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Category: Byzantine

Ottoman History, in Rhyme

by doconversationsblog

This post is provided by Anne Marie Creighton, who joins us this year as a research fellow in the Dumbarton Oaks Library.

The first full-scale depiction of Ottoman history in English was Richard Knolles’ The Generall Historie of the Turkes, which he published in 1603. Because this book proved very popular, it was reprinted numerous times in the seventeenth century, usually with updates to keep the text current. The 1687 edition at Dumbarton Oaks names Sir Paul Rycaut as the author of the new material.

Before I picked up the Generall Historie last week, I had done some background research. I was informed that this history was told through the lives of each Ottoman sultan, so that the history becomes a series of biographies, from Osman I in the early fourteenth century to Mehmed IV in the late seventeenth. When I started looking at the text, I thought I knew what I would find. One facet surprised me, however: the poetry.

At the beginning of each new chapter of the Generall Historie, on the page where the next sultan ascends the throne, the reader encounters both a portrait of the sultan and two poems about him. In volume 1, which Knolles wrote, the author composed a poem in Latin and a poem in English summarizing the life of each sultan he described. (Volume 2, which covers the additional period between 1603 and 1687, also has English poems, but they are mostly not so inspired as Knolles’.)

Here are my favorite five of the English poems from Knolles’ original work, in chronological order. One theme I enjoyed throughout is Knolles’ existential moralizing on how fast, even for famous sultans and kings, human greatness and other “sublunary gloryes” fade away. Because the text is small, I include my transcriptions of the English poems after the images.

Osman I, p. 91

Whilest weltring in it’s gore proud Asia lay,
To Saracens, and Tartars made a Prey,
While Christian Swords wounded each others breast,
And Greece with mad Sedition was distrest,
Bold Ottoman the dire Advantage takes,
And a new road for Desolation makes.
A barbarous Empire his Ambition founds,
His cruel scepter staind with bloud, and wounds.

Murad I, p. 131

Sterne Amurath new thoughts resolves upon,
With armes divided Greece to overrun;
And wholly bent to’enlarge his narrow bounds,
Europe invades, and all he meets confounds:
The too too timorous Thracians stand amaz’d,
To find his Scepter in their bowells plac’d,
The fierce Bulgarians, did his fury quell,
And at his feet their noble Despot fell:
At last the ponyard [knife] of a little Slave
Taught him, what Short liv’d pleasures Tyrants have.

Mehmed II, or Mehmed the Conqueror, p. 229

I who to kingdomes, Cities, brought their fate,
The terrour of the trembling world, of late,
Yield to the greater Monarch Death, but am
Yet proud to think of my immortal fame.
Greater than Alexander, once was I,
Or him that Camps of Romans did destroy:
I vanquist the victorious Greeks, and I
Destroyd Epyrus, and fierce Tartary,
From mighty Me th’Hungarians had their doome,
And the report reacht ye proud walls of Rome.
The Assyrian, and Arabian felt my hand,
Nor could the Persian my dread power withstand.
Ore Rhodes, and Italy I designed to ride,
But fate the progress of my aimes denyd,
Ai me,’ grim Death, and one unlucky houre,
Has baffled all my thoughts, and boundless power.
So haughty man, and all his hopes decay,
And so all sublunary gloryes pass away.

Selim I, p. 339

Lo Selymus, the vilest of the Othoman brood,
Embru’d his hands in Father’s, Brothers bloud.
Persian, Egyptian, Syrian, and Moore
Submit their Scepters to his insolent pow’r;
But when the Christians Realms he vainly thought
To speedy desolation to have brought,
A mortall ulcer seized him, to make knowne
The great Messiah can protect his owne.

Murad III, p. 651

Valiant I was not, none deserve that name
But those, whose generous minds bespeake their fame.
Fortune advanc’d me high, and fickle Shee
Still found a Soule, bravely prepard in me,
Soft in my tender years tho’ I became,
Yet still I priz’d the glory of my name:
I sent abroad my Ministers of State,
To doe the Slavish drugery of my fate.

Osman, Ferhates, Sinan, Mustapha
The terrors of the World, did me obey.
I broke the Medes, and the Armenian Powers,
And batterd downe the proud Taurisian Towers.
Yet what’s all this to my ill gott renowne,
Since greatest things are soonest tumbled down,
We’re robb’d of all we have, in one short houre,
And quickly we, and ours shall be no more.

Imagining Delos

by doconversationsblog

This post is provided by Anne Marie Creighton, who joins us this year as a research fellow in the Dumbarton Oaks Library.

“‘Delos, would you want to be the abode of my son,
Phoibos Apollon, and to house him in a lavish temple?
For it cannot escape you that no other will touch you
since I think you shall never be rich in oxen or sheep
and shall never produce vintage nor grow an abundance of plants.
If you have a temple for Apollon who shoots from afar,
…you shall feed your dwellers
from the hand of strangers, since your soil is barren.’”

“Homeric Hymn to Apollo,” 51.60, in The Homeric Hymns, ed. and trans. Apostolos N. Athanassakis.

A scrappy bit of rock set in the waters of the eastern Mediterranean, the island of Delos overcame its barren soil and its size (less than 2 square miles!) to become one of the most important cult sites in classical antiquity. It was sacred to Apollo, the legend goes, because it sheltered his mother, Leto, when she needed to give birth. When Leto became pregnant with Zeus’s twins, Zeus’s wife Hera cursed her to be turned away from all the lands of the world. Luckily for Leto, Delos was a floating island and didn’t count as “land,” so she was able to give birth to her twins, Apollo and Artemis, upon it. Later, according to the Aeneid, its wandering stopped when “blessed Apollo chained it to Gyaros and the steep coast of Mykonos, and gave it to stable cultivation, and to spurn the winds” (3.75-77, translation mine). As a religious site, Delos flourished, both independently and under the control of Athens, from the 5th to the 1st centuries BCE.

