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Exploring Europe at the British Library

Introduction

Discover the British Library's extensive collections from continental Europe and read news and views on European culture and affairs from our subject experts and occasional guest contributors. Read more

27 September 2023

An Emblem Book without Emblems

You probably know what an emblem book looks like: a motto, a mysterious allegorical picture and a longer explanation in verse or prose. It’s had that form since Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum liber, first published in 1531.

 

Woodcut emblem of a blindfolded cupid in a chariot drawn by lions

Emblem from Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum liber (Augsburg, 1531) C.57.a.11.

In fact, Alciato’s manuscript didn’t have the pictures for which he became so famous: they were commissioned by his friend Conrad Peutinger.

This new acquisition is an adaptation in Portuguese of a famous pious emblem book, without the pictures.

Title-page of 'Suspiros e saudades de Deos'

Title page of Suspiros e saudades de Deos, exhalados e expostos em breves cantigos, reduzidos e imitados dos Afectos santos (Pia desideria) do P. Hermanno Hugo da Companhia de Jesus, pelo veneravel P. Fr. Antonio das Chagas. (Coimbra, 1830) RB.23.a.40412

The original was by the Flemish Jesuit Hermann Hugo (1588-1629): the Pia desideria were published at Antwerp in 1624, with 48 emblems by Boëtius à Bolswert.

In the words of the Emblem Project Utrecht:

Hugo’s Pia desideria contains emblems constructed on the basis of the three stages of mystical life.
In all it was reprinted 49 times, and 90 translations and adaptations of the Pia desideria were published in all the major European languages. Therefore, the Pia desideria was one of the most widely distributed, most widely translated and imitated religious books (not just emblem books) of the seventeenth century.

Complete with a picture of folly.

Emblem of folly in a jester's hat, riding a hobby-horse and carrying a cat hat

Emblem of folly from an edition of Hermann Hugo, Pia desideria emblematis, elegiis et affectibus, S. S. Patrum illustrate (Antwerp, 1529) 1019.g.40.

He (she?) wears the jester’s hat, rides a hobby-horse and – a clear sign of eccentricity – carries a kitten around in a handbag. Wisdom can only cover his eyes to avoid this unfortunate sight.

You’ll see that Chagas in his translation has rendered the motto and the poem and replaces the picture with a verbal description.

Chagas's written description of the folly emblem
Non-visual version of the folly emblem from Chagas’s Suspiros

Emblem books without illustrations weren’t unusual, as Infantes shows. Nor was it unusual for Peninsular emblematists to draw on German Neo-Latin sources, the most famous example being Saavedra Fajardo and his debt to Julius Wilhelm Zincgref (explained in López Poza’s edition).

Fr António das Chagas (1631-82) was born António da Fonseca Soares. After an exciting life as a soldier and poet, he entered the Franciscan Order and destroyed his poems. In religion he enjoyed a reputation as a prose stylist. 

This little book reminds us that an emblem book need not have pictures, and that Portuguese and Spanish authors were reading Germanic authors, provided they were Catholics and wrote in Latin.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections 

References/further reading

Glasgow University Emblem site

Víctor Infantes, ‘La presencia de una ausencia. La emblemática sin emblemas’, Literatura emblemática hispánica. Actas del I Simposio Internacional (A Coruña, 1994), Sagrario López Poza (ed.). (A Coruña, 1996), pp. 93-109

Diego Saavedra Fajardo, Empresas políticas; edición de Sagrario López Poza (Madrid, 1999) YF.2010.a.32130

 

13 September 2023

The Slovenian Age of Enlightenment

The Enlightenment in Slovenian lands was initiated by a group of like-minded people who advocated the change of the linguistic and cultural practices of the time, which relied exclusively on the use of the Latin and German languages. The Slovenian educators believed that the national language could be used equally for religious and secular purposes. Guided by this idea, they produced a critical body of literature that not only preserved the Slovenian language but also paved the way for the development of a modern literary language.

Grammars, dictionaries, histories, textbooks, translations of religious and secular texts from Latin and German, the first newspapers, original plays and modern literary adaptations were the main means to save the Slovenian language and raise national awareness.

In 1768, the priest, grammarian and lexicographer Marko Pohlin (1735-1801) published Kraynska grammatika (‘Carniolan Grammar’), which started off this cultural movement.

Title page of the 1972 facsimile reprint of Marko Pohlin, Tu malu besedishe treh jesikov

The 1972 facsimile reprint of Marko Pohlin, Tu malu besedishe treh jesikov = Das ist: das kleine Wörterbuch in dreyen Sprachen = Quod est: parvum dictionarium trilingue (Ljubljana, 1781). X.950/9786. The original can be seen in the Slovenian Digital Library

Title page of Anton Tomaž Linhart, Versuch einer Geschichte von Krain und der übrigen südlichen Slaven Oesterreichs

Anton Tomaž Linhart, Versuch einer Geschichte von Krain und der übrigen südlichen Slaven Oesterreichs (Nuremberg, 1796). BL 1437.e.11. This is the second edition of Linhart’s History of Carniola and Other South Slavs of Austria, which was originally published in two volumes in Ljubljana in 1788-1791.

Anton Tomaž Linhart (1756-1795) was the author of the first authoritative history of the Slovene nation. He was also the first Slovene playwright and theatre producer, author of Şhupanova Mizka (‘Micka, the Mayor’s Daughter’) and Ta veşsęli dan, ali: Matizhek şe shęni (‘This Merry Day or Matiček is Getting Married’), an adaptation from Beaumarchais’s The Marrige of Figaro

Title page of Valentin Vodnik, Pésme sa pokúshino

Valentin Vodnik, Pésme sa pokúshino (‘Trial Poems’) (Ljubljana, 1806.) Cup.401.a.15. 

Valentin Vodnik (1758-1819) a poet, journalist and linguist was the editor, writer, translator and technical designer of the first Slovene newspaper, Lublanske novize (‘The Ljubljana News’). Modelled on the Wiener Zeitung and used for promoting Slovenian language, culture and identity, it was printed by Janez Friderik Eger in Ljubljana between 1797-1800. Vodnik translated European news from German and he also published local news from Ljubljana and Carniola. Lublanske novize was first published as a semi-weekly and later as a weekly.

First page of the first poem from Pésme sa pokúshino

'A Song About My Countrymen', the title of the first poem from Pésme sa pokúshino. From Slovenian Digital Library

Title page of Bartholomæus Kopitar, Grammatik der Slavischen Sprache in Krain, Kärnten und Steyermark

Bartholomæus Kopitar, Grammatik der Slavischen Sprache in Krain, Kärnten und Steyermark. (Ljubljana, 1808) 829.e.12.

Jernej Kopitar (1780-1844) a Slavist and national revivalist was the author of a scholarly and influential Grammar of the Slavonic Language in Carniola, Carinthia and Styria printed by Wilhelm Heinrich Korn in Ljubljana in 1808.

Pohlin, Linhart, Vodnik and Kopitar, among other Slovenian writers and scientists, were part of the cultural group named after their patron, Baron Sigismund (Žiga) Zois (1747-1819), a large landowner, naturalist and enlightened person. The group was united by their shared values of education and the promotion of Slovenian language, literature and culture.

