Hello, all my lovely followers! Long time no see! Sorry for the prolonged lack of original posts, but I’ve been crazy busy at my new job as Library Technician at Smithsonian Libraries (@smithsonianlibraries)! I’m working primarily at the Cullman Library in the Natural History Museum, which houses the Smithsonian’s special collections relating to natural history, although I’ve also spent some time at the Dibner Library, which is home to special collections relating to the physical sciences.
Although I’ve only been there for two months, I’ve had the opportunity to do and see some amazing things! From a shelving unit for miniature books to a well-loved 13th century Armenian manuscript (MSS 1675B), the Libraries are truly full of wonders great and small. One of my favorites is the volvelle, or rotating calculator, found in a 16th century alchemical manuscript (MSS 867B)– I just love it when books are interactive! Expect more from that one in the future.
Today is the Ides of March—infamous day of Julius Caesar’s assassination in ancient Rome in 44 B.C. The “Ides” were part of the Roman calendar, signifying the midpoint of the month.
In his diary entry on the Ides 60 years ago today, the Getty’s founder J. Paul Getty wrote, “2000 years ago today Julius Caesar was assassinated. I have always considered him as the ablest man that history records. A consummate statesman, politician, general, orator, prose writer, builder and a very human man with great personal charm. For his day he was a man of good character and kindness. His one great weakness was his inability to distinguish between the possible and the impossible. Had he lived another 15 or 20 years the history of the world might have been different.”
Fun fact: the month of July is named after Julius Caesar, who was divinized by the Romans after his death.
I got to attend the New York Antiquarian Book Fair for the first time on Friday! It was so lovely to see all of my booky friends, as well as to see the wonders everyone brought to sell– from the very small to the very large, from gorgeously tooled leather to embroidered cloth, and from fore edge to spine, everything was dazzling! If you can ever get to an antiquarian book fair, even if you don’t have the money to buy anything, I highly recommend it! It’s such a treat to see the wide variety of books that are out there, and to wonder at their beauty.
With thanks to @maggs-bros , Sokol Books, Quaritch, Jonathan A. Hill, @justincroft-blog and everyone else ♥
Getty Museum curators and Kristen Collins and Bryan C. Keene are organizing an exhibition for early 2018 on outcasts, prejudice, and persecution in the European Middle Ages. One story they look forward to telling is that of Bagoas (Bagoe), Alexander the Great’s lover. They write:
Some subjects were deemed unfit for medieval readers and were therefore altered. For example, the world ruler Alexander the Great had a range of lovers or companions, including the young man Hephaistion. In the Middle Ages, numerous accounts of Alexander’s life were produced, from France and Byzantium to Persia and India. In a version written by a Portuguese humanist for the Burgundian court, Alexander’s handsome eunuch-lover called Bagoas is cast as a beautiful woman in order to “avoid a bad example,” as the author phrased it.
Throughout an illuminated copy of the text at the Getty, Bagoas wears lavish garments. In one instance, her ability to influence Alexander’s decisions—as a seductive or persuasive woman—is contrasted with the warrior-like Amazon women, who desire to bear a child by Alexander. This transgendering made the story more acceptable; it also reaffirms the impossibility of creating straightforward categories or binaries.
Medieval authors and artists often made considerable changes to well-known and beloved stories. Readers and viewers understood these alterations as part of the process of history writing, or more precisely, of moralized and multiple-perspective histories.
Bagoas Pleads on Behalf of Nabarzanes, about 1470–75, Master of the Jardin de vertueuse consolation and assistant, from Livre des fais d’Alexandre le grant (Book of the Deeds of Alexander the Great). The J. Paul Getty Museum
You have to be really careful as a medieval decorator. In the Middle Ages the sequence of making a book was as follows: first the scribe copied the text, painstakingly, sweating over a single parchment page for up to half a day; and then the decorator would add color. This meant, of course, that the brush of the latter artist was hovering over a completed page. These images show what could go wrong if gravity got the upper hand in this balancing act: a drop of blue paint fell from the brush onto the parchment page. The decorator must not have seen it, because the thick drop was allowed to dry and travel through time: the 700-years-old human error is now a pretty sight.
Pics (my own): Leiden, University Library, BPL 64 (13th century).