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Archive newsletter, 6 January 2015

Happy New Year, and welcome to the first Early Modern Forum newsletter of 2015 for our latest round-up of news and cultural events from the Early Modern period.

Dr Karen De Coene of the Department of Geography at Ghent University has contacted us about an exhibition there, Lafreri, Italian Cartography in the Renaissance, and an English language edition of the associated book. The publication "situates the collection of maps within the sixteenth-century world of printers and publishers, where atlases, like print collections, were assembled to order". The maps also bring reports of events such as the Italian wars and Great Siege of Malta. There is more information here .

In other news, the Telegraph reported that scientists studying the DNA of Richard III discovered that modern relatives – the descendants of his great great great grandfather Edward III - share a different genetic code suggesting that he or other members of his family were illegitimate, and that he therefore had no right to the throne. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

In the Guardian, Dalya Alberge wrote about how experts revived doubts about the genuineness of the London version of Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks , which they said has fake flowers and “misses the point geologically”. The National Gallery used to believe it was made by assistants, but after restoring it in 2010 declared it was possible he had painted all the picture himself. Analysis of the vegetation and geology have raised fresh doubts. The National Gallery did not comment on the new study.

The Telegraph reported on how an eccentric architectural plan thought to have been drawn by George III during his period of "madness" had been discovered hidden inside a volume at the British Library. The drawing was part of a huge collection of papers put together by the King during his reign from 1760 to 1820. It was on a bit of paper which had been an order of service from St George’s Chapel in Windsor, and was in a volume about the Palaces of Hanover. Peter Barber, head of map collections at the British Library, said the drawing showed a grand central courtyard with no means of access surrounded by four monumental staircases. The British Library is hoping to raise £1 to catalogue the collection and put it on line.

The Guardian also reported on a temporary export ban on the 1613 painting Garden of Eden With the Fall of Man by Flemish artist Jan Brueghel the Elder, in an attempt to keep it in the UK. The oil on copper work measuring just 23.7cm by 36.8cm, was due to go overseas after selling at Sotheby’s in July for £6.8m. It is hoped a British buyer will find the £6.9m needed to prevent it going abroad before the ban is lifted at midnight on 4 March.

A Turner masterpiece, rare for still being in private hands, set a world auction record for the artist when Rome, From Mount Aventine sold at Sotheby’s for £30.3m, also the highest price for pre-20th century British artist ever sold at auction. The work was painted in 1835 and exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year.


Medicine and Religion: A Historical Introduction by Gary B. Ferngren was reviewed in by Dr Sophie Mann from Kings College London, who said the author’s declared purpose of providing a “concise but comprehensive survey that traces the history of the intersection of medicine and healing with religious traditions in the Western world from the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt to our own era” is a sizeable task, though he is aiming also for an introduction intended for non-specialists. Chapter five covers the Middle Ages, including the black death, pilgrimages, medical training and education including monasteries. Chapter seven is the early modern period, opening with a discussion of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, and looking at topics such as the history of ideas, the Protestant Reformation and changes in the treatment of the sick poor, and women in medicine. The reviewer concludes the book would be a good addition to student reading lists in a number of disciplines including history, theology and medicine.

Ireland in the Virginian Sea: Colonialism in the British Atlantic by Audrey Horning was reviewed by Dr Emma Hart of the University of St Andrews, who said the book wades into two long-running debates about the nature of early-English colonialism: where Ireland fits into the expansion project of the 16th century, and the relationship between natives and "on the ground" settlers. Dr Hart said the author sets herself apart from previous historians by arguing for a complex entanglement between English and Irish, as well as English and Indians. In her conclusion, that the connections proclaimed for Ireland and North America come about more because of 18th and 19th century Irish emigration rather than that of the early modern time, Dr Hart says she perhaps does not knit together her evidential base with that of previous scholars who have tackled the project on broader intellectual and political planes.

Household Politics, Conflict in early modern England by Don Herzog was reviewed by Mika Ross-Southall in the TLS, who said he looks at ideas about domestic governance, marriage, misogny, patriarchy and gender roles from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. Sources include Jonathan Swift's Directions to Servants, but also canonical works, conduct manuals, poems, plays, son and jokes and has some instructive details.

The English and Their History by Robert Tombs was reviewed in the Guardian , by David Horspool who found it an “engaging and persuasive survey of 13 centuries” which was surprisingly upbeat and suggested England was a lucky country. One highlight was the section covering the era from the civil war to the accession of William III, where he found the period of Charles I’s personal rule one of “unparalleled political and social peace”.

