the Good's Book of Hours.  Please click to view entire image.

Detail of portrait of Philip the Good. Please click to view entire image.


The Book of Hours of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, was written between 1450 and 1460 by author, translator, manuscript illuminator, scribe and priest Jean Miélot (Miéllot), who served as the duke's secretary from 1449 to Philip's death in 1467. Many of the illuminations were created by Jean le Tavernier, a miniaturist from Oudenaarde, Belgium, who specialized in grisaille— a technique executed entirely in monochrome or near-monochrome, usually in shades of gray.  A number of these grisailles depict Philip the Good praying.

"For a long time it was thought that this book of hours from the KB [Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands] collection is the one mentioned in an archival record from 1455, in which Philip the Good orders a payment to be made to Jean Le Tavernier for grisailles. However, recent research has shown that this reference actually is to another book of hours in Philips' library. The manuscript has, at a certain point, probably around 1500, been enlarged by adding new texts and images. The scribe and illuminator of the additions have done their utmost to make them as similar as possible to the existing ones. The book holds no less than 165 miniatures; 126 of them can be ascribed to Jean le Tavernier or an associate; the remaining 39 are by the anonymous illuminator of the additions, who is known as the 'Master of the Prayer Books of c.1500' " (http://www.kb.nl/en/digitized-books/book-of-hours-philip-of-burgundy/introduction, accessed 11-03-2013).

When I visited the website of the National Library of the Netherlands in November 2013 the site indicated that a digital facsimile of the Hours of Philip the Good was available; however, the link to the facsimile did not operate. 

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Jean Fouquet Paints the Earliest Portrait Miniature and Possibly the Earliest Formal Self-Portrait 1452 – 1455

The self-portrait miniature painted by Jean Fouquet.

Portrait of a Man in a Turban by Jan van Eyck.

In 1452 or 1453 French panel painter and manuscript illuminator Jean (or Jehan) Fouquet painted the first portrait miniature, a circular self-portrait, preserved in the Louvre. 

Fouquet's self-portrait miniature might be the earliest sole self-portrait surviving in Western art. However, most art historians believe that Jan van Eyck's painting known as Portrait of a Man with a Turban, painted about twenty years earlier in 1433, and preserved in the National Gallery, London, is a self-portrait.

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Filed under: Art / Art Trade

The Giant Bible of Mainz: Possibly the Model for the Typography in the Gutenberg Bible April 4, 1452 – July 9, 1453

The Giant Bible of Mainz, copied by hand in large characters as to be read from a lectern, shares many artistic characteristics with the Gutenberg Bible, and may haver served as a model for it. (View Larger)

The so-called “Giant Bible of Mainz,” one of the most magnificent Middle-Rhenish manuscript books of the fifteenth century, was written by a single scribe in two columns on parchment in gothic letters on leaves measuring 570 x 400mm.  The scribe, who has not been identified, dated his work in various places in the manuscript, finishing on July 9, 1453.

Around this time large Bibles, designed to be read from a lectern, were returning to popularity for the first time since the twelfth century. In the intervening period, small hand-held Bibles had been most widely used.

The similarity in format and calligraphic style between this manuscript and the typography of the Gutenberg Bible issued just two years later is striking, suggesting that this manuscript might be the model for the typography Gutenberg used in his 42-line Bible. There is also a striking similarity between the illumination of this manuscript and the illumination of the William H. Scheide copy of the Gutenberg Bible at Princeton University. In addition, both styles of illumination bear a strong relationship to the style of certain engraved designs by the Master of the Playing Cards, the first "major master" in the history of printmaking, and "the first personality in the history of engraving." In Gutenberg and the Master of the Playing Cards (1966) Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt suggested that the creators of these illuminations and the Master of the Playing Cards may have used a common model book which is now lost.

The manuscript is preserved in the Lessing Rosenwald Collection at the Library of Congress.

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Depiction of Mary Reading from a Manuscript Book by Hans Memling Circa 1465 – 1475

The panel painting by Hans Memling depicting the Annunciation, with Mary reading from a manuscript. (Click on the image to view larger.)

One of the largest surviving Netherlandish depictions of The Annunciation, the panel painting by Hans Memling preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is based upon a design by Rogier van der Weyden. The painting is notable for depicting the Virgin Mary reading from what appears to be a small manuscript codex during the very early years of the transition from manuscript to print, from about 1465 to 1475.

". . . this imposing painting may have been the left wing of a triptych commissioned by the Clugny family, whose coat of arms decorates the carpet and window. The composition is based on a design by Rogier van der Weyden. Possibly commissioned before his death in 1464, it was painted by Hans Memling who, technical evidence suggests, was a journeyman in Rogier's workshop before establishing himself in Bruges in 1465" (http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/110001941, accessed 10-25-2011).

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Three Ways that Printing Changed Manuscript Culture Circa 1470

"Having attempted to define some features of the scribal culture that dominated that area of Europe which produced the printing press, I should like in conclusion to note three aspects of the book and its use that printing, for better or worse, drastically altered. . . . Print as an Agent of Change; its author [Elizabeth Eisenstein] curiously, does not treat these three aspects of change.

"(1) With the growth of print as the normal medium of the page, the main medieval vehicle for relating new thought to inherited tradition disappears— namely, the gloss and the practice of glossing. To be sure sure glossed books like the commentaries on the Decretum, the Liber sextus or Nicholas de Lyra on the scriptures are often printed; but the printed book is not itself an object in which one writes long glosses. Perusal of Chatelain, Paléographie des classiques latin (Paris, 1884-92), will uncover pages of Virgils, Lucans, Juvenals and Horaces, the set texts of the trivium, covered with interlinear and marginal glosses of all dates. The manuscript books had in fact been laid out to be glossed, namely, with the text in large letters down the center of the page, surrounded by white space. In contrast, one can think of only a handful of printed books in which the page has been set up in type to be glossed by hand. What effect this had on processes of thought, methods of instruction, and the structured comparison of new ideas to old, would be interesting to work out.

"(2) With the advent of print the book becomes a monolithic unit, compared to its handwritten predecessor. Medieval books, particularly those individualistic owner-produced volumes of the fifteenth century, are frequently made up of numerous pieces varying from one to several quires in length, which were initially kept in loose wrappers and were bound together by the institution which inherited the volume. A person interested in a given text could copy out what he wanted and no more: thus, of the two hundred manuscripts of the Lumen anime, only half can be classified according to one of three restructurings they represent, while the other half are all hybrids, adaptations to the needs and desires of the individual owner-producer. In contrast, although printed books are on occasion copied by hand or sections of them are copied out, the average printed-book library is comprised of whole books. Not until the advent of the Xerox machine were individuals again easily able to make up books in sections or produce tailor-made collections. It would be interesting to know what effect this had on patterns of reading.

"(3) Up to about 1450, the main vehicle par excellence for painting was the manuscript book: the monuments of medieval painting are in Gospel books, Psalters, Pontificals, Breviaries and Books of Hours. The advent of printing forces painting out of the book. It is a desperate wrench. Owners of incunabula have them filled with beautiful miniatures, printers hire illuminators to adorn books with initials and frontispieces, or to water-color woodcuts printed in Books of Hours, but it is a losing battle. By 1500-1520, the Book of Hours as the fifteenth century knew it is in the death throes of mannerism and sterility. With the exception of the producers of woodcuts—Holbein, Duerer, Pieter Breughel, all of whom also painted—not a single major artist  thereafter did his major work in the medium of the printed book. While panel painting as an art form clearly antedates the invention of printing, the transition to the printed page must have encouraged the growth of the new medium which was so important to Netherlandish art in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries" (Rouse & Rouse, "Backgrounds to Print: Aspects of the Manuscript Book in Northern Europe of the Fifteenth Century," Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 465-66).

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The First Catalogue of the Vatican Library 1475

Under Pope Sixtus IV specific quarters were established to house the volumes of manuscripts and the archives that formed the nucleus of the Vatican Library. In 1475 the library prepared the first catalogue of its holdings as a manuscript for internal use in the library.

"When its first librarian, Bartolomeo Platina, produced a listing in 1481, the library held over 3,500 items, making it by far the largest in the Western world" (Wikipedia article on Vatican Library accessed 09-16-2010).

Among his other accomplishments, Sixtus IV built the Sistine Chapel

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Leonardo Builds a Programmable Mechanical Automaton 1478

In 1478, while under the patronage of the Medici, Leonardo da Vinci designed a programmable, mechanical automaton.

Leonardo's drawing for this invention was misunderstood until 1975 when Leonardo scholar Carlo Pedretti recognized that Leonardo's so-called automobile in the Codex Atlanticus is an automaton. The automaton  featured front wheel drive and rack and pinion control.

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Printed on Vellum and Illuminated by Girolamo da Cremona, and Others February 1 – October 25, 1483

In the last three decades of the fifteenth century the exponential increase in the number of books being printed created an important and lucrative new market for miniaturists, since many printed books contained areas left blank for the addition of illuminated initials and rubrications. The quality of illumination or rubrication that might have been added to printed books depended, of course, on the taste and budget of their purchasers. In Italy where antique monuments were most often seen and appreciated during the Renaissance, patrons generally favored the concentration of decoration at the beginning of volumes. This preference culminated in what has been called the "architectural frontispiece", in which lines of text, title and author of the book, or combinations of these were incorporated by the miniaturist into an imaginary antique monument resembling a triumphal arch or an epitaph. In the sixteenth century, when printed title pages and printed frontispieces for printed books became the convention, architectural borders and architectural designs, either engraved in wood or on copperplates, became a widely-used format for frontispieces and engraved title pages.
Between February 1 and October 25, 1483 printers Andreas Torresanus, de Asula (Andrea Torresani di Asolo) and Bartholomaeus de Blavis, de Alexandria of Venice issued in eight parts an edition of the Opera (Collected Works) of Aristotle, together with the Liber quinque praedicabilium (also known as the Isagoge) of the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyri. It was edited by the Paduan scholar Nicoletus Vernia (Nicoleta Vernia) with commentary by the Moroccan Andalusian Muslim polymath, and master of Aristotelian philosophy Averroes, (ʾAbū l-Walīd Muḥammad bin ʾAḥmad bin Rušd, commonly known as Ibn Rushd). It was largely through the commentaries of Averroes that the writings of Aristotle were re-introduced to European culture after the Middle Ages. The printer, Torresani, who undertook this huge edition with partners, had acquired the fonts and punches of Nicolas Jenson, from whom he learned the printing trade.

A copy of this work printed on vellum, and preserved in the Morgan Library & Museum, contains a particularly spectacular tromp l'oeil frontispiece in volume one by Girolamo da Cremona and his assistants. Girolamo was a manuscript illuminator who worked first in the North Italian courts of Ferrara and Mantua, then in Siena and Florence. By the 1470s he worked in Venice, primarily illuminating frontispieces for deluxe copies of printed books. These miniatures are known for their playful and extravagant trompe-l'oeil conceits. In Girolamo's frontispiece for volume one the vellum of the page appears to have been torn away to reveal Aristotle conversing with a turbaned figure, possibly the commentator Averroes. A Latin inscription beneath the text on this opening page states "Ulmer Aristotilem Petrus produxeat orbi" (Petrus Ulmer brought this Aristotle to the world.)  Some scholars have identified Ulmer as Peter Ugelheimer, a Frankfurt merchant resident in Venice who owned some shares in Nicolas Jenson's printing shop, and sold Jenson's fonts to Torresani. Other magnificent vellum copies of books printed by Jenson and illustrated for Ugelheimer are preserved in Gotha.

"It is unsurprising that one of the most illusionistically complex images of the late fifteenth century, the frontispiece for an edition of Aristotle’s Works probably owned by Peter Ugelheimer and painted by Girolamo da Cremona, should accompany a written discussion of cognition.  Framing the beginning of the first chapter of Aristotle’s Physics, the miniaturist has constructed a remarkably multilayered image, incorporating the text block itself into an elaborate illusionistic game. Similar to Aristotle’s text, the image invokes several orders of observation interacting within a cohesive whole. On a primary level, the surface of the folio acts as an unframed two-dimensional support, explicitly emphasizing the terms of the illusion while challenging the notion, first codified by Leon Battista Alberti about half a century earlier, of the pictorial field as a finite, unified space within a framed window. Inside the three-dimensional world of the painted page, mounted clusters of jewels, pearls, and antique cameos hanging by red strings before the surface of the parchment, casting an ethereal blue shadow upon it. These objects are nearest to the viewer, their weight and precarious placement made apparent by the tears in the parchment they seem to have produced. Receding further back, the parchment itself constitutes a second visual layer. Girolamo’s skillful shading has given it the appearance of an extensively torn sheet of vellum that curls toward the viewer. Significantly, the physical corners of the page, too, are integrated into the illusion; the central text block does not simply float in three-dimensional space but is connected to the seemingly dog-eared edges of the page. This aspect further problematizes the convention of the pictureplane as an unruptured space and is perhaps the most original device employed by the illuminator. Visible through the lacerations in the vellum, an entirely separate scene takes place; in an antiquizing border-like space, the confines of which are hard to judge, playful satyrs and fawns jostle in front of what appears to be an ornately sculpted antique monument. Finally, in the upper area of the page yet another seemingly unconnected andspatially ambiguous event is depicted — Aristotle’s disputation with Averroës. 

"These pictorial layers, their distance relative to the viewer, and their progression from literal presence (the clusters of jewels) to imaginary presence (the temporally impossible encounter between Aristotle and Averroës) parallel themes present in the introductory chapter of the Physics. According to Aristotle’s text, the study of nature must proceed along a path that moves from ‘concrete and particular’ things immediately cognizable to more ‘abstract and general’ ideas that can be derived from analysis of the former. Likewise, the beholder of this particular frontispiece must move from the immediate sensory tactility of precious stones and metalwork, through the semantic understanding of the text itself, toward a visualization of the text’s argumentative content, in this case represented by a conversation between its author and chief commentator. The frontispiece thus provides a visually appealing, accessible, and conceptually apt ‘concrete whole,’ a prolegomenon for a dense and difficult Aristotelian text that proceeds by the very method the philosopher recommends. Although the variety of visual and epistemological themes that condense in this frontispiece is unprecedented, its imagery does not simply constitute a unique pictorial gloss of Aristotle’s text by means of a particularly erudite miniature painter. Girolamo, who at this point had already been active for three decades, was making use of a visual device that had been employed by other book illuminators numerous times before and in a variety of circumstances. Namely, he undertook to reconcile the visual role of the patently two-dimensional text block (which in practice was nearly always written or printed before any illustration occurred) with a lavishly painted, illusionistically convincing scene. Responding to the inquisitive nature of the text he was asked to illustrate, Girolamo pushed several of the solutions derived by his predecessors to the point of rupture, where the illusionism of the composition collapses in on itself and raises more questions about the nature of representation than it answers" (Herman, "Excavating the page: virtuosity and illusionism in Italian book illumination, 1460-1520", Word & Image, 27:2, 190-211, quoting from p. 190).

The frontispiece for volume two of the Morgan Library copy of the Torresani Aristotle was also illuminated by Girolamo da Cremona together with Antonio Maria da Villafora, and Benedetto Bardon. An excellent reproduction of this and the frontispiece for volume one appear in Walther & Wolf, Codices illustres. The world's most famous illuminated manuscripts (2005) 386-7. 

This splendid set was formerly in the library of Bertram Ashburnham, 4th Earl of Ashburnham, after which it was acquired by Henry Yates Thompson, who sold it in 1919 to J. P. "Jack" Morgan, Jr.

The Incunabula Short Title Catalogue reference for this edition is ISTC No. ia0096200.  The only copies printed on vellum mentioned in the census published there seem to be those at the Morgan and at the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

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Leonardo's Anatomical Drawings Circa 1485 – 1516

During three or four periods in his life Leonardo da Vinci made over 750 anatomical drawings of all the principal organs of the human body. He also produced some drawings of animal anatomy to contrast it with its human counterparts. Leonardo began recording the results of his private dissections in Milan around 1485. These primarily concerned the organs of the senses, especially the eye, a subject that would have been of special concern to an artist. In 1499 Leonardo returned to Florence where he appears to have access to bodies from the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova. In a note from about 1505 Leonardo stated that he had dissected at least ten bodies.

During a second period of anatomical work in Milan there is evidence that Leonardo might have collaborated with a young anatomist Marcantonio della Torre (Marc Antonio della Torre), who taught at the Pavia medical school. It is possible that Leonardo intended to produce an illustrated anatomical textbook with della Torre; however this project would have been cut short by Torre’s death from the plague in 1511. The drawings from Leonardo’s second anatomical period in Milan concentrated on the anatomical basis of movement—what might also be called bio-engineering—typically recording the anatomy from various different perspectives.

In his final Italian period, in Rome from 1513 to 1516, Leonardo had access to the Hospital of the Santo Spirito, where he continued to study anatomy, paying particular attention to the heart. Eventually, responding to complaints from another artist, the Pope excluded Leonardo from the hospital, and ended Leonardo’s anatomical studies.

Like the rest of his drawings and notebooks on a wide variety of science and invention, Leonardo seems to have prepared these drawings for his private use—not publication. His habit of recording his notes in mirror-writing shows that contrary to having his ideas disseminated, he wanted to prevent his notes being read by others. Though the anatomical drawings and their interrelated notes record numerous discoveries, we have no documentation that Leonardo allowed any anatomist, except possibly della Torre, to view them. We do know, however, that Albrecht Dürer viewed some of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings on one of his Italian journeys, as he copied one of Leonardo’s illustrations of the upper limb in his Dresden Sketchbook, the basis for Dürer’s treatise on human proportion (1528). In addition it is probable that Leonardo’s contemporary, the anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi, may have seen some of Leonardo’s drawings since Berengario appears to have incorporated into three of the woodcuts of the Isagoge Breves Leonardo’s innovation of showing views of anatomical parts from different perspectives.

After Leonardo’s death his anatomical drawings passed through many hands. They disappeared completely for a century or more until the later part of the eighteenth century when they were discovered in England in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle by the physician, connoisseur, and collector William Hunter (1718-83). Hunter wrote to Albrecht Haller about the drawings, and published a note about them in his last, posthumous book on the history of anatomy: Two Introductory Lectures, Delivered by William Hunter, To his Last Course of Anatomical Lectures . . . . (1784) . However, for the most part the drawings remained unknown to scholars.

Until the advent of sophisticated photographic facsimile techniques at the turn of the twentieth century Leonardo’s anatomical notebooks, with their mutually dependent text and illustrations, could not be accurately reproduced. Thus appreciation of Leonardo’s contributions to anatomy and physiology is primarily a 20th-century phenomenon. The immense task of editing Leonardo’s anatomical notebooks was originally undertaken by G. Piumati, who prepared both literal and critical transcriptions of Leonardo’s text, and Mathias-Duval, professor of anatomy at the École Nationale des Beaux Arts and the Parisian Faculty of Medicine, who provided a French translation as well as a scholarly introduction. Sabachnikoff, who sponsored this project, planned to publish all of the Windsor Castle anatomical drawings in this fashion, but was not able to complete his plan, issuing only reproductions of 61 sheets in Fogli A and Fogli B in 1898 and 1901. A decade later the remaining anatomical drawings (approximately 700) were edited and published by Norwegian scholars under the auspices of the Anatomical Institute of the University of Christiania (University of Oslo) in an edition limited to 250 sets as Quaderni d'anatomia, I-VI; Fogli della Royal Library di Windsor, pubblicati da C.L. Vangensten, A.Fonahn, H.Hopstock. 6 volumes, Christiania, J.Dybwad, 1911-1916. The plates were reproduced in color, with numbered keys on transparent overlays, and Leonardo’s Italian text was transcribed along with translations in both English and German.  Later Kenneth D. Keele and Carlo Pedretti re-edited and republished the entire  collection of Leonardo's anatomical drawings as Corpus of the Anatomical Studies in the Collection of her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle. This was issued in a magnificent edition by Johnson Reprint Corporation of New York in 1980.

Keele,  Leonardo da Vinci’s Elements of the Science of Man (1983). Roberts & Tomlinson, The Fabric of the Body (1992) ch. 4.

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An Early Depiction of a Child Crumpling the Pages of a Book Circa 1485

The panel painting in tempera, oil and gold by the Florentine painter Filippino Lippi of the Madonna and Child preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is of interest for book history in its depiction of the infant Christ crumpling the pages of a book. Considering the whiteness of the paper, and the clarity of text depicted in the painting, it is possible that this is meant to represent a printed book, though it also could be a manuscript.  Whether the book was manuscript or printed, the image is an early depiction of the playful approaches to books taken by infants.

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Breydenbach's "Peregrinatio in terram sanctam", the First Illustrated Travel Book: An International Bestseller February 11, 1486

In 1486 Bernhard von Breydenbach, a wealthy canon of Mainz Cathedral, issued a travel book very extensively illustrated with woocuts, describing his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It was entitled Peregrinatio in terram sanctam or Sanctae peregrinationes.

Von Breydenbach made the pilgrimage in 1483-4, taking with him, as the book explains, "Erhard Reuwich of Utrecht", a "skillful artist", to make drawings of the sights. As the book relates, Reuwich printed the first Latin edition of the book in his own house in Mainz, and it is also very probable that because Reuwich was the printer he took the opportunity to identify himself as the artist, since the creators of book illustrations were rarely identified at this time.

"Leaving in April 1483 and arriving back in January 1484, they travelled first to Venice, where they stayed for three weeks. They then took ship for Corfu, Modon and Rhodes - all still Venetian possessions. After Jerusalem and Bethlehem and other sights of the Holy Land, they went to Mount Sinai and Cairo. After taking a boat down the Nile to Rosetta, they took ship back to Venice."

"The Sanctae Peregrinationes, or the Peregrinatio in terram sanctam, was the first illustrated travel-book, and marked a leap forward for book illustration generally. It featured five large fold-out woodcuts, the first ever seen in the West, including a spectacular five-foot-long (1600 x 300 mm) woodcut panoramic view of Venice, where the pilgrims had stayed for three weeks. The book also contained a three-block map of Palestine and Egypt, centred on a large view of Jerusalem, and panoramas of five other cities: Iraklion, Modon, Rhodes, Corfu and Parenzo. There were also studies of Near Eastern costume, and an Arabic alphabet—also the first in print. Pictures of animals seen on the journey, including a crocodile, camel, and unicorn, were also included.

"The colophon of the book is a lively coat-of-arms of the current Archbishop of Mainz, which includes the first cross-hatching in woodcut.

"The book was a bestseller, reprinted thirteen times over the next three decades, including printings in France and Spain, for which the illustration blocks were shipped out to the local printers. The first edition in German was published within a year of the Latin one, and it was also translated into French, Dutch and Spanish before 1500. Additional text-only editions and various abridged editions were also published.

"The illustrations were later adapted by Michael Wolgemut for the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493, and much copied by various other publishers" (Wikipedia article on Erhard Reuwich, accessed 12-01-2008).

ISTC no. ib01189000. In November 2013 a digital facsimile was available from Universitäts und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt at this link.

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Discovery of a Lost Painting by Michelangelo? 1487 – 1488

According to Vasari, when he was twelve or thirteen Michelangelo painted a version of The Torment of St. Anthony based on an engraving by Martin Schongauer. This was one of only four known easel paintings by Michelangelo. For centuries art historians debated the existence of such a painting.

In 2008 a painting of The Torment of St. Anthony from a private collection was sold at Sotheby's London, with an attribution from the Florence workshop of Ghirlandaio, to whom Michelangelo was apprenticed. Adam Williams, a New York dealer, bought the painting, believing that it was by Michelangelo. Williams took it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for cleaning and study. In 2009 Williams sold it to the Kimball Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

" 'I had never seen it before,” Mr. Christiansen said. “I looked at it and said this is self-evidently Michelangelo. There’s a section of the rocks with cross-hatching. Nobody else did this kind of emphatic cross-hatching.”

"Michael Gallagher, conservator of paintings at the Metropolitan, cleaned and studied the painting.

" 'It was incredibly dirty,' he said. 'But once the centuries of varnish were removed, its true quality was evident.'

"Claire M. Barry, the Kimbell’s chief curator, heard about the work and came to the Met to see it. She then contacted Mr. Lee, who also inspected it and persuaded his board to buy it. Although no one will disclose the price, experts in the field say they believe the figure was more than $6 million.

"For centuries, art historians have known that Michelangelo copied an engraving of St. Anthony by the 15th-century German master Martin Schongauer for a painting. Michelangelo’s biographer and former student, Ascanio Condivi, said the young Michelangelo told him that while he was working on the painting, he had visited a local market to learn how to depict fish scales, a feature not found in the engraving.

"A painting of St. Anthony is also mentioned in Giorgio Vasari’s chronicle of Michelangelo’s life, although Vasari at first ascribed the original engraving to Dürer. But after Michelangelo complained, Vasari changed his account, naming Schongauer.

"Measuring 18 ½ inches by 13 1/4 inches, 'The Torment of St. Anthony' is at least one-third larger than the engraving. It is also not an exact copy; Michelangelo took liberties. In addition to adding the fish scales, he depicted St. Anthony holding his head more erect and with an expression more detached than sad.

"He also added a landscape to the bottom of the composition, and created monsters that are more dramatic than those in the engraving.

"Mr. Christiansen said studying 'The Torment of St. Anthony' with infrared reflectography had exposed layers of pentimenti, or under drawing, revealing what he called the master’s hand at work. And once the centuries of varnish were removed, the colors suddenly came alive. There is eggplant, lavender, apple green and even a brilliant salmon, which was used to depict the scales of the spiny demons. The palette, Mr. Christiansen said, is a prelude to the colors chosen for the Sistine Chapel’s vault" (Vogel, "By the Hand of a Very Young Master?," NY Times, May 12, 2009).

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The Macclesfield Alphabet Book, the Most Complete Pattern Book from Medieval Britain Circa 1490

The Macclesfield Alphabet Book, a medieval alphabetic pattern book in the library of the Earls of Macclesfield since about 1750, is the most complete set of pattern designs for manuscript decoration that survived from medieval Britain. It contains 14 different types of decorative alphabets.

"These include an alphabet of decorative initials with faces; foliate alphabets; a zoomorphic alphabet of initials, and alphabets in Gothic script. In addition there are large coloured anthropomorphic initials modelled after fifteenth-century woodcuts or engravings, as well as two sets of different types of borders, some of which are fully illuminated in colours and gold.

"This manuscript is thought to have been used as a pattern book for an artist's workshop for the transmission of ideas to assistants, or as a 'sample' book to show to potential customers.

"Only a handful of these books survive and as a result, the discovery of the Macclesfield Alphabet Book, filled with designs for different types of script, letters, initials, and borders is of outstanding significance and will contribute to a greater understanding of how these books were produced and used in the Middle Ages, as well as aid the study of material culture and art history.

"The Macclesfield Alphabet Book sheds light on how such tomes were produced. They did not always rely on the creative expertise of the artist, since alphabets and illustrations similar to some of the Macclesfield examples have been found in earlier books and woodcuts"(http://medievalnews.blogspot.com/2009/07/macclesfield-alphabet-book-bought-by.html, accessed 08-03-2009).

In July 2009 acquisition of the manuscript was completed by the British Library at a cost of £600,000, against an offer from the J. Paul Getty Museum for the same amount.

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The Nuremberg Chronicle June 12 – December 23, 1493

June 12, 1493 printer Anton Koberger of Nuremberg completed the printing and issued the Liber chronicarum written by physician Hartmann Schedel. A large-folio compendium of history, geography and natural wonders, the Liber chronicarum contained 298 printed leaves, including 1,809 illustrations from 645 woodcuts by or after painter and woodengraver Michael Wohlgemut (Wohlgemuth), his stepson Wilhelm Plydenwurff, and possibly some by Koberger's godson, the young Albrecht Dürer, who was apprenticed to Wohlgemut until 1490. Certain woodcuts were reproduced more than once, sometimes for the depiction of different people or cities. The images included a full-sheet map of Europe, a Ptolemaean world map, large and small city views, biblical and historical scenes, and portraits.

In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the Latin edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link

"From the outset, however, a German-language version had been planned. Translated by Georg Alt (c. 1450-1510), the city treasurer of Nuremberg, who assisted Schedel in compiling the Latin edition, the German edition was published on December 23, 1493. In addition to cosmetic differences (e.g., the Latin edition was printed using a typeface known as Antiqua Rotunda, while the German employed Bastarda Schwabacher), the German edition is very slightly abridged, with omissions that include certain abstruse thoughts as well as seeming repetitions. Occasionally, however, the German Chronicle includes minor but telling expansions on the Latin text. For example, in the Latin version one is told that a certain idea "can be found in Ovid" (folio IIr); the German version, however, informs its readers that this same idea "was elegantly expressed by Ovid, a poet." Such differences point to slightly different readerships: the Latin was aimed at the imperial, theological, and academic markets; the German at the upper middle class who did not possess a university education. Scholars estimate that approximately 1400-1500 Latin copies and 700-1000 German ones were printed. " (http://www.beloit.edu/nuremberg/inside/about/editions.htm, accessed 11-06-2012). 

In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the German translation was available from the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, Weimar, at this link.

Though the information in the Nuremberg Chronicle was rapidly superceded, it remained famous for its extraordinary graphic design, its printing, its woodcuts and descriptions of cities. One of the woodcuts depicted the paper mill established in Nuremberg by Ulman Stromer in 1390. Probably because it was such a large and impressive volume, the work was a great commercial success, with unusually large printings for a fifteenth century book:

"The Latin edition was printed in at least 1400 copies, of which more than 1200 still exist today" (Wagner, Als die Lettern laufen lernten. Medienwandel im 15. Jahrhundert [2009] no. 11 (describing the annotated copy of the author, Hartmann Schedel, which is preserved at the Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek, Munich).

Most probably fewer copies of the German edition were printed, as it remains rarer on the market. Between roughly 1980 and 2009 there were 188 auction sales recorded for the Latin edition and 35 sales of the German edition, some sales presumably representing the same copies being resold.

In order to print and sell so many copies of an expensive book in the fifteenth century the printer Anton Koberger had to employ a geographically wide network of partners and sales agents.

"A revealing indication of the extent of Koberger's business is provided by a document of 1509, drawn up as a final settlement of the contract between partners involved in the production and sale of the Nuremberg Chronicle. This accounting reveals a network of outlets spread far and wide throughout Europe. We know that the Nuremberg Chronicle sold well, because there are at least 1,200 surviving copies logged in libraries today. But in 1509 there were still 600 copies unsold. For copies previously supplied debts were logged against the accounts of booksellers spread through the Germanic world: at Lübeck and Danzig, Passau and Vienna, Ingoldstadt, Augsburg and Munich. Linhard Tascher still had to settle for just over a hundred copies sent to him at Posen and Breslau (presumably for sale in Silesia); eighty-three Latin and twenty-eight German. A separate consignment of mostly Latin copies had been dispatched to Cracow. The Koberger agency in Lyon had to account for forty-one copies, and several hundred had been dispatched to agents in Italy, at Bologna, Florence and Genoa. Peter Vischer, the agent at Milan, had received the largest consignment for distribution in the peninsula, of which almost 200 remained unsold. The Venice agent, Anthoni Kolb, had just thirty-four left. Bearing in mind that these represent the unsold residue of what had been a very large edition, the geographical reach of Koberger's enterprise was every bit as impressive as the Venetian network of the previous decades. The bold confidence with which Koberger had taken on the Italian market was especially striking, even if transalpine demand for this masterpiece of German typography had ultimately not matched expectations" (Pettegree, The Book in the Renaissance [2010] 77-78).

Remarkably, the original manuscript exemplars showing the exact arrangement of the text and illustrations for both the Latin and German editions, as well has other original documents pertaining to the publication of these works, were preserved. The exemplar for the Latin edition is in the Stadbibliothek Nürnberg. The exemplar for the German edition is in the Nuremberg City Library. Adrian Wilson, a book designer and historian of book design from San Francisco, issued an outstanding book in which he showed the relationship between these manuscript exemplars and the printed editions: The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1976).

Perhaps in 1941 an English translation of the Nuremberg Chronicle was prepared by Walter W. Schmauch of Chicago. This existed as a typescript for many years, preserved in the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia.  The title page of the translation, of which I obtained a complete xerographic copy decades ago, reads: First English Edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Being the Liber Chronicarum of Dr. Hartmann Schedel, A. D. 1493. Translated from the First German Edition by Walter W. Schmauch of Chicago with Text Annotations and Woodcut Elucidations in Six Volumes.  The translation extends to at least 2000 pages of typescript. In 2003 Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin, and the University of Wisconsin collaborated on publishing Schmauch's entire translation online; in November 2014 it was available at this link.

ISTC no. is00307000 (Latin). ISTC no. is00309000 (German). Both of these entries provide censuses of the many institutions which hold copies of the respective editions.

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Probably the Earliest European Depiction of Native Americans 1494

In May 2013 art restorers at the Vatican completed the cleaning of a 15th century fresco by Bernardino di Betto, called Pinturicchio (Pintoricchio), entitled The Resurrection. After centuries of dirt and grime had been removed from the fresco commissioned by Pope Alexander VI, behind the depiction of the open tomb above which Christ had risen, a small depiction of native men wearing feather headresses and dancing became visible. One of the natives in the fresco appears to have a mohawk hairstyle.