In the first century BCE, however, the island’s fortunes turned. After a devastating raid during the First Mithradatic War in 88, followed by another blow by pirates in 69, Delos diminished to a shadow of its former glory. Although some inhabitants held on for a while, the island was deserted by the middle of the first millennium. The once-rich site lay abandoned for centuries.

Mt. Kynthos, the highest point on Delos, today. Photo by Deb Brown, the Librarian for Byzantine Studies. (July 2000)

Mt. Kynthos, the highest point on Delos, today. Photo by Deb Brown, the Librarian for Byzantine Studies. (July 2000)

In the seventeenth century CE, European travelers found this abandonment very convenient. Paired with the prominence of Delos in Greek and Roman myths and poetry, this convenience helped kindle their interest in the site. Beginning in the early 1600s, as I have been seeing in my work, an increasing number of western Christian travelers started making a point to stop in ancient Greek lands as they went about their business in the eastern Mediterranean. These travelers liked to collect antiquities, whether coins, statues, or pieces of architecture, taking them back home as souvenirs. As David Noy put it, generally, “the main problem lay in removing antiquities in the teeth of opposition from Ottoman authorities and local Greek populations” (375). These obstacles, however, “did not exist on uninhabited Delos” (Ibid.). In the seventeenth century, therefore, Delos provided a particularly attractive opportunity for acquiring ancient Greek objects, so it drew a disproportionate number of travelers with antiquarian interests.

Not everyone, however, could go to Delos. It was a long and expensive trip, beset with the risk of shipwreck or piracy. A market existed, however, to see Delos (and other Greek islands) from afar, which brings me to the images I wish to share with you.

The title page of Olfert Dapper's Description exacte des isles de l'archipel, et de quelques autres adjacentes, an encyclopedic treatment of many islands in the eastern Mediterranean, including Delos

The title page of the French translation of Olfert Dapper’s Naukerige Beschryving der Eilanden in de Archipel, an encyclopedic treatment of many islands in the eastern Mediterranean. Aphrodite and Poseidon are in the foreground, while the figure on the right represents the Colossus of Rhodes. The figure on the left may represent Apollo, to whom Delos was sacred.

To help their readers imagine the far-flung locales through which they passed, early modern travel writers, like travel writers today, would usually include some illustrations. As the circulation of printed books expanded, it had never been easier for European readers to get a glimpse of life elsewhere. At the same time, these images were often fantastical or exaggerated, and to make things more difficult, we often don’t know where they come from. Sometimes artists traveled abroad, like Guillame-Joseph Grelot or Cornelis de Bruijn, whose accounts were illustrated with engravings based on drawings they themselves had made, or an author could hire an artist to journey with them. Even in these cases, the quality of images could vary, if the artist was in a hurry, or was poorly trained, or if he saw just what he wanted to see. In other cases, however, the artist behind a travelogue’s engravings was himself an armchair artist, relying on some combination of imagination, text, and previously published images, which he might just copy. If the artist did copy an earlier image, it wasn’t common to attribute it, so we often can’t tell an image’s original source.

Olfert Dapper’s voluminous Naukeurige Beschryving der Eilanden in de Archipel der Middelantsche Zee, a 1688 Dutch encylcopedia of the Mediterranean islands, was among those books whose information and illustrations were both compiled from secondary sources. Dapper (1636-1689) was born in Amsterdam and never traveled farther from it than Utrecht. C. Decker, the engraver whose name appears on Dapper’s two images of Delos, also seems unlikely to have visited the Greek islands. It was an expensive trip! So where did Decker get his images of Delos? Nobody has studied where Dapper got his images from in this volume, but the sources of Decker’s two engravings of Delos, at least, are clear. An 1893 article revealed the source of Dapper’s second illustration of the island, while last week, I discovered the source of the first.

The statue of Apollo on Delos, at p. 368 of the translation of Dapper’s work into French. Corresponds with the engraving at p. 174 in the Dutch original. (The Dutch pagination restarts several times.) See Decker’s name in one of the stones on the bottom left.

The statue of Apollo on Delos, at p. 368 of the translation of Dapper’s work into French. Corresponds with the engraving at p. 174 in the Dutch original. (The Dutch pagination restarts several times.) See Decker’s name in one of the stones on the bottom left.

This strikingly beautiful image from Dapper’s Description exacte des isles de l’archipel, et de quelques autres adjacentes, the 1703 French translation of his Naukeurige Beschryving der Eilanden that shares all the same images in order, down to the artist’s name on the plates, may not be very accurate. (I’ve been working with the French translation because that’s the copy available at Dumbarton Oaks.)

Dapper’s source, as identified by Salomon Reinach in 1893, seems to have been the image below, which was created in the seventeenth century by an “unknown artist” (129). Unfortunately, I have not been able to track this image any earlier than Reinach’s article, since all the bibliographic information he gives about it is that he found it in the “Bibliothèque Impériale de Vienne” in 1891. (This is now the the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, or the Austrian National Library.)

Reinach, 652, Plates V and VI. The upper plate is the image in question.

Reinach, 652, Plates V and VI. The upper plate is the image in question.

