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1 July, Archive Newsletter

Welcome to the Forum newsletter for our latest round-up of news and cultural events from the Early Modern period.

There are several Calls for Papers out at the moment, all for conferences later this year, which may be of interest. Beliefs Under Pressure: Religion, Community and Identity in the Early Modern World is being held at the University of East Anglia on 10 September, and promises a lively and informal forum where graduate students and early career researchers can discuss ideas about the social and cultural history of religion and community, c. 1500-1800. To put forward a proposal for papers of 20 minutes length, submit an abstract of 300 words and brief CV to by 6 July. There is more information here .

There is a call for papers for Netherlandish Art and Luxury Goods in Renaissance Spain, to be held at Leuven, from 4-6 February, 2016. The deadline is 1 October, and there is more information here . The conference is being held to celebrate Illuminare, the Centre for the Study of Medieval Art (KU Leuven), acquiring the archive of the Belgian art historian Professor Jan Karel Steppe, which should be archived and made accessible online by spring 2016.

The Society for Renaissance Studies is holding its seventh biennial conference from 18-20 July 2016 at the University of Glasgow, with information on the call for papers here .

The Shakespeare Magazine has also informed us that the free edition number seven can be read now, here .

In other news, in the Guardian, Veronica Horwell told the story of the staging of a play about Napolean’s defeat at Philip Astley’s Amphitheatre in 1824, with equine stars, orchestra and explosions which dazzled audiences, and set the pattern for military drama. Astley had been a sergeant major in the Light Dragoons, teaching animals and cavalrymen drill, and then opened his amphitheatre as a performance space. He returned to the army for the wars with France in 1793, and died in 1814, but sent back ideas for equine scenes throughout. His successors’ biggest hit was The Battle of Waterloo, staged in 1824, with its own stories from the battle, which ran for an unprecedented 144 performances in its first year and was revived into the 1860s.

Sarah Kaplan in the Independent, wrote about how a Rembrandt painting split in two in the nineteenth century and later thought not to be by Rembrandt at all has now been reunited and gone on show at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, after investigative work and restoration by art historians at the museum who are also sure they have proved its authenticity. Saul and David was thought to have been painted between 1646-1652.


Agents of Empire by Noel Malcolm was reviewed by Jerry Brotton in the Telegraph, who said it was “a quite miraculous feat”, and a magisterial history of the Renaissance which uncovered the forgotten frontier where East meets West. The author had combined the stories of late sixteenth century Europe’s winners and losers with its mediators, such as knights, pirates, priests and spies, from the viewpoint of Albania and the Adriatic coast, where Muslims and Christians, and Italians and Turks met and sometimes clashed. The story was told through the lives of two Albanian families in the sixteenth century, drawn from manuscripts and texts in Albanian, Serbo-Croat, Macedonian, Romanian and “various West European languages”. Brotton said there were few scholars with Malcolm’s linguistic skills and historical vision, which was one reason why this was such an important book.

Deeper than Indigo by Jenny Balfour-Paul was reviewed by Victoria Finlay in the Independent. The book covers the life of Thomas Machell, the writer and painter of a journal found in the British Library and shown to the author in 1999, including a sketch entitled “Indigo planters after tiffin”. Machell was caught up in the First Opium War, and later became an indigo planter in Bengal. Extraordinary coincidences including the finding of old documents about Machell added to the intrigue of the book, the reviewer found.

Boswell’s Enlightenment by Robert Zaretsky was reviewed by James Campbell in the Guardian. He found it a portrait of a Scottish diarist whose illiberal attitudes to love, death and religion did not seem to match his admiration for great eighteenth century thinkers. Boswell even tried to procure a wife by proposing a highly restrictive contract to the woman’s father, which included her not arguing with him about religion. The reviewer found that although the book was only 288 pages, it felt padded out, with unnecessary references to other academic colleagues.

The Courtly and Commercial Art of the Wycliffite Bible by Kathleen E. Kennedy was reviewed by Dr Eyal Poleg, of Queen Mary, University of London, on the website. Dr Poleg found that the book, especially the second half, brought a new discourse to the study of Wycliffite Bibles, and instead of heresy and belief, the author discussed artistic influences, workshops and styles, to bring manuscripts of Wycliffite Bibles into the realm of book production and usage, contributing to the study of late medieval England.