The depiction of Native Americans in the painting, which is believed to have been completed in 1494, corresponds to Christopher Columbus's account of being greeted in the nude world by dancing nude men painted black or red. In March 1493 Columbus returned to Spain from his first voyage to the New World, and news of his experiences rapidly spread throughout Europe. 

Prior to the discovery of the Pinturicchio image it was believed that the earliest surviving European depictions of Native Americans were those painted in the later 16th century by the British artist John White, governor of Roanoke Colony on Roanoke Island. White's paintings are preserved in the print room of the British Museum.

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Sebastian Brant's "Book Fool", and Others February 11, 1494

In February 1494 Sebastian Brant published Das Narrenschiff (The Ship of Fools) in Basel, Switzerland at the press of Johann Bergmann, de Olpe. Some of the woodcuts illustrating this work were by the young Albrecht Dürer.

Brandt's satire became a great bestseller. It included a characterization and woodcut illustration of the "book fool" who enjoyed owning many books but read few of them. That book-collecting had become a topic for satire by this time is a reflection of the proliferation of books since the invention of printing by movable type.

The popularity of Brandt's satire was also a reflection of the proliferation of books. Twenty-six different editions appeared in the 15th century. Brandt authorized six editions in German during his lifetime and there were at least six other unauthorized editions published. The work was translated into Latin by Jacob Locher in 1497 (Stultifera Navis), into French by Paul Rivière in 1497 and by Jehan Droyn in 1498. An English verse translation by Alexander Barclay appeared in London in 1509, and again in 1570; one in prose by Henry Watson in London, 1509; and again 1517. It was also rendered into Dutch and Low German.

ISTC no. ib01080000. In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the first edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliotheck at this link.

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The Persistence of Illuminated Manuscript Production Fifty Years After the Introduction of Printing Circa 1499

A product for the royal court of France, the "Hours of Henry VIII" illuminated by Jean Poyet about 1499, and preserved in the Morgan Library & Museum, is one of the most splendid manuscript Books of Hours from this period. This magnificently illustrated lay book of daily devotions and prayers contains fifty-five exquisitely hand-painted images.

♦ Even as the reach of printing expanded, the practice of commissioning luxury manuscript books of hours by wealthy patrons continued well through the sixteenth century. From the seventeenth century onward it noticeably declined. Production of these luxury manuscripts, in which the emphasis was on the illustrations, continued to provide employment for a declining number of scribes and illuminators, some of whom found employment in the printing trades or as the illustrators of printed books. The work of manuscript illuminators who worked with the new technology may also be seen in certain hand-colored deluxe copies of illustrated printed books produced during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

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The First Illustration of a Printing Office & Bookshop in a Printed Book February 18, 1499

The first illustration of a printing press and printing office in a printed book appeared in Danse macabre, published in Lyon by Mathias Huss. The image shows death visiting a printing office and a bookseller's shop. Huss's book was one of numerous editions of The Dance of Death, or Danse macabre. 

"The first known illustration of a printing press was certainly not drawn to enlighten future generations as to its characteristics. It appears in an edition of the Danse Macabre, published in Lyons by Mathias Huss in 1499. Death is depicted carrying off a printer and a bookseller, and, such as it is, we may take it that the cut illustrates a French fifteenth-century printing office. Unfortunately, although the general construction of press can be made out, the very aspect which would have been of most interest—the way in which the platen was hung—is obscured by the struggling figure of the pressman. However, the illustration does show clearly the supports, or stays, between the top of the top of the press and the ceiling, which were found to be necessary to keep the press stable; a coarse wooden screw, and a straight pole or bar. Particularly interesting is the plank held up by a stay and on which there is a box, to which we may presume a tympan is hinged by what look like leather straps. No winding mechanism is visible and it may be conjectured that the box was pushed under the platen by hand at this date. The other pressman (or 'beater') is holding an ink-ball, which hardly changed in appearance until it was replaced by a roller some three hundred and fifty years later. Two ink-balls were used to ink the forme. They were made of untanned leather or sheepskin, stuffed with wool or hair, and nailed around a wooden handle or stock. Ink was spread out on to a slab and rubbed out thinly with a wooden device known as a brayer.

"The little rest, or gallows, gives additional credence of the idea that there was a tympan to be thrown back on it when the forme was being inked. The unusual position of the pressman, who usually stood next to his companion, is probably the result of the artist's license as he wanted to show the figure of Death full face" (Kinsman, The Darker Vision of the Renaissance: Beyond  the Fields of Reason [1974] 25).

ISTC. id00020500

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1500 – 1550

Leonardo's Lost Painting, "Salvator Mundi", Discovered Circa 1500

On July 10, 2011 artdaily.org reported that:

"A lost painting by Leonardo da Vinci has been identified in an American collection and will be exhibited for the first time this November. Titled Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World) and dating around 1500, the newly discovered masterpiece depicts a half-length figure of Christ facing frontally, holding a crystal orb in his left hand as he raises his right in blessing. One of some 15 surviving Leonardo oil paintings, the work will be included in 'Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan,' to be held at the National Gallery in London from November 9, 2011 until February 5, 2012. The last time a Leonardo painting was discovered was in 1909, when the Benois Madonna, now in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, came to light.


"Leonardo's painting of the Salvator Mundi was long known to have existed, but was presumed to have been destroyed. The composition was documented in two preparatory drawings by Leonardo and more than 20 painted copies by students and followers of the artist, as well as a meticulous 1650 etching made after the original painting by the Bohemian artist Wenceslaus Hollar.


"The recently rediscovered painting was first recorded in the art collection of King Charles I of England in 1649. It was sold after his death, returned to the Crown upon the accession of Charles II, and later passed to the collection of the Duke of Buckingham, whose son put it at auction in 1763 following the sale of Buckingham House (now Palace) to the King. All trace of the work was then lost until 1900, when the picture was acquired by Sir Frederick Cook, but by then the painting had been damaged, disfigured by overpaint, and its authorship by Leonardo forgotten. Cook's descendants sold the painting at auction in 1958, when it brought 45 pounds Sterling. A photograph taken before 1912 records its compromised appearance at that time. This photograph has recently been circulated in the media, as has another photo [with Christ in a red tunic], incorrectly identified as the (recently rediscovered) work. In 2005, the painting was acquired from an American estate and brought to a New York art historian and private dealer named Robert Simon for study. The Salvator Mundi is privately owned and not currently for sale.


"After an extensive conservation treatment, the painting was examined by a series of international scholars. An unequivocal consensus was reached that the Salvator Mundi was the original by Leonardo da Vinci. Opinions vary slightly in the matter of dating, with some assigning the work to the late 1490's, and others placing it after 1500.

"Scholars were convinced of Leonardo's authorship due to the painting's adherence in style to the artist's known paintings; the quality of execution; the relationship of the painting to the two preparatory drawings; its correspondence to Wenceslaus Hollar's etching; its superiority to the numerous versions of the known composition; and the presence of pentimenti, or changes by the artist not found in copies" (http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=48949, accessed 07-10-2011).

On March 4, 2014 AFAnews.com reported on the sale of the painting:

"Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi," which was discovered by American art dealer Alexander Parish at an estate sale in the mid-2000s, was sold to an unidentified collector for between $75 milllion and $80 million in May 2013. The details of the sale, which was organized by Sotheby's, remained confidential until this week.

" 'Salvator Mundi,' a half-length protrait of Christ holding a crystal orb in one hand, was created around 1500. Since 1900, the heavily over-painted canvas was attributed to Boltraffio, an artist who worked in da Vinci's studio. It wasn't until Paris acquired the work and it underwent  extensive cleaning and research that it was deemed an original da Vinci formerly owned by King Charles I of England. Prior to last year's sale, Paris and two other art dealers shared ownership of the work.

"In 2012, after raising tens of millions of dollars, the Dallas Museum of Art attempted to buy 'Salvator Mundi.' Museum officials made a formal offer to Paris and the painting's other owners but were rebuffed after some discussion."

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The Rothschild Prayerbook is Illuminated Circa 1500 – 1520

The Rothschild Prayerbook, a Flemish manuscript book of hours, was illuminated from about 1500 to 1520 by several leading miniaturists in the final flowering of the Ghent-Bruges school of manuscript illumination. Most of the sixty-seven large miniatures are by the "Master of the First Prayerbook of Maximilian" (probably Alexander Bening, father of Simon) and Gerard Horenbout or the so-called Master of James IV of Scotland (possibly two names for the same artist). Other miniatures in the manuscript are by Gerard David, who was also a panel painter, or by a pupil working in his style. There are also two miniatures by Simon Bening, and work by other masters.

The early history of the manuscript is obscure, a feature shared by several important manuscripts of the late Ghent-Bruges school, which typically do not contain heraldry and portraits of their original owners. Elements in the book, such as extra mass texts and prayers beyond those usually found in books of hours, relate it to the Chartreuse des Dunes, near Bruges. By 1500 printed books of hours had, for the most part, replaced illuminated manuscripts, with the exception of luxury illuminated books like this, which were generally restricted to the higher nobility and royalty.  In the 16th century the manuscript belonged to the princely Wittelsbach family century, and then to the library of the counts palatine in Heidelberg. It left Heidelberg before 1623, after which its history is unknown until it resurfaced in the collection of the Viennese branch of the Rothschild family in the late 19th century.

In 1938, soon after the Anschluss, or German annexation of Austria, the prayerbook was confiscated from Louis Nathaniel von Rothschild. After the end of World War II the new Austrian government used legislation forbidding the export of culturally significant works of art, partly to pressure the Rothschilds to donate a large number of works to Austrian museums. Under this coercion the prayerbook was "given" to the National Library. In exchange the family was allowed to export other works. In 1999, after international pressure was brought to bear over this coercion, the Austrian government returned the manuscript and other works of art to the Rothschild family. Soon thereafter the manuscript was offered for sale at Christie's in London, where it realized £8,580,000 (then $13,400,000).  When I wrote this database entry in November 2013 this remained the highest price ever paid for an illuminated manuscript.

"This Book of Hours is one of a group of spectacular manuscrits-de-luxe that was produced around 1490 to 1520 for an international clientele and members of the Habsburg court in the Netherlands. These vast undertakings were achieved by the efficient coordination of labor and collaboration of several artists and their workshops. It is closely related to a Book of Hours in the British Library, the Spinola Hours (now at the J. Paul Getty Museum) and the Grimani Breviary (now in Venice, at the Bibl. Marciana). With the Rothschild Prayerbook, these are the most impressive productions of the illuminator Gerard Horenbout, who became court painter to Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands, in 1515, before relocating to England to work for King Henry VIII. As well as painting and illuminating, he designed tapestries and stained glass.

"The illuminated openings, where a miniature faces a complementary full-page border, are some of Horenbout’s most exceptional creations. These scenes are thoughtfully devised and precisely observed, and they provide a fascinating record of liturgical practices of the day and they are some of the finest and most remarkable of all Flemish miniatures. The description of the fabrics of the vestments, the integration of figures in architectural space, and the extensive and atmospheric recession are evoked with a detailed delicacy and a bravura naturalism.

"One of the beguiling features of the Prayerbook is the wide variety in the decorative borders. Many of them, as well as further miniatures, recognizably belong to the repertoire of the illuminator long-known as the Master of the Older Prayerbook of Maximillian, who is now generally accepted as being Alexander Bening, friend of Hugo van der Goes and Joos van Ghent. Alexander’s son also contributed miniatures to the Prayerbook, including the Vision of St Bernard (illustrated top of page). The delicacy and elegance of this scene and the subtlety of handling in the modeling of the flesh and the description of fabric and form demonstrate why Simon went on to become the most celebrated illuminator of his day.

"Several miniatures were painted by the anonymous artist known as the Master of the Prayerbooks of c.1500. This illuminator is particularly valued for his delightful secular work, above all in the Roman de la Rose in the British Library. In the Rothschild Prayerbook he was responsible for some miniatures in the Office of the Virgin, including the Nativity on one of the most colorful and engaging openings where the borders around miniature and text are used to show other episodes from the Christmas story with the lively addition of the scene of joyful, dancing shepherds" (http://artdaily.com/news/65970/Christie-s-announces-centerpiece-of-the-Renaissance-Sale--The-Rothschild-Prayerbook#.UnUUYFCshcY[/).

On October 31, 2013 Christie's announced that it would once again auction the Rothschild Prayerbook on January 29, 2014 in New York. The presale estimate was $12 million to $18 million. They issued an unusually elaborate catalogue for the sale, providing an unusually detailed description of the manuscript. In January 2014 the catalogue could be read on Christie's website at this link. The manuscript was purchased by a private collector bidding over the phone for $13.3 million, just short of the price realized in 1999, but still a record for an illuminated manuscript. In April 2015 it was announced that the manuscript would be displayed at the National Library of Australia from May 22 to August 9, 2015, having been purchased in 2014 by Australian businessman Kerry Stokes.

Walther & Wolf, Codices illustres. The world's most famous illuminated manuscripts 400 to 1600 (2005) 416-17.

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Michelangelo Creates his Statue of David September 13, 1501 – September 8, 1504

 Michelangelo's marble 'David,' symbol of the Florentine Renaissance, depicts the biblical hero holding rock and sling, his right hand intentionally enlarged to show the power of God acting through him. (View Larger)

At the age of 26 Italian painter, sculptor, architect, poet and engineer Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (Michelangelo) sculpted David in Florence from a block of Carrara marble. 

This masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture 5.17 meters (17 feet) high, on which Michelangelo labored for three years from September 13, 1501 to September 8, 1504, depicts the Biblical king David either after he made the decision to fight Goliath, but before the battle took place, or after the battle when he contemplated his victory.

"It came to symbolize the defense of civil liberties embodied in the Florentine Republic, an independent city state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and by the hegemony of the Medici themselves. This interpretation was also encouraged by the original setting of the sculpture outside the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence" (Wikipedia article on David (Michelangelo) accessed 12-23-2009.

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Filed under: Art / Art Trade

Ferninand Columbus Collects One of the Largest Private Libraries of the 16th Century Circa 1510 – 1539

Ferdinand Columbus (Fernando Colombo, Fernando Colón), the second son of Christopher Columbus, returned from the New World in 1510, and proceeded to collect one of the largest private libraries of the sixteenth century. This library, La Bibliotheca Colombina, included about 15,000 volumes, of which about 7000 survive today, including 1194 books printed before 1501.

Ferdinand Columbus's library, which also includes a number of volumes from the personal library of his father Christopher Columbus, is preserved in the Cathedral of the City of Seville in Andalucia. Among the volumes in La Bibliotheca Colombina is the manuscript catalogue of Ferdinand's print collection. According to Mark McDonald, editor of this manuscript catalogue listing 3200 sheets (including 390 prints by Albrecht Dürer), no print collection from the fifteenth or sixteenth century has survived, and the manuscript catalogue of Columbus' print collection is the only record of such a print collection that has survived. Columbus's print catalogue is notable for its organizational scheme. McDonald (editor) The Print Collection of Ferndinand Columbus 1488-1539: A Renaissance Collector in Seville (2004).

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Sigismondo Fanti Issues the First Illustrated Manual on the Art of Writing 1514

Detail from page of Theorica et practica . . .de modo scribendi fabricandique omnes literarum species.  Please click on image to view entire page opening.

In 1514 Italian architect, astrologer, mathematician, and writing-master Sigismondo Fanti published from Venice Theorica et practica ... de modo scribendi fabricandique omnes literarum species. This was the first illustrated manual on the art of writing, and the first book illustrated with calligraphic models of the alphabet. It provided practical advice on selecting implements, making ink, on the correct way of holding the pen, and on spacing letters.

Osley, Luminario. An Introduction to the Intalian Writing-Books of the 16th & 17th Centuries (1972) 5-13.

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Painter Quentin Matsys Uses a Book of Hours as a Prop for Satire 1514

A panel painting in oil from 1514 by the Flemish painter Quentin Matsys of Antwerp, entitled The Moneylender and his Wife contains satirical undertones. It depicts the moneylender handling his scale and numerous gold coins. His wife, sitting at his left, is handling a beautiful illuminated manuscript, probably a book of hours. Her eyes are on the coins rather than on the book. The luxurious book is clearly a symbol of her prosperity, and presumed literacy, but her fixation on the gold coins suggests that she may be more interested in money than in piety.

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The Grimani Breviary: a Remarkable Artistic Collaboration Circa 1515 – 1520

The Grimani Breviary, a key work in the final flowering of the Ghent-Bruges school of manuscript illumination, was produced in Ghent and Bruges from about 1515 to 1520.  By 1520 it was owned by Cardinal Domenico Grimani, Bishop of Ceneda, though it was possibly not originally commissioned by him.

The work was a remarkable artistic collaboration between a group of great masters, who worked under the supervision of Alexander Bening (Sanders Bening).  Other artists who contributed to the manuscript were Bening's son, Simon Bening, the Master of James IV of Scotland and Gerard David.

"Sanders Bening, who was in charge of the work on the Grimani Breviary, was in possession of almost all the drawings made for miniatures and decoration of the manuscripts made before 1484, and formerly attributed to a so-called Master of Mary of Burgundy. Previous generations of art historians have since the 1890's believed that the miniatures in the Grimani Breviary were direct copies after the originals, and several attempts have been made to explain how the various manuscripts could have been brought together and made available to the painters in the workshop. The registration of models used for the Grimani Breviary (and its immediate antecedants from c.1500-1514) has now become so comprehensive, that it would have required the presence in one location of more than six of the major works made before 1484, which is unthinkable. The continuous use of the original model-sheets can only be explained by their presence in the possession of Sanders Bening himself, who inherited many of them in 1482 from Hugo van der Goes and later left them to his son Simon at his death in 1519. Beside the original drawings did Sanders Bening apparently also make personal copies of many miniatures and kept them for his private use. This explains how not only the outlines of the figures and whole compositions could reappear more than 30 years later, but sometimes also be painted partly in the same colours as the first known version" (Drigsdahl, The Grimani Breviary and the Iconographical Heritage in Ghent, CHD Miscellanea 2002, accessed 11-02-2013). 

The manuscript is preserved in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice.

Walther & Wolf, Codices illustres. The World's Most Famous Illuminated Manuscripts 400-1600 (2005) 412-415.

(This entry was last revised on 07-21-2014.)

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Giacomo Berengario da Carpi Issues the First Work Since the Time of Galen to Show Original Anatomical Information Based upon Personal Investigation & Observation 1521

In 1521 Italian physician Giacomo Berengario da Carpi (Jacobus Berengarius Carpensis, Jacopo Barigazzi, Giacomo Berengario da Carpi or simply Carpus) published Commentaria cu[m] amplissimis additionibus super anatomia Mu[n]dini. . . in Bologna. This thick quarto of over 1000 pages included 21 full-page woodcut text illustrations plus an architectural title-border, which included an image of a dissection scene.

Berengario was the first anatomist to publish illustrated treatises on anatomy based on his own dissections. His Commentaria on the fourteenth-century Anatomia of Mondino was the first work since the time of Galen to display any considerable amount of original anatomical information based upon personal investigation and observation. The woodcut illustrations of muscle men posed before a landscape background in this work, while crude and lacking in detail in comparison to those in Vesalius's Fabrica (1543), represent the model on which Vesalius based his series of larger and more scientifically portrayed muscle men, and the title page of Berengario's work, with its small illustration of a dissection scene in the lower margin, may have suggested to Vesalius the idea for the dramatic and famous frontispiece to the Fabrica. Vesalius also borrowed from Berengario the concept of having particular anatomical figures perform specific actions, and repeated Berengario's trick of showing a skeleton holding a skull in each hand as a means of illustrating three separate views of the skull in one woodcut.

An art collector and patron who, according to Vasari, once accepted a Raphael painting of St. John in the Desert as a fee for medical attendance, it is probable that Berengario saw some of Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical drawings, as Leonardo’s artistic techniques of depicting anatomical parts from different perspectives were incorporated in some of his woodcuts. It is also likely that Berengario would have hired a fine artist to prepare the woodcuts for his books. Some of the woodcuts have been attributed to the Italian Mannerist painter and sculptor Amico Aspertini.

The Commentaria's scientific contributions include the first reference to the vermiform appendix and the first good account of the thymus. Its descriptions of the male and female reproductive organs, the process of reproduction and the fetus were more extensive than any earlier account, and Berengario was the first to call attention to the greater proportional capacity of the female pelvis to the male pelvis.

For the attribution to Aspertini see Cazort, Kornell, Roberts, The Ingenious Machine of Nature: Four Centuries of Art and Anatomy (1996) 38-39. Choulant, History and Bibliography of Anatomic Illustration [1920] 137-139. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 187.

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Albrecht Dürer Expounds the Aesthetic Anatomy of Human Proportion 1528

A few months after his death, Vier Bücher von menschlicher Proportion by German artist Albrecht Dürer was published in Nuremberg in 1528. This work, written, illustrated and designed by Dürer, with woodcuts on virtually every page, was the first book to discuss the problems of comparative and differential anthropometry. In his study of the subject Dürer was influenced by the classic aesthetic treatises of Villard de Honnecourt, Vitruvius, Alberti and da Vinci; however, Dürer’s study of the different human physiques—fat, thin, tall, short, baby, child and adult —was entirely original.

Unlike his Italian contemporary, Leonardo da Vinci, who published nothing and obscured his manuscripts through mirror-writing, Dürer lived and worked in the world of printing and engraving. The son of a goldsmith, Durer’s godfather was Anton Koberger, who left goldsmithing to become the leading printer and publisher in Nuremberg. At the age of 15 Dürer was apprenticed to the leading artist in Nuremberg, Michael Wolgemut, whose workshop produced a large quantity of woodcuts. Throughout his career Dürer embraced the latest and best reproduction techniques, and may have derived more income from the sale of engravings and woodcuts than from painting.

Toward the end of his life Dürer wrote and illustrated three treatises which he also designed for the press. These included a treatise on fortification, a treatise on mensuration which introduced to Northern Europe techniques of perspective and mathematical proportion in drawing, painting, architecture and letter forms, which Dürer learned in Italy, and a work on the proportion of the human body. The last work, issued shortly after Dürer’s death, was the first work to discuss the problems of comparative and differential anthropometry. Because Dürer copied one of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings of the upper limb into his Dresden Sketchbook we know that on one of his visits to Italy Dürer must have viewed at least some of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings. However, unlike Leonardo who explored both the surface and the interior of the human body, Dürer appears to have limited his interest in the human figure to the surface.

Dürer held that the essence of true form was the primary mathematical figure (e.g., straight line, circle, curve, conic section) constructed arithmetically or geometrically, and made beautiful by the application of a canon of proportion. However, he was also convinced that beauty of form was a relative and not an absolute quality; thus the purpose of his system of anthropometry was to provide the artist with the means to delineate, on the basis of sheer measurement, all possible types of human figures. The first two books of Dürer's work deal with the proper proportions of fat, medium and thin adult figures, as well as those of infants. The third book discusses the changing of proportions according to mathematical rules, applying these rules to both figures and faces. The fourth book treats of the movement of bodies in space, and is of the greatest mathematical interest, as it presents, for the first time, many new, intricate and difficult considerations of descriptive spatial geometry. The whole work is profusely illustrated with Dürer's woodcut diagrams of figures. Choulant states that these include "the first attempts to represent shades and shadows in wood engraving by means of cross-hatching" (p. 145).

Like the Underweysung der Messung (1525), Dürer dedicated his book on human proportion to his friend, the humanist Willibald Pirckheimer. Pirckheimer provided a preface describing Dürer's debt to the Italians, alluding to Dürer’s visits to Giovanni Bellini and Andrea Mantegna, and explaining Dürer’s influence on Italian and European art.

Remarkably about 1500 pages of manuscripts by Dürer survive in Dresden, London, Nuremberg and Berlin. These include the manuscript for Book One of the Four Books on Human Proportion. Its pages number 1-89 and on the first page is written:

"1523 at Nuremberg, this is Albrecht Dürer's first book, written by himself. This book I improved and handed to the printer in 1528. Albrecht Dürer."

The so-called Dresden Sketchbook, with 170 pages of drawings, also includes a large  number of preparatory drawings for the treatise on human proportion. Dürer's Sketchbook was published as The Human Figure by Albrecht Dürer. The Complete Dresden Sketchbook. Edited, with an Introduction, Translations and Commentary by Walter L. Strauss (1972). Panofsky, Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer (1943), chapter on "Durer as a Theorist of Art."

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Otto Brunfels & Hans Weiditz Issue the First Accurate, Detailed Woodcuts of Plants Taken Directly from Nature 1530 – 1536

In 1530 and 1532 German botanist and theologian Otto Brunfels published the first two volumes of Herbarum vivae eicones ad nature imitationem, sum[m]a cum diligentia et artificio effigiatae. . . .  in Strassbourg. The third volume was edited by Michael Heer and published in 1536, two years after Brunfels's death.

Unlike earlier herbals, which were llustrated with conventional stylized figures, copied and recopied over the centuries from one manuscript to another, Brunfels's Herbarum was illustrated with detailed, accurate renderings of plants taken directly from nature, most of them showing all portions of the plant (root, stem, leaves, flowers and fruit), and some even going so far as to depict wilted leaves and insect damage. The artist responsible for the illustrations was Hans Weiditz; his contributions were credited in a poem appearing on leaf A4r, making him the first botanical illustrator to be recognized for his work. Comparison of Weiditz's woodcuts with the woodcuts in Leonhard Fuchs's De historia stirpium (1542) show that the artists who worked with Fuchs were strongly influenced by Weiditz's work.

In contrast to its revolutionary images, the text of the Herbarum was an uncritical compendium of quotations from older authorities, primarily concerned with the therapeutic virtues of each plant. Brunfels made no attempt to classify the plants he discussed, but related species often appear in close proximity to one another. He restricted himself to plants indigenous to Strassburg and described over forty new species. At the end of the second volume is a collection of twelve tracts edited by Brunfels, entitled De vera herbarum cognitione appendix. This includes the first published writings of both Hieronymus Bock and Leonhard Fuchs. 

Morton, History of Botanical Science (1981) 124.  Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 361.

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Bronzino Paints a Portrait of an Elegant Young Man Mishandling a Book Circa 1535

Portrait of a Young Man by Bronzino, preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is considered one of the artist's "most arresting" paintings. It is also notable for the sitter's mishandling a book by wedging his finger in the volume while holding it tightly closed. Of course, this simply adds realism to the portrait. 

"The sitter is not known, but he must have belonged to Bronzino's close circle of literary friends, which included the historian Benedetto Varchi and the poet Laura Battiferri, both of whom sat for the artist. Bronzino himself composed verses in the style of Petrarch, and some of the fanciful and witty conceits in this picture—the grotesque heads on the table and chair and the masklike face formed by the youth's breeches—would have been much appreciated in literary circles. The book is doubtless a collection of poems" (http://www.metmuseum.org/collections/search-the-collections/110000235?img=0, accessed 10-25-2011).

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Masters at Colegio de Santa Cruz de Santiago Tlaltelolco Create the Florentine Codex, the First Illustrated Encyclopedia of the New World 1540 – 1585

Between 1540 and 1585 twenty tlacuilos or painters and four indigenous masters at the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Santiago Tlaltelolco in Tlalelolco, Mexico, under the direction of Franciscan friar and missionary priest Bernardino de Sahagún, compiled La Historia Universal de las Cosas de Nueva España (General History of the Things of New Spain). 

In partnership with Aztec men who were formerly his students, Bernardino conducted research, organized evidence, wrote and edited findings.  The resulting text, written in Spanish and Nahuatl, is best-known from the three-volume manuscript preserved in the Laurentian Library in Florence, called The Florentine Codex. It consists of about 2,400 pages organized into twelve books with over 2,000 illustrations drawn by native artists, providing vivid images of this era. The work documents the culture, worldview, and ritual practices, society, economics, and natural history of the Aztec people.  In the process of compiling the Historia general, Bernardino pioneered new methods for gathering ethnographic information and validating its accuracy.  He has been called the first ethnographer/ cultural anthropologist of the Americas.

The Florentine codex was translated into English by Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J. O. Anderson as Bernardino de Sahagún, Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain. Translation of and Introduction to Historia General De Las Cosas De La Nueva España. The translation was published in 12 Volumes in 13 Books by the University of Utah Press, 1950-1982.  In 2009 a complete color facsimile edition of the codex was published on 16 DVDs by the Bilingual Press of Tempe, Arizona.  A full color digital facsimile is available from the World Digital Library.

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The Library of the Painter El Greco and its Influence upon his Art 1541 – 1614

In April 2014 the Museo del Prado, the Biblioteca Nacional de España, and Fundación El Greco 2014 presented an exhibition entitled El Greco’s Library. The painter El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos) was born in Crete. When he died in Toledo on April 7, 1614, he had among his belongings 130 books recorded in two inventories written by his son Jorge Manuel Theotokopoulos, one of which was compiled a few weeks after the death of the painter, and the other developed in 1621 as evidence of the goods Jorge Manuel brought to his second marriage.

The aim of the exhibit, and the accompanying book published by the Prado entitled, Biblioteca del Greco (2014), was to reconstruct the theoretical and literary roots of El Greco’s art through his library. Notable among his books was a copy of Vitruvius’s treatise on architecture from the Biblioteca Nacional de España, and a copy Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects. Both were copiously annotated by El Greco with comments that revealed his ideas on architecture and on painting. Also on display was a copy of Xenophon’s Works and one of Appian’s Civil Wars, both of which were represented in his library, and one of Sebastiano Serlio’s architectural treatise with annotations that have on occasions been attributed to the artist. The exhibition was completed by three manuscripts, nine prints that probably inspired compositions by El Greco, and five paintings which showed the relationship between his pictorial output and the books in his library. Also on display were the original inventories of 1614 and 1621, and a letter from the artist to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. The exhibition also included nine prints, mostly by Cornelis Cort and Dürer, which were key reference points for the painter, and five paintings, including Boy Blowing on an Ember and The Annunciation, which reveal the relationships between the artist’s pictorial creations and his books.

In total, the exhibition included 56 works that introduced visitors to what El Greco read and wrote, his knowledge and thinking, with the aim of understanding the ideas on the art of painting that underpinned his creative activities. The five sections of the exhibition reconstructed the artist’s career and analysed the way he saw painting as a speculative science. The first section emphasized the importance of El Greco’s Greek heritage throughout his life, while the second and third sections showed the key role that Italian culture played in his artistic transformation. The largest section focused on books on architecture, which highlighted El Greco’s interest in the universal nature of this discipline, and its influence on the status of painting as a liberal art. The exhibition closed with a small section on religious imagery, including a copy of Alonso de Villegas’s Flos sanctorum [Flowers of the Saints], which includes the first reference to the painter in print. 

"Based on the original documents of these two inventories, the exhibition is organised into five sections which together present its theoretical argument.

Greek forefathers and the classical heritage 

This section reveals the importance of Greek culture on El Greco, who was always manifestly proud of his origins. This is evident in the copies he owned of classical texts by Homer, Appian and Xenophon and others on the life of Alexander the Great, a hero of Greek history and the paradigm of artistic patronage due to his support for Apelles, of whom El Greco may have considered himself a modern personification. Also notable in this section is the absence of books by Plato in the artist’s library and the contrasting presence of works by Aristotle.

Metamorphosis in Italy 

The second section analyses the definitive transformation of El Greco’s painting following his time in Rome, Venice and other Italian cities. It was at this point and through an intensive process of self-education based on his knowledge of other artists’ work, his contacts with intellectuals and his own reading that he assimilated the prevailing practice and theory of art. At this point El Greco began to see painting as an autonomous discourse that went beyond the moralising depiction of subjects inspired by mythology, history and religion.

Painting as a speculative science

This section provides the exhibition’s central focus, given that El Greco believed that painting could imitate the invisible but also the impossible: in other words, he conceived of it as a means to explore the wonders of the real and to represent mythological subjects or sacred mysteries.

Vitruvius and the terms of architecture

While El Greco championed the hegemony of painting in relation to sculpture and architecture, at this period it was habitual to consider the latter the preeminent art form due to its traditional association with the liberal arts and because a knowledge of it was essential for becoming a 'universal man'. This is how the artist must have seen himself: he designed the architectural settings for some of the altarpieces into which his paintings were set and also wrote an architectural treatise, the contents and whereabouts of which are now unknown. These issues explain why his library included several copies of Vitruvius’s treatise as well as copies of the most important architectural treatises published in his own day, such as those by Sebastiano Serlio, Vignola and Andrea Palladio.

The problem of religious imagery

The final section emphasises the fact that although much of El Greco’s output consists of religious paintings, he did not devote a single one of his reflections to this subject and only owned around eleven books on religion. Aside from his own religious practice, he must have used these books to ensure that his works were doctrinally correct and conformed to contemporary precepts of decorum" (http://artdaily.com/news/69256/Three-Spanish-cultural-institutions-join-forces-to-present--El-Greco-s-Library--exhibition#.U0KgN61dUmQ,  accessed 04-07-2014).

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Leonhard Fuchs, Albrecht Mayer, Heinrich Füllmaurer & Viet Rudolf Speckle Issue the First "Modern" Herbal, with Self-Portraits of the Artists 1542

In 1542 German physician and botanist Leonhard Fuchs published De historia stirpium (On the History of Plants) in Basel at the office of printer Michael Isengrin. Fuchs's herbal was illustrated with full-page woodcut illustrations drawn by Albrecht Meyer, copied onto the blocks by Heinrich Füllmaurer and cut by Veit Rudolf Speckle; the artists' self-portraits appear on the final leaf. 

