The power of the image


Officiolum di Francesco da Barberino (Tab.b.932-933)

The Tuscan poet and lawyer Francesco da Barberino(1264-1348) may not be as familiar today as his Florentine contemporaries Dante and Giotto, but he occupies a unique position at the intersection of poetry and painting in Italy at the dawn of the fourteenth century. He knew Dante – indeed the earliest reference to the still incomplete Divine Comedy is in one of Francesco’s works of c.1313. He also collaborated with Giotto, providing him with visual ideas for the Arena Chapel in Padua. Francesco’s cultural experience stretched beyond Italy: he travelled widely in France to the court of Philip the Fair in Paris and the papal curia in Avignon, acquiring a deep familiarity with Provencal poetry during five years of exile.

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Sources on the history of textiles

The importance of quality textiles - Incroyables et merveilleuses, Paris, 1810-1818 / Horace Vernet ; texte par Roger-Armand Weigert (S950.a.9.629)

The importance of quality textiles – Incroyables et merveilleuses, Paris, 1810-1818 / Horace Vernet ; texte par Roger-Armand Weigert (S950.a.9.629)

We have previously written about the importance of fashion in the University Library’s collections, and the way they reflect changing tastes throughout cultures and historical periods. The Library’s collections also reflect the importance of a variety of textiles throughout history. While textiles used for clothing have changed dramatically since felt made from animal furs was the primary material, at the same time there are benefits to using traditional materials, as Prince Charles recently highlighted when campaigning for the use of wool: a versatile, sustainable, renewable and natural fibre. This blog post will explore the changing use of textiles as reflected in the UL’s collections including flax (linen), silk, cotton and wool.

Flax (linen) textiles have been discovered that were thousands of years old; linen was sometimes used as currency in ancient Egypt and in Germany. There are many parts of the world that grow flax, and Ireland is well known for still producing one of the highest quality fabrics since the linen industry started. Recent items in the UL’s collection about the European linen industry include: Flax to fabric : the story of Irish linen by Brenda Collins (1996.10.239), Europäische Leinenregionen im Wandel : institutionelle Weichenstellungen in Schlesien und Irland (1750-1850) by Marcel Boldorf (249.c.208.69) and Au temps des grands liniers, les Mahieu d’Armentières, 1832-1938 by Jean-Marie Wiscart (568:2.c.201.1). Continue reading

The 19th century Jacques Cousteau? Or the French Darwin?

A book published in 1886 on underwater exploration by Edmond Perrier has been transferred to the Cambridge University Library from the Balfour Library:

Les Explorations sous-marines / par Edmond Perrier (8001.c.515)

The description of Perrier on the title page of the book states that he was Professeur au Muséum d’histoire naturelle de Paris, membre de la Commission scientifique d’exploration des grands fonds de la Méditerranée et de l’Atlantique. Based on the title and description of the author, it sounded as though Perrier was the 19th century version of Jacques Cousteau. The book describes the author’s participation in a variety of expeditions, including on the Lightning, the Porcupine, the Travailleur and the Talisman.

A variety of images of underwater life
Les Explorations sous-marines (8001.c.515)

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Ludwig Wittgenstein and Cambridge

Wittgenstein, Ludwig

Portrait of Wittgenstein (Moritz Nähr via Wikimedia Commons)

Earlier this summer I wrote a blog post about Erasmus, Calvin and Bucer in Cambridge. This set me thinking about other significant German speakers who spent time here and the first one to spring to mind was the influential philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). In his lifetime he only had one book published, the highly significant Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, but he wrote a huge amount. His papers are held at the Wren Library, Trinity College; there is also a separate archive in Cambridge which holds facsimiles of his manuscripts.

With a background in the study of mechanical engineering, Wittgenstein had come to Britain from his native Austria in 1908 to work on aeronautics at the University of Manchester. Continue reading

The book as a precious object

Bell, Book and Candle are symbolic objects in the term that describes an archaic form of excommunication, as well as being the title of a 1950s Broadway comedy, the book representing faith and learning. But I suggest that another term ‘precious object’ can be applied to individual copies of books which memorialize important relationships usually through inscription. Newton’s own annotated copy of his Principia in Cambridge University Library is an example of a precious object because of the intimate relation that particular copy has with the author through his annotations. But the precious object is the physical book itself not its printed text. Three examples of books that are ‘precious objects’ are in the Liberation Collection 1944-1946 in Cambridge University Library, a collection of books, still being added to, published mainly in France after the Liberation of Paris and before the end of 1946 on the subjects of the war, the occupation and the liberation. Two books are by collaborators and one is by a member of the resistance. The two collaborators, who were actively sympathetic to the Nazi cause and all that it stood for, were both killed before the war had ended for what they believed in while the resistance fighter survived the war and lived on into old age.

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