Page one of Valentin Vodnik, Pismenost ali gramatika sa perve shole

Page one of Valentin Vodnik, Pismenost ali gramatika sa perve shole (Ljubljana, 1811) 1488.bb.8.

Vodnik’s Pismenost ali gramatika sa perve shole (‘Literacy or Grammar for the Elementary Schools’) contains an introductory part, and on eight unnumbered pages, a hymn entitled ‘Iliria oshivlena’ (‘Illyria resurrected’) in honour of Napoleon Bonaparte and the formation of the Illyrian Provinces as part of his French Empire from 1809 to 1814. During this period the Illyrian Provinces made economic and cultural advances felt long after the Austrians retook the territory in 1814. Vodnik’s Slovene language textbook also endured with the exception of its pro-French introductory parts.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South East European Collections

Slovenian Enlightenment literature from Slovenian Digital Library:

Geschichte des Herzogthums Krain, des Gebiethes von Triest und der Grafschaft Görz (Valentin Vodnik, 1809) 

Pismenost ali gramatika sa perve shole (Valentin Vodnik, 1811)

Dictionarium slavo-carniolicum. III partis a 1787/1798 manuscript by Blaž Kumerdej (1738-1805) a school teacher, philologist and educator 

Svetu pismu noviga testamenta, id est: Biblia sacra novi testamenti ... ( A 1784-1786 translation of the New Testament) 

Svetu pismu stariga testamenta id est: Biblia sacra veteris testamenti ... (A 1791-1802 translation of the Old Testament) 

Glossarium Slavicum in supplementum ad primam partem Dictionarii Carniolici (Marko Pohlin, 1792) 

Vadenje sa brati v' usse sorte pissanji sa sholarje teh deshelskeh shol v' zessarskih krajlevih deshelah (Reading textbook for schoolchildren, translation by Blaž Kumerdej, 1796) 

Navúk k' osdravlenju te pluzhníze s' shelesnato solno kislostjo (Treatment of lung disease, 1804) 

Mustertafel zur Aufsuchung krain : Wörter (Blaž Kumerdej, 1750-1800) 

31 August 2023

Women in Translation Month 2023

August is Women in Translation Month, an initiative that celebrates and promotes literature by women from around the world in English translation. As in past years, members of our team have picked some titles to recommend. We hope they will inspire you! 

Cover of 'Under a Cruel Star', with a photograph of a woman and child

Heda Margolius Kovály, Under a Cruel Star: a Life in Prague 1941-1968, translated from the Czech by Franci Epstein and Helen Epstein with the author (London, 2021) YK.2012.a.24219
Chosen by Alice Pappon, British Library Trainee

Under a Cruel Star memoirs the life of author Heda Margolius Kovály who was born in Prague in 1919. In describing her experiences living in Auschwitz and Communist Czechoslovakia, this memoir offers a magnificent and raw account of human endurance in the face of the most brutal atrocities. Kovály provides a chilling recollection of operating under constant scrutiny and suspicion from the Communist regime and a life of constantly looking over one’s shoulder. This book was first published in 1973 with a British edition published the same year under the title I Do Not Want to Remember (X.809/18317). It has since been re-translated by Franci and Helen Epstein who worked with Kovály herself to capture the truest version of the author’s experience.

Cover of 'Mazel Tov' with a drawing of a pen in the corner

J.S. Margot, Mazel Tov: the Story of my Extraordinary Friendship with an Orthodox Jewish Family, translated by Jane Hedley-Prôle (London, 2020 ) ELD.DS.484114
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections (Dutch and Flemish Languages)

Margot Vanderstraeten’s memoir Mazel Tov (published in English under the name J.S. Margot) was one of the books in the goody bag at the launch in April this year of ‘Flip Through Flanders’, the campaign to promote translated Flemish literature in the UK. It is the story of the author as a student in 1987, when she tutored the children of an orthodox Jewish family in Antwerp. These people could almost not have been more different from herself. She knows nothing of Jewish orthodox culture, which leads to some embarrassing moments. Her having an Iranian boyfriend doesn’t help either. However, over time both parties come to understand and appreciate each other more and they even become friends. It is a story about identity and coming of age that feels very uplifting.
Mazel Tov is translated by Jane Hedley-Prôle who has translated books from Dutch into English for over ten years.

 

Cover of 'Freshta' with an abstract design featuring a woman's face and a butterfly

Petra Procházková, Freshta, translated by Julia Sherwood (London, 2012). H.2014/.5570.
Chosen by Olga Topol, Curator Czech, Slavonic and East European Collections

Petra Procházková is a Czech war correspondent, humanitarian worker and journalist, recipient of Medal of Merit awarded by President Václav Havel. She is known for her in-depth interviews with women struggling to survive in conflict-ridden areas of the post-Soviet world. Procházková covered news from Abkhazia, Ossetia, Georgia, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. For reporting on the atrocities of Chechen War, she was forbidden to enter Russia for many years. In her novel Freshta, set in Afghanistan before the Taliban returned to power in 2021, Procházková explores Afghan culture following Herra, a Russian-Tajik woman who falls in love with an Afghan man. Colourful characters, and a sensitivity towards local culture and customs gained through the author’s personal experience, make Procházková’s book a captivating read.

 

Cover of 'Apple Cake and Baklava' with a picture of two children on a bicycle

Kathrin Rohmann, Apple Cake and Baklava, illustrated by Franziska Harvey, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (London, 2018) YKL.2019.a.17272
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Kathrin Rohmann’s children’s story Apple Cake and Baklava, translated by Ruth Ahmedazi Kemp, is told from the perspectives of two children, Leila and Max. Leila is a Syrian refugee who has just arrived with her mother and brothers in the German village where Max lives. As her family try to settle into their new home, they wait anxiously for news of the children’s father and grandmother, still in Syria. Leila treasures a walnut from her grandmother’s garden that carries memories of home for her. When she loses it she is deeply upset and Max, who feels drawn to his new classmate, offers to help her find it. A friendship develops between the two, and also between Leila and Max’s grandmother Gertrud, who herself was a refugee from Pomerania after the Second World War. Gertrud still bakes apple cake and lebkuchen to her own grandmother’s recipes as a link with her lost home and family, just as Leila’s brothers try to recreate the baklava that their father used to make in his bakery (there are recipes for all three at the end of the book).
Apple Cake and Baklava is a touching story of friendship, family and food and a good introduction for younger readers to the themes of exile and loss.

 

Cover of 'The mauve umbrella' with two children in silhouette against a background of flowers

Alki Zei, The Mauve Umbrella, translated by Ian Barnes (London, 2016) H.2020/.5039
Chosen by Lydia Georgiadou, Curator Modern Greek Collections

In the summer of 1940, shortly before the Second World War reaches Greece, 10 year-old Eleftheria lives with her parents and twin brothers in Athens. She despises the household chores expected from women of the time, while she adores anything her father does not approve of: reading fanatically, going to the theatre, hoping to one day become a lawyer, inspired by Sophocles’ Antigone. One floor above, lives the Frenchman Mr Marcel, whose nephew Benoit becomes an inseparable friend of the children. Their toys are few, but their imagination endless. Their enchanting games are only constrained by the grownups’ harsh experiences.
A book about two completely different worlds – that of children and that of the adults – each one carrying its own truth. A book that puzzles and entertains at the same time. Through its pages, the beloved Greek novelist Alki Zei (1923-2020) depicts the characters’ ethos, childhood innocence, the agony of war and the upheavals in our lives. Yesterday meets today on a journey… with a purple umbrella.