Without a precise date for this engraving, it could have been taken from Decker’s work, or Decker could have copied it. Although both of images exaggerate the height of Mt. Kynthos (see Deb’s photo for comparison), Reinach believed that Decker’s had more “fantastical details,” like “the kind of out-of-place contruction [on the right],” and that the anonymous engraving was therefore Decker’s source (139-140). I am inclined to agree with Reinach, although it could go either way.

Dapper’s Kynthos, p. 372 of the French edition and p. 167 of the original Dutch.

Dapper’s Kynthos, p. 372 of the French edition and p. 167 of the original Dutch.

As I was turning the pages of Dapper’s book and came upon this image, I stopped, because I knew that I had seen it before. It came from Wheler’s A Journey into Greece, I thought, which had come out in 1682. After looking up the page number in my earlier notes, I was able to turn to Wheler’s rendering of Mt. Kynthos, which follows.

Wheler's Kynthos, p. 58

Wheler’s Kynthos, p. 58

George Wheler and Jacob Spon traveled together in the eastern Mediterranean in the mid 1670s, and Wheler published his account of the journey in 1682. (Spon published a travelogue in 1676, but it did not share this image). Decker’s engraving is dated from 1684, as you can see on the bottom left, so it was based on an image published just two years earlier! While Dapper may not have traveled himself, this image shows that his work draws on the latest contemporary sources. We don’t know what all of Dapper’s sources were, but we now know one more than we did last week.

The two images, side by side.

The two images, side by side


Bruneau, Philippe, and Jean Ducat. Guide de Délos. Third edition. Paris: École Française d’Athènes, 1983.

Dapper, Olfert. Description exacte des isles de l’archipel, et de quelques autres adjacentes. Translation. Amsterdam: G. Gallet, 1703.

Dapper, Olfert. Naukeurige beschryving der eilanden, in de archipel der Middelantsche zee. Amsterdam: Voor Wolfgangh, Waesbergen, Boom, Someren en Goethals, 1688.

The Homeric Hymns. Edited and translated by Apostolos N. Athanassakis. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

Noy, David. “Dreams inspired by Phoebus: Western visitors to Delos from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century.” International Journal of the Classical Tradition 18, no. 3 (2011): 372-392.

Reinach, Salomon. “Le colosse d’Apollon à Délos.” Bulletin de correspondance hellénique 17 (1893): 129-144.

Vergil. Bucolics, Aeneid, and Georgics of Vergil. Edited by J. B. Greenough. Boston: Ginn & Co. 1900.

Wills, Jr., John E. “Author, Publisher, Patron, World: A Case Study of Old Books and Global Consciousness.” Journal of Early Modern History 13, no. 5 (2009): 375-433.

Engravings and their Makers

by doconversationsblog

This post is provided by Anne Marie Creighton, who joins us this year as a research fellow in the Dumbarton Oaks Library.

For the past month, I have been leafing through centuries-old books. My task? To take notes on those rare books at Dumbarton Oaks that pertain to the Byzantine heritage of Ottoman Constantinople, recording my summaries of their illustrations, condition, and contents. So far, I have gone through between three and five thousand pages, depending on how you count them, in a dozen books in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and Latin. I am approaching this project in chronological order, so to date I have worked with books published between 1545 and 1700. Among these books, I have been dismayed to learn how easily the leather of a cracking spine can leave red dust marks on my gloves, and I have gotten to know the delight of discovering passages and illustrations that surprise and charm, like the two engravings I’m sharing here today.

As an aside, I need to emphasize that I am not reading all of these books—I don’t even know all the languages in which they’re written. I have sometimes ended up doing a lot of reading to figure out books that proved particularly challenging, but, in general, the combination of a book’s table of contents, some light skimming, and modern studies of the book does the trick. I cannot emphasize enough what a wonderful advance the table of contents forms in the history of communication. Indexes, too.

My current shelf of books to work on

My current shelf of books to work on

The impetus for this post, however, comes from the Pre-Columbian Studies program in Dumbarton Oaks’ rare book collections—when our last shipment of books for digitization returned from Harvard, Bridget Gazzo, the Librarian for Pre-Columbian Studies, pointed out a fabulous pair of images to me that now lie at the end of this post. These images, an engraving of an astronomer and the original pencil drawing on which the engraving was based, got me thinking about the process of printing images. After that, I found an image from a book in my Byzantine work that also, I thought, brought home the humanity of the people who made the volume, even so many centuries later. The two books also make a good match because their authors—Charles du Fresne, sieur du Cange, a Byzantinist, and Charles-Marie de La Condamine, an astronomer—were both titans in their respective fields. I suppose it is also a testament to the culture of scholarship in early modern France that these two men were experts in topics as varied as Byzantine studies and astronomy!

A page of coins. Charles du Fresne du Cange,

A page of coins. Charles du Fresne du Cange, Historia Byzantina, before p. 1 [2nd set].

This engraving is from the Historia Byzantina of Charles du Cange, which is one of the foundational modern texts for the study of Byzantine history. Du Cange was a French nobleman in the seventeenth century with deep interests in medieval and classical studies. He has the rare honor of being called the father of two academic fields—both Byzantine and medieval Latin studies. Byzantine numismatics was among Du Cange’s many interests, so the thousand-odd page Historia includes about fifty pages of illustrations of coins, like this one. After seeing so many coins, I was starting to pay a little less attention, until we discovered the page above.

Printing an early modern engraving was a tricky business. In the period of this book, ink had to be made carefully, by hand, and often, so that it would stay fresh. Applying the ink to a carved wood block or an engraved metal plate that would create the image was another task, as was properly dampening the page. Ink would leave only a faint image on a page that was too dry; a page that was too wet, meanwhile, would cause the ink to smudge, or the paper itself to crease.

