Happy Birthday to the Bard

It’s Shakespeare’s birthday. To celebrate as Shakespeare would have liked, make sure you contemplate your own inevitable decline by listening to Izzy Isgate reading Sonnet 73. Simply click on the link below to listen.

Empty boughs at Studley Royal, North Yorkshire. (c) NTPL.

Empty boughs at Studley Royal, North Yorkshire. (c) NTPL.

Izzy’s recording is included on our ‘Virtue and Vice’ mobile app as part of our thematic exploration of the dissolution of the monasteries. We invited Izzy, a postgraduate student at York, and a talented singer/songwriter, to do the reading in order to reflect the northern roots of our exhibition and its protagonists.

You can read a transcript of the sonnet, along with my explanation, after the jump. Continue reading

How do you solve a problem like Hardwick?

ImageIt’s been a privilege to work with National Trust staff and volunteers for the ‘Virtue and Vice’ exhibition, and a real thrill to get the occasional peek into areas of the Hall that are usually closed to visitors – including the attics! But working in an Elizabethan house poses some unusual challenges, to put it mildly… Continue reading

What’s in a Name? Curating ‘Virtue and Vice’

Image

The first of the four rare painted hangings in the Hardwick Chapel which inspired our exhibition. ©NTPL/John Hammond.

On a visit to Hardwick in the summer of 2011, I encountered two striking textiles. One was a magnificent appliqué hanging depicting ‘Faith and his contrary, in the person of Mahomet’: something I had read about in the inventories Bess made of her three properties in 1601, but never seen. The other was a rare and important painted cloth which illustrates the conversion of St Paul: a theme beloved of artists across Europe during the Renaissance, but which I was surprised to find painted onto fabric in a household chapel. Between them, these two luxurious objects encapsulate many of the obsessions and events of the Elizabethan age. The connections and conversations they make possible inspired the ‘Virtue and Vice’ exhibition. Continue reading

‘This chocolatical confection…’

A world of chocolate: Sophie's map included tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar to remind us that these 'new world' products transformed the habits of old Europe.

A world of chocolate: Sophie’s map included tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar to remind us that these ‘new world’ products transformed the habits of old Europe.

What better way to mark the first of our public lecture series, ‘Cultural Encounters: Travel, Religion, and Identity in the Early Modern World’, than with a chocolate map of the world, prepared for us by Sophie Jewett of the wonderful York Cocoa House? We’re hugely grateful to Sophie not only for her chocolate cartography, but for serving up delicious drinks made in accordance with two early modern recipes — one for hot chocolate, dating from 1644, and one, from 1710, for a pretty potent chocolate wine.

But why chocolate (as though that’s ever a real question…)? Continue reading

Word of the Day: Pisteology

This one is borrowed directly from the Oxford English Dictionary, which today informs us that Pisteology is ‘A theory or science of faith’. From the few citations given by the dictionary, it seems a) that it didn’t really catch on (one to try and rectify!), and b) that it implicitly refers to Christianity.

Since the OED dates first use to 1880, it’s not a term which the early modern men and women we study would have recognised. Still, it chimes interestingly with a question that’s dogging my own research: what is the difference between the study of religion and the study of belief? Is it possible to excavate (especially at such a historical distance) the operations and experience of faith as well as its articulation and performance? And what is the connection between pisteology and piscatology (fishing)?

Fingers and Mirrors: Caravaggio and the Conversion of Mary Magdalene in Renaissance Rome

Caravaggio, Martha and Mary Magdalene

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Martha and Mary Magdalene, c. 1598. Detroit Institute of Arts, 73.268.

When the Conversion Narratives team went to Fort Worth, Texas for the Sixteenth-Century Studies conference in October last year, we were lucky enough to catch an incredible exhibition, ‘Caravaggio and his Followers in Rome’ at the magnificent Kimbell Art Museum. We particularly enjoyed the chance to spend some time face-to-face with Caravaggio’s potent image of Martha and Mary Magdalene, often called ‘The Conversion of Mary Magdalene’.

The image, which is usually housed in the Detroit Institute of Arts, where you can zoom in to see much of the fine detail of the painting, depicts an earnest Martha persuading a lavishly-dressed Mary of her sins. For Roman viewers, the scene would have gained a particular frisson from their knowledge that the sitter who portrayed Mary was a well-known courtesan, Fillide Melandroni (Martha may have been another courtesan, Anna Bianchini) — so that the dynamic of the painting is frustrated by the non-conversion of the real-life counterpart to this ambiguously pious figure. Continue reading

Cultural Encounters: Jesus and Jerusalem in the Mughal Court

Mughal Painting from the Royal Court, c. 1600

Searching the V&A catalogue, I stumbled across this fabulous image. It is a characteristically refined and naturalistic painting done by an unknown artist at the Mughal royal court, probably between 1600 and 1610. The Mughal Empire stretched across most of present-day India and Pakistan, where it consolidated the presence of Islam, and spread Muslim (and particularly Persian) arts and culture into South Asia. Continue reading