25 August 2023

New light on the earliest ‘professor’ of Spanish in the UK?

Antonio Vieyra Transtagano – he used his toponymic ‘Transtagano’ ‘of Tras os Montes’ to distinguish himself from the baroque preacher Antonio Vieira SJ (1608-97) – was the first professor of Spanish at Trinity College Dublin and the first in the UK. (Ann Frost reminds us that at the time ‘professor’ was not the lofty title of today, and was largely used to mean ‘teacher’.)

Vieyra, like nearly all the language teachers in London, was a Protestant exile. His date of birth is often given as 1712. His first publication was in London, printed by John Nourse, who seems to have specialised in foreign languages (see ESTC and Foreign-language Printing in London).

Title page of A new Portuguese grammar

A new Portuguese grammar (London, 1768). 1568/3986

Title page of A dictionary of the Portuguese and English languages

A dictionary of the Portuguese and English languages (London, 1773). 1502/272

But he was a man of parts, who also wrote on Persian:

Brevis, clara, facilis ac jucunda, non solùm Arabicam linguam; Sed etiam hodiernam Persicam, cui tota ferè Arabica intermixta est, addiscendi methodus; quam non ita pridèm quinque speciminibus comprehensam, editamque; nunc autem novis, ac berè multis vocabulis locupletatam, (inter quae plurima celtica, imò et aliquot Asiatica et Americana, quo nonnullorum Asiae, Novique Orbis populorum felici origines investigentur exitu, reperiuntur) cum Arabicis aut Persicis affinitatem habentibus, in usum utriusque ling. tyronum, denuò edit ejusdem methodi auctor Antonius Vieyra, L.L. hisp. ac Ital. prof. reg. in Col. S.S. et ind. Trin. Dublin
(Dublin, 1789) 12903.c.20

He arrived in Dublin in 1779 to teach at Trinity College, a Protestant stronghold.

Andrew Wakeley’s best-selling textbook on the use of the compass (first printed 1665) was translated into Portuguese by one ‘Antonio Vieira’ for Antonio Fernandes, merchant of London, in 1762.

Title page of A agulha de marear rectificada …

Page from A agulha de marear rectificada …

A agulha de marear rectificada … composto por Andre Wakeley, mathematico … traduzido do original ingles, por Antonio Vieira, Professor de Geometria na Academia Magnanense (London, 1762) RB.23.a.40456 [The Mariners-compass rectified … composed by Andrew Wakeley, mathematician … translated from the English original by Antonio Vieira, professor of geometry in the Magnanensian Academy]

Could they be related – or even one and the same?

Our Vieira writes in his dedication to Fernandes that he left his homeland in his third lustrum: as a lustrum was a period of 5 years, his age on departure was between 11 and 15.

He calls himself (in 1762) ‘professor of geometry at the Academia Magnanense’ (Orbis Latinus identifies this as Meinvelt (or Mayenfeld), a region between the Rhine and Moselle rivers). He also calls himself ‘chaplain’.

He says explicitly that he turned to translating Wakeley ‘and others’ and needed a patron: a role which Fernandes fulfilled.

Although the humanities and sciences weren’t as divided as they are now, our man’s prologue is stuffed with literary references far beyond the needs of a work of Fachliteratur. He cites Camões – well chosen on account of the maritime feats sung in the Lusiads. He refers to his annotations on the Satires of Horace, Juvenal, Persius and Petronius and draws on classical culture to praise Fernandes as a new Cicero and Juvenal among the ancients and Salignac and Locke among the moderns.

The book has no printer or publisher named: did Vieira publish it himself?

The fullest account of the Professor’s life I have been able to see is the obituary in the Dublin Evening Post, Thursday 16 March 1797:

Doctor Vieyra, who died at the College, some short time since, was King’s Professor of Spanish and Italian. He was a most worthy man, an excellent scholar, and had a perfect knowledge of almost every existing language. Having outlived his family, and most of his acquaintance, he spent his latter days almost in retirement, but his name is well known, in the literary world. His Portuguese Dictionary is the best that has been published of that language. He was born at Estremor, [sic] in Portugal, in the year 1712, and tho’ certainly deserving a more fortunate lot, met with various calamities during his whole life. His father had been taken up by the inquisition, and a small estate he had of course seized. Dr. Vieyra was sent to Padua, and from thence to Rome, where he took the vows and entered in the order of Conventuales. Ganganelli (afterwards Pope [Clement XIV]) was in the same convent at that time, and they were of course well acquainted. The Doctor, after a residence of twenty years in Italy, got leave to return to Portugal, where he narrowly escaped the fate of his father – and was obliged to quit the country, & after many extraordinary adventures, settled in London where he was patronized by the Chevalier Pinto. He got the appointment in Dublin College, many years ago. From the time he quit the convent at Rome, he renounced the Roman Catholic religion. He had several children, who all died before him. – The family of the late Provost, and Lady Moira, were always particularly kind to him. He wrote several volumes on the derivations of words and names; had he spent half the time taken up in such uninteresting works in writing memoirs of his life, he would have gained more, and have given the public some very curious and extraordinary anecdotes.

Chevalier Pinto was Luís Pinto de Sousa Coutinho, Viscount Balsemão (1735-1804), Portuguese Minister Plenipotentiary in London, 1774-88. With his wife, Catarina de Lencastre, he made his home into a literary and scientific salon. He supplied George III with books on Portugal, used by Southey for his History of Brazil. (All this according to Rodrigues.)

On 9 November 1774 Pinto wrote to the Bishop of Beja in support of two scholars: Manuel Azulay, a Jew, son of Portuguese parents, who aspired to a job teaching Hebrew in Portugal (he promises not to draw attention to his religion); and a monk who has written a Portuguese grammar and dictionary and has knowledge of Arabic and Persian, who seeks travel money and access to becoming a secular priest (Malato Borralho, 58). (Pinto also aided António de Morais e Silva, father of Brazilian lexicography, when he fled the Inquisition: Rodrigues 98.)

Who could this be but our man? But wasn’t he a Protestant by then?

It may not be too fanciful to draw the following chronology: Antonio Vieyra Transtagano was born in 1717; left Portugal in his third lustrum; went to Rome, became a Protestant, went to Mayenfeld; arrived in London in need of a patron and where he slaved as a dogsbody translator; by 1762 he was teaching and publishing in London; in 1774 he had the patronage of Chevalier Pinto; in 1779 he was in Dublin.

Translators have always sought patronage, and translators were often hacks – one thinks of George Borrow translating for newspapers, or the women readers in the British Museum in the nineteenth century (described by Bernstein).

