Quiescit anima libris. The spirit finds rest in books (and in museum objects, archival photographs, and garden sculpture). This is a Dumbarton Oaks project. For more about Dumbarton Oaks, visit

A Strange Bird

by sarahkburke

This post is written by Sarah Burke Cahalan, Special Projects and Reference Librarian at Dumbarton Oaks.

I don’t always get a chance to pay close attention to the image orders that cross my desk. There are simply too many other details to monitor. The nature of the work necessitates a focus on paperwork, image specs, and the details of sending the right MediaFire link to the right patron. But an image from a new acquisition caught my eye, in part because images from this book will likely be used in the upcoming symposium volume for Botany of Empire. It also registered because it is just plain weird: What is this giant bird doing on a raft?

The harbor at Paita, Peru

The harbor at Paita, Peru

I posted the image on my personal Twitter account [“NBD. Just taking my eagle out for a paddle.”] and didn’t think much more of it, besides taking the usual satisfaction in the number of times the Tweet was starred and retweeted by colleagues who also enjoy the esoteric details we come across in special collections materials. But then I thought about it again over the weekend. This should be a relatively easy puzzle to solve. What was this giant bird doing on a raft? So I consulted the text.

Title page, Oost- en West-Indische voyagie

Title page, Oost- en West-Indische voyagie

Fortunately there is an English translation of Admiral Joris van Spilbergen’s Oost- en West-Indische voyagie, door de strate Magallanes naer de Moluques, a seventeenth-century account of a journey through the Strait of Magellan to Indonesia, commissioned by the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The Dutch and the Spanish were, of course, rival powers in this period, and this image shows the battle over the port of Paita, Peru in 1615. In the engraving, we see Dutch ships in the harbor and Dutch troops approaching the city, with Spaniards retreating over a hillside in the background. This book was acquired by Dumbarton Oaks in part because of its depiction of balsa rafts, such as the one with two sails in the middle foreground. The use of such rafts for riverine and oceanic travel dates far into the Pre-Columbian past, and this image is therefore a fascinating example of European and American vessels depicted side-by-side.

While VOC ships were moored in the harbor at Paita, Admiral Spilbergen dispatched some of his men to find food. On their expedition they also found two extraordinary birds. The following quotation is from the English translation I mentioned above:

During the time that we were at anchor the Admiral seeing that our victuals were beginning considerably to diminish sent four well equipped boats to the aforesaid Island de Loubes in order to catch some of these fish named loubes. This they did bringing a large quantity some still alive others dead and which when cooked were of good flavour and afforded perfect nourishment…

On the island our sailors also caught two birds of marvellous size having a beak wings and claws shaped like an eagle a neck like a sheep and combs on the head like cocks being formed in a very wonderful manner.

The “Island of Loubes” refers to the Lobos de Tierra, located to the south of Paita. And the bird? Most likely it was an Andean condor, which does in fact have a fluffy white neck “like a sheep,” and a comb and wattle like a rooster.

This 1648 volume reprints Willem Cornelisz Schouten van Hoorn’s publications of thirty years previous. The image itself derives from an earlier engraving; one example has been digitized by the John Carter Brown Library.

Highlights of the Music Exhibit, Pt. 2

by doconversationsblog

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

Having covered the musical material from the main three sections of the Library—Pre-Columbian, Garden and Landscape, and Byzantine—a few days ago, it’s time to turn to the music that the Blisses collected from their contemporaries. Dumbarton Oaks has been associated with music ever since the Blisses’ day (I doubt I will ever again work in a place after which Stravinsky named a concerto!), a tradition that carries on through our annual concert series and in which this exhibit takes part.

The association between music and Dumbarton Oaks originated with Mildred Bliss, a lifelong lover of music. Because Mildred Bliss was well-connected with the French music scene, Dumbarton Oaks possesses some interesting scores from the early twentieth century, which are housed both in the Rare Book Collection and in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives. These include a handwritten fanfare by Francis Poulenc, as well as several pieces dedicated to Mildred Bliss herself.

The piece we displayed from Francis Poulenc, often listed among the greatest French composers of the twentieth century, was a playful one, a birthday present. Written in 1957 for the seventieth birthday of Nadia Boulanger, it runs “Vive Nadia, la chère Nadia Boulanger, la très chère Nadia. Alleluia.”

Nadia Boulanger then gave it to the Blisses, adding the inscription on the bottom that runs, “ma chèrie Mildred, à mon chèr Robert mes amis incomparables que j’aime de tout mon coeur, Nadia, 16 septembre 1957.”