Sometimes, accustomed to modern books, I forget how much human labor was required to make books like this one. This error—whether the plate was printed upside down or whether, once printed, it was bound into the book incorrectly—makes the process of making these books seem more vivid to me.

An astronomer makes observations. Charles-Marie de La Condamine, Mesure des trois premiers degrés du méridien dans l’hémisphere austral, 105.

An astronomer makes observations. Charles-Marie de La Condamine, Mesure des trois premiers degrés du méridien dans l’hémisphere austral, 105.

This image, which Bridget pointed out to me, is the reason I started thinking about engravings this week in the first place. It comes from a title that records one of the most important eighteenth-century scientific expeditions in South America, one that set out to get south of the equator so that the members of the expedition could measure the shape of the earth. On the title page for La Condamine’s work about this effort, therefore, an engraving shows an astronomer taking measurements at night, hard at work by candlelight.

Printing an image like this almost always required the artistic services of both an artist – in this case P. Clavareau – and an engraver. By happy circumstance, Dumbarton Oaks has both Clavareau’s drawing and the engraver’s rendering of it.

"astronome par observation" (?) Pencil drawing by P. Clavareau. See the end of this post for bibliographic information.

“astronome par observation” (?) Pencil drawing by P. Clavareau. See the end of this post for bibliographic information.

You can see how differently textures work in graphite, even graphite done to preview an engraving, and in a print like this one. Graphite is soft, and can create flat shaded surfaces, uniformly gray, while the engraving requires that black be created through narrow lines, which even in the deepest shadows alternate white and dark.

Here are the two images side by side. Notice that they are the same size, and mirror images of each other. These are both characteristic of the way engravings like these were printed. To see more about this book, don’t neglect to look at the fully digitized copy!

A comparison of the two images of the astronomer

A comparison of the two images of the astronomer


Charles du Fresne du Cange, Historia Byzantina duplici commentario illustrata (Lutetiae Parisiorum: Apud Ludovicium Billaine, 1680), [HOLLIS].

Charles-Marie de La Condamine, Mesure des trois premiers degrés du méridien dans l’hémisphere austral, (Paris: De l’Imprimerie royale, 1751) [HOLLIS]. The HOLLIS record also includes further information about the drawing. The digitized version of this book is available here.

Before the Rosetta Stone

by doconversationsblog

This post is provided by Anne Marie Creighton, who joins us this year as a research fellow in the Dumbarton Oaks Library.

Something about ancient Egypt sets people’s curiosity alight, making them wonder about its temples and kings, its writing and history. Ever since the proverbial sightseers from classical Greece, writing tourist graffiti on monuments already ancient in 500 B.C., the great pyramids by the Nile have been attracting both travelers and outlandish speculation. Today’s blog post is about both of these things as they appear in the work of George Sandys, an Englishman who visited Egypt in the seventeenth century and whose book included, among other things, his theories about how hieroglyphs worked.

"The entrance in to the Groat Pyramis" - "So that always stooping, and sometimes  creeping, by reason of the rubbidge, we descended (not by stairs, but as down the steep of a hill) a hundred feet, where the place for a little circuit enlarged"

“So that always stooping, and sometimes creeping, by reason of the rubbidge, we descended…” —  Sandys and his companions enter a pyramid (101)

Between the fourth or fifth century A.D., when the use of Egyptian hieroglyphs died out, and the beginning of modern Egyptology in the wake of Napoleon’s expedition there, nobody in the west could read hieroglyphs. That did not stop European travelers and thinkers, however, from trying. Before the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799, most European attempts to read them were based on the premise that hieroglyphs were a symbolic system, where each symbol represented an idea. A hieroglyph of a fish, for instance, might represent a fish, or perhaps the ocean, or the idea of “hatred,” as we’ll see below. If they could just figure out the correspondences for each hieroglyph, they thought, they would unlock the writing system.

The key to understanding hieroglyphs, however, is that they are not a purely symbolic system. It’s true that many hieroglyphs are symbols that represent an idea or a word rather than a sound, like Chinese characters do. However, Egyptian hieroglyphs also include phonetic sounds (n is “n”) and determinative characters that provide information like gender or size. These two other types of character threw off European attempts to decode Egyptian hieroglyphs until the Rosetta Stone helped scholars figure it out.

When George Sandys traveled to Egypt, however, it was still two centuries before that discovery, so nobody had any handle on hieroglyphs. Sandys was a translator, traveler, and colonist, who lived from 1578 to 1644. He has one of those rare biographies that connects to both Dumbarton Oaks’ Byzantine and Pre-Columbian Studies programs, actually; he both spent a few years living in the Virginia Colony and published an account of his travels to Ottoman Turkey, Palestine, and Egypt in 1615. (While he was in Virginia, in the 1620s, he tangled with the local American Indians. That encounter went poorly for the English.) In Egypt, Sandys made sure to visit the ruins of the great pyramids, as we saw above, getting a tour inside one by torchlight. Fascinated by ancient Egyptian culture, Sandys also provided a rendering of some hieroglyphs he had seen—whether in person or reproduced in another book about Egypt—a passage “said to be pourtraicted within the Porch of Minerva’s Temple in the City of Sai.”

"Hieroglyphicks" (82)

“Hieroglyphicks” (82)

Sandys explained hieroglyphs as follows:

Their Letters were invented by Mercury, who writ from the right hand to the left, as do all the Africans. But in holy things especially they expressed their conceits by Hieroglyphicks, which consist of significant figures: whereof there are yet many to be seen, though hardly to be interpreted.