In the Telegraph , Sinclair McKay said the book explored the enigma at the heart of a nation, and the author showed “brilliance and sly wit”, producing something that was enormously readable.

Henry VIII: The Quest for Fame by John Guy was reviewed in the Guardian by Diarmaid MacCulloch who said he accentuates the positive about the king, and provided the key to understanding him: he was never the great king he wanted to be. He described the book as “an immensely satisfying introduction to the large and moody monarch”.

Charles I: An Abbreviated Life by Mark Kishlansky was reviewed by John Gallagher in the Guardian who said the story of the short life of Charles I enabled the author to hold England’s seventeenth century crisis to the light and ask if we have misjudged the king. He wrote that although the author was successful in moderating some of the more extreme accusations against the king, “there is more than a hint of special pleading here”. He said the 120-page book is though a pacy and well-crafted narrative.

Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince by Lisa Hilton was reviewed by Oliver Poole who questioned whether there was a need for another book about Elizabeth I, especially one which provided little in the way of new sources. But she said this book revealed that the Queen had kept control over her “brand” to such an extent that no paintings were permitted to show her looking old. The reviewer said details make this biography, and that the author is at her best when dealing with her subject's gender.

Between Two Worlds: How the English became Americans by Malcolm Gaskill, was reviewed by Rachel Trethewey. It tells the story of early settlers in America from the perspective of looking at how they tried to preserve Englishness, with disputes and social problems then exported with them. The reviewer said Gaskill’s book is a work of extraordinary scholarship: “it captures the spirit of adventure and courage of the first settlers but it also shows how high ideals were transformed by the harsh realities of life”.


The Guardian reported that the Courtauld Gallery in London is to hold an exhibition which will reunite 22 drawings by Francisco Goya that are all part of an album of witches and old women which the Spanish artist produced near the end of his life. One depicts a decrepit old woman carrying a bundle of tied-up babies while another, called Nightmare, shows a grimacing crone balancing two skeletal men on her back. The album was produced just to share with his friends and has never been reunited before because the works are in galleries around the world.

Goya: Order and Disorder , on at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston until January 19, was reviewed by Jason Farago in the Guardian who said the huge exhibition, although flawed, brings together some of “the most racked and disturbing artworks in history”. The exhibition shows 170 works, and the reviewer said the curators gambled by presenting the works in themes, but it splits up drawing albums and print series.

The Baroque Underworld: Vice and Destitution in Rome was reviewed in the Guardian by Harry Bellet, who said it was a stunning exhibition focusing on the sleazier aspects of artistic life in the baroque period, when artists flocked to Rome to hone their skills, paid for by wealthy popes and cardinals. But they were also men in their 20s who often formed fraternities with Bacchanalian initiation rites, and murder, orgies, lust and binge drinking often followed. The exhibition is at the Villa Medici in Rome until January 18, then at the Petit Palais in Paris from February 24 – May 24.

A second painting of the Mona Lisa thought to have been produced a decade earlier than the one in the Louvre has been unveiled in Singapore. Scientific tests show Da Vinci started working on it in 1503, Kunal Dutta wrote. This version shows a younger woman against a different backdrop and is on show at Singapore Arts House until February 11, and is then expected to visit Europe. A new theory by Angelo Paratico, a Hong Kong-based historian and novelist, that the woman depicted in the Mona Lisa painting may be a Chinese slave and also Leonardo da Vinci’s mother, the Telegraph reported. He is writing a book on the subject, but the Telegraph found the claims tenuous.

On stage

Scottish Ballet: The Nutcracker at the Festival theatre, Edinburgh, then touring, was reviewed by Alice Bain who found it a beautiful moonlit experience, with “Tchaikovsky’s make-believe kingdoms shimmering with considerable fairy cool in a sophisticated and elegant production”.

The Merchant of Venice at the Almeida Theatre, London, was reviewed by Mark Kishlansky in the Guardian who said by setting the play in modern Las Vegas the director Rupert Goold shows “capitalism at its kitschiest being invaded by emotional reality”. It is on until February 14.

Ian McDiarmid, who stars in the production, was interviewed about it in The Independent .

In the Independent , Paul Taylor found it trains a “lurid light on the hypocrisy of the Christians and their professed moral superiority” reimagining Venice as Las Vegas, with Portia reinterpreted as a Southern heiress up for grabs in a live reality TV quiz show.