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Friday, May 31, 2013

Shakespearean Variations

This week's blog post comes from collections intern Anne Lutun. As one of her research projects we asked her to look into our ceramic figurines of Milton & Shakespeare; little did we realize how complicated that could turn out to be.
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Since next year will mark the 450th anniversary of the Bard’s birth and 2016 will be the 400th of his death, we thought we would try to find out more about one particular piece of Shakespeareana from our collections, pictured below.
Derby Porcelain factory, figure of Shakespeare. Soft paste porcelain. ca 1780-1810. Rosenbach Museum & Library. 1954.2109

This glazed and gilt soft-paste porcelain figurine, ten inches tall, forms a pair with a similar effigy of Milton, also in our collections. Our research indicates that they are examples of late eighteenth-century British porcelain, most likely produced in the Derby factory sometime between 1780 and 1810, but possibly as late as the 1830s.

Derby Porcelain factory, figures of Milton and Shakespeare. Soft paste porcelain. ca 1780-1810. Rosenbach Museum & Library. 1954.2109 &2110

Derby had started producing Shakespeare figurines in the late 1750s, due to the growing demand on the part of the public for reproductions of the monument in the Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, designed by William Kent and executed by Peter Scheemakers in 1740. 

South Transept and Poet's Corner,Westminster Abbey London. Image scanned by Nathalie Chevalier.
Over the years the factory issued several versions of the figurine: while the first had a simple square base, it was soon replaced in the 1760s by a Rococo variant on an elaborately scrolled base (which you can see in the V & A collection), itself phased out in the 1780s in favor of the Neoclassical version – on a rectangular base with chamfered corners and fluted edges – that we see here. The Derby company offered the Neoclassical version in at least three different sizes, and a choice of either enameled porcelain or unglazed biscuit  porcelain.The base of ours is incised "No. 305," which seems to refer to the 10 1/2" tall Derby model.   

Naturally the color scheme may differ on any two given copies of the enameled version, but by comparing our Shakespeare with its counterparts in other museums we found further individual differences. In all copies Shakespeare wears eighteenth-century style breeches and a cloak, but the details of his jacket, such as the number and size of the buttons as well as the ornamental sleeve caps, vary.  

Derby Porcelain factory, figure of Shakespeare. Soft paste porcelain. ca 1780-1810.Rosenbach Museum & Library 1954.2109

In addition, his left hand holds the scroll at a slightly different angle:
Derby Porcelain factory, figure of Shakespeare. Soft paste porcelain. ca 1780-1810. Rosenbach Museum & Library 1954.2109
 Finally, while Will always rests his right elbow on a stack of three books, the size and arrangement of the tomes, spine facing outward or inward, differs from copy to copy.  In ours, the top volume has its spine facing forward, which is a different orientation than this example from the V&A (which also features larger buttons than ours).
Derby Porcelain factory, figure of Shakespeare. Soft paste porcelain. ca 1780-1810. 1954.2109
We're not sure why there are so many variations; one possibility is that the variations correspond to the different sizes that were offered. If you know of other Shakespeare porcelains that we should look at as we delve into this puzzle, please let us know!

Anne Lutun is working on her dissertation in architectural history at the University of Pennsylvania. She is thrilled to be part of the Rosenbach team and is thoroughly enjoying the "sleuthing" type of research she is doing as part of her internship.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Manjiro Homecoming--Part 1: Manjiro Pilgrimage