His attempted translation of the hieroglyphs above was:

The Infant signifieth those that enter into the World, and the Old man those that go out of it, the Falcon, God; the Fish, hatred, because they hated fish that bred in the Sea, which symbolized Typhon; and by the River-horse, murder, impudence, and injustice: for they say that he killeth his Sire, and ravisheth his own Dam, which put together importeth, O you that enter the World, and go out of it; God hateth injustice.

This translation, of course, is not even close; nobody in the seventeenth century could have translated this passage. To my dismay, the engraving of the hieroglyphs is so stylized that I doubt it would be possible to reconstruct their actual meaning. That said, how interesting is it to see a seventeenth century person grapple with this language! Is the River-horse supposed to be a hippo? I don’t know, but I was so excited to share this when I found it. (source: p. 81-82)

George Sandys, Sandys travels, 7th ed. (London : Printed for John Williams junior, 1673). [HOLLIS]

The Hagia Sophia Lives Online

by doconversationsblog

Post by Anne Marie Creighton

For centuries after its completion in 537, the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was one of the largest churches in the world. After Robert Van Nice spent fifty years documenting its every nook, crack, and cranny, it must also rank among the world’s most carefully recorded buildings.

Plate 35: Transverse section, looking south: higher elements (apse, east semidome, and main dome)

Plate 35: Transverse section, looking south: higher elements (apse, east semidome, and main dome)

The published result of Van Nice’s labor, which he began in 1937, was the double folio Saint Sophia in Istanbul: An Architectural Survey, printed through Dumbarton Oaks in 1965. Because that edition lacked a few plates, a second edition with a full complement was published in 1986. The project was led by William Emerson, a professor at MIT,* from its beginning to 1957, and then sponsored by Dumbarton Oaks until 1989, when Van Nice retired more than half a century after he began the project. (1)

For any study of the Hagia Sophia, Van Nice’s work is invaluable. Surveys from the nineteenth century, although those by the Fossati brothers and Wilhelm Salzenberg are gorgeous, were conventionalized to fit contemporary ideals of beauty. This was not Van Nice’s goal; although he studied in the Fossati archive in Switzerland and called Salzenberg’s book “obviously, the fundamental document on St. Sophia,” he aimed for a higher standard of accuracy. In his research notes, he listed some flaws in Salzenberg’s work. These included: “He has a well misplaced in the south aisle”; “His east façade lacks, for some reason, the small projections along sides of the dome-base”; and “His squinches are at 45 (degrees) to the dome-base.” (2)

In each of his 46 plates, in contrast to his predecessors, Van Nice and his team strove to capture every detail as it was when they found it. He recorded the hours each engraving took to complete; the average was around 400. This level of care for each bulge in the brickwork and each angle of hard-to-reach corners makes Van Nice’s work the landmark documentation of the building. By capturing the building so thoroughly, he provided a valuable record of the changes, additions, and decay that had occurred since Justinian had it built in the sixth century. (3)

St. Sophia Project: Distribution of man-hours, December 1959 to June 30, 1962. From the Robert L. Van Nice Fieldwork Records and Papers, ca. 1936-1989.

St. Sophia Project: Distribution of man-hours, December 1959 to June 30, 1962. From the Robert L. Van Nice Fieldwork Records and Papers, ca. 1936-1989, MS.BZ.004, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D. C. (4)


This level of detail, up until now, has not been very broadly available. Less than three hundred libraries in the world have a copy of Saint Sophia in Istanbul, much less easy access to both editions. Because Dumbarton Oaks has the rights to the book, it would have been possible to do a new edition. It would have been very expensive, though, and it’s so big that even the libraries that could afford it might not have been able to find a place for it!


Deb Stewart, the Librarian for Byzantine Studies, demonstrates the size of the volume

Deb Stewart, the Librarian for Byzantine Studies, demonstrates the size of the volume


Now, though, we’ve had it digitized, so it is now totally available online. Have a look!

That’s not the end of it, though, since this summer has seen the completion of two important resources about Van Nice’s work in the Hagia Sophia. In DO’s Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, just across the hall from my office, they have 80-something boxes of archival material pertaining to Van Nice’s surveys, as well as about 2,300 oversize architectural plans and drawings. Through years of hard work, the team over at ICFA has created a 100-page “finding aid” that tells you what is contained within each box, and within each folder inside each box. For a direct link to the finding aid, click here, and for a link to a blog post about it, click here. The 80 boxes are not available online, but our sibling blog for ICFA has a number of blog posts on the archive available, which make for great reading. (5)

The material in the Robert Van Nice Fieldwork Records and Papers collections ranges widely. Their finances were thoroughly documented, as were the methods of the project, like how they had to combat birds that would come into the dome and steal their drafting materials. (6)

I also enjoyed reading about the archive because, by spanning fifty years, it captured a not insignificant slice of world history, and so preserves moments sad, wonderful, and banal. Some pieces in the archive are sad and scary, like one letter from 1940 with the postscript “The world seems to be crumbling about us.” (7) Others struck a personal note, like the mentions of Robert College in Istanbul, where my great-grandfather also spent time in the 1930s. (8, e.g.) Still others are just charming, like this drawing that Robert Van Nice, Jr., completed of the Hagia Sophia when he was just six years old.

The Hagia Sophia

ST. SOPHIA April 28, 1948. From the Robert L. Van Nice Fieldwork Records and Papers, ca. 1936-1989, MS.BZ.004, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D. C. (9)

*Correction: This post originally said the project was based out of MIT, but it was a personal project of Emerson’s, not an institutional one. This post also originally provided citations through links, rather than notes, which has been corrected with the notes appended below. Updated September 8, 2014.


