Thursday, September 30, 2010

Literary Action Figures to the Rescue!

by Stephen J. Gertz

"Dost thou desire a figurine of a man with sublime intellect
and sharp wit? Forsooth, thy dreams have taken shape!
'Tis a 5¼" (13.3 cm) tall, hard vinyl William Shakespeare
Action Figure with removable book and quill pen."

It's been a long, grueling day. Q: How can one take the edge off without intoxicants? A: Get in the playpen with these toys designed with the rare book lover in mind.
First Folio (in left hand) not included.
As accompaniment to the above, want to learn how to lose friends and salivate at the same time? Look no further than:
"Each set includes seven 1" (2.5 cm) tall boxes that look like miniature
Shakespeare volumes. Inside each box you'll find two fruit flavored gum
balls and an eloquent Shakespearean insult printed on the inside.
Sure to offend the intellectuals and confuse the dimwitted!"

"Thou art like a toad; ugly and venemous."

"You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian!
I'll tickle your catastrophe!"

"Thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool,
thou whores on obscene greasy tallow-catch!"

"You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat's-tongue,
you bull's-pizzle, you stock-fish."

Of course, when it comes to rapier-wit and the devastating put-down, no one cut deeper than Oscar Wilde.

"Oscar Wilde was a writer and lecturer of great accomplishment,
but he is most famous for his comedic plays, quick wit and eccentric dress.
This 5-1/4" (13.3 cm) tall, hard vinyl action figure is dressed for a party
where Wilde will quickly cut all those around him to pieces
with barbed witticisms. Removable cane included!"

The Wilde One.
Beware the removable cane!

Say hello to the G.I. Joe of 19th century English literature:

"The novels of Charles Dickens captured the essence of Victorian society
so well that the entire period is often described as Dickensian.
To this day, none of his novels have ever gone out of print in England.
This 5-1/2" (14 cm) tall, hard vinyl action figure
comes with a quill pen and a removable hat!"

What appears to be a codpiece is not. Included.
The Case of the Unintentional Codpiece is one best left to the master of literary detection himself:

"Created by Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes has become an icon of crime
detection and deductive reasoning. This 5-1/4" (13.3 cm) tall, hard vinyl action
figure comes with a removable magnifying glass and deerstalker hat. He even
has a pipe which fits snugly into his mouth to help him concentrate when
working on a particularly difficult case."
 Hypodermic needle and vial of .07% solution of cocaine not included.

Watson! I said magnifying glass, not tennis racket!
Jane Austen didn't get much action during her life. Time to make up for lost time with plenty of action now!

"Jane Austen was one of the greatest English novelists in history.
Despite a rather sheltered life, she was able to capture the subtleties
of human interaction so perfectly that her novels continue to be
 immensely popular to this day. This 5-1/4" (13.3 cm) tall, hard
vinyl action figure comes with a book (Pride & Prejudice) and
a writing desk with removable quill pen!" Zombies not included.
I'm hungry for zombies.
"Wreak havoc on your sister's precious diorama with this
Flesh Eating Zombie Play Set! Each set includes nine
1" (2.5 cm) to 3-1/4" (8.3 cm) tall, hard vinyl zombies,
 complete with blank stares, gaping mouths, open wounds
and missing limbs! Turn off the lights and they glow!
Fantastic undead fun for the whole family!
What collection of literary action figures would be complete without representation by the profession that so often leads us into literature?

"If you just can't get enough of the Dewey decimals or if you
go bananas for books, chances are you have a Librarian Action Figure.
Nancy Pearl's likeness made history as the best selling Librarian Action
Figure of all time, but the true collector needs this Deluxe Edition.
Each 5" (12.7 cm) tall, hard vinyl figure is dressed in a stylish burgundy
outfit and comes in a library diorama with a reference desk, computer,
book cart, multiple book stacks and some loose books. Press the button
on her back for the infamous 'amazing shushing action!'"
"Amazing Shushing Action" or simply "Aren't I cute"pose?
Why would adults want to own literary action figure toys, however literary their action figures into play? Ask the litterateur-analyst:
"Each 5" (12.7 cm) tall, hard vinyl action figure captures Freud
in a pensive pose, holding a distinctly phallic cigar. Put him on
your desk or nightstand to inspire you to explore the depths of
your unconscious and embrace the symbolism of your dreams."
Couch not included.
"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

I'm a grown man so I'm finally throwing out my pail and shovel and moving up to these toys.