Museums travel their objects all over the world, and the Rosenbach is no exception.  But it's especially interesting to travel around the world with an object that's all about world travel.  The object in question is our manuscript relating to Nakahama Manjiro's travels from Japan to the U.S. and back from 1841-51, which we recently lent to the Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Museum in Kochi, Japan.  This project was more than a decade in the making, and the dream of two people in particular: Junji Kitadai of Tokyo, a member of the Manjiro Historic Friendship Society and all-around Manjiro expert; and Judy Guston, our own Curator & Director of Collections, who became acquainted with Mr. Kitadai during the lead-up to the Rosenbach's own exhibition on its Manjiro manuscript 14 years ago.  Fourteen years sounds like a long time, but consider that the Rosenbach Manjiro manuscript was last in Japan 101 years ago and you realize how significant a loan this is.  Kathy did a great blog post about this manuscript about a year ago, and I'll try not to duplicate her efforts too much.  Instead, I'll share with you some of the things we learned about Manjiro and our manuscript in our travels around his home island of Shikoku (and next week I'll tell you more about the Sakamoto Ryoma Museum's exhibition of Manjiro's travels and manuscripts related to them).

The Kochi visitor's information center built a wonderful representation of Shikoku with figures that capture each area's significance.  The city of Kochi is along the Pacific coast in the center, while Manjiro's hometown is towards the bottom left corner of the island.

Here's the Manjiro figure near his hometown of Naka-no-hama (now Tosashimizu) on the south-western cape of Shikoku

Judy, Junji Kitadai, and I traveled south to trace Manjiro's route from his birthplace to his shipwreck to his route home after he returned to Japan.  Our first stop was the John Mung (Manjiro's anglicized name) Museum in Tosashimizu.  The museum displays artifacts, period rooms, and models describing Manjiro's travels, accomplishments, and legacy. 
Kazuhiko Nabeshima, Judy Guston, and Junji Kitadai at the John Mung Museum, Tosashimizu.  Also a Manjiro fan, Mr. Nabeshima kindly guided us to many Manjiro sites and somehow navigated the narrow mountain roads.  

This panel at the museum, with Manjiro surrounded by a blue circle, explains his influence on others in his own time and beyond.  To the upper left is the reformist samurai Sakamoto Ryoma, who was inspired by what he learned of the United States in part through Manjiro.  He worked to bring about the end of the feudal shogunate and the beginning of modern Japan.  On the far right center is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose Delano ancestors lived in Fairhaven, MA, where Manjiro also lived.  Roosevelt wrote to Manjiro's son of these ties in 1933.

From the museum we headed to the site of Manjiro's birth.  The original house hasn't survived, but a faithful recreation based on photographs was built next to where the original stood. Manjiro lived in this tiny house with his mother, brother, and sister, struggling to help support them and eventually leaving home to join the fishing expedition that would inadvertently send him around the world.  When he returned to Japan, after his exhaustive debriefing at numerous cities, he finally made his way back to Kochi, and from there walked back to his old house for a reunion with his mother.  Having followed that route for half a day by both train and car, Judy and I can tell you it's a long and winding road that brought Manjiro home!

A building in the port of Usa: a sign in the upper left plays on the town name's similarity to the U.S.A., while the sign on the right mentions that Nakahama Manjiro departed here on his fateful voyage.  Usa is now a point of departure for many whale-watchers.
Finally, we headed to the town of Usa.  The 14-year-old Manjiro embarked from this fishing village in 1841 with four companions, coasting along on the "black current."  This current normally betokened good fishing, but it proved treacherous on this voyage thanks to a terrible storm, carrying the fishermen and their small craft out to sea away from Japan, and stranding them on the inhospitable island of Torishima (nicknamed "Bird Island," since albatross were the island's only inhabitants--the one Manjiro site that Judy and I did not visit!). 

Manjiro portrait at the John Mung Museum, Tosashimizu
Manjiro is such a celebrated historical figure that we saw his likeness everywhere.  Most often he appeared in his red shirt and broad-brimmed hat, after a drawing done by the scholar and artist Kawada Shoryo, who recorded Manjiro's story and created the manuscripts that now reside in the U.S. and Japan.  The hat was from Manjiro's adventure in California's Gold Rush, in which he had participated after his whaling days had ended.  We saw caricatures of this portrait of Manjiro on food packaging, tourist wayfinding information, and  toys (which we really need for our museum shop!). 

