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Archive newsletter, 6 August 2015

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

Work in Coventry to make the undercroft of the old Cathedral watertight revealed some parts not seen for many years. There were memorial stones dating back to the eighteenth century, including one of a woman reported to have died aged 100, and some linked to the Coventry Charterhouse. Also uncovered was a wall of the thirteenth century Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Hill by the Cemetery.

There have been a number of interesting calls for papers. These include The Senses in Medieval and Renaissance Europe: Sight and Visual Perception in Dublin in March 2016, Shakespeare and his Contemporaries in Florence , April 2016 and Self-commentary in Early Modern European Literature at Durham in February 2016, and Love Letters in London, in January 2016, which looks at those letters through the ages. Registration is also now open for conferences Art and Science in the Early Modern Low Countries (ca 1560-1730) organised by the Rijksmuseum and the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands in September in Amsterdam and Samuel Daniel, Poet and Historian: A Two-day Conference , also in September, in London. In October, Professor Alexandra Walsham is giving the Neale Lecture at UCL, with more information about her topic on 'Talking Toleration in Early Modern England' here .

The Guardian reported that Kew Gardens is to restore its great pagoda, with its 80 winged dragons returning. The structure was inspired by China’s Porcelain Tower and was unveiled in 1762, though the dragons seemed to have disappeared in the decade after that. Experts from the Historical Royal Palaces are going through architectural archives to find evidence for the dragons. It was thought one had been found in a local authority store last year, but it turned out to be part of a sign for a public toilet. It is thought the real dragons were made of lacquered carved wood, and it is hoped the work will be finished by 2017.

A rare medieval panel has been effectively given to the National Gallery in an unusual deal which will see it shared, until his death, with the man paying nearly £5m to buy it. The 700-year-old painting Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and Other Saints by Giovanni da Rimini was in the collection of the Dukes of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle from 1853, and sold at auction last summer to American cosmetics heir Ronald S Lauder. The government placed a temporary export ban on the painting, but no gallery could raise £4.9 million to buy it. Now Lauder has given the National Gallery the money on the grounds it will be loaned to him in his lifetime, and will be displayed in the gallery in 2017 and every three years after that. After his death, it will hang permanently in the National Gallery.

French auctioneers sold masks and statues considered sacred by two Native American tribes, despite opposition from indigenous groups who had spent years demanding the pieces be handed over. The sale raised more than €400,000. The Hopi Tribe Council and Pueblo of Acoma said they were illegally exported from the US but this was rejected by the French Board of Auction Sales. The prime lot was a fifteenth century wooden idol, sold for €120,000.


Writing Fashion in Early Modern Italy: From Sprezzatura to Satire by Eugenia Paulicelli was reviewed by Dr Cordelia Warr of the University of Manchester who said the author focused on the literature of fashion in writing from the period, and the book is divided into sections considering the culture of fashion, the fabric of cities and fashion as excess. Dr Warr said the “focus on ‘writing’ fashion allows the reader a fascinating insight into the ways in which dress shaped and was shaped by discourse which ranged much further than clothing the body”. A stronger methodological basis for the images used would have been good though.

Spanish Fashion at the Courts of Early Modern Europe edited by José Luis Colomer and Amalia Descalzo was reviewed by Professor Tara Zanardi of Hunter College, who said it provided a useful introduction to Spanish fashion of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with “in-depth essays that treat distinct themes relating to its dissemination at courts throughout Europe”. It comprises an introduction co-authored by the editors and five sections, each with several essays to total 29, by scholars from the disciplines of history, art history, fashion history, material culture, and literature who examine the subject through myriad lenses. Professor Zanardi concluded the anthology is well suited for undergraduate study and advanced research in art history, material culture and fashion history. A short historiography would also have been useful, as would some concluding remarks.

Fashion Prints in the Age of Louis XIV: Interpreting the Art of Elegance edited by Kathryn Norberg and Sandra Rosenbaum was reviewed by David Pullins from Harvard University. It is the record of a symposium held in 2005, following the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)’s acquisition of a bound album of 190 hand-colored French fashion plates published between approximately 1670 and 1695. The 14 essays are described as the first sustained analysis of a print form mass produced in France at the end of the seventeenth century. There is also included recent work which has appeared since the symposium. The reviewer concluded that the publication is “an important step forward in addressing an enormous – even paralysingly large – body of visual material that has stayed too long unintegrated with our understanding of art and culture at the turn of the 18th century”.

Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England by Vivienne Richmond was reviewed by Dr Sally Tuckett of the University of Glasgow who said the author noted that the clothing of the poor in this period was often mentioned in writings about them, but rarely discussed or analysed, and she remedies that omission. Dr Tuckett said the book is an important and welcome addition to literature on non-elite members of society.

The Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-Century America by Kate Haulman was reviewed by Professor Gaye Wilson of the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies who said the author used fashion as a platform to “explore the dynamics of gender relations, societal hierarchies and issues of trans-Atlantic commerce within the politics of 18th-century America, from colonies to republic”. She includes in fashion, hair dressing, manners and ways of presentation. The book is mostly chronological, and begins with early colonial society, then political unrest, revolution and ending with the presidential election of 1800. Despite some quibbles, Professor Wilson said there was much to be learned from the work, and that discussions of gender power, position of women in society and interplay with the commercial and political worlds “are well informed and insightful”.

Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution by Rebecca Spang and The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution by Timothy Tackett were reviewed by Dr Dave Andress of the University of Portsmouth who said both discussed the central historical dilemma of how could people in revolutionary times know how to trust everyday social interactions when the normal things of life were so displaced. Tackett’s approach is a narrative history of the years running up to “the Terror”, and how 1793-4 became possible. Of Spang’s work he said it has “the close reading of different forms of evidence and innovative reflection on layers of social experience that characterised her earlier book on the history of the restaurant”. Dr Andress recommended Tackett’s book as a fount of useful chronological clarity on the Revolutions’s political history, but recommended Spang's work for the more advanced or specialist reader for the penetrating questions it asks. Rebecca Spang presented some of the work in the book at the Warwick Center for Eighteenth-century Studies in Autumn 2013 and participated in the first “Luxury” conference that Maxine Berg hosted in 1996.

The Angel and the Cad: Love, Loss and Scandal in Regency England by Geraldine Roberts was reviewed in the Guardian by Paula Byrne, who said it was about the tragic tale of the Wiltshire heiress Catherine Tylney who became England’s richest woman at 15, and whose life was wrecked by the wastrel she married in 1812. The reviewer said Geraldine Roberts’s research was far ranging and she had scoured the archives to find a story worth telling, though with some annoyances such as calling it a rags to riches story although Catherine was born in to exceptional wealth.

The Mistress of Cliveden by Natalie Livingstone was reviewed in the Telegraph by Juliet Nicolson who found it “deliciously enjoyable”. Cliveden achieved fame as the place where government minister John Profumo met Christine Keeler in 1961and scandal ensued, but this book tells the story of five of its more privileged inhabitants going back to 1660 when it was built by the Duke of Buckingham for his lover.

In the TLS , three garden-related histories were reviewed by Jenny Uglow: A Natural History of Gardening by Mark Laird, The Gardens of the British Working Class by Margaret Willes, and Growing Space: A History of the Allotment Movement by Lesley Acton. She said Laird’s book looked at first like coffee-table fare but is a “trove of scholarship, packed with new research, illuminating the development of the English landscape garden from 1650 to 1800”. Willes’s book turns to books of advice for gardeners since Tudor times, looking at books of advice, records of artisan florist societies, household recipes and government reports as well as diaries and autobiographies. A detail was the topographer John Norden noting in 1607 how the sandy soils of Essex were good for carrot roots, “a beneficial fruit”. Lesley Acton’s book was a guide to the development of allotments from urban plots in eighteenth-century cities and the efforts of rural landowners after enclosures.

The Invention of Improvement: Information and material progress in seventeenth-century England by Paul Slack was reviewed by Alexandra Walsham, Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge in the TLS. She said the book was a “refreshing and thought provoking” attempt to understand how the language of improvement and progress has gained its meaning and where the concepts came from. The book charts the emergence of an idea that it was possible to enhance collective prosperity and happiness through human initiative and ingenuity, originally in agriculture, industry, commerce and social welfare. Professor Walsham said some may challenge the book’s larger claims but it will encourage lively debate about the interconnections between culture and economics.


Medals of the Sun King at the British Museum was reviewed by Alastair Smart in the Telegraph who said the collection of medals commissioned by Louis XIV throughout his reign is the most elaborate self-portrait in art history. Often the scenes are historical, but some are also allegorical. The exhibition is on until November 15.

Pierre-Paul Prud'hon: Napoleon's Draughtsman at Dulwich Picture Gallery was reviewed by Alastair Smart who said the title was stretching a point, but “with draughtsmanship this stunningly sensual, who cares”. There are no pictures of Napolean, but Prud’hon was well-regarded at the Bonaparte court, winning commissions to paint revolutionary allegories in public spaces. The reviewer said his lyrical, expressive style deserved a bigger show than this, which included his paintings too. The exhibition is on until November 15.

In the Guardian, Maev Kennedy wrote about a new exhibition which features highly-personal paintings of Constable’s family garden, painted at the time of his parents’ death. They are on show as part of an exhibition at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich until September 6.

In an extract in the Guardian from his last book, Michael Jacobs wrote about how his desire to unlock the mysteries of a painting which had been a lifelong passion, Velázquez’s Las Meninas, began.


In an article in the Guardian, Steven Poole looked at “why the Merchant of Venice is on the money”, as the latest RSC production was screened in cinemas. He said it struck a nerve, yet also warns against the language of money infecting our lives and loves.

The Guardian also looked at As You Like It, and spoke to two actors who played the role of the cross-dressing heroine Rosalind 40 years apart to explain how they each approached the role. They are Ronald Pickup and Michelle Terry.

Richard II at Shakespeare’s Globe until October 18 was reviewed by Paul Taylor in the Independent, who said it was highly recommended and was a lucid and compelling performance directed by Simon Godwin. Charles Edwards’s portrayal of Richard (right) played him as effete but not effeminate, and with a journey from unfeeling monarch to frightened human being which pierced the heart.

*We would welcome news of your recently-published journal articles or books, and forthcoming conferences. You can email Newsletter Author Julie Chamberlain at with details.