The Oaks News
James N. Carder (September 2016)
According to Paul Neeson, chairman of the Dumbarton Castle Society in Scotland, there are over two hundred entities worldwide with the name Dumbarton. Mr. Neeson and his wife recently visited Dumbarton Oaks and presented the Archives with the coat-of-arms plaque of West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, whose capital, the city of Dumbarton, is the site of Dumbarton Rock and Dumbarton Castle. The alternate spellings of Dunbarton and Dumbarton both derive from the medieval Scottish Gaelic Dùn Breatainn, “fortress of the Britons,” where the n in Dùn was pronounced as an m.
The name Dumbarton Oaks also has a Scottish connection. The name comes, in part, from the name that the Scotsman Colonel Ninian Beall gave to a land grant he received from Lord Baltimore in 1702. As Grace Dunlop Ecker speculated in her 1938 book, A Portrait of Old Georgetown:
About 1703, Ninian Beall, a Scotsman, who had received several grants of land in Maryland along the Potomac from Saint Mary’s up, wishing to offer his sword to Lord Baltimore, came sailing up the magnificent river, and as he neared the creek flowing into it on the Maryland side his eyes rested on the high promontory which rose above the water, and into his mind came the great rock of Dumbarton standing above the Firth on the Clyde near Glasgow, and so he gave to his new grant of 795 acres the name reminiscent of home.
Beall named his tract “Rock of Dunbarton,” a spelling that persisted in documents until approximately 1780, when “Dumbarton” became the preferred spelling.
Knowledge of this history prompted Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss in 1933 to name their estate Dumbarton Oaks, combining the grant name, Dumbarton, with the nineteenth-century name of the property, The Oaks.
We are pleased to welcome Guy Sechrist who joins Garden and Landscape Studies as a predoctoral resident from August 29 to September 9.
Guy is a recent graduate from Villanova University, where he received an MA in history. During his time at Villanova, Guy worked with a number of institutions including the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mutter Museum, and served as a research contractor for the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He served as the chief editor in history for the graduate journal Concept, and has just recently published his work “Nicholas Culpeper’s Directory: Legitimizing the Profession of Midwives in Seventeenth Century England.” In the fall, Guy will be attending the University of Cambridge, where he will be working under Dr. Lauren Kassell in the History and Philosophy of Science Department.
At Dumbarton Oaks, Guy will research early modern botanical exchanges between England, America, and the Caribbean, and examine the role botanicals played in the New World to highlight a new form of exchange regarding plants and naturalia. His goal is to ascertain the various ways in which print material, collecting, gardens, and curiosity cabinets influenced botanist-physicians like Sir Hans Sloane, who voyaged to the New World in hopes of prospecting new plants for reasons other than collecting and learning.
Margaret Mee’s Painting Included in the Opening Ceremony
If you look carefully at the stage set at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, you’ll see a suite of eighty brightly colored collages of plants in the background. Among the illustrations of plants, which come from a number of sources, is one delicately shaded and photorealistic example from the Rare Book Collection at Dumbarton Oaks.
The artist Margaret Mee created strikingly accurate gouache paintings of rare Brazilian plants during her lifetime, twenty-one of which were acquired by Mildred Bliss for the Garden Library at Dumbarton Oaks. Graphic designer Olivia Ferreira has incorporated one of these paintings into several panels of her backdrop for the Olympics: Mee’s depiction of the Nematanthus fluminensis, a red-leaved gesneriad native to Brazil. The original, unaltered image will also be printed in the program for the ceremony.
Mee worked extensively in the Amazon rainforest over the course of her life, participating in fifteen major expeditions. She moved to São Paulo in 1951 and made her first trip into the forest in 1955, earning praise for her illustrations first from local botanical experts, and soon from artists and botanists throughout the world. Mildred Bliss began her and Dumbarton Oaks’ relationship with Mee in 1967, when Bliss purchased three paintings from the artist’s recent expedition and invited her to Dumbarton Oaks to exhibit her work and lecture on her experiences in the field. She continued to buy Mee's paintings, and purchased the Nematanthus in 1969.
In 2013, Dumbarton Oaks made available high-resolution images of the twenty-one paintings in the collection, accompanied by information about Mee and her relationship to the institute. Dumbarton Oaks also holds a number of books relating to Mee’s work, ranging from catalogues raisonnés to a volume of poems inspired by her paintings.
Dumbarton Oaks Welcomes Syriac Summer School
The ten students who comprise the inaugural session of the Syriac Summer School descended on Dumbarton Oaks from July 21 to 24 for a long weekend exploring the scholarly resources of the institution as well as the city of Washington, D.C. The program, sponsored and funded by Dumbarton Oaks, is hosted at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML), located on the campus of Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. At Dumbarton Oaks, students explored the Byzantine collections and the gardens, attended sessions on coins, seals, and bibliographic resources, learned about the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, and met with staff and scholars.
“We had a very difficult time choosing from among the applicants to the summer school,” admits Scott Johnson, professor of classics at the University of Oklahoma, who teaches Syriac at the summer school. “The two primary criteria we used were that the students chosen could not get Syriac at their home institutions, and that they were starting from scratch. We wanted to offer Syriac to students hungry for it who would not be able to add it to their repertoire otherwise.”
The Syriac Summer School began when Jan Ziolkowski, director of Dumbarton Oaks, contacted Father Columba Stewart, director of HMML, to propose an intensive summer course on Syriac modeled on Dumbarton Oaks’ Byzantine Greek Summer School. The new program includes instruction in the Syriac language, taught by Johnson, as well as Syriac paleography and manuscript study, taught by Adam McCollum, formerly HMML’s lead cataloger of manuscripts. The summer school’s visit to Dumbarton Oaks highlights important connections between Syriac and Byzantine Greek and their respective literatures. “Greek and Syriac have a close historical relationship through late antiquity,” explains Johnson. “Many Greek texts were translated into Syriac, and Syriac texts were likewise sought out by Greek speakers. Syriac scholars were responsible for preserving and translating ancient Greek texts.”
