Nativity festivity: a celebration of crib scenes in the UL

The birth of Jesus has been represented in images since the 4th century when it appeared in reliefs on sarcophagi in Rome. St Francis of Assisi was perhaps the first to create a (living) nativity in the early 13th century. Since that time the nativity scene has spread from Italy across Europe and become an important part of Christmas festivities in many cultures in both public and domestic settings. The nativity has also been a major subject in paintings and other artistic forms since medieval times. We are celebrating this Christmas season with a look at some examples from our collections. Continue reading

Lettrism in the UL

Library holdings related to Lettrisme have been growing recently. Like Dadaism, this avant-garde movement was created by one of these Romanian francophone émigrés that had a decisive influence on 20th century art and writing, Isidore Isou (1925-2007). Isou arrived in Paris in 1945 and immediately persuaded Raymond Queneau and then Gaston Gallimard to publish his Introduction à une nouvelle poésie et à une nouvelle musique (1947) as well as a 450 pages autobiographical novel, L’Agrégation d’un nom et d’un messie. His conception of poetry, which anticipated what was to become “concrete poetry”, and in a way systematised and expanded dadaist poetry was soon noticed and in 1955 Orson Welles documented it in a famous interview at Librairie Fischbacher. Isou and his followers also produced an astonishing array of visual works, using the plasticity of invented alphabets to produce ‘hypergraphic’ works, half-way between figuration and abstraction (see: Lettrisme : vue d’ensemble sur quelques dépassements précis / commissaire de l’exposition, Roland SabatierS950.c.201.106, and Lemaître : une vie lettriste / par Frédéric Acquaviva2014.10.1191).

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The seven deadly sins in art

Todsuenden 002With Christmas behind us and the daily temptations to eat too many mince pies, cookies or other Christmassy sweets (largely) overcome, what better time to reflect upon the seven deadly sins? The topic has been prominent in the arts for centuries and it is therefore worthwhile taking a look at a very interesting exhibion catalogue in the UL to explore the topic.

The concept of the seven deadly sins originates with the desert fathers and was brought to Europe by John Cassian with his book The Institute. A translated and annotated version of The Institute can be found in the UL at 44:1.c.6.58, edited by Boniface Ramsey and published in 2000. To discover more about the early concept of the deadly sins, it is worthwhile browsing our subject headings for Vices and its subdivisions. These vices were then revised by Pope Gregory I in 590 AD and became known as the seven deadly sins, which were then also used and defended by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica. Continue reading

500 Years of Italian Grammar(s), Culture, and Society in Italy and Europe: From Fortunio’s Regole (1516) to the Present

A new display of books in the University Library (in the exhibition cases outside of the Tea Room and Map Room) traces the development of the Italian grammatical production over the centuries by means of a selection of grammar texts. This post describes the books, which will be on display until the end of next week.

2016 will mark the 500th anniversary of the publication of the first printed grammar of the Italian language, the Regole grammaticali della volgar lingua (1516) by Giovan Francesco Fortunio (1470 c.-1517). A study day, organised by Dr Helena Sanson (University of Cambridge/Clare College) and Dr Francesco Lucioli (Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Neo-Latin Studies) will be held on 10 December 2015, at Downing College, Music room (9am-5pm), to celebrate the occasion, ahead of the actual anniversary in 2016, when a special issue of The Italianist will be published to collect the papers from the event. Continue reading

A 1935 trip to the Soviet Union : the June 2015 Slavonic item of the month


Visa issued to Clinch (‘Klinch Gerbert’) by the Soviet Embassy in London (MS Add.9996/6/7).

Eighty years ago, a group of British trade unionists and co-operative members travelled to the Soviet Union for a 4,000-mile tour around European Russia and Ukraine. The archive of one delegate, Herbert Clinch, a printer from Kent, was presented to the University Library three years ago and is this month’s Slavonic item of the month.

The archive contains photographs, postcards, and notes from the Soviet Union, and additional ephemeral material such as money, cigarettes, and a poster advertising a talk Clinch gave on what he had seen.  Two articles by Clinch are also preserved in the archive: a piece he wrote for the Kent messenger in June 1935, shortly after his return, and one for the August 1935 edition of the Typographical circular.  In these, he expressed sincere admiration of the Soviet Union’s achievements.  His Kent messenger article starts:

It is not easy for me, a worker with my hands, to set down all that I saw in this marvellous country, where they do things on a scale so vast that it staggers the imagination.

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