(1) Beth Bayley, “The Influential Friendship of William Emerson,” ICFA, March 10, 2014,

(2) Beth Bayley, “Motivation, Methods, and Meaning: Architectural Drawings of Hagia Sophia,” ICFA, September 20, 2014,

(3) Beth Bayley, “A Benevolent Fate: Thoughts on Processing Robert Van Nice’s Papers,” ICFA,  August 20, 2014,

(4) Ibid.

(5) “New Finding Aids and Inventories from ICFA,” ICFA, August 13, 2014,

(6) Shalimar White, “Santa Sophia, Santa Sophia!” ICFA, December 18, 2012,

(7) Beth Bayley, “Leaving Hagia Sophia: Istanbul before World War II,” ICFA, April 21, 2014,

(8) Ibid.

(9) Clare Moran, “Like Father, Like Son,” ICFA, May 22, 2012,

Highlights of the Music Exhibit, Pt. 1

by doconversationsblog

This post is provided by Anne Marie Creighton, who joins us this year as a research fellow in the Dumbarton Oaks Library.

Dumbarton Oaks has been humming with activity this year, much of it about sound and the senses. There is a temporary sound sculpture in the gardens right now, surprising and delighting those who pass by the Lover’s Lane Pool, and the Byzantine and the Garden and Landscape Studies symposia this spring both took the senses as their theme. To harmonize with these events, the spring 2014 library exhibit centered on music, including the Exultet rolls we featured earlier this year.

When the exhibit came down last week, we wanted to memorialize some of its highlights here in cyberspace, so that they would live on even after all of our gathered books had been re-shelved.

One of the cases of the exhibit

One of the exhibit cases

The exhibit featured materials from all three sections of Dumbarton Oaks’ Library—Byzantine, Garden and Landscape, and Pre-Columbian—as well as material from the Dumbarton Oaks Archives and the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives. The exhibit emphasized Byzantium to complement the Byzantine symposium and to provide material for the Byzantine Greek summer school here, but there were items to appeal to scholars in all three programs as well as to those interested in the history of music. The archival material will be featured in its own post on Friday, so check the blog again soon!

In the absence of pre-conquest American musical notation, representing Pre-Columbian cultures was perhaps the biggest challenge. The exhibit showcased ethnographic studies of traditional music as well as depictions of people playing music in facsimiles of early codices. Two examples involved the conch shell, which appeared as an instrument both in photographs of Moche pottery and in our facsimile of the Aztec Codex Borbonicus. Below is my picture of the Codex Borbonicus, and you can go here for Guaman Poma’s depiction of the Inca messenger, or chasqui, who played the conch shell. A fact I enjoy about the conch shell is that it is sometimes known in Quechua as the ‘pututu,’ which is a wonderful onomatopoeia.

Facsimile of the Codex Borbonicus, including a man playing a shell

Facsimile of the Codex Borbonicus, including a man playing a shell

I had two favorites from the items we displayed from the Garden Rare Book Collection. One was a French comic opera from 1761 called Le Jardinier et Son Seigneur, or “The Gardener and his Master.” While that book fit our theme precisely, the contents of my other favorite had nothing to do with music at all: this one was a book printed in the early seventeenth century, titled Cognoscite lilia agri quomodo crescant, or “Learn how the lilies of the field grow.” It is an early, pre-Linnaean, book of engravings of flowers and plants, so it provides valuable material for the study of early modern botany. So why did we choose this book for our music exhibit? Flower engravings, although interesting, seem to have nothing to do with music. We chose it, however, not for its contents, but for its binding—when it was printed in the 1610s, it was bound in a sheet of medieval music, specifically the Latin Office for the Dead, as we can see below.



Interior engraving

Interior engraving

The facsimiles of Byzantine and medieval music are not so photogenic as the other items, but they lay at the heart of the exhibit. Juxtaposed with transcriptions by modern scholars providing modern musical notation when possible, images of musical manuscripts were displayed for study both of the texts and of musical notation in the last centuries of Byzantium. Although our understanding of Byzantine music is imperfect, these manuscripts provide insight into the history of liturgy and polyphonic music that still form part of modern Orthodox services. We also displayed facsimiles of western medieval and medieval Slavic musical manuscripts, the latter influenced by the Byzantine tradition, so that viewers could compare and contrast how early written music worked and changed in Europe.

Image sources, in order of appearance:

Codex Borbonicus, Bibliothèque de l’Assemblée nationale, Paris (Y 120) : vollständige Faksimile-Ausg. des Codex im Originalformat (Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1974). [HOLLIS]

Crispijn van de Passe, Cognoscite lilia agri quomodo crescant (Cologne?, ca. 1614). [HOLLIS]


Guillaume-Antoine Olivier

by sarahkburke

This text was generously prepared by Deniz Turker Cerda, Dumbarton Oaks Tyler Fellow, 2013–2015.  It is included in the online exhibit, “The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century.”