The students’ backgrounds range from classics and medieval studies to liturgical studies and classical Arabic. In the past, Syriac was often housed apart from Greek—the former grouped with Middle Eastern languages, the latter in classics departments. Yet the insights that Syriac affords into late antique, Byzantine, and Islamic research have become increasingly apparent to specialists in those areas in recent years. Consequently, the Dumbarton Oaks Library has been actively acquiring Syriac resources so that scholars of Syriac and other eastern Christian cultures have more opportunities to conduct research at Dumbarton Oaks. “I think the motivation for bringing the students to Dumbarton Oaks is to show them the resources Dumbarton Oaks can offer Syriacists,” says Johnson. “I hope that their visit will broaden the horizons of late antique, Byzantine, and medieval studies and further contribute to the exciting conversation about where these fields are going.”
The Dumbarton Oaks Museum is currently closed for renovation through the end of 2016—but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on. In this month’s video feature, take a look behind the scenes to see what the museum looks like during the deinstallation process, and learn about why the renovation is happening and what to expect when the museum reopens next year. You can also watch more of our videos online on our YouTube channel.
A Conversation with Translator Suzanne Abrams Rebillard
The Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (DOML) was launched in 2011 with the goal of providing high-quality facing-page texts and translations of major medieval literary works to both general and specialist readers alike. Since 2014, DOML has offered short-term residencies for translators of volumes to visit Dumbarton Oaks and use its resources. Suzanne Abrams Rebillard, an independent scholar who is translating Gregory of Nazianzus’s Poemata de Seipso for a forthcoming volume, sat down with us at the conclusion of her residency for a wide-ranging interview about her work, career, and Gregory of Nazianzus. (Interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Can you tell me about your DOML residency—what the residency entails, what you’ll be working on, and how this relates to your interests or fields of study?
I’m working on the introduction to my DOML volume, Gregory of Nazianzus’s Poemata de Seipso, and it’s just about done. It has been a useful three weeks. Besides the work, it has been useful to think about things other than [small] details, especially when you’re translating, and to just sit down and write the introduction and describe the author’s style on translating poetry—to describe the meters he uses and the lines. It’s helpful to put things in a bigger picture and to get away from whether the text you have has the right grammatical form or not, or if you’re using the right word to translate this word. So that has been good, and it has also made me go back and read some things again that I haven’t read for a long time. You think you know what authors are saying because you’ve used their texts so many times, but you don’t always go back to look at them again. It has been good to go back and say, “Oh, yeah, this author also says that, and that’s helpful.”
Can you tell me about Gregory of Nazianzus and his Poemata de Seipso?
Gregory of Nazianzus was a bishop. He lived in the fourth century, from 329 to 389, and he came from a wealthy family—his father was a bishop. His career was marked by periods of working in a church and then just retreating or performing contemplations; he was always complaining about being sick, so he went off on these rest cures for years, and then he would get called back to service again. He lived at a time of a lot of theological debate, and there were a lot of breaks within the church over the nature of the Trinity, so he eventually got called to Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, where he presided over the church council and acted as bishop of the capital.
But it was a disaster. Gregory couldn’t manage to get the different parties to agree, he had to deal with all sorts of political problems, and finally he retreated back home to retire. He got to the capital in 379 and left in 381—so he was only there for two years. But during the time he was there, he preached five orations that became, for the Orthodox Church, a definitive statement on the nature of the Trinity. His success was recognized later, but not during his own lifetime, so he disappeared—whether he chose to run off or whether he was driven out, we don’t know, because we only have his account of it, which is in these poems.
And he wrote a lot. The poems about himself, the Poemata de Seipso, are about 6,600 lines, and the whole collection of all his poetry is over seventeen thousand lines. Thankfully, not all of it is about himself. He complains a lot in his poems about what happened in the capital, he complains about being sick; but then he also has many beautiful prayers, and he mixes the Bible and classical literature together, so it’s kind of a big jumble of subcultures of his own world. The poems are also important for understanding church politics, the role of bishops, and the theology behind all these battles, which Gregory wrote all this poetry about when he went home in 381. And that’s another thing that he’s known for: coming up with a way to absorb classical learning and literature into a Christian literary tradition. So he’s very important for that and his poems are very important for that.
Did the orations influence a lot of the modern Orthodox Church?
Yes, they have really influenced the modern Orthodox Church all the way down. Gregory of Nazianzus was an exceptionally good speaker, so we also have forty-four of the orations he gave. I mean, they were not the form in which he necessarily gave them at church—but in those ten years of retirement between his departure from the capital and death, he worked with two deacons in his church. The three of them went off to some place on one of the family estates, where Gregory wrote and edited his own works and the other two men helped him edit. So we have 250 letters, forty-four orations, and seventeen thousand [lines of poetry]. And even today, because his writing is so beautiful, there are passages from his orations that are in the Orthodox liturgy—if you go to church now, you can still hear them. Some of his poetry was used as hymns, too, very soon after his death. (I mean “soon” by ancient standards—within 150 years of his death.) Within a decade or two of his death, his orations had been translated into Latin, and we also have Armenian, Syriac, Coptic, Latin, and ancient Georgian translations of his writings. I’ve actually heard that in the Orthodox tradition, his texts are the most quoted writings after the Bible.
Speaking of the Latin translations—did Gregory of Nazianzus cross over into Roman Catholicism?
Yes. He is a doctor of the Church, so his theological arguments are important in the Catholic Church as well.
What initially sparked your interest in late antique poetry?
I was trained as a classicist. I went to Greece one summer during college, and I was really excited when I saw the temple to Hephaestus in the middle of Athens—it was turned into a church in the Byzantine period, and that was part of what had preserved it. So then I started to think about how classical traditions get preserved. From there, I started reading more and more late antique literature, and then, when I got to graduate school, I took a seminar about early Christian asceticism in the eastern part of the empire, and my professor suggested that I look at Gregory of Nazianzus’s poems. And I’m still doing it. I think what also interests me about late antique poetry is that there’s still a lot of work to be done, and there aren’t necessarily editions or translations of even the basic texts, which is why DOML exists. It’s exciting to be able to make an important contribution in that way.
Can you talk about some of your previous work and your experience with translation?