Describing and illustrating circa 400 native German and 100 foreign plants-- wild and domestic—in alphabetical order, with a discussion of their medical uses, De historia stirpium was probably inspired by the pioneering effort of Otto Brunfels, whose Herbarum vivae imagines had appeared twelve years earlier. "These two works have rightly been ascribed importance in the history of botany, and for two reasons. In the first place they established the requisites of botanical illustration—verisimilitude in form and habit, and accuracy of significant detail. . . . Secondly they provided a corpus of plant species which were identifiable with a considerable degree of certainty by any reasonably careful observer, no matter by what classical or vernacular names they were called. . ." (Morton, History of Botanical Science [1981] 124).

Fuchs's herbal is also remarkable for containing the first glossary of botanical terms, for providing the first depictions of a number of American plants, including pumpkins and maize, and for its generous tribute to the artists Meyer, Füllmaurer and Speckle, whose self-portraits appear on the last leaf.  This tribute to the artists may be unique among sixteenth century scientific works, many of which were illustrated by unidentified artists, or artists identified by name only. It is especially unusual for the name of the artist who transferred the drawings onto the woodblocks to be recorded, let alone for that artist to be portrayed.

The widely known and distinctive plant species Fuchsia, named after Fuchs, was discovered on Santo Domingo in the Caribbean in 1696/97 by the French scientist Dom Charles Plumier, who published the first description of "Fuchsia triphylla, flore coccineo" in 1703. The color fuchsia is also named for Fuchs, describing the purplish-red of the shrub's flowers.

"Fuchs's herbal exists in both hand-colored and uncolored versions. While some colored copies may have been painted by their owners after purchase, as was sometimes done in books of this nature, there is sufficient evidence to show that copies were also colored for the publisher Isingrin, who presumably made use of the artist's original drawings. Such 'original colored' copies possess many features in common—for example, the illustration of the rose has the left shoot bearing white flowers and the right shoot red flowers, and the plum tree shows yellow fruits on the left, blue fruits in the center, and reddish fruits on the right—and it is these features that permit one to distinguish between original colored copies and those colored later by private owners. The coloring in the colored copies issued by the publisher accords well with Fuchs's descriptions in the text, which suggest that Fuchs had some control over the painting" (Norman, One Hundred Books Famous in Medicine [1995] no. 17, pp. 66-67).

In 1543 Michael Isengin issued a German translation of De historia stirpium entitled New Kreüterbüch. During Fuchs's lifetime the book underwent thirty-nine editions in Latin, German, French, Spanish and Dutch, in folio and smaller formats. Although the text and woodcuts were technically protected decree of Charles V, as stated on Fuchs's title page, this did not prevent wholesale plagiarism of the blocks during Fuchs's life and long after his death; the woodblocks illustrating the work were reused and copied for over 300 years.

Meyer, Trueblood & Heller, The Great Herbal of Leonhart Fuchs. Volume 1: Commentary. Volume 2: Facsimile. (1999). On pp. 136-141 of vol. 1 the authors provide a history of the re-use or adaptation of Fuchs's images, and a list of works that used them between 1543 and 1862.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 846.

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Leonhard Fuchs' Unpublished Masterpiece of Renaissance Botany 1543

Between 1543 and his death in 1566 physician and botanist Leonhard Fuchs composed an expansion of De historia stirpium that he planned to have published in three volumes with a greatly expanded text and 1525 images, including descriptions of 400 plants "not mentioned by the ancients or completely unknown." However, in the interval Fuchs's publisher, Michael Isengrin, died, and Isengrin's widow was unwilling to advance the very substantial sum, known from Fuchs's correspondece to be 3000 florins, to publish the work. Thus, by the end of his life Fuchs had devoted to an enormous amount of time, effort and expense to writing a work that was never published. Remarkably, the manuscript passed down through Fuchs's family, and resisted several efforts to have it published over the centuries, and survived two world wars, before it appeared for sale at a congress of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers in Vienna in 1954, where it was purchased by the National Library of Vienna.

In the commentary volume to their edition of The Great Herbal of Leonhart Fuchs (1999) Meyer, Trueblood and Heller devote chapter 5 (pp. 147-194) to Fuchs's unpublished manuscript, which they call "The Vienna Codex." The National Library of Vienna's official name for the manuscript  is Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus. From Meyer, Trueblood and Heller's description on pp. 154-55 I quote:

"It now consists of nine small folio volumes, 4,444 pages of text and figures, with a page size of 31.5 x 20.8 cm, bound in richly ornmaented early-seventeenth century white pigskin. The Latin text is wrtten in the small italic hand of Fuchs; the plant pictures are hand-colored. The manuscript is still in good physical condition, but many of the water-colored pictures have faded because of age. Some of the illustrations suffered when the manuscript was put into its present binding, because of trimming at the top of the page, although the loss is not serious.

"The Vienna Codex includes all of the original 511 figures from the Historia of 1542 and 6 more from the German edition of 1543. In addition, there are 1,012 new figures, bringing the grand total of plates in the Codex to 1,529 by our count, although Fuchs mentions 1,525 on his title page. There are a few duplicate plates, making an accurate count more difficult. The number of plates does not reflect the number of species and other categories represented in the manuscript. Sometimes more than one species is figured on a plate, bringing the number of plants figured to ca. 1,541 in the manuscript. The count is provisional, however, until all the plants have been identified...."

When I wrote this entry in November 2013, to the best of my knowledge, Fuchs's manuscript remained the only major surviving unpublished autograph manuscript by a Renaissance scientist of the first rank.

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Andreas Vesalius Produces a Unprecedented Blend of Scientific Exposition, Art and Typography June 1543

 The title page of Andreas Versalius' 'De humani corporis fabrica libri septem,' published in 1543, was a revolutionary work of unmatched scientific and artistic precision.  (View Larger)

In June 1543, at the age of only 29, physician, surgeon, and anatomist Andreas Vesalius of Brussels published De humani corporis fabrica libri septem in Basel. This large and spectacularly produced volume revolutionized the science and teaching of human anatomy, and therefore of medicine in general. Throughout this encyclopedic 400,000 word book on the structure and workings of the human body Vesalius provided a fuller and more detailed description of human anatomy than any of his predecessors, correcting errors in the traditional, and enormously influential anatomical teachings of the Roman physician Galen, which had been obtained from primate rather than human dissection, and arguing that knowledge of human anatomy was to be obtained only from human sources. Even more revolutionary than his criticism of Galen and other medieval authorities was Vesalius's assertion that the dissection of cadavers must be performed by the physician himself—a direct contradiction of the medieval doctrine that dissection was a task to be performed by menials while the physician lectured from the traditional authorities. Only through actual dissection, Vesalius argued, could the physician learn human anatomy in sufficient detail to teach it accurately. This "hands-on" principle remained Vesalius's most lasting contribution to the teaching of anatomy; it is graphically represented in the Fabrica's woodcut title page (the earliest illustration of an anatomical theatre), which shows Vesalius with his right hand plunged into an opened cadaver, conducting an anatomical demonstration. Because it was then legal only to dissect the cadavers of executed criminals, and these cadavers were always in short supply, Vesalius urged physicians to take their own initiative in obtaining material for dissection. The Fabrica contains several amusing and unrepentant anecdotes of how students had robbed graves to obtain cadavers, especially those of women, since female criminals were rarely executed in those days.

The Fabrica also broke new ground in its unprecendented blending of scientific exposition, art and typography. Although earlier anatomical books, such as those by Berengario da Carpi had contained some notable anatomical illustrations, they had never appeared in such number or been executed in such minute precision as in the Fabrica, and they had usually been introduced rather haphazardly with little or no relationship to the text. In contrast, Vesalius sent his woodblocks to the printer with precise instructions as to placement within the text, and with exact marginal references which brought about direct relationship of text to illustrations, or even details within illustrations. The series of historiated initials, in which putti and dwarfed men humorously perform some of the more grisly actions associated with dissection, have been called pictorial footnotes to the text. The book remains the typographic masterpiece of Johannes Oporinus of Basel, one of the most widely learned and iconoclastic of the scholar printers. Another advantage to Vesalius of using Oporinus for this project was that Oporinus had been educated in medicine. Oporinus's success with the Fabrica apparently caused Vesalius to entrust to Oporinus all of his later publications. 

The Fabrica's magnificent title page and the spectacular series of hundreds of anatomical woodcuts (full-page and smaller) spread throughout the book remain the most famous series of anatomical illustrations ever published. Though Vesalius did not credit any specific artist or artists with the images, traditionally the illustrations were attributed to an associate of Titian, the Flemish artist Jan Stephan von Calcar, who drew, and possibly engraved, the three woodcuts of skeletons in Vesalius's first series of anatomical charts, Tabulae anatomicae sex (1538). For a long time an alternative theory was that the Fabrica woodcuts were produced by an unknown artist or artists in Titian's workshop in Venice. We know that Vesalius commissioned the illustrations and supervised their production, and it is also very likely that he personally drew some of the lesser illustrations for the Fabrica, as we know that he made the drawings for the first three of the Tabulae anatomicae sex. Most of the woodblocks for the Fabrica were preserved in Munich until the bombing of Munich in World War II.

In September 2014 my wife and I attended the Vesalius Continuum conference on the Greek island of Zakynthos where Vesalius died on his return from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The conference was scheduled to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Vesalius's birth. At the conference the distinguished historian of art Martin Kemp presented his latest views on the origin and significance of Vesalius's images, describing the book as a visual machine interlocked with a textual machine, and attributing most of the large images to von Calcar, and some of the lesser ones, including the small diagrams, to Vesalius. The famous woodcut title page with its architectural aspects Kemp attributed on a preliminary basis to the Italian painter Giuseppe Porta, who sometimes signed his name as Giuseppe Salviati. Kemp also considered Porta a good candidate for the artist responsible for the historiated initials.

A notable feature of the Fabrica not usually considered is Vesalius's "Index of Notable Subjects and Words" published at the end of the work. Arranged alphabetically by subject, and either by first name or surname somewhat inconsistently, this index to page number and line number on a given page amounts to a detailed outline of what Vesalius considered his significant original contributions. For example, under Galen he indexed to each specific anatomical detail where he disagreed with Galen's writings.

♦ In December 2013 a digital facsimile of the 1543 Fabrica was available from the National Library of Medicine at this link. Another digital facsimile of a copy hand-colored (probably in the seventeenth century) at the University of Basel was available at this link.

From 1998 to 2009 I published the first English translation of De humani corporis fabrica in five volumes, the descriptions of which are available at this link

(This entry was last revised on 09-15-2014.)

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Simultaneously with the "Fabrica" Vesalius Issues a Condensation, or Road-Map, of the Encyclopedic Work June 1543

Shortly after publishing his encyclopedic De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, Andreas Vesalius issued De humani corporis fabrica epitomealso from the press of Johannes Oporinus of Basel. This thin set of 14 unnumbered leaves, each containing images and text, and published in large folio format even larger than the Fabrica, was an outline, or precis, or road-map of essential information contained in the Fabrica, including some different and spectacular larger images. This was the first time that the author of a revolutionary medical or scientific work issued a condensation of his essential information roughly simultaneously with the main publication.

Vesalius suggested that the large sheets of the Epitome might be mounted on the walls of dissection rooms as a guide to dissection. As a result, relatively few sets of the sheets were bound up as books, and only a small portion of the original printing survives.

While the Fabrica was a very expensive encyclopedic work, Vesalius' Epitome, though larger in format, was a much less expensive work that presented essential anatomical information in a concise, comparatively easy to understand manner. It became far more widely published and distributed than the Fabrica. By August 9,1543  Vesalius published a German translation of the Epitome in Basel, and many plagiarisms and adaptations of the Epitome were published in various European countries, in a wide variety of formats, throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Because of its much wider publication and distribution, even more than the Fabrica, Vesalius' Epitome was the publication that revolutionized the teaching and study of human anatomy.

The Epitome’s nine anatomical woodcuts are divided into two skeletal, four muscular and two circulatory charts, plus a neurological chart, each drawn with great attention to detail. The skeletal, muscular and one of the circulatory plates are similar, but not identical, to plates found in the Fabrica; the Epitome’s plates are larger, the figures in slightly different attitudes and less space is devoted to background scenery (leaf K1 duplicates the Fabrica’s celebrated thinking skeleton, but with the inscription on the pedestal changed). The remaining circulatory plate and the neurological plate are reproduced, with different text, on the two folding plates found in the Fabrica; the plate on M1 appears on leaf p4 of the Fabrica, and the plate on [N]1 (minus the accompanying organs) appears on the leaf m3. In addition to these nine anatomical plates, there are in the Epitome two stunning woodcuts of a nude male and nude female figure, accompanied by long descriptions of the surface regions of the body; nothing like them appears in the Fabrica. The Epitome’s title-page woodcut and portrait of Vesalius are from the same blocks used in the earlier work.

Most known copies of the Epitome are incomplete. According to the final paragraph of leaf M1, the work was issued in separate sheets and not intended to be bound together. The last two unsigned sheets (Cushing’s [N]1 and [O]1) are especially rare, as they were printed with individual parts of the body to be cut out and assembled into two figures, male and female.

Cushing, Bio-bibliography of Andreas Vesalius (1943) VI B-1.

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Charles Estienne Includes Erotic Images Made Acceptable by their Adaptation for Medical Purposes 1545 – 1546

In 1545 French physician, writer, and translator, Charles Estienne, of the Estienne printing dynasty, published De dissectione partium corporis humani libri tres. . . . in Paris. Charles was the younger son of scholar printer Henri I EstienneDe dissectione, one of the most interesting woodcut books of the French Renaissance, was printed at the Estienne Press by his stepfather Simon de Colines, who ran the press from Henri I's death until Charles's brother Robert came of age.

Charles Estienne studied medicine in Paris, completing his training in 1540; in 1535, during his course of anatomical studies under Jacques Dubois  (Jacobus Sylvius), he had Andreas Vesalius as a classmate. At the time the only illustrated manuals of dissection available were the writings of Berengario da Carpi, and the need for an improved, well-illustrated manual must have been obvious to all students of anatomy, particularly the medical student son of one of the world's leading publishers. Estienne did not hesitate to fill this need. The manuscript and illustrations for De dissectione were completed by 1539, and the book was set in type halfway through Book 3 and the last section, when publication was stopped by a lawsuit brought by Étienne de la Rivière, an obscure surgeon and anatomist who had attended lectures at the Paris faculty during 1533-1536, overlapping the time of Estienne's medical study in Paris.

According to historian of surgery and economist, François Quesnay, Estienne may have attempted to plagiarize a manuscript of Étienne de la Rivière which the latter had turned over to him for translation from French into Latin. In the eventual settlement of the lawsuit, Estienne was required to credit Rivière for the various anatomical preparations and for the pictures of the dissections. Had De dissectione been published in 1539, there is no question that it would have stolen much of the thunder from Vesalius's Fabrica: it would have been the first work to show detailed illustrations of dissection in serial progression, the first to discuss and illustrate the total human body, the first to publish instructions on how to mount a skeleton, and the first to set the anatomical figures in a fully developed panoramic landscape, a tradition begun by Berengario da Carpi in his Commentary on Mondino. Nonetheless, Estienne's work still contained numerous original contributions to anatomy, including the first published illustrations of the whole external venous and nervous systems, and descriptions of the morphology and purpose of the "feeding holes" of bones, the tripartate composition of the sternum, the valvulae in the hepatic veins and the scrotal septum. In addition, the work's eight dissections of the brain provide more anatomical detail that had previously appeared.

The anatomical woodcuts in De dissectione have attracted much critical attention due to their wide variation in imagistic quality, the oddly disturbing postures of the figures in Books 2 and 3, the obvious insertion in many blocks (again, in Books 2 and 3) of separately cut pieces for the dissected portions of the anatomy, and the uncertainty surrounding the sources of the images. The presence of inserts in main blocks would suggest that these blocks were originally intended for another purpose, and in fact a link has been established between the gynecological figures in Book 3, with their frankly erotic poses, and the series of prints entitled The Loves of the Gods, engraved by Gian Giacomo Caraglio after drawings by Perino del Vaga and Rosso Fiorentino. It has also been conjectured that the male figures in Book 2 are from blocks cut for an unpublished book of anatomical designs after Rosso Fiorentino's studies of bodies disinterred from the burial grounds at Borgo; however, this speculation remains insufficiently supported by evidence.

Possible explanations of this connection between pornography and anatomy are that the engraver of the female nude woodcuts did not have access to a model, and for the sake of expediency copied the general outlines of the female nudes from "The Loves of the Gods," eliminating the male figures from the erotic illustrations. Another wood engraver, perhaps Rivière, would then have prepared the anatomical insert blocks showing the internal organs. Economic reasons may also have been a factor, as commissioning entirely new woodcuts would certainly have cost more in time and money than adapting existing artwork, and after the enforced delay imposed by Étienne de la Rivière's lawsuit, both time and money may well have been in short supply. A third explanation might have been that the publishers intended to commercialize the anatomy by stressing the erotic overtones, thus appealing to a wider market than strictly physicians. Possibly because of the erotic connection, the work sold unusually well for a anatomical treatise, appearing in French the following year, with publication of an edition of the plates alone, without text, several years later. During a period in which printed erotica was very difficult to come by there would have been considerable demand for erotic images made acceptable by their adaption for medical purposes.

Choulant, History and Bibliography of Anatomic Illustration (1920) 152-155. Kellett, "Perino del Vaga et les illustrations pour l'anatomie d'Estienne," Aesculape 37 (1955), 74-89. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 728.

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Guido Guidi Issues a Spectacular Book of Renaissance Surgery and Graphic Arts 1545

From the press operated by Pierre Gautier in the Paris castle of Benevenuto Cellini, Italian physician Guido Guidi (Vidius Vidius) issued Chirurgia è graeco in latinum conversa . . . .  The elegantly printed and illustrated small folio included 210 text woodcuts, most probably after drawings by the school of Francesco Salviati (Francesco de'Rossi).

Guidi's Chirurgia was derived from the Nicetas Codex, a tenth-century illustrated Byzantine manuscript of surgical works on the treatment of fractures and luxations by Hippocrates, Galen and Oribasius, discussed circa 900 in this database. In 1542, Guidi presented an illustrated copy of this manuscript, along with the manuscript of his own illustrated Latin translation, to François I of France, whom he served as royal physician from 1542 until the king's death in 1547. These manuscripts are preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Guidi had his Latin translation printed by Pierre Gaultier, a printer residing at the castle of Benvenuto Cellini, where Guidi also lived during the time he spent in Paris. The Chirurgia was the only one of Guidi's works published during his lifetime. The exquisite woodcuts of apparatus adorning Guidi's text are copies of the drawings in Guidi's Latin manuscript, which have been claimed, on the basis of a brief reference in the manuscript, to be the work of the Italian mannerist Francesco Primaticcio. However, for both stylistic and logistical reasons, it is more likely that the drawings were made by the school of Francesco [Rosso] Salviati; see Kellett, cited below. The images themselves have been traced back from the Nicetas Codex to the commentary on the Hippocratic treatise Peri arthron (On the joints) composed in the first century B.C.E. by Apollonius of Kitium

Choulant, History and Bibliography of Anatomic Illustration (1920)  211-212.  Kellett, "The School of Salviati and the Illustrations to the Chirurgia of Vidius Vidius, 1544," Medical History 2 (1958), 264-268. Mortimer, Harvard College Library Department of Printing and Graphic Arts Catalogue of Books and Manuscripts Part I. French Sixteenth Century Books (1964) no. 542. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 954.

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Guilio Clovio Completes a Masterpiece of High Renaissance Manuscript Illumination 1546

In 1546 Guilio Clovio (Croatian: Juraj Julije Klović), a renaissance illuminator, miniaturist, and painter mostly active in Italy, completed the illumination of the Farnese Hours for Cardinal Alessandro II Farnese, grandson of Pope Paul III. Creation of the 28 miniature paintings (2 double-page) in this manuscript occupied Clovio for nine years. The manuscript was a collaboration between Clovio and the scribe, Francesco Monterchi, secretary to Cardinal Farnese's father, Pier Luigi Farnese. It is widely considered the masterpiece of the greatest manuscript illuminator of the Italian High Renaissance
"Clovio was a friend of the much younger El Greco, the celebrated Greek artist from Crete, who later worked in Spain, during El Greco's early years in Rome. Greco painted two portraits of Clovio; one shows the four painters whom he considered as his masters; in this Clovio is side by side with Michelangelo, Titian and Raphael. Clovio was also known as Michelangelo of the miniature. Books with his miniatures became famous primarily due to his skilled illustrations. He was persuasive in transferring the style of Italian high Renaissance painting into the miniature format" (Wikipedia article on Giulio Clovio, accessed 03-27-2010).
One portrait of Clovio painted by El Greco shows him pointing to the Farnese Hours.
The Farnese Hours was acquired from J. & S. Goldschmidt by J. P. Morgan, and is preserved in the Morgan Library & Museum (MS M. 69)
"The dependence of Clovio on Michel Angelo and his lifting of certain scenes from the Grimani Breviary, are apparent. The Grimani Breviary was owned from 1528, by Clovio's patron Cardinal Domenico Grimani (1460-1523) for whom Clovio executed the Grimani Commentary MS (no. 11) in Sir John Soane's Museum, London. . . ." (http://corsair.morganlibrary.org/msdescr/BBM0069a.pdf, accessed 03-27-2010).
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1550 – 1600

Ulisse Aldrovandi's Guide to Ancient Statuary in Rome 1556

A guidebook to the topography and antiquities of Rome, Le antichita de la citta di Roma, first issued in Rome in 1556 by Lucio Mauro, is best-known for its supplementary survey of antique sculpture in the region by the young Ulisse Aldrovandi. This survey, entitled Delle statue antiche che per tutta Roma in diversi luoghi . . . si veggono, which occupies about two-thirds of the volume, was Aldrovandi's first publication. It has been called the first lengthy and detailed guidebook to the antiquities of the city of Rome, and a landmark in the scientific recording and documentation of works of art.

Though primarily remembered for his studies of natural history, Aldrovandi was also classical scholar, well versed in the literature and archaeology of antiquity. His Delle statue antiche is one of the earliest works on statuary and sculpture in general, a topic treated by relatively few treatises, and it has been essential for documenting the sculpture gardens and collections of antiquities that existed in Rome in the mid-16th century, for reconstructing the contents and the appearance of individual collections, and for establishing the provenance and tracing the history of individual statues. 

As the only publication of the Bolognese naturalist to deal with antiquities, Delle statue antiche is an anomaly among Aldrovandi's published works. However, among the great mass of Aldrovandi’s unpublished manuscripts are extensive records of his investigations of ancient art and artefacts, and also of his studies of the habits and customs of daily life in antiquity. This broad knowledge of many aspects of the ancient world is reflected in Aldrovandi's Delle statue antiche. 

Aldrovandi's work on statuary was written in Rome between 1549 and 1550 during an unplanned sojourn. While he was studying medicine in Bologna, in June 1549, Aldrovandi was accused of heresy, as a presumed follower of the anti-Trinitarian beliefs of Camillo Renato. Arrested along with other suspected individuals, Aldrovandi publicly renounced the heretical views, but he was nevertheless transferred to Rome to await a formal review. He remained in Rome, partly in custody, and partly at liberty, for at least eight months until absolved in April 1550. During this time he was befriended by many Roman scholars, and he undertook the investigation of Roman collections of ancient statues. And it was during this sojourn, in 1550, that Aldrovandi, according to his own account, wrote the Delle statue antiche. In it he included every signficant Roman collection of ancient sculpture, including:

"statues, torsos and fragments, but also reliefs and some inscriptions as well as minor antiqutieis in the studios of such connoiseurs as Cardinal Carpi or Gerolomo Garimberto. He frequently gives find spots, and his predispoition to logical order aids in recovering iconographic programs that often governed the installation of antique sculptures in vigne and staue gardens.

"Even without the drawings that seem to have been planned originally, Aldvrovandi's guide to ninety-odd private collections is unqiuely valuable to archaeologists and art historians" (Phyllis Pary Bober, in N.T. de Grummond (ed) An Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology,  I [1996] 31).

In Empire without End, Antiquities Collections in Renaissance Rome, C. 1350-1527 (2010) Kathleen Wren Christian frequently drew upon Aldrovandi's Delle statue antiche as one of her mostly extensively used primary sources.

Gilhofer & Ranchburg, The Sixteenth Century, Part XII, (2013 or 2014) no. 10.

Margaret Daly Davis, Ulisse Aldrovandi: Tutte le statue antiche. . . . Part I. Introduction and Full Text (2009).

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Hubert Goltzius Issues the First Book Extensively Illustrated with Chiaroscuro Woodcuts 1557

Engraved portrait of Hubert Golzius by Simon Frisius c. 1610.

A self-portrait by Parmagianino c. 1524.

In 1557 German painter, engraver, and printer Hubert Goltzius, issued a folio volume from the press of Copen (?) Diesthem in Antwerp, Belgium, entitled Lebendige Bilder gar nach all Keyersern, von C. Julio Caesare, bisz auff Carolum.V. und Ferdinandum seinem Bruder, auxz den alten Medalien . . . . Goltzius also issued this book in Latin and Italian in 1557, in French in 1559, and in Spanish in 1560.  Besides illustrating medallic portraits of Roman emperors, Goltzius provided histories of their reigns. According to the Wikipedia, Golzius worked on this book for 12 years before it was published.

"Although the chiaroscuro woodcut was primarily a technique for making individual prints in imitation of drawings, it was occasionally used for book illustration. Hubert Goltzius, a pioneering numismatist, employed it to reproduce antique medals bearing portraits of the Roman emperors. . . .That book. . . was one of the earliest uses of chiaroscuro in a book and the first use of the technique in the Netherlands.

"The chiaroscuro process, with its different shades of the same hue and white highlights, defines light and tone but not local color; it was thus especiately appropriate for the reproduction of monochrome relief medals. One of the characteristics of Goltzius's work, the use of an etched plate for the black outlines and details, had earlier been invented by Parmagianino, but was not widely adopted by practioneers of chiaroscuro active in the sixteenth century. . . ." (Friedman, Color Printing in England 1487-1870 [1978] No. 2).

Strauss, Chiaroscuro. The Clair-Obscur Woodcuts by the German and Netherlandish Masters of the XVIth and XVIIth Centuries (1973) No. 113.

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Self-Portrait of Simon Bening, One of the Greatest Manuscript Illuminators of the Sixteenth Century 1558

In 1558, at the age of 75, the Flemish manuscript illuminator Simon Bening (Benninck) painted a Self-Portrait miniature of himself. The watercolor on vellum is preserved in the Victoria & Albert Museum  (P. 159-1910). Bening was one of the most distinguished artists of the final flowering of the Ghent-Bruges school of manuscript illumination. Ironically, manuscript illumination may have reached its pinnacle about 100 years after the introduction of printing by movable type. After the death of Bening, and others of his generation, artistic achievement in this field for the most part declined or ceased. 

"Simon Benninck never travelled to England, but his daughter was one of a small band of manuscript illuminators (illustrators) who moved from the Low Countries to London in order to work for King Henry VIII. As the invention of printing gradually made both the manuscript and its illumination redundant, illuminators drew on the tradition of secular naturalism to produce equally exquisite small portraits. Thus the techniques used by Benninck in his illuminations are no different from those used in this self-portrait. A sloping easel was used for painting both portraits and more traditional subjects, such as the Madonna and Christ Child. Both illuminators and miniaturists worked by natural light and without magnification, although Benninck’s glasses hint at the strain of such intricate work" (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O74832/self-portrait-of-simon-bening-portrait-miniature-simon-bening/, accessed 01-23-2014).

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Jean Cousin the Elder Issues "Livre de perspective" 1560

In 1560 French painter, sculptor, etcher, engraver, and geometrician, Jean Cousin the Elder, published Livre de perspective in Paris at the press of Jean Le Royer. The folio volume includes a woodcut title device, a frontispiece of platonic solids and 58 geometrical diagrams (16 full-page, 5 double-page) by Jean Le Royer and Aubin Olivier. The frontispiece of the platonic solids is one of the finest examples of mannerist book illustration.

“According to the printer’s introduction, leaf A3v, Le Royer received from Cousin the text and ‘les figures pour l’intelligence d’iceluy necessaries, portraittes de sa main sus planches de bois,’ and he himself cut most of Cousin’s blocks and completed others which his brother-in-law, Aubin Olivier, had started. Several of the diagrams are extended into landscapes with figures. . . . Le Royer held the title of king’s printer for mathematics. Cousin is known to have been a successful painter and designer of stained glass windows. . . . His considerable reputation as a designer of woodcuts for the Paris printers has been developed chiefly by comparison of details from this volume” (Mortimer, Harvard College Library Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, Catalogue of Books and Manuscripts Part I. French Sixteenth Century Books (1964)no. 157, quote from pp. 195-97). 

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Giorgio Vasari Begins Construction of the Uffizi 1560 – 1581

In 1560 Italian painter, architect, writer and historian Giorgio Vasari began construction of the Palazzo degli Uffizi in Florence (Firenze) for Cosimo I de' Medici as the offices for the Florentine magistrates— hence the name "uffizi" ("offices").

Construction was continued following Vasari's design by Alfonso Parigi and Bernardo Buontalenti, and ended in 1581.

"The cortile (internal courtyard) is so long and narrow, and open to the Arno River at its far end through a Doric screen that articulates the space without blocking it, that architectural historians treat it as the first regularized streetscape of Europe. Vasari, a painter as well as architect, emphasized the perspective length by the matching facades' continuous roof cornices, and unbroken cornices between storeys and the three continuous steps on which the palace-fronts stand. The niches in the piers that alternate with columns were filled with sculptures of famous artists in the 19th century.

"The Palazzo degli Uffizi brought together under one roof the administrative offices, the Tribunal and the state archive (Archivio di Stato). The project that was planned by Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany to arrange that prime works of art in the Medici collections on the piano nobile was effected by Francis I of Tuscany, who commissioned from Buontalenti the famous Tribuna degli Uffizi that united a selection of the outstanding masterpieces in the collection in an ensemble that was a star attraction of the Grand Tour" (Wikipedia article on Uffizi, accessed 09-29-2010).

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Giuseppe Arcimboldo Paints a Surrealist Portrait of the Librarian 1566

In 1566 Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, court portraitist to Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I at the Habsburg court in Vienna, and later, to Maximilian II and his son Rudolf II at the court in Prague, painted The Librarian as part of a series of portraits in which a collection of objects—in this instance books—form a recognizable likeness in semi-human form of the portrait subject. In The Librarian, Arcimboldo used objects that signified the book culture at that time. Animal tails, which became the beard of the portrait, were used as dusters.

This painting, preserved at Skokloster Castle, Sweden, is, like others from Arcimbaldo's series, often interpretted as an expression of the Renaissance fascination with riddles, puzzles, and the bizarre. 

"The bizarre works of Arcimboldo, especially his multiple images, were rediscovered in the early 20th century by Surrealist artists like Salvador Dalí. The exhibition entitled “The Arcimboldo Effect” at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice (1987) included numerous 'double meaning' paintings. Arcimboldo's influence can also be seen in the work of Shigeo Fukuda, István Orosz, Octavio Ocampo, and Sandro del Prete, as well as the films of Jan Švankmajer" (Wikipedia article on Giuseppe Arcimboldo, accessed 01-02-2011).

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Benevenuto Cellini Describes Renaissance Artistic Techniques 1568

In Due Trattati, uno Intorno alle Otto Principali Arte dell'Oreficieria. L'Altro in Materia  dell'Arte della Scultura.... issued in Florence in 1568 Italian goldsmith, sculptor, painter, soldier and musician Benvenuto Cellini presented One of the few original treatises on Renaissance artistic techniques. The only book by Cellini published during his lifetime, t described Cellini's methods in a way analogous to Leonardo da Vinci's Trattato della Pittura (1561), but unlike Leonardo's work, which was compiled posthumously from various manuscripts by Leonardo, Cellini dictated his treatise himself. Cellini is remembered chiefly for the autobiography that he dictated to an amanuensis between 1558 and 1562, but which remained unpublished until 1728. 

In October 1898 Cellini's Due Trattati was issued in English translation by English entrepreneur and designer Charles Robert Ashbee from Cellini's original manuscript in the Bibliotheca Nazionale Marciana, Venice, rather than from the 1568 edition, which was abridged, as The Treatises of Benventuo Cellini on Goldsmithing and Sculpture. Ashbee was also the founder of the Guild & School of Handicraft, much of the efforts of which were in jewelry, coppersmithing and ironwork. 600 copies were printed by Ashbee's Essex House Press by printers from William Morris's then defunct Kelmscott Press, using the original Kelmscott presses, type, and handmade paper. However, the edition contained finely engraved photo-realistic illustrations, and its format, style and cloth binding was distinctly Essex House rather than Kelmscott.

