The first polyglot Bible (Part 1)

The Complutensian Polyglot Bible was the first printed polyglot Bible, and as a result the one that set the model for the following polyglots. 2017 is the 500th anniversary of both the end of the printing process of this Bible and the death of Cardinal Cisneros, promoter and sponsor of the project.

Title page of volume 1 (Sel.2.69)

Title page of volume 1 (Sel.2.69) including Tunstall’s inscription (click on image to see enlarged)

The University of Cambridge has eight complete sets of the Complutensian Polyglot catalogued (four at the UL, two at Trinity College and one each at Corpus Christi and St John’s College libraries). F.J. Norton recorded several more complete or partial copies. He states that one of the UL copies has perhaps the longest history of use in the same library, exceeded only by those in the Vatican and Colombina (Seville) Libraries. It was presented by Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall (1474-1559) when he was still bishop of London; that is to say, no later than February 1530 (see inscription on t.p.). Continue reading

Defoe’s Moll Flanders: the Flemish connection

This guest post is written by Dr Jaap Harskamp (formerly Curator of Dutch & Flemish collections at the British Library, who is now working on the University Library’s early Dutch books).

Defoe, via Wikimedia Commons

Defoe, via Wikimedia Commons

A title says a lot about a work of fiction. Daniel Defoe came up with a master stroke by naming his raciest novel Moll Flanders. With these two words he attracted the attention of his potential readers who instantaneously grasped its shades of meaning.

One of the best-known pilgrims in Chaucer’s collection of Canterbury tales is Alisoun, the Wife of Bath, a bawdy woman who is the very antithesis of virtuous womanhood. In her delightful tale she challenges contemporary wisdom about the female role in society. She claims to be an expert on married life having had five husbands (her first at the age of twelve). Continue reading

It’s a matter of taste

Front cover of Pazaurek's book (

Front cover of Pazaurek’s book (9009.c.1759)

I recently catalogued an interesting book published over 100 years ago: Guter und schlechter Geschmack im Kunstgewerbe by Gustav Pazaurek (a complete online version is available here).The cover is striking with its stylish lettering but it was the subject matter of good and bad taste in applied arts that drew me in and made me want to find out more. I discovered that in 1909 Pazaurek (1865-1935) had set up a “cabinet of bad taste” (Abteilung der Geschmacksverirrungen) within the Landesgewerbemuseum Stuttgart where he was director until 1932. He came up with a complex system for categorising bad taste and this system was fully outlined in the book under four broad headings:

  • Material mistakes: this included inferior or damaged materials, bizarre materials such as objects made from hair, fish scales etc
  • Design mistakes: this included objects that were unsuitable for their purpose, fantasy designs, frivolous inventions, forgeries etc
  • Decorative mistakes: this included odd proportions, extreme decoration etc
  • Kitsch: this included cheap mass-produced rubbish

Continue reading

Arsène Lupin versus Sherlock Holmes


Cover of Lupin’s complete adventures (C201.d.5905-5907).

Who doesn’t like Sherlock Holmes? The whole world has embraced Sherlock Holmes, from the United States to Soviet Russia; he is the most portrayed character in the history of cinema, and every year brings its share of new adaptations including the latest on BBC1 starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Who could possibly hate Sherlock Holmes?

The answer is, of course: a Frenchman.

In 1905, the French writer Maurice Leblanc wrote the first adventure of Arsène Lupin, a dashing gentleman-thief for whom burglary is one of the fine arts. Several short stories and novels would follow and in 1908, Leblanc introduced two new characters in Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmes: an English detective and his sidekick Dr Wilson. A barely disguised pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, Sholmes was also intended as a caricature of the typical Englishman as seen by the French at the time: red in the face, impassive to the point of apathy and slow of understanding. Lupin of course, was his exact opposite, having every quality of a not-so-respectable Frenchman: chivalrous, terribly charming, and just a little bit cocky. Continue reading

Illustrations for Soviet children (and postcards for Christmas!) : the December 2016 Slavonic item of the month

‘Kniga dlia detei 1881-1939’ (Books for children, 1881-1939; S950.a.200.4173-4174) is a huge two-volume set which contains reproductions of excerpts from beautifully illustrated Russian children’s books.  It was produced in 2009 but is a only a recent arrival in the University Library.

The two volumes (right) and a winter scene (left).

The set is based on the collection of a New York Russian emigre.  Aleksandr Lur’e (or Sasha Lurye) has collected hundreds upon hundreds of late imperial and early Soviet children’s books, a great many of which researchers would struggle to track down in libraries today.  The two volumes follow a roughly chronological order in terms of the books their sections study. Continue reading