I'm reading The Universal History of Numbers by Georges Ifrah a few pages at a time. If you were like me, you had an elementary school teacher who reprimanded students who used fingers to count; but really it's a good way to reinforce understanding. Moreover, finger-counting has been used in remarkably complicated systems for calculations by many cultures over millennia. Ifrah illustrates one discussion with an image based on this early Renaissance painting of the 6th C philosopher and mathematician, Boethius, which is part of a fresco on the north wall of the Ducal Palace in Urbino. The portrait set me thinking that it would be worthwhile to pay attention to Finger Counting and Hand Diagrams in medieval illuminations in order to read them correctly.
Picturing a World
Thanks to Keith Gessen's review in The New Yorker, I bought a copy of Andrey Kurkov's Grey Bees because I wanted to know more about life in Ukraine. The novel is set in the Donbas after Russian separatists have turned the region into a war zone. It makes for illuminating topical reading now that Putin has assaulted the whole country; but far more important to me, it goes on my shelf of deeply humane books to treasure and reread. My husband loved it, too, incidentally. It should appeal to many audiences—and kudos to Boris Dralyuk, who translates smoothly it into lovely English.
Three things I love: pictures of 19th C artists' studios, landscapes out over rooftops, and glimpses of worlds through windows. All three are present in Dagnan-Bouveret's painting. Look at the Japanese parasol on the far wall, the Oriental rug used as a table cover, the blue-and-white jug—to hold paintbrushes, no less. Or out the window at golden light over Paris. I haven't been able to track down where the original hangs; but as a stimulus to imagination, it doesn't matter.
Blog post alert: A 2014 post, Mind's Eye from a Different Frame of Reference, discusses how curators at the Dallas Museum of Art chose frames from their collection to mount pictures in an exhibition. The images in the post are small, but they give a quick look at some unusual frames. There's really no connection to writing, but it's a good reminder by analogy that reframing a question or a plot point can reveal new insights.
Marie-Victoire Jacquetot, the artist who was commissioned by Napoleon to paint a Sèvres tea service for Empress Josephine Bonaparte, came to my attention recently when that very tea service was acquired by the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass. Much of what I could find about the artist comes in Marie-Victoire Jaquotot (1772-1855), « premier peintre sur porcelaine du roi » Louis XVIII, a post (in French). Luckily for those who don't read the language, the post has many illustrations, including enlarged details of this self-portrait and a picture of the set acquired by the Clark.
Alice and Martin Provensen were a devoted and charming married couple who were also both first-rate illustrators. They worked in tandem, mostly on children's books; and theirs was a true partnership of artistic equals. They never divulged which of them did what on their joint projects. After Marin died, Alice continued to produce imaginative books. The Art of Alice and Martin Provensen is the first monograph on the pair. It's a delight, with essays, photographs like a scrapbook of theirs and their daughter's lives, and generous high-quality reproductions from their many, many books. To flip through it, click here.
Website alerts: Oh, my! Two things I love already, Narnia and book sculptures. And now, voilà: Instructions for making your own sculpture of Lucy's first visit to the lamppost, complete with PDF's of some of the elements. I'm not a crafter, but, I might just make up a story about someone who is.
For those who want to take such things to a professional level, moreover, Su Blackwell has a new book out, Into the Dark Woods, which comes with an booklet of instructions for making the sort of talismans she included to illustrate her retold fairy tales. Well worth mooning over.
Blog post alert: A post on James Leman, Silk Designer at Spitalfields Life recounts the career of an 18th C silk designer and reproduces several double-page spreads from his album of samples. The album is now at the Victoria and Albert and is obviously a great straightforward historical resource. It can also prompt suggestions for stories.
I have just read two novels back to back: Anthony Doerr's Cloud Cuckoo Land (2021) and The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) by John Buchan. Written almost a hundred years apart, they are totally different in structure and complexity; yet they both raise a question: Is it okay for a novel to be episodic?