Well, I never thought I would do a translation. When I started work on Gregory of Nazianzus’s writings, I was looking at how he presents himself in the autobiographical poems. There were a few of them that had been translated, but I was interested in the ones that hadn’t been, because through those you got a very different picture of him. But when I sat down to look at them, I got tired of flipping through all the Greek, and I just said I couldn’t do it. I told myself: “This is really time consuming; it would be much easier if I could just work with a translation.” So I did—I just sat down and started translating it. I never intended it to be anything other than my own crutch, but then a friend who was also working on Gregory’s writings came into the office and saw my translation on my desk and said, “Suzanne, what is this?” And I said, “Oh, I did a translation of the poem so I can do my stuff,” and he was shocked. He said something along the lines of, “Just slap an introduction on it and turn it in—you’re done, your dissertation is finished.” But I had just seen it as a tool, you know.
Now I’m trying to make it something a little lovelier than a tool. Mostly because somebody needed to do it, and I needed it done. It’s sort of a frustrating thing to find a balance between being accurate and being readable, which I think is probably true for all translators, but especially with ancient Greek and English, because the two languages work very differently. With the structure of ancient Greek you’re going to have really long sentences in a way that the structure of English can’t handle—the grammar just kind of collapses on itself. And I guess that, as classicists, we’re trained from the beginning to translate, and as a classicist, you spend years translating. But it’s frustrating, because you’re always leaving something out: there’s always some connotation of a word or a phrase that doesn’t cross over. But translating this is a good start, which is satisfying.
How did you hear about/get involved with DOML?
I had organized a panel at Brown University, and Stratis Papaioannou, who’s teaching at Dumbarton Oaks’ Byzantine Greek Summer School, was a reader for my panel for this conference. I had lunch with him, and he said, “Why don’t you submit a proposal to DOML for your work?” And I thought it was a good idea. I had initially thought that what the poems needed was a really thorough commentary, but as I started that project, I realized I would be like a hundred years old by the time I finished it, so I decided that my translation platform was more practical. I could just focus on the translation and get it out there, and then people could work with it. The reason translation is so important is because the Greek in the poetry isn’t easy. Even in the Byzantine period there are paraphrases of his poems—so even back then, you would have a book, and you would have his poem in one column in Greek, and then a second column, also in Greek, but in Greek that made more sense to people at that time. After you’ve spent years with him, though, his Greek actually starts to become easier and make more sense. The poetry is underused because it’s not immediately accessible, so I’m hoping the translation will change things.
What have you enjoyed the most about your DOML residency?
What has been great is that I will have a draft done! Aside from that, everybody here has been very helpful, and it has been great—it has been easy to work. Working on the translation has also enabled me to get to some stuff I’ve been wanting to read, but never had time to. It’s been great to have that time, and everything is so well set up at Dumbarton Oaks that there’s not even any settling-in time. I just got to work, and everything was set up for me. You don’t even have to wait for books to come; it’s all right there. And outside my door, on the top of the library, is a reproduction of an icon of Gregory; so every time I leave my office, he glares at me. That has been inspiring, keeping me at my desk, because I get scowled at every time I leave the room.
There has been talk of you starting a conference panel with Jeffrey Wickes, a summer fellow specializing in Byzantine studies.
Jeff and I noticed a number of similar trends in the Syriac poetry he works on and the Greek poetry I work on. We were talking about how poetry might have been expected to affect people when it is not intended for a liturgical context—or even if it is intended for that context, but is experienced outside of the liturgy. Scholars are just now starting to think about not just political and economic forces across the geographical span of the Roman Empire, but about literary movements as well, and we would like to contribute to that discussion. We hope to get a panel together for the next North American Patristics Society conference in May 2017.
Sign and Design: Script as Image in Cross-Cultural Perspective
In 2012, an international conference held at Dumbarton Oaks considered cases where image and script were fused into a hybrid sign. Tackling a range of examples from an assortment of cultures, especially those with a natural home at Dumbarton Oaks, the ideas planted then have flowered into a publication, which is being released this month. Editors Brigitte Miriam Bedos-Rezak and Jeffrey Hamburger explain that Sign and Design: Script as Image in Cross-Cultural Perspective “marks a shift away from an interest in text and image to a concern for the dialogic role of image in writing.” The book groups its essays into three suggested directions for examining the systems of representation that give script-images meaning: the iconicity of script, text as “imaging the ineffable,” and performativity. Scholars from disciplines including history, art history, and anthropology work in concert to bring together subjects as different as Aztec pictographic writing, Sumerian and Akkadian monuments, and medieval Jewish book art. You can find out more about Sign and Design and purchase it on the Harvard University Press website.
Classical Art Historian Will Wootton Speaks at Dumbarton Oaks
On July 19, the Dumbarton Oaks Museum invited Dr. Will Wootton, lecturer on Roman art in the classics department of King’s College London, to deliver an informal talk to a group of docents, staff, summer fellows, and interns about mosaics in antiquity. Wootton offered an engaging overview of the medium and its history, approaching from two angles: the aesthetic experience of an ancient observer, as well as the technical procedures employed by the original artisans. He concluded his talk with an in-person examination of the Apolausis Mosaic in the vestibule of the Dumbarton Oaks Museum, pointing out that in the bath house where it was excavated, water would have run over the surface into the sunken room that held it: “The point was showing that the water was so clear and pure that you could see the mosaic perfectly beneath it,” he said.
The Dumbarton Oaks Fellowship House at 1700 Wisconsin Avenue Northwest has received an American Institute of Architects Northern Virginia Chapter Design Award. The project received an Award of Merit in Institutional Architecture—one of only eight institutional projects recognized, and one of only three to receive the Merit distinction.
A Dumbarton Oaks Panel at the 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies
Dumbarton Oaks will be sponsoring two panels on “The Individual in Material Culture” at next year’s International Congress on Medieval Studies, to be held May 11–14, 2017, at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. One panel will cover the years 400–1000; the other will address 1000–1400. Both invite papers that use surviving elements of material culture—for example, coins, seals, textiles, and jewelry—to discuss questions relating to the individual in the medieval European, Byzantine, and Islamic worlds. Topics can include self-presentation and the creation of one’s own identity; the imposition of an identity on an individual by others; social and familial relationships; and religious and ethnic identities. Authors are encouraged to take approaches that will allow discussion of such themes across the entire medieval period and a broad geographical range. Please submit proposals to email@example.com for consideration.