Professor Antonio Vieyra’s biography has many lacunae, but perhaps this book allows us to fill them in.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

Barry Taylor, ‘St Anthony of Padua, alias Fernando of Lisbon’, European Studies Blog

Foreign-language printing in London, 1500-1900, edited by Barry Taylor. (Boston Spa, 2002) 2708.h.1059 

Maire Kennedy, ‘Antoine d’Esca: First Professor of French and German at Trinity College Dublin (1775-1784)’

Carmem Rodrigues, ‘Chevalier Pinto: “Um dos homens mais ilustrados que já viveram no Brasil”’, Fênix: Revista de História e Estudos Culturais, 19 (2022), 93-112

Maria Luísa Malato Borralho, "Por acazo hum viajante --" : a vida e a obra de Catarina de Lencastre, 1a Viscondessa de Balsemão (1749-1824) (Lisbon, 2008) YF.2010.a.8017

Ann Frost, The emergence and growth of Hispanic studies in British and Irish universities ([Great Britain]: Association of Hispanists, [2018]) YD.2019.b.1143

Dublin Evening Post, Thursday 16 March 1797 (Irish Newspaper Archives)

Susan David Bernstein, Roomscape: women writers in the British Museum from George Eliot to Virginia Woolf (Edinburgh, [2014?]) ELD.DS.47217

14 August 2023

Paul Vincent - 40 years of translating

Paul Frank Vincent (1942-) is an award winning translator of Dutch and German texts into English; in 2016 he and John Irons won the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize for 100 Dutch-Language Poems (London, 2015; YC.2017.a.3500). His career spanned many decades, but now he is retiring from translation at the age of 81. That is proof of his passion for languages, literature and translations, especially German, French and Dutch, all of which he studied at Cambridge. His choice for languages was influenced by his father who had fought in the Second World War on the continent, from where he brought back French and German songs. They fascinated the young Paul. He read translations of Grimm fairy tales as well as English classics such as Black Beauty.

Paul Vincent could have chosen to study German or French and he did indeed study these languages for a while when he realised that not many students did Dutch, so he switched. His decision proved the correct one when Paul came back from a holiday in the Netherlands with a desire to know more about the meaning of “strange letter combinations” in vowels such as ‘au’ (similar to ‘cow’) and ‘ui’ (not found in English).

For 22 years Vincent taught Dutch language and literature, including translation, at Bedford College and later at University College London (UCL), before taking the plunge into freelance translation in 1989. His teaching experience served him well, although finding work as a translator was and is not easy. Like every starting translator he had to accept what was on offer. That first offer was a jackpot: The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch, one of the Big Three in Dutch literature. Not the easiest of novels if you ask me, but Paul pulled it off.

Front cover of Harry Mulisch, The Discovery of Heaven, translated by Paul Vincent

Front cover of Harry Mulisch, The Discovery of Heaven, translated by Paul Vincent. (London, 1998) H.2000/2442

Works by Dutch and Flemish authors, both still alive and long dead followed. Vincent has quite a wide ranging repertoire: from Louis Paul Boon, Guido Gezelle, Louis Couperus to Katrien Hemmerechts, Tom Lanoye and Silvio Alberto (Tip) Marugg. He prefers the big beasts of Dutch literature, such as Harry Mulisch and Willem Frederik Hermans. He has translated fiction, poetry and the odd non-fiction work.

Title page of Harry Mulisch, Siegfried, translated by Paul Vincent

Harry Mulisch, Siegfried, translated by Paul Vincent. (London, 2003) Nov.2003/1794

Vincent’s favourite project was translating one of Mulisch’s later novels, Siegfried (2001). Translating is a puzzle; the easy bit is that there is an original text, the hard part is turning the original in an acceptable text. A good translator is able to find the middle-ground between staying true to the original text and making sure the text makes sense in the target language. If you then find word plays, such as anagrams in the text, that poses an additional challenge. Paul struggled with the anagram the protagonist made of the name Hitler, but found an elegant solution by using his first name as well.

The anagram in Dutch reads: Helrit, Relhit (ride to hell, riot hit).

In English it reads: I, dart of hell, Half Riot-Led.

Anagram in Dutch from Harry Mulisch, Siegfried

Anagram in Dutch from Harry Mulisch, Siegfried (Amsterdam, 2001) YA.2002.a.19603

The anagram of Hitler’s name in English

The anagram of Hitler’s name in English. 

Vincent translates poetry, too. He has tackled 17th-Century poets Joost van den Vondel , P.C. Hooft , Gerbrand Bredero, the 19th-century writer De Schoolmeester (‘The Schoolmaster’, pen name of Gerrit van de Linde), Guido Gezelle and many others. His last poetry project was Mei (May) by Herman Gorter (Nijmegen, 2021; YF.2022.a.18897; you can read the original Dutch text here).

Cover of Herman Gorter, May, translated by Paul Vincent

Herman Gorter, May, translated by Paul Vincent. (Nijmegen, 2021) YF.2022.a.18897

The Translations Database of the Dutch Foundation for Literature lists 125 titles translated by or contributed to by Paul Vincent. The database lists every Dutch title that has been translated into a foreign language. The organisation that runs it is responsible for the promotion of the quality and diversity of literature in the Netherlands and abroad. Its counterpart in Flanders is the Flemish Literary Fund.

Vincent sees a definite uptake in the UK of translated Dutch literature, mainly thanks to campaigns such as New Dutch Writing and Flip Through Flanders

New Dutch Writing banner with the words 'Double up on Dutch books'

Banner New Dutch Writing 

Flip through Flanders banner

Banner Flip through Flanders 

Over the space of his long career Paul built a large library, containing literary works and works on translation. He has very kindly donated some 200 books to the British Library which we didn’t yet have. This is a welcome chance to fill some gaps in our collections, for which I would like to thank Paul very much, indeed! They will soon appear on our catalogue with a note about their provenance, so anyone who reads them knows they came from him.

Title page of F.E.J. Malherbe, Zuidafrikaanse Letterkunde

F.E.J. Malherbe, Zuidafrikaanse Letterkunde (Pretoria, 1968) Awaiting shelfmark.

Happy retirement, Paul, and thank you!

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

27 July 2023

Taras Shevchenko display at the British Library

The Ukrainian poet, writer and artist Taras Shevchenko (1814-61) is considered the founder of modern Ukrainian literature. His poetry shaped the development of Ukrainian national consciousness and, more widely, is symbolic of the universal fight for freedom from oppression.

Shevchenko is the focus of a new display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery. Open until autumn 2023, the display brings together different editions of his works published between 1860 and 2012, as well as examples of how his image and poetry have been reimagined today. Through these items, it demonstrates the strength and resilience of Ukrainian culture and language, which flourished despite centuries of Russian colonial oppression.

Shevchenko was born into serfdom (a form of peasant servitude) in Ukraine – then under the Russian Empire. In 1847, he was arrested, imprisoned and exiled for his political views and anti-tsarist satirical poems. Tsar Nicholas I personally banned him from writing or painting while in exile, but he managed to continue doing so in secret. Many of Shevchenko’s works were censored during his lifetime. His poetry, which ranges from romantic ballads to heroic poems, has since been published and translated into more than 100 languages. Shevchenko has inspired generations of writers, and continues to serve as a rallying figure for Ukrainians today.