This sheet of paper involves some interesting characters from early twentieth century musical history. Poulenc wrote it late in his life, in the same decade that he wrote some of the religious choral compositions that continue to be among his most-performed works. Nadia Boulanger, for whom he wrote it, was a noteworthy figure in her own right—as a piano teacher, she influenced a number of famous musicians and composers, and she was one of the first prominent female conductors. This birthday present, given twice, reflects the long friendships between Boulanger and Poulenc and between Boulanger and the Blisses. The latter relationship is significant, among other reasons, because it was Nadia Boulanger through whom the Blisses commissioned the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto from Stravinsky, and it was she who conducted the premiere at Dumbarton Oaks when Stravinsky proved too ill to travel.

The other piece of music I will highlight today, given to Mildred Bliss by the composer and conductor Ernest Schelling, comes from much earlier in her life. This piece of music, for which we still have the original envelope, is engaging because of the significance it holds to the Blisses’ personal lives.

Envelope for Intermezzo

Envelope for Intermezzo

Intermezzo for the Organ

Intermezzo for the Organ

Intermezzo for the Organ, Interior

Intermezzo for the Organ, Interior

The first page of the music is inscribed “Intermezzo for the organ, by Ernest Schelling,” and “For Miss Mildred Barnes, 4/14/1908.” The envelope is addressed to “Mr. Helstein [?], Organist of Grace Church, Broadway + 9th St, New York,” and is marked “Please deliver at once, Important.” This is significant because that very day, on April 14, 1908, Mildred and Robert Bliss were married  in Grace Church, New York. I do not know whether this piece of music made it to the church in time to be performed—if Schelling mailed it on April 14, it seems unlikely, but perhaps he dated the interior with her wedding date and not the date he sent it. With this, however, we can see Mildred’s association with music when she was still in her twenties, and one of her (perhaps belated) wedding gifts.

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]


Healing Plants from Brazil

by sarahkburke

This post is provided by Bridget Gazzo, Librarian for Pre-Columbian Studies at Dumbarton Oaks.

plate 22, Davilla rugosa

plate 22, Davilla rugosa

Saint-Hilaire, Auguste Francois César Prouvencal de, 1799-1853. Plantes Usuelles des Brasiliens. Paris, Grimbert (printed by Casimir), 1824-1828. [HOLLIS]

From the beginning of Brazil’s colonization by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, Europeans were keenly interested in its biodiversity. Jesuit priests, the first foreigners to make direct contact with native Brazilians, integrated Brazilian botanical remedies into European medicine. The French botanist Auguste de Saint-Hilaire was one of the first scientists to freely travel throughout Brazil, from 1816 to 1822. Saint-Hilaire, born in Orleans in 1799, had the opportunity to accompany the Duke of Luxembourg on his journey to Brazil to assume his post as French Ambassador in Rio de Janeiro in 1816. Saint-Hilaire spent the next six years traveling ten thousand kilometers to explore the southern provinces of Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, Espiritu-Santo, Mato Grosso, Cisplatina (currently Uruguay), and the old missions in Paraguay. He returned to France carrying 7000 plant species, 4500 of which were unknown to science at the time. These collections are deposited in Paris’ Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, along with Saint-Hilaire’s six volumes of field books. In his field books, Saint-Hilaire registered the vernacular names of the plants and, very importantly, also provided descriptions of the traditional uses.

While data from many species recorded in the field books has been published, as many as 75 species from these manuscripts have not been published by Saint-Hilaire or by later scientists. These field books continue to be a trove of unstudied raw material. The most common traditional uses recorded for the plants identified were as purgatives and febrifuges. Next in frequency were treatments for venereal disease, snake bites, and diuretics. Many of these efficacies have been, and continue to be, confirmed by laboratory studies.

