Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Early Work of Aubrey Beardsley

Aubrey Beardsley - The Early Work of Aubrey Beardsley (1899)

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Beardsley is hardly any kind of discovery or oddity but this is a nice collection.  The introduction claims that far from the Beardsley "craze" (his quotes) being over, the interest was just beginning.  Over a century later there may not be any craze but Beardsley hasn't faded away.  The collection includes a wide selection of his work from illustrations for Salome in the familiar style to book plates to title pages to border designs.  There are some ink and wash portraits that almost appear to be from a different artist and even some designs for coins.

There is a companion volume The Later Work of Aubrey Beardsley.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Cruise of the Noah's Ark

David Cory - The Cruise of the Noah's Ark (1922)

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A children's book where a young girl finds herself on board a toy Ark or maybe one illustrated in a copy book - I didn't quite understand exactly which.  (And I also don't understand why there's a "the" in "the Noah's Ark".)  In any case they have adventures (including a chapter on repairing the Ark - not many kids books today cover home maintenance), visit a circus, ride out a storm and have a picnic.  Despite the promise of "profusely illustrated" there are mainly small spot illos.  The author also did a series about Little Jack Rabbit which are probably about as bland as we'd expect but another about Puss Junior (as in Puss in Boots) where he meets Robinson Crusoe and the Man in the Moon which could be more promising (but probably aren't).  Those don't appear to be online.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Roman Emperor Worship

Louis Matthews Sweet - Roman Emperor Worship (1919)

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From our modern view there are some odd things about the Romans but their view of emperors as divine may be the most prominent.  Far from simple worship this is a widely debated topic - was it propaganda, tied to existing beliefs, a further fall from Republican values, was it even worship in the sense we mean today?  After all Suetonius indicates which of his subjects are deified then provides accounts that don't seem too deity-worthy.  This book is a look at the history of deification.  As you might expect from an adapted dissertation of this period the Latin isn't translated but it may not matter much since it's quite readable, even when the author goes on a small rant against polytheism.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Richard Wagner en caricatures

John Grand-Carteret - Richard Wagner en caricatures (1892)

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A companion to the last post of Courbet caricatures.  This book is more a study of Wagner iconography and covers his signatures, musical manuscripts, portraits and cartoons of public reaction to his work.  If nothing else it's a reminder of just how discordant contemporary audiences found the music (the Paris premiere of Lohengrin seems to have been particularly contentious or at least maybe that's just the impression of all the critical images included here - though the "Triumph of Art" added below wouldn't have been out of place as a Napoleonic portrait).

The author Grand-Carteret did numerous similar books that seem promising, including ones on Zola, the Dreyfus Affair, letter writing, anti-clericism, German women (La femme en Allemagne), Louis XVI era dresses, French caricatures of the British (John Bull sur la sellette, something like John Bull on the Hot Seat) and "gallants".  There was even a 1907 book about homosexuality in Germany which was reprinted in 1992 but doesn't appear to be online.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Courbet selon les caricatures et les images

Charles Léger - Courbet selon les caricatures et les images (1920)

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A collection of caricatures and cartoons relating to Gustave Courbet, including a small doodle by Baudelaire.  There's a wide range from the typical 19th century editorial cartoon to more conventional art-school drawing to fake woodcuts and mock Egyptian.  The editor Léger wrote another book about Courbet and a couple about Balzac.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pericles Prince of Tyre

George Wilkins - Pericles Prince of Tyre (1608)

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Nope, not the Shakespeare play but a prose adaptation that's sometimes considered the first novelization of another work (which seems an odd choice to anybody familiar with that peculiar play).  Broadly speaking a novelization since this Wilkins work isn't long enough by our standards to be a novel and is really more a very lengthy synopsis.  Still it was sold separately for an audience that apparently wanted such a thing, who perhaps couldn't make it out to what was a very popular play at the time.  (It was one of the first, if not the first, Shakespeare play staged after the Restoration.)

The more important interest though is the relation to the play.  Most, but not all, scholars believe the play was co-written, some even identifying Shakespeare's contribution to about half the finished work (typically acts 3, 4 and 5).  For a time some even thought the play was adapted from this book but it's now widely considered to have come first.  The play itself is a mystery - did Shakespeare actually collaborate with somebody, did he adapt or revise a pre-existing play, did somebody else revise a full Shakespeare play?  It's no help that the existing text is notoriously corrupt - imagine what our opinion of Hamlet would be if all we had was the First Quarto.  (One possibility that I haven't seen mentioned is that the publishers of the play simply added the first two acts on their own, more plausible if you consider the existing text of Pericles as a memorial reconstruction in which case the early parts might have been missing or considered too slight.)

