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Archive newsletter, 27 January 2014

Welcome to the Forum newsletter for our latest round-up of news and cultural events from the Early Modern period. We start this edition with some links to book reviews which have appeared in the last few weeks.

Amongst new reviews on the website, is Charles I and the Aristocracy , 1625-1642 by Richard Cust, reviewed by Dr Christopher Thompson of the University of Buckingham, who said it is a study of major importance. It has two interlinked themes, the need to reform the honours system, and the efforts of the King and the Earl to shape the peerage into a loyal, more Court-centred pillar of the Caroline regime. Dr Thompson said he would have liked the illustrations in the text to be in colour, but the book deserved to be seriously studied and “tells its readers much more about the honour culture of Caroline England and the attitudes of its aristocracy than we knew before”.

The Levellers: Radical Political Thought in the English Revolution by Rachel Foxley was reviewed by John Rees of Goldsmiths, University of London, who said there has not been a single-author book study of the Levellers since 1961, and the author has ended that in fine style. She is an advocate of a post-revisionist account, and John Rees said the book is a tour-de-force in that it demonstrates the ways the Levellers combined their influences in unique patterns and outlined their “specific, original contribution to the political ideas of the 1640s”.

Dynastic Marriages 1612/1615: A Celebration of the Habsburg and Bourbon Unions edited by Margaret M. McGowan was reviewed by Valentina Caldari of the University of Kent. It is a collection resulting from a conference sponsored by the Society for European Festival held at the Warburg Institute in 2011, and focuses on the double marriage agreements between Spain and France in the early 17th century. The reviewer wrote that by bringing together 14 contributions that analysed the Habsburgs and Bourbons unions from different disciplines, the editor proved that it is essential to discuss dynastic marriages from an interdisciplinary perspective. It allows the reader to grasp the diplomatic reasons for the unions, and the political and economic consequences. The book is described as slightly unbalanced towards France, and with some overlap, but a crucial contribution to the field.

The Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon by John Tresch was reviewed by Dr Dr Robert D Priest of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, who said the book tries, through a “vivid series of excursions through the streets, theatres, laboratories and temples of the French capital under the Bourbon Restoration and July Monarchy” to convince thre reader that the scientists and engineers of post-Napoleonic Paris were “mechanical romantics” who were “seized by the passions, mystic flights, uncertainties, and obsessions of romanticism even as they sought new machines and rational sciences to let them show and act upon their environment". Dr Priest said the book is effective at situating its subjects within the ‘concrete’ social world of Restoration Paris and its institutions, and although at times difficult to keep track with, its originality is in its sustained consideration of the relationship between romantic and scientific across a wide range of cultural forms.

Document Raj: Writing and Scribes in Early Colonial South India by Bhavani Raman was reviewed by Professor Rama Sundari Mantena of the University of Illinois, who wrote that the author’s “nuanced and novel study of the culture of early colonial bureaucracy in South India moves us in this productive direction of exploring the everyday practice of empire through the institution of modern bureaucratic culture”. Prof Mantena said the book offers fresh insights into the early colonial history in South India, specifically a rethinking of the colonial state, colonial modes of governance and the relations forged between native recruits and European officials, with a few questions lingering.

Liberty's Dawn: A People's History of the Industrial Revolution by Emma Griffin was reviewed in the Guardian by Amanda Vickery who said it is an alternative account of labour and the industrial revolution, based on 350 autobiographies of labouring people, mostly men. She said the author sought to challenge the idea that the ordinary worker enjoyed a healthier and less frenetic life before the industrial revolution. She found workers enjoying some independence from employers in adult life, and memories of starvation wages, little winter work and exploitation in the rural world. However it is no simple celebration of the industrial revolution, with the limited gains for women and the costs to children made clear.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo, was reviewed in the Independent by Marcus Tanner. He said Bordo pointed out the most common descriptions of Boleyn are suspect because they come from the ambassador Chapuys who despised her, and some such as her wart and sixth finger were noted as they were thought to be signs of being a witch. She pointed out that despite efforts to remove her from history, the opposite has happened.

Rebellion: Britain’s First Stuart King by Tim Harris was reviewed in the Independent, where it was described as an immensely detailed analysis of what went wrong in James I’s reign, and the reasons for his failure as a king. It says Harris writes very clearly but in long nineteenth century-style paragraphs, and takes a measured approach with lots of examples, and it is a good, if very large read, and “a useful addition to commentaries on this complex period”.


In the Guardian, Maev Kennedy wrote about the planned show of Paulo Veronese’s artworks at the National Gallery, where an artist dismissed as second rate is likely to be seen afresh, with the curator Xavier Salomon calling him “one of the greatest painters ever”. The sixteenth century Italian artist lost favour in the nineteenth century. For the exhibition, running from March 19 until June 15, one artwork is coming from a church in Verona and has not been removed since it was recovered after Napolean seized it.

Laura Cumming reviewed High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson , which is on at the Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, until March 2. She said when he died in 1827 he left as many as 10,000 watercolours, drawings and prints, some of them showing his portly self. Rowlandson was the son of a bankrupt father who went to the Royal Academy schools at 15, and supported himself by quick-sketch portraits. Cummings admireds his political sketches, but said he is far stronger as a social observer, including the Vauxhall pleasure gardens and race meetings. This exhibition is opening in Edinburgh, before touring.

