Welcome to the Forum newsletter for our latest round-up of news and cultural events from the Early Modern period.
We start today with news about the £27 million Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth which has opened to the public, with the Tudor ship itself at its centre, surrounded by thousands of objects raised from its wreck. The Guardian wrote about how techniques used in murder investigations have been used to reconstruct faces of crew members of Henry VIII’s flagship, and found them to be short, strong and with terrible teeth. There is also the archer, the tallest man at 5ft 10in, and the ship’s dog. The ship sank in 1545, with nearly 400 deaths, and was raised in 1982.
Moving forward a few centuries in seafaring, a letter apparently written by Admiral Lord Nelson (below right) sold for £9,000 at auction and shed more light on the bitter rivalry at the time between the French and English, with Nelson calling his French counterparts 'thieves, murderers, oppressors and infidels'. The Daily Telegraph reports that the four-page letter was written in the aftermath of the 1799 Battle of the Nile, where he defeated Napoleon's fleet off Egypt.
A work entitled The Embarkation of St Helena to the Holy Land, which belongs to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and was attributed to Adrea Schiavone, has now been re-attributed to his more famous contemporary, Tintoretto. The re-attribution is one of several come about during a huge project to catalogue and digitise 22,000 pre-1900 continental European oil paintings in UK public collections. An exhibition showing the most interesting discoveries, Research On Paintings: Technical Art History and Connoisseurship, is running at the V&A until 22 September.
A collection of old master drawings is going on display to celebrate the 330th birthday of the Ashmolean in Oxford, one of the oldest public museums in the world. The Guardian reports that the exhibition includes a wall of drawings by Michelangelo, a fifteenth century sketch by Durer, which is the oldest known example of an artist recording his travels in watercolour, a drawing of the Transfiguration by Raphael, and two tiny drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. Master Drawings is on until August 18.
A new website, WhatJaneSaw , aims to replicate in virtual fashion one of the fashionable gatherings Jane Austen went to on one of her many trips to London. In May 1813 she attended the exhibition of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s paintings at the British Institution in Pall Mall. Austen expert Janine Barchas at the University of Texas has reconstructed the virtual visit from the visitor’s guide, accounts in newspapers, and known measurements of the room.
A landscape of storm clouds and sunlight over Salisbury Cathedral has been bought by the Tate for £23.1 million. Salisbury Cathedral from the Water Meadows has been one of the best-loved paintings in the National Gallery in London for decades, but it was on loan from the Ashton family, which owned it since 1850. By the time the family wanted to sell the National was committed to buying a Titian, so Tate Britain has purchased it, and it will be shared between regional museums who will take turns to show it, including the national galleries of Wales and Scotland, Colchester and Ipswich galleries, and Salisbury Museum.
The Independent reports that more than a century after a hoard of Elizabethan jewellery was discovered by chance in a cellar in London, experts have found out information which may lead to unravelling the mystery of how it ended up there. The collection of 500 pieces may have been hidden there by goldsmiths heading off to fight in the Civil War in 1642, or fleeing abroad. A gem engraved with the heraldic badge of William Howard, Viscount Stafford, has dated the hoard to beween 1650-66. It has all gone on show in an exhibition, The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels, at the London Museum, until 27 April 2014.
A Mad World My Masters at the Swan at Stratford-upon-Avon, is reviewed by Michael Billington for the Guardian , who says Thomas Middleton's 1605 comedy has been cut, edited and updated to 1950s Soho by Sean Foley and Phil Porter for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He thought such treatment patronising, and although the audience enjoyed it he found it strenuous fun, and at its best when it stuck closer to the original, where the satire on a world obsessed by money and sex shines through. However the Independent’s Paul Taylor described it as an uproarious revival, and said the adaptors have ‘most artfully edited, shortened and tweaked the gorgeously gamey Jacobean language of the original, putting a modern Carry On Gulling-style spin on the proceedings’. He predicts it will be a ‘whopping success’. The production is on until October 25.
Luke Jennings has reviewed the English National Ballet’s Swan Lake in the round, which is at the Royal Albert Hall until June 23, for the Observer . He writes that many of the ballet’s more nuanced moments are lost in the Hall’s vastness, but Deane’s production is spectacular, with large amounts of dry ice and 60 swans in shimmering white tutus taking the breath away.
Lyn Gardner reviewed The School for Scandal at the Park Theatre, London, until July 7, for the Guardian , and said it ‘skates blithely over the witty surface of this fine 18th century mortality play’. She wrote that it looks like it’s trying to escape the stage, with some un-eighteenth century musical interludes adding little, and ‘arch comic business that adds too much’.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream being performed at Shakespeare’s Globe in London until September 12 is reviewed by Andrew Dickson of the Guardian who says it goes back to Elizabethan basics, and although not lacking in ideas and being blessed with an enthusiastic young cast, never quite breaks fresh ground, and is sometimes annoying with too many off-script sight gags. Michael Coveney in the Independent calls it a ‘compelling and very funny production’ and praises Michelle Terry and John Light who play Hippolyta and Theseus, Titania and Oberon. It is on until October 12.
Titus Andronicus at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until October 26, is reviewed by Michael Coveney in the Independent , who finds the ‘three hours of gratuitous violence with knives, daggers and meat cleavers’ highly enjoyable and a timely attempt to get violence off the street and into the theatre.