"The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground."
G. K. Chesterton

"Play is the exultation of the possible"
Martin Buber

"To live is to play at the meaning of life...The upshot of this . . . is that it teaches us once and for all that childlike foolishness is the calling of mature men."
Ernest Becker - The Denial of Death

"We don't stop playing because we turn old, but turn old because we stop playing"
attributed to Satchel Paige

"Time you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time."
-T. S. Elliot

"Each day, and the living of it, has to be a conscious creation in which discipline and order are relieved with some play and pure foolishness."
- Mary Satton

All  toys, quoted product text, and images from Accoutrements.

A Rose By Any Other Name...Might Be Extinct

By Nancy Mattoon

Tulipa XXV: Plate 146,
Artist: Unidentified.
Hortus Nitidissimis omnem per annum superbiens floribus sive amoenissimorum Florum Imagines.... Der das ganze Jahr hindurch im schönsten Flor stehende Blumengarten, oder Abbildungen der lieblichsten Blumen... herausgegeben von Johann Michael Seligmann.

Nürnberg, Auf Kosten der Seligmännischen Erben/ Ludwig Wirsing, [1750-] 1772-1786.

(All Images Courtesy of Royal Botanic Garden Library.)

One in five of the world's plant species is in danger of extinction. That's the frightening conclusion of a study released September 28, 2010, and sponsored in part by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The study establishes a major baseline for plant conservation and is the first time that the true extent of the threat to the world's estimated 380,000 plant species has been documented. The work relied heavily on the vast repository of botanical information held in Kew Gardens' Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives, which includes some eight million preserved plant and fungal specimens.

Narcissus IV: Plate 124,
Artist:Dietzschin, B.R.

Kew Garden's Director, Professor Stephen Hopper, says: "This study confirms what we already suspected, that plants are under threat and the main cause is human induced habitat loss. We cannot sit back and watch plant species disappear – plants are the basis of all life on earth, providing clean air, water, food and fuel. All animal and bird life depends on them and so do we."

Lilio-Narcissus II: Plate 18,
Artist: Ehret, G.D.

A look at the Kew Garden's website reminds us of another compelling reason plant life must be protected: the infinite variety of botanical species is a major source of the earth's natural beauty. The Garden's extensive library documents the history of horticultural and botanical literature, with more than 750,000 volumes, and more than 175,000 prints and drawings of plants. For centuries, humankind has documented the fragile and short lives of plants and flowers for scientific study. Now it seems these rare books are in danger of becoming a catalog of paradise lost.

Martagon I: Plate 26,
Artist: Ehret, G.D.

One of the highlights of the Kew Gardens website is an online exhibition of a "complete virtual copy" of Hortus Nitidissimis Omnem Per Annum Superbiens Floribus Sive Amoenissimorum Florum Imagines (1772-1786). This great florilegium combines the scientific observations of doctor and amateur horticulturalist Christoph Jacob Trew with 180 full color plates by some of the finest botanical artists of the period, including the peerless Georg Dionysius Ehret. Complete copies of this book are exceedingly rare, so the Kew Library digitized pages from volumes held in three separate libraries to create an exhibit of an imaginary perfect text.

Iris III: Plate 28,
Artist: Ehret, G.D.

This online tour of "a year in a brilliant garden of exquisite flowers represented in beautiful pictures," is a ravishing and colorful exploration of the most sumptuous blossoms of Europe. Tulips, hyacinths, ranunculi, carnations, roses, lilies and more are all frozen in time at the height of their glory in this splendid exhibit.

Rosa I: Plate 17,
Artist: Ehret, G.D.

English art critic Sir Sacheverell Sitwell wrote of the great flower books, including the Hortus, in 1956: "Locked away in museums, and to a lesser extent in private libraries, are beautiful and quite unknown albums of flower drawings that are in prison, as it were, and only visited at rare intervals by a mere handful of amateurs and students. This hiding away and seclusion of original flower drawings which is, apparently, insurmountable and an obstacle to the general appreciation which will never be overcome."

Corona Imperialis I: Plate 40,
Artist: Keller, I.C.

Sitwell could not have envisioned the advent of the Internet and digitization, which have miraculously released these "imprisoned" books to the world. But it would have been equally impossible for him to imagine a world where the plants depicted in these illustrations would themselves cease to exist. On a planet where, according to the Kew study, "Plants are more threatened than birds, as threatened as mammals and less threatened than amphibians or corals," attention must be paid before the beauty of volumes like the Hortus becomes no more than a remembrance of things past.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

House of Recycled Books (Art Installation)

by Stephen J. Gertz

Somewhere a Door Slammed ...
1.74 x 1.47 x 1.81
Nettie Horn Gallery, Bethnal Green, London.

Rosie Leventon creates environmental art installations, often from recycled materials.

