Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Archive newsletter 20 June 2014

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

We start with news from Early Modern Forum readers which will be of interest to historians of the period. James A Winn, William Fairfield Warren Professor of English at Boston University, has contacted us about his work on the last Stuart monarch, Queen Anne. His 816-page book, Queen Anne, Patroness of Arts , was recently published by the Oxford University Press, and a companion website also gives audio clips of musical examples in the book. Professor Winn has a chapter entitled Creativity on Several Occasions in Concepts of Creativity in Seventeenth-Century England, edited by Rebecca Herissone and Alan Howard - there is more information about the book here . There is also a conference to mark the tercentenary of Queen Anne's death, where Professor Winn is delivering the keynote lecture, taking place at Goldsmith's College on 1 August - more information here .

There is a major conference entitled New Directions in Early Modern British History taking place at the University of Hull from 5-7 September 2014, which aims to review and assess the broad historiographical developments in the field over the 25-year lifetime of the Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History series, and also to frame the research agenda for the coming years. There is more information, including on the speakers so far, here .

Professor Jodi Cranston of the Department of the History of Art & Architecture at Boston University has contacted us about a new web application developed after being funded by the Kress Foundation through a digital history grant to the university. It allows users to map the movement of artworks by the Venetian artist Titian over time and space. You contact Professor Cranston at .

In other news this month, there have been several stories about the truth behind various artworks.

The Guardian revealed that a painting by the seventeenth century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer has now been authenticated as his earliest surviving work, and is coming up for auction for an estimated price of up to £8m. The painting of Saint Praxedis was painted when Vermeer was 23, newly converted to Catholocism and heavily influenced by Italian art.

In the Independent , Nick Clark wrote about a painting which had been dismissed as a Rembrandt copy when it arrived at Buckland Abbey in Devon in 2010, and put in storage, but has now been proved to be a genuine work by the Dutch old master, worth £30 million. It is not surprisingly set to become a central attraction at the former home of Sir Francis Drake.

Old Man in an Armchair purchased by the National Gallery in 1957 but later judged not to be a Rembrandt has now been hailed by expert Professor Ernst van de Wetering as an important work and they should rethink demoting it. He says it is one of a number of “paintings about painting” made by the master, and important as it is one of his first.

A painting discovered to be a Van Dyck after it was taken along to an episode of the Antiques Roadshow is expected to sell for about £500,000 when it is auctioned later this year. It was bought 12 years ago from an antiques shop by Father Jamie MacLeod who plans to buy new church bells with the proceeds.

A mysterious artwork at Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum which showed people clustered on a beach has been found to have a huge creature in the picture, but it had been painted over. In the Guardian, Maev Kennedy said the 1641 landscape View of Scheveningen Sands by Hendrick van Anthonissen was found to hide a whale after conservator Shan Kuang took a delicate scalpel to the painting . It is thought to have been painted over in the eighteenth century, perhaps because a dealer thought it would sell better without a big dead creature in it.

The Independent reported how scientists are close to deciding how to restore a fading chalk sketch believed to be the only existing self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, following a hi-tech study of the paper. The portrait is locked in a vault in the Royal Library of Turin where it is thought to be gradually disappearing as the red chalk blends into the ageing yellow paper.

In the Guardian, Maev Kennedy wrote about an exhibition due to open in September at the National Portrait Gallery. The Real Tudors, Kings and Queens Rediscovered, will feature treasured possessions of the Tudors and will include research into why and when they were all made. The items include a ring owned by Elizabeth I showing a portrait of her mother, Anne Boleyn, and the gallery’s oldest portrait of a Tudor king, Henry VII, and there will also be books, Henry VIII’s rosary beads and Queen Mary’s prayer book.

In the Guardian, Jonathan Jones wrote about the British Folk Art exhibition at Tate Britain, and says it is good when the worst thing to say about an exhibition is it ends too soon. He says the works on show are “hilarious, beguiling and mysterious by turns”. The exhibition includes works by Mary Linwood, whose Regency age recreations of old master paintings in embroidery were successful at the time, and there are works from the 1790s by a nameless folk artist who painted close up scenes of country people celebrating festivals. Kathryn Hughes has also written about the establishment of the exhibition , focusing on the country-wide search of museum vaults by the curators. The Tate included some of its own items in the show, including The Cholmeley Ladies painting of 1600-10, done by an artisan without formal technique. The exhibition runs until the end of August.


The Queens Regnant of Navarre : Succession, Politics and Partnership 1274-1512 by Elena Woodacre was reviewed by Professor Michelle Armstrong-Partida of the University of Texas at El Paso, who says studies of politically active queens in medieval Iberia have previously focused on individual queens, but this book is unique in examining as a group five queen regents to investigate their political careers and marital partnerships, and determine how they exercised power and shaped the history of the kingdom of Navarre. The reviewer finds the author shows how the queens were active regents who often fought and won their rights to the throne, but categorizing their partnerships into ‘his way’, ‘team players’, and ‘conquer and divide’ – trivialized the complexity of their ruling strategies.