In this blog post, we bring you a digital version of the display.

Photograph of the display in the British Library Treasures Gallery

Photograph of the display in the British Library Treasures Gallery

Kobzar

Title page of the 1860 edition of Kobzar with a portrait of Shevchenko

Taras Shevchenko, Kobzar (St Petersburg, 1860). 11585.d.43. Digitised.

In 1840, the Russian censor in St Petersburg granted permission for the publication of a small volume of poetry by an unknown Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko. Consisting of eight works (with some censored passages), this small book had a momentous impact on the history of Ukrainian literature. Its title, Kobzar, refers to a Ukrainian bard who played a stringed instrument called the kobza. The book was so important that Shevchenko himself became known as ‘Kobzar’. This more complete edition of 17 works was published in 1860, the year before Shevchenko’s death, and contains a portrait of the author. 

Forbidden in the Russian Empire

Title page of the 1881 edition of Kobzar

Taras Shevchenko, Kobzar. (Volume one), (Geneva, 1881). 1451.a.42.

Measuring just 7 x 11 cm, this pocket-sized edition of Kobzar was published outside of Ukraine. At the time, printing and importing Ukrainian-language publications was forbidden within the Russian Empire. Its small format would have made it easier to smuggle into Ukraine – similar editions were disguised as packets of cigarette papers. Published by the Ukrainian scholar and political thinker Mykhailo Drahomanov, it is one of only two known copies to have survived.

Kobzar for displaced persons

Title page of the 1947 edition of Kobzar

Taras Shevchenko, Kobzar. ([Munich?], 1947-48). 11588.a.94.

At the end of the Second World War, there were over two million Ukrainian displaced persons (DPs) in Western Europe. While most returned to the Soviet Union (many against their will), around 200,000 remained in Allied-occupied Germany. Ukrainian DPs set up schools, places of worship, theatres, hospitals, and published newspapers and books. This edition of Kobzar was produced in Germany in 1947. It includes the stamp of the Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau, a London-based relief agency established after the end of the war to assist Ukrainian DPs.

Modern children’s edition of Kobzar

Pages from Dytiachyi Kobzar

Taras Shevchenko, Dytiachyi Kobzar. Illustrated by Maryna Mykhailoshina (L’viv, 2012). YF.2013.b.1660

This modern edition of Kobzar has been specially adapted for children. Its vibrant illustrations by Maryna Mykhailoshina capture the beauty of Ukraine’s landscape. Born into serfdom, Shevchenko was orphaned when he was 12. He displayed artistic talent from a young age and was apprenticed by his master to a painter in St Petersburg. It was through his painting and artistic connections that he was eventually able to buy his freedom in 1838.

Shevchenko today

Shevchenko as a superhero by Andriy Yermolenko

Shevchenko as a superhero by Andriy Yermolenko. Part of the series ‘Shevchenkiniana’, 2013-2014. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

Patch featuring Shevchenko in Ukrainian military clothing

Patch featuring Shevchenko in Ukrainian military clothing, 2022. Private Loan.

Shevchenko’s image and work continue to inspire and resonate today. During the 2014 Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, protestors recited his poetry and artists reimagined him in various forms, including as a superhero and Elvis Presley. Some of the most widely quoted lines, ‘Fight – and you’ll be victorious, God is helping you!’, are from Shevchenko’s 1845 poem ‘Kavkaz’ (‘The Caucasus’), a revolutionary work addressing Russian imperialism and colonialism. They have taken on increased significance following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and feature on a range of items, such as this 2022 patch featuring Shevchenko in Ukrainian military clothing.

Further reading:

Olga Kerziouk, 'The First Kobzar', European Studies Blog, 12 February 2014.

Olga Kerziouk, 'Shevchenko: a voice for unsung heroines', European Studies Blog, 9 March 2015. 

Nadiia Strishenets, 'Rare editions of Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar in the British Library', European Studies Blog, 10 March 2022.

Nadiia Strishenets, 'Digital Shevchenkiana – a Joint English-Ukrainian Project', European Studies Blog, 10 March 2023. 

 

19 July 2023

From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’: An Anti-Book

In March 1914 in St Petersburg, on the cusp of the First World War, the poet Velimir Khlebnikov and the artist Pavel Filonov issued Iz knigi ‘dereviannye idoly’ (From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’). Engaging in experimental collaborations in the book arts was part of a spectrum of activities undertaken by artists and writers in the Russian Empire known as the Futurists. This problematic label covers various individuals and groups operating over many years, who did not refer to themselves as Futurists. Others embraced the label or some variation of it. Over time, there has been a tendency to collapse these individuals and groups under the single label of ‘Russian Futurist’ due to the region’s entangled histories, but also due to an overriding imperial Russian narrative.

Photograph of Velimir Khlebnikov

Fig. 1. Photograph of Velimir Khlebnikov in 1913. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Photograph of M. Matiushin, A. Kruchenykh, P. Filonov, I. Shkolnik and K. Malevich in 1913

Fig. 2 Photograph of M. Matiushin, A. Kruchenykh, P. Filonov, I. Shkolnik and K. Malevich in 1913 (left to right). Image: Wikimedia Commons

Often referred to as ‘books’, Futurist books have also been called pamphlets, publications, booklets, collections, occasionally artists’ books or even, helpfully, anti-books, a term which points to their revolutionary nature and their participation in the international book experiment. Across Europe, avant-garde writers and artists engaged in the book experiment, as seen for example in the 2007 British Library exhibition: Breaking the Rules: The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937. Notably, the anti-books contain an inherent performativity: Wooden is a publication within a publication entitled Izbornik stikhov s posliesloviem riechiaria: 1907-1914 (Selected Poems with an Afterward by a Wordsmith, 1907-1914). Embedded within Selected Poems, Wooden is a lithographed supplement that stands in stark contrast to its host publication and serves as a vehicle for performance through an interplay of sound, text, image, and materiality.

Cover of the British Library exhibition catalogue Breaking the Rules

Fig. 3. Cover of the British Library exhibition catalogue Breaking the Rules: the Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937 (London, 2007). YC.2008.b.251.

Cover of V. Khlebnikov, Izbornik stikhov s posliesloviem riechiaria: 1907-1914 gg

Fig. 4. Cover of V. Khlebnikov, Izbornik stikhov s posliesloviem riechiaria: 1907-1914 gg ([St Petersburg, 1915]). C.114.mm.39.

Cover of Iz knigi ‘dereviannye idoly’ (From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’) and first page of ‘To Perun’.

Fig. 5. Cover of Iz knigi ‘dereviannye idoly’ (From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’) and first page of ‘To Perun’.

The anti-book collaborations took place over many years in different activity centres in the Russian Empire, instigated by the poet Aleksei Kruchenykh and joined by Khlebnikov and, initially, the painter Mikhail Larionov, along with a select group of secondary collaborators, such as Natalia Goncharova, Ilya Zdanevich (‘Iliazd’), Olga Rozanova, and Vladimir Mayakovsky. During the second half of the 19th century, the printing industry in the Russian Empire developed swiftly ‘from a small artisanal craft closely tied to the state into a relatively large-scale, diversified, and technologically developed industry run by capitalist entrepreneurs and professional managers.’(Steinberg, p. 7) This development led to the publication of luxurious, limited book editions and cultural journals, and technical journals focusing on book arts. The early 20th century also witnessed a flood of collecting centred around these publications, which collectors eagerly sought to obtain (Bowlt, pp. 187-189).

