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Newsletter, 13 December 2013

Welcome to the Forum newsletter for our latest round-up of news and cultural events from the Early Modern period - and a happy Christmas and New Year to all our readers during our first year!

We start this edition with news of a lucky find.

Sixteenth century gold and silver coins were discovered on Lindisfarne, off the Northumberland coast, by a builder doing a house renovation, who was initially unimpressed when he dug up a grubby looking pot, the Telegraph reported. He threw it in the back of his van, and it was left in his father’s basement for eight years, before he decided to clean it a year ago, and found the coins. They came from all over Europe, including a gold scudo, a coin made in Italy in the 1500s, stamped with Pope Clement VII, who refused in the 1520s to annul Henry VIII’s marriage and believed to be the first coin of its type discovered anywhere. The coins are currently being held by the British Museum, who will put them on show as the Mason hoard, named after the finder.


In November, there was a brief chance to see a 1505 Book of Hours as it was on show for four days in London on its way to an auction in New York. The Rothschild Prayerbook had already been shown in Moscow and Hong Kong before it is auctioned by Christie’s in New York in January. It was made for a member of the Hapsburg imperial court in the Netherlands and became part of the Rothschild family collection in the nineteenth century. The Guardian reported that it was said by Christies to be "one of the highest achievements of Flemish Renaissance painting with 150 pages and miniatures and borders of superlative quality by Gerard Horenbout”, a Flemish miniaturist who served in the court of King Henry VIII. It is expected to sell for more than £7.3 million.

The Guardian reported on the reopening of Kenwood House in Hampstead, London, which houses an art collection including a Vermeer, a Turner, two Van Dycks, Gainsboroughs, Reynolds and Romneys, and a Rembrandt self-portrait (right). The house was left to the nation in the 1920s, but was closed by English Heritage in March 2012, and has now reopened to the public after a £5.95 million restoration. Visitors will now be made more welcome with chairs to lounge in.

A £12.5m fundraising campaign has been launched to buy for the UK a self portrait by Van Dyck, painted a year before his death in 1641. The National Portrait Gallery has launched the campaign to keep the painting which will leave the country to go to an anonymous private collection unless the money is raised.The gallery’s director Sandy Nairne said the portrait was important and no other painter had had an impact on British portraiture as the Flemish artist.

The Independent reported that the V&A museum believes it has discovered a previously-unknown oil sketch by John Constable beneath the lining of another work, after restorers uncovered it while renovating a major painting. The work was underneath Branch Hill Pond: Hampstead, and is believed to date from the early 1820s. The gallery is to show a major exhibition of Constable’s work alongside landscape masters Jacob van Ruisdael and Claude Lorrain in September 2014.

In the Guardian Maev Kennedy reported on the latest exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, which is the first full-scale exhibition devoted to the marine art of JMW Turner. It includes a wall of enormous canvases on loan from the UK and US, a painting of fishermen at sea which was the first picture he exhibited in 1797, and the last he showed, the Wreck buoy in 1849. The exhibition is on until April 21. In the Independent , Adrian Hamilton said the show was an “astounding testament” to Turner’s enduring talent, and that it is a world-class exhibition it would be criminal to miss.

In the Telegraph , Mark Skipworth reviewed Caravaggio to Canaletto, a new exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, and writes that it celebrates glorious seventeenth and eighteenth century Italian paintings. The exhibition consists of 140 works by 100 masters, including nine of Caravaggio’s greatest, on loan from 62 collections in 11 countries. The exhibition is on until February 16.


Treasure Neverland : Real and Imaginary Pirates by Neil Rennie was reviewed in the Guardian by Colin Burrow, who said it asks where all the popular images of pirates come from. He wrote that the book is scholarly and entertaining, and begins by piecing together what historical pirates actually got up to in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof by Roger Clarke was reviewed by Natasha Tripney in the Guardian, who said it was a well-researched history of hauntings which delves into our desire to be spooked. She says his fascination with the subject is palpable, yet his tone is of journalistic distance and questioning rather than aggressive in his scepticism.