She "makes sculptural installations, for both indoors and outdoors, using a broad variety of materials from human hair to recycled central heating pipes. She also draws and paints, using ink, pencil, acrylic, chalk, bitumen and other media to create proposals for sculpture and installations. Although often conceived as outline ideas for larger 3d projects these drawings and maquettes represent a significant body of work in their own right.

"Some of Leventon's installations comprise radical interventions into the interior architecture of a building. She has constructed false floors that float on water and which shift under foot. Her outdoor installations sometimes highly ambitious in scale often have a functional, regional element, providing water for animals, for example, or promoting biodiversity and regeneration.

"All of Leventon's work however is grounded in a sensitive concern for the natural environment and how we use it. Leventon sees her work as interweaving a kind of personal archaeology with the archaeology of contemporary society and the physical archaeology of places" (Leventon website).

Of Somewhere a Door Slammed (2009) she writes:

"This recycled installation is made from paperbacks, mainly romantic novels, that have titles like Confessions of a Vicar's Wife and Cold Heart Canyon. They have been formed brick-like into a rectangular tower which stands about 1.82 metres high. In it are regular shaped windows on two sides which allow a view into the interior. The titles of the books are visible on the outside of the walls, and looking through the windows people can see the pages of the books have been roughly carved - softened - so that they may look a bit like flat pieces of stone or an ancient ruin. Living in Central London, we all live in or walk past huge tower blocks every day. But what do we know of the lives of all the people who live in the flats? Peoples complicated lives in which so much joy and sorrow and so many major and minor events are contained. References to archaeology run right through my work, also the act of looking."

With thanks to Nancy Kosenka of Serendipity Books for the lead.

Poetry On Canvas: The Art of E.E. Cummings

by Stephen J. Gertz

Marion Morehouse in Gray-Green
Original oil sketch on cardboard, 8 1/2 by 11 1/4 inches, of Cummings' third wife,
Marion Morehouse. Her fully realized face peers out from gray-green background
and lightly indicated body. LPC #46. Lopez #1105.
While most of us are aware of e.e. cummings as a modern poet, who, amongst other innovations, integrated typography into his poems, many may be unaware of his work as a visual artist.

Marion Morehouse in Gold and Dark Gray
Original oil painting. Oil on canvasboard, 10 by 14 inches.
Portrait of Cummings' third wife, Marion Morehouse.
She is depicted to the waist with her arms crossed in sketchy
 brushstrokes against a dark gray background. Her skin tone
is indicted with lines of pale gold paint. LPC #732. Lopez #1091.
He considered it as important as his writing and devoted an enormous amount of energy to it.

Portrait of Marion Morehouse
Original oil painting. Oil on canvasboard, 10" x 14".
Portrait of Marion Morehouse, Cummings's third wife;
she is nude to the waist and posed with her arms raised
with her hands behind her neck. LPC #731. Lopez #561.
He began to paint at about the same time as he began to compose poems, in the immediate post-WWI years, and followed the avant-garde currents of Cubism and Abstraction. Later, however, he turned his back on the artistic establishment and, while integrating the principles he had explored in modernism, settled into a distinct and highly personal relationship with the representational and human. Yet, he maintained an exuberant and uninhibited approach to color; he had written extensively on color theory and it appears as if his retinas were drunk, their rods and cones guests at a chromatic orgy.

Sketch of Dancing Nude
Original oil sketch. Oil on canvasboard, 8" x 10".
Light brushed sketch of dancing nude woman,
using mostly purple paint. LPC #785. Lopez #880.
"Why do you paint? For exactly the same reason I breathe. That's not an answer. There isn't any answer. How long hasn't there been any answer? As long as I can remember. And how long have you written? As long as I can remember. I mean poetry. So do I" (e e cummings).

Kneeling Nude
Original oil painting. Oil paint on cardboard, image size 6 by 8 1/4 inches,
 matted in board frame, 16 by 20 inches. Thickly painted study of
kneeling female nude in impressionistic forest setting. Dated on the
 verso "Aug 18 1940." LPC #368. Lopez #1136
"Critics have generally divided Cummings' career as a painter into two stylistic phases. The first phase, about 1915-1928, was represented by his experimental large-scale abstracts and his drawings and caricatures published in The Dial. During the 1920s Cummings started to drop out of the gallery scene, and he came to view the art establishment as anti-intellectual. The second phase of his art was from about 1928 until his death; this phase was characterized by representational works: still lifes, landscapes, nudes, and portraits" (Harry Ransom Center biographical sketch).

