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Picturing a World

Renaissance girls get educated

Blog post alert: Picturing Children's Food in Early Modern Europe at the Folger Shakespeare Library's website contains an image pertinent to my earlier query about illustrations of girl's education. This is late Renaissance, not late medieval, but still full of details about clothes and activities for historical-fiction writers to mine. Image via the Metropolitan Museum.

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Half Life of Valery K

My favorite book dedication is Rudyard Kiplings for Plain Tales from the Hills: "To the wittiest woman in India." Now it has a close runner-up, Natasha Pulley's in The Half Life of Valery K: "For Claire, Larry, and Jacob, who put up with me telling them pointless facts about nuclear physics for the whole of lockdown." The rest of the novel is terrific, too—I only wish it weren't frighteningly apt at a time when jitters about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine are all too real.

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Medieval window panes

Accounts of medieval windows generally focus on stained glass, and no wonder—they're very beautiful. But, of course, not all windows were tinted. Recently, I came across a complicated allegorical frontispiece on fol.1r of a French Mirror of History. Half the picture depicts a church being built with various kings, saints, and biblical figures as craftsmen—including these two monks. They grabbed my attention because I had never seen a depiction of glaziers installing windows.

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Bounded in a nutshell

Hamlet muses, "I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams." But what about good dreams? A History Blog post on a 16th C prayer bead prompts the question, How could a two-inch sphere that opens to an intricately carved interior be used in a story?

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Judith Shakespeare

When I looked up the word bewilderment in the OED to see when it was first used, I was startled by an 1884 citation to a novel by Willian Black called Judith Shakespeare. Yep, there really is one about William Shakespeare's daughter. It was first serialized in Harper's Magazine, vol. LXVIII, with illustrations by Edwin Austin Abbey.  I took a look at the text and decided its Prithee style of historical fiction wasn't for me (nor its likely Victorian attitude toward women). Nevertheless, I'm still amused that it exists and enjoy Abbey's illustrations. For two more pictures from Judith Shakespeare, click here and here. For more of Abbey's work, including paintings, click here.

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Technology on the move!

Screenshot: VrBus - Invisible Cities - VrExperience

Blog post alert: Friends, Romans, historical fiction writers, and history buffs, lend me your ears—and eyes and noses! VR bus drives back in time through ancient Rome gives you a taste of technology put to the task of immersing tourists in a real bus ride that takes passengers through an opt-in virtual reality that includes narrative, GPS-guided imagery, and wafts of smell. Screenshot via YouTube.

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Finger counting

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.

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Marie-Victoire Jaquotot

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.

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Reframing Cézanne et al

Blog post alert: A reprinted article, Reframing at the National Gallery, London: Part 1, at The Frame Blog shows several paintings in both their old frames and the frames chosen fifteen years ago. Different eras, different tastes, different impact on the viewer.

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Leman silk designs

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.

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