News from the Summer Internship Program
This summer, a team of four interns from Harvard University is working on the initial phase of a long-term research project at Dumbarton Oaks that will aim to map the landscape and history of cultural institutions in the nation’s capital. In a half-dozen case studies of D.C.-area cultural institutions—from the earliest attempts to transform William Wilson Corcoran’s painting collection into a national gallery to Andrew and Paul Mellon’s successful establishment of the National Gallery of Art—the group is exploring the ways in which the collecting philosophies and aesthetic preoccupations of private collectors influenced and continue to shape the educational missions of the museums and galleries that they created. Read more about this project in the words of intern Joy Wang—and find out about other summer interns’ projects—on our internship blog.
James N. Carder (August 2016)
During their lifetimes, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss assembled a large collection of photographs of their friends, associates, and family. As is evidenced by images of their residential interiors, the Blisses framed and displayed these photographs on tables throughout their homes. Moreover, preserved correspondence shows that the Blisses actively solicited these photographic portraits and gave their own images in exchange. Many of the portraits are signed by noted photographers, including Edward Weston (1886–1958), Pirie MacDonald (1867–1942), and Alice Boughton (1866–1943). The Dumbarton Oaks Archives recently completed a project to scan this collection of 293 photographs and is presently publishing them on the institution’s website.
Occasionally, the photographs are associated with correspondence which augments the Blisses’ acquisition of the image. A youthful portrait of Laurence Curtis 2nd (1893–1989) is inscribed “Mrs. Bliss, pleasant memories of Paris 1916–1917, Laurence Curtis 2nd.” and is associated with an undated and somewhat cryptic letter that reads:
Dear Mrs. Bliss, Here’s wishing you and Mr. Bliss a very merry Christmas. This picture was taken just before I went to Paris to the Embassy, and is the last I had taken before the war. I am delighted to have you have it, but I hope you will not put it where it can be seen. You see I am a little ashamed of having shown it to you! Most sincerely yours, Laurie Curtis 2nd.
Interestingly, neither the photograph nor the letter alludes to the poignant events of Curtis’s time in Paris as a twenty-four-year-old. In 1916–17, at the height of the First World War, he served with Robert Woods Bliss in the U.S. Embassy in Paris before joining the United States Navy. During his training, he was involved in a plane crash that resulted in the loss of a leg. He would later graduate from the Harvard University School of Law and become a congressman from Massachusetts.
James N. Carder (July 2016)
The Byzantine historian, Alexander Alexandrovich Vasiliev (1867–1953), was a senior scholar at Dumbarton Oaks between 1944 and 1948 and thereafter a scholar emeritus. After his death in 1953, his papers and related materials became part of the Dumbarton Oaks Archives (see Research Papers and Office Papers). Among this collection is a Bulgarian Grand Cross badge set of the Royal Order for Civil Merit, Second Class.
Housed in its original velvet- and silk-satin-lined box, the Civil Merit set consists of two badges, one suspended from the Bulgarian royal crown and attached to a grosgrain neck ribbon and the other a pin. Each badge is of enameled silver-gilt and has a white cross with oak leaves and acorns between the arms. The pendant badge is double-sided. One side has a red circular medallion with the monogram ФI for King Ferdinand I, who instituted the Order. Bordering the monogram is a white ring inscribed: ЭА ГРАЖДАНСКА ЗАСЛУГА (“for Civil Merit”) and a star signifying the second class of the order. The reverse side has a red circular medallion depicting the Bulgarian lion rampant with a shield of the Saxon coat of arms on its breast. The white bordering ring is inscribed with the date: 2 ABГУCTЪ 1891 (“2 August 1891”), the date the order was first issued. The Royal Order for Civil Merit was conferred on Bulgarian civilians and, rarely, others for exemplary service or acts of merit that warranted the gratitude of the country.
Confirmation that the Bulgarian Grand Cross badge set belonged to Alexander Vasiliev is found in an October 1937 newspaper article, The Badger Quarterly’s “U. of W. Historian Given Rare Honors.” The accompanying photograph shows Vasiliev with the image of the boxed Civil Merit badges superimposed. Interestingly, the article does not chronicle Vasiliev’s receipt of the Civil Merit badges but rather his receipt of an honorary doctorate from the University of Athens, Greece, and the announcement of a publication on Byzantine history by the Archaeological Institute of Prague to be dedicated to Vasiliev.
The exact details of when and why Alexander Vasiliev received the Bulgarian Royal Order of Civil Merit badge set is not preserved in the Vasiliev papers at Dumbarton Oaks. However, in 1934, he attended the Fourth International Congress of Byzantine Studies that was held in Sofia. He presided at both the opening and conclusion of the Congress and gave the lecture: “Les trois fondateurs de la byzantinologie russe.” It is likely that his participation at the Congress and his research on Byzantine topics related to Bulgaria offered the occasion for his receipt of the Bulgarian honor.
Fifteen Harvard Undergraduates Arrive for an Array of Projects
Dumbarton Oaks is delighted to welcome its 2016 class of summer interns from Harvard University. They will embed within the institute's administration and programs of study, work with the museum and gardens, edit publications, and conduct short-term research.
- Andrea Brown, a rising sophomore from Takoma Park, Maryland, will work on the garden biodiversity project in collaboration with the staffs of the gardens and Garden and Landscape Studies program.
- Brett Davis, a rising senior from Kingston, Massachusetts, will be completing institutional video projects as the outreach media intern.
- Noah Delwiche, a rising senior from Catonsville, Maryland, will assist with Latin translations for the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series.
- Theodore Delwiche, also a rising senior from Catonsville, Maryland, will assist with Latin translations for the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series.
- Tyler Dobbs, a recent graduate from Wichita, Kansas, will assist in cataloging the Byzantine seals collection.