Sitting Blonde
Original oil painting. Oil on cardboard, image size 8 by 17 inches,
matted in board frame, 15 by 25 inches. Study of seated blonde nude
with her arms upraised. LPC #375. Lopez #1045.
"A distinct throat. Which breathes. A head: small, smaller than a flower. With eyes and with lips. Lips more slender than light; a smile how carefully and slowly made, a smile made entirely of dream. Eyes deeper than Spring. Eyes darker than Spring, more new . . . These, these are the further miracles . . . the breasts. Thighs. The All which is beyond comprehension - the All which is perpetually discovered, yet undiscovered: sexual, sweet, Alive!" (e e cummings).

Standing Nude with Red Scarf
Original oil painting. Oil paint on cardboard, image size 8 by 13 1/2 inches,
matted in board frame, 16 by 20 inches. Study of standing female nude with
blonde hair, holding a red scarf. Dated "3-4-45" on verso. LPC #346. Lopez #1137.
"In viewing the art of e. e. cummings, it's tempting to say he was even more of an artist than a writer, especially inasmuch as his art seems easier to digest than his writings. In fact, indications are, he devoted much more time to his art. cummings was a purist when it came to his art. He viewed representational painting as more of a challenge than abstraction, calling those who worshipped Picasso as "super submorons" who ignored the fact that their hero himself had once declared that there was no such thing as "abstract" painting, crying out instead for artists to "respect the object." Whether painting in a representational or non-representational manner, Cummings rose above even that. He painted more than 'things.' He painted art, and always generously imbued it with the power of reasoned of aesthetics" (Lang, Jim. E.E. Cummings, the Artist. At Humanities Web).

Standing Female
Oil on cardboard Size: 8-1/2" x 14"
Dated: 1945-05-27. Lopez #1164.
"Your poems are rather hard to understand, whereas your paintings are so easy. Easy? Of course - you paint flowers and girls and sunsets; things that everybody understands. I never met him. Who? Everybody. Did you ever hear of nonrepresentational painting? I am. Pardon me? I am a painter, and painting is nonrepresentational. Not all painting. No: house painting is representational. And what does a house painter represent? Ten dollars an hour. In other words, you don't want to be serious -   It takes two to be serious" (e e cummings).

Cummings did not enjoy being categorized. Poet, painter, abstractionist, representationalist - it was all the same to him. It was art, and art defies category.

The above is but a small sample of Cummings' artwork; he was extremely prolific as a painter.

Images courtesy of Between the Covers, with the exception of Standing Female courtesy of Ken Lopez. The paintings are currently offered for sale by both dealers.

Bookseller Ken Lopez has established a website-gallery dedicated to the paintings of e.e. cummings.

The Harry Ransom Center has posted their inventory of Cummings' artwork here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happy Hour For Kircher: Two Martinis

by Stephen J. Gertz

When the seventeenth century Jesuit polymath, Athanasius Kircher, sat down to write China Monumentis (aka China Illustrata, 1667) in the mid-1660s he depended upon a tradition of Jesuit inquiry into the Celestial Empire dating back to the beginning of the century.

KIRCHER, Athanasius. China Monumentis, qua Sacris quà Profanis,
Nec non variis Naturae & Artis Spectaculis, Aliarumque rerum memorabilium
Argumentis Illustrata. Antwerpiae: Apud Jacobum à Meurs, 1667.

Extra engraved title page to China Monumentis.
China-based Jesuits Matteo Ricci and Alvaro Semedo provided early source material. Two books by one of the later Jesuits in China, however, were key references for Kircher, one of which, Atlas Sinensis (1655), exquisitely reprinted by Dutch cartographer and publisher Joan Blaeu as Novus Atlas Sinensis in 1659, was essential.

A "landmark in the European mapping of China was the appearance of the Atlas Sinensis in 1655. This was compiled by Father Martino Martini, an Italian Jesuit...Based on Chinese sources, it was far in advance of any previous European work. For the period it was remarkably accurate, being the first to show a more correct eastern coast-line with the Shantung promontory.

"Published in Amsterdam in 1655, it was incorporated at that date, and in the later editions, of the 'Great' atlas [of the world] issued by Blaeu. It consisted, besides text, of a general map of China, 15 maps of individual Chinese provinces, and a general map of Japan. As was usual with Blaeu's publications, it was offered for sale both plain and coloured. The Atlas Sinensis, apart from the technical excellence of its production, is important as being the first European atlas of China. It remained the standard georgraphical work on that country till the publication in 1737 of D'Anville's Atlas de la Chine.

"With the publication of the Atlas Sinensis, a new type of decoration arose. The title, instead of being enclosed within interlacing strapwork ornament, was now surrounded by large figures depicting the costume of the area shown intermingled with various products of the same.