"Bosphore de Thrace"

“Bosphore de Thrace”

Only two short years before Napoleon brought one hundred of his savants to study all that could be known about Egypt and draw up the monumental imperial opus, Description de l’Égypte, two French physicians were sent over to the region to undertake a naturalist’s version of scientific information gathering. Guillaume-Antoine Olivier, a dedicated entomologist, and Jean Guillaume Bruguière, a renowned specialist of mollusks, were dispatched by members of the Directoire in the tumultuous post-Revolution years to study the natural history of the Ottoman lands, including its provinces, Egypt and Syria. Before their trip, Olivier and Bruguière had already collaborated on numerous zoological projects, especially regarding early-evolutionary theories with their colleague Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.  The duo’s scientific partnership came to a hiatus when Bruguière died in Corfu on their return journey. “No one had gone deeper than Bruguière into the class so difficult, so numerous, and so diversified of worms, mollusca, and conchylia,” Olivier would eulogize. The work they prepared, Voyage dans l’empire Othoman, l’Egypte et la Perse, was published in the early years of the nineteenth century.

"Coquilles Terrestres"

“Coquilles Terrestres”

It was ‘citizen’ Olivier, who then penned a multi-volume memoir of their six-year journey, dating each day, month and year in the French Republican calendar.  During the trip, Olivier’s guidebook was the relatively recent publication titled Travels through Egypt and Syria in the years 1783, 1784, and 1785, which was penned by the erstwhile Egyptologist, and self-made figure of the enlightenment Comte de Volney (born Constantin François de Chassebœuf). The ‘citizen-physician’ Olivier narrates his travels with an empiricist’s drive while willfully suppressing the period’s romantic impulse towards the sublime: “The sight of a deserted field, covered with myrtles, or a garden confusedly planted with date and orange trees could never inflame my imagination; and I have frequently surveyed, without astonishment, truncated capitals and scattered columns.” He made his botanical observations with an eye for trade such as the cup of a velani oak (used in tanning and dyeing), the hairy-cupped oak (sourced for ship and home-building), and the Aleppo gall (from Quercus infectoria for medicinal purposes).

"Quercus infectoria"

“Quercus infectoria,” an image of interest for historians of the book as well–iron gall ink is extracted from oak galls.

Jacques Martin Cels, who had survived the guillotine as a duty collector and recreated himself as the proprietor of a botanical garden in Paris, was the sole-recipient of Olivier’s plant specimens, while the shell collection is still in the National Museum of Natural History, Paris.

Twice along their arduous journey, when their safety was jeopardized and they needed transportation aid first from a local ruler and later from a janissary, their skills as physicians came in handy in curing the former’s presumed terminal illness and the latter’s venereal disease. Their journey also coincided with the overhaul of the French imperial consul in the Ottoman territories. Therefore, half-way through their trip, the naturalists found themselves having to play the part of diplomats, and were rerouted to Tehran to revitalize the Franco-Persian trade against Russia’s budding imperial ambitions in the region. The numerous maps attached to these memoirs are topographic feats that signal the impending French plans over the region.

"Carte de la Syrie, de la Mésopotamie, et d'une Partie de la Perse."

“Carte de la Syrie, de la Mésopotamie, et d’une Partie de la Perse.”


Ribbit!… croak!… and some frog prints.

by sarahkburke

Frog in the Ellipse, courtesy of Elena Velkovska

Frog in the Ellipse, courtesy of Elena Velkovska

Spring is a terrific time to spot wildlife in the Ellipse fountain pool at Dumbarton Oaks. The aquatic habitat includes native water plants which, at this early point in the year, are still sparse—affording excellent views of turtles, fish, and frogs. Ducks are routinely spotted, and heron have ended the lives of several unfortunate amphibians.

As the days get warmer and flowers finally bloom (following a very long winter), enthusiasm for spring is taking over among the Staff and Fellows at Dumbarton Oaks. Many of us have been spotted acting like paparazzi, sneaking as stealthily as possible towards known frog habitats in an attempt to get a good glimpse (even a photograph) before being noticed. Soon we will be able to see tadpoles in the fountain pool. For now, the confident survivors of last summer dominate the space: large bullfrogs unfazed by approaching spectators.

15th-16th c. golden frog ornaments (Mixtec/Aztec), from "Gold of the Americas" by Julie Jones and Heidi King (2002)

15th-16th c. golden frog ornaments (Mixtec/Aztec), from “Gold of the Americas” by Julie Jones and Heidi King (2002)

All of this has led to a certain amount of frog frenzy, and some of us in the Library have started looking for frogs in our own habitat. Bridget Gazzo, Librarian for Pre-Columbian Studies, recently staged an exhibit on gold of the Circum-Caribbean world; the exhibit included a number of images of frogs, which were frequently rendered in gold in this region.

Chiriqui frog, from "Ancient Art of the Province of Chiriqui, Colombia," by William H. Holmes (1888)

Chiriqui frog, from “Ancient Art of the Province of Chiriqui, Colombia,” by William H. Holmes (1888)

We checked the Vienna Dioscorides for Byzantine frogs but, while it includes a number of salamanders and snakes, there were no frogs to be found. There is no shortage of late medieval frogs, however, if one consults the 1491 Hortus sanitatis. In one case, a man removes a bufonite (a variant of a bezoar stone) from the head of a toad, a practice we cannot condone. (Did you know there is no taxonomic distinction between frogs and toads?)

Bufonite, from the "Hortus sanitatis"

Bufonite, from the “Hortus sanitatis”

Rana marina, from "Hortus sanitatis." The same woodblock is used in both the section on animals and the section on fish.

Rana marina, from “Hortus sanitatis.” The same woodblock is used in both the section on animals and the section on fish.

Mark Catesby observed several frogs in The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. Some of them may be ancestors of the stream- and pond-dwellers of today’s Southeastern United States. Given the recent conclusion of Passover, we hope this blog post does not feel like a plague of frogs, but rather a celebration of their welcome presence as a sign of spring.