Lois Potter writes in the TLS about what she sees as an updated version of the Annals of English drama 1500-1700. This is British Drama 1533–1642 A catalogue, Volume One: 1533–1566, Volume Two: 1567–1589 (by Martin Wiggins, with Catherine Richardson), which she describe as ‘Annals raised to the nth power’ incorporating more recent research published in REED and elsewhere. Wiggins lists everyone involved in a production, and by name where known, including the woman who looked after the boy performers while they waited in the cold for a boat home after the show. Potter also reviews Martin Wiggins’s Drama and the Transfer of Power in Renaissance England, which focuses on data about performances during ‘ideologically contested periods’, such as the first year of the English Reformation, and the first years of the reigns of Elizabeth, James and Charles, and shows how much we can still learn from a play where there is no surviving text.
Turncoats and Renegadoes : Changing Sides during the English Civil Wars by Andrew Hopper is reviewed by Dr Elliot Vernon, who says the nature of allegiance in the English Civil Wars has been a big issue for at least three generations of professional academics. This work is divided into two parts, splitting a narrative and wider thematic analysis of the turncoat. Dr Vernon says the book does not always fully answer the questions it raises, but is an ‘important and sensitive study of an issue that has been critically absent from the ongoing debate on allegiance and political culture in the English Civil War period’.
The Cult of Saint Katherine of Alexandria in Late-Medieval Nuremberg by Anne Simon is reviewed by Dr Shami Ghoshy of Magdalen College, Oxford, who says the author provides a stimulating account of the cult of the saint in mainly fifteenth century Nuremberg, and its connections with other aspects of urban life. It will be of use to scholars in various disciplines, is accessible to those with no German language or study of German history, although she wishes the 13 plates had been reproduced in colour.
Manuscript and Print in London c.1475-1530 by Julia Boffey is reviewed by Dr John Hinks of the University of Leicester, who says she follows the ‘eminently sensible practice of studying not only books but other handwritten and printed documents of many kinds’, and he finds it an important book about a key period in the history of texts and books.
Portraits, Painters, and Publics in Provincial England, 1540-1640 by Robert Tittler and Citizen Portrait: Portrait Painting and the Urban Elite of Tudor and Jacobean England and Wales by Tarnya Cooper are reviewed by Dr Helen Pierce of the University of Aberdeen. She says these books turn the focus on English portraiture away from the court to the ‘middling sort’ in London and the provinces. Tittler aims to place local portraiture in a socio-economic rather than stylistic framework, and emphasises the limitations which influenced and shaped artists' output. Dr Pierce says the book provides a valuable look at the production of these works, but the analysis of them as historical documentary evidence downplays questions of aesthetic appeal and broader iconographic significance. She says Tarnya Cooper’s work again addresses art for the middling sorts, and is drawn from her doctoral thesis and curatorial activities at the National Portrait Gallery. She draws strongly and skilfully on the use of technical analysis, revealing more than previously possible about the ‘social life’ of the painted panel or canvas, and certain motivations of the artist, sitter, or patron'.
How Revolutionary were the Bourgeois Revolutions ? by Neil Davidson is reviewed by Dr Marc Mulholland of St Catherine's College, Oxford, who describes it as a substantial and erudite book. He says the author argues only a socialist perspective can properly engage with the concept of ‘bourgeois revolution’, but although he does not flatter an academic audience it would be wrong not to engage with his important contribution to an interesting topic.
Entrepreneurial Families : Business, Marriage and Life in the Early Nineteenth Century by Andrew Popp is reviewed by Dr James Taylor of the University of Lancaster. It focuses on John Shaw who left his Staffordshire family for a business career in Wolverhampton, and in 1810 met and married a woman and had six children with her, and pursued his successful career. Dr Taylor says Popp’s goal is to write a new kind of business history which shows economic concerns as inextricably linked to or subservient to the family. Personal letters are supplemented by the couple’s business archives, though as there are no letters from the last 19 years of Shaw’s life this is described as giving the book an incomplete feel, and we are not told when his wife died. The book is descibed as appealingly written and jargon free, though with typographical errors and transcription inconsistencies.
The author of The Inheritor’s Powder , Sandra Hempel, writes about her book in the Daily Telegraph. The book tells the true story of the execution in 1815 of London maid Eliza Fenning, after she allegedly tried to murder her employers with arsenic, despite repeated denials. The bad science behind the conviction is examined, and the fact it became a cause célèbre in the fight for doctors to be better trained in the newly developing science of forensics.
A public appeal has been launched to save the hundreds of thousands of sixteenth century, and earlier, manuscripts smuggled out of Timbuktu during the crisis in Mali, which are now threatened with moisture damage. The 30,000 documents, including poetry and commerce records, are from Andalusia and Southern Europe, Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and Arab trading ports, as well as Timbuktu and were rescured by librarians and archivists. The IndieGoGo campaign from Libraries in Exile has launched an $100,000 appeal to help preserve them.
The Observer reported how after a short public campaign a homework essay by Charlotte Bronte, written in French for her teacher, has been bought by the Brontë Society for £50,000 for public display at her former vicarage home in Haworth, West Yorkshire. The essay was written in the early 1840s in Brussels.
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