Amidst these developments, Khlebnikov and Filonov released Wooden. With its Slavic folklore themes, related illustrations and pictograms, and archaic-sounding language, Wooden speaks to the period’s pervading artistic focus on the cultures of the East. Two texts were included in Wooden: ‘To Perun’, a poem, and ‘Night in Galicia’, a play in verse. Likely at Kruchenykh’s request, Filonov made 11 illustrations to accompany the texts (Parnis, p. 644). His illustrations impressed Kruchenykh. When Khlebnikov received a copy, he wrote to Kruchenykh: ‘Hats off to Filonov. Thank you for the great drawings.’ (Kruchenykh, ‘O Pavele Filonove’, p. 532) Khlebnikov opens Wooden with a poem addressed to the ancient god of thunder and lightning ‘To Perun’. One way Khlebnikov explores sound is through the creation of new words, e.g., ‘Peru-nepr’ (Perun + Dniper) (fig. 6) (Khlebnikov, Tvorenie, p. 85, footnote 8). The poem includes two illustrations by Filonov. His toy-like idols feature in the headpiece on the front page and the letters in the title ‘To Perun’ consist of a series of illustrations of wooden arrows (fig. 5). In ‘Night in Galicia’, which has nine illustrations, Khlebnikov presents mermaids, witches, and a knight (fig. 7). Filonov’s imagery works in tandem by emitting a sense of ancient art, including wooden sculptures and mythical folk tale characters. As in ‘Perun’, he introduces some letters in pictorial form, e.g., the word ‘mermaid’ (rusalka) begins with a mermaid’s image in place of the ‘r’ (fig. 8).

Khlebnikov’s new word ‘Peru-nepr’ (Perun + Dniper)

Fig. 6. Khlebnikov’s new word ‘Peru-nepr’ (Perun + Dniper) in From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’, p.3.

First page of ‘Night in Galicia’ in From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’

Fig. 7. First page of ‘Night in Galicia’ in From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’, p. 12.

The word ‘mermaid’ (rusalka) begins with a mermaid’s image in place of the ‘r’ in From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’

Fig. 8. The word ‘mermaid’ (rusalka) begins with a mermaid’s image in place of the ‘r’ in From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’, p. 12

Throughout Wooden, Filonov emphasises its materiality by employing a hand-drawn font. The font also serves as a demarcation between Selected Poems and Wooden. Khlebnikov and Kruchenykh believed handwriting varied according to the writer’s mood and that the mood would be apparent to the viewer separately from the text. Additionally, they felt that an artist arguably would be better placed to be the text writer, as opposed to the author, noting that: ‘[i]t’s strange that [none of our contemporaries] has ever thought of giving his offspring to an artist instead of a typesetter.’ (Khlebnikov and Kruchenykh, p. 257) Following this principle, Filonov adeptly weaves together his inner vision of the texts with that of Khlebnikov’s. Khlebnikov and Filonov, who seemed to have enjoyed friendly relations at the time, were engaging in a folkloric performativity for viewers by combining these seemingly ethnographic, yet ultimately fanciful elements together, replete with archaic figures and an ancient-looking, hand drawn, lithographed font.

Lauren Warner-Treloar

This post was adapted from a conference paper given by the author on 3 December 2021 at the 2021 ASEEES Virtual Convention and is being developed as part of her AHRC-TECHNE funded PhD project, ‘Sound Art and Visual Culture: The Anti-Book Experiment in the Romanov Empire and the USSR, 1881-1932’ at Kingston School of Art, Kingston University.

References and further reading:

K. Bezmenova, ‘Filonov and His Only Lithograph Book’, in Filonov. 125th Anniversary of the Artist’s Birth (1883-1935). Compilation of Articles from the Academic Conference (State Russian Museum, St Petersburg, 2007) (St Petersburg, 2008), pp. 61-73.

J. Bowlt, Moscow & St. Petersburg, 1900-1920: Art, Life & Culture (New York, 2008). m08/.35374

N. Gurianova, ‘'A Game in Hell, Hard Work in Heaven: Deconstructing the Canon in Russian Futurist Books', in The Russian Avant-Garde Book, 1910-1934, ed. by D. Wye and M. Rowell (New York, 2002), pp. 24-32. LC.31.a.179

V. Khlebnikov, Tvorenie, eds. V.P. Grivoreva and A. E. Parnis (Moscow, 1986) 

V. Khlebnikov and A. Kruchenykh, ‘The Letter as Such (1913)’ in Collected Works of Velimir Khlebnikov. Volume I: Letters and Theoretical Writings, ed. by C. Douglas and trans. by P. Schmidt (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1987). YC.1988.b.4461

‘Klanyates’ Filonovu. Spasibo za khoroshie risunki.’ A. Kruchenykh, ‘O Pavele Filonove’ in Pavel Filonov: realnost i mify, ed. by L. Pravoverova (Moscow, 2008), pp. 161-167. YF.2009.a.26968

A. Parnis, ‘O metamorfozakh mavy, olenya i voina. K probleme dialoga Khlebnikova i Filonova’ in Mir Velimira Khlebnikova. Statii issledovaniia 1911-1998, ed. by V. Ivanov and others (Moscow, 2000), pp. 637-695. YA.2000.a.28541

Mark Steinberg, Moral Communities. The Culture of Class Relations in the Russian Printing Industry, 1867-1907 (Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford, 1992). YC.1993.b.2609

 

 

05 July 2023

Remembering Die Weisse Rose

On 13 July 2023 the British Library will host the 5th Annual Graham Nattrass Lecture, co-organised with the German Studies Library Group. The theme of this year’s lecture, to be given by Dr Alexandra Lloyd of Oxford University, is the anti-Nazi resistance group Die Weisse Rose (The White Rose); 2023 marks the 80th anniversary of the arrest and execution of key members of the group.

Cover of 'Defying Hitler' with a photograph of Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst

Alexandra Lloyd, Defying Hitler: the White Rose Pamphlets (Oxford, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark. The cover photograph shows (l.-r.) Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst

Die Weisse Rose was formed in the summer of 1942 by four medical students at the University of Munich – Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst and Willi Graf. Later in 1942 Hans Scholl’s sister Sophie became part of this core group after arriving in Munich to study biology and philosophy. They were also joined by one of the University’s professors, Kurt Huber.

The members of Die Weisse Rose were all disillusioned with the Nazi regime. The four medical students had been required to spend time away from their studies serving on the Eastern Front where their experience of the horrors of war and the brutality of the Nazi forces towards Russians and Jews further influenced their desire to resist. Helped by a number of supporters in Munich and other cities, the core group produced and distributed leaflets criticising the regime, exposing the murder of Jews in the east, and exhorting readers to face the truth that Germany was losing the war. They also stencilled anti-Nazi graffiti around the centre of Munich.