Plantes Usuelles des Brasiliens (1824-[1828]) is one of Saint-Hilaire’s major publications on native Brazilian plants and their beneficial uses. Dumbarton Oaks has recently acquired a copy of this work, which will supplement research in Pre-Columbian Studies and the exciting, interdisciplinary work being done on the history of science in the New World. The first plant described and illustrated is none other than Strychnos faux-quinquina, with nom vulgaire quina do campo, highlighting the intense nineteenth-century interest in quinine and quinine substitutes. Another quinine substitute included in the book is Solanum pseudoquina. (Cinchona, the traditional source of quinine, was often over-collected, leading to the search for substitutes.) The author dedicates the book to the Emperor of Brazil, Pedro I, with gratitude for the constant protection of his Majesty’s government during six years of traveling through Brazil. Our newly acquired copy is an especially interesting object because of its hand-colored images and its retention of the publisher’s original boards and wrappers.

plate 21, Solanum pseudoquina

plate 21, Solanum pseudoquina

Anda gomesii

Anda gomesii


by sarahkburke

It has been noted—with good humor—that several of this summer’s World Cup matches have pitted the geographic areas of the Pre-Columbian world against those of the Byzantine. Colombia trounced Greece. Argentina defeated Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mexico finished Croatia. But it was in neither the Byzantine nor the Pre-Columbian collection, but rather in a book from the Garden rare book collection that we come across Guiseppe Zocchi’s eighteenth-century engraving of Florentine calcio.

Zocchi's plate, "Veduta della Chiesa e Piazza di S. Croce con la festa del Calcio fatta l'anno 1738 alla Real presenza de Regnanti Sovrani"

Zocchi’s plate, “Veduta della Chiesa e Piazza di S. Croce con la festa del Calcio fatta l’anno 1738 alla Real presenza de Regnanti Sovrani”

Zocchi worked under the patronage of Marchese Andrea Gerini, who oversaw his training and commissioned the Scelta di XXIV vedute delle principali contrade, piazze, chiese e palazzi della città di Firenze (first published in 1744, reissued in 1754). As with earlier works by Giovanni Battista Falda and Dominicus Barrière, such prints were purchased by visitors to Italy as a memento of their journey. Zocchi’s prints are noteworthy for the charming and human details that occur within the neighborhoods and piazzas of his title: dogs greet each other, men and women flirt. In the case of the illustrated game, individuals in the foreground climb over one another in an attempt to view the match.

costumesAnd what of that match? “Calcio fiorentino,” or “calcio storico,” is one of the many predecessors of the game now known as football or—since Dumbarton Oaks is located in the United States—soccer. Calcio (also the modern Italian word for the game currently being played in Brazil) may trace its roots back to Roman harpastum and earlier Greek games, although these classical games seem to share few elements with the modern iteration besides the vying of teams for control of a ball. The Renaissance Italian version was documented by Giovanni de’ Bardi in 1580. Bardi’s handbook to the game was reprinted throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and it outlines the basics of the game: twenty-seven players per team, played between January and March, and the basic roles of different positions on the field (rushers, ball-keepers, interferers, strikers, and so on). It was typically a game for nobility and early editions of Bardi—as we see repeated in Zocchi—show the game being played in Florence’s Piazza di Santa Croce. Bardi defines the game as follows:

“Calcio is a public game, of two teams of young men, on foot and unarmed, who, in an affable manner and for the sake of honor, contend to pass an inflated ball from the posta (on one end of the middle-line) forward to the opposite goal. The field where it takes place should be a main square of a city so that the noble ladies and the people can better stand and see the game.”

field 1The game might be played to celebrate a significant civic event, such as a coronation or the marriage of royalty. Players would don costumes of silk and gold. The conclusion of a match was marked with a feast. By the seventeenth century, commoners occasionally played as well, although not always successfully: a game on Carnival Sunday, 1679, had to be halted due to out-of-control crowds in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella. The “carnivalesque” aspect of the festival is on clear display in Zocchi’s engraving, where we see individuals in animal costumes, dwarves, and a decorated carriage pulled by two oxen (perhaps an example of the scoppio del carro). On the field of play we can see not only the teams but also their respective drummers, trumpeters, and standard-bearers. This eighteenth-century print documents “calcio fiorentino” at a period of waning interest, however, which coincided with the waning power of the Medici family in Florence.

scoppioD. Medina Lasansky documents a revival of interest in the sport in Fascist Italy. The regime used the Renaissance past to define a shared Italian culture, reinstating such festivals as calcio in Florence and the palio in Siena. Lando Ferretti, who oversaw propaganda under Mussolini, believed that such festivals hailed “the spiritual rebirth of a new era in which such initiatives have brought hidden treasures, traditions, and histories back to life.” These civic events taught people about history and united them in a shared Italian culture. This revival of the Renaissance version of “calcio fiorentino” survived the Fascists; games are still played annually in Florence. But interest in the modern version of calcio (a.k.a. football, a.k.a. soccer) far outstrips interest in the historical game!