It was fascinating to see how Manjiro's significance rippled through history and can be felt in places like Usa, Tosashimizu, and Kochi.  His legacy is certainly alive and well, and hopefully growing, thanks to exhibitions, research, education, and pop culture representations (toys, games, merchandise, and even an appearance as a character in the popular Japanese TV drama about Ryoma's life).  More on the Rosenbach's Manjiro manuscript at the Sakamoto Ryoma museum next week! 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Free Library Field Trip

 Last Friday the Rosenbach's collections department took a field trip up 20th Street to visit our new colleagues in the Rare Book Department of the Free Library.   We're no strangers, having worked together though PACSCL (the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries) for years and having researched at the Free Library and borrowed from them for past exhibitions, such as Chosen in 2007.  But it was nice to have an excuse to get together, discuss our work, and get to see some of their wonderful collections.

In our brief visit we got to see some highlights from the Elkins Room (including a map by John Dee, a fascinating character who is featured on our Magic hands-on-tour), fantastic material from their Pennsylvania German collections, as well as their First Folio, several medieval books of hours, and the Ferrara Bible (which our curator Judy Guston remembered vividly from Chosen). We all wished we had more time, but luckily this is only the beginning.

Here is Janine Pollock, the head of the rare book department, retrieving a book for us in Elkins room. To learn more about William McIntire Elkins and his collecting, you can check out this essay by Ellen Schaffer. We all coveted the elegant library ladder that you see in the foreground of this picture, but it seems that the staff actually use the more prosaic steps that Janine is standing on.

We neglected to take a group shot, but we want to extend our thanks to all the folks at the Free Library who took time out of their busy schedules to spend with us. We are looking forward to returning the favor.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

Friday, May 10, 2013

Fairy Ballads

After last week's post on cannibalism we promised a lighter topic for this week, which comes to us courtesy of our departing collections intern Anne Baker
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When thinking of May and what to write about, I thought of how the month is known for flowers.  In searching through the collections I came across a bound set of beautiful watercolors and decided to investigate them further. It appeared that they were for a book by Caroline Elizabeth Sheridan Norton and there is a letter from her included, with instructions for the artist. The book was entitled “Fairy Ballads,” and the watercolors were done by the artist John Absolon.

John Absolon. "They All Take Hands in a Fairy Ring." Illustration for Aunt Carry's Ballads. ca. 1847. Rosenbach Museum & Library 1954.322.

I wanted to find out more about the book, so I turned to Google. “Fairy Ballads, by the Honorable Mrs. Norton" (as written on the title page) does not appear in searches.  However, I did find a book called Aunt Carry's Ballads for Children, by the Honorable Mrs. Norton; With Illustrations by John Absolon, published in 1847. This matched the title given in a laudatory poem bound with the watercolors. I had found it!

John Absolon. "Fairy Ballads" ca. 1847. Rosenbach Museum & Library 1954.322.
The title page in the Rosenbach collection (which is not used in the published book)  is a very striking and a beautifully composed image. Three mermaids surrounded by sea corral and shells, frame the bottom of the page, while above two women sit in the trees looking down while a woman in white, in the company of a lamb, is in the scenic distance. The colors are bright and cheerful while the watercolor technique is detailed and picturesque. 

As Mrs. Norton's ballads are not included with the Rosenbach’s watercolors, I had to search elsewhere for the text that corresponds with the drawings; here is an example of the accompanying poetry from the final published version:

Excerpt from "Adventures of a Wood Sprite, or The Fairy of the Hawthorn Tree" from Aunt Carry's Ballads for Children, by the Honorable Mrs. Norton; With Illustrations by John Absolon  (pgs 5-6)

Once on a time, on a Summer’s day,
When mowers were tossing the new made hay,
And children were playing in the garden bowers,
And butter flies flitting among the flowers,
And dragon-flies darting here and there,
All golden and green in the sunny air:
A Hawthorn tree, that so long had stood,
Its trunk was all gnarled and knotted wood,

And its bark half covered with lichen and moss,
Was cut down, to make a new path across
The gentleman’s lawn where it sheltered so long
The Tom-tit’s nest, and the Robin’s song:
Woe is me! Ah! Woe is me,
A Wood-sprite lived in that Hawthorn tree!

