Saint Nicholas: from bishop of Myra to Santa Claus

December 6th is St. Nicholas’ Day on which many children in the Netherlands and other countries in mainland Europe wake up expectantly, hoping to find gifts in the shoes they left out the night before. In the Netherlands, the arrival in mid-November of Sinterklaas (as he is called there) on a ship from Spain, followed by a parade on a white horse, is a major (now televised) event and has been taking place for many years. It was depicted in the 19th century by Jan Schenkman in his Sint Nikolaas en zijn knecht.

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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