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Fulvio Orsini Issues the First Critically Assembled Collection and Edition of Ancient Portraiture 1569 – 1570

Imagines et elogia virorum illustrium et eruditor ex antiquis lapidibus et nomismatib expressa cum annnotationib ex bibliotheca Fulvi Ursini, issued in Rome in 1570 by librarian, collector, epigrapher and classical scholar Fulvio Orsini, was the first critically assembled collection and edition of ancient portraiture. An expert on ancient coins, gems, inscriptions, and statues, Orsini was most advantageously positioned to make the first critical collection of ancient portraiture. In the Imagines et elogia he combined portraits with brief biographies of subjects drawn from ancient history and literature. Unlike previous works such as Paolo Giovio's Vitae virorum illustrium (1549‑57) and Guillaume Rouillé's Promptuarium iconum insigniorum (1553), Orsini emphasized the original physical state of the portraits illustrated rather than modifying his reproductions of the portraits to fit them into a uniform format. He also illustrated the marbles and coins as objects, sometimes presenting one or more examples of each subject. A special feature of Orsini's work was the large number of headless herm (ἑρμῆς) portraits illustrated with inscriptions on their pedestals, making the work first a corpus of epigraphical testimonia to famous and not so famous Greeks and Romans, and secondly a repertory of portraits. 

"Not only did Orsini have access to the most extensive epigraphical and iconographic collections in Rome but, more importantly, the critical method he employed in editing texts of classical authors and inscriptions served him well in the authentication of portraits. In making an identification, Orsini sought the evidence of an ancient inscription either directly on the marble or on a coin or medal that could be associated with a marble. He also collected ancient literary sources relating to the physical appearance or to the existence of ancient portraits of individual subjects. He did not hesitate to reject modern inscriptions whether on marble statuary or on gems, and he similarly rejected numismatic forgeries which by the late sixteenth century had flooded the Roman antiques market."

"In the majority of cases, Orsini (or his patron) owned the ancient coins, gems, busts, and statues that served his identifications. Hence, unlike virtually all of his predecessors, Orsini relied on 'autopsy' or first-hand experience as a critical method, anticipating the rigorous method of nine- teenth-century epigraphers like Theodor Mommsen. Orsini has been called the 'father of ancient iconography,' and, indeed, a glance at Gisela Richter's authoritative Portraits of the Greeks suffices to demonstrate the modern archaeologist's indebtedness to Orsini for the identification of a surprising number of heads of famous Greeks and Romans. Nevertheless, the documentary value of Orsini's earlier work is somewhat compromised by the fact that information about provenance is not presented consistently but, when offered, is usually buried near the end of the elogium" (Dwyer, "André Thevet and Fulvio Orsini: The Beginnings of the Modern Tradition of Classical Portrait Iconography in France," The Art Bulletin, 75, No. 3 (Sept. 1993), 467-480, quoting from 469).

Pierre de Nolhac, "Les collections d'antiquités de Fulvio Orsini," Mélanges d'archéologie et d'histoire," 4 (1884) 139-231.

de Nolhac, La bibliothèque de Fulvio Orsini (1887).

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François de Belleforest Describes Paintings in Rouffignac Cave 1575

In his translation of the Cosmographia of Sebastian Münster called La Cosmographie universelle de tout de monde published in 1575 French author, poet, and translator François de Belleforest described explorations of Rouffignac Cave, within the French commune of Rouffignac-Saint-Cernin-de-Reilhac in the Dordogne département, and mentioned "paintings and animal traces."  Rouffignac Cave contains over 250 engravings and animal paintings dating back to the Upper Paleolithic. Though De Belleforest wrote centuries before there was any understanding of prehistory, his comment is one of the earliest references to cave exploration.

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Agustín's Study of Ancient Coinage: Probably the Earliest Book with Illustrations by a Woman 1587 – 1592

In 1592 Dialoghi . .. intorno alle medaglie inscrittioni et altre antichita. . . by archaeologist, humanist, jurist and Archbishop of Aragon Antonio Agustín y Albanell (Agostín, Augustino, Augustinus) was posthumously issued in Rome, from the press of Guglielmo Faciotto. This volume on ancient coins included over 1200 woodcut depictions of coins, and six half page woodcuts of arches and buildings. Agustín's work had previously been published as Dialogos de medallas in his native Spanish in Tarragona, 1587, just after his death. The book was written in the form of eleven dialogues between an experienced antiquarian and a pair of beginners eager to learn about coins, inscriptions, and other antiquities. Agustín began his book with an introduction on identifying medals and coins, and a discussion of their usefulness to historians. He also explained the function of ancient coins, confirming that they were meant to be circulated as currency. The next four dialogues he dedicated to what is found on the reverse of Roman coins by subject: deities, cities, rivers, buildings, animals, and other symbols. Agustín then moved on to discuss the medals of Africa, France, and Spain, with special focus on Andalucia, Lusitania (Portugal), and Barcelona. In his final chapter he discussed how to identify fakes. In the original Spanish edition there were 51 engraved plates, illustrating only dialogues 1 and 2, possibly because Agustín was unable to arrange for more illustrations before his death.

Agustín had gained fame as a jurist and humanist with the publication in 1543 to great aclaim of his edition and commentary on the sixth century Florentine codex of the Digesta or Pandectae portion of Justinian's Corpus Juris Civilis. Appointed auditor of the Rota, the papal court, he became the center of an informal academy in Rome devoted to studying antiquities, along with Fulvio Orsini and Pirro Ligorio

Augustín wrote his Dialogos for a general audience, and because it was widely appreciated, two competing Italian translations were issued in Rome in 1592: that of Faciotto with over 1200 woodcuts inserted throughout the text, and Discorsi sopra le medaglie illustrated with 72 engraved plates issued by Ascanio and Girolamo Donangeli. Probably because the woodcuts in Faciotto's edition were easier to print and reprint than copperplates which could only withstand a limited number of impressions, the Faciotto edition became more widely distributed, and was reprinted and revised up to 1736.

The Faciotti edition of 1592 is also notable because of some of its woodcuts were cut by Geronima Parasole:

"Some of the large woodcuts bear the monograms P.M.F. (e.g. on the title border) or G.A.P. (e.g. on p. 124) attributed to Geronima [Cagnaccia] Parasole (fl. end of the 16th century), a Roman artist, cousin of Isabetta Parasole, who was with Vinciolo and Cesare Vecellio, the most important lace designer of the late 16th century. Apart from Geronima's contribution to the present work, only a few woodcuts by her after designs of Antonio Tempesta are known (cf. G.K. Nagler, Die Monogrammisten, München, 1919, II p. 968, no. 2715; IV, p. 926, no. 3141). It seems very likely that this is the earliest known book in which illustrations by a woman are found. In the sixteenth century only thirty-five women are known to have been artists, and according to our researches Geronima and Isabetta Parasole were the only women who contributed to book illustration in that period (cf. W. Slatkin Woman Artists in History, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1958, p. 38)" (My Gracious Silence 130).

Benezit, Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs VIII, 122.

Cunnally, Kagan, Scher, Numismatics in the Age of Grolier (2001) 61-63. 

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1600 – 1650

Odoardo Fialetti Creates Probably the First Printed Manual for Drawing Human Anatomy 1608

The Bolognese artist Odoardo Fialetti, initially apprenticed to Giovanni Battista Cremonini, and after traveling to Rome, moved to Venice to work in the elderly Tintoretto's studio. From 1604 to 1612 he was listed as member of the Venetian painter's guild, the Fraglia dei Pittori. Fialetti was a proflific author of not only of paintings but also prints, portraits, books on drawing and ornament, and book illustrations on a very wide range of subjects, including anatomical treatises, especially those in Guido Cesare Casseri's (Casserio, Casserius) Tabulae anatomicae.

Probably the first printed manual on drawing the human body, as distinct from earlier manuals on anatomy for artists, was Fialetti's Il vero modo et ordine per dissegnar tvtte le parti et membra del corpo hvmano—an entirely etched book of 40 leaves, drawn and etched by Fialetti, published in Venice in 1608. Fialetti's book may also be the first printed book on drawing in general, and may also be the first printed book on drawing for which authorship is clear, as the undated printed drawing book associated with Agostino & Annibale Carracci, Scuola perfetta per imparare a disegnare tutto il corpo humano cavata dallo studio, e disegnari de Carracci, a work of engravings of drawing examples by the Carraccis and other artists, possibly including some from the Carraccis' Accademia degli Incamminati in Bologna, is thought to have been first printed between 1609 and 1614, but could also have been later. 

In her 2009 thesis, Odoardo Fialetti (1573-c.1638): The Interrelation of Venetian Art and Anatomy, and his Importance in England (2 vols.),  the most comprehensive study of Fialetti's work of which I am aware, Laura M. Walters provides on pp. 68-79 a detailed analysis of Fialetti's drawing book and calls it on "the first drawing book of its kind of to come out of Venice." She describes two different states of the work, and compares it to other drawing books of the period, but does not cite any printed drawing book earlier than 1608. Comparing Fialetti's book to known studies by Agostino Carracci, she states that "the arrangement and development of body parts reflects the studies of Agostino Carracci, though the images and techniques used by Fialetti are not taken directly from him" (p. 70).

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Graphic Depiction of Leiden University Library in 1610 1610

In 1610 bookseller and publisher Andries Cloucq published a series of four large prints depicting the main buildings and halls of Leiden University: the anatomy theatre, the library, the botanical garden and the fencing school. The prints were engraved by Willem van Swanenburg after drawings by the Leiden artist Jan Cornelis van't Woudt (Woudanus)

Most relevant to this database is the famous print of the interior of the library, of which the Wikipedia reproduces a hand-colored copy from a version published in Stedboeck der Nederlanden (Amsterdam: Willem Blaeu, 1649). 

As Clark writes in The Care of Books (1902) 164:

"The bookcases were evidently contrived with the view of getting the largest number possible into the room. Each contained a single row of books, chained to a bar in front of the shelf; and, also for the purpose of saving the space usually occupied by a seat, readers were obliged to consult them standing. There are eleven bookcases on each sie of the room, each containing from 40 to 48 volumes. At the end of the room are two cupboards, probably for manuscripts; and to the right of the spectator is a third press marked Legatum Josephi Scaligeri. He died in January, 1609. Further, as an illustration of the usual appliances for study found in libraries at this period, and often mentioned in catalogues and account-books, I should draw attention to the globes and maps."

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François d'Aguilon & Peter Paul Rubens Describe Optics and Color Theory 1613

Belgian Jesuit mathematician, physicist and architect François d'Aguilon published Opticorum libri sex philosophis juxta ac mathematicis utiles in Antwerp at the Officina Plantiniana in 1613. Intended for use in Jesuit schools, Aguilon’s work was primarily a synthesis of classical and modern writings on optics; however, it also contained the first discussion of the stereographic process (which Aguilon named), one of the earliest presentations of the red-yellow-blue color system, an original theory of binocular vision and the first published description of Aguilon’s horopter.

“The horopter is the invention, or rather discovery, of Aguilon; he coined the term and showed how important the horopter is in explaining vision with two eyes; he even demonstrated the horopter in a simple device constructed by him and pictured by Rubens. . . . The theory of Aguilon on the horopter is a large step in the right direction, calling a halt to all previous deficient theories” (Ziggelaar, François Aguilon, 115; see also 53-133).

Aguilar’s theory of binocular vision was eventually superseded (despite claims to the contrary, he apparently knew nothing about Kepler’s ideas on the retina); nevertheless his ideas had some influence on the theorists of vision from Huygens to Newton to Helmholtz.

Production of Aguilon’s book fell to the Plantin-Moretus printing house, whose controllers were sympathetic to the Jesuits in Antwerp. The illustrations and allegorical title were prepared by painter, collector, and humanist scholar Peter Paul Rubens, a friend of Balthasar Moretus and himself deeply interested in the world of books.

“The designs for the frontispiece and six vignettes reveal Rubens’ knowledge of the actual text. . . . Rubens combined successfully Aguilonius’ references to ancient mythology and allegory into a coherent programme that also includes a connection with the science of optics, for all the various elements on the frontispiece have a direct relationship with the concept of vision” (Held, Rubens and the Book  [1977] 52).  

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 25.

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Depiction of Record Keeping by Pieter Breughel the Younger 1620 – 1640

The Village Lawyer by Pieter Breughel the Younger.

Pieter Breughel the Younger

A painting by Pieter Breughel the Younger, of which one copy dated 1621 entitled the Village Lawyer is in the Museum voor Schone Kunster, Ghent, Belgium, and another copy dated 1620-40, and entitled Paying the Tax is in the Armand Hammer collection at the Fisher Museum of Art, University of Southern California, perhaps caricatures the way paper accounting or legal records were maintained at the time. Records are shown in piles of bundles on tables, in bundles on shelves, in what appears to be sacks of bundles hanging on walls, in sheets of paper bundled together that may be tacked up on walls, and in piles on the floor. In short the methods of organizing and storing information appear sloppy, inefficient, and possibly chaotic.

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Cassiano & Carlo Antonio dal Pozzo Attempt to Record All Human Knowledge in Visual Form Circa 1625 – 1665

The "Museo Cartaceo" ("Paper Museum"), a collection of more than 7,000 watercolors, drawings and prints assembled by the Roman patron and collector Cassiano dal Pozzo and his youngest brother Carlo Antonio from 1625 to 1665, represents one of the most significant attempts made before the age of photography to embrace the widest range of human knowledge in visual form. Documenting ancient art and architecture, botany, geology, ornithology and zoology, the collection is a significant tool for understanding the cultural and intellectual concerns of a period during which the foundations of our own scientific methods were laid down.

"The Paper Museum reflects the taste and intellectual breadth of Cassiano dal Pozzo, one of the most learned and enthusiastic of all seventeenth-century Roman collectors. As secretary to Cardinal Francesco Barberini, patron of artists such as Poussin, and a friend of Galileo, Cassiano crossed the boundaries of artistic, scientific and political disciplines to create his unique visual encyclopaedia. His patronage extended to both the well-known and the lesser-known artists of his day, and his close connections with leading European scientists, scholars and philosophers kept him informed of the latest archaeological and scientific discoveries. His younger brother Carlo Antonio came to share his interests and played a significant role in augmenting and arranging the collection.

"Through his association with Federico Cesi, Prince of Acquasparta (1585–1630), and his membership of the Accademia dei Lincei (the first modern scientific society, founded by Cesi), Cassiano assembled visual evidence of scientifically – and for the first time microscopically – observed natural phenomena, thus establishing a firm basis for scientific classification. Fruit, flora, fungi, fauna, minerals and fossils – all were meticulously recorded, whether commonplace or exotic. He applied the same rigour and systematic methodology to his antiquarian studies: classical and early medieval monuments and artefacts were painstakingly drawn and classified to form a unique survey of ancient architecture, religion, custom, dress and spectacle" (http://warburg.sas.ac.uk/pozzo/prospectus.pdf, accessed 0-03-2010).

The "Paper Museum" was sold by Cassiano’s heirs to the Albani Pope Clement XI , who resold it to his connoisseur nephew Cardinal Alessandro Albani in the early eighteenth century. It remained in the Albani collection until a substantial portion was acquired by George III, also a scientific amateur, in 1762 for his library at Buckingham House. In 1834, the collection was transferred to the Royal Library created by William IV at Windsor Castle, where it forms part of the Royal Collection. Other portions are at the British Library, the British Museum, the botanical gardens at Kew (mycological specimens) , the library of Sir John Soane's Museum. Portions not purchased for George III are preserved at the Institut de France and various other public and private collections. 

Since the 1990s a project has been underway to publish the drawings and prints in the ‘Museo Cartaceo’ in a series of thirty-six volumes, arranged by subject matter following the method of classification employed by Cassiano himself. The series is entitled The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo ~ A Catalogue Raisonné.

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Ludwig van Siegen Invents Mezzotint 1642

In 1642 German soldier and amateur artist Ludwig von Siegen invented the mezzotint process of printmaking. Mezzotint was was the first tonal method of printmaking, producing prints that have a more painterly appearance. The word derives from Italian meaning "half-painted." Von Siegen's first known mezzotint is a portrait of  Amelie Elisabeth von Hessen.

Mezzotint allows "half-tones to be produced without using line or dot based techniques like hatching, cross-hatching or stipple. Mezzotint achieves tonality by roughening the plate with thousands of little dots made by a metal tool with small teeth. In printing the tiny pits in the plate hold the ink when the face of the plate is wiped clean. A high level of quality and richness in the print can be achieved."

Wax, The Mezzotint. History and Technique (1990) 15-16.

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Abraham Bosse Issues the First Treatise on Engraving and Etching 1645

In 1645 French artist and printmaker, Abraham Bosse, wrote, illustrated and published in Paris the first treatise on engraving and etching techniques: Tracté des manières de graver en taille douce sur l'airin.

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1650 – 1700

David Teniers the Younger Publishes the First Published Illustrated Catalogue of an Art Collection 1660

In 1660 David Teniers the Younger, court painter in Archduke Leopold William's court in Brussels, issued the Theatrum Pictorium, a catalogue of 243 Italian paintings belonging to his patron, Hapsburg Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, cousin of King Philip IV of Spain, and Governor of the Southern Netherlands (comprising most of modern Belgium).  Containing the engraved reproductions of 243 paintings, this was the first published illustrated catalogue of an art collection. Remarkably Teniers had the first edition printed in Dutch, French, Spanish and Latin, and the work later went through five more editions: 1673 (4 languages), 1684 (Latin), c. 1700 (Latin) and 1755 (French). 

During the single decade of his governorship (1646-56) Leopold Wilhelm formed one of the greatest art collections of his age, and Teniers effectively became its curator. Leopold Wilhelm’s collection came to number approximately 1,300 works, including paintings by Holbein, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Van Eyck, Raphael, Giorgione, Veronese and more than 15 works by Titian. This collection now forms the heart of Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum.

van Claerbergen (ed) David Teniers and the Theatre of Painting (2006).

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The First Book on the Appreciation of Prints and the First Description of Mezzotint 1662

In 1662 English diarist, gardener, and ecologist John Evelyn issued a book entitled Sculptura: or the History and Art of Chalcography and Engraving in Copper: with An ample Enumeration of the most renowned Masters and their Works. To which is annexed a new Manner of Engraving, or Mezzotinto. . . .This book, published in London, was the first book on the appreciation of prints rather than a technical manual for producing them.  In it Evelyn announced a new printmaking process, the mezzotint, "Invented, and communicated by his Highnesse" the soldier, inventor, and amateur printmaker, Prince Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhine and Duke of Bavaria. The work included Prince Rupert's print, after Jusepe de Ribera, known as Head of the Executioner, or The Little Executioner, or The Small Executioner. It was a detail from Rupert's largest and most famous work, "The Great Executioner," considered one of the genre's finest examples. From Evelyn's diary and papers preserved in the British Library we know that Rupert first showed the technique to Evelyn February 24, 1661. However, Rupert and Evelyn conspired to keep details of the process secret, lest it be "prostituted" at too cheap a rate.

The second edition of Evelyn's book appeared in 1755. It incorporated corrections and additions taken from Evelyn's manuscript notes, a portrait of Evelyn by Thomas Worlidge (1700-1766), translations of the passages in Greek and Latin, and a memoir of the author.

In his "Advertisement" to Sculptura, Evelyn stated that he, as well as William Faithorne (1662), had made a translation of the second part of Bosse's Traicté (1645) "but, understanding it to be also the design of Mr. Faithorn, who had (it seems) translated the first part of it, and is himself by Profession a Graver, and an excellent Artist; that I might neither anticipate the worlds expectation, nor the workmans pains, to their prejudice, I desisted from printing my copy, and subjoyning it to this discourse."  This second part of Evelyn’s translation did not therefore appear in his Sculptura 1662 or any subsequent edition until the discovery of Evelyn's manuscript in the library of the Royal Society. The complete Evelyn translation did not appear until 1906 as Evelyn's Sculpulptura with the unpublished Second Part, edited by C. F. Bell.

Wax, The Mezzotint: History and Technique (1990) 21-22.

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Michel de Marolles Writes the First Book on Print Collecting 1666

In 1666 French churchman, translator, and print collector Michel de Marolles, abbé de Villeloin, published in Paris at the press of F. Leonard Catalogue de livres d’estampes et de figures en taille douce, the first book on print collecting. Marolles had his collection of 123,400 engravings "by more than 6,000 masters" bound into 400 large volumes (p. 15). He arranged the collection into schools, and in his preliminary and concluding essays he illuminated market conditions and the methods and tastes of fellow collectors. He also documented the relative weighting, in acquisition decisions, of physical condition, rarity, provenance, artist, engraver and the beauty of the image. Perhaps as a result of this book Louis XIV's finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, purchased Marolles' print collection for 26,000 livres, and it became the basis of the Cabinét des Estampes at the Bibliothèque royale (Bibliothèque nationale de France).

In his Discours en forme de préface (19pp.) Marolles described his project for a History of Painters (Histoire des peintures). Not having a family, he wrote that he put together this catalogue in case he would need to sell his collection. In his book Les Amateurs d'autrefois (1877) museum director, art historian and collector Louis Clément de Ris told of searching unsuccessfully for the terms of Marolles' deal with Colbert. Not finding any record, de Ris suspected that Marolles' may have sold the collection discretely, and that Colbert requested the catalogue.

Marolles distinguished "originals", i.e. those engraved by the master, from those engraved by others. He identified a substantial number of engravers, and he explained to other collectors how to arrange their collections into albums. He also listed the plates in many famous illustrated books subjects like cartography, architecture, travel.

In February 2015 it was my pleasure to acquire for my collection a copy of Marolles' work in a contemporary French red morocco binding. This book, which I bought from Jean-Baptiste de Proyart, was formerly in the library of the distinguished collector and connoiseur Hans (Jean) Fürstenberg.

Schanapper, Curieux du grand siècle, Collections et collectionneurs dans la France du XVIIe siècle II. Oeuvres d'art (1994) 247-48.

In March 2015 a reproduction of an excellent engraved portrait of Marolles by Claude Mellan, and dated 1648, was available from the Art Gallery of New South Wales at this link.

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The First Print Surviving from New England 1670

The earliest surviving American portrait print, and the first print of any significance made in New England in any medium, was a woodcut portrait of Boston puritan clergyman Richard Mather probably by the earliest American engraver and first printer in Boston, John Foster issued in 1670. Five copies of the print survived; they are preserved in the American Antiquarian Society, Harvard, Massachusetts Historical Society, Princeton, and University of Virginia. It has been suggested that the print may have originally accompanied copies of a pamphlet entitled The Life and Death of that Reverend Man of God, Mr. Richard Mather, published in Cambridge in 1670, a year after Mather’s death.

"Apparently the cut was made on the flat side of a board. All known impressions are printed from two blocks, the head and shoulders on one block and the balance of the portrait on the other. This use of two blocks is difficult to explain. Foster may have done so deliberately for some unknown reason, or perhaps the block split in the course of its cutting or printing, or possibly Foster, dissatisfied with his cutting of some portion of the portrait, sawed the block in two and recut the portion he did not like on a second block" (Hamilton, Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers 1670-1870, Vol. I (1968) No. 1).

Of the five surviving copies the Harvard impression differs from the others:

"It is on different paper. At least three of the others, and probably all four, are on paper with an eighteenth-century Pro Patria paper mark. One has not been examined. The blocks of the Harvard print match, making the line of the shoulders continuous and natural; in the others there is a distinct step as in the one at the Massachusetts Historical Society. It lacks the others' scratched lines of the sleeves and jacket-opening. It appears to have been printed on a press; the other four show evidence of being 'spooned' proofs. The four have printed titles, though the type is differently positioned in each case. In sum, there is something here which needs explanation.

"The step in the line of the shoulders apparently results from printing with damp blocks, although why they were damp is still an unsolved problem. Wood, of course, expands very much when wet and much much across the grain than with it. Here we have horizontal grain in the upper block and vertical grain in the lower" (Holman, "Seventeenth-Century American Prints," Prints in and of America to 1850, Morse (ed) [1970] 25-30).

Shadwell, American Printmaking. The First 150 Years (1969) No. 1., plate 1.

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Anatomy in the Style of Dutch Still-Life Painting 1685

Plate from Bidloo's Anatomia humani corporis. Please click on the link below to view and resize full page. 

Title page of Bidloo's Anatomia humani corporis. 
Please click on the link below to view and resize full page. 

Govert Bidloo.

Gerard de Lairesse (1641–1711) by Rembrandt.  Lariesse suffered from congenital syphilis.

In 1685 Dutch physician, anatomist, poet, and playwright Govert Bidloo published Anatomia humani corporis. This large folio contains an engraved title, engraved portrait of Bidloo by Abraham Bloteling after Gérard de Lairesse and 105 engraved plates after Lairesse, probably by Bloteling and Peter and Philip van Gunst. The work was issued in  Amsterdam for the widow of Joannes van Someren, the heirs of Joannes van Dyk, Henry Boom and widow of Theodore Boom.

Considered as an artistic meditation on anatomy, Gerard de Lairesse’s designs are a total departure from the idealistic tradition inaugurated in the mid-16th century by the Vesalian woodcuts. They are also worlds apart from the productions of the Odoardo Fialetti - Giulio Casserio collaboration. Lairesse displayed his figures with everyday realism and sensuality, contrasting the raw dissected parts of the body with the full, soft surfaces of undissected flesh surrounding them; placing flayed, bound figures in ordinary nightclothes or bedding; setting objects such as a book, a jar, a crawling fly in the same space as a dissected limb or torso. He thus brought the qualities of Dutch still-life painting into anatomical illustration, and gave a new, darker expression to the significance of dissection. De Lairesse’s images of dissected pregnancies and premature infants also reflect compassion—a quality unusual in art that was intended primarily to be scientific.

A painter and writer on art theory, Lairesse was influenced by Rembrandt, who painted his portrait in 1665, and also by the French styles of Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain. The French called Lairesse the “Dutch Poussin.” Lairesse suffered from congenital syphilis, which gave him a deformed nose visible in Rembrandt’s portrait. Perhaps because he had always lived with disease Lairesse had more than a casual interest in medicine. Syphilis made him blind in 1690, and for the rest of his active life Lairesse supported himself by lecturing and writing about art, publishing two books on drawing and painting which were widely reprinted and translated throughout the eighteenth century.

Some of Lairesse’s drawings were probably engraved by Abraham Bloteling (Blooteling). A line engraver and creator of mezzotint plates who worked in both Holland and England, Bloteling was particularly famous for the quality of his mezzotints, for which he initiated a more thorough system of preparing the grounds, and may have invented the rocker. According to historian of medical book illustration Ludwig Choulant, prior medical scholars Albrecht Haller and Johann Carl Wilhelm Moehsen believed that some plates in the series were engraved by the brothers Pieter and Philip van Gunst. Despite imperfections from the point of view of dissection, which Choulant and others have pointed out, the Bidloo-de Lairesse anatomical studies reflect much that is good, including early depictions of skin and hair from observation with a microscope.

Bidloo began this project with de Lairesse around 1676 during a period in which he was also writing plays in Amsterdam, obtaining his medical degree, and working as a surgeon. It would appear that Bidloo brought his flair for drama to the conception and realization of this project. The 105 large drawings were probably completed about 1682, after which the plates had to be engraved—a huge production.

In 1690 Bidloo's publishers issued an edition in Dutch, and in 1698 William Cowper issued an expanded English with new text using Bidloo's original plates, but without crediting Bidloo, resulting in a famous plagiarism dispute in the era before copyright.

Choulant, History and Bibliography of Anatomic Illustration (1920) 250. Dumaître, La Curieuse Destiné des Planches Anatomiques de Gérard de Lairesse (1982). Hofer, Baroque Book Illustration, 146. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 231. Roberts & Tomlinson, The Fabric of the Body, 309-17. Wax, The Mezzotint: History and Technique (1990) 25-26.

♦ In 2012 it was my pleasure to sell a spectacular large paper copy of Bidloo's atlas, bound in contemporary full red morocco, and emblazened with the coat of arms of its first owner, to Vassar College as their 1,000,000th book. Vassar produced a spectacular website describing the copy, with background, images and a video. The excellent video, which beautifully described this wonderful copy, is here:

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1700 – 1750

Friedrich Ruysch's Anatomical Preparations: Surrealism Centuries Before Surrealism Became Fashionable 1701 – 1725

In Amsterdam Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruysch published Thesaurus anatomicus in ten parts from 1701 to 1716, and the first and only part of his Thesaurus animalium in 1710. An index to the Thesaurus anatomicus appeared in 1725.

Probably the most original artist in the history of anatomical preparations, Ruysch enjoyed making up elaborate three-dimensional emblems of mortality from his specimens. These fantastic, dream-like concoctions constructed of human anatomical parts are illustrated in the Thesaurus on large folding plates mostly engraved by Cornelis Huyberts, who also engraved plates for the painter Gérard de Lairesse, illustrator of Govert Bidloo’s anatomy. In their dreamlike qualities many of the plates depicting the preparations reflect surrealism centuries before surrealism became fashionable. Ruysch’s Thesaurus anatomicus and his Thesaurus animalium describe and illustrate the spectacular collections of “Anatomical Treasures” which he produced for display in his home museum between 1701 and 1716 using secret methods of anatomical injection and preservation.

Ruysch's unique anatomical preparations attracted many notables to his museum, including Czar Peter the Great of Russia, who was so fascinated with the preparations that he attended Ruysch’s anatomy lectures, and in 1717 he bought Ruysch’s entire collection, along with that of the Amsterdam apothecary Albert Seba, for Russia's first public museum, the St. Petersburg Kunstkammer. Over the years most of the dry preparations in St. Petersburg deteriorated or disappeared, but some of those preserved in glass jars remain. A few later specimens by Ruysch, auctioned off by his widow after his death, are also preserved in Leiden. Because most of the preparations did not survive, Ruysch’s preparations, and his museum, are known primarily from these publications.

Ruysch's methods allowed him to prepare organs such as the liver and kidneys and keep entire corpses for years. He used a mixture of talc, white wax, and cinnabar for injecting vessels and an embalming fluid of alcohol made from wine or corn with black pepper added. Using his injection methods Ruysch was the first to demonstrate the occurrence of blood vessels in almost all tissues of the human body, thereby destroying the Galenic belief that certain areas of the body had no vascular supply. He was also the first to show that blood vessels display diverse organ-specific patterns. He investigated the valves in the lymphatic system, the bronchial arteries and the vascular plexuses of the heart, and was the first to point out the nourishment of the fetus through the umbilical cord. Ruysch's discoveries led him to claim erroneously that tissues consisted solely of vascular networks, and to deny the existence of glandular tissue. 

Impey & Macgregor (eds.) The Origins of Museums (1985)  55-56. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1875.  Rosamond Purcell & Stephen Gould, Finders, Keepers: Eight Collectors (1992) chapter 1 reproduces spectacular color images of Ruysch’s preparations from Czar Peter’s Wunderkammer, and Leiden.  Roberts & Tomlinson, The Fabric of the Human Body (1992) 290-98.

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Jacob Christophe Le Blon Invents the Three-Color Process of Color Printing 1719 – 1725

Working in London, the painter Jacob Christoph Le Blon, a citizen of Frankfurt, secured a patent in 1719 from George I for a process which he called "printing paintings." Much as fifteenth century printers viewed printing by movable type as a less expensive way to reproduce texts that had previously been reproduced by manuscript copying, Le Blon viewed his process of color printing as a less expensive way of producing or reproducing color paintings. Prior to moving to London Le Blon worked as a miniaturist in Amsterdam, and it is thought that he might have been influenced by the anonymous third edition of Traité de la peinture en mignature issued in The Hague in 1708, which described trichromancy in terms of three couleurs primitives— yellow, red and blue.

In London Le Blon formed a company called The Picture Office to produce color prints. The historian of anatomical illustration Ludwig Choulant stated that in 1721 Le Blon issued a separate print depicting the male sexual organs entitled Préparation anatomique des parties de l’homme, servants a la generation, faites sur les decouvertes les plus modernes. This print, which I have not seen, may be the first, or among the first, color-printed mezzotints ever published. In 1725 Le Blon privately published a pamphlet called Coloritto, describing the process that he had invented. This was the first published description of trichromatic color printing.

To prepare each of his three printing plates, Le Blon used the technique of mezzotint engraving in which a copper sheet is uniformly roughened with the finely serrated edge of a burring tool, and local regions are then polished, to varying degrees, in order to control the amount of ink that they are to hold. To develop his process Le Blon needed to find three colored inks of suitable transparency, and to analyze the color that was to be reproduced into its components. Sometimes he used a fourth plate, carrying black ink. This technique allowed the use of thinner layers of colored ink, reducing cost, and accelerating drying.

Choulant, History and Bibliography of Anatomic Illustration (1920) 265-66.

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The Capitoline Museums, the First Public Museums, Open in Rome 1734

First open to the public in the Palazzo Nuovo in 1734 under the auspices of Pope Clement XII, the Capitoline Museums on the Capitoline Hill in Rome are considered the first public museum, defined as a museum where art could be enjoyed by ordinary people and not only by the owners of the art.

The Capitoline Museums remain the greatest museums of ancient Rome, and are significant not only for their content, but for their building design, and for their significance in the preservation of such a remarkable quantity of the most spectacular and historically important Roman antiquities. Their formation began in 1471 when pope Sixtus IV donated to the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the hill four bronze statues that had formally been housed in the pope's Lateran residence. These included the She-wolf, the Sinario (boy pulling a thorn out of his foot), the Camillus, and the bronze head of Constantine with hand and globe. The She-wolf, placed on the facade of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, became the symbol of the city of Rome. The colossal bronze portrait of the emperor Constantine with the palla Sansonis was placed in the external portico. Later, in 1537 Paul III Farnese commissioned Michelangelo to transfer the equestion statue of Marcus Aurelius from the Lateran to the Capitoline and to design a place for it in the center of the piazza. This ancient bronze had probably avoided the fate of other ancient Roman bronzes—mostly being melted down for medieval military use—because during the Middle Ages the statue was thought to represent Constantine, the first Christian emperor. 