Revolutions Without Borders by Janet Polasky was reviewed in the Guardian by Gavin Jacobson who said it was a bold and captivating chronicle of the radicals whose ideals crossed continents in the age of enlightenment. The author told the story of travellers who ignored national borders to spread ideas of liberty and equality, from the American revolution to the declaration of Haitian independence in 1804. They included people as varied as “English abolitionists, Irish clergymen, American diplomats, Genevan exiles, Polish soldiers, African students, former slaves from the Caribbean, French tourists and Dutch translators”. Jacobson said Polasky displayed good powers of storytelling in describing how reports of revolution in France trickled into the Caribbean and at weaving the biographies of her characters into a broader international story, but she did not reduce eighteenth century revolutionaries to a homogenous group.

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett was reviewed by Ruth Scurr in the Guardian. It spans centuries, but in looking at humans’ relationship with rain it included mentions of witchcraft persecutions peaking in Europe 1500-1600, when there were decades of climate extremes, with floods, freezes and harvest failures, with bad weather breeding superstition. It also looked at the creation of weather forecasting between 1800-1870.

Byron’s Letters and Journals, a New Selection edited by Richard Lansdown was reviewed in the Independent by Fiona Sampson who said the book was attractive and overdue, with Lansdown picking 500 plus footnoted pages “aimed not at scholars and students, but intelligent readers of literary prose”, and felt the only thing not to like about the book was Byron.


A new exhibition at Tate Britain until September 13 was criticised in the Telegraph by Alastair Smart, who said it was badly organised and frustrating. Fighting History tried to show that Britain had a rich, alternative tradition of history painting, with one of the earliest paintings on show Gavin Hamilton’s Agrippina Landing at Brindisium with the Ashes of Germanicus, from 1765. But in the nineteenth century when Britain had success with its empire, focus had changed oddly to landscapes and domestic scenes, with the Impressionists killing off history painting. Smart said the story needed to be told chronologically, but here it is dealt with thematically. The exhibition is on until September 13. Jonathan Jones in the Guardian found it a glib cliché, and suggested better uses for the £12 entrance fee than “this feeble and half-hearted saunter through history and art”, with eighteenth and nineteenth century history paintings largely ignored. One nugget was The Death of Captain Cook painted by Zoffany in 1795.

Palladian manor Houghton Hall , built by Sir Robert Walpole in Norfolk in the 1720s, is the focus of an art work by James Turrell, who has used dazzling lights and vivid projections to transform it. In the Telegraph Benjamin Secher said his illuminated works bordered on the transcendental. It is on show until October 24. In the Guardian, Jonathan Jones found it a psychedelic legal high in the English countryside. The house, near King’s Lynn in Norfolk, is owned by the Marquess of Cholmondeley, a collector of Turrell’s art.

Unfinished… is the title of the summer exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery in London, focusing on works that are not perfectly finished, and Jonathan Jones wrote about it in the Guardian. It includes what he called fascinating examples of unfinished Renaissance works including Piero del Vaga’s Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist from 1528-37, with only two finished figures of Jesus and John, and Palma Vecchio’s Venus in a Landscape from about 1520, with a nude woman against an unfinished landscape. Jones argued unfinished art provokes the imagination. The exhibition is on until September 20.


In the Guardian, Alexis Soloski said Doctor Faustus , being staged by the Classic Stager Company in New York, fel flat, with “diabolical sing-alongs, awful fight choreography and star Chris Noth wishing he were somewhere else”. He said this production of Marlowe’s Elizabethan tragedy was also lacklustre, with any sense of impetus sacrificed for some stage magic and a detachment from the text.

The Tempest , as performed by Delacorte Theater in Central Park, New York, was reviewed by Alexis Soloski in the Guardian, who said the beautiful outdoor setting could not obscure the production’s shortcomings, as it failed to ignite.

Othello at the RSC in Stratford was reviewed by Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph, who said casting Lucian Msamati as Iago offered a crucial shift of perspective which was long overdue, as “a blow is struck for diversity without at all diluting the play’s perturbing power”. It turned attentionfrom racism and racial difference as motivators, and made both Iago and Othello outsiders, creating a “fascinating psychological dynamic”. The play is on until August 28. In the Independent , Paul Taylor said Msamati’s excellent Iago still showed wounded racial pride, but it made it harder for the actor to convey the “inexplicable, terrifying nihilism of Iago's destructive drive”, with Othello’s outsider status somewhat diffused by the multi-cultural circumstances. Taylor said the production raised fascinating questions and grips throughout.

In the Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish wrote about King John which was on at the Globe in London until June 27, and said the well-judged revival made it clear we are still in the grip of the uncertainly Shakespeare’s drama conveys. It also gave the context which led to the Magna Carta, the 800th anniversary of which has also just been marked.