Dutch woodcarving saved by the camera

De koorbanken van Oirschot en Aarschot: gezien door de lens van Hans Sibbelee en Jan Verspaandonk is a book that caught my eye recently, with its many beautiful black and white photos. It looks in detail at the medieval carved choir stalls of two churches, one in Oirschot in the south of the Netherlands and one in Aarschot in Belgium. What makes them especially interesting is that those in Oirschot were destroyed during World War Two and we are only able to see them thanks to photographs that were fortuitously taken in 1943. Continue reading

Celebrating 100 years of De Stijl

Composition en rouge, jaune, bleu et noir by Mondrian via Wikimedia Commons

It is exactly 100 years since the first issue of De Stijl magazine was published in October 1917. This is commonly regarded as the starting point for the influential artistic movement of the same name, chiefly associated with the artist Piet Mondrian and abstract geometric paintings using primary colours. The anniversary has been marked throughout the year by exhibitions in several locations around the Netherlands (see here for more details) along with the publication of new books on the movement and related artists. This is a good time for us to consider relevant books that we have and to highlight recent new acquisitions. Continue reading

Cricket: A very Flemish game

If you are a cricket fan you will know that the ICC Champions Trophy started yesterday. This guest post by Dr Jaap Harskamp (formerly Curator of Dutch & Flemish collections at the British Library) gives some interesting background to the history of the game and connections with Flanders and the Flemish.

During the medieval period Flanders dominated the European textile industry, but had to import wool from England since its own production was insufficient in quantity. In return, England imported Flemish cloth. To remind the nation of the importance of the trade, Edward III ordered that the Speaker of the House of Lords should sit on a woolsack. Large numbers of Flemish immigrants crossed the Channel and settled in England. Weavers Lane in Southwark, is a reminder that Flemish craftsmen once occupied the area. Immigrants also established the so-called New Draperies, first into Norwich and then to villages in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex during the 1570s, producing fabrics that were lighter and cheaper than the traditional woollens.

Cricket originated in the sheep-rearing country of the South East, where the short grass of its fields made it possible to bowl a ball of wool at a target. That target was usually the wicket-gate of the sheep pasture, which was defended with a bat in the form of a shepherd’s crooked staff. The word wicket – in the original sense of a small door or grille – was derived from Anglo-Norman French and Old Northern French ‘wiket’. The word was also in use in Middle Dutch. 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

The Auction Impresario

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) in advance of the 400th anniversary next year of Isaac Elzevier starting his printing office in Leiden.  At present, Jaap Harskamp is in the process of adding all Dutch imprints at the Library to the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands (STCN) and in due course we will have a complete overview of our substantial Elzevier holdings. In this essay he concentrates on a lesser known aspect of the Elzevier book business and its impact on Britain and Cambridge.


An early version of the famous Elzevier logo introduced by Isaac Elzevier in 1620 and still in use today. Taken from title page of the 1674 Catalogus librorum qui in bibliopolio Danielis Elsevirii venales extant (U.4.56)

In 1580 Lowys (Louis) Elzevier, a former apprentice of Christopher Plantin in Antwerp, moved from the Southern Netherlands to the northern university town of Leiden where he set up his own book shop. Six years later, after working mainly as a bookbinder and bookseller, he was appointed beadle of the Academy. His grandson Isaac was the first member of the Elzevier dynasty to run a press and printing office from 1617 onwards. The family company continued until 1712 as the most successful printers/publishers in Europe (over 2,000 titles, excluding academic dissertations and disputations). There were further branches at The Hague, Utrecht and Amsterdam, and the Elzeviers were appointed official printers of the University of Leiden. Continue reading