The story of Michelangelo's design of the Capitoline Museums and the piazzo is well-documented. Significantly the building project was not completed until 1667. 

Carole Paul, The First Modern Museums of Art (2012)

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Albinus & Ladmiral Issue the First Full Color Printing by the Three-Color Process to Illustrate a Medical or Scientific Book 1736 – 1741

In 1736 physician and anatomist Bernhard Siegfried Albinus of Leiden published Dissertatio de arteries et venis intestinorum hominis. Adjecta icon coloribus distincta containing a color mezzotint printed by the painter Jan Ladmiral. This was among the earliest applications of full color printing, and the first use of the three-color printing  process in a medical or scientific book. Between 1736 and 1741 Albinus issued six pamphlets, each containing a color mezzotint by Ladmiral, forming the first series of full-color anatomical color-printed illustrations ever made.  Besides the previously mentioned pamphlet of 1736, the dissertations included De sede et causa coloris Aethiopum et caeterorum hominum (1737), a treatise on the anatomy and color of human skin; Icon durae matris in coava superficie visae (1738), on the anatomy of the brain; Icon durae matris in convexa superfice visae, ex capite (1738); Icon membranae vasculosae (1738), on the vascular membranes; and Effigies penis humani (1741), on the anatomy of the penis. These six images are  the only color prints produced by Jan Ladmiral, who had learned the process of color printing from the artist Jacob Christoph le Blon, the inventor of the process for printing color mezzotints using the three primary colors.  

♦ Probably the most unusual set of Albinus's pamphlets with color plates by Ladmiral is the collection bound in human skin in 1910 by Paul Kersten for the German collector Hans Friedenthal, and preserved at the Lane Medical Library at Stanford University.

The first medical book with illustrations printed in color by any method was Aselli's De lactibus (1627) which contained 4 folding woodcuts printed by the chiaroscuro process.

Choulant, History and Bibliography of Anatomic Illustration (1920) 265-66 for Le Blon, and 267-69 for Ladmiral.

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Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici Founds the Greatest Museums of Florence February 18, 1743

By the terms of the Patto di famiglia, Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici, Electress Palatine and last of the political, banking and royal House of Medici, bequeathed the Medici art collections, assembled since the 16th century, including the contents of the Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti and the Medici villas, and her Palatine treasures, to the Tuscan state, on the condition that no part of it could be removed from "the Capital of the grand ducal [sic] State....[and from] the succession of His Serene Grand Duke."

"Anna Maria Luisa's single most enduring act was the Family Pact. It ensured that all the Medicean art and treasures collected over nearly three centuries of political ascendancy remained in Florence. Cynthia Miller Lawrence, an American art-historian, argues that Anna Maria Luisa thus provisioned for Tuscany's future economy through tourism. Sixteen years after her death, the Uffizi Gallery, built by Cosimo the Great, the founder of the Grand Duchy, was made open to public viewing" (Wikipedia article on Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici, accessed 09-29-2010).

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Bernhard Siegfried Albinus' Cool, Elegant Aesthetic of Anatomy 1747

In 1747 Dutch physician and anatomist Bernhard Siegfried Albinus published Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani in Leiden at the printing office of Johan & Hermann Verbeek. The plates in this large folio work are unsurpassed for their cool, elegant aesthetic and scientific accuracy. They were drawn and engraved by Jan Wandelaar, a pupil of the engravers Jacob Fokema and Guillem van der Gouwen, and the painter Gérard de Lairesse, who prepared the drawings for Govert Bidloo's atlas (referenced in this database). Prior to working for Albinus, Wandelaar worked for anatomist Friedrik Ruysch. Albinus, however, provided Wandelaar with the opportunity for the full expression of his talents as a draftsman and engraver. For many years Wandelaar worked nearly exclusively for Albinus, and lived in Albinus' house, illustrating the long series of superb books which Albinus produced. Choulant states that when Wandelaar died Albinus fell into a severe depression, from which he only gradually recovered. The Tables of the Skeleton and Muscles of the Human Body represents the apogee of an exceptional collaboration between physician and artist which lasted from 1721 until the artist's death in 1754, and resulted in a series of unsurpassed publications.

Roberts and Tomlinson described the innovative method that Wandelaar and Albinus devised for the transfer of the most accurate and proportional images of the anatomy to the drawings, using two nets, or grids, of small cords. The first plates are finished representations of the skeleton and are each accompanied by an outline-plate of the same size. The following 9 plates represent complete finished musclemen, each with an additional outline plate. The 14 plates following these represent special muscles and parts of muscles. Each of the very numerous figures on these last 14 plates is supplied with an outline-drawing unless the letters are engraved directly upon the finished figures. There are a total of 40 plates.

The 3 finished plates of the skeleton and the 9 finished muscle men are some of the most beautiful plates in the history of engraving. Wandelaer placed each figure in a carefully chosen landscape setting, and the artistic results are so pleasantly successful that the anatomical figures, although composed of many separate parts, appear to be actually stepping out of the picture.

Choulant, History and Bibliography of Anatomic Illustration (1920) 276-83. Roberts & Tomlinson, The Fabric of the Human Body (1992) 320-339. J. Norman (ed) Morton's Medical Bibliography (1991) No. 399. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 29. Sappol, Dream Anatomy (2006) 118-19.

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1750 – 1800

Edme-François Gersaint Issues the First Significant Catalogue Raisonné in Western Art History, on Rembrandt's Prints 1751 – 1828

Catalogue raisonné de toutes les pieces qui forment l'oeuvre de Rembrandt by Edme-François Gersaint, P.-C.-A. Helle, and Jean-Baptiste Glomy published in Paris in 1751 was  the "first catalogue raisonné in Western art history" (Sylvia Hochfield, "Rembrandt: Myth, Legend, Truth", ARTnews 7/01/06 accessed 09-29-2011). The primary author, Marchand-mercier Gersaint, immortalized by L'Enseigne de Gersaint (Gersaint's Shop Sign) painted by Jean-Antoine Watteau, was an art dealer, the leading auctioneer in Paris of art objects and natural history specimens, and a scholar and connoisseur. He compiled his catalogue from the collection of Dutch painter and writer Arnold Houbraken, of Amsterdam, which had previously been the property of Jan Six, an intimate firend of Rembrandt and the subject of more than one portrait by the artist. Toward the end of the work, in a chapter on doubtful attributions Gersaint addressed the connoisseurship issues involved in distinguishing Rembrandt's work from that of his pupils. He also included a chapter on portraits and other pieces etched after Rembrandt by other masters

After Gersaint's death in 1750, Gersaint's widow turned over the manuscript of the unfinished catalogue to Helle and Glomy who augmented this compilation by examination of a number of collections in France, and published the catalogue in duodecimo format one year later. An English translation of the catalogue appeared in London in 1752 as A Catalogue and Description of the Etchings of Rembrandt Van-Rhyn, with some Account of his Life. To which is added, A List of the best Pieces of this Master

Publication of Gersaint's catalogue stimulated further research. A supplement to Gersaint's catalogue by printmaker Pieter Yver, based on the collection of M. van Leyden, which had been culled from those of Houbraken, Halling, Maas, Moewater and De Burgy, and which was the largest known collection of Rembrandt at the time, was published in Amsterdam in 1756.  Austrian scholar and artist Adam Bartsch issued a new, revised edition of the catalogue in Vienna in 1797.  In 1796 Daniel Daulby, celebrated in his own lifetime as perhaps the greatest British collector of Rembrandt etchings, issued from Liverpool a new English edition entitled A Descriptive catalogue of the works of Rembrandt ... compiled from original etchings. In 1824 Le Chevalier de Claussin published a revised and expanded edition of the Gersaint catalogue, and in 1828 he published a supplement to that work.

Glorieux, À l'Enseigne de Gersaint: Edme-François Gersaint, marchand d'art sur le Pont Notre-Dame (2002). 

Michel, Le Commerce du tableau à Paris dans la seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle (2007).

(This entry was last revised on 05-25-2014.)

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The Tallard Sale: A New Level of Connoisseurship in the Cataloguing of Works of Art 1756

In mid-eighteenth century France the level of connoisseurship in art, and in the art market in general, including the rare book trade, made significant advances. A significant landmark was the publication of the Edmé-François Gersaint, P.-C.- A. Helle, and and Jean-Baptiste Glomy catalogue raisonnée of the works of Rembrandt (1752), the first significant catalogue raisonnée in Western art history.

As a result of this growing connoisseurship, and perhaps also as a result of Glomy's experience in editing the Rembrandt catalogue raisonnée, in 1756 commissaires-priseurs Jean-Baptiste Glomy (172?-1786) and Pierre Rémy (1715?-1797?) issued an auction catalogue that reflected a new level of scholarship and sophistication. In the auction catalogue of the sale in Paris of the paintings, sculpture in bronze, sculpture in marble, drawings, prints, porcelain, and furniture collected by Camille d'Hostun, Duc de Tallard, which they called a catalogue raisonnée, the auctionners authoritatively attributed works of art to a specific artist or workshop based on their own expertise. Prior to this catalogue descriptions of paintings in auction catalogues were vague, and often identified only by school, with little distinction made between originals and copies. 

The Tallard auction catalogue was entitled Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, sculptures, tant de marbre que de bronze, desseins et estampes des plus grands maîtres, porcelaines anciennes, meubles précieux, bijoux et autres effets qui composent le cabinet de feu Monsieur le duc de Tallard par les sieurs Remy & Glomy (1756). My copy of this catalogue is of special interest for including in manuscript not only prices realized, but also buyers' names, and also the names of collectors that certain buyers were representing. At the back of the copy is an 8-page printed addenda describing items that were left out of the main catalogue, and a schedule of dates that lots would be sold. This is followed by a second 4-page addenda with further scheduling of lots. The engraved frontispiece depicts an art auction in progress. The single additional engraved plate in the catalogue, facing p. 236, illustrates a very large and very old marble column, to which the auctioneers wanted to draw special attention.  

Watson, From Manet to Manhattan. The Rise of the Modern Art Market (1992) 58-59.

Michel, Le Commerce du tableau à Paris (2007) 232. For Rémy see 73ff.

(This entry was last revised on 06-03-2014.)

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Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy": Philosophical and Comedic Digressions and Innovative Illustration Techniques 1759 – 1767

English writer Laurence Sterne published the bawdy, humorous novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman in nine volumes, the first two appearing in 1759, and seven others following over the next seven years (vols. 3 and 4, 1761; vols. 5 and 6, 1762; vols. 7 and 8, 1765; vol. 9, 1767). As its title suggests, the book is ostensibly Tristram's narration of his life story, but one of the central jokes of the novel is that Tristram cannot explain anything simply, and must make explanatory digressions (often erudite) on the widest variety of topics to add context and color to his tale, to the extent that his own birth is not even reached until Volume III. 

In the work Laurence Sterne employed unusual visual imagery that became famous in the history of book illustration: a black page that mourned the death of a character, a squiggly line drawn by another character as he flourished his walking stick, and on page 169, vol. 3, of the first edition an example of actual marbled paper mounted on a page. Sterne, an eccentric and tubercular Anglican priest, badgered his publisher, Dodsley, to include the marbled paper (which he called “the motley emblem of my work”) in order to suggest something about the opacity of literary meaning. Later editions economized production cost by replacing the actual mounted piece of marbled paper with a monochrome engraved reproduction.

Editions, translations and adaptations of Tristram Shandy continue to occur in many media. Relevant to illustrations in particular, in 2009, commemorating the 250th anniversary of Sterne's "Black Page," originally published in 1779 on p. 73 of Volume I, the Lawrence Sterne Trust held The Black Page Exhibition at Sterne's home, Shandy Hall, inviting 73 writers and artists to create their own "Black Page for exhibition and sale at auction. The page contained links to the websites of nearly all of the artists, reproducing the images each created for the exhibition. In 2011, on the 250th anniversary of Sterne's marbled page, the Lawrence Sterne Trust invitied 170 artists to produce their own versions of Sterne's "Emblem of My Work, most of which were reproduced at this link.

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The First Contemporary Art Exhibition in England is Accompanied by a Catalogue April 21, 1760

In 1760 the first exhibition in England of living artists was staged by the Royal Society of Arts in London. It included works by Joshua Reynolds, Richard WilsonLouis-François Roubiliac and more than 60 other artists. The exhibition was accompanied by a 15, [1]pp. catalogue entitled A Catalogue of the Pictures, Sculptures, Models, Drawings, Prints, &c. of the Present Artists, Exhibited in the Great Room of the Society of the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, on the 21st of April, 1760. The catalogue, which was sold for six pence, listed 130 works divided into three sections: Pictures, 1-74, Sculptures, Models, and Engravings, 75-107, and Drawings, Engravings on Copper, 108-130. In the second section the word engravings was used to categorize engraved gems and medals.

Luckhurst, The Story of Exhibitions (1951) 15-23.

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The Jacquet-Droz Automata 1768 – 1774

Between 1768 and 1774 Swiss-born watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis, and Jean-Frédéric Leschot constructed three automata: The Writer (controlled by a mechanism consisting of 6000 metal parts), The Musician (controlled by a 2500-piece mechanism) and The Draughtsman (controlled by a 2000-piece mechanism).  

The Writer has an input device to set tabs that form a mechanical programmable memory, forty cams that represent a read-only program, and a quill pen for output. He is thus able to write any text up to 40 letters long. The text is coded on a wheel where characters are selected one by one. He uses a goose feather to write, which he inks from time to time, and he shakes his wrist to prevent ink from spilling. His eyes follow the text being written, and his head moves when he dips his pen in the inkwell. 

The Musician is a female organist who actually plays a genuine custom-built instrument by pressing the keys with her fingers. The music is not recorded or played by a mechanical music box. The automaton "breathes," showing movements of her chest, follows her fingers with her head and eyes, and also imitates some of the movements of a real player such as balancing her torso. 

The Draughtsman is a young child who actually draws four different images: a portrait of Louis XV, a royal couple (believed to be Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI), a dog with "Mon toutou" ("my doggy") written beside it, and a scene of Cupid driving a chariot pulled by a butterfly. This automaton uses a system of cams which code the movements of the hand in two dimensions, plus one to lift the pencil. The Draughtsman also moves on his chair, and periodically blows on his pencil to remove dust.

The Jaquet-Droz automata are preserved and operational at the art and history museum in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. 

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Von Heineken Issues the First Systematic Guide to Collecting Prints, Blockbooks, and the Earliest Printed books 1768 – 1771

Idée générale d'une collection complette d'estampes. Avec une dissertation sur l'origine de la gravure & sur les premiers livres d'images was the first systematic guide to collecting prints, blockbooks, and the earliest printed books. It was issued in 1771 from Leipzig and Vienna by Karl Heinrich von Heineken (Carl Heinrich von Heinecken), a German art historian, art collector, librarian, diplomat, and director of the Dresden Print Room (Kupferstichkabinett, Dresden). Of the eighteenth century guides to collecting, von Heincken's work was exceptional in the number and quality of its illustrations, including 32 engraved and woodcut plates (21 folding, 11 single-page) and occasional small woodcut text illustrations.

Heineken's 1771 guide represented partly a condensation, reorganization and, and of course, a translation of portions of his much longer Nachrichten von Künstlern und Kunstsachen issued from Leipzig in two volumes in 1768 and 1769. Both works were issued by the same publisher, Johann Paul Kraus, and shared some of the same illustrations. In the Nachrichten Heineken provided an account of the earliest Dutch writers on chalcography, and conjectured that Gutenberg took the idea of printing from playing-card makers, who were the first engravers of subjects intermingled with texts. Heinecken believed, incorrectly, that Gutenberg's early efforts at Strassbourg were ineffectual and that Gutenberg's first successful productions were the product of woodblock printing.

Heineken undertook a multi-volume Dictionnaire des artistes dont nous avons des estampes, avec une notice détaillé de leurs ouvrages gravées. Of this work only the first four volumes were published between 1778 and 1780, covering the letters A-Diz. The manuscript of the remaining work was preserved in Dresden, but has been considered lost since World War II, and was possibly destroyed during the bombing of the city.

Bigmore & Wyman, A Bibliography of Printing (1884; 2001 edition) 320, 310-320.

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Jacques Gamelin Issues an Anatomy for Artists including Fantastical Elements 1779

Detail of plate from Gamelin's Nouveau recueil d'ostéologie et de myologie, dessin‚ d'après nature. . . pour l'utilit‚ des sciences et des arts..  Please click on link below to view and resize full image.

Jacques Gamelin.

In 1779 French painter Jacques Gamelin issued from Toulouse Nouveau recueil d'ostéologie et de myologie, dessin‚ d'après nature. . . pour l'utilit‚ des sciences et des arts. The folio volume, made up of 128 unfolded single sheets, included 90 engraved plates, and text vignettes engraved in a variety of techniques by Gamelin and his pupils Lavallée and Martin after Gamelin's original drawings.

Gamelin is known for his paintings and engravings of battle scenes. The plates for his anatomical atlas, issued in an edition of only 200 copies, were prepared from drawings made at his own dissection facility; they are distinct from the plates of other works of its type, being larger, more artistically varied, and more expressive and fantastic in their conceptions. "The work is known for its display of both talent and imagination, with striking scenes of the Resurrection, the Crucifixion, and skeletons at play. Aside from the full-page copperplate illustrations by Gamelin and the engraver Lavalée, the work contains a number of intriguing vignettes on the title pages and elsewhere, which show battle scenes, visitations by death on unsuspecting revelers, and the anatomical artist's studio" (Wikipedia article on Jacques Gamelin, accessed 02-08-2009).

Gamelin's plates show a constant interplay between the artistic and the anatomic: emblematic images in the seventeenth-century tradition, vignettes in the coquettish eighteenth-century manner, and classic studies of figures in repose and movement vie with straightforward "medical" depictions of bones and muscles. Gamelin's technical perfection, coupled with the emotional and fantastical elements in his images, have led him to be seen as a precursor of Goya; it is possible that the young Goya may have known or studied with Gamelin, who taught in Rome during the time Goya was there. 

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 872.

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Léonard Defrance Creates Panel Paintings of the Operations of a French Enlightenment Printing Shop Circa 1782

In the early 21st century the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Grenoble recently acquired a fourth, and previously unknown panel painting of the printing shop of the Liège printer Clément Plomteux by the Franco-Flemish genre painter Léonard Defrance in 1782. 

This painting, and the three other paintings by Defrance that depict Plomteux's shop, are illustrated in color in the online article linked to above by Daniel Droixhe, du Groupe d'étude du XVIIIe siècle de l'Université de Liège. Defrance's paintings are among the best painted records of the printing/publishing process in the late eighteenth century.

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"Paper Architect" Etienne-Louis Boullée Envisages In One Gigantic Reading Room the Entire "Memory of the World" 1784 – 1785

In 1785 French architect Etienne-Louis Boullée proposed a reconstruction of the Bibliothèque du Roi that would contain in one gigantic reading room the entire "memory of the world." The library was never built. Boullée seems to have been an architectural visionary, most, if not all of whose schemes were never realized. Thus he is sometimes called a "paper architect."

The year before, in 1784, Boullée designed an even more visionary cenotaph for Isaac Newton, who had been dead for 57 years. Boulée's drawing shows the outside of the Newton cenotaph. Except for the tiny trees, the drawing does not convey the enormous scale of the monument; the sphere would have been nearly 500 feet across and 500 feet high. Boullée envisaged that during the day sunlight would shine through countless small holes drilled through the top of the dome, so that from the inside, the interior of the dome would light up like the night sky. A detail from the previous drawing with tiny human figures are at the bottom provide a better representation of the scale of the design. At night the dome would have been dark, but there would have been a very large armillary model of the solar system hanging from the ceiling, with the sun shining brightly at its center. Thus when it was day outside, it would have been night inside, and vice versa— a clever and dramatic twist on the natural order of things. 

My thanks to William B. Ashworth, Jr. for bringing the drawings and thoughts about Boulée's cenotaph to my attention.

Boulée's drawings are preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. 

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Richard Payne Knight Records Early Archaeological Explorations of Ancient Fertility Rites 1786

In 1786 Classical scholar, collector, connoiseur, and member of the Society of Dilettanti, Richard Payne Knight  privately issued from London, in an edition supposedly of about eighty copies, and with twelve engravings of phallic objects, An Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus, Lately Existing at Isernia, in the Kingdom of Naples. . . to which is Added, a Discourse on the Worship of Priapus, and its Connexion with the Mystic Theology of the Ancients.

The first and most explicit purpose of Knight's treatise was to provide a comparison of ancient (pagan) and modern (Christian) religious rituals, based on the archeological discoveries related in Sir William Hamilton's essay Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus Lately Existing at Isernia, in the Kingdom of Naples, with which Knight's work begins.  Knight's second and less obvious purpose was to use his dissertation to attack the Christian church as bigoted, corrupt, and categorically opposed to the enlightened paganism that Knight wished to revive— a male-centered ethic based on phallic fertility which he believed would liberate modern man from the oppressions of an increasingly industrialized environment. 

Knight's major contribution to history and anthropology was his recognition of the fundamental religious significance of the sexually explicit fertility rites practiced in the ancient world, a recognition that restored Priapus to his rightful place as the symbolic principle of fertility, and opened new pathways for anthropological research.  Unfortunately, the nature of Knight's subject matter caused him to be wrongly condemned as a libertine and pornographer both by his contemporaries (except for an open-minded few) and the strait-laced Victorians who followed; it was not until the late nineteenth century that Knight's work began to lose its pornographic stigma and gain recognition as a valuable source for the student of ancient religions.

The first edition of Knight's Priapus was restricted to approximately eighty copies printed for the Society of Dilettanti, "a group of enthusiasts especially concerned with the study of Grecian antiquity" (Messman, p. 41), of which Knight was a member.  Upon the work's publication, the Society voted "that the copies be lodg'd in the custody of the Secretary & one of them deliverd to each member of the Society, & that except these he do not on any Pretence whatever part with any other copy without an order made at a regular meeting.  [And] that each member be allowd once & no more to move the Society recommending by name a Friend to whom he wishes the Society to present a copy" (3 March 1787 minutes of the Society, quoted in Messmann, p. 43).

Knight was, perhaps ironically, best known as an arbiter of aesthetic taste. In his lifetime An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste (1805) was Knight’s most influential work. "This book sought to explain the experience of ‘taste’ within the mind and to clarify the theorisation of the concept of the picturesque, following from the writings of William Gilpin and Uvedale Price on the subject. Knight's views on the aesthetics of the picturesque are also formed in engagement with Edmund Burke's emphasis on the importance of sensation, which Knight partly rejects in favour of a modified associationism. The philosophical basis of Knight's theories have implications for his account of the relationship between the ‘beautiful’ and the ‘picturesque’ " (Wikipedia article on Richard Payne Knight, accessed 12-20-2008). 

Messmann, Richard Payne Knight: The Twilight of Virtuosity (1974) 41-43.  Rousseau, "The sorrows of Priapus," in Sexual Underworlds of the Enlightenment, ed. Rousseau & Porter, 101-153. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1226.

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Foundation of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade May 22, 1787 – 1807

On May 22nd, 1787, twelve men met at 2 George Yard in the City of London, in what was then a printing shop and bookstore, to set up the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade (or The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade). Nine of the twelve founders were Quakers: John Barton, William Dillwyn, George Harrison, Samuel Hoare Jr., Joseph Hooper, John Lloyd, Joseph Woods Sr., James Phillips and Richard Phillips. The other three were Anglicans: Philip Sansom and most notably, Granville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson. The nine Quakers, as non-conformists, were prevented from standing for Parliament, while the presence of the  three Anglicans in the Society strengthened the committee's likelihood of influencing Parliament.

The Society was formed to raise public awareness in order to lobby for a new law that would abolish the slave trade, and enforce this law on the high seas across the British empire and in West Africa, so that Africans would no longer live in fear of being captured and sold into slavery. Methods used to achieve these goals included publishing anti-slavery books and posters and tours around cities in England. One of the first of the anti-slavery books was Clarkson's Essay on the Impolicy of the African Slave Trade (1788).

One of the key supporters of the committee was Josiah Wedgewood, who commissioned a bronze token and a ceramic medallion from the artist William Hackwood in 1787.  Wedgewood's slave tokens and medallions, picturing an African slave on one knee in shackles with the caption "Am I not a man and a brother?" became the most famous image of a black person in 18th century art, and helped significantly to promote the abolitionist campaign. Other objects sold to promote the anti-slavery movement included a sugar bowl with a gold inscription reading,"East India Sugar not made by Slaves."

The movement to end slavery has been called "the first great human rights campaign." In 1791, as a consequence of the work by the committee, William Wilberforce brought into parliament the first bill to abolish the slave trade. Though it was beaten 163 votes to 88, momentum was gradually building for the abolition of slavery.  An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade became law in 1807, although the institution of slavery was not officially abolished until the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. 

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Jacob Perkins Invents Steel Engraving Circa 1792 – 1819

In 1792 American inventor Jacob Perkins invented steel engraving for the process of banknote printing. In America Perkins was unable to commercialize the process successfully. Motivated by a £20,000 prize offered by the British government for development of unforgable banknotes, in 1818 Perkins moved to England. He and associates "set up shop in England, and spent months on example currency, still on display today. Unfortunately for them, Sir Joseph Banks thought that 'unforgable' also implied that the inventor should be English by birth. Sir Joseph Banks's successors awarded future contracts to the English printing company started with Charles Heath" (Wikipedia article on Jacob Perkins, accessed 10-21-2012).  

In 1819 Perkins received British patent No. 4400 for: "Certain Machinery and Implements Applicable to Ornamental Turning and Engraving, and to the Transferring of Engraved or Other Work from the Surface of One Piece of Metal to another Piece of Metal, and to the Forming of Metallic Dies and Matrices; and also Improvements in the Construction and Method of Using Plates and Presses for Printing Bank Notes and other Papers, whereby the Producing and Combining various Species of Work is effected upon the same Plates and Surfaces, the Difficulty of Imitation increased, and the Process of Printing facilitated; and also an Improved Method of Making and Using Dies and Presses for Coining Money, Stamping Medals, and other Useful Purposes."  The patent included six large folding engineering drawings.  

In England Perkins entered into business arrangements with English engraver, currency and stamp printer, book publisher and illustrator Charles Heath. To produce steel engravings engravers such as Heath had to use special plates supplied by Perkins. These plates had to be printed on presses designed and provided by Perkins; both the plates and the presses were described in Perkins's patent. The publisher who first recognized the aesthetic and economic advantages of steel engraving was Longman, who issued twenty books containing, all together, around seventy steel engravings beginning in 1821. Longman's first production using steel engravings was the edition of Thomas Campbell's The Pleasures of Hope issued by Longman on January 10, 1821. Heath's four engraved illustrations for this work, including its engraved title page, were dated 1820. According to Longman's ledgers, 3000 copies of this edition were printed, and in November 1824 a further 3000 copies were printed from the same plates, reflecting the extreme durability of steel engravings compared to engravings from copperplates. There was also a printing dated 1822, as I have a copy in my collection bearing that date. 

Roughly twenty years later in 1840 Perkins's methods reached true mass production when they were used to print the world's first adhesive postage stamp. The process, which proved the extreme durability of steel plates compared to any other available graphic reproduction medium of the time, remained in use until 1879:

"Henry Courbould made a drawing of Queen Victoria from the Medal struck on her accession to the throne for which Perkins, Bacon and Petch paid him £12.00. A piece of steel 3" square x 9/16" thick was annealed several times to remove the carbon and when completely soft the background was engraved with the aid of the geometric lathe, followed by the engraving of Queen's head and the inscription "Postage - One Penny". After hardening, the die became harder than it had been originally and 240 impressions were transferred to the printing plate using the Roll Transfer Press. This Master Die 1 was in use from 1840 to 1855 with master Die 2 being used until 1879 - a tribute to the excellence of Jacob Perkins' plate hardening system. It was proved that fully 400,000 imprints could be taken from a single plate without signs of wear. Altogether, over twenty-two thousand million stamps for Great Britain and the Colonies were printed by the Perkins' process during these years" (http://www.bphs.net/GroupFacilities/J/JacobPerkinsPrinting.htm, accessed 06-24-2012).

Hunnisett, Engraved on Steel. The History of Picture Production using Steel Plates (1998) 112.

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Alois Senefelder Invents & Develops Lithography 1796 – 1819

In 1796 German actor and playwright Alois Senefelder invented lithography (from Greek λίθος - lithos, 'stone' + γράφω - graphο, 'to write') as a cheaper way of publishing his plays. Lithography was the first planographic printing process, and the first radically new method of printing since Gutenberg’s invention of printing by movable type.

Senefelder experimented with a new etching technique using a greasy, acid resistant ink as a resist on a smooth fine-grained stone of Solnhofen limestone from Bavaria (Bayern), halfway between Nuremberg (Nürnberg) and Munich (München). He discovered that this could be extended to allow printing from the flat surface of the stone alone. Gradually he brought his technique into a workable form, perfecting both the chemical processes and the special form of printing press required for using the stones. Senefelder called it Steindruckerei (stone printing) or chemical printing, but the French name lithographie (lithography) became more widely adopted. With the composer Franz Gleißner, in 1796 Senefelder started a publishing firm using lithography. The two collaborated for about 30 years. In his A Complete Course of Lithography (1819) p. 13-14 Senefelder described how how he and Gleissner decided in 1796 to apply Senefelder's new printing process to publishing music as a first commercial venture:

"A page of wretchedly printed music from a prayer-book, which I accidentally met with at a shop at Ingolstadt, suggested to me the idea that my new method of printing would be particularly applicable to music printing; I, therefore, resolved on my return to Munich, to go directly to Mr. Falter, a publisher of music, to offer him my invention, and beg his assistance. My natural shyness alone prevented me from executing this plan immediately; I had twice passed his door, without having the courage to enter the house, when I accidentally met an acquaintance, to whom I had occasionally communicated something of my invention; and, conversing with him, I learned that Mr. Gleissner, a musician of the Elector's band, was just about to publish some pieces of sacred music. This was most welcome news to me, as Mr. G. was a particular friend of mine.

"Without further delay, I called on Mr. Gleissner, to whom I communicated my new invention, offering him, at the same time, my services for the publication of his music. The specimens of music, and other printing, which I showed him, obtained his and his wife's highest approbation; he admired the neatness and beauty of the impressions, and the great expedition of the printing; and, feeling himself flattered by my confidence, and the preference I gave him, he immediately proposed to undertake the publication of his music on our joint account. I had, in the mean time, procured a common copper-plate printing press, with two cylinders; and, though it was very imperfect, it still enabled me to take neat impressions from the stone plates. Having, therefore, copied the twelve songs, composed by Gleissner, with all possible expedition, on stone, I succeeded in taking, with the assitance of one printer, 120 copies form it. The composiing, writing on stone, and printing, and had been accomplished in less than a fortnight; and in a short time we sold of these songs to the amount of 100 florins, though the whole expense of stones, paper, and printing, did not exceed 30 florins, which left us a clear profit of 70 florins."

According to Hans Schneider, Makarius Falter (1762-1843) und sein Münchner Musikverlag I:Der Verlag im Besitz der Familie (1796-1827); Verlagsgeschichte und Bibliographie (1993) p. 75, the title of Senefelder's first commercial publication by means of lithography was 12 Neue Lieder für's Klavier. . . von Franz Gleissner. .  . München, 1796. As Senefelder recounts in his Complete Course of Lithography p. 20 the following year Falter issued his first lithographed edition of music: Mozart's IIme Partie de Grand Opera Die Zauberflöte (Munich, 1797; Schneider  p. 81.) This was drawn on stone by Senefelder and printed at Mr. Falter's house by two soldiers whom Senefelder had instructed in the process of printing. "But these workmen, not entering into the spirit of the art, spoiled a great deal of paper, so that Mr. Falter at last prefrred printing again from copper." Nevertheless Falter continued to issue music printed both by lithography and copper plate engraving. 

In 1799 Senefelder met with German composer and music publisher Johann Anton André in Munich. Senefelder agreed to collaborate with André, and granted André's firm the right to use the new printing method. This occurred for the first time in 1800 when a 10-page selection from André's own opera Die Weiber von Weinsberg came off the press

On June 20, 1801 Senefelder received British patent no. 2518 for "A New Method and Process of performing the Various Branches of the Art of Printing on Paper, Linen, Cotton, Woollen and other Articles." This patent, with 18 pages of text and 9 figures on a large folding plate, represented Senefelder's earliest technical description of the process of lithography. It may be worthy of note that, as the specification of the patent indicated, Senefelder foresaw the wide range of applications of his process beyond strictly printing on paper. By 1803 Senefelder adapted zinc plates as substitutes for limestone in the process of lithography. Zinc plates eliminated the necessity of using smooth fine-grained limestone, and made it possible to lithograph larger plates with zinc plates that were much lighter in weight, and thus more manageable in the press than stones of equivalent dimensions.