Reproduction of a typewritten pamphlet issued by Die Weisse Rose

One of the pamphlets issued by Die Weisse Rose. Reproduced in Günther Kirchberger,  Die “Weisse Rose”: studentischer Widerstand gegen Hitler in München (Munich, [1980]) X.809/63410

All this was done, of course, at great risk both to the core group members and their supporters. Their luck held until 18 February 1943 when Hans and Sophie Scholl took copies of the group’s sixth leaflet, an appeal specifically addressed to students, to distribute at the University of Munich. After leaving piles of leaflets near lecture rooms they found they had some left over, which Sophie threw from a balcony into the building’s atrium. She was spotted by a university caretaker who was a Gestapo informant, and the Scholls were quickly cornered and arrested. Probst was arrested two days later, having been identified as the author of an unpublished leaflet found in Hans’s possession. All three were hastily tried on 22 February and executed the same day.

Arrests of other group members followed. 14 were tried in April 1943, of whom Huber, Schmorell and Graf were sentenced to death and the others to prison. Huber and Schmorell were executed on 13 July 1943; Graf was kept in prison for a further three months, and interrogated under torture, but refused to give up the names of fellow resistance members. He was executed on 12 October 1943.

Cover of the screenplay for Michael Verhoeven’s 'Die Weisse Rose' with stills from the film

Cover of the screenplay for Michael Verhoeven’s film Die Weisse Rose (Karlsruhe, 1982) X.955/2653

Although the activities of Die Weisse Rose had little immediate impact in 1942-3, in the years after the Second World War the group came to be seen as a symbol of conscientious resistance and of a Germany that refused to follow Nazism. They are admired today both for their courage in criticising the regime and for the courage with which the core members – all but Huber still in their early 20s – met their deaths. Many streets, squares and schools in Germany are named after group members, especially Hans and Sophie Scholl. There have been biographies and academic studies written, and the group has also featured in fictional retellings and in films such as Michael Verhoeven’s Die Weisse Rose (1982) and Marc Rothemund’s Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl – the Final Days; 2005).

Cover of Haydn Kaye's 'The Girl who Said No to the Nazis'

Haydn Kaye, The Girl who Said No to the Nazis (London, 2020) YKL.2022.a.9518

Die Weisse Rose and its members are less well known outside Germany, but have featured in the British history curriculum, and have been the focus of English-language fiction such as V.S. Alexander’s The Traitor (London, 2020; ELD.DS.493979) or Haydn Kaye’s young adult novel, The Girl who Said No to the Nazis. Alexandra Lloyd, our lecturer on the 13th, has also helped raise awareness of the group through Oxford University’s White Rose Project  which “aims to bring the story of the White Rose resistance group … to English-speaking audiences through research, performance, and creative translation”. We hope that the Graham Nattrass Lecture will be a part of this work.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

The Graham Nattrass Lecture takes place on Thursday 13 July at 6pm in the Foyle Suite at the British Library, with a drinks reception from 5.30pm. Attendance is free and open to all, but if you wish to attend, please let the GSLG Chair Dorothea Miehe know by email.

30 June 2023

Georgian Manuscripts in the British Library

Georgian manuscripts have a long history in the collections of the British Museum and the British Library. The first two manuscripts were acquired by the British Museum in 1837. Today, we hold seven medieval manuscripts, one eighteenth-century manuscript, one nineteenth-century manuscript, and one twentieth-century manuscript. We also hold six contemporary illuminated manuscripts created since 2018.

Our early manuscripts cover a period from the eighth to the seventeenth century. The most important among them is an 11th-century manuscript (Add MS 11281). It is a parchment written in the Georgian monastery of the Holy Cross near Jerusalem, which became an important centre of learning and was known to Western pilgrims as the Monasterium Georgianum.

Page of an 11th-century Georgian manuscript

Lives of the Holy Fathers, 11th-century, Add MS 11281.

Written in the Georgian language by a scribe, who refers to himself as Black John, the manuscript recounts the lives of 15 saints from Palestine, Egypt and Syria. Created during the golden age of Georgian church literature in the 11th century, it remains one of the principal sources of information about monastic life during the Byzantine period. This manuscript includes unique copies of works by Cyril of Scythopolis and Athanasius of Alexandria.

The earliest Georgian manuscript in the British Library collections is a palimpsest with Hebrew commentaries of the 11th or 12th century, written over the original Georgian text (Or 6581). These are three fragments of a parchment leaf with a highly irregular outline. The underwriting is Georgian in large capitals (asomtavruli script), while the overwriting is Hebrew. The Georgian text contains portions of the Book of Jeremiah.

Three fragments of a palimpsest with Hebrew and Georgian scripts

Palimpsest fragments, Or 6581

This manuscript came from the Genizah in Cairo. In England there are also Genizah palimpsests (old Hebrew over Georgian) in both Cambridge and Oxford. They were published by Professor Robert P. Blake in the Harvard Theological Review. He dated this manuscript to the middle of the eighth century, but other scholars consider that it could have been written much earlier. It is also written in asomtavruli and therefore it is one of the rare examples of an Old Testament text in Georgian written in this script.

An 18th-century manuscript (Add MS 47237) consists of three letters from the Georgian Queen Anna Orbeliani of Imereti, a province in western Georgia, addressed to the Emperor Paul, to the Empress Maria Feodorovna, and to an unnamed Russian official. The Queen sought Russian protection and help in recovering her throne.

From the 19th century we hold the handwritten monthly journal of the Georgian Socialist Revolutionary Party, Musha (1889-1891; Or.5315), which was donated to the British Museum by Prince Varlam Cherkezishvili.

We also have a collection of of four letters and one postcard from the 20th century (Or 16935), written by the prominent Georgian writer Grigol Robakidze (1880-1962), to his friend David Kurulishvili. Robakidze could not tolerate the Soviet regime and left Georgia in 1930. He lived in Germany and then moved to Geneva. 

Manuscripts created in the present century have recently been added to the British Library’s collections. In addition to four illuminated manuscripts donated to the Library in 2019 by the Art Palace of Georgia, we have recently received another two.

These two illuminated manuscripts were created in 2022 as a part of the project funded by the grant programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, ‘Support for Diaspora Initiatives’. This was initiated by Tamar Latsabidze and Giorgi Kalandia.

The texts, ‘Life of the King of Kings – David’ and ‘Life of the King of Kings – Tamar’, were copied from the ‘Kartlis Tskhovreba’ (the Georgian Chronicles, literally ‘Life of Kartli’ or ‘Life of Georgia’) by the Georgian artists and calligraphers, Giorgi Sisauri and Otar Megrelidze. The ‘Kartlis Tskhovreba’ is the principal written source for the history of Georgia, a collection of biographies, chronicles and other historical works.

The calligraphers have thus produced two manuscripts that did not exist before in an illustrated form. They were created exclusively for the British Library, and they observe the centuries-old traditions of the Georgian calligraphy school. The calligraphers carefully examined the tradition of writing and illuminating manuscripts. Paper, ink and paint were prepared as they were in early medieval Georgia. In order to maintain historical traditions and in keeping with their cultural roots, both artists employed 12th-century painting principles and used as models the ‘Georgian astrological treatise’, a manuscript dated 1188, and a 12th-centuey Byzantine manuscript known as the ‘Madrid Skylitzes’.

