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Newsletter, 28 February 2013

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

New on the University of Warwick website is a collection of podcasts entitled Unlocking History at Waddesdon Manor. Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the nineteenth century filled his home in Buckinghamshire with eighteenth century French art, including continental trade cards which show moments including the storming of the Bastille and the executions of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. University of Warwick and Queen Mary University of London academics have helped to preserve these by digitising the content. You can find out more here.

News stories about sites and people from the Early Modern period include:

The site where the Battle of Edgcote was fought in 1469 during the Wars of the Roses is thought by some to be at threat under the path of the HS2 rail route. As many as 5,000 soldiers from Wales are believed to lay buried in farmland north of Banbury. Dr Barry Lewis of the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies in Aberystwyth said Edgcote is an important site for Welsh culture and tradition but the study was neglected. The site is not protected and has never been investigated by archaeologists. English Heritage said a “large number” of protected historic sites and buildings along the proposed HS2 rail route had yet to be assessed by High Speed Two which is a key requirement of the formal environmental impact statement.

There has been concern about Stanks Hall Barn in Leeds, a scheduled Ancient Monument, said to date from 1420, which was rebuilt in 1492, allegedly with some of the timber left over from ships used by Christopher Columbus to sail from England to America. Beeston residents are hoping to form a group to work with owners Leeds City Council to try to save it.

A new book claiming a mummified skull found in the attic of a retired tax collector is that of 'good king' Henri IV has provoked debate. French scientists are still arguing about whether the remains are from Henri, who was assassinated in 1610 by a Catholic fundamentalist, and was buried outside Paris. In 1793 French revolutionaires dug him up and tossed his remains in a mass grave. It is unclear when his head became separated, but it was not with his corpse when the grave was opened in 1817. A book, Henri IV: The Mystery of a Headless King by Stéphane Gabet and Philippe Charlier insist that the mummified head found five years ago in a box in the attic of a retired tax collector is that of Henri. The head is currently in a bank vault near the Bastille. Charlier insists DNA tests show French royal heritage.

A portrait of Elizabeth I shows a more realistic representation of her in old age than we are used to seeing. She had a ruling in England to stop unflattering portraits being circulated, so most show her as a Renaissance beauty even when old. A newly-revealed portrait from the workshop of Marcus Gheeraerts shows her with wrinkles, heavy make-up and dark lines under her eyes. Hannah Betts, former lecturer on Renaissance literature at Oxford University, has also written about the history of the portrait, which has just gone on show at Washington’s Folger Shakespeare Library, and what it signifies.

Recent book reviews


The Anatomy of Blackness: Science & Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment by Andrew Curran is reviewed by Professor Stephen Kenny, who writes that while the book is largely concerned with the representation of black Africans in the French enlightenment the approach and findings make significant contributions to other historical debates including ‘othering’, and the association between slavery and race in different colonial contexts.

London’s News Press and the Thirty Years War by Jayne E. E. Boys is reviewed by Professor Sabrina Alcorn Baron of the University of Maryland, who writes that the book offers fresh insight through the author’s large knowledge of information about the Thirty Years War which was disseminated through the corantos published in England in the 1620s and 1630s.

Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition: Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformations by Eamon Duffy is reviewed by Professor David J Davis of Houston Baptist University. The book is a collection of lectures and previously published essays from the last decade. Prof Davis writes that it is a single statement of Tudor religious culture which continues Duffy’s relentless campaign against the traditional view of the Reformation in England, though some chapters deliver much more than others.

In Times Higher Education:

Eating the Enlightenment: Food and the Sciences in Paris, 1670-1760 by EC Spary is reviewed by Biancamaria Fontana, Professor of the history of Political Ideas at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. She writes that is focuses on France from the late seventeenth to mid eighteenth century and looks at the Enlightenment ‘from below’, tracing the new luxury foods and the invention of places for their sale.


A set of rare drawings by Piranesi have been reunited for the first time since they were made shortly before the Italian artist’s death in 1778, in an exhibition at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. The 17 drawings represent the ancient Greek temples in Paestum, south of Naples. The Soane Museum owns 15 of the drawings and two are being loaned by institutions in Paris and Amsterdam. The temples were built in the sixth century BC and were virtually undiscovered until the 1740s. The drawings are on show at the museum until May 18.

Maev Kennedy of the Guardian has looked into the work of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, as the first exhibition in decades of works by the seventeenth century Spanish painter goes on show at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London. The show includes some paintings tracked down specially, including one of St Peter looted by Napolean’s troops. Murillo & Justion de Neve: The Art of Friendship is on until May 19.

An export block has been put on two paintings by George Stubbs which show animals but not his usual horses. ne work is called The Kongouro from New Holland, or The Kangaroo, and the other features a dingo. The paintings are likely to go to a foreign buyer unless a UK buyer can find £5.5m for them. The paintings are believed to have been commissioned by naturalist Joseph Banks who was on Captain Cook’s first great voyage in 1768-71, and they were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773, giving British people their first sight of these animals. Stubbs had to rely on verbal descriptions for the paintings, which have remained in Banks’s family.

The private collection of artworks owned by Sir Denis Mahon, who died two years ago, has been permanently placed in British galleries at his request. The 57 Italian Baroque masterpieces, described as the finest group of Baroque works in the world, will now be housed in six museums and galleries across Britain in accordance with his wishes. The National Gallery will house 25 paintings, 12 will go to the Ashmolean in Oxford, eight to the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, six to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, five to Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, and one to Temple Newsam House, Leeds.

The National Gallery is holding an exhibition of paintings by Federico Barocci which have never been seen outside Italy before. Barocci (1533-1612) is described as combining the beauty of the High Renaissance with the dynamism of Baroque. The exhibition includes spectacular altarpieces, and is on until May 19.

Theatre news

The sites of two Jacobean theatres in London which were both used by Shakespeare could host drama once again, following planning applications for new theatres. They are the Curtain theatre in Shoreditch, once home to the Lord Chamberlain's Men, and discovered last year after an archaeological dig. The plan is to transform it into a 250-seat open air amphitheatre. The other space is nearby and known as the Theatre, and the proposal is for a six-story theatre there.

Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations is being performed for the first time in the West End, and in the Daily Telegraph Tim Walker writes that it is a resounding success, despite having at times only a nodding acquaintance with the book, which is set in the early nineteenth century.

Charles Spencer also in the Daily Telegraph has reviewed Brecht’s A Life of Galileo, starring Ian McDiarmid, at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon and found himself gripped by the ‘lively and ultimately moving production’ which is on until the end of March. At the RSC, Hamlet and Pushkin’s Boris Godunov also continue until the end of March.

Michael Church reviewed the Médée, written by Charpentier in 1693, and says this production by the English National Opera is the most brilliant show to have graced the Coliseum in London in years. It is the first professional British staging for the French Baroque score.