Wednesday, October 30, 2019

paleography ... how people wrote

am currently plodding through the excellent shane mccausland's massive book about the chinese calligrapher and artist and top civil servant zhao mengfu

it all started when i was watching rain falling on the roof of a japanese temple and wondered if chinese artists had been good at depicting falling rain

the short answer is NOPE, but whilst searching for images, i found zhao mengfu's portrait of a windswept mongol ?warrior? and his horse

when i did some superficial research about the artist, it soon became evident that he is a key figure in the history of chinese "culture"

as a talented administrator he was obliged to serve the conquering mongolian rulers

they appreciated the sophistication of southern chinese culture and valued his services

one of his main interests was calligraphy ... please remember that chinese was written with a brush rather than a pen

in chinese culture, good calligraphy is thought to be inextricably co-dependant on the personal and public virtues of the man who holds the brush

zhao mengfu was greatly skilled, but he was also the most respected expert on the history and the aesthetics of classical brushwork

much of the brushwork he admired was already ancient ... it is hard to summarize his views but as far as i've got then it seems he liked artists who combined expressive gestural brush strokes with clear design and legibility and with techniques that could be modified according to the context and gravity of the task

mccausland's  book is a long one, i'll let you know how it turns out  but in the meantime i need a wider knowledge base of the history of writing so i'm starting a little scrapbook

cuneiform ...

cuneiform was written by highly trained scribes who impressed lines in to clay using an edged stick or stylus cut from the stem of a large reed

chisels and stone ...

digitised lettering has left many people no longer needing a pen to write ...

when were pens first used ?

reed pens ?

most of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written with reed pens on parchment ...

feathers ?

a thousand years later, the Domesday Books were written with feather quills on parchment ...

feather quills were still in use when jefferson drafted the US declaration of independence in 1776 ...

a hands-on revolutionary of german origins, jacob shallus, "engrossed the United States' first constitution ...

this was written on parchment with a goose quill

jane austen used goose quill nibs ...

steel pens came in to popular use about 1830 ......

Thursday, October 24, 2019

tobias and the angel ... being a choirboy in the church of england, this was a story that passed me by ... i'd seen some paintings but had never really engaged with their narrative until i came to tenby and began to think about fish ... but only now have i learned there's more to the story ... there's a woman !

This book tells the story of Tobit, a righteous Israelite of the tribe of Naphtali, living in Nineveh after Sargon II had deported the northern tribes of Israel to Assyria in 721 BC. In the two Greek versions, the first two and a half chapters are written in the first person; in the Vulgate version, they are written in the third person.[17] Tobit, raised by his paternal grandmother, Deborah, remains loyal to the worship of God at the temple in Jerusalem, refusing the cult of the golden calves that Jeroboam, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, set up at Dan. He is particularly noted for his diligence in attempting to provide proper burials for fallen Israelites whom Sargon's successor, Sennacherib, has slain. For this behavior the king seizes his property and exiles him. After Sennacherib's death, Tobit is allowed to return to Nineveh, where he buries a man who has been murdered on the street. That night, he sleeps in the open and is blinded by bird droppings which fall into his eyes. The blindness caused by this injury strains his marriage and, ultimately, he prays for death.[18]
Meanwhile, in faraway Media, a young woman named Sarah has prayed for death in despair. The demon of lust, Asmodeus ("the worst of demons"), abducts and kills every man Sarah marries on their wedding night before the marriage can be consummated. God sends the angel Raphael, disguised as a human, to heal Tobit and free Sarah from the demon.[18]
The main narrative is dedicated to Tobit's son, Tobiah or Tobiyah (Greek: Τωβίας Tobias), who is sent by his father to collect money that the elder has deposited in distant Media. Raphael presents himself as Tobit's kinsman, Azariah, and offers to aid and protect Tobias. Under Raphael's guidance, Tobias journeys to Media with his dog.
Along the way, while washing his feet in the river Tigris, a fish tries to swallow his foot. By the angel's order, he captures it and removes its heart, liver and gall bladder.[19]

Tobias and Sara Sleep, 1860 woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld
Upon arriving in Media, Raphael tells Tobias of the beautiful Sarah, whom Tobias has the right to marry because he is her cousin and closest relative. The angel instructs the young man to burn the fish's liver and heart to drive away the demon when he attacks on the wedding night.[20] The two marry, and the fumes of the burning organs drive the demon to Upper Egypt, where Raphael follows and binds him. Sarah's father had been digging a grave to secretly bury Tobias under the assumption that he would be killed. Surprised to find his son-in-law alive and well, he orders a double-length wedding feast and has the grave secretly filled. Since the feast prevents him from leaving, Tobias sends Raphael to recover his father's money.[20]
After the feast, Tobias and Sarah return to Nineveh. There, Raphael tells the youth to use the fish's gall to cure his father's blindness. Raphael then reveals his identity and returns to heaven, and Tobit sings a hymn of praise.[20]
Tobit tells his son to leave Nineveh before God destroys it according to prophecy (compare the Book of Nahum). After the prayer, Tobit dies at an advanced age.[21] After burying his father and mother, Tobias returns to Media with his family.

the FULL story via this link ...

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

some of francis barlow's illustrations for aesop's fables, originally engraved c.1665 but this edition printed in amsterdam c.1714

i'm not sure how Barlow's plates found their way to Amsterdam  ...  you can read the french version on the gallica site of the bibliotheque national de france ...

barlow's images were often used as decoration for ceramics

come to think of it ... the amsterdam publisher recommended barlow as a copying source, presumably as a key selling point ...

for a general guide to books of aesop's fables ...

John Kirk re-created Francis Barlow's designs around 1760

Kirk's copies are meticulous
he used etching techniques as well as engraving
the copies are all reversed left-to-right

John Kirk even produced a set of Aesops fables playing cards in 1759