Italy is no longer in contention for this summer’s World Cup, but some traditions are alive and well. They may not wear silk and gold livery, but the Italian team was surely among the best-dressed of the tournament.


Lasansky, D. Medina. The Renaissance perfected: architecture, spectacle, and tourism in fascist Italy. University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004.

Magoun, Francis P. “Il Gioco del Calcio Fiorentino.” Italica 19, no. 1 (1942): 1-21.

Magoun, Francis P. “The Long-Lost Instruzione del Modo del Giuocare il Calcio a I Giovani Nobili Fiorentini of 1739.” Italica 22, no. 1 (1945): 14-20.

Mommsen, Theodor E. “Football in Renaissance Florence.” The Yale University Library Gazette 16, no. 1 (1941): 14-19.

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.

Sketches from the fairest objects of science

by sarahkburke

It is March 25. This is what it looks like at Dumbarton Oaks today:

photo 1The winter jasmine is covered in snow. Daffodils that had dared to bloom now droop toward the ground. My colleagues are shoveling and salting the walkways, again. Today, the best place to look for flowers is in the Rare Book Collection. One slim volume is particularly heartwarming on a chilly day, inasmuch as it was a handmade gift for a relation. Dated July 1789, bound in marbled paper, cataloged as Watercolors of flowers and butterflies, the manuscript was prepared for a Mrs. Whyte “by her obliged relation R. B. F.”

"Monsonia--Cape of Good Hope"

“Monsonia–Cape of Good Hope”

R. B. F. calls them “sketches from the fairest objects of a Science she [Mrs. Whyte] so much approves.” The paintings show flowers, some native to England but many from South Africa and the Americas. Three of the fourteen flowers are accompanied by insects: a bee moth, a cream-spot tiger moth, and a red admiral butterfly. But they were not all drawn from nature.

"Cream-spot tyger-moth, & Vinca major-Periwinkle -- England"

“Cream-spot tyger-moth, & Vinca major-Periwinkle — England”

In fact, several images in the book seem to derive from plants included in the first volumes of William Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, or, Flower-garden Displayed, the first volume of which appeared in 1787. See, for example, the image of Passiflora alata (winged-stem passion flower) from Curtis beside the image of the same from the R. B. F. manuscript.

Left: William Curtis. The Botanical Magazine, or, Flower-garden Displayed.  Plate 66.  Right: "Passiflora alata-winged passion flower--West India"

Left: William Curtis. The Botanical Magazine, or, Flower-garden Displayed. Plate 66. Right: “Passiflora alata-winged passion flower–West India”

Curtis’s magazine which, after several title changes, is still published today, made botany and botanical art available to a wider audience than had previously had access to such work.  This manuscript is a fascinating example of the presence of such knowledge in domestic contexts, the re-use of published images, and of the interest in botanical illustration among non-specialist audiences at the end of the eighteenth century. It vibrates with life: brightly-colored flowers accompanied by winged insects, images copied carefully as a gesture of affection.


“While I contrived to dedicate myself to the study of Botany”

by sarahkburke

The newest online exhibit from Dumbarton Oaks explores the Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century. One of the featured items in this exhibit is an eighteenth-century manuscript copy of Paolo Boccone’s Museo de Piante rare (1697). The manuscript was prepared by Aloysio Cabrini.  Based on his interest in medicinal plants, it seems possible that Cabrini may have been a pharmacist.

This 1791 manuscript consists of hand-drawn copies of nearly every engraving from Boccone’s 1697 Museo. Many of the illustrations are accompanied by Linnaean names, reflecting eighteenth-century developments that revolutionized the study of natural history. In addition, the volume has at least sixteen original images of plants that had not been included in the earlier publication.

Hypericum crispum in Boccone (left) and Cabrini (right)

Hypericum crispum in Boccone (left) and Cabrini (right)

Some of the plants Cabrini adds are common Mediterranean flowers such as the Calendula officinalis (or marigold) and the Rosa gallica. To others, such as Aristolochia longa vera officinarum, Cabrini ascribes medical uses. He recommends Assarum officinarum as a substitute for Ipecachuana [sic] succedanea, an emetic.  He recommends both Uva ursi and Vita-Idaea (perhaps Vaccinium vitis-idaea, or lingonberry) for cases of “stone.”

Cabrini’s manuscript copies only the printed tables from the Museo, omitting Boccone’s text. The addition of classification information to the images, as well as the occasional addition of new morphological details—often the flower or the calyx—required more space, so that the plants from one printed plate can easily occupy several leaves in Cabrini’s manuscript. The new details are significant given the prominent use of flowers and sepals in eighteenth-century systems of plant identification.