Wilkins is one of those shadowy Elizabethan figures remembered only by connection to a literary work much like, say, Cyril Tourneur.  He owned an inn (which might have doubled as a brothel), was in frequent trouble with the law, wrote at least one other play and was apparently a violent person.  He's often identified as the author of the play's first two acts purely because of this novel, his one other (known) play, and because he knew Shakespeare (they were both witnesses in a 1612 trial).

The linked book is an 1857 edition that includes much background material and a comparison of the novel and play.  The editor Tycho Mommsen was Theodor Mommsen's brother and a buddy of Theodor Storm.  Tycho in fact was the first person to suggest that the Hamlet Q1 was reconstructed from memory.  He later produced a critical edition of Pindar and was a specialist in Greek prepositions (well, probably somebody has to be).

Monday, February 16, 2015

Aboriginal American Harpoons

Otis Tufton Mason - Aboriginal American Harpoons (1902)

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Another subject that's more complex than most of us thought.  Mason, an ethnologist and curator at the Smithsonian, covers harpoon design in both Americas and the Arctic, based mostly on museum collections with a few field reports.  Blade design, attachment methods, materials (turtle shells anybody?), shafts, usage - it all varies widely.  If you've ever wondered how to hunt manatees here's a mini-guide.  (Tip - cover your boat with branches so it looks like a floating tree.)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Emblemata amatoria

Philip Ayres - Emblemata amatoria (1683)

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An emblem book for Valentine's Day.  Emblems are a combination of an image and text, not just an illustrated text but more a balance of independent elements each playing off the other.  During the Renaissance emblem books were often used for educational purposes in a broad sense, as here where each poem (given in Latin, English, French and Italian) works with the image to convey an idea about love.  Admittedly this is a bit more bumper sticker than Symposium but still has its charms.  There's some bibliographic information here along with images from a different edition with the poems replaced by Dutch ones.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Complete Stardust Collection

Fletcher Hanks - The Complete Stardust Collection (1939-41)

Comic Book Plus link

Now for something different - outsider comics!

About 12-13 years ago I was reading one of the AC reprints of Golden Age comics and if you're familiar with the material you know how monotonous it is.  Then there appeared a story about a character I'd never encountered before - Stardust.  He was drawn with as little anatomical probability as anything by Liefeld and the overall style wasn't any more polished.  The story was utterly simplistic, featuring grotesque villains doing something villainous then Stardust, a "super wizard" from outer space, showing up to right their wrongs.  The story was quite strange even for a field that traffics in strangeness and impossible for me not to think of outsider art.  It was baffling how something like that even made it into print in a mainstream publication.  The whole story seemed like the work of a careless fourteen-year-old (not completely impossible in a period when so many major creators started in the business during their late teens).  Needless to say I loved it.

Back then the Internet didn't provide much information on the creator, though a few other stories were available.  There was debate even about his real name - Fletcher Hanks, Hank Fletcher, Hank Christy or one of the other names that appeared with his distinctive stories.  Apparently some underground comics people were Hanks fans but which ones and how they expressed that interest weren't specified.  (It turned out to be Spiegelman who reprinted a Stardust story in RAW in 1980.)

Then in 2007 Fantagraphics released a Hanks collection "I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets!", edited by Paul Karasik.  The good news was that this brought Hanks to larger attention and included some stories I hadn't seen.  The bad, majorly bad, was that almost no biographical info was included, instead treating us to a short comic by Karasik about how he researched Hanks.  This lack of info was a huge error, seriously damaging the utility of the collection - imagine if the first book about, say, Henry Darger said little more than "he lived in Chicago".  In 2009 a second collection appeared, "You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation!", that collected the remainder of Hanks' comics and added a substantial introduction to his life and work.  Some of the gaps were filled but much about Hanks still remains unknown.

