Fighting windmills – new virtual exhibition on Don Quixote at the University Library

The virtual exhibition ‘Fighting windmills: the many interpretations of Don Quixote’ was launched yesterday to commemorate Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s 400th death anniversary. It features some rarely seen and beautifully illustrated material from a wide number of collections within the University Library, and its main aim is to highlight some of the ways in which Don Quixote has been appropriated by readers, artists and other writers throughout the centuries.

Illustration by Walter Crane from ‘Don Quixote of the Mancha’; London: Blackie&Son, 1900 (Waddleton.c.9.615)

This virtual exhibition is the result of an enriching collaboration between Dr. Sophie Defrance (Rare Books) and Clara Panozzo (Collections and Academic Liaison) from the University Library and Dr. José Ramón Marcaida from the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Cambridge. It has also benefited greatly from the guidance and input of Dr. Rodrigo Cacho, Reader in Spanish Golden Age and Colonial Studies at the Faculty of Modern & Medieval Languages.

The exhibition comprises four different sections, each featuring one aspect of the varied and rich interpretations of the novel. Firstly we look into Cervantes’ characterisation of Don Quixote as ‘ingenioso’, a term loaded with philosophical and medical senses, but also susceptible to comic interpretations. Then we consider some of the ways in which the story sparked the imagination and creativity of writers and artists during the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly in England. Finally, we explore how Don Quixote’s legendary figure lent itself to popular adaptations and illustrations, notably in 19th and 20th children’s books.

While searching for material to showcase in this exhibition, some wonderful 18th century French engravings were brought to light. The whole set has been digitised and will soon be fully accessible on the Cambridge Digital Library. The engravings will also provide the framework for a talk to be given by Dr. Rodrigo Cacho in early 2017 in the Rare Books Department at the University Library. In this occasion as well, Dr. José Ramón Marcaida will further examine Don Quixote’s ‘ingenuity’ and its implications on the novel’s readings.

We will keep you posted!

Clara Panozzo


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