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1) Drink vanilla spice latte without getting cream everywhere
2) Finish display of children’s books (subject: funny books) at work. Yes, it includes books on farts and on knickers.
3) Finish reading article and submit peer review of same (tonight)
4) Build Lego science lab with women scientists figures (tonight, as a reward for submitting said review)
5) Update blog roll on this blog – any suggestions?
6) Attempt to sleep through gales

How is your day shaping up?

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The official mascot of IMC 2013

Today is an early start; I am determined to get a seat at the opening keynote lecture of the Leeds International Medieval Congress of 2013. William M. Reddy (Department of History at Duke University) is speaking on “Is pleasure an emotion? Historicism and anachronism in the history of emotions”. He will be followed by Esther Cohen (Department of History, Hebrew University of Jerusalem), who asks “What’s wrong with pleasure?” Their lectures take place in the Great Hall, which in itself is pretty exciting. I have visions of fireplaces taller than I am, vaulted ceilings, and great hunting hounds lying on the floor. I suspect that it won’t be quite like that, but that’s why we have imaginations; ask yourself, what would Sara Crewe do in less than satisfactory surroundings?
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The Victorian Tactile ImaginationYou can compare the tactility, or lack of same, of your imagination, to that of the Victorians at Birkbeck (University of London) on Friday 19 and Saturday 20 July, at the conference currently (and for evermore) known as The Victorian Tactile Imagination.

“You people who can see attach such an absurd importance to your eyes! I set my touch, my dear, against your eyes, as much the most trustworthy, and much the most intelligent sense of the two”. (Wilkie Collins, Poor Miss Finch, 1872)

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A séance, 1920, by William Hope (The information accompanying the spirit album states that the table is levitating – in reality the image of a ghostly arm has been superimposed over the table- stand through double exposure. – National Media Museum)

Three of my favourite stories, all set at least partly in Victorian times, speak of the attempts of grieving families and friends to find their dead friends beyond the veil, through séances and spiritualists. (more…)

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My colleague Christina Bradstreet at Sotheby’s Institute of Art lives a research-y life drenched in perfume, specifically in perfume and smells as depicted in nineteenth-century paintings. She brings the perfumes with her, in the form of chocolates, teas, and exotic essential oils, like a Mary Poppins in veils rather than with a sensible-seeming bag.

The Roses of Heliogabalus, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (oil on canvas, 1888, private collection), via Wikimedia Commons


Christina’s currently writing a book on this very topic – smell in nineteenth-century painting, not Mary Poppins in veils – and she’s been letting me have a peek at some of the chapters. It’s going to be wonderful in its finished form. On Friday, she gave a talk at the Paul Mellon Centre fortnightly Research Lunch session, her exact topic being Death by Perfume: Floral Asphxyiation in Alma Tadema’s “The Roses of Heliogabalus” and John Collier’s “The Death of Albine”. (more…)

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Alexander Thistlewhaite’s bookplate, Fellows’ Library, Winchester College (image via Birmingham University website)

With my school friend in town for a few days, I saw a lot of places and collections in London that were completely new to me. Yesterday began in the treasure trove and home of the eighteenth-century/nineteenth-century collector Sir John Soane, before moving forward a century or two forward to the collections of Viktor Wynd housed at the Last Tuesday Society Mare Street HQ (Bethnal Green). The website describes the shop as “as an attempt to recreate or reinterpret, within 21st century sensibilities, a 17th century Wunderkabinett; a collection of objects assembled at a whim on the basis of their aesthetic or historical appeal.” (more…)

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If you are not already following the entertaining work of the St Andrews University Library Special Collections Department on their “Echoes from the Vaults” blog, I highly recommend that you do so. Go. Go now! This entry from a couple of days ago is all about the eco-system of medieval manuscript illumination, where all manner of characters and plants can be found in the initials and margins of each page, living their often strange and fascinating little lives. The drawings in this example, a 15th-century gradual, give some clues as to the text’s origins.

Echoes from the Vault

I didn’t intend to write about the gradual at all for this post, I just happened to be looking at it one day when it was out for Tom Wilkinson the chapel organist to see. He is going to conduct the chapel choir in singing one of the Kyrie settings for a celebration service on 21st April for the 500th anniversary of the foundation of St Leonards College.

It’s not an easy book to just get out casually for a look, being our second heaviest manuscript, longer but not as thick as the works of Augustine of Hippo, so I was taking the opportunity of a peak and became fascinated by the inventiveness of the artist or artists who created the initials. For instance look at the many different forms of A and D, common because of the words Alleluia and Dominus appear so frequently in…

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