- Melda Gurakar, a rising senior from Lutherville, Maryland, will work on the “Mapping Cultural Philanthropy in Washington, D.C.” Project.
- Iriowen Ojo, a rising sophomore from Dix Hills, New York, will be in the director’s office, working on public programming and outreach initiatives.
- Melissa Rodman, a rising junior from Riverdale, New York, will work on the “Mapping Cultural Philanthropy in Washington, D.C.” project.
- Jude Russo, a recent graduate from Davidsonville, Maryland, will assist with Latin translations for the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series.
- Madeleine Stern, a rising junior from Northampton, Massachusetts, will work with the museum staff on the deinstallation and reinstallation project.
- Sam Vasquez, a rising junior from Everett, Massachusetts, will assist in compiling the catalog of Pre-Columbian objects from Central America and Colombia.
- Joy Wang, a recent graduate from Southampton, Pennsylvania, will work on the “Mapping Cultural Philanthropy in Washington, D.C.” project.
- Abby Westover, a rising senior from Austin, Texas, will work on the ephemera project.
- Leah Yared, a rising sophomore from Rockville, Maryland, will work on the “Mapping Cultural Philanthropy in Washington, D.C.” project.
- Ashley Zhou, a rising senior from Basking Ridge, New Jersey, will assist the publications department in producing the Dumbarton Oaks Annual Report.
Though the Dumbarton Oaks Museum is currently closed for renovation through the end of 2016, Fodor’s Travel has glowing remarks for its collections in its “Art Lover’s Guide to Washington, D.C.,” writing, “In-the-know researchers seek out Dumbarton from far and wide—it’s about time that locals, and visitors, do the same.”
This month, the Rose Garden bloomed into brilliant shades of red, pink, yellow, and white. See more photos in our garden blog, What’s Blooming at D.O.
The History and Design of the Arbor Terrace
The following is reproduced with permission from: Linda Lott, “The Arbor Terrace at Dumbarton Oaks: History and Design,” Garden History 31, no. 2 (2003): 209–17. Figures 4, 5, 6, 7, and 11 have been replaced, with the following credits: Figures 4, 6, and 11: Brett Davis, July 2016; Figure 5: Dumbarton Oaks Garden Archives, GD P-3-24A; Figure 7: Dumbarton Oaks Garden Archives, GD P-2-13B.
In her Plant Book, written for the future maintenance and preservation of the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, Beatrix Farrand (1872–1959) begins the description of ‘The Herb Garden and Wisteria Arbor’ (currently called the Arbor TerraceIn some of the early drawings, the Arbor Terrace is identified as the ‘E’ Terrace.) (Figure 1) by stating that:
This small terrace, with its elegant heartwood tidewater cypress arbor (which was replaced in 1955), has changed considerably in character. It was originally intended as an intimate garden, a ‘giardini segreti’ [sic],The term translates as a secret garden and generally refers to a small, strongly enclosed garden room in fifteenth-century Italian Renaissance gardens that grew out of the medieval tradition of the hortus conclusus. with emphasis on contrast between sunlight and shade, the sound of falling water, the scent of herbs, the movement of wind and birds.Diane Kostial McGuire (ed.), Beatrix Farrand’s Plant Book for Dumbarton Oaks (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Trustees for Harvard University, 1980), 71.
A discussion of the Arbor Terrace should logically begin with its most dominant feature; the Arbor (Figure 2). Farrand’s text provides an interesting overview (Figures 3–5):
It is not a display garden but, rather, one in which shaded seats can be occupied under the big Wisteria arbor, which was placed in this position in order to minimize the rather overwhelming height of the stone wall which was needed to retain the northeast corner of the Rose Garden. This arbor was modified from a design of Du Cerceau (from his drawing of the garden of the Chateau Montargis). It is planted almost entirely with Wisteria, mainly of the lavender variety but with some few plants of white. The Wisteria Arbor is designed so as to be seen from below, so that the hanging clutches of the ﬂowers will make a fragrant and lovely roof to the arbor. In order to make the high wall less noticeable in its austerity, a wall fountain with an old, French, lead fountain head was designed; and a second niche, also ornamented with lead (which lead ornament needs revision), is placed to the south of the wall fountain, with a simple lead box under the arch in which a book or two might be left. This lead box had not proved practical, as the dampness in this position would ruin any book before many weeks.Ibid., 72. ‘Du Cerceau’ is Jacques Androuet Du Cerceau (c. 1515–85).
In July 1933, Caroline Phillips, a friend of Mildred B. Bliss, owner of Dumbarton Oaks, sent her a note thanking her for a visit to the garden and enclosing three quotations taken from Dante Alighieri’s Purgatorio (begun c. 1307). She wrote:
I have found three little extracts from Dante’s Earthly Paradise at the end of the Purgatorio, which I think fit into your garden. There might one day be a stone or block of wood to carry them on, if you want some words of the Divine Poet in your wood.The letter (dated 9 July 1933) is part of the Farrand-Bliss Correspondence at Dumbarton Oaks. The lines from the letter appear on pp. 2–3. Next to the canto selected is written: ‘For all of Dumbarton Oaks’.
Bliss adopted only one of Phillips’ suggested quotations, lines 139–41 from Purgatorio, canto XXVIII: ‘Quelli chanticamente poetaro leta dell oro/ & suo stato felice forse in parnaso esto loco sognaro’, which was translated by Phillips as ‘Those who in olden times, sang of the Golden Age, and its happy state, perchance dreamed in Parnassus of this place’.The capitalization and spelling are as they appear in the quote on the Arbor Terrace. This phrase, along with the lead book box and lotus flowers, originally adorned the second niche of the Arbor Terrace, but the quotation has since been relocated to the low wall on the left inside the Arbor (Figure 6) and the other ornament removed, leaving a blank arch of masonry. Beneath the quotation appears the phrase ‘codice caetani’, indicating the edition from which it was taken, and the words ‘all amigo Gelasio’, an allusion to the Bliss’s friendship with Gelasio Caetani.