Reading and Writing Recipe Books 1550-1800 edited by Michelle DiMeo and Sara Pennell was reviewed by Dr Sandra Sherman who says it includes 11 rigorously documented essays, with the editors seeking to demonstrate how far the study of medical/culinary recipe books has come in the past 25 years. She says they use a variety of approaches, literary, archaeological, historical, and linguistic, and the result is fascinating and exasperating, and in the review she seeks to describe what is exciting about the collection but also point out what has been left out or not sufficiently emphasised with “regard to both form and function in the early modern recipe book”.

Stuyvesant Bound: an Essay on Loss Across Time by Donna Merwick was reviewed by Dr Simon Middleton of the University of Sheffield, who says it offers a biographical study of New Netherland’s longest serving and infamous Director, peter Stuyvesant, who governed the colony for the last 17 years of Dutch rule following his arrival in 1647. He says readers are treated to richly suggestive vignettes which brilliantly capture the meaning and significance of edification for faith and religious practice.

Early Modern Things: Objects and their Histories, 1500-1800 edited by Paula Findlen was reviewed by Victoria Jackson, who says the editor tells us the meaning of an object is in perpetual change, using the example of the Akan Drum in the British Museum. The book is a collection of 17 essays which explores what we can learn about the early modern world by studying its things and their meanings, and how these change over time. The book is described as offering a rich and diverse set of approaches for studying the production, circulation and consumption of early modern things, and future studies will be indebted to it.

Connections after Colonialism: Europe and Latin America in the 1820s edited by Matthew Brown and Gabriel Paquette is reviewed by Dr Rosie Doyle of the Institute of Latin American Studies, who says it aims to “test the limitations of, as well as open new possibilities within, the Atlantic History and Age of Revolutions paradigms through highlighting the continued yet readjusted relationships between Europe and Latin America in the 1820s”. She says it contains a number of “erudite, thought provoking and original studies” to reassess and reinvigorate the study of Atlantic History and the Age of Revolutions.

A Social History of Disability in the Middle Ages by Irina Metzler was reviewed by Dr Katherine Harvey of King’s College, London who said she produced her first volume on the subject in 2006, and now in this one she sets out to explore the social and cultural factors which affected the lives of medieval crippled, deaf, mute and blind people through a detailed examination of four key themes: ‘Law’, ‘Work’, ‘Ageing’ and ‘Charity’. Dr Harvey wrote that in the conclusion Metzler
draws attention to two areas which reviewers of her first book suggested should have received more attention: gender, and the distinction between disability
and illness, though she would like to know why they are considered relatively insignificant, and consideration to disability in relation to lifestyle would
have been helpful. Some structural and presentational issues were also described as making the book feel unwieldy.

Theatre reviews

Matthew White’s production of the eighteenth century-written Candide at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London was reviewed by Kate Kellaway in the Observer who found it ambitious if somewhat over the top, produced on a shoestring and so intimate the audience may find the cast landing in their laps. It is on until February 22. Michael Billington also reviewed it for the Guardian , and found it had a “restless, comic-strip production with a jaunty ebullience and two outstanding leads”

Michael Billington reviewed Henry V, the fifth and final production of Michael Grandage’s West End season, and starring Jude Law. He wrote that it is Law’s “complex portrait of Shakespeare's contradictory king that is far and away the most fascinating aspect of an efficient, well-managed production that doesn't aspire to the topical resonance of recent revivals”. However he says he cannot say as he did with Olivier and Branagh’s films that the play has a shapeshifting ability to mirror the national mood and reflect current feelings about war. It is on until February 15.

In the Independent , Michael Coveney wrote that Jude Law gives us a human Henry V, and what he does could be traced back to Richard Burton at the Old Vic in 1955, true, watchful and ruthless.