In the Observer, Kim Willsher wrote about the ‘Mona Lisa of woven artworks’, which has gone back on show at the Musée National du Moyen Age in Paris after a two-year restoration. The Lady and the Unicorn is a series of six wool and silk tapestries woven in Flanders in the 16th century which have had a major clean and restoration, having been on show since 1882. Each panel features a slim blonde woman with a unicorn and a lion, and they are believed to have been commissioned by a member of the Le Viste family in the late 1400s, and created from designs or cartoons drawn in Paris. It has also been argued by some historians that in five of the sixth panels, the woman is Mary Tudor, wife of Louis XII and sister of Henry VIII, who was Queen of France from August 1514 to 1 January 1515.

In the Guardian, John Hooper wrote about how Vasari’s Last Supper which dates from 1546 has now been reassembled 47 years after the Arno burst its banks, flooding Florence and damaging it. Many people, and pieces of artwork, were lost in the flood and The Last Supper was one of the most seriously damaged that survived. New restoration techniques have meant that the five wooden panels could finally be put together again, by the Los Angeles-based Getty Foundation. The Foundation said the final conservation of the painted surface was expected to take at least two years.

Mark Brown has written about the £5 transformation of the Wallace Collection in London, where the Great Gallery will reopen to the public on September 19, two years after closing to allow work at the home of paintings including Frans Hals’s The Laughing Cavalier and Nicolas Poussin’s A Dance to the Music of Time. One of the main aims is to allow natural light back into the room and replace the coral pink cotton damask on the walls with crimson silk damask, but it still hopes to keep its “personal and immersive quality”, even though visitor numbers have been rising.

The Guardian described how Joseph Wright of Derby was for 18 months Joseph Wright of Bath, as shown in a new exhibition in that city. The Holburne Museum is putting on the exhibition which tries to demonstrate how his time there played a pivotal role in his later development as an artist. The exhibition is on until May 5.

In the Telegraph , Richard Dorment found the exhibition a “cracking show about a fascinating painter”, and said that although his time in Bath was a bit of a disaster it was the making of him as an artist. Curator Amina Wright shows how he dealt with the failure to attract clients for his portrait painting by turning to landscape and subject pictures.

In the Guardian , it was suggested a 500-year-old prayer book owned by a nun is being used as evidence that the Dutch were not the first Europeans to arrive in Australia. Bridie Jabour wrote that the Portugese prayer book from between 1580-1620 has a kangaroo-like creature sketched into it, as well as a bare-chested man with leaves in his hair who could possibly be an Indigenous Australian. A New York gallery has valued the book, believed to have been owned by a nun called Caterina de Carvalho, at about US$15,000.


Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies are being staged at the Swan at Stratford-upon-Avon until March 29 , and are the stage version of Hilary Mantel’s acclaimed Tudor novels. In the Observer , Susannah Clapp said Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell lead the way with a crucial and magnificent performance, in a compelling production. She said the play goes to the heart of Mantel’s fictions and give them a different life, tracing “with exemplary clarity the English Reformation and the sexual shenanigans of Henry VIII”.

Michael Billington reviewed the plays for the Guardian and said although some of Mantel’s poetic eye for detail gets somewhat lost, Mike Poulton has done an outstanding job in turning the books into two three-hour plays which make “for a gripping piece of narrative theatre”. The Independent praised the productions’ "exhilarating stage craft and masterly narrative compression", with reviewer Paul Taylor saying despite the press performance of both plays starting at 1pm and ending at 10pm, with a break to eat, he would gladly have stayed up all night if the third book had been turned into a play too. He says there are inevitable losses in the translation to a play, such as Cromwell’s flashbacks to his youth, but Ben Miles “is superlative at conveying the inner complexities of the man”.

Coriolanus , being staged at Donmar Warehouse in London, is reviewed by Susannah Clapp in the Observer, who said it is very fleshy, using the body as a metaphor for society. It is on until February 8, and sold out, but will be broadcast live to cinemas on January 30. The Independent found Tom Hiddleston “has blazing stellar power” in the title role, with a simple but effective staging and a resourceful production capitalising on the intimacy of the space.

Duchess of Malfi , starring Gemma Arterton in the title role, is at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London until February 16, and was reviewed in the Observer by Susannah Clapp, who found it the ideal setting, and Arterton poised. She wrote that it has a “concentration and unexpected stillness” helped by the intimacy of the new theatre.

In the Independent , Paul Taylor said the production has got the Globe’s first season in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse off to a cracking start, and that Webster’s tragedy is well chosen for the venue’s ability to conjure up the shadowy, and Gemma Arterton is luminous in the title role.


John Dugdale reviewed the first episode on the BBC’s adaptation of The Three Musketeers which he said departs strikingly from the original, with its 23-year-old D'Artagnan, its Made In Chelsea lookalike and its pistols rather than swords. He said it also ignores the fact that Dumas was a “seminal historical novelist”, telling the story of French history from the sixteenth century onwards.

In the Independent Boyd Tonkin wrote a feature about an episode of racism in the life of Dumas’s father which influenced the writer’s life and literature.

And finally, a cheering story - a hunch by TV presenter Fiona Bruce has been credited with finding a £400,000 lost van Dyck masterpiece. She said she had recognised details of the supposed fake which had been bought for just £400 by a priest from her work on a programme about the seventeenth century artist. The painting had been taken along to a recording of Antiques Roadshow in Newstead Abbey near Nottingham by Father Jamie MacLeod who wanted to sell it to help towards buying new church bells. It is the most valuable painting ever discovered on the programme in 36 years.

*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.