Catesby's Bull Frog

Catesby’s Bull Frog

Catesby's Water Frog

Catesby’s Water Frog

Exultet rolls: a medieval Easter tradition

by sarahkburke

Recently, because Deb Brown is preparing an exhibit on music in the collections of Dumbarton Oaks, we took out several of the Library’s facsimile copies of Exultet rolls. This was exciting for me (Sarah Burke Cahalan) because years ago I studied these scrolls in the context of a graduate school paper. It is not every day we have an excuse to open these facsimiles! Just in time for Easter, please enjoy some information about a medieval Paschal tradition. The primary source on these materials is Thomas Forrest Kelly’s The Exultet in Southern Italy (Oxford 1996).  Pictured are snapshots of the library’s facsimile copies of Casanatense, Cas. 724 III; Vatican, Barb. Lat. 592; Vatican, Lat. 9820.  Not a chocolate bunny in sight!

photo 2An Exultet roll, a scroll containing the Exultet prayer, was used to bless the Paschal candle at the Vigil ceremony on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. This candle became a sign for Christ during the recital of the chanted Exultet prayer. (The prayer is named for its first word.) There are twenty-eight extant Exultet rolls dating from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries; some of these are fragmentary but many are nearly complete. All originated in southern Italy, most in today’s Campania and Apulia, and with the exception of three manuscripts all remain in Italian collections. Six of the Exultet rolls (if we do not include the related Capua and Paris rolls) were made in the scriptorium of Montecassino. Others were made in monastic scriptoria in Bari, Troia and other regional centers. They were used both in monastic churches and in civic cathedrals.

The very fact that they are scrolls—the longest, Pisa 2, is 9000 mm but most are between 4000 and 6000 mm long—generates attention because most other luxurious manuscripts from medieval Europe are codices. Rectangles of parchment were attached to one another, often with thongs, to form a continuous scroll; most of the rolls are between 200 and 400 mm wide. Within a decorative border, text was written horizontally across the width of the scroll in ink, and images were drawn in ink and often painted. The text stops before each image, allowing the image to occupy the entire space between one border and another. Another noteworthy feature of the rolls is that the text is often, though not always, inverted in relation to the images. As the deacon sang the prayer he unrolled the manuscript over the ambo: indeed, in many images in the rolls we see the deacon doing exactly this. The images on the rolls were intended to become visible to the audience at approximately the same time as the deacon sang the prayers they illustrated, a scheme that was not always effective due to factors such as lighting and, more critically, the proximity on the parchment of the relevant prayers to the images they illustrated. Because of the Byzantine influence on these Italian images, Dumbarton Oaks owns several facsimiles of these manuscripts.

photo 1As the Exultet prayer is sung, the candle becomes a locus in which the union that is so important to Easter—of the celestial and the earthly—occurs. The Paschal candle, made entirely from pure beeswax, was an agricultural product. It was also a sign for Christ’s presence on earth in the days following the Resurrection. The imagery in the scrolls ranges from the Crossing of the Red Sea and the Harrowing of Hell to more quotidian images of bees (which produced the wax used to make the candle), soldiers, and members of the religious community.

photo 4The connection between celestial and earthly is often suggested by the Christian liturgy, but it takes particular precedence at Easter. As new Christians are baptized at the Easter Vigil, they join the group of those who will live anew in Heaven. Eucharist—distributed to the laity only rarely in the Middle Ages, and only at Easter according to the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215—is a reminder of the essential duality of the incarnation: God and man. As the Paschal candle is lit, participants in the ceremony are meant to understand that Christ once again returns to life having defeated death. All of these aspects of the Easter ceremony emphasize the participation of the faithful in important episodes of Christian history.

The Exultet rolls, which played an important part in the liturgy of Easter, are a wonderful example of why we need to consider how books (and scrolls) were used at the time of their production.

photo 5

Guglielmo Cavallo, Rotoli di Exultet dell’italia meridionale, Bari 1973

Martin R. Dudley, ‘Sacramental Liturgies in the Middle Ages,’ The Liturgy of the Medieval Church, edited by Thomas J. Heffernan and E. Ann Matter, Kalamazoo, MI 2001, pp. 215-243.

‘Exsultet (Easter Proclamation)’, Catholic Culture,

Thomas Forrest Kelly, The Exultet in Southern Italy, Oxford 1996.

John Lowden, ‘Illuminated Books and the Liturgy: Some Observations,’ Objects, Images, and the Word: Art in the Service of the Liturgy, edited by Colum Hourihane, Princeton, NJ 2003, pp. 17-53.

The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century

by sarahkburke

Symposium at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection

Durian, from an album of watercolors of Asian fruits and flowers, ca. 1798-1810. Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection.

Durian, from an album of watercolors of Asian fruits and flowers, ca. 1798-1810. Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection.

Washington, D.C. | October 4–5, 2013
This two-day symposium will bring together an international body of scholars working on botanical investigations and publications within the context of imperial expansion in the long eighteenth century. The period saw widespread exploration, a tremendous increase in the traffic in botanical specimens, significant taxonomic innovations, and horticultural experimentation. We will revisit these developments from a comparative perspective that will include Europe, the Ottoman Empire, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

Main themes for discussion are global networks of plant discovery and transfer; the quest for medicinal plants and global crops such as ginseng, tea and opium; the economies of gift, trade, patronage, and scientific prestige in which plants circulated; imperial aspirations or influences as reflected on garden design; and visual strategies and epistemologies.

The symposium will coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the Rare Book Room at Dumbarton Oaks, and will feature an exhibit of botanical works from our collections.

Registration for the symposium is now open. For more information you can visit the website, or write to