The Complete Stardust Collection has all the Stardust stories though in varying qualities of reproduction.  Other Hanks' stories are available on the site but not as conveniently collected (though the Fantagraphics books are well worth it if you're hooked).  A cbz file is a zip file that you could unzip but is best read with a dedicated reader such as CDisplay Ex (and similarly cbr indicates a rar file).  Comic Book Plus is an enormous archive of public domain comics, fanzines and pulps that I have yet to fully investigate.  Unlike some other sites that use the public domain claim as mainly a fig leaf, Comic Book Plus appears serious about it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Giraffe in History and Art

Berthold Laufer - The Giraffe in History and Art (1928)

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An animal as unusual as the giraffe certainly makes an impression - this booklet compiles accounts from ancient Egypt, the Middle East, the classical Greeks and Romans, up to the Renaissance and 19th century.  As might be expected many early descriptions were quite inaccurate even though there were living examples to see (the first one in Rome seems to have been in 47 BC).  German-born anthropologist Laufer taught at Columbia and spent the last part of his career at Chicago's Field Museum (who published this).  His bibliography includes several promising titles.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A History of the Frozen Meat Trade

James Troubridge Critchell & Joseph Raymond - A History of the Frozen Meat Trade (1912)

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Probably somebody had to write this and if you're at all interested it goes into quite some detail.  Why mess around with a pamphlet?  If you want to know about your early frozen meat trade then you really want to know.  There are entire chapters on Australia, New Zealand and South America ("frigorificos"), on insurance, distribution and promotion, on mechanics, British farmers and the future. Plus appendices on by-products, patents, key figures and even a cold storage map of London.  The author Critchell, an Australian, was a meat trade reporter for London's Pastoral Review (a journal that apparently wasn't as bucolic as its name might suggest - I don't recall Marlowe's shepherds ever uttering the word "mutton").

Friday, February 6, 2015

News from the Past

Yvonne Ffrench - News from the past, 1805-1887: The Autobiography of the Nineteenth Century (1934)

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It's always a fascinating experience to page through old newspapers, not last week's but from a century back.  Editor Ffrench, a mostly forgotten poet (The Amazons) and author of books on Gaskell and Ouida, was also attracted to such papers (at the time actual dusty paper and not microfiche or digital) and compiled what she considered choice selections into this book.  It's a real grab-bag containing anything from reports of Trafalgar, disastrous fires, mass murders and opera premieres to lost cats, flea circuses, help-wanted ads and rat fights.  There's a woman trying to win a bet by walking 800 miles in 800 hours, the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, a British ban on dancing the can-can, synopsis of the autopsy of the original Siamese twins, several reports on the Tichborne claimant, Henry Irving's Hamlet performances, the appearance of the telephone, the rise of anklet jewelry due to short ball dresses, an 1883 "plot to blow up London" and so on.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Travel Among the Ancient Romans

William West Monney - Travel Among the Ancient Romans (1920)

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Ok, I haven't read this but whatever the topic may seem to be it's actually pretty interesting, even if from skimming this book might be a bit, uh, pedestrian.  I have read Tony Perrottet's 2002 Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists (original title Route 66 AD and why would anybody have changed that) and there's a whole world of ancient pleasure trips that are surprisingly similar to today's - relaxation, cuisine, culture, exotica and even sex.

This Monney book seems probably a bit more mundane but that might be a plus.  The headings promise material on unwelcome guests, painting of ships, guidebooks (Pausanias presumably though possibly a tad late for the time period), hats, food, superstition in travel, prices at inns, marine insurance and regulation of eating places.  (The Romans after all were nothing if not bureaucrats.)  If you've ever needed a breakdown of various types of coaches and carts then start on p85 and it goes on for pages.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Mira calligraphiae monumenta

Georg Bocskay and Joris Hoefnagel - Mira calligraphiae monumenta (1590?)

Getty Publications link (with downloadable pdf)

In 1562 calligrapher Bocskay created a book to show off his skills - thirty years later the Holy Roman Emperor had Hoefnagel illustrate it.  The result is this fantastic work combining elaborate alphabets with finely detailed nature studies (possibly an inspiration for Serafini's Codex Seraphinianus?) but even better to my mind are the illustrated letters that Hoefnagel did on his own that are included here as an extra.  The Getty edition contains essays on the work and creators along with identification of the plants and animals (though admittedly I haven't yet read all this which is why I'm not sure about the work's date of completion).  Oh and yes one of those pages provided the cover for the Public Domain Review's Selected Essays.