In order to promote the virtues of lithography for reproducing art works, in 1808 Senefelder issued from his press in Munich an edition of the prayer book with Albrecht Dürer's drawings as Albrecht Dürers Christlich-Mythologische Handzeichnungen.  Three centuries earlier, in 1512 Maximilian I, archduke of Austria and Holy Roman Emperor, had appointed Dürer artistic advisor for his print projects. Like all rulers of his age, Maximilian was acutely aware of his personal status; he became the first ruler to recognize the potential of the print as an effective way of perpetuating his name and dynasty. Among Dürer's commissions for the emperor, were forty-five pages of marginal drawings to the manuscript Prayer Book of Maximilian (1515). These revealed a light-hearted and witty side to Dürer's graphic work. Dürer's drawings for Maxmilian's prayer book remained unpublished until Senefelder's edition. Frequently this small folio volume from 1808 has been considered the first book printed entirely by lithography. It contained a lithographed portrait of Dürer, a lithographed title in black and violet, 2 pages of lithographed text in Senefelder's hand, and 43 lithographs by Johan Nepomuk Strixner reproducing each drawing in the single color in which Dürer drew it, the single colors per drawing, including violet, sepia, red, black or green. However, the honor for the first book printed by entirely by lithography may be assigned to Johann Anton André's  Thematisches Verzeichniss sämmtlicher Kompositionen von W.A. Mozart (1805).

In 1817 when Anglo-German bookseller, inventor, lithographer, publisher and businessman Rudolph Ackermann set up his lithographic press in London his first publication was an English version of Senefelder's first lithographic book: Designs of the Prayer Book. Published September 1, 1817 at R. Ackermann's Lithographic Press.  The following year Senefelder published a manual of lithography in Munich entitled Vollständiges Lehrbuch der SteindruckereyThis outstanding and comprehensive manual, which included many different examples of lithography, also introduced  chromolithography, with a two-color lithographic reproduction of the first page of the 1457 Mainz Psalter reproducing its large two-color initial letter. Senefelder's book was translated into French and published Paris in 1819 as l'Art de la lithographie en construction pratique contenant la déscription claire et succincte des différents procédés à suivre pour déssiner, graver et imprimer sur pierre; precédée d'un histoire de la lithographie et de ses progrès. The same year the book appeared in English, published in London by Ackermann as A Complete Course of Lithography: ... Accompanied by Illustrative Specimens of Drawings. To Which is Prefixed a History of Lithography. Of the three editions of Senefelder's textbook, it has been argued that the English edition had the most impact in spreading the technique of lithography around the world.

Twyman, Lithography 1800-1850 (1970) 26-27, 257.

(This entry was last revised on 02-17-2015.)

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Giovanni Battista Venturi Begins Scientific and Art Historical Studies on Leonardo da Vinci 1797

In 1797 Italian physicist Giovanni Battista Venturi published Essais sur les ouvrages physico-mathématiques de Léonard de Vinci, avec des fragmens tirés de ses manuscrits. . . . This brief work, with one folding engraved plate, is considered the beginning of the modern Leonardo studies. Venturi, who lived in Paris for much of his life, had access to the Leonardo da Vinci manuscripts which had been moved by order of Napoleon, after his conquests in the Italian peninsula, from the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan to the Institut National in Paris.  Venturi organized the codices and gave them the letters by which they are known today. His studies inspired him to claim that “il faut donc placer Léonard à la tête de ceux qui se sont occupés des sciences Physico-Mathématiques et de la vraie méthode d’étudier parmi les Modernes.” In his 56 page book, Venturi presented excerpts, translated into French, of some of the manuscripts’ most important sections on physics, mathematics and geology together with essays and notes of his own on the texts. Venturi intended this work to be the prelude to a more ambitious three-volume edition of Leonardo’s complete writings on mechanics, hydraulics and optics; however, this was never published.

Venturi is best known for his researches on the Venturi effect described in his treatise on hydraulics, Recherches expérimentales sur le principe de la communication latérale du mouvement dans les fluides appliqué a l'explication de differens phenomenes hydrauliques, also first published in 1797. Verga, Bibliografia Vinciana, No. 273. 

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1800 – 1850

Maillardet's Automaton Circa 1800

About the year 1800 Swiss mechanician Henri Maillardet, working in London, constructed Maillardet's Automaton (or the "Draughtsman-Writer", or "Maelzel's Juvenile Artist" or "Juvenile Artist"), a spring-activated automaton that draws pictures and writes verses in both French and English. The motions of the hand are produced by a series of cams located on shafts in the base of the automaton, which produces the necessary movement to complete seven sketches and the text. This automaton has the largest cam-based memory of any automaton of the era. The capacity of the automaton to store seven images within the machine was calculated as 299,040 points, or almost 300 kilobits of storage. This was achieved by placing the driving machinery in a large chest that forms the base of the machine, rather than in the automaton's body.

"The memory is contained in the 'cams,' or  brass disks. . . . As the cams are turned by the clockwork motor, three steel fingers follow their irregular edges. The fingers translate the movements of the cams into side to side, front and back, and up and down movements of the doll's writing hand through a complex system of levers and rods that produce the markings on paper" (http://www.fi.edu/learn/sci-tech/automaton/automaton.php?cts=instrumentation, accessed 12-30-2013).

When first presented to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in 1928, the automaton was of unknown origin. Once restored to working order, the automaton itself provided the answer when it penned the words "written by the automaton of Maillardet."

This automaton was a principal inspiration for Brian Selznick's 2007 book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was later adapted to make the 2011 film Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese.

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John William Lewin Issues the First Illustrated Book Published in Australia 1813

In 1813 Australian natural history artist and naturalist John William Lewin issued Birds of New South Wales from Sydney. J W Lewin was the first free settler professional artist and engraver in Australia. He was also one of the first artists not to use English painting conventions when depicting Australia. He was the son of William Lewin, the author of The Birds of Great Britain with Their Eggs, Accurately Figured.  

Birds of New South Wales was the first illustrated book published in Australia. Of this work only 13 copies survived, four of which are preserved in the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney.  The book was printed by George Howe, the government printer, who in 1802 had issued the first book printed in Australia. 

Prior to issuing his 1813 book Lewin had published in England a treatise on entomology entitled Prodromus Entomology (1805), and in 1808 a book on Australian birds entitled Birds of New Holland, which described a selection of birds that he had shot. The texts of these books were edited by Lewin's brother John with the help of eminent scientists, and printed in England. Of the 1808 book only six copies are recorded: those of George III and five English subscribers. However, in Sydney, Lewin had sold subscriptions for fifty-five copies of this book, but none ever reached Sydney, the edition presumably having been lost at sea.

To make up for this loss Lewin put together another work which he called Birds of New South Wales, illustrating it with prints left over from the 1808 edition. Because Lewin compiled the copies of Birds of New South Wales from spare or discarded prints, none of the thirteen copies are identical.

In 1822 Lewin's widow, having returned to England, issued a revised second edition of Lewin's Birds of New Holland. In 1833 the third edition of Lewin's work appeared, using some sheets of text printed in 1822, on paper watermarked Whatman 1821, and some sheets printed in 1838 on paper watermarked Whatman 1838. Both the second and third editions incorporated restrikes of Lewin's original plates.  For the 1838 edition, the plates were colored from specimens lent by John Gould, and the nomenclature was overseen by Thomas Campbell Eyton. There are two issues of the third edition.

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The First "Livre d'Artiste," Illustrated by Delacroix 1828

Faust, Tragédie M. de Goethe, Traduite en Français par M. Albert Stapfer, illustrated by French romantic artist Eugène Delacroix, and published in 1828 in Paris by Ch. Motte and Sautelet, is usually considered the first livre d'artiste. It contained a frontispiece portrait of Goethe and 17 lithographed plates drawn on stone by Delacroix. This was one of the major art books illustrated by lithography and the beginning of the French tradition of the painter-lithographer, with the artist preparing his own images on stone for the press. 

Though the edition met initially with a hostile reception because of the free, fantastic style of the images, Goethe appreciated their power, writing to Eckermann after he had seen some of the lithographs in November, 1826:

"One must acknowledge that this M. Delacroix has a great talent, which in Faust has found its true nourishment. The French public reproach him for an excess of savage force, but, actually, here it is perfectly suitable . . . If I have to agree that M. Delacroix has surpassed the scenes my writing has conjured up in my own imagination, how much more will readers of the book find his compositions full of reality, and passing beyond the imagery which they envision?" (translation in Ray, The Art of the French Illustrated Book 1700-1914 [1982] No. 143, p. 208).

Concerning the images Delacroix later remarked:

"The peculiar character of the illustrations themselves invited caricature and confirmed my reputation as one of the leaders of the school of ugliness. Gérare, however, although an academician, complimented me on some of the drawings, particularly that of the tavern" (translation in Breon Mitchell, The Complete Illustrations from Delacroix's "Faust" and Manet's "The Raven" [1981] vii.)

(This entry was last revised on 05-20-2014).

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Christian Thomsen Founds the "Three-Age" System in Archaeology 1836

Danish archaeologist, Christian Jurgensen Thomsen, the first curator of the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, edited and published in Copenhagen a guidebook to the national museum entitled Ledetraad til Nordisk Oldkyndighed. In this small book Thomsen formulated a method of classifying the museum’s archeological collections according to whether the artifacts were made of stone, bronze or iron. He claimed that these three groupings represented three chronologically successive archeological ages; this was the genesis of the Three-Age system, “the basic chronology that now underpins the archaeology of most of the Old World” (Rowley-Conway, From Genesis to Prehistory. The Archaeological Three Age System and its Contest Reception in Denmark, Britain, and Ireland [2007] 1).

The second chapter of the guide, contributed by Thomsen, described his dating scheme and applied it to the monuments and antiquities of the North. Thomsen defined the three ages as follows:

"The Age of Stone, or that period when weapons and implements were made of stone, wood, bone, or some such material, and during which very little or nothing at all was known of metals....

"The Age of Bronze, in which weapons and cutting implements were made of copper or bronze, and nothing at all, or but very little was known of iron or silver....

"The Age of Iron is the third and last period of the heathen times, in which iron was used for those articles to which that metal is eminently suited, and in the fabrication of which it came to be employed as a substitute for bronze" (Thomsen, Guide to Northern Archaeology [1848], pp. 64–68).

Thomsen was a scholar with a background in the history of numismatics rather than a field archaeologist. He based his study of artifacts on the associations between stylistic change, decoration and context, topics which may have interested him initially through his numismatic researches. Thomsen recognized the importance of examining objects from "closed finds," allowing him to determine the common associations of artifacts for various periods which he divided into his Three-Age system. Thomsen’s assistant. archaeologist Jens J. A. Worsaae, later demonstrated the stratigraphic succession of the stone, bronze and iron ages in Denmark through archeological fieldwork.

An English translation of Ledetraad til Nordisk Oldkyndighed, by the Earl of Ellesmere, was published in 1848. Spencer, Ecce homo (1986) no. 3.488.

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The Most Famous Image in the Early History of Computing 1839

Portrait of Jacquard woven in silk on a Jacquard loom.

In 1839 weaver Michel-Marie Carquillat, working for the firm of Didier, Petit et Cie, in Lyon, France wove in fine silk a Portrait of Joseph-Marie Jacquard, The image, including caption and Carquillat’s name, taking credit for the weaving, measures 55 x 34 cm.; the full piece of silk including blank margins measures 85 x 66 cm.

This image, of which perhaps only about 20 examples survived, was woven on a Jacquard loom using 24,000 Jacquard cards, each of which had over 1000 hole positions. The process of mis en carte, or converting the image details to punched cards for the Jacquard mechanism, for this exceptionally large and detailed image, would have taken several workers many months, as the woven image convincingly portrays superfine elements such as a translucent curtain over glass window panes.

The Jacquard loom did no computation, and for that reason it was not a digital device in the way we think of digital today. However the method by which Jacquard stored information in punched cards by either punching a hole in s standardized space in a card or not punching a whole in that space is analogous to a zero or one or an on and off switch. It was also an important conceptual step in the history of computing because the Jacquard method of storing information in punched cards, and weaving a pattern by following the series of instructions recorded in a train of punched cards, was used by Charles Babbage in his plans for data and program input, and data output and storage in his general purpose programmable computer, the Analytical EngineOffsite Link. Trains of Jacquard cards were programs in the modern sense of computer programs, though the word "program" did not have that meaning until after the development of electronic computers after World War II.

Once all the “programming” was completed, the process of weaving the image with its 24,000 punched cards would have taken more than eight hours, assuming that the weaver was working at the usual Jacquard loom speed of about forty-eight picks per minute, or about 2800 per hour. More than once this woven image was mistaken for an engraved image. The image was produced only to order, most likely in an exceptionally small number of examples. In 2012 the only publically recorded examples were those in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Science Museum, London, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California. The image was the subject of the book by James Essinger entitled, Jacquard's Web. How a Hand Loom led to the Birth of the Information Age (2004).

To Charles Babbage the incredible sophistication of the information processing involved in the mis en carte — what we call programming— of this exceptionally elaborate and beautiful image confirmed the potential of using punched cards for the input, programming, output and storage of information in his design and conception of the first general-purpose programmable computer—the Analytical Engine. The highly aesthetic result also confirmed to Babbage that machines were capable of amazingly complex and subtle processes—processes which might eventually emulate the subtlety of the human mind.

“In June 1836 Babbage opted for punched cards to control the machine [the Analytical Engine]. The principle was openly borrowed from the Jacquard loom, which used a string of punched cards to automatically control the pattern of a weave. In the loom, rods were linked to wire hooks, each of which could lift one of the longitudinal threads strung between the frame. The rods were gathered in a rectangular bundle, and the cards were pressed one at a time against the rod ends. If a hole coincided with a rod, the rod passed through the card and no action was taken. If no hole was present then the card pressed back the rod to activate a hook which lifted the associated thread, allowing the shuttle which carried the cross-thread to pass underneath. The cards were strung together with wire, ribbon or tape hinges, and fan-folded into large stacks to form long sequences. The looms were often massive and the loom operator sat inside the frame, sequencing through the cards one at a time by means of a foot pedal or hand lever. The arrangement of holes on the cards determined the pattern of the weave.

“As well as patterned textiles for ordinary use, the technique was used to produce elaborate and complex images as exhibition pieces. One well-known piece was a shaded portrait of Jacquard seated at table with a small model of his loom. The portrait was woven in fine silk by a firm in Lyon using a Jacquard punched-card loom. . . . Babbage was much taken with the portrait, which is so fine that it is difficult to tell with the naked eye that it is woven rather than engraved. He hung his own copy of the prized portrait in his drawing room and used it to explain his use of the punched cards in his Engine. The delicate shading, crafted shadows and fine resolution of the Jacquard portrait challenged existing notions that machines were incapable of subtlety. Gradations of shading were surely a matter of artistic taste rather than the province of machinery, and the portrait blurred the clear lines between industrial production and the arts. Just as the completed section of the Difference Engine played its role in reconciling science and religion through Babbage’s theory of miracles, the portrait played its part in inviting acceptance for the products of industry in a culture in which aesthetics was regarded as the rightful domain of manual craft and art” (Swade, The Cogwheel Brain. Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer [2000] 107-8).

(This entry was last revised on 02-28-2016.)

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Daguerreotypes: The First Commonly Used Photographic Process January 7 – August 19, 1839

On January 7, 1839 members of the Académie des Sciences first viewed examples of Daguerréotypes invented by the painter and printmaker, Louis-Jacques Daguerre.

On July 3, 1839 French  mathematician, physicist, astronomer and politician François Jean Dominique Arago made the first brief scientific announcement and explanation of Daguerre's process to the Chambre des députés. This he repeated to the Académie des sciences on August 19. Arago's report was published in the Comptes rendus IX (1839) 250-67.

Later in 1839 Daguerre published in Paris his first account of the process in a pamphlet called Historique et description des procédés du Daguerréotype et du diorama. Daguerre's method of fixing an image on a metal plate became the first commonly used photographic process. It produced a single positive image on a highly polished silver-plated sheet of copper.

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The First Separate Publication on Photography January 31, 1839

Upon learning about the exhibition of Daguerréotypes at the Académie des Sciences on January 7, 1839, English inventor William Henry Fox Talbot hastily read a paper on January 31 to the Royal Society entitled Some Account of the Art of Photogenic Drawing, or the Process by which Natural Objects may be made to Delineate Themselves with the Aid of the Artist's Pencil.

This paper, which Talbot had printed and distributed to friends as a pamphlet in February, 1839, was the first separate publication on photography.  In it Talbot suggested that fixed negatives might be used to produce multiple positive images.

In 1835 Talbot had developed a method of fixing negative images on paper previously made light-sensitive by successive coats of sodium chloride and silver nitrate, thus becoming the first to produce permanent paper negatives. 

Gernsheim, The History of Photography (1969) Ch. 7, Gernsheim, Incunabula of British Photographic Literature (1984) no. 646. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 2049.

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"The Illustrated London News", the First Fully Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, Begins Publication May 14, 1842

On Saturday, May 14, 1842 politician and journalist Herbert Ingram and Mark Lemon, editor of Punch, published the first issue of The Illustrated London News. "Costing sixpence, the magazine had 16 pages and 32 woodcuts. It included pictures of the war in Afghanistan, a train crash in France, a steamboat explosion in Canada and a fancy dress ball at Buckingham Palace."

This was probably the first attempt to publish an illustrated news publication. The Illustrated London News continued as a weekly until 1971. According to Gale Digital Collections, publisher of the online archive of The Illustrated London News, circulation was 60,000 in 1842 and, 300,000 at its peak in the 1860s. 

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The First Periodical Issued With a Mounted Paper Photograph 1846

Eager to show that paper photography was the equal to graphic media such as lithography, etching, steel and wood engraving, William Henry Fox Talbot, author of The Pencil of Nature, made a deal with Samuel Carter Hall, editor of the most important Victorian magazine on art, the Art Union Monthly Journal, to include one of his paper photographs in every copy of the June 1846 issue in Volume 8 of the journal. 

To make the approximately 6,000 calotypes needed for the Art Union issue, Fox Talbot's assistant and printer, Nicolaas Henneman, used every negative he could find in the shop. More than half of the images published in The Pencil of Nature (15 different images) also turn up in copies of the Art-Union. However, Henneman's print staff was not capable of such mass production, resulting in poor print quality. The paper was not properly exposed, nor well fixed or washed, and prints were sometimes badly pasted onto the magazine leaves. These factors caused the images to fade almost as soon as they were created, resulting in poor publicity for Talbot. Nevertheless, as few copies of Fox Talbot's The Pencil of Nature were issued, Vol. 8 of the Art Union Monthly Journal was the first periodical to be illustrated with a mounted paper photograph, and the photographs it included were the first paper photographs seen by a wide audience.

Gernsheim, Incunabula of Photography, No. 620.

Goldschmidt & Naef, The Truthful Lens (1980) p. 15.

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1850 – 1875

Incunabula of the Zulu Language, and a Zulu Beadwork Love Letter 1850 – 1937

On March 1, 2014 Claudia Funke, Curator of Rare Books at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, drew my attention to a non-written Zulu beadwork love letter preserved in the "Curosities Cabinet" at the UNC rare book collection. Zulu, the language of about 10 million people, 95% of whom live in South Africa, was not a written language until contact with missionaries from Europe, who documented the language using Latin script. The first grammar book of the Zulu language was published in Norway, rather than in South Africa, by the Norwegian missionary Hans Schreuder, founder of the first Christian mission in Zululand: Grammatike for Zulu-sproget, forfattet af H.P.S. Schreuder (Christiania [Oslo], 1850). According to the Wikipedia, the first published book printed in Zulu was a Bible translation: Ibaible eli ingcwele; eli Netestamente Elidala, Nelitya, kukitywa kuzo izilimi zokuqala, ku lotywa ngokwesizulu. The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments, translated out of the original tongues, into the Zulu language (New York: American Bible Society, 1883). Considering how late reading and writing came to the Zulus, we can well understand how non-written communication evolved in this culture in interesting ways.

According to Claudia Funke,

"In 1937, Daniel M. Malcolm, Chief Inspector of Native Education in Natal, South Africa, brought the letter to UNC-Chapel Hill as a visual aid for a lecture he gave at that year’s “Conference on Education of American Negroes and African Natives.” Malcolm explained that the letter was written by a girl to her beloved. The white beads indicate the purity of her heart, and the red beads show that her heart is broken and bleeding for her beloved. The four black squares represent four questions about their relationship that he must answer. Malcolm gave the love letter to UNC and its Hanes Foundation for the Study of the Origin and Development of the Book. It subsequently became part of the RBC’s “Curiosities Cabinet,” which houses many other non-codex objects of significance for the history of the book, such as cuneiform tablets and papyrus fragments."

It may be impossible to date the Zulu beadwork love letter at UNC accurately, so I assigned the accession date at UNC as a terminal date for this entry.

Long after Zulus achieved literacy, the tradition of non-written, or at least partly non-written, Zulu love letters appears to be continuing, as reflected in the 2004 film Zulu Love Letter:

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Historians Stanhope, Macaulay & Carlyle Found the National Portrait Gallery December 2, 1856

On December 2, 1856 biographers and historians Philip Henry Stanhope, Thomas Babington Macaulay and Thomas Carlyle founded the National Portrait Gallery in London as:

" '...a gallery of original portraits, such portraits to consist as far as possible of those persons who are most honourably commemorated in British history as warriors or as statesmen, or in arts, in literature or in science' " (http://www.npg.org.uk/about/history.php, accessed 02-25-2009).

Among the founder Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery were Stanhope as Chairman, Macaulay, Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Ellesmere, a former Trustee of the National Gallery, who offered to the nation the so-called Chandos portrait of Shakespeare, which became the first picture to enter the Gallery's collection. On Ellesmere's death in 1857 Carlyle became a Trustee.

"The National Portrait Gallery was established with the criteria that the Gallery was to be about history, not about art, and about the status of the sitter, rather than the quality or character of a particular image considered as a work of art" (from the link cited above).

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"The Art Treasures of Great Britain," Perhaps the Largest Art Exhibition ever Held May 5 – October 17, 1857

During 142 days, from May 5 to October 17, 1857 The Art Treasures of Great Britain exhibition held in Manchester, England, displayed over 16,000 works of art. It was the largest art exhibition ever held in the United Kingdom, and probably the largest art exhibition ever held anywhere. The exhibition attracted 1,300,000 visitors— more than the 827,000 who attended in the The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, held from May 1 to October 11, 1851 at the Crystal Palace in London. One of the best published records of the exhibition was The Art-Treasures Examiner: A Pictorial, Cricial, and Historical Record of the Art-Treasures Exhibition, at Manchester in 1857. Illustrated with two dramatic full-page plates printed in color by Leighton, and about 150 wood-engravings, this small folio work was issued by Alexander Ireland in Manchester and W. H. Smith in London. 

In January 2015 a superb reproduction of a fine photograph of the main gallery of the exhibition taken by Leonida Caldesi and Mattia Montecchi was available from the John Rylands University Library at this link. This image was the first print after the contents page of the "Ancient Series" volume of the two-volume "Ancient" and "Modern" series, Photographs of the Gems of the Art Treasures Exhibition (London: Colnaghi & Agnew, 1858). This set published 200 photographs of what were considered some of the most significant items displayed.

"The exhibition was held outside the city centre. . . The site was conveniently adjacent to Manchester Botanical Garden and to the west of an existing railway line of the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway. The railway company built a new station (now Old Trafford Metrolink station) which was used by thousands of visitors from the city and from further afield on organised excursions. C.D. Young & Co, of London and Edinburgh – already engaged as builders of the new art museum in South Kensington (which later became the V [ictoria]& A[lbert]) – were appointed as contractors to build a temporary iron-and-glass structure similar to the Crystal Palace in London, 656 feet (200 m) long and 200 feet (61 m) wide, with one central barrel vault 56 feet (17 m) wide with a 24 feet (7.3 m) wide hip vault on either side roofing a 104 feet (32 m) wide central gallery running the length of the building, and narrower barrel vaults 45 feet (14 m) wide to either side, all crossed by a 104 feet (32 m) transept towards the western end.[9] The design of the main structure has been attributed to Francis Fowke,[10] who later designed the Natural History Museum in London, and an ornamental brick entrance at the eastern end was designed by local architect Edward Salomons. The materials used included 650 long tons (660 t) of cast iron, 600 long tons (610 t) of wrought iron, 65,000 square feet (6,000 m2) of glass and 1.5 million bricks.

"Internally, the building included a large hall, with corrugated iron sides and vaults supported by iron columns, with space for an orchestra at one end and a large pipe organ by Kirtland and Jardine. Each column bore the exhibition's monogram: "ATE". The hall was subdivided internally by partitions, creating separate galleries. The interior was lined with wood panels covered with calico. Most internal decoration was done by John Gregory Crace of London. A 24-foot (7.3 m) wide gallery ran around the transept at an upper level. The central third of each vault was glazed, providing ample diffuse light. In the summer, the glazing in the picture galleries was shaded with calico to prevent damage to the artworks, and firemen played water on the roof as a form of rudimentary air conditioning when the interior temperature exceeded 70 °F (21 °C). Young & Co's original quote of £24,500 proved over-optimistic, and cost overruns pushed the final bill up to £37,461" (Wikipedia article on Art Treasures Exhbition, Manchester 1857, accessed 08-25-2013).

"The exhibition comprised over 16,000 works split into 10 categories – Pictures by Ancient Masters, Pictures by Modern Masters, British Portraits and Miniatures, Water Colour Drawings, Sketches and Original Drawings (Ancient), Engravings, Illustrations of Photography, Works of Oriental Art, Varied Objects of Oriental Art, and Sculpture. The collection included 5,000 paintings and drawings by "Modern Masters" such as Hogarth, Gainsborough, Turner, Constable, and the Pre-Raphaelites, and 1,000 works by European Old Masters, including Rubens, Raphael, Titian and Rembrandt; several hundred sculptures; photographs, including Crimean War images by James Robertson and the photographic tableau Two Ways of Life by Oscar Gustave Rejlander; and other works of decorative arts, such as Wedgwood china, Sèvres and Meissen porcelain, Venetian glass, Limoges enamels, ivories, tapestries, furniture, tableware and armour. The Committee bought the collection of Jules Soulages of Toulouse, founder of the Société Archéologique du Midi de la France for £13,500 to form the core of the collection of medieval and Renaissance decorative arts. The collection had previously been exhibited at Marlborough House in London with a view to being acquired for the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A), but HM Treasury refused to fund the purchase. They were later acquired by the V&A.

"The works were organised chronologically, to demonstrate the development of art, with works from northern Europe on one wall contrasted with contemporaneous works from southern Europe on the facing wall. Although the collection included works from Europe and the Orient, it had a clear emphasis on British works.

"Most public British collections were in a nascent state, so most of the works were borrowed from 700 private collections. Many had never been exhibited in public before. The exhibition included the Madonna and Child with Saint John and the Angels, which had only recently been attributed to Michelangelo. The showing of this unfinished work caused much excitement, and it is still known as the Manchester Madonna" (Wikipedia. op. cit.).

Pergam, The Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857. Entrepreneurs, Connoiseurs and the Public (2011).

(This entry was last revised on 01-12-2015.)

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François Willème Invents Photosculpture: Early 3D Imaging 1859

In 1859 a Frenchman in Paris, François Willème, who characterized himself as a painter, sculptor and photographer, and "inventeur de la photosculpture," began creating photosculptures of living people. To create a photosculpture Willème would arrange his subject on a circular platform surrounded by 24 cameras— one every 15 degrees. He would then photograph their silhouette simultaneously with each camera. This set of photographic profiles contained the data for a complete representation of his subject in 3 dimensions, although at relatively coarse resolution. 

Willème had now collected layer data for his subjects in the form of 24 different photographs of their profile. To create a 3D image of his subject he needed to make the information in each layer accessible by projecting each image onto a screen. Next, he translated each image into the movements required to fabricate each layer. This he accomplished using a pantograph attached to a cutter. He traced each profile with one end of the pantograph while the other end cut a sheet of wood with the exact same movement. The pantograph allowed the cuts to be smaller, larger, or the same size as the original projection. The layers of wood were then assembled to create the photosculpture. This was necessarily rough; if desired, an artist could smooth the sculpture and perhaps paint it, making it look more like a traditional sculpture.

On January 4, 1864 French poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist, art critic and literary critic Théophile Gautier published an illustrated article entitled, appropriately, "Photosculpture," in the Moniteur universel newspaper. To advertise the process this was also issued as a separate pamphlet of 14 pp., of which the last two pages consisted of a price list. 

On August 9. 1864 Willème was granted U.S. patent 43,822 for Photographing Sculpture, &c.

Historian of photography Beaumont Newhall published an article on Willèm's process entitled "Photosculpture," Image 7 no. 5 (1958) [99]-105.

Sobieszek, "Sculpture as the Sum of Its Profiles. François Willème and Photosculpture in France, 1859-1868," The Art Bulletin 62, no. 4 (1980) 617-30.

Walters & Thirkell, "New technologies for 3D realization in Art and Design practice," Artifact1 (2007) 232-245.

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Edouard Lartet & Henry Christy Issue Probably the Earliest Paper on Paleolithic Mobiliary Art 1861 – 1864

In 1864 French lawyer archaeologist and paleontologist Edouard Lartet and English banker ethnologist Henry Christy published "Cavernes du Périgord. Objets gravés et sculptés des temps pré-historiques dans l’Europe occidentale" in Revue archéologique. The previous year Lartet and Christy began systematically examining the caves in the Périgord region of France, and found incontrovertible evidence for the existence of Paleolithic mobiliary art. Their 37-page paper with two lithographed plates and numerous illustrations within the text, describing the results of those researches, was the founding work on Upper Paleolithic art, and one of the earliest publications to illustrate Paleolithic mobiliary art. It was also the only joint publication of Lartet and Christy issued before Christy’s premature death in 1865 at the age of 55.

In two papers published in 1861 Lartet had illustrated two prehistoric bones with carved representations of animals that had for many years been considered “Celtic”. In those papers, which reflect Lartet’s earliest interest in this topic, he argued that these carvings, which had been previously discovered by others, were indeed examples of prehistoric art. The first of Lartet's papers was "Sur une ancienne station humaine, avec sépulture contemporaine des grands mammifères fossiles réputés caractéristiques de la dernière période géologique," L’Institut, journal universel des sciences et des Sociétés savantes en France et à l’étranger, 1st section, no. 1432 (12 June 1861). 6pp. 

Lartet's second and much longer paper was "Nouvelles recherches sur la coexistence de l’homme et des grands mammifères fossiles réputés caractéristiques de la dernière période géologique," Annales des sciences naturelles, 4th series, Zoologie, 15 (1861) 177–253; plates 10–13. In this paper Lartet proposed “the first chronological framework into which both human skeletal and cultural remains could be fitted, based on fossil animal bones recovered from French cave sites” (Spencer, History of Physical Anthropology [1997] 606). Cultural remains included flints and bone carvings. The first figure in plate 10 shows Lartet’s original concept of how the human skeletons in the Aurignac had been arranged in the chamber; he subsequently altered his opinion based on discoveries made in 1862. In the final plate of this paper Lartet republished from his previous paper an illustration of two deer carved on a reindeer bone which had been found between 1834 and 1845 by Pierre-Amédée Brouillet in the cave of Chauffaud in the Vienne. Brouillet and others had thought the engraving was Celtic, but Lartet declared it be much earlier; his appreciation of the significance and true date of the finds from Chaffaud, Aurignac and Massat was “the first clear statement of what we now call Franco-Cantabrian Upper Palaeolithic art.” (Daniel 1981, 62). An English translation of the first part of this paper, including a reproduction of Lartet’s reconstruction of the burial chamber, was published as "New Researches Respecting the Co-existence of Man with the Great Fossil mammals, regarded as characteristic of the latest geological period," The Natural History Review 2, no. 5 (January 1862) 53–71. 

(This entry was last revised on 05-31-2014.)

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1900 – 1910

Revealing a Hidden Image in a 1901 Painting by Picasso in a 2012 Newspaper Article 1901 – October 24, 2012

Since 1989 conservators and art historians have known that hidden beneath the surface of Picasso's “Woman Ironing”  preserved in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, is the upside-down ghost of another painting — a three-quarter-length portrait of a man with a mustache. The hidden image was first seen in photographs of this painting from Picasso's Blue Period (1901-1904) taken with an infrared camera in 1989.  

On October 24, 2012 The New York Times published an article by Carol Vogel on this painting and the painting hidden underneath entitled "Under One Picasso, Another."  From the standpoint of this database on the history of media what I find most interesting about this is the "interactive feature" published in association with the article entitled "Scratching the Surface, Two Picassos Revealed."

A very clever imaging program in the interactive feature invited the reader to "click and drag your mouse over the painting to see what was hidden beneath it." As I wiped the top image of the painting off with mouse strokes the painting underneath was revealed.  I could also rotate the image and reset it back to the top layer.

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"The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism" January – February 20, 1909

On February 5, 1909 Italian poet and editor Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published Manifesto iniziale del Futurismo in the newspaper Gazzetta dell'Emilia in Bologna. In Milan, Marinetti had begun writing its list of eleven demands in October or November 1908, and in January 1909 he circulated to his friends a two-page leaflet entitled Manifesto del Futurismo containing the programmatic section. Later that month Marinetti wrote the narrative preamble that would accompany his list of demands, and sent the document to the Gazzetta dell'Emilia, and other newspapers. Within the month of February, Marinetti's first manifesto of futurism was reprinted, according to the article on Marinetti in the Italian Wikipedia, in 5 Italian newspapers and one magazine: in Il Pungolo of Naples on February 6, in Arena in Verona on February 9, in Il Piccolo of Trieste on February 10, in Il Giorno of Rome on February 16, and in the weekly magazine Tavola rotonda of Naples on February 14. On February 20, through the influence of one of the major shareholders of Le Figaro, who had been a friend of Marinetti's father, the manifesto was published in French on the front page of the leading French newspaper, Le Figaro. From this version, which was headed simply, "Le Futurisme" on the front page of the newspaper, but which is typically translated as The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism, Marinetti became an international celebrity. On the issue of whether or not Marinetti revised the text during the various rapid reprints or in the French translation I have seen no scholarship. 

