A Cabinet of Curiosities — Carnivalesque #14

Come in, close the door behind you. You have found my early modern Carnivalesque cabinet of curiosities. This little online Wunderkammer is an attempt to bring order to your explorations of the ever-widening world of history blogging. Only the choicest and quaintest articles have been brought together in this small collection of strange artefacts culled from the blogosphere, full of resonance and wonder.

Now, are you ready for the doors of the cabinet to open?

Anonymous, Cabinet of Curiosities (late seventeenth century)
Oil on canvas, Florence, Opificio delle Pietre Dure
Click on a window for the categories on the frame

“Learned gentlemen should build a goodly, huge cabinet, wherein whatsoever the hand of man by exquisite art or engine has made rare in stuff, form or motion; whatsoever singularity, chance, and the shuffle of things hath produced; whatsoever Nature has wrought in things that want life and may be kept; shall be sorted and included.”
Francis Bacon

Early Modern Women’s History
The top-left window of this cabinet, not built by any learned gentleman, looks out on the most fascinating items of early modern women’s history. For last month was Women’s History Month, and many bloggers put early modern women in the spotlight. Sharon at Early Modern Notes composed a comprehensive roundup of women’s history blogging ànd wrote a useful guide to researching early modern women online. Natalie Bennett reflects on how an Elizabethan woman was written out of history. If you are looking for the one object in this cabinet to evoke strong physical sensations, by the way, take a look at Natalie’s horrifying tale of early modern treatments of breast cancer. (Roy Booth’s fascinating tale of Titus Andronicus in Egham also comes heartily recommended in the horror category, though!)

Melchior del Darién writes about the life of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, who thought of disguising herself as a man to attend university, and later entered a convent so that she could study. History Mike muses about the seventeenth-century ‘Blessed’ Takeri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be beatified by the Catholic Church. Ellen Moody reports on a session on Women’s Autobiography in the Long Eighteenth Century and “Constructing Space and Identity in the Eighteenth Century Interior” at the Montreal ASECS, from which I learnt that early modern courtesans, too, created Wunderkammer.

In Houyhnhnm Land, Brandon Watson explains why we should read Lady Asham, Damaris Cudworth’s remarkable philosophical work Occasional Thoughts in Reference to a Vertuous or Christian Life (1705; available online), in which Lady Asham offers a practical plan for the better education of women, the better to complete the “Work of forming betimes the Minds of Children so as to dispose them to be hereafter Wise and Vertuous Men and Women” — a labour that “cannot be perform’d but by Mothers only.”

And over at Secondat, Jeff has written the last of a wonderful series of annotated entries from the diary of Lady Shelburne — you will find links to the previous nine posts in the sidebar. Jeff is still fascinated by the life of this aristocratic woman, and is writing a series of wrap-up posts, the first and the second of which are now online.

Starfish, armadillos, parrots, monkey teeth, two-headed calves, alligator skins, phosphorescent minerals, Indian canoes, mummified mermaids and unicorn tails were acquired eagerly and indiscriminately.

Early Modern Machines
The early modern blogosphere is teeming with interesting tidbits on machines! Expert on the subject is George Goodall of Facetation, who finds out that machines exist in Jacobean England! Did you know that Roger Cecil, Sir William Cecil’s son, was an avid collector of machines? George also has a post on the function of the Theatrum Machinarum, or book of machines, as a gift in the early modern period.

The Old Foodie reports on the presentation and testing of a recent French invention, the steam digester at the Royal Society in 1682. More early modern French machines at BibliOdyssey. Posthegemony explores early modern Spanish fortifications in South America.

Les curieux ont l’impression de pouvoir saisir l’infinie richesse du monde dans ses produits les plus bizarres. On s’intéresse aux points de passage entre un règne et un autre. The curious had the impression that they could seize the infinite richdom of the world in its most bizarre products. They were interested in the points of passage between one realm and another.
Cabinet de curiosit̩s РNotes de lecture

Do take a peek at this royal section in the cabinet, it contains some of the richest objects. Roy Booth at Early Modern Whale, for example, — one of my favourite weblogs and a virtual Wunderkammer of early modern advertising, ballads, broadsides and much more — analyzes a Royalist pamphlet that tells of the escape of the future Charles the Second from England in 1649. The prince and his servingman “pass (most implausibly) through London, visit (and weep at) the place of the execution of Charles’s father, take a boat from Queenhithe, and reach France.” What fascinates me in the post is its attention to crossovers between the ballad and the early modern drama. As in his post on Titus Andronicus in Egham, Roy Booth is sensitive to the ways in which the representational strategies of the pamphlet appropriate themes from the stage, be it from the genre of revenge tragedy, or, as here, from Shakespearean comedy. For this Royalist ballad is full of cross-dressing and disguise. In fact, “the gender switchings are harder to keep in mind than those in As You Like It.” Over at BibliOdyssey, Peacay has wonderful contemporary images of the coronation of James the Second from a festival book published in 1687.

The wonder-cabinets of the Renaissance were at least as much about possession as display. The wonder derived not only from what could be seen but from the sense that the shelves and cases were filled with unseen wondes, all the prestigious property of the collector. In this sense, the cult of wonder originated in close conjunction with a certain type of resonance, a resonance bound up with the evocation not of an absent culture but of the great man’s superfluity of rare and precious things.
Stephen Greenblatt

Early modern reading
It is my pleasure in this part of the Easter Carnivalesque Wunderkammer to introduce another new blog: Blogging the Renaissance, written by Hieronimo, Truewit, Inkhorn, and Simplicius. Hieronimo reads an excerpt from The King’s Majesty’s declaration to his subjects concerning lawful sports to be used (1633), and wonders about the ways in which Jacobean Englishmen and women spent their Sundays. Simplicius read Stephen Greenblatt’s review of two recent Marlowe biographies, and hoists Greenblatt by his own petard.