Approximate area of Cabrini's botanical study

Approximate area of Cabrini’s botanical study

Cabrini’s region seems to have been the area east of the Appenine Mountains, between Ancona and Pescara on Italy’s east coast, perhaps based in the city of Macerata. In his preface Cabrini mentions that he borrowed a copy of Boccone’s Museo from a doctor. He believed that he could improve it by introducing information from Linnaeus.

The following images show Cabrini’s handwritten preface:

preface, page 1

preface, page 2

A transcription of the Latin follows:

Praefatio & Operis ratio.

Dum me ad Botanicae studium dedicare, voluptatem haud paucam et utilem mihi afferre excogitabam; tot tantorum hominum illustrium vestigia sequutus, non labori, non sudoribus, neque impensis peperci ad incommodas per accliviores Appeninos montes peregrinationes suscipiendas, nec non diuturnas intra patriam herborisationes.  Tum classicorum Autorum opera reconsulebam, inter quae ea cl. Linnaei frequentius. In speciebus recognoscendis Musei Petr. Bocconi panormitani Ill. Vir magni faciebat.  Quidam medicus amicus illud mihi rarum opus  gratie mutuabat.  Hoc restituto hinc quanti esse faciendum et quam mihi fare necessarium praevidebam.  Optimum ideo duxi ruditer ab eo imitare tabulas, hisce praeter sua Linnaei generica nec non specifica nomina frasesque inscribere, ullas Ill. Halleri notas ad lumen revocare; hinc demum in colligando opus sexdecim alteras addere icones, quae, nesciendo ubi eas inserere in botanices oblectamentis mihi specimen dabant, et sunt: (1) Jacea-Intybacea, idest Centaurea-nudicaulis Linnaei, quae ex cel. Scopoli sententia, quum sit planta adhuc in propria specie obscura, ideo ipsius Linnaei herbarium a cl. Smithio Londini possessum esset consulendum ut ad quam ex duobus iconibus pertineat decideremus. (2) Campanula-Erinus Linn. lecta in peculiari viridario Maceratae atque abbunde in Piceni peregrinationibus reperta; etiam Viola-grandiflora, que videtur confondere cum sequenti (3) Viola-calcarata prope Nursiae appenninos passim collecta ambae Violae-Tricoloris L. progenies.  (4) Thea-Bohea L. species in mensae deliciis vera, et admodum diversa a Thee-Sinensium, sive Tsia-Japonica in hocce Bocconis Museo tab. 94 exculpta. (5) Coffea-arabica Linn. Coffeae-occidentalis exquisitior. (6) Aristolochia-longa vera officinarum regni neapolitani incola, quam plurimi pharmacopoei certe ignorant inscienterque Clematite pro longa Aristolochia utuntur et venditant. (7) Assarum-officinarum, cuius radices majori datae dosi exoticae Ipecachuanae succedaneae ex cel. Amico medico mihi ordinatae multoties suppeditavi. (8) Uva ursi officinarum herba in calculosis tam praestantior ne mihi cum (9) Vite-Idaea confunderetur libentius comparata (10) Croton-tinctorium primus credo inter botanicae peregrinatores Italiae Appeninorum incolam invenisse romani agri vinetis etiam familiarem; quam optandum Itali ad instar Belgii, Palli &c. pro re tinctoria adhiberent. (11) Comunissimum Solanum-nigrum, (12) Calendula-officinalis, (13) Prunus-spinosa, (14) Ageratum-officinarum, (15) Rosa-gallica, (16) Geranium-malacoides Linn; quae moenia Piceni urbium passim inhabitat, quarum conplurimas Florae Piceni catalogus, ac Prodromus iam incohatus enumerabat.  At optimorum mecenatum deficientia fataque adversa prohibuerunt.

Enjoy working through some of Cabrini’s Latin composition!  (The description of Jacea-Intybacea in particular has prompted a fair amount of head-scratching.)

Cabrini concludes his introduction with a lament about his lack of a patron as well as his “fata adversa.” If he was indeed based in Macerata, he was at a significant distance from the Italian hubs of botanical research, such as Pisa and Padua. Perhaps he had hoped to publish his additions to Boccone’s book, but found himself stymied by the complicated systems of scientific publication and patronage in eighteenth-century Europe.

Vitis Idaea Officinarum

Vitis Idaea Officinarum