Caetani served as Italian Ambassador to the United States from 1920 to 1925 and owned Ninfa, in Lazio, among the loveliest gardens in Italy. Like his grandfather, Michelangelo Caetani, Gelasio was a Dante scholar, and, in 1930, he published a limited edition of three hundred copies of the Codex Caetani,The Dumbarton Oaks Library owns number 27. his family’s manuscript copy of the Divine Commedia.Don Gelasio Caetani (ed.), Comedia Dantis Aligherii Florentini (Sancasciano, Val de Pesa, 1930). The manuscript itself is written on parchment in a calligraphic hand of the late fourteenth or very early fifteenth century. Georgina Masson reported that Caetani transcribed for Bliss the quotation that so aptly described the beauties of his own garden at Ninfa and those of Dumbarton Oaks.Georgina Masson, Dumbarton Oaks: A Guide to the Gardens (Washington, DC: Trustees for Harvard University, 1968), 24. The appropriateness of the quotation is underscored when viewed in the context of the entire canto.
After passing through Hell, Dante had to climb the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory on his way to Heaven, the summit of the mountain, on which lay the Earthly Paradise or Garden of Eden. It is here where Dante, abandoned by Virgil, encountered Matilda,Robert M. Durling (ed.), The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 484. Matilda can be seen to embody the innocent happiness of Eden: she is a sort of wood nymph or protective spirit of the place. For further information concerning the question of her identity, see A. Bartlett Giamatti, Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), 107–8. who told him, ‘Here the root of Humanity is innocent: here is everlasting Spring, and every fruit: this is the nectar of which they all speak’.Dante, Purgatorio, canto XXVIII. Certainly, the Arbor Terrace, with its fountain, arbour, ﬂowers and location, evokes the Earthly Paradise of which Matilda spoke. Just as Dante encountered a garden before his final ascent into Heaven, so a visitor to the Arbor Terrace discovers an Earthly Paradise.‘The Divine Comedy takes place in a structured, concentric universe through which Dante and his guides move so that he might learn the results of evil and the meaning of Divine Love. The setting of the poem is a constantly varying landscape, which changes with the state of the author’s soul and the condition of those whom he observes. In order to understand the joys of Paradise he must descend to the depths of Hell’; Margaretta J. Darnall and Mark S. Weil, ‘Il Sacro Bosco di Bomarzo. Its 16th-century literary and antiquarian context’, Journal of Garden History, IV (1984), 1–94 (p. 6). While Darnall and Weil are writing about Bomarzo, their text can also be applied to the Arbor Terrace.
At this point, it is instructive to examine some of the drawings created for the Arbor Terrace from the mid-1930s. Possibly the theme of Mount Parnassus, mentioned in the quotation, was expanded upon and iconography representing Apollo was at one time to be subtly incorporated into the design scheme of the terrace. Mount Parnassus was sacred to both Apollo, god of archery, prophecy, music and healing, and to the Muses. One early drawing for the fountain depicts the head of a satyr and may have alluded to the story of Apollo and the satyr Marsyas, who challenged Apollo to a musical contest, lost and in defeat was ﬂayed alive. Originally planned as a herb garden, the Arbor Terrace evolved into a pot garden and at present incorporates sweeping scrolls in the pavement design, but an early rendering shows the image of a flute lying diagonally over a lyre, partially framed with a spray of flowers (Figure 7). The iconography of both the flute and the lyre could refer to the fact that Apollo was the god of music, the flute also referring to his association with Marsyas. Furthermore, one of the designs for the Arbor Terrace has several wrought-iron gate finials with arrows incorporated into the design, possibly iconography associated with Apollo’s role as the god of archery. (The possibility also exists that the theme of Apollo might have been considered as a separate design scheme before the quotation from Dante had been selected. It may then have been decided to use personal rather than public language in the final design.)
The fountain head selected for the final design of the Arbor Terrace has been identified, along with two others, as a river god (Figure 8).All three heads were purchased in May 1947 from Frances W. Huard (antiquarian), Versailles, France; Dumbarton Oaks House Collection Files. Barbara Israel, however, provides a different theory supporting the identification of the head as a river god:
Although the mask does not strictly conform to traditional images of Poseidon, or Neptune, the cattails, which are echoed at the base of the wall fountain, suggest rivers and wetlands, which fell within the sea god’s kingdom. The rays of sunlight, however, may allude to Apollo, the Greek god of music, song, and light, indicating instead a modern representation of that mythological deity.Barbara Israel, Antique Garden Ornament: Two Centuries of American Taste (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999), 130.
The current fountain, occupying the wall of the right arch, went through a number of revisions before the final design was selected: the head of a mythological god, perhaps a river god or Apollo, surrounded by sheaves of wheat, an element from the Bliss family coat of arms (Figure 9).Sheaves of wheat are also to be found on numerous gates at Dumbarton Oaks: in the design of the Pebble Garden and in the bench in the Rose Garden. While the lotus ﬂowers placed either side of the book box have no connection with Apollo, their selection for the arch on the Arbor Terrace might be a reference to mythology and the story of Odysseus in the country of the lotus-eaters.In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew encountered the country of the lotus-eaters while journeying home to Ithaca. Odysseus sent three men to find out who inhabited the island. They were entertained by the Lotus-eaters, were given some of the food of the lotus plant and, as a result, lost all desire to return home. The dream-like state induced by the lotus plant may have provided the inspiration to use lotus ﬂowers in the arch and might refer to the phrase in Dante’s quotation on the Golden Age: ‘perchance dreamed in Parnassus of this place’.
Could these drawings and ornaments have been part of a conscious programme for the design of the Arbor Terrace, employing subtle references to Apollo and to mythological elements in the Odyssey? While there is no documentation to support this hypothesis and no references made to Apollo in the correspondence between Farrand and Bliss, the allusions evoked by the images mentioned are difficult to ignore. The only other mythological references currently found in the gardens appear in the Star Garden and the mosaics in the Swimming Pool Loggia, which depict the story of Diana and Actaeon.A watercolour by Allyn Cox (1896–1982) of Diana and Acteon has written in pencil in the lower right-hand corner: ‘first sketch for a loggia decoration, Allyn Cox, 1927’.