In February, Misteraitch at Giornale Nuovo wrote about Tsar Peter Alexeyevich Romanov’s fascination for Devises et Emblemes Anciennes et Modernes, a French emblem book that he encountered during his stay in Amsterdam in 1697-98.

The Valve organised a discussion of Nancy Armstrong’s recent book How Novels Think, in which “Armstrong places the eighteenth and nineteenth century novel at a central position in both the history of thought and history in general, granting the novel power to create and regulate individualism as wide-spread social phenomenon.” With contributions by Lawrence La Riviere White, Miriam Burstein, John Holbo, Jason Jones, Scott Eric Kaufman, and Daniel Green.

At Lunettes Rouges, a piece on Rembrandt’s reading of the Bible on the occasion of an exhibition in the Institut Néerlandais in Paris.

Michelangelo could not yet have read Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus when he painted the Sistine Chapel, and yet his work seems influenced by ideas of heliocentrism, Alun reports in his The Michelangelo Code.

Early modern paratexts
On this shelf of the cabinet, you will find many interesting items concerned not with the texts of early modern books themselves, but with their illustrations, marginalia and title pages. Misteraitch at Giornale Nuovo, for example, explores the work of seventeenth-century Swiss engraver Matthæus Merian. Peacay at BibliOdyssey explores the phenomenon of the printer’s device. At Philobiblon, Natalie Bennett faced the naked truth in one of these printer’s devices from the sixteenth century, and wonders why she is naked. Here at Earmarks, I reviewed Kevin Sharpe’s Reading Revolutions, which analyses a seventeenth-century gentleman’s reading habits, drawing, among many other kinds of evidence, on annotations in the margins of his books.

Regardless of their potential variations, the strategies adopted by these collectors enabled them to impose an order on the natural world. Their ability to do this was considered a form of power, which, in turn, was held as a characteristic unique to mankind. In this context, then, the collecting and controlling of material objects was not an end in itself, but was an integral part of a continuing process of self-discovery; of the shaping of man’s identity as part of the greater universe, yet distinct among the products of divine creation.
The Ashmolean Museum

The bottom right part of the cabinet contains all the intriguing objects that defied classification, and is certainly worth gazing into for its variety. Appropriate for this time of year, Moyen Age writes of Jack o’ Lent, the puppet destroyed on Palm Sunday in the sixteenth century. It is uncertain whether Jack was a Reformation novelty, or a tradition that survived from the Middle Ages. And at Siris, Brandon gives us a guide to Holy Week. Not exclusively early modern, but very useful!

In the Diaries of a Lady of Quality, Miss Frances Williams Wynn tells an eighteenth-century ghost story.

Digital Medievalist reports on a National Gallery appeal to raise funds for the purchase of a portrait of John Donne.

History Mike examines money in Florence, and Sharon Howard looks at other kinds of filth in the early modern city.

At the retroblog Winter Evenings, the Rev. Vicesimus Knox (1752-1821) ponders the fallaciousness of history and concludes that “the very foundations, on which the splendid fabric of history is to be erected, are destitute of solidity.” And another retroblogger, Isaac D’Israeli (1766-1848), writes on the nature of government and urges that “in politics we must not be in a passion.”

And another thing, did you always think that that Kant was just another rationalist in the footsteps of Descartes? Well, you stand corrected by Hanno Kaiser.

The previous early modern edition of Carnivalesque was followed hot on the heels by the Old Bailey Symposium at the Head Beeb. Contributors drew on the newly available searchable online database of Old Bailey session papers, and wrote on topics such as women burglars, Irish aristocrats, and arson.

I will now close the doors, ladies and gentlemen, on this Carnivalesque cabinet. The collection would have been considerably smaller even, if it were not for Mistress of Misrule, Sharon Howard — thank you, Sharon, for all the wonderful objects you carefully deposited in the cabinet! Thank you also to those who sent in nominations, and lent me their writings for this virtual exhibition. And of course, one cannot choose a theme for one’s Carnival without Peacay having been there before you…

I leave you with the message that Carnivalesque is looking for a host for the next ancient/medieval issue in May. Vist the Carnivalesque homepage or mail sharon [at] earlymodernweb [dot] org [dot] uk if you’re interested. I can very much recommend it, it’s been a great experience!


7 thoughts on “A Cabinet of Curiosities — Carnivalesque #14

  1. Pingback: Early Modern Notes » Something for the weekend

  2. Pingback: Carnivals Ahoy! — alun Archive

  3. Wow! This Carnivalesque is over-the-top wonderful. I really like the cabinet motif and the way you’ve used it. I’ve been a fan of your blog for a while and wished I could do as well. This post raises the level of my admiration.

  4. Thank you all for your kind words! It is nice to know that my Easter-handiwork is appreciated. And Alun, your review of Valerie Shrimpton’s thesis on Michelangelo and Copernicus was just riveting, I could not but include it! Thanks again to Sharon, who seems to have x-ray vision for early modern posts wherever they hide on the net, and submitted a whole busload of links!

  5. Pingback: Reading and listening - Philobiblon

  6. Pingback: Carnivalesque » Past editions

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