"Embellishments in the map itself were rendered far less prominent or discarded altogether, decoration being confined to the large plaque or cartouche containing the title of the map. Sometimes an exception was made for the scale of miles, this also being treated pictorially, as in Van Loon's map of China" (Tooley, Maps and Map-makers).

"Describing Martino Martini with evident pride as 'once my private student in mathematics' at the College Romano, Kircher remarked on the conversations he enjoyed with his former pupil when Martini returned to Rome as procurator for the Jesuit vice-province of China...

"...Martino Martini himself provided Kircher with a vast number of measurements [magnetic] made during his voyages, from Portugal to Cape Verde and Azores, from Goas to Macao. Martini was also perhaps the most optimistic among Kircher's correspondents about the possibility of solving the famous problem of longitude (Findlen, The Last Man Who Knew Everything, pp. 392, 248).

While Kircher relied heavily upon Martini's Novus Atlas Sinensis when writing China Monumentis, Martini's Sinicæ Historiæ Decas Prima (History of China, 1659) was also an important influence, contributing much more to Kircher's knowledge of the Celestial Empire than the 171 pages of text in Atlas Sinensis.

MARTINI, Martino. Sinicae Historiae decas prima. Res à gentis origine
ad Christum natum en extrema Asia, sive Magno Sinarum Imperio gestas
complexa. Amstelaedami: Apud Joannen Blaeu, 1659. 
Second, rarer than the first, edition.

Martino Martini was a "distinguished Austrian Jesuit missionary to the Chinese, in the seventeenth century. He was born at Trent in 1614; and on 8 October 1631, entered the Austrian province of his order; where he studied mathematics under Athanasius Kircher in the Roman College, probably with the intention of being sent to China. He set out for China in 1640, and arrived in 1643.

"While there he made great use of his talents as missionary, scholar, writer and superior. In 1650 he was sent to Rome as procurator for the Chinese Mission, and took advantage of the long, adventurous voyage (going first to the Philippines, from thence on a Dutch privateer to Batavia, he reached Bergen in Norway, 31 August 1653), to sift his valuable historical and cartographical data on China.

"During his sojourn in Europe the works were printed that made his name so famous. In 1658 he returned with provisionally favourable instructions on the question of ritual to China, where he laboured until his death in Hangtscheu, 6 June, 1661. According to the attestation of P, Prosper Intorcetta ("Litt. Annuae". 1861); his body was found undecayed twenty years after. Richthofen calls Martini 'the leading geographer of the Chinese mission, one who was unexcelled, and hardly equaled, during the eighteenth century . . . There was no other missionary, either before or after, who made such diligent use of his time in acquiring information about the country.' (China, I, 674 sq.)

"Martini's most important work is his Novus Atlas Sinensis, with 17 maps and 171 pages of text, a work which is, according to Richthofen, 'the most complete geographical description of China that we possess, and through which Martini has become the father of geographical learning on China." Of the great chronological work which Martini had planned, and which was to comprise the whole Chinese history from the earliest age, only the first part appeared: Sinicæ Historiæ Decas Prima (Munich, 1658).

"His De Bello Tartarico Historiæ (Cologne, 1654) is also important as Chinese history, for Martini himself had lived through the frightful occurrences which brought about the overthrow of the ancient Ming dynasty. The works have been repeatedly published and translated into different languages (cf. Sommervogel, "Bibliothè" . . . etc.).

"Interesting as missionary history is his Brevis relatione de numero et qualitate Christianorum apud Sinæ (Rome, 1654; Cologne, 1655; Ger. ed., 1654). Besides these, Martini wrote a series of theological and apologetical works in Chinese. Several works, among them a Chinese translation of the works of Suarez, still exist in his handwriting (cf. Sommervogel and H. Cardier, Essai d'une bibliographie des ouvrages publié en Chine parles Europé, Paris, 1882)" (Catholic Encyclopedia).

Athanasius Kircher was the hub around which European science centered; his network of correspondents was vast and he was the conduit for much if not most of the diffusion of scientific knowledge of his age. China Monumentis, which collected in one volume all that was then known about China, popularized the mysterious and distant land and its curiosities to a Europe thirsty for knowledge. When Athanasius Kircher was thirsty for information about China he reached for a Martini.

MARTINI, Martino. Novus Atlas Sinensis. Amsterdam: Joan Blaeu, 1655. First edition thus (originally published 1655). Folio. [12], 171, [25], xij, 33, [3] pp. Extra engraved titlepage. Seventeen double-page hand colored maps.

Cordier 182. Koeman 1, BI 53.

Images of Novus Atlas Sinensis courtesy of California State University, East Bay.
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