We digitized, annotated and created a custom web display for this incredibly detailed 16th century indigenous map of Mexico. Explore it here.
This is worth browsing if you like old maps. Nice interactive framework with lots of extra information. A well done project!
Medieval kids’ doodles on birch bark
Here’s something very special. In the 1950s archeologists made a great discovery near the city of Novgorod, Russia: they dug up hundreds of pieces of birch bark with all sorts of texts written on them. The 915 items are mostly letters, notes and receipts, all written between the 11th and 15th century. Among the more notable scraps is a marriage proposal from a man called Mikita to his beloved Anna: “marry me - I want you and you want me, and the witness to that is Ignat Moiseev” (item 377).
The most special items, however, are the ones shown above, which are from a medieval classroom. In the 13th century, young schoolboys learning to write filled these scraps with alphabets and short texts. Bark was ideal material for writing down things with such a short half-life. Then the pupils got bored and started to doodle, as kids do: crude drawings of individuals with big hands, as well as a figure with a raised sword standing next to a defeated beast (lower image). The last one was drawn by Onfim, who put his name next to the victorious warrior. The snippets provide a delightful and most unusual peek into a 13th-century classroom, with kids learning to read - and getting bored in the process.
More information - On the scraps in general, see here. Here is a full inventory, in Russian. On the excavation, see here and here. More kids’ doodles here and here. Some letters in this Flickr stream. The Leiden scholar Jos Schaeken published a book in Dutch on this material, which can be downloaded for free here (English translation to follow next year).
Handscrolls of Buddhist Hell
12th Century, Japan.
Study of a Parrot, 1515-1520
Details from the rear cover of the Lindau Gospels.
Gilt silver, enamel, and jeweled bookcover
[Probably Salzburg, ca. 760–90]
Earlier binding used as lower cover on Lindau Gospels, Abbey of St. Gall, Switzerland, late ninth century
350 x 275 mm
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1901; MS M. 1
A book cover that looks like jewelry. And it’s over a thousand years old! Awesome.
Speaking of a freak coincidence, check this out. The bottom image you may recognize as something I tumbled just last week (in this post). The decorator Rufillus drew himself in a decorated letter R. It is special because a monk is supposed to be humble and not draw attention to himself. To make it worse, he placed his name above his portrait (faintly visible in white paint). Today I was browsing the wonderful Initiale website for images of scribes and I came across the top image. No way, there is Rufillus again! This time he depicted himself as a scribe, again writing his name above his self portrait. Both the handwriting of the name and that of the main text is from the same individual, meaning Rufillus copied the book himself. It looks like our Rufillus was not just proud of his painting abilities, but he was also quite fond of the way he wrote - everybody was to know it was done by him. Most striking, however, is the similarity of the two portraits: the bony features of the face, the pronounced chin, and the copious red hair. Both images are very likely showing what he really looked like - and are therefore true medieval selfies. How great is that?
An animation of the hexagonal storm present on Saturn’s north pole. The hexagon is 30,000 kilometers across and has constant winds of more than 300 kilometers per hour. Images acquired by the Cassini spacecraft on Dec.10th, 2012.
La dama Flàvia (The Flavian Lady), 69 - 96 AD, found in Empúries.
Don’t let the front view fool you, she’s not wearing a full fro. But what she is wearing was one the most popular hairstyles of 1st century Rome(Janet Stephens). Click the link also to learn more this peculiar hairstyle, the Orbis Comarum
Located at the Archaeology Museum of Catalonia (Barcelona), Barcelona.
*please do not erase the photo credits
Head of a Man
Medium: Marble, “Bigio Morata”
Possible place made: Turkey
Dates: late 2nd century B.C.E.
Period: Ptolemaic Period
Dark grey marble head representing a Nubian with heavily curled hair.
Photo courtesy and located at the Brooklyn Museum, New York City
William Hoare of Bath
Portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, called Job ben Solomon
Oil on canvas
There are are some portraits from art history that just stand out, and in my opinion this is one of them. The skill of the artist and the beauty of the subject combine to give us not only a visual treat, but a kind of resonance with what we imagine to be the depicted person’s spirit and personality. And while the museum that this portrait is currently on loan to gives us a brief biography of Diallo, there are some seriously problematic statements in the second half of the portrait’s description.
Ayuba Suleiman Diallo was an educated man from a family of Muslim clerics in West Africa. In 1731 he was taken into slavery and sent to work on a plantation in America. By his own enterprise, and assisted by a series of spectacular strokes of fortune, Diallo arrived in London in 1733. Recognised as a deeply pious and educated man, in England Diallo mixed with high and intellectual society, was introduced at Court and was bought out of slavery by public subscription. Through the publication of his Memoirs in 1734, Diallo had an important and lasting impact on Britain’s understanding of West African culture, black identity and Islam. In the early years of the nineteenth-century, advocates of the abolition of slavery would cite Diallo as a key figure in asserting the moral rights and humanity of black people.
Now, here we have the problematic elements in bold:
Now on a five-year loan to the Gallery, William Hoare’s sensitive portrait of Diallo is the earliest known British oil portrait of a freed slave and the first portrait to honour an African subject as an individual and an equal. Painted at the time when there was a new interest in Islamic culture and faith in Britain, it provides a fascinating insight into the eighteenth-century response to other peoples and religions.
That statement is absolutely absurd, but is often applied to Baroque portraits of Black subjects as “the first of its kind”.
According to the UK government and historical documentation, high-ranking Black guests, musicians, nobles, workers, servants, and other folks have had a tangible presence in the UK since Classical times.
Here you can see in the accounts of James IV of Scotland, money allowed for gifts of clothing for noble or royal guests of the court: “Bertaine clath to be sarkis for the Moris”, as well as an allotment “for lynyn claith and mailyeis to thir four gownis and tua kirtillis”.
In England’s royal court during the reigns of both Henry VII and Henry VIII, the famous trumpeter John Blanke was one of the more handsomely paid trumpeters for royal events and tournaments. We know this because they still have his paycheck stubs.
He is also rather famously depicted in the 60-foot-long Westminster Tournament Roll, as he was an important fixture of the court.
Another interesting note: the British Museum Archive has hundreds of small prints, engravings, sketches and studies of Black people in England from the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Early Modern eras. Racist caricatures don’t begin to show up until after 1800, for the most part.
Despite the way the history of racism and global race relations are presented, history is not a linear progression of “worse to better”. The portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo is far from the first of its kind, but it may be a glaring exception to the generally derogatory depictions of Black people in European art in the late 1700s and 19th-20th centuries.