As Farrand indicated in her Plant Book, the original design for the Arbor Terrace grew out of an Italian garden tradition, the giardini segreti. While it is not possible to discuss the tradition of Italian gardening and Humanism within the scope of this note, it is instructive to look brieﬂy at one text that was widely read in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Pietro de’ Crescenzi’s thirteenth-century Latin treatise on agriculture, Liber ruralium commodorum,De’ Crescenzi drew on the writings of ancient Romans such as Cato, Columella, Varro and Palladius, as well as on his own experience as a country landowner. His work began its wide circulation in manuscript form in 1305, and was one of the earliest printed books in Europe: in Latin in 1471, in Italian in 1478, in French in 1486 and German in 1493. described the construction and design of gardens from the 1300s to the Renaissance. Book VIII, Chapter 3, focuses on pleasure gardens and is divided into three classes: those of poor men, those of modest means, and those of wealthy nobles and kings. The following passage has particular relevance to the design of the Arbor Terrace:
Each of these [gardens] should be adorned with sweet-scented flowers, arbours of clipped trees, grassy lawns, and if possible, a sparkling fountain to lend joy and brightness to the scene. A pergola of vines will afford shade in the noonday heats, but in small gardens it is well to plant no trees on the lawn, and to leave the grass exposed to the pure airs and sunshine.Quotation in Julia Cartwright, Italian Gardens of the Renaissance and Other Studies (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1914), 2–3. The translations are also given by Robert G. Calkin, ‘Pietro de’ Crescenzi and the medieval garden’, in Elisabeth B. MacDougall (ed.), Medieval Gardens (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture, 1983), 155–73; and Frank Crisp, Medieval Gardens: ‘ﬂowery medes’ and Other Arrangements of Herbs, Flowers, and Shrubs Grown in the Middle Ages, with Some Account of Tudor, Elizabethan, and Stuart Gardens (London: John Lane, 1924), 15–19.
While the text itself might not have been a direct inﬂuence, it can be seen that elements listed in de’ Crescenzi’s text, and depicted in a later variant edition at Dumbarton Oaks (Figure 10)Pietro de’ Crescenzi, II libro della agricultura(Venice: Matteo Capasca di Codeca, 1495).
In the preamble to Bliss’s will, a passage again echoes the Humanist theme found in Farrand’s Plant Book:
Those responsible for scholarship at Dumbarton Oaks should remember that gardens have their place in the Humanist order of life; and that trees are noble elements to be protected by successive generations and are not to be neglected or lightly destroyed . . . the serenity of open spaces and ancient trees . . . are as integral a part of Humanism at Dumbarton Oaks as are the Library and the Collections.Preamble to the will of Mildred B. Bliss, 31 August 1966.
The sentiment also appears, in modified form, on the plaque that ﬂanks the right-hand side of the Museum entrance on 32nd Street, which also functions as a portion of the outside wall of the Rare Book Room of the Garden Library (designed and constructed to house Bliss’s collection of rare materials). At the top of the plaque is the phrase Quiescit Anima Libris (The spirit finds rest in books). This phrase is taken from the inlaid inscription on the sixteenth-century Italian bookcase cabinet in the Music Room and also recalls the lead book box originally housed in the Arbor Terrace. It is possible to View these as unifying, integral elements at Dumbarton Oaks, connected in part by their form and function, but also united by Humanist ideals. The concept of unity can be taken a step further with other design elements, such as the oak leaves and acorns on the wrought-iron railings in the main portion of the house (Figure 11) that help to bring nature indoors.
The current design of the Arbor Terrace is a distant echo of its former past as the terrace and its arbour wall have suffered over time, principally because of its location. As Farrand stated, it functions as a retaining wall for the Rose Garden, and in the past, the task of watering so many bushes was accomplished by flooding the entire Rose Garden. Over time, the ﬂow of water and chemicals through the weep holes have clogged them and created an inhospitable environment for both the masonry and the original lead ornaments, causing them to deteriorate.In conversations the author has had with Gail Griffin, Superintendent of Gardens and Grounds at Dumbarton Oaks, the problems of conservation and preservation that exist on the Arbor Terrace have been discussed. The lead book box, as Farrand had predicted, was not practical for the setting and was eventually removed from the wall, along with the lotus ﬂowers. There are several letters from Ruth Havey (1899–1980), an employee at Farrand’s office from the summer and fall of 1949, that included information about renovation work on the Arbor Terrace. Another note from Havey dated 1954 stated: ‘handle of lead cabinet is missing. Replace or cover the hole with a small plaque of lead’. Havey’s sketches presented alternative solutions to the problem of the walls, described in her text as ‘Sketch—two panels in arbour wall without lead lotus and bulrushes—leave waves’. None of Havey’s suggestions for the arches has ever been implemented. The paradigm for the garden that Mildred B. Bliss, Beatrix Farrand and Ruth Havey envisioned might exist in the early drawings and correspondence. The gardens as a whole, as well as individual areas, warrant closer study and examination.
Tyler Fellow John Davis Creates Online Map of the D.C. Watershed
As in so many other cities, water is everywhere in Washington, D.C.—and yet it remains largely invisible to most of us, taken for granted or ignored. But D.C.’s waterways and plumbing shape the civic, social, and even commercial lives of its residents just as much now as in the past: the Anacostia, the Potomac, the C&O Canal, Rock Creek. And the crisis in Flint, Michigan, has shown that the questions of where and how cities find their water have tremendous importance for public health, down to the last pipe.
“It’s interesting to be able to visualize things that aren’t always apparent when you’re walking around the city,” says John Davis, Tyler fellow in Garden and Landscape Studies. “It’s a totally different conception of how the city works.” During his time at Dumbarton Oaks, Davis, a PhD candidate in history at Harvard working on the history of engineering and infrastructure, has created a digital atlas of Washington, D.C.’s watershed. The “Water Atlas,” as he calls it, shows the development of the city’s water infrastructure over time, from large features like canals to the sewer grid and water treatment facilities.
Unlike a traditional atlas on paper, the online atlas gives the user a clearer sense of the relationship in scale between a city block and the course of an entire river. It also facilitates visualizing changes over time in layers or phases, rather than having to combine those phases into a single diagram or distribute them over several maps. Davis’s atlas further highlights how different the city’s landscape might have looked if certain rejected projects had been realized. One area of the map allows viewers to see how a proposed dam on the Rock Creek would have created an enormous reservoir in the north part of the city.