‘Life of the King of Kings – Tamar’ recounts the life of Queen Tamar the Great (1160-1213). It is believed that the author of the work was Basili Ezosmodzghvari, a contemporary historian of the Queen. Created by Giorgi Sisauri, this manuscript consists of 86 pages. Five of its miniatures with gold ink. Among them are portraits of Queen Tamar and her historian. At the end of the manuscript, according to the Georgian tradition, the miniaturist depicted himself.

Portrait of Queen Tamar

Portrait of Queen Tamar (‘Life of the King of Kings – Tamar’) [awaiting shelfmark]

Manuscript page with an illustration of a battle scene

Battle scene (‘Life of the King of Kings – Tamar’) [awaiting shelfmark]

‘Life of the King of Kings – David’ tells the life of the Georgian king, David IV Aghmashenebeli (1089-1125). It was written by an unknown historian in the twelfth century. The manuscript presented to the British Library consists of 116 pages. The beginning of each chapter is decorated with floral ornaments and figures of birds of paradise (peacocks, pheasants, doves). The image of King David is depicted on page 91 of the manuscript.

Portrait of King David IV

Portrait of King David IV (‘Life of the King of Kings – David’) [awaiting shelfmark]

Manuscript page with a picture of a bird of paradise

‘Life of the King of Kings – David’, p. 42-43 [awaiting shelfmark]

These illuminated manuscripts are a significant addition to the Library’s Georgian collections. We held no illuminated Georgian manuscripts prior to this donation. They will thus enhance the significance and usefulness of our collection of Georgian manuscripts. They can be presented alongside our Georgian medieval manuscripts, and they will assist in the promotion of the country’s cultural heritage and contribute to Georgia’s academic and research development.

We are very grateful to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, to Tamar Latsabidze, to Giorgi Kalandia, to the Art Palace of Georgia, and to all who have contributed to this remarkable project.

Anna Chelidze, Curator, Georgian Collections

References and further reading

Robert P. Blake, ‘Catalogue of the Georgian Manuscripts in the Cambridge University Library’, The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 25, no. 3 (July 1932), 207-24. Ac.2692/13.

Robert P. Blake, ‘Khanmeti Palimpsest Fragments of the Old Georgian Version of Jeremiah’, The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 25, no. 3 (July 1932), 225-72.

J. Oliver Wardrop, ‘Catalogue of Georgian Manuscripts’, in Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare, A Catalogue of the Armenian Manuscripts in the British Museum… to which is appended a Catalogue of Georgian Manuscripts in the British Museum. (London, 1913) pp. 397-410. 11925.h.3.

Gregory Peradze, ‘Georgian Manuscripts in England’, Georgica. A Journal of Georgian and Caucasian Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 (Oct. 1935), 80-88. Ac.8821.e.

 

16 June 2023

The Petit Prince and animals

Our current major exhibition, Animals: Art, Science and Sound, shows how the animal world has resulted in some of humankind’s most awe-inspiring art and science… But did you know that animals are also major characters in one of the best-selling books in history?

Pages from the Petit Prince with illustrations of the Little Prince and the tower of elephants

Le Petit Prince, YA.1996.a.20552

When I was a child, no long trip in the car was complete without listening to the tape of Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), read by famous French actor Gerard Philippe. First published in 1943, and since translated into hundreds of languages, few books have touched the world like Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s modern fable. It had first been published in English and French by Reynal & Hitchcock in the USA, where Saint Exupéry was in exile, in April 1943, so exactly 80 years before the opening of our exhibition. It was published posthumously in France in 1945, after the Liberation.

Le Petit Prince became Saint Exupéry’s most successful work, selling an estimated 200 million copies worldwide, which makes it one of the best-selling books in history; but it is also a bit mysterious, and like no other literary form. Maybe the book is so successful because it is both a fairy-tale, an adventure story, a social comedy, and a philosophical lesson on how to live ones’ life and live with others. And it is full of animals.

Pages from the Petit Prince with illustrations of the Little Prince and the snake

Le Petit Prince, YA.1996.a.20552

The story follows the dialogue between a narrator, an aviator stranded in the desert following the breakdown of his plane, and a strange young boy, a little prince who suddenly appears in the desert with a strange request: “Draw a sheep for me, please”. The Prince tells his story: he has travelled from a distant asteroid, where he lives alone with a single rose. The rose has made his life so difficult that he decides to take advantage of a passing flock of birds to travel to other planets. During his journey, he meets various characters (a King with no subjects, a drunkard, a businessman, a geographer…), before arriving on Earth.

There the Little Prince also meets a talking fox, who teaches him the nature of love and friendship, and that the important things can only be seen with the heart, not with the eyes. He also encounters a deadly snake, who speaks in riddle and who tells him that he can help him to go home. The little Prince tells his story to the Aviator, who becomes attached to him. In the end, however, the Prince is bitten by the snake, the only way, he believes, to return to his own planet; and to the narrator’s distress, he disappears. And while our Aviator manages to repair his plane, he ends the story by requesting to be immediately contacted by anyone in that area encountering a “small person with golden curls who refuses to answer any questions”.

Pages from the Petit Prince with illustrations of the Little Prince with the fox and roses

Le Petit Prince, YA.1996.a.20552

The conversations between the adult, the mysterious interstellar youngster, and the animals, address themes of loneliness, friendship, love and loss. Although presented as a children’s book, using animals as archetypes of wisdom or cunning Le Petit Prince touches on deeper questions about adult life and human nature. And it ends on a bittersweet note: in spite of having been prepared to the disappearance of his friend, and in spite of knowing that when he will now look at stars, they will laugh for him, the Narrator/Aviator feels bereft and lost; but he has learnt the value of affection, and of dreams, and questions.

One of the reasons of the success of the book is the wonderful imagery, the watercolours painted by the author. Antoine de Saint Exupery had liked to draw and doodle since his childhood (that’s actually how the story starts!), and chose to illustrate the book himself. Today, these illustrations are part of our memories, and are maybe even more famous than the book itself. The art of the Petit Prince has become famous, and along with its golden-haired hero, the sheep and the fox are instantaneously recognisable; but there are also wonderfully unexpected illustrations of nature and animals, such as the tiger attacking the rose or the boa constrictor-who-has-swallowed-an-elephant-but-looks-like-a-hat, one the most famous doodles in the history of literature.

Pages from the Petit Prince with illustrations of the hunter and the fox

Le Petit Prince, YA.1996.a.20552

When the war started, Saint Exupéry joined the French Air Force, until the armistice with Germany in 1940. After being demobilised, he went into exile in North America. He spent just over two years in America, and it is there that he wrote his most famous work.

Like his hero, Antoine de Saint Exupéry just disappeared one day. In 1943 he had joined the Free French Air Force in North Africa, and he is believed to have died while on a reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean in July 1944. Although the wreckage of his plane was discovered in 2000, the cause of the crash remains unknown. But also like his hero, he has left us with a tale: a most successful story based on affection for humankind, and commitment, and with dreams of tamed foxes, treacherous snakes and birds that can take you away.

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance collections

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