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Newsletter 20 May 2013

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

We start today with books, and newsletter reader Joel F Harrington, Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, has recently had his new book The Faithful Executioner, published by Bodley Head, with more information about it here .

The book is about the life of Frantz Schmidt, a professional executioner in Nuremberg for 45 years in the sixteenth century, who as the son of an executioner chosen by a local leader was condemned to social ostracism from birth. It has had a good review in the Daily Telegraph, with Ben Wilson finding it fascinating, and writing that Prof Harrington has used Schmidt’s diary and other documents “to construct a compelling biography and blood-soaked portrait of an age”.

Other recent book reviews, all from include:

Socialising the Child in Late Medieval England , c. 1400-1600 by Merridee L Bailey is reviewed by Dr Tim Reinke-Williams of the University of Northampton, who writes that the book explores the role of the household and school in socialising the children of the gentry and the middle ranks of urban society, outlining how childhood was imagined by writers and educators and how it was presented to readers at the time. Dr Reinke-Williams believes the book makes a number of significant contributions to the existing historiography, but is surprised it makes little mention of the Reformation.

Mystery Unveiled : The Crisis of the Trinity in Early Modern England by Paul C. H. Lim, is reviewed by Dr R. Scott Spurlock of Queen’s University Belfast, who writes that is presents an “erudite analysis of the Trinitarian controversies in 17th-century England”. Dr Spurlock says that it demonstrates that the doctrine of the Trinity represented one front in a broader contest over the issue of mystery in the Christian faith and the extent to which authority over “admittedly incomprehensible matters could be demanded by ecclesiastical authorities”.

Medieval Pets by Kathleen Walker-Meikle is reviewed by Dr László Bartosiewicz, of Loránd Eötvös University, who finds it a welcome addition to the increasing volume of research concerned with the roles animals played throughout history. He says the potential readership is very broad as the book synthesizes and presents the subject in a format aimed at researchers as well as the educated general audience with little prior knowledge of the topic. The author “explores this rich topic in proper detail, along multiple dimensions by which the various chapters of the book are organized”. Evidence of its scholarly nature are apparent in 499 end notes.

A Monarchy in Letters : Royal Correspondence and English Diplomacy in the Reign of Elizabeth I by Rayne Allinson is reviewed by Estelle Paranque of University College London who says it highlights some of the gaps missing in the historiography of the queen’s own involvement in foreign affairs, and that this is the first full-length monograph paying attention to the utterances of the queen and how they were received by her contemporaries. She finds that the author gives a detailed account of Elizabeth’s relationships with other monarchs, using extensive and well-documented primary sources.


Tate Britain has been working on a rehang for some time, meaning lots of its works could not be seen. The gallery is now fully open again, and this Guardian article points out its changes – no explanatory texts next to the works, and it is called A Walk Through British Art, with famous and forgotten works hanging side by side in chronological order instead of the Tate’s previous thematic displays.

As part of the chronological rehang, two paintings by England’s first female professional painter have gone on show, reflecting the gallery’s wish to get more works by female artists on its walls. The works by the seventeenth century artist Mary Beale show her four-year-old son Batholomew (below), and were spotted in the window of a Paris antiques shop. The pieces are oil sketches on paper. Beale was born in 1633 and was the daughter and wife of amateur artists, but became a full-time painter when her husband lost his job, and he became her studio assistant.

The Independent’s Nick Clarke has also written about the works of Mary Beale, who died in 1699, and her importance in British art history, and about the 500-works re-hang in general.

A number of paintings once owned by Britain’s first prime minister Robert Walpole have returned to the UK from the Soviet Union for an exhibition , the Guardian reports. The 70-plus paintings are on show at Houghton hall in Norfolk, which was originally built to house the collection, which includes works by Rembrandt, Poussin, van Dyck and Velasquez. They were sold to Catherine the Great in 1779, when the Walpole family fell on hard times. Most are returning from the Hermitage for the exhibition, though others were as far away as Siberia. The exhibition has opened and is on until September 29. Michael Glover in the Independent finds the exhibition “a tour of the mind of an astute and discerning eighteenth century connoisseur”.

The Queen’s gallery at Buckingham Palace is this year staging In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion, until October 6. It consists of more than 60 paintings by artists including Van Dyck and Nicholas Hilliard showing fashions of the time in great detail, plus jewellery, garments, armour and other artefacts. The show is reviewed by Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph , and he says visitors will be hard pressed to find a painting that does not hold their attention, and describes the show as “superlative”. The exhibition aims to show how clothes were not only a visible sign of status, wealth and power but reinforced political and national identity.

The National Portrait Gallery has spent £329,000 on a flattering postcard-sized painting of Elizabeth I, although as the Guardian points out it knows little about it. The picture is more than 400 years old and described as exquisitely painted. It is believed to be by Isaac Oliver, a miniaturist of the Tudor court, and was found in a house clearance in south-east England. It will be shown for the first time at the gallery from October 10 – January 4, in an exhibition alongside other portraits of Elizabeth from public and private collections.

In Italy, a long-lost tomb medallion of Scottish MP Francis Horner , made by regency sculptor Sir Francis Chantrey, has been found by volunteers at Livorno cemetery. Horner was a Whig who co-founded the Edinburgh Review and died in 1817 in the Tuscan port of Leghorn. People working to clear rubbish around the dilapidated tomb in the English cemetery last year found the broken piece of stone, which was identified as the medallion which was once on the tomb. It has now been cleaned up and unveiled at the Museo Fattori, but whether it will remain there or go back on show on the tomb is uncertain.


In the Observer , Susannah Clapp reviews Shakespeare’s The Tempest at the Globe in London, and finds it full of “gallimaufry, gaudiness, moments of glory” but that every moment does not sing.

Michael Billington reviews it for the Guardian , and says Roger Allam’s Prospero comes over first and foremost as a father, and that the performance is riveting. The Tempest is on at the Globe until August 18.