ancient book love!

Some of the areas we access through my course are confidential and I can’t share them. These however I am fairly sure are fine to write about and put pictures up, as they are from the University of Melbourne archives and pretty much anyone can access them if they request to. It’s just a short post really, to share my delight at a few of the volumes that I saw on Monday.

A volume of William Morris’ Kelmscott Chaucer! This I could have drooled over all day… from the link you probably won’t click: The Kelmscott Chaucer was the most ambitious book Morris ever printed; it took four years, and was only finished just before his death. But it was a labour of love, the culmination of Morris and Burne-Jones’s long friendship. Morris designed the typeface, decorative initials and page layout; Burne-Jones designed the illustrations. SO. SEXY. I wanted to touch it so badly but “on touche avec les yeux”… the printing was magnificent, and the binding in white leather was so fabulous, oh my… you can’t tell from the picture but the book is 11×16 inches and 600 pages long — massive and completely impractical and utterly desirable nonetheless!

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Also fabulous — a gigantic volume of Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament.

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It inspired me to purchase this beautiful book of wrapping papers ($7 only!) a few days later. Sorry for the horrid quality picture but my room’s lighting is not ideal.

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In the background of the Grammar, you can see this treasure: …I have forgotten the details already unfortunately. It’s a herbalist’s manual, full of hand-coloured prints showing not just all the herbs and plants but also all the animals — including unicorns and mermaids.

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This — also glimpsed in the background above — is a single page from an original Gutenberg Bible. Not the best picture but this is kind of like being a paparazzi really — I’m just excited to catch a shot of a celebrity. Even though I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about Gutenberg, as he gets all the credit for inventing moveable type hundreds of years after the Chinese did (and after the Koreans perfected it). Still. Pretty cool! Of course, if I’d studied in Europe instead of Australia I would probably have access to more than a single page… but I’m the only person allowed to point that out.

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A week or so ago you may have seen me get excited on Facebook about the etymology of the word miniature: The name “minium” was used for both orange lead and cinnabar [from which were extracted red and orange pigments]. An artist working with minium was known as a “miniator”, who made “miniature”, so the term miniatures was originally used for the red capitals used in illuminated manuscripts. The term was eventually applied to any small feature and came to mean anything reduced in size.* Here is some original miniature for you! The vellum of this manuscript made it a perfectly acceptable candidate for binding another book, completely unrelated, and it has held up just fine over the centuries.

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Last but not least in this episode of book geekery… You may note in this action shot of the Chaucer, a small, unprepossessing volume, bound in a dubious floral print, hovering in the background.

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It has been in the collections for years, more or less ignored. Upon fortuitously opening it one day, however, the archivist was amazed to discover…

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*I have written up some information about pigments and their history but I’m not sure if it’s really fair as it’s more or less a rip-off of the article I read, and I don’t have time to re-write it completely in my own words… maybe later?


is it legal?

Not sure it can be legal to feel as good as I do. I have been in my new home a week now, and yesterday I finally got my room unpacked and organised. I took a panoramic picture on my iphone that can give an idea of my room (and a peek into the living-room) but I don’t know how well it will come through on my blog, it might be necessary to click through to see it properly. It’s actually really cool how you can zoom in on all the details! the iphone 5’s camera really is amazing.

I am enjoying my current readings for my essay. I finished The Buddhas of Bamiyan (reviewed here in the Guardian) which gave me a really fascinating insight into the history of Afghanistan and into understanding how the Buddhas were perceived throughout their existence, whether by Buddhists, Muslims or intrigued Western travellers and soldiers. I’m currently reading Art and Cultural Heritage: Law, Policy and Practice, which covers a broad range of topics of course, and it’s hard not to get distracted by all the case studies of cultural artefacts plundered or destroyed due to the travesty of war.

I’m particularly intrigued right now by the case of the Ethiopian Stele of Axum, originally because of the inconsistencies between what is in my book (published 2006) and what is on Wikipedia, notably because Wikipedia’s spin sounds more plausible but is lacking in citations (and also contradicts itself). The book says the stele was broken into 3 pieces by the Italians so they could carry it back to Rome in 1937, as a spoil of war. Wikipedia points out that the 24m-high stele was erected in the 4th century, in an area prone to earthquakes, and that it collapsed more or less immediately, laying on the ground in either 3 or 5 pieces until the Italians carried it off.

Stele of Axum

Of course I could head off and search for more information but it’s not the topic of my essay and I suppose it doesn’t really matter. But firstly, it’s made me doubt the reliability (and objectivity) of this book, and secondly, OMG HOW COOL IS ETHIOPIAN HISTORY? It frustrates me that even though my BA is in History of Art and Archaeology of Asia and Africa, I was so focused on East Asia and China that I never had more than a brief flirtation with African art in my first year. And now I need to get back to Afghanistan… but there is so much out there to read!!

Also in the works for the rest of my Sunday: hit up Bikram at 6, and cook a giant pot of soup for my work lunches this week. It’s already 3:30! where did my day go? (the answer is easy: I was up till 5am emailing with James in Afghanistan so I slept in till 11… NO REGRETS).