"The Futurist Revolution did not seem, at first, to be much concerned with books. In Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's intitial Futurist Manifesto . . . books are hardly mentioned; whereas trains, airplanes, the automobile are gloried as tools and symbols of the modern age, libraries, like museums are to be burned. But it would be wrong to view this book-burning—an image inevitably associated for us with all too real subsequent occurences under totalitarian regimes—in sinister terms. The primary impulse of Futurism, indeed its raison d'être, was to shake Italy and Italians out of what Marinetti and his friends saw as a paralyzing obsession with the glories of the past. Passéism—a futurist coinage—was the enemy. A recent nation-state, far from unified within its own borders and unsure of its status among other European powers, Italy, in their view, needed to embrace modernity wholeheartedly; instead of looking at the past, with the inevitable result of an inferiority complex, it ought to confront the future, boldly assert its own creative voice. And books, in the development of which Renaissance Florentine, Milanese, and Ventian printers had played such a prominent part, were a thing of the past.

"Yet, paradoxically, Futurism was also a revolution of the book, and there rests, in fact, one of its greatest artistic legacies. This revolution, as in many other -isms of the twentieth-century, began as a revolution of the word, an opening up of language to all kinds of hitherto unexplored possibilities. But Futurism was much more than a literary movement: as much as the writing of the book and its contents, Futurist poets and artists were interested in its making—its design, thpography, printing, and final appearance. . . ." (Vincent Firoud, Marinetti's Metal Book. Code(x)+2 Monograph Series No. 1, Berkeley: Codex Foundation, 2012). 

Rainey, Poggi, Wittman (eds) Futurism: An Anthology (2009).

In January 2014 an English translation of Marinetti's first manifesto and a reproduction of its appearance in Le Figaro were available from Italianfuturism.org at this link.

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1910 – 1920

"Ridgway Colors" 1912

American ornithologist Robert Ridgway self-published in Washington, D.C. Color Standards and Nomenclature. This evolved out of his 1886 book, A Nomenclature of Colors for Naturalists, and Compendium of Useful Knowledge for Ornithologists, which was one of the first color systems for bird identification.

"Ridgway was with the Smithsonian Institution from the age of 24 until his death. In 1912 he printed 5,000 copies of his book Color Standards and Nomenclature, one of the most influential works on color ever published. This was prompted by his problems with color descriptions in bird portraits. So he developed descriptions of 1,150 colors as well as the technology for making and printing them all; his wife cut all the color swatches by hand and pasted them into the books. In providing a textual description he used very colorful language--deep turtle green, clean fluoride green, malachite green, shamrock green, light Danube green, deep dull green. The books are historic artifacts in and of themselves. But it's important to note that the book is still very much in use. Everyone from stamp collectors to naturalists to chemists refers to 'Ridway colors' to identify specific shades"  (Daniel Lewis, "In Living Color. A Conversation with the Dibner Senior Curator of the History of Science & Technology" by Traude Gomez-Rhine, Huntington Frontiers IV, #2 [2008] 7)

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The Armory Show Introduces "Modern Art" to the United States February 17 – March 15, 1913

The International Exhibition of Modern Art, organized by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, took place in New York City's 69th Regiment Armory from February 17 to March 15, 1913. It displayed about 1,250 paintings, sculptures, and decorative works by over 300 avant-garde European and American artists, including Impressionists, Fauvists, and Cubists. Known as the Armory Show, this exhibition is credited with introducing "modern art" to the United States.

"News reports and reviews were filled with accusations of quackery, insanity, immorality, and anarchy, as well as parodies, caricatures, doggerels and mock exhibitions. About the modern works, President Theodore Roosevelt declared, 'That's not art!' The civil authorities did not, however, close down, or otherwise interfere with, the show.

"Among the scandalously radical works of art, pride of place goes to Marcel Duchamp's Cubist/Futurist style Nude Descending a Staircase, painted the year before, in which he expressed motion with successive superimposed images, as in motion pictures. An art critic for the New York Times wrote that the work resembled 'an explosion in a shingle factory,' and cartoonists satirized the piece" (Wikipedia article on Armory Show, accessed 03-13-2009).

In February 2015 a virtual recreation of the Armory Show prepared by the American Studies Program at the University of Virginia was available at this link.

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1920 – 1930

Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamum November 4, 1922

On November 4, 1922 British Egyptologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty Tutankhamum underneath the remains of workmen's huts built during the Ramesside Period. Nearly intact, this was the only virtually undisturbed tomb of an Egyptian pharoah ever found. Known as KV62, the tomb of Tutankhamum in the Valley of the Kings became world famous for the treasure it contained. Excavation was not completed until November 1930.  

The great majority of the incomparable treasures from Tutankhamum's tomb are preserved in Cairo's Egyptian Museum. Through loan exhbitions in other museums, many have been viewed by millions of people around the world.  However, various treasures from the tomb also somehow made their way into other museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, leading some to suggest that Carter, who was also an agent for building museum collections, stole certain items from the tomb before turning over all the finds to the Egyptian government.

In 1923, 1927, and 1933 Carter published a three-volume account of the discovery entitled The Tomb of Tut·Ankh·Amen Discovered by the late Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter.

On June 12, 2012 a significant portion of Carter's personal papers concerning the discovery remaining with his descendents were offered for sale at auction by Bonham's in London with an estimate of £100,000-150,000.

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Fortunato Depero's "Bolted Catalogue" of Futurist Graphics 1927

For the 1927 Biennale Internazionale delle Arti Decorative in Monza, Italy, Italian futurist painter, writer, sculptor and graphic designer, and industrial designer Fortunato Depero designed a Book Pavilion  for publishers Bestetti Treves Tumminelli, built entirely out of giant block letters. This was considered a significant architectural achievement. He also produced a lavish printed catalogue of his own graphic work from 1913 to 1927 entitled Depero futurista, reproduced both by letter press and photography. The book was bound in futurist style using two industrial bolts.

 "It featured for the first time a mechanical binding consisting of two bolts holding the pages together, as conceived by Fedele Azari, the publisher. Influenced by the focus on the machine that characterized Futurism in the early 1920s, this book should be considered a manifesto of the Machine Age. However, Depero's innovation was not confined to the cover; the inside text features a wealth of typographic inventions including the use of different typefaces, the text formed into various shapes, the use of different papers and colours, and several other devices.

"After seeing this book, Kurt Schwitters wanted to meet Depero and enthusiastically showed his copy to every visitor to his personal library. This book was published in an edition of 1000 copies, most of which bear a stamp of the number of the copy. The edition, showed at least three different front pages with different color prints. There are four or five copies with a metal binding -- books of great rarity but of minor visual impact. Finally, there were even four to five copies provided with a box case expressly designed by the author.... " (http://www.colophon.com/gallery/futurism/1.html, accessed 01-03-2014).

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1930 – 1940

Marinetti's Metal Book: "Parole in Liberta . . ." 1932

Five years after Fortunato Depero issued his sensational Depero futurista, a "mechanical" book full of futurist poetry and graphics that featured a binding held together with two machined bolts, in 1932 Italian poet and editor Filippo Tommaso Marinetti introduced his definitive model of the mechanical book, Parole in libertà: olfattive, tattili, termichea collection of his poetry, designed by futurist artist Tullio Mazzoti, better known by his pseudonym, Tullio d'Albisola, and produced by industrialist Vincenzo Nosenzo. Nosenzo owned a tin can factory in Zinola, a suburb of Savona, and had perfected and patented a method of lithographing on tin, called "lito-latta," the English translation of which would be "lithotin." Publication was shared by Nosenzo's firm, Lito-Latta in Savona (Nosenzo's imprint), which was responsible for the book's production, and Marinetti's Futurist publishing house "Poesia" in Rome. Thus, while Depero's book was printed on paper, Marinetti's book was printed entirely on tin sheets, reflective of the materials and textures of the Machine Age. It was also intended to be an imperishable book. The book's content was also innovative, as Marinetti introduced new references between words and physical interaction with olfactory, tactile, and thermal sensations.

Copies of Marinetti's metal book weigh 852 grams, not including the slipcase. Though dimensions apparently vary from copy to copy, its 15 sheets of tin are typically 24 x 24 centimeters, bound with a tubular aluminum spine, on which they rotate on metal wire spindles attached at head and foot—a feat of book engineering credited to Nosenzo. The tin leaves are extremely thin (no more than 1 mm each), and to prevent cuts they are very slightly folded on their edges.

"Notwithstanding its unusual components and the originality of Tullio's design, the Metal Book features all the elements we expect to find in a book. It has a front and a back cover, the front cover doubling as a title page; three preliminary 'leaves,' including copyright page, frontispiece, and dedication page (not necessarily found in this order from copy to copy); a body of text, comprising nine leaves printed on both sides; and an advertisement and table of contents at the end. None of the 28 'pages' is paginated" (Vincent Giroud, Parole in Liberta. Marinetti's Metal Book. Berkeley: Codex Foundation Code(x) +2 Monograph Series No. 1, 2012).

The edition was 101 unnumbered copies, of which 50 were for sale, and the rest for presentation. "A unique copy was printed on paper, comprising a different title page (with the imprint of the Edizioni Futuriste di 'Poesi'), the copyright page, a different frontispiece portrait of Marinett (wearing his Accademia d'Italia uniform), the deication page, the nine poems as printed in the Metal Book (but without any of the typographical plates), and the table. Measuring 34 x 31.5 cm., this unicum is bound in a full red and green leather binding held together, in the manner of Depero futurista, with five bolts— one of which is now missing. Destined for Marinetti, and inscribed to him by Tullio and Nosenzo on 5 December 1932, it is now in the Beinecke Library, where a significant part of Marinetti's library now rests" (Giroud, op.cit., 20-21).  

In January 2014 digital images of Yale's complete tin copy were available from the Beinicke Library at this link.

As a companion to Giroud's study of Marinetti's Metal Book, fine printer Peter Koch and the Codex Foundation also issued in 2012, as No. 2 in the Code(x) +2 Monograph Series, a reduced-format color reproduction of the copy at Yale. The reproduction is entirely printed on black paper to emphasize the metallic aspects. This also reproduces the very rare slipcase, missing from some copies. In my opinion Giroud's 22-page essay, and its companion reproduction, are among the most interesting studies of an individual publication.

In 2009 the British Library acquired a copy of Marinetti's metal book for £83,000.

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Eugen Sänger's "Raketenflugtechnik" Expounds the Theory of What Would Become the X-Planes and the Space Shuttle 1933 – 1944

Austrian-German aerospace engineer Eugen Sänger published Raketenflugtechnik in 1933. This treatise on rocket flight engineering was Sänger's thesis for a degree in engineering, which had been rejected by the Technical University of Vienna as "too imaginative." Sänger was allowed to graduate when he submitted a more mundane thesis on the statistics of wing trusses. Raketenflugtechnik was the first study leading to the eventual development of a reusable human-piloted rocket-powered space plane, a concept which evolved into the X-planes and the space shuttle.

Sänger introduced his goals and purposes for the book as follows: 

“By rocket flight is meant here the motion of such a vehicle within the general air space, the propulsive force being provided by a rocket motor. 

“Rocket flight in the narrow sense is taken to be motion in the upper levels of the stratosphere with a speed such that inertial forces arising from the curvature of the path have a marked effect on the lift.

“This type of rocket flight is the next major development from trophospheric flight, which has been the product of the last thirty years; it is also the forerunner of space travel, the greatest technical problem of the present time.

“This forerunner and the installation of a space station* are the noblest tasks of rocketry, but for the present they are still not realizable.

“There are also several directly practical purposes to be served. Rocket flight should especially:

"1. Provide rapid intercontinental travel around the globe with the highest possible terrestrial speeds.

"2. Advance scientific research in certain fields, especially geophysics and astrophysics.

"3. If necessary provide a war weapon of exceptional power.

“These three purposes can now be reckoned as in part technically feasible. The present book is concerned with the technical basis of the realization of this first stage of rocket flight.

“* In cosmonauts’ plans this is a vehicle that revolves around the Earth outside the sensible atmosphere with a speed such that the weight is balanced by the centripetal force. The space station would serve as starting point for flights to even greater heights” (Sänger, Rocket Flight Engineering. Nasa Technical Translation F-223 [1965] 3).

Sänger and his associate, Irene Bredt, who later became his wife, intended to publish their continuing researches as a second volume of Raketenflugtechnik.  However, with the advent of World War II, their space vehicle project had to be repurposed for military use if it was to survive. A 900-page report on space vehicles, prepared by the two in 1941, was rejected by the German Research Institute for Aviation due to its size and complexity; Sänger and Bredt reworked this into a shorter 376-page secret report on a long range bomber with a rocket engine, intended to drop a dirty bomb on a U.S. city, issued as the GRIA’s “Secret Command Report” UM 3538. The report entitled Über einen Raketenantrieb für Fernbomber was issued in a highly-controlled edition of 100 copies for the Nazi German State Ministry for Aviation in 1944. In 2011 three copies of this original report were recorded worldwide in OCLC, one in the United States.

The Sänger-Bredt Silverbird (Silbervogel), the designs for which were described in the secret report, was a reusable winged vehicle “propelled by a rocket engine burning liquid oxygen and kerosene, capable of reaching Mach 10.0 at altitudes in excess of 100 miles” (Jenkins, Space Shuttle, p. 1).  The Sänger/Bredt report was "the first serious proposal for a vehicle which could carry a pilot and payload to the lower edge of space" (Wikipedia article on Silbervogel).

In order to realize his concept of a reusable rocket engine, Sänger had to solve the major problem of how to cool the engine. “Between 1932 and 1934, [Sänger] performed a series of pioneering experiments with reinforced cooled liquid rocket motors capable of burning mixtures of gas-oil and liquid oxygen (LOX), achieving thrust levels up to 30kp, pressures up to 50 bars, and exhaust velocities of about 3,000 m/s” (Sänger & Szames, “From the Silverbird to interstellar voyages,” 2).

In 1934 Sänger published these studies in "Neuere Ergebnisse der Raketenflugtechnik," Flug: Zeitschr. f. d. gesamte Gebiet der Luftfahrt, Sonderheft 1. This paper contained the results of Sänger’s extensive tests of various rocket engine models in 1933 and 1934, leading up to his 1935 patent for regenerative forced-flow cooling of rocket engines. This he accomplished by designing a “regeneratively cooled” engine cooled by its own fuel circulating around the combustion chamber. This rocket engine was a lasting feature of the Silverbird design. "Almost all modern rocket engines use this design today and some sources still refer to it as the Sänger-Bredt design" (Wikipedia article on Silbervogel).

“Sänger’s former rocket-powered civilian space transport airplane project now evolved into an Earth-orbiting, single-stage, rocket-powered intercontinental bombing machine with a launch weight of 100 tons . . . It would be propelled by a rocket engine using highly efficient fuels with liquid oxygen used as an oxidizer in a combustion chamber at a pressure of 100 atmospheres and creating 100 tons of thrust” (Myrha, p. 78).

This rocket-powered bomber was designed to attack strategic targets in the United States: New York City, Washington DC, Chicago and the steel-refining plants in Pittsburgh. Page 339 of Sänger and Bredt’s report shows a map of lower Manhattan superimposed with a bull’s-eye and containing calculations of the expected destruction pattern.  

After World War II Sänger emigrated from Germany to France where he worked for the Arsénal de l’Aéronautique. During his time in France “he was the subject of a botched attempt by Soviet agents to win him over. Joseph Stalin had become intrigued by reports of the Silvervogel design and sent his son, Vasily, and scientist Grigori Tokaty to convince [Sänger] to come to the Soviet Union, but they failed to do so. It has also been reported that Stalin instructed the NKVD to kidnap him” (Wikipedia). In 1954 Sänger returned to Germany, where he founded a research center in Stuttgart and earned unwelcome notoriety through his involvement with Egypt’s military buildup in the early 1960s. From 1963 until his death, he was a professor of astronautic technologies at the technical university in Berlin.

An English translation of the Sänger-Bredt report, prepared by the Technical Information Branch of U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics in 1946, was also limited to a small number of copies.  A condensed version of the translation was published in 1952. The work was also studied in Russia where a Russian translation was published.

Sänger-Bredt, “The Silver Bird story: A memoir,” in Hall, ed., Essays on the History of Rocketry and Astronautics, vol. 1 (1977), pp. 195-228. Sänger-Bredt & Engel, “The development of regeneratively cooled liquid rocket engines in Austria and Germany, 1926-42,” Durant & James, eds., First Steps toward Space, 217-46. Myrha, Sänger: Germany’s Orbital Rocket Bomber in World War II (2002).

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Picasso Depicts His Lover Reading at a Table 1934

An oil painting Pablo Picasso created in 1934 entitled Reading at a Table, preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, depicted Picasso's 25 year-old lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, sitting at a table reading and wearing a crown of flowers. This "chaste scene" was set at the artist's country home in Le Boisgeloup, in Gisors in the Eure about 63 km from Paris, where, in addition to painting, Picasso produced large-scale sculptures and prepared many etchings.

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The Only Known Complete Inventory of Art Labeled "Degenerate" by the Nazis 1937 – 1942

At the end of January 2014 the Victoria & Albert Museum in London made available online the only known copy of a complete inventory of Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) confiscated by the Nazi regime from public institutions in Germany, mostly during 1937 and 1938. The 2-volume typed list of more than 16,000 artworks was produced by the Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda (Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda) circa 1941-42. It seems that the inventory was compiled as a final record after the sales and disposals of the confiscated art had been completed in the summer of 1941. The two volumes provide crucial information concerning provenance, exhibition history, and disposition of each artwork. 

"The inventory consists of 482 pages (including blank pages and a missing page), split into two volumes. The entries are organised alphabetically by city, institution and artist's name. Volume 1 covers the cities Aachen to Görlitz, while Volume 2 covers Göttingen to Zwickau.

"Each page gives the name of the city and museum at the top, followed by two groups of columns containing information about each artwork. The first columns provide a running number, the artist’s surname, the inventory number and a short title. The remaining columns provide additional details, and were evidently added later. The contents include information about the medium and the buyer or dealer (if any), a code indicating the exhibition history or fate of the work, and any payments made in foreign currency and/or Reichsmarks" (http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/e/entartete-kunst/, accessed 02-02-2014).

In February 2014 the first volume of the Nazi Degenerate Art Inventory, with an Introduction by Douglas Dodds and Heike Zech, was available at this link; the second volume was available at this link.

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Otto Bettman Founds The Bettmann Archive: the Beginning of "The Visual Age" 1938

The Bettmann Archive, founded in New York in 1936 by Otto Bettmann, a refugee from Nazi Germany, contained 15,000 images by 1938.  Bettmann later characterized this period of time as "the beginning of the visual age." By 1980, the year before Bettmann sold the archive to the Kraus-Thomson Organization, the archive contained 2,000,000 images, carefully selected for their historical value, mainly under the five categories of world events, personalities, lifestyles, advertising art, and art and illustrations.

In 1984 the Kraus-Thomson Organization acquired the extensive United Press International (UPI) collection, containing millions of worldwide news and lifestyle photographs taken by photographers working for United Press International, International News Photos, Acme Newspictures, and Pacific and Atlantic.

In 1995 Corbis, a company controlled by Bill Gates, bought the Bettmann Archive.

"Beginning in 1997, Corbis spent five years selecting images of maximum historical value and saleability for digitization. More than 1.3 million images (26% of the collection) have been edited and 225,000 have been digitized. Because of this effort, more images from the Bettmann Archive are available now than ever before.

"In 2002, the Archive was moved to a state-of-the-art, sub-zero film preservation facility in western Pennsylvania. The 10,000-square-foot underground storage facility is environmentally-controlled, with specific conditions (minus -20°C, relative humidity of 35%) calculated to preserve prints, color transparencies, negatives, photographs, enclosures, and indexing systems" (http://www.corbis.com/BettMann100/Archive/Preservation.asp, accessed 01-17-2010).

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1940 – 1950

The Hinman Collator 1945 – 1949

Between 1945 and 1949 Shakespeare scholar Charlton Hinman developed the Hinman Collator, a mechanical device for the visual comparison of different copies of the same printed text. By 1978, when the last machine was manufactured, around fifty-nine had been acquired by libraries, academic departments, research institutes, government agencies, and a handful of pharmaceutical companies. Though built for the study of printed texts and used primarily for the creation of critical editions of literary authors, the Hinman Collator was also employed in other projects where the close comparison of apparently identical images is required: from the study of illustrations to the examination of watermarks to the detection of forged banknotes. 

"Hinman's invention greatly increased not only the speed at which texts could be compared but also the effectiveness of such comparisons, and it made collation on a large scale possible for the first time. The most famous use of the machine was by its inventor and resulted in his Printing and Proof-reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare (1963) and the Norton facsimile of the First Folio (1968). Hinman estimated that without the aid of his machine, the research for these projects would have taken over forty years. Without the collator, as he himself recognized, his study would have been a "practical impossibility", as would have the work of the many scholars who compiled dozens of bibliographies, produced hundreds of volumes of critical editions, and undertook countless bibliographical and textual investigations on his machine over the next five decades.

"The purpose of the machine for which he was seeking a patent was straightforward and grew directly from the needs of his research. During the Renaissance, the period of his specialty, books were proofread and corrected continually during the printing process, and early uncorrected sheets were commonly bound up with corrected ones from later in the print run. Thus the printed matter in the last book sold could, and usually did, differ substantially from that of the first, as it also could and quite often did from nearly every other copy in the printing. These variations are precisely the details the collator was developed to help detect. The operation of the device Hinman would eventually build was also straightforward. The operator sets up one book turned to a particular page on a platform on one side of the machine and another copy from the same printing turned to the same page on a platform on the other. He or she then views these items, which are superimposed via a set of mirrors, through a pair of binocular optics. After making adjustments to bring the two objects into registration, the operator activates a system of lights that alternately illuminates each page. If the pages are identical, they more or less appear as one; if they are not identical, the points of difference are called to the operator's eye by appearing to dance or wiggle about" (Smith, " 'The Eternal Verities Verified': Charlton Hinman and The Roots of Mechanical Collation," Studies in Bibliography, Vol. 53 [2000] includes images of the machines). 

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1950 – 1960

The Earliest Pioneer in Electronic Art 1950 – 1953

In 1950 American draftsman, graphic artist and mathematician Benjamin (Ben) F. Laposky of Cherokee, Iowa, first used a cathode ray oscilloscope with sine wave generators and various other electrical and electronic circuits to create abstract art, which he called "electrical compositions." The electrical vibrations shown on the screen of the oscilloscope, which included Lissajous figures, he recorded by still photography. Some of Laposky's images were published in Scripta Mathematica in 1952.

In 1953 Laposky exhibited fifty images that called "Oscillons" (or oscillogram designs) at the Sanford Museum in Cherokee, Iowa. To record this exhibition and Laposky's statements of his artistic philosophy the museum published an exhibition catalogue entitled electronic abstractions. Because of this exhibition Laposky is credited as the earliest pioneer in electronic art, more specifically in the analog vector medium. In later work Laposky also incorporated motorized rotating filters of variable speed to color the patterns. He never programmed computers to create images.

A version of Laposky's electronic abstractions show was exhibited across the United States, in France at LeMons, and other places by the Cultural Relations Section of the United States from 1953 to 1961.

In later work Laposky incorporated motorized rotating filters of variable speed to color the patterns, recording the images by color photography.

Herzogenrath & Nierhoff-Wielk, Ex Machina–Frühe Computergrafik bis 1979. Ex Machina-Early Computer Graphics up to 1979 (2007) 229.

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Probably the First Computer-Controlled Aesthetic System 1953 – 1957

Between 1953 and 1957 English cybernetician and psychologist Gordon Pask, in collaboration with Robin McKinnon-Wood, created Musicolour, a reactive system for theatre productions, or a computer-controlled aesthetic system, that "drove an array of lights that adapted to a musician's performance" (Mason, a computer in the art room. the origins of british computer arts 1950-1980 [2008] 6). This was one of the earliest examples of "computer art." The system's analog computer was transported from performance to performance.

Pask discussed and explained Musicolour in A comment, a case history and a plan (1968) written before the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition (1968) in which Musicolour was demonstrated. However the text was not published in the catalogue of that exhibition. It was first published in Reichardt ed., Cybernetics: Art and Ideas (1971) 76-99.

Pickering, The Cybernetic Brain. Sketches of Another Future (2010) 313-324.

(This entry was last revised on 08-14-2014.)

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1960 – 1970

Among the Beginnings of Computer Art in the United States August 28, 1962

"During the summer of 1962, A. Michael Noll . . . had an assignment working in the research division of Bell Telephone Laboratories, where he was employed as a Member of Technical Staff. His summer project involved the programming of a new method for the determination of the pitch of human speech – the short-term cepstrum. The results of the computer calculations were plotted on the Stromberg Carlson SC-4020 microfilm plotter.

"The SC-4020 plotter had a cathode ray tube that was photographed automatically with a 35-mm camera. The SC-4020 was intended as a high-speed printer in which the electron beam was passed through a character mask and the shaped beam positioned on the screen while the shutter of the camera remained open. The staff of the computer center wrote a FORTRAN software package to interface with the SC-4020 in positioning the electron beam to draw images on the screen, mostly plots of scientific data, with a 1024-by-1024 resolution.

"A colleague (Elwyn Berlekamp) had a programming error that produced a graphic mess on the plotter, which he comically called 'computer art.' Noll decided to program the computer to create art deliberately, drawing on his past training in drawing and interests in abstract painting. He described [and illustrated] the results in an internal published Technical Memorandum 'Patterns by 7090' dated August 28, 1962.

"Noll’s early pieces combined mathematical equations with pseudo randomness. Today his work would be called programmed computer art or algorithmic art. Much art is produced today by drawing and painting directly on the screen of the computer using programs designed expressly for such purposes.

"Two early works by Noll were 'Gaussian-Quadratic' and 'Vertical Horizontal Number Three.' Stimulated by 'op art,' he created 'Ninety Parallel Sinusoids' as a computer version of Bridget Riley’s 'Currents.' Noll believed that in the computer, the artist had a new artistic partner. Noll used FORTRAN and subroutine packages he wrote using FORTRAN for all his art and animation" (A. Michael Noll, "First Hand: Early Digital Art at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc., accessed 01-19-2014).

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Using his BEFLIX Computer Animation Language, Ken Knowlton Produces "A Computer Technique for the Production of Animated Movies" 1963 – 1966

In 1963, Kenneth C. Knowlton, working at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, NJ, developed the BEFLIX (Bell Flicks) programming language for bitmap computer-produced movies, using an IBM 7094 computer and a Stromberg-Carlson 4020 microfilm recorder. This was the first computer animation language. Each frame created with BEFLIX contained eight shades of grey and a resolution of 252 x 184. Using this technique, Knowlton in 1963 created a 10 minute 16mm silent film entitled A Computer Technique for the Production of Animated Movies.  

At the Spring Joint Computer Conference of AFIPS, on April 21-23, 1964 Knowlton delivered a paper entitled, appropriately enough, "A computer technique for producing animated movies." This was published in the Proceedings on pp. 67-87. The paper reproduced some images from Knowlton's film and indicated that the film could be borrowed from Bell Labs. Most of the paper reproduced programming code in Beflix.

The following year published "Computer-Produced Movies. A computer-controlled display tube and camera can produce animated movies quickly and economically," Science 150 (November 16, 1965) 1116-1120. This was offprinted as Bell Telephone System Technical Publications Monograph 5112.

And, in 1966 Knowlton published "Computer-Generated Movies, Designs and Diagrams," Design Quarterly, No. 66/67, Design and the Computer (1966), 58-63.

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The First to Create Three-Dimensional Images of the Human Body Using a Computer 1964

"Boeing Man" or "Human Figure," a wireframe drawing printed on a Gerber Plotter.  It was used as a standard figure of a pilot.

In 1964 William A. Fetter, an art director at The Boeing Company in Seattle, Washington, supervised development of a  computer program that allowed him to create the first three-dimensional images of the human body through computer graphics. Using this program Fetter and his team produced the first computer model of a human figure for use in the study of aircraft cockpit design. It was called the “First Man” or "Boeing Man." Though Fetter's wire frame drawings could be called commercial art, they were of a high aesthetic standard.

Herzogenrath & Nierhoff-Wielk, Ex-Machina–Frühe Computergrafik bis 1979. Die Sammlunge Franke. . . . Ex-Machina– Early Computer Graphics up to 1979 (2007) 239.

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William Fetter Issues the First Book on Computer Graphics 1965

Example of image from Computer Graphics in Communication.  Please click to view larger image.

Detail of cover of Computer Graphics in Communication. Please click to see entire image.

Detail of title page of Computer Graphics in Communication. Please click to see entire image.

William Fetter taken when he worked at Boeing.

In 1965 William A. Fetter of The Boeing Company in Seattle, Washington, issued the first book on computer graphics: Computer Graphics in Communication. This 110-page work with nearly 100 illustrations may be the first monograph illustrated with computer graphics. Fetter had coined the term "computer graphics" in 1960. The book was "Written for the Course Content Development Study in Engineering Graphics Supported by the National Science Foundation September, 1964." As a reflection of the novelty of its topic, the book contained a bibliography of seven references but stated that none were used directly in its development.

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Michael Noll's "Human or Machine" : Comparing Computer-Generated Art with Human Created Art 1965 – 1966

In 1965 A. Michael Noll, American electrical engineer and pioneer computer artist at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey, created Computer Composition With Lines. He generated the art work algorithmically with pseudo-random processes to mimic Piet Mondrian’s Composition With Lines (1917). In what became a classic experiment in aesthetics, copies of both works were shown to people, a majority of whom expressed a preference for the computer work and thought it was by Mondrian. The work won first prize in August 1965 in the contest held by Computers and Automation magazine.

The following year Noll published an illustrated account of the production of this pioneering work of computer art and its perception: "Human or Machine: A Subjective Comparison of Piet Mondrian's 'Composition with Lines' (1917) and a Computer-Generated Picture," The Psychological Record 16 (1966) 1-10.

In January 2014 Noll published an authoritative, illustrated, and thoroughly documented historical paper on computer art done at Bell Labs from 1962 to 1968 entitled "First-Hand: Early Digital Art at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc." on the website of the IEEE Global History Network.

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The Earliest Public Exhibitions of Computer Art February 5 – November 26, 1965

The first public exhibitions of computer art were:

Feb 5-19, 1965:

Generative Computergrafik. Studien-Galerie des Studium Generale, Technische Hochschule Stuttgart. held by Frieder Nake and Georg Nees. Opened by Max Bense.  

Apr 6-24, 1965:

Computer-generated pictures. Howard Wise Gallery, New York, held by A. Michael Noll, Bela Julesz, both of whom worked at Bell Labs. The announcement for the show was a small deck of colored IBM punch cards.

"The agreement was that any profits from the sale of the works would be split between the Wise Gallery and either Julesz or Noll. In the end, not a single work was sold" (Noll, First-Hand: Early Digital Art at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc., accessed 01-19-2014).

Nov 5-26, 1965:

Computergrafik. Galerie Wendelin Niedlich, Stuttgart. held by Frieder Nake and Georg Nees. Opened by Max Bense.

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The Museum Computer Network is Founded in New York 1967

In 1967 directors of fifteen New York-area museums formed the Museum Computer Network to create a prototype system for a shared museum data bank. The project recruited curators and registrars to develop a data dictionary that  accommodated the diverse methods used to describe museum collections. The resulting tagged record format allowed for the description of individual objects with separate records for artist biographical information and reference citations. Jack Heller's GRIPHOS (General Retrieval and Information Processor for Humanities Oriented Studies) system provided the information storage, search, and retrieval infrastructures for the records.

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The Computer Artis Society, the First Society for Computer Art, is Founded in London 1968

In the months following the ground breaking London exhibition, Cybernetic Serendipity, that showcased computer-based and technologically influenced works in graphics, music, film, and interactivity, Alan SutcliffeGeorge Mallen, and John Lansdown founded the Computer Arts Society in London. The Society enabled relatively isolated artists working with computers in a variety of fields to meet and exchange information. It also ran practical courses, conferences and exhibitions.

"In March 1969, CAS organised an exhibition entitled Event One, which was held at the Royal College of Art. The exhibition showcased innovative work with computers across a broad range of disciplines, including sculpture, graphics, music, film, architecture, poetry, theatre and dance. CAS founder John Lansdown, for example, designed and organised a dance performance that was choreographed entirely by the computer and performed by members of the Royal Ballet School. The multi-media approach of exhibitions such as Event One greatly influenced younger artists and designers emerging at this time. Many of these artists were rebelling against the traditional fine art hierarchies of the time, and went on to work in the new fields of computer, digital, and video art as a result.

"CAS established links with educational establishments, journalists and industry, ensuring greater coverage of their activities and more importantly helping to provide access to computing technology at a time when this was difficult. CAS members were remarkably ahead of their time in recognising the long term impact that the computer would have on society, and in providing services to those already working creatively with the computer. By 1970 CAS had 377 members in 17 countries. Its journal 'PAGE' was first edited by auto-destructive artist Gustav Metzger, and is still being produced today. The Computer Arts Society is a specialist group of the British Computer Society" (http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/v-and-a-computer-art-collections/, accessed 01-19-2014).

In January 2014 all of the early issues of Page, beginning with "Page 1," April 1969 were available from the website of the Computer Arts Society Specialty Group of the BCS at this link.

In 2007 the Computer Arts Society donated its collection of original computer art to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which maintains one of the world's largest and most significant collections of computer art. The V&A's holdings in this field were the subject of an article by Honro Beddard entitled "Computer Art at the V&A," V&A Online Journal, Issue No. 2 (2009), accessed 01-19-2014). 

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"Incredible Machine" State of the Art in Computer Generated Film, Graphics and Music in 1968 1968

In 1968 scientists at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey, created "Incredible Machine,"a color film that that represented the state-of-the- art in computer-generated film, graphics, and music at the time. 

The film featured artwork and computer graphics by Ken Knowlton and 
computer-generated music by Max Mathews. The title sequence was programmed by A. Michael Noll using his four-dimensional animation technique and is perhaps the first use of computer animation for title sequences. The computer ballet during the end credits was by A. Michael Noll. The basilar membrane animation was done by Robert C. Lummis, Man Mohan Sondhi, and A. Michael Noll.

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Cybernetic Serendipity: The First Widely-Attended International Exhibition of Computer Art August 2 – October 20, 1968

From August 2  to October 20, 1968 Cybernetic Serendipity: The Computer and the Arts was exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, curated by British art critic, editor, and Assistant Director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts Jasia Reichardt, at the suggestion of Max Bense. This was the first widely attended international exhibition of computer art, and the first exhibition to attempt to demonstrate all aspects of computer-aided creative activity: art, music, poetry, dance, sculpture, animation.

In the video below Jasia Reichardt introduced the exhibition:

"It drew together 325 participants from many countries; attendance figures reached somewhere between 45,000 and 60,000 (accounts differ) and it received wide and generally positive press coverage ranging from the Daily Mirror newspaper to the fashion magazine Vogue. A scaled-down version toured to the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC and then the Exploratorium, the museum of science, art and human perception in San Francisco. It took Reichardt three years of fundraising, travelling and planning" (Mason, a computer in the art room. the origins of british computer arts 1950-80 [2008] 101-102)

For the catalogue of the show Reichardt edited a special issue of Studio International magazine, consisting of 100 pages with 300 images, publication of which coincided with the exhibition in 1968. The color frontispiece reproduced a color computer graphic by the American John C. Mott-Smith "made by time-lapse photography successively exposed through coloured filters, of an oscilloscope connected to a computer." The cover of the special issue was designed by the Polish-British painter, illustrator, film-maker, and stage designer Franciszka Themerson, incorporating computer graphics from the exhibition. Laid into copies of the special issue were 4 leaves entitled "Cybernetic Serendipity Music," each page providing a program for one of eight tapes of music played during the show. This information presumably was not available in time to be printed in the issue of Studio International.

Reichardt's Introduction  (p. 5) included the following:

"The exhibition is divided into three sections, and these sections are represented in the catalogue in a different order:

"1. Computer-generated graphics, computer-animated films, computer-composed and -played music, and computer poems and texts.

"2. Cybernetic devices as works of art, cybernetic enironments, remoted-control robots and painting machines.

"3. Machines demonstrating the uses of computers and an environment dealing with the history of cybernetics.

"Cybernetic Sernedipity deals with possibilites rather than achievements, and in this sense it is prematurely optimistic. There are no heroic claims to be made because computers have so far neither revolutionized music, nor art, nor poetry, the same way that they have revolutionized science.

"There are two main points which make this exhibition and this catalogue unusual in the contexts in which art exhibitions and catalogues are normally seen. The first is that no visitor to the exhibition, unless he reads all the notes relating to all the works, will know whether he is looking at something made by an artist, engineer, mathematician, or architect. Nor is it particularly important to know the background of all the makers of the various robots, machines and graphics- it will not alter their impact, although it might make us see them differently.

"The other point is more significant.

"New media, such as plastics, or new systems such as visual music notation and the parameters of concrete poetry, inevitably alter the shape of art, the characteristics of music, and content of poetry. New possibilities extend the range of expression of those creative poeple whom we identify as painters, film makers, composers and poets. It is very rare, however, that new media and new systems should bring in their wake new people to become involved in creative activity, be it composiing music drawing, constructing or writing.

"This has happened with the advent of computers. The engineers for whom the graphic plotter driven by a computer represented nothing more than a means of solving certain problems visually, have occasionally become so interested in the possibilities of this visual output, that they have started to make drawings which bear no practical application, and for which the only real motives are the desire to explore, and the sheer pelasure of seeing a drawing materialize. Thus people who would never have put pencil to paper, or brush to canvas, have started making images, both still and animated, which approximate and often look identical to what we call 'art' and put in public galleries.

"This is the most important single revelation of this exhibition." 

Some copies of the special issue were purchased by Motif Editions of London.  Those copies do not include the ICA logo on the upper cover and do not print the price of 25s. They also substitute two blanks for the two leaves of ads printed in the back of the regular issue. They do not include the separate 4 leaves of programs of computer music.  These special copies were sold by Motif Editions with a large  (75 x 52 cm) portfolio containing seven 30 x 20 inch color lithographs with a descriptive table of contents. The artists included Masao Komura/Makoto Ohtake/Koji Fujino (Computer Technique Group); Masao Komura/Kunio Yamanaka (Computer Technique Group); Maugham S. Mason, Boeing Computer Graphics; Kerry Starnd, Charles "Chuck" Csuri/James Shaffer & Donald K. Robbins/ The art works were titled respectively 'Running Cola is Africa', 'Return to Square', 'Maughanogram', 'Human Figure', 'The Snail', 'Random War' & '3D Checkerboard Pattern'.  Copies of the regular edition contained a full-page ad for the Motif Editions portfolio for sale at £5 plus postage or £1 plus postage for individual prints.

In 1969 Frederick A. Praeger Publishers of New York and Washington, DC issued a cloth-bound second edition of the Cybernetic Serendipity catalogue with a dust jacket design adapted from the original Studio International cover. It was priced $8.95. The American edition probably coincided with the exhibition of the material at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. The Praeger edition included an index on p. 101, and no ads. Comparison of the text of the 1968 and 1969 editions shows that the 1969 edition contains numerous revisions and changes.

In 2005 Jasia Reichardt looked back on the exhibition with these comments:

"One of the journals dealing with the Computer and the Arts in the mid-sixties, was Computers and the Humanities. In September 1967, Leslie Mezei of the University of Toronto, opened his article on 'Computers and the Visual Arts' in the September issue, as follows: 'Although there is much interest in applying the computer to various areas of the visual arts, few real accomplishments have been recorded so far. Two of the causes for this lack of progress are technical difficulty of processing two-dimensional images and the complexity and expense of the equipment and the software. Still the current explosive growth in computer graphics and automatic picture processing technology are likely to have dramatic effects in this area in the next few years.' The development of picture processing technology took longer than Mezei had anticipated, partly because both the hardware and the software continued to be expensive. He also pointed out that most of the pictures in existence in 1967 were produced mainly as a hobby and he discussed the work of Michael Noll, Charles Csuri, Jack Citron, Frieder Nake, Georg Nees, and H.P. Paterson. All these names are familiar to us today as the pioneers of computer art history. Mezei himself too was a computer artist and produced series of images using maple leaf design and other national Canadian themes. Most of the computer art in 1967 was made with mechanical computer plotters, on CRT displays with a light pen or from scanned photographs. Mathematical equations that produced curves, lines or dots, and techniques to introduce randomness, all played their part in those early pictures. Art made with these techniques was instantaneously recognisable as having been produced either by mechanical means or with a program. It didn't actually look as if it had been done by hand. Then, and even now, most art made with the computer carries an indelible computer signature. The possibility of computer poetry and art was first mentioned in 1949. By the beginning of the 1950s it was a topic of conversation at universities and scientific establishments, and by the time computer graphics arrived on the scene, the artists were scientists, engineers, architects. Computer graphics were exhibited for the first time in 1965 in Germany and in America. 1965 was also the year when plans were laid for a show that later came to be called 'Cybernetic Serendipity' and presented at the ICA in London in 1968. It was the first exhibition to attempt to demonstrate all aspects of computer-aided creative activity: art, music, poetry, dance, sculpture, animation. The principal idea was to examine the role of cybernetics in contemporary arts. The exhibition included robots, poetry, music and painting machines, as well as all sorts of works where chance was an important ingredient. It was an intellectual exercise that became a spectacular exhibition in the summer of 1968" (http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/exhibitions/serendipity/images/1/, accessed 06-16-2012). This website reproduces photographs of the actual exhibition and a poster printed for the show.

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K. G. Pontius Hultén Curates "The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age" : An Art Exhibition November 27, 1968 – February 9, 1969

Swedish art collector and curator K. G. Pontius Hultén curated and wrote the catalogue for The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age, an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, from November 27, 1968 to February 9, 1969. This was a landmark exhibition on the history of the machine in its relationship to art from the Renaissance to 1968; or as the editor stated, it was "a collection of comments on technology by artists of the Western world" (p. 3). The art reproduced and described in the catalogue— including much that was radical for its time—was mainly in traditional media such as prints or paintings, sculptural or mechanical, with a few electro-mechanical items, and one example of laser art.

Only the last two items in the exhibition were examples of computer graphics, the first of which was a digitized and pixilated image of a reclining nude, entitled "The Nude," executed in 1966 Leon D. Harman and Kenneth C. Knowlton, researchers at Bell Labs. "Knowlton relates how they tossed a coin to determine who would be listed in the museum catalogue as the 'artist' (Harmon) and as the 'engineer' (Knowlton)" (Noll, First Hand: Early Digital Art at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc, accessed 01-19-2014).  Creation of "The Nude" as shown in a five foot by twelve enlargement was discussed in a New York Times article by Henry R. Lieberman entitled "Art and Science Proclaim Alliance in Avant-Garde Loft," October 11, 1967.

That the show took place only a month after the pioneering computer art show, Cybernetic Serendipity, closed in London, was probably a coincidence.

The design and production of the catalogue was unusually excellent, including a very striking binding of aluminum sheeting with a stamped enamel-painted design of the MOMA building on the upper cover.

In January 2014 all the press release documents, including detailed information about art exhibited, were available from the Museum of Modern Art website at this link.

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Lloyd Sumner Issues The First Monograph by a Computer Artist December 1968

Cover of Computer Art and Human Response by Lloyd Sumner.

In 1968 print dealer and book collector Paul B. Victorius of Charlottesville, Virginia published Computer Art and Human Response by computer artist Lloyd Sumner. This oblong 8vo of 96 pages, dedicated "To my good friends the Burroughs B5500 and the Calcomp 565," appears to be the first monograph by a computer artist, and because it explains techniques, it is probably the first book on how to produce computer art, as William Fetter's 1965 book on Computer Graphics in Communication was focused on computer graphics used in engineering.

Sumner's book is extensively illustrated with numerous plotter images output on the Calcomp 565, several of which are reproduced in color, making it one of the earliest books exclusively illustrated with computer graphics. Sumner's book was probably published in December 1968.  The text refers to Sumner's participation in the Cybernetic Serendipity show in London held from August to October 1968, indicating that "over 50,000 people" attended that show, and the introduction to the book by the president of the University of Virginia is dated August 1968. Two presentation copies in my collection are dated December 12 and 13 respectively.

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1970 – 1980

UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970 November 14, 1970

On November 14, 1970 UNESCO, meeting in Paris, created the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property

"The 1970 Convention requires its States Parties to take action in these main fields:  

"Preventive measures:

"Inventories, export certificates, monitoring trade, imposition of penal or administrative sanctions, educational campaigns, etc.

"Restitution provisions:

"Per Article 7 (b) (ii) of the Convention, States Parties undertake, at the request of the State Party "of origin", to take appropriate steps to recover and return any such cultural property imported after the entry into force of this Convention in both States concerned, provided, however, that the requesting State shall pay just compensation to an innocent purchaser or to a person who has valid title to that property. More indirectly and subject to domestic legislation, Article 13 of the Convention also provides provisions on restitution and cooperation.

"International cooperation framework:

"The idea of strengthening cooperation among and between States Parties is present throughout the Convention. In cases where cultural patrimony is in jeopardy from pillage, Article 9 provides a possibility for more specific undertakings such as a call for import and export controls" 

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Franke Issues the First Comprehensive Treatise on Computer Graphics with the First History of Computer Art 1971

Cover of Computergraphik-Computerkunst, by H.W. Franke. Please click on image to see larger version of image.

Herbert W. Franke.

In 1971 Austrian scientist, science fiction writer, and computer graphics artist Herbert W. Franke published Computergraphik-Computerkunst in Munich at the press of F. Bruckmann.  Within the same year his book was also translated into English by Gustav Metzger and published by Phaidon in London and New York as Computer Graphics, Computer Art. In many respects Franke's extensively illustrated book was the first comprehensive treatise on computer graphics, representing the state of the art in 1971.  It also contained the first history of computer art in graphics, sculpture, film, music, architecture, theater and dance.

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Mandelbrot's "The Fractal Geometry of Nature" 1975 – 1982

In 1975 French American mathematician, physicist, economist, and information theorist Benoit Mandelbrot, a researcher at the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, New York, first developed fractal geometry in his book, Les objets fractals, forme, hasard et dimension, building on the concept that seemingly irregular shapes can have identical structure at all scales. Mandelbrot expanded and translated his ideas in his book Fractals: Form, Chance and Dimension (1977). He further expanded them in The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1982). In 1999 American Scientist magazine stated that these three books, taken together, comprise “one of the ten most influential scientific essays of the 20th century.” The impact of these books on the scientific community, and on the educated public, was significantly enhanced by mathematically accurate computer-drawn illustrations created by programmers working with Mandelbrot, primarily at IBM Research. Images for the 1977 and 1982 books were mainly by Richard F. Voss. The early graphics were low-resolution black and white; later drawings were higher resolution and in color as computer graphic technology evolved between 1975 and 1982.

Mandelbrot's new geometry made it possible to describe mathematically the kinds of irregularities existing in nature, and had applications in an enormously wide range of scientific and technological fields.

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Vol Libre: The First Fractal CGI Movie 1979 – 1980

Having read Benoît Mandelbrot's 1977 book, Fractals: Form, Chance and Dimension, which described geometry of natural rough rather than smooth shapes, Loren Carpenter created a two-minute color film called Vol Libre to showcase his software for rendering realistic mountains and landscapes using fractal geometry at a SIGGRAPH conference in 1980. This was the first application of fractals in a computer-generated imagery (CGI) film. Production of each frame of the film required about 20-40 minutes of computing time on a VAX-11/780 computer. Prior to this film realistic animation in films had to be done by hand, frame by frame.

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1980 – 1990

Possibly the Earliest Electronic Publication on Art 1983

National Gallery of Art, a laserdisc or videodisc issued by Videodisc Publishing in 1983, was one of the earliest electronic publications on art.  The disc contained 1,645 images of paintings, drawings and prints from the National Gallery of Art Washington, D.C., plus two films about the museum.

Thanks to John Waite for this reference.

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The 1970 UNESCO Convention is Implemented in U.S. Law January 1983

"In 1972, the United States Senate gave its unanimous advice and consent to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. However, because the Convention did not have a basis in U.S. law, special legislation was required to allow the U.S. to implement it. In 1982, Congress passed the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (the "Act"), and President Ronald Reagan signed it into law in January 1983. The Act enables the U.S. government to implement Articles 7(b)(1) and 9 of the Convention. (See the Act as Public Law 97-446 (PDF); or as 19 U.S.C. 2601 et seq. (PDF))  

"Briefly, pursuant to Article 7(b)(1), States that are party to the Convention undertake to prohibit the importation of documented cultural property stolen from museums or religious or secular public monuments in another State Party to the Convention. Article 9 of the Convention allows any State Party whose cultural patrimony is in jeopardy from pillage to request assistance from other States Parties to carry out measures such as the control of exports, imports, and international commerce in the specific cultural materials concerned."

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Rediscovery of Electronic Images Created by Andy Warhol on an Amiga Computer 1985

On April 25, 2014 The Andy Warhol Museum (The Warhol) in Pittsburgh announced the discovery of previously unknown artistic experiments created by Warhol on an Amiga Computer in 1985. The electronic images, perserved on floppy discs, were commissioned by Amiga to demonstrate the graphic capabilities of their personal computer. They were found along with the computer and manuals that Warhol used. When this story was published I thought it was the first instance in which electronic imagery by a major artist was restored from obsolete software and an obsolete computer.

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The First Digital Image Database of Cultural Materials 1987

To photograph, store, and organize the art work of the painter, Andrew Wyeth in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, in 1987 Fred Mintzer, Henry Gladney and colleagues at IBM developed a high resolution digital camera for photographing art works and a PC-based database system to store and index the images. The system was used by Wyeth's staff to photograph, store, and organize about 10,000 images. "Pictures were scanned at a spatial resolution of 2500 by 3000 pixels and a color depth of 24 bits-per-pixel, and were color calibrated." This was the first digital image database of cultural materials.

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1990 – 2000

An Encoded Sculpture, Still Not Decoded November 3, 1990

On November 3, 1990 American sculptor James Sanborn completed the cryptographic sculpture, Kryptos, on the grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia.

"The name Kryptos comes from the Greek word for 'hidden', and the theme of the sculpture is 'intelligence gathering.' The most prominent feature is a large vertical S-shaped copper screen resembling a scroll, or piece of paper emerging from a computer printer, covered with characters comprising encrypted text. The characters consist of the 26 letters of the standard Roman alphabet and question marks cut out of the copper. This 'inscription' contains four separate enigmatic messages, each apparently encrypted with a different cipher."

"The ciphertext on one half of the main sculpture contains 869 characters in total, however Sanborn released information in April 2006 stating that an intended letter on the main half of Kryptos was missing. This would bring the total number of characters to 870 on the main portion. The other half of the sculpture comprises a Vigenère encryption tableau, comprising 869 characters, if spaces are counted. Sanborn worked with a retiring CIA employee named Ed Scheidt, Chairman of the CIA Cryptographic Center, to come up with the cryptographic systems used on the sculpture. Sanborn has since revealed that the sculpture contains a riddle within a riddle which will be solvable only after the four encrypted passages have been decrypted. He said that he gave the complete solution at the time of the sculpture's dedication to CIA director William H. Webster. However, in an interview for wired.com in January 2005, Sanborn said that he had not given Webster the entire solution. He did, however, confirm that where in part 2 it says "Who knows the exact location? Only WW," that "WW" was intended to refer to William Webster. He also confirmed that should he die before it becomes deciphered that there will be someone able to confirm the solution" (Wikipedia article on Kryptos, accessed 05-09-2009).

Steven Levy, "Mission Impossible: The Code that Even the CIA Can't Crack," Wired 17.05 (May 2009).

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Nina Katchadourian's Sorted Books Project 1993 – 2013

In 1993 Brooklyn, New York artist Nina Katchadourian began the Sorted Books project.

"The Sorted Books project began in 1993 years ago and is ongoing. The project has taken place in many different places over the years, ranging form private homes to specialized public book collections. The process is the same in every case: culling through a collection of books, pulling particular titles, and eventually grouping the books into clusters so that the titles can be read in sequence, from top to bottom. The final results are shown either as photographs of the book clusters or as the actual stacks themselves, shown on the shelves of the library they were drawn from. Taken as a whole, the clusters from each sorting aim to examine that particular library's focus, idiosyncrasies, and inconsistencies — a cross-section of that library's holdings. At present, the Sorted Booksproject comprises more than 130 book clusters" (http://www.ninakatchadourian.com/languagetranslation/sortedbooks.php, accessed 10-27-2013).

In 2013 Chronicle Books issued Katchadourian's book entitled Sorted Books with many color reproductions of her arrangements.

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"The Book and Beyond" Exhibition Takes Place April 7 – October 1, 1995

In its Design Now Room, 20th Century Gallery, The Victoria and Albert Museum in London held the exhibition The Book and Beyond. Electronic publishing and the art of the book. To accompany the exhibition from April 7 to October 1, 1995 the museum published a pamphlet. In 2001 they incorporated material in the pamphlet into a website.

The exhibition was divided into five sections:

1. Introduction

2. Artists' books and books as art

3. Artists' books and books as art

4. Electronic publications

"Various forms of "electronic publishing" - including videodiscs, "floppy books", CD-ROMs, and the Internet - have become increasingly evident in the 1980s and 1990s. Some electronic publications are based upon information which was previously available in a linear form, and they represent a natural progression from computer typesetting or video. Others have been conceived specifically to exploit the potential offered by the new media. The method of presentation is crucial to the success (or otherwise) of these publications, and designers and publishers are still learning to use the new technology."

5. Artists, computers and publishing

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The First Full-Time Online Webcam Girl April 1996 – 2003

In April 1996, during her junior year at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Internet personality and lifecaster Jennifer Ringley began the popular website, JenniCam. She was the first real full time online webcam girl.

"Previously, live webcams transmitted static shots from cameras aimed through windows or at coffee pots. Ringley's innovation was simply to allow others to view her daily activities.

"In June 2008, CNET hailed JenniCam as one of the greatest defunct websites in history.

"Regarded by some as a conceptual artist, Ringley viewed her site as a straight-forward document of her life. She did not wish to filter the events that were shown on her camera, so sometimes she was shown nude or engaging in sexual behavior, including sexual intercourse and masturbation. This was a new use of Internet technology in 1996 and viewers were stimulated both for its sociological implications and for sexual arousal. Surveillance became conceptual art, as noted by Mark Tribe in 'New Media Art':

In Web sites like JenniCAM, in which a young woman installed Web cameras in her home to expose her everyday actions to online viewers. . . surveillance became a source of voyeuristic and exhibitionistic excitement. . . Institutional surveillance and the invasion of privacy have been widely explored by New Media artists.'

"Ringley's genuine desires to maintain the purity of the cam-eye view of her life eventually created the need to establish that she was within her rights as an adult to broadcast such information, in the legal sense, and that it was not harmful to other adults. Unlike later for-profit webcam services, Ringley did not spend her day displaying her private parts, and she spent much more time discussing her romantic life than she did her sex life. Ringley maintained her webcam site for seven years" (Wikipedia article on Jennifer Ringley, accessed 05-08-2009).

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Rome is Reborn on Google Earth 1997

In 1997 the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) of the University of Virginia, the UCLA Cultural Virtual Reality Laboratory (CVRLab), the UCLA Experimential Technologies Center (ETC), the Reverse Engineering (INDACO) Lab at the Politecnico di Milano, the Ausonius Institute of the CNRS at the University of Bordeaux-3, and the University of Caen, lower Normandy, began collaboration on a project to create a digital model of ancient Rome as it appeared in late antiquity. The notional date of the model is June 21, 320 A.D.

"The primary purpose of this phase of the project was to spatialize and present information and theories about how the city looked at this moment in time, which was more or less the height of its development as the capital of the Roman Empire. A secondary, but important, goal was to create the cyberinfrastructure whereby the model could be updated, corrected, and augmented. Spatialization and presentation involve two related forms of communication: (1) the knowledge we have about the city has been used to reconstruct digitally how its topography, urban infrastructure (streets, bridges, aqueducts, walls, etc.), and individual buildings and monuments might have looked; and (2) whenever possible, the sources of archaeological information or speculative reasoning behind the digital reconstructions, as well as valuable online resources for understanding the sites of ancient Rome, have been made available to users. The model is thus a representation of the state of our knowledge (and, implicitly, of our ignorance) about the urban topography of ancient Rome at various periods of time. Beyond this primary use, the model can function in other ways. It can be used to teach students or the general public about how the city looked; it can be used to gather data not otherwise available, such as the alignment of built features in the city with respect to each other or to natural features and phenomena; and, it can be used to run urban or architectural experiments not otherwise possible, such as how well the city or the buildings within it functioned in terms of heating and ventilation, illumination, circulation of people, etc. Finally, a digital model can be easily updated to reflect corrections to the model or new archaeological discoveries."

"Starting on June 11, 2007, when the model of ancient Rome was first shown publicly at a ceremony in Rome, a number of video fly-throughs and static images of the model were posted for free public viewing online. In August, 2008, the alpha version of Rome Reborn 2.0 was demonstrated at SIGGRAPH held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. In November, 2008, the latest version of Rome Reborn 1.0 was published to the Internet as in Google Earth." (quotations from the Rome Reborn website of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia, accessed 01-21-2009)

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Digital Scriptorium is Founded November 1997

Logo of digital scriptorium page on Bancroft Library website.

Detail of partial screen shot of digital scriptorium website (as of October 2013).  Please click on image to view entire image.

In November 1997 Digital Scriptorium, an image database of medieval and renaissance manuscripts, hosted by Columbia University Libraries, was founded. It united scattered resources from many institutions into an international tool for teaching and scholarly research.

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The Digital Michelangelo Project 1998

Marc Levoy and team began The Digital Michelangelo Project at Stanford University in 1998 using laser scanners to digitize the statues of Michelangelo, as well as 1,163 fragments of the Forma Urbis Romae, a giant marble map of ancient Rome.

The quality of the scans was so high that the Italian government would not permit the release of the full data set on the Internet; however, the Stanford researchers built a system called ScanView that allowed viewing of details of specific parts of the statue, including parts that would be inaccessible to a normal museum visitor. In December 2013 Scanview could be downloaded at this link.

The laser scan data for Michelangelo's David was utilized in its cleaning and restoration that began in September 2002. This eventually resulted in a 2004 book entitled Exploring David: Diagnostic Tests and State of Conservation.

"In preparation for this restoration, the Galleria dell'Accademia undertook an ambitious 10-year program of scientific study of the statue and its condition. Led by Professor Mauro Matteini of CNR-ICVBC, a team of Italian scientists studied every inch of the statue using color photography, radiography (i.e. X-rays), ultraviolet fluorescence and thermographic imaging, and several other modalities. In addition, by scraping off microsamples and performing in-situ analyses, the mineralogy and chemistry of the statue and its contaminants were characterized. Finally, finite element structural analyses were performed to determine the origin of hairline cracks that are visible on his ankles and the tree stump, to decide if intervention was necessary. (They decided it wasn't; these cracks arose in 1871, when the statue briefly tilted forward 3 degrees due to settling of the ground in the Piazza Signoria. This tilt was one of the reasons they moved the statue to the Galleria dell'Accademia.)  

"The results of this diagnostic campaign are summarized in the book Exploring David . . . . The book, written in English, also contains a history of the statue and its past restorations, a visual analysis of the chisel marks of Michelangelo as evident from the statue surface, and an essay by museum director Franca Falletti on the difficulties of restoring famous artworks. . . .  

"Aside from its sweeping scientific vision, what is remarkable about this book is that many of the studies employed a three-dimensional computer model of the statue - the model created by us during the Digital Michelangelo Project. Although we worked hard to create this model, and we envisioned 3D models eventually being used to support art conservation, we did not expect such uses to become practical so soon. After all, our model of the David is huge; outside our laboratory and a few others in the computer graphics field, little software exists that can manipulate such large models. However, with help from Roberto Scopigno and his team at CNR-Pisa, museum director Franca Falletti prodded, encouraged, and cajoled the scientists working under her direction to use our model wherever possible. We contributed a chapter to this book, on the scanning of the statue, but we take no credit for its use in the rest of the book. In fact, to us at Stanford University, the timing of our scanning project relative to the statue's restoration and the creation of this book seems merely fortuitious. However, Falletti insists that she had this use of our model in mind all along! In any case, this is a landmark book - the most extensive use that has ever been made of a 3D computer model in an art conservation project" (http://graphics.stanford.edu/projects/mich/book/book.html, accessed 12-23-2009).

On July 21, 2009 the team announced that they had a "full-resolution (1/4mm) 3D model of Michelangelo's 5-meter statue of David", containing "about 1 billion polygons."

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2000 – 2005

"Grand Text Auto" A Group Blog May 2003 – May 2009

Grand Text Auto logo

In May 2003 Mary Flanagan, Michael Mateas, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg, Andrew Stern, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin founded the group blog Grand Text Auto. It was 

"about computer mediated and computer generated works of many forms: interactive fiction, net.art, electronic poetry, interactive drama, hypertext fiction, computer games of all sorts, shared virtual environments, and more."

In May 2009 GTxA became "an aggregator for a distributed group of blogs in which we participate. The authors of these blogs work as both theorists and developers, and are interested in authorship, design, and technology, as well as issues of interaction and reception."

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2005 – 2010

Pixar at MOMA December 14, 2005

The Pixar logo

A poster for Pixar at the Moma

The Moma

On December 14, 2005 the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, opened PIXAR: 20 Years of Animation:

"The Most Extensive Gallery Exhibition that MoMA has ever devoted to Animation along with a Retrospective of Pixar Features and Shorts."

Notably MoMA found it unnecessary to characterize the exhibition as "computer animation" since by this time virtually all animation was done by computer. They published a 175 page printed catalogue of the exhibition.

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Damage to Codex Atlanticus Caused by Efforts at Preservation April 2006

A self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci in red chalk

A unique edition of the Codex Atlanticus as it was in the 1600s. The book is a box made by Pompeo Leoni to collect all of the pages made by Mario Taddei in 2007

In April 2006 Carmen Bambach of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York discovered an extensive invasion of molds of various colors, "including black, red, and purple, along with swelling of pages" on the priceless manuscripts of Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus, preserved in the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana in Milan. 

In 2008 The Opificio delle Pietre Dure, in Florence "determined that the colors found on the pages weren't the product of mold, but instead caused by mercury salts added to protect the Codex from mold."

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The "Print Clock" Method for Dating Printing June 20, 2006

S. Blair Hedges

Borrowing a technique from genetics,on June 20, 2006 S. Blair Hedges, professor at biology at Penn State, University Park, Pennsylvania published  "A method for dating early books and prints using image analysis," Proc. R. Soc. Lond. A: Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences 462 (2006) 3555-3573, describing the "print clock" method for dating examples of printing, including books and copperplates, issued from hand-operated presses. A supplementary appendix was available from Hedges' website

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The World's Oldest Oil Paintings Restored After Taliban Dynamite February 19, 2008

"The oldest known oil painting, dating from 650 A.D., has been found in caves in Afghanistan's Bamiyan Valley, according to a team of Japanese, European and U.S. scientists.

"The discovery reverses a common perception that the oil painting, considered a typically Western art, originated in Europe, where the earliest examples date to the early 12th century A.D.

"Famous for its 1,500-year-old massive Buddha statues, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, the Bamiyan Valley features several caves painted with Buddhist images.

"Damaged by the severe natural environment and Taliban dynamite, the cave murals have been restored and studied by the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo, as a UNESCO/Japanese Fund-in-Trust project.

"Since most of the paintings have been lost, looted or deteriorated, we are trying to conserve the intact portions and also try to understand the constituent materials and painting techniques," Yoko Taniguchi, a researcher at the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo, told Discovery News.

" 'It was during such analysis that we discovered oily and resinous components in a group of wall paintings.'

"Painted in the mid-7th century A.D., the murals have varying artistic influences and show scenes with knotty-haired Buddhas in vermilion robes sitting cross-legged amid palm leaves and mythical creatures.

"Most likely, the paintings are the work of artists who traveled on the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China, across Central Asia's desert to the West" (http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/02/19/oldest-oil-painting.html, accessed 07-11-2009).

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Raphael's Madonna of the Goldfinch Restored 450 Years after it was Nearly Destroyed October 30, 2008

The Italian Renaissance painter Raphael's masterpiece, Madonna of the Goldfinch, which survived the collapse of a palace and more than four centuries of decay, reached the completion of a ten year restoration process, and on October 30, 2008 was returned to the Uffizi gallery with a strengthened canvas and its colors restored to their original radiance.

"Raphael painted this work around 1505 for the wedding of his friend Lorenzo Nasi, a rich merchant in Florence. When Nasi’s palace collapsed in 1548, the painting was shredded into 17 pieces. The work was first put together with pieces of wood and long nails. The work later developed a yellowish opaque color. Restorers feared touching it because it was very fragile."

"The painting features a seated Mary with John the Baptist passing on a goldfinch to Jesus as a forewarning of his violent death. The bird has been associated in art with Christ's crucifixion.

"The restoration work began in 1999 using X-rays, microscopes, and lasers to find and seal the ancient fractures."

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"Tango with Cows" : A Virtual Exhibition November 18, 2008

Cover of Tango with Cows, Vasily Kamensky.  Please click on image to view larger image.

On November 18, 2008 The Getty Museum opened an exhibition entitled Tango with Cows: Book Art of the Russian Avant-Garde 1910-1917. On the website of the show you could turn the pages of virtual copies of rare art books exhibited, view English translations, and hear readings of the text in Russian. (I last accessed the website in December 2013).

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Probably the Most Expensive Single Volume Printed Edition Ever Published December 2, 2008

On December 2, 2008, the day after the U.S. government officially declared the U.S. in recession, visitors to the New York Public Library viewed the