The Cooke Sisters: Education, Piety and Politics in Early Modern England by Gemma Allen was reviewed by Dr Nicola Clark of Royal Holloway, University of London, who said that the “well-conceived and meticulously researched first book explores the ways in which themes of education, piety and politics interacted and impacted on the lives of the Cooke sisters in late 16th-century England”. Dr Clark wrote that the appeal of the book was the way the sisters’ lifelong education is reconstructed, and integrated with their political careers as wives of statesmen to look at how the practical advantages a humanist education could have for aristocratic women at this time.

Attending to Early Modern Women : Conflict and Concord edited by Karen Nelson was reviewed by Dustin Neighbours of the University of York who said that the collection of essays “contributes fresh and current perspectives, while strengthening and expanding on the idea of women as agents of power and authority within the main strands of historical research: politics, society, economy and culture”. He said the essays “challenge and push us as historians to broaden our understanding of power relations and ways in which agency has been commissioned”. The book grew out of a 2009 symposium, and is 10 essays in four sections of negotiations, economies, faiths and spiritualties. The reviewer said the inclusion of summaries of workshops held at the symposium disrupts the flow of historical research and thought, but the book is still a valuable collection.

In the Guardian, Will Self wrote about The Sick Rose: Disease and the Art of Medical Illustration by Richard Barnett, a book sourced from the Wellcome Trust’s collection, which ranges from the woodcuts of the early modern era to colour lithographs of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, showing graphic images of disease, distortion and disfigurement used for consultation by medics. He says the author’s “superbly erudite and lucid accompanying text would really suffice in itself as an introduction to the history of western medical science”.

The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers by Joanna Bourke was reviewed by Salley Vickers in the Observer who said it was erudite and witty, and covers poets and priests as well as medics. She goes back to humoral theory of early modern England where a Thomas Gray described his pains “wandering” through his "constitution", and eighteenth century writings on pain, and charitable acts. Vickers said it is a bold and impressive book.

The Catholic Rubens: Saints and Martyrs by Willibald Sauerländer was reviewed by Cordula van Wyhe, who wrote about the meshing of spirituality and sensuality in the master’s religious works. She says it is a sumptuous book, in which the author argues Rubens is forgotten and misunderstood as a Catholic artist, and that art history has removed him from historiography as a religious artist, in favour of a more fashionable idea of him as the master of Baroque passion. Van Wyhe says the book should not be missed by anyone interested in Rubens and the visual culture of early modern Europe.

Lord Mansfield: Justice in the Age of Reason by Norman S Poser was reviewed by Mary Sokol in the Times Higher. Lord Mansfield is seen today as the founder of modern commercial law, and she says the author who has researched the life of the eighteenth century lawyer, judge and politician says he has been “strangely ignored by biographers”. Sokol says Poser reveals Mansfield as an Enlightenment man, and the story makes fascinating reading, though she says his tendency to address himself almost exclusively to North American readers makes it uncomfortable reading for others. Of course Mansfield is coming to greater public attention now due to a recently-released film, referred to below.


Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent reviewed Belle and said it is unusual for a costume drama, as it offers traditional genre pleasures with “meticulous period detail, stirring character performances, heritage trappings – and yet it deals frankly with race, class and gender.” The film is inspired by a late eighteenth century painting of Lady Elizabeth Murray, great niece of the Earl of Mansfield, and her cousin, Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of Captain Johnn Lindsay. The reviewer says the film attempts, not altogether successfully, to combine the story of the owners of the Zong, a British-owned ship which threw 142 slaves overboard, and Dido’s life as a young woman in upper class London.

Boyd Tonkin has also written at length in the paper about the eighteenth century London black community . In the Guardian , Stuart Jeffries also wrote a feature about Dido Belle which promised to unravel her story, and the “puzzle of her pose” in the painting of her at Kenwood, once attributed to Johann Zoffany. In the picture she points to her face, and the article questions whether she is poining out her skin colour, or simply her smile.


In the Guardian, Michael Billington reviewed Antony and Cleopatra at Shakespeare’s Globe in London (on until August 24) and said it captures the “play's cinematic rhythm as one scene dissolves into the next, and also its dreamlike quality, with characters becoming physically manifest as they are being described”. He did though find Cleopatra’s sensuality overdone when she kissed one of the spectators.

Zoe Anderson reviewed Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Albert Hall for the Independent, and says the stellar performances rise above the bustle of the English National Ballet’s production, which is staged in the round and keeps dancers and scenery in constant motion. She said Tamara Rojo’s Juliet “burns and soars, matched by Carlos Acosta’s tender Romeo.” The performance is on until Sunday.

*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.