Davis created the Water Atlas using a free open-source application called QGIS, which is widely used for cartography. By tracing information from scans of historic maps found in archives onto existing geospatial data from the United States Geographic Survey, he was able to create a single digital composite that could illustrate changes over time. Davis says that he could imagine this approach being adopted to illustrate infrastructural history for any city: “Every city has documents and maps—the exciting project is assembling the paper data and then digitizing it.” Indeed, he adds, if you had such data for multiple cities, the payoff for historians would be that you could “compare cities and their infrastructures.”
Davis hopes that the Water Atlas will be useful for both the general public and professional researchers, and also that it might help bring the two groups together. Asked to envision an audience for the project, he describes “a range of people, from academics, or people who have an academic interest in D.C. history, to people in the D.C. area who might be curious about how their water gets to them.” It’s important for academics to invest time in projects like this, he notes, because of the likelihood that the skills of cartography and digital publication will continue to be important to future work in history and the humanities: “Digital maps increase accessibility. You don’t have to go to a library to use them.”
Davis and Dumbarton Oaks hope to release the Water Atlas to the public by the end of the summer. Please watch this space for updates about the project in the months ahead!
A Reading of Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” in the Gardens
On Monday, June 13, the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens became a main stage as actors from the D.C. area offered a stunning and lively reading of Tom Stoppard’s 1993 play Arcadia.
The gardens, last used as a performance space during a 2010 production put on by the Byzantine Studies department, were an ideal setting for Arcadia. The play, a tragicomedy that explores modern ideas in the context of the past, is centered around an English estate. One plot line tells the story of its nineteenth-century inhabitants, focusing on a young girl’s relationship with her tutor and with her family. The present, a twentieth-century storyline, acts as a foil for the earlier plot, tracing concerns of contemporary academia, including poetry, science, mathematics, and philosophy, back to these characters. It is a work that resonates with arts admirers and science enthusiasts alike, perfect for bringing together communities with a wide variety of academic interests.
The idea of staging the play in the gardens came from a discussion between Tyler fellow John Davis and Emily Townley, a local actress who would become the producer—and one of the stars—of Arcadia in the gardens. Townley and Davis spent two months putting together the reading.
“They call it a reading that is ‘lightly staged,’” Davis said. “They were reading from scripts, but there was a director who gave them direction on where to stand, when to enter, to actually make it more dynamic.”
The dynamism of the performance extended to the setting, as Arcadia’s main stage separated itself into the Fountain Terrace, the Lovers’ Lane Pool, and the Orangery. The actors and audience moved from space to space as the production progressed. Davis and Townley, seeking to emulate the play’s original English country estate backdrop, chose these parts of the gardens strategically. Townley opened the play on the Fountain Terrace, utilizing its balconies and staircases to introduce the characters. From there, the scene transitioned into the Lovers’ Lane Pool. The amphitheater layout of the pool, which had been drained for cleaning, served its purpose as an area designed for entertainment. As the sun went down, the play moved to the well-lit Orangery for its final scenes.
At the play’s end, “the enclosed nature of the Orangery provided a level of intimacy that was especially appropriate for the changes in narrative and tone,” noted Kaja Tally-Schumacher, a student attending the Garden and Landscape Studies summer school. “The transition from very open spaces to such an intimate and small space really heightened emotion and the sense of community between the audience members and the actors.”
For Tally-Schumacher and other summer school students, the play evoked the themes they have explored in the two-week course, such as the origins and cultural practices of gardens and design landscaping. “The history of gardens is integral to the setting and plot of the play,” added Thalia Allington-Wood.
Similarly, Davis mentioned the inclusion of theories about order and chaos in nature that are studied by the students and elaborated on in Arcadia, specifically through the effects of staging. The temporality between acts, coupled with the unchanging nature of the play’s props and setup, also related to discussions on the memory of place and the passage of time within gardens. However, many noted that one of the greatest consequences of staging the play in the gardens was the intimacy experienced by the audience in such a setting.
“I was very happy that that’s the way it turned out,” he said. “Just because we were that close and just because there wasn’t the separation between a stage and an area for an audience, I think it became intimate . . . just by the way that it was done. And it was good in that way. I hadn’t planned it but it worked out very, very well.”
A Collaborative Workshop in Santiago Looks Southward
The Pre-Columbian Studies program at Dumbarton Oaks, the Chilean Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica (CONICYT), and the Universidad de Chile supported an international group of scholars to meet for a workshop titled “Rethinking the Inka Empire: The View from Kollasuyu” from May 18 to 20, 2016. Led by Frances Hayashida (University of New Mexico), Andrés Troncoso (Universidad de Chile), and Diego Salazar (Universidad de Chile), this select group of archaeologists and ethnohistorians met in the beautiful setting of Pirque just south of Santiago. Engaging with recent research in the region of Kollasuyu—the southern province of the Inka empire, which encompassed much of northern Chile and Argentina—the workshop shifted the traditional focus from the central Andes to explore the ways in which research in the southern Andes raises new questions about the Inka empire as a whole.
The workshop facilitated a productive interaction, generating new dialogues between disciplines and intellectual traditions north and south of the equator. New data sets and theoretical positions were brought together in ways that will contribute to refining our models of Andean prehistory and Inka imperial expansion. The workshop participants included Felix Acuto (Argentina), Sonia Alconini (United States), Ian Farrington (Australia), Francisco Garrido (Chile), Marco Giovannetti (Argentina), Ana María Lorandi (Argentina), José Luis Martínez (Chile), Colin McEwan (United States), Axel Nielsen (Argentina), Daniel Pavlovic (Chile), Tristan Platt (United Kingdom), Claudia Rivera (Bolivia), and Verónica Williams (Argentina). Auditors included Noa Corcoran-Tadd, Ester Echenique, Cristián González Rodríguez, Natalia La Mura, Shelby Magee, Kelly McKenna, Beau Murphy, and César Parcero-Oubiña.