Reading briefly about Mrs. Norton proved to be interesting. The granddaughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, she had an unhappy marriage (ending in separation) and her husband accused her of having a scandalous affair with the Prime Minister of England, Lord Melbourne. Her frustration with the legal powerlessness of married women led her to work to change the law. I encourage you to look her up!

Anne Baker is a Museum Student at the University of the Arts. She is from Delaware, Ohio, just north of Columbus. She enjoys Art History (Italian art) and painting and has just completed interning at the Rosenbach in the Collections Department, which she describes as "a blast, I have learned so much!"

Friday, May 03, 2013

Civil War and Cannibalism

I would like to start off by inviting all Rosen-readers to come enjoy Voices of 1863: Witnesses to the Civil War, which opened just this Wednesday. We've packed Gallery 1 full of wonderful Civil War documents that really illuminate the wartime experience, plus there's a chance to hear some of Dave Burrell's compositions inspired by our 1863 collections, and to dig deeper with a kiosk of the Today in the Civil War blog.

In unrelated news from two and a half centuries earlier, my news feed has been burning up with Wednesday's articles about the archaeological discovery of cannibalism at Jamestown. I was just at the Jamestown archaeology site less than a month ago on a spring-break trip with my children, so I was especially interested.

If you missed the story, you can read an account at Smithsonian Magazine or a number of other news outlets. Basically, the short version is that archaeologists have discovered bones from a 14-year-old English girl at Jamestown that show signs of having been dismembered for food during the 1609-1610 winter known as "the starving time".

John Smith, The generall historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles.
London : Printed by John Dawson and John Haviland for Michael Sparkes, 1626. A 626s
All the articles note that cannibalism at Jamestown was already known from contemporary accounts, which drove me to the Rosenbach's historical collections. Here's the description of the starving time in John Smith's famous Generall Historie of Virginia, New England and the Summer Isles," published in 1624 (the Rosenbach has both the 1624 and 1626 printings, these images are from the 1626 version). I've modernized the spelling and inserted some breaks in the transcript which follows.

John Smith, The generall historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles. London : Printed by John Dawson and John Haviland for Michael Sparkes, 1626. A 626s

Now we all found the loss of Captain Smith, yea his greatest maligners could now curse his loss: as for corn provision and contribution from the Savages, we had nothing but mortal wounds, with clubs and arrows; as for our Hogs, Hens, Goats, Sheep, Horse, or what lived, our commanders, officers and Savages daily consumed them, some small proportions sometimes we tasted, till all was devoured; then swords, arms, pieces, or any thing, wee traded with the Savages, whose cruel fingers were so oft imbrewed in our bloods, that what by their cruelty, our Governor's indiscretion, and the loss of our ships, of five hundred within six months after Captain Smiths departure, there remained not past sixty men, women and children, most miserable and poor creatures; and those were preserved for the most part, by roots, herbs, acorns, walnuts, berries, now and then a little fish: they that had starch in these extremities, made no small use of it; yea even the very skins of our horses.

Nay, so great was our famine, that a Savage we slew and buried, the poorer sort took him up again and eat him; and so did divers one another boiled and stewed with roots and herbs: And one amongst the rest did kill his wife, powdered [i.e. salted] her, and had eaten part of her before it was known; for which he was executed, as he well deserved: now whether she was better roasted, boiled or carbonado'd [i.e. grilled], I know not; but of such a dish as powdered wife I never heard of. 

This was that time, which still to this day we called the starving time; it were too vile to say, and scarce to be believed, what we endured: but the occasion was our own, for want of providence industry and government, and not the barrenness and defect of the Country, as is generally supposed...

Sobering thoughts. Perhaps next week we will return to a more cheerful topic on the Rosen-blog.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog