The Oaks News
James N. Carder (January 2016)
After the legal transfer of Dumbarton Oaks to the President and Fellows of Harvard College on November 29, 1940, a variety of institutional changes needed to be made. One necessary change was the creation of a new institutional bookplate for the eleven thousand volumes, formerly part of the Blisses’ private library, that were now the property of the research institute. The commission for the new bookplate design went to Rudolph Ruzicka (1883–1978), a Czech-born American illustrator and engraver. Ruzicka previously had designed Robert Bliss’s bookplate. He also in 1935 had created for the Blisses an engraved plan of the Dumbarton Oaks estate, which included thirty-eight vignettes of the gardens. Robert Bliss spearheaded the new bookplate project and in late December 1940 sent Ruzicka a rough sketch having two shields at the center and oak-leaf and acorn clusters in the four corners. Ruzicka surrounded the two shields with laurel leaves for Harvard and oak leaves for Dumbarton Oaks and added the Harvard and Bliss mottos, Christo et Ecclesiae and Quod Severis Metes. When in January 1941 the newly-designed bookplate was sent to the Blisses in California, they wrote back saying they were very pleased and that the bookplate was “distinguished, interesting and unusual.”
The question arose, however, how to deal with the fact that most of the books that had transferred to the research library already had both Mildred Bliss’s and Robert Bliss’s bookplates in them. Director John Thacher wrote the Blisses in California suggesting two possibilities: (1) that the new bookplate accompany the Blisses’ personal bookplates, thus indicating that these were books that the Blisses had acquired for their own library and then conveyed to Harvard University and (2) that the bookplate be put only into those books acquired after the transfer. With the second solution, he recommended putting “a small, little bookplate with just the words ‘Dumbarton Oaks Harvard University’” into the Blisses’ former books. This was the solution that was adopted.
The legal status of Dumbarton Oaks, however, would change again on June 9, 1941, when the property was deeded from the President and Fellows of Harvard College to the Trustees for Harvard University, Inc., a District of Columbia corporation. Eventually, to reflect this change, in 1955 Ruzicka was asked to redesign the bookplate to include the name of the Trustees for Harvard University and the year of the incorporation, 1941. Ruzicka’s new design was quickly approved.
This new bookplate would be added to all existing books and to all books acquired in the future.
Snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) in bloom; taken by Gardener Luís Mármol on January 5. For more pictures, visit our garden blog, What’s Blooming at D.O.
Museum Cases and Mounts at Dumbarton Oaks
Many of the objects in Dumbarton Oaks’ collection rest on mounts that seem almost to disappear completely from view. In this month’s video feature, Museum Exhibitions and Programs Coordinator Renée Alfonso and Museum Exhibit Technician Colin Kelly offer a look behind the scenes at how cases and mounts are designed and installed for our ongoing show 75 Years / 75 Objects, which rotates monthly. Click on the link below to watch, and please consider subscribing to our YouTube channel, where you can watch Dumbarton Oaks’ growing library of short videos!
An Aucoin Recital for Staff and Fellows
Most Fellows give a research report at some point during their time at Dumbarton Oaks; for his, composer and conductor Matthew Aucoin, 2015–16 Early Career Musician, held a private recital for Staff and Fellows. Aucoin and his frequent collaborator, violinist Keir GoGwilt, performed a program that included music by Leoš Janáček, Anton Webern, György Kurtág, and Morton Feldman, as well as Aucoin’s own Celan Fragments and Poem for Violin.
Interview with Nicola Di Cosmo
On December 9, 2015, Nicola Di Cosmo, Luce Foundation Professor of East Asian Studies at the School of Historical Studies of the Institute for Advanced Study, joined Dumbarton Oaks for its first Inter-Program Lecture, “Climate, Ecology, and Mobility in the History of Eurasian Steppe Nomads.” We spoke with Di Cosmo about the growing field of nomadic history and the integration of climatic and ecological data into historical study.
Dumbarton Oaks: Your prior work was in Chinese military history. How did you become interested in the interactions of ecology and climate with nomadic history?
Nicola Di Cosmo: I was very interested in understanding Chinese history, not just in terms of Chinese history, but also in terms of the interactions between Chinese people with other parts of Asia and Eurasia. That started a general interest in language, from Chinese to Mongolian—trying to learn more about the languages of people who were very influential in Chinese history, but whose stories you don’t learn when you study Chinese history. In China, everything is fit through a very standard, very official, very orthodox way of understanding Chinese history, which is through dynastic histories, standard histories.
In some moments of history, these nomads become particularly important, particularly relevant beyond their own environment, beyond their own regions, beyond China, beyond Asia. They are important in European history, and I think this is an imperial tradition that has not been recognized much. We know about the Romans, the Mediterranean civilizations, the Chinese, Indian, and Iranian civilizations. But the nomads have never really been recognized as a civilization—quite the opposite, right? They’re “anti-civilization,” the barbarians. And, in fact, the interaction between nomads and other people has been very productive in world history and has produced expansions of networks and more connections among different places. It also has been, I think, very influential in developing institutions—in Russia, for instance, in the Ottoman Empire, which is Islamic but also nomadic. In the Mughal Empire in India and the Qing or Manchu dynasties in China, they all owe something to this nomadic culture that they were coming from. So, I think in a number of ways they are also very important as we try to reconceptualize world history, because we need to include this large part of Eurasia, which is the steppe, and if we want to understand how technology culture, trade, was transmitted or connected to different parts of Eurasia, the nomads were very important and central to the story.
I also work with archaeology, and that’s a very important part. I’m not an archaeologist myself, but if you want to learn a little bit more about the history of the nomads, you can’t just work with documentary sources.
DO: You talked specifically about how the nomadic narrative is left out of Chinese history, which tends to focus on imperial, dynastic history. Do you have any thoughts on what accounts for nomadic tradition being left out of history?
NDC: In China, certainly the traditional wisdom is that the greater power—the Chinese civilization—always conquered these people, that they were eventually assimilated and acculturated to China. Therefore the Chinese civilization was conquered, but then the Chinese civilization conquered the conquerors. That has been the myth of Sinicization, of becoming Chinese. That’s been the dominant framework, in which this relationship—which has never been totally hostile or inimical—has been, as I said before, a productive relationship whereby there’s been a lot of exchange between the two. We always see it in terms of the “aggressiveness of the nomads” versus the cultured stance of the Chinese, who try to educate them or convert them to Chinese civilization or assimilate them. You never see the other side, which is what these nomads brought into China and how China was changed by these people. If you look at every period of Chinese history, this relationship is very important. It generates new institutions and new ways of configuring the Chinese Empire, new ways of conceptualizing power and sovereignty—Buddhism, for instance. Who brings Buddhism to China? It is not the Chinese. That transforms the philosophical, political, and religious aspects of China. China would not be the same, of course. It’s just a myth that the Chinese civilization endured unchanged for two thousand years. There is a continuity there, but there are also breaks and moments in which the foreign influence is actually predominant. I work from the very beginning of the presence of nomadic societies on the Chinese frontiers, all the way until the eighteenth century, so it’s about two and a half millennia of reconstructing this relationship.
DO: On the topic of origins, how did your visit to Dumbarton Oaks come about?
NDC: Michael Maas is responsible for bringing me here. Michael and I have had, for several years, a very productive collaboration. We are working on editing a book called Eurasian Empires in Late Antiquity for Cambridge University Press. We are coeditors of the book, which grew out of a common interest in a period of world history in which steppe nomads seem to be important: during the fall of the Roman Empire in the Late Antique period—the so-called period of “disunity” (a terrible term) in Chinese history between the Han and the Tang dynasty.
The collapse of what we might consider two strong centers of power, the Chinese Empire and the Roman Empire, frees up a lot of political space for other political agents to assert themselves. So, you have foreign dynasties in China—not very long-lived, but important, especially in northern China. You have the barbarian invasion in Rome. You have the new relationship with the steppe people and new forms of diplomacy that emerge on both sides. Therefore, I think this is a very productive collaboration between East Asian scholars and European scholars, especially those who work on the late antique and early medieval period, to expand horizons on both sides and try to see the linkages between East Asia and West Asia and the Mediterranean world.
We are recognizing a set of similarities that certainly cannot be casual: it’s this culture of nomads, of steppe people, that is permeating the political space of other people, both in the west and in the east. It’s very important to recognize that there are, perhaps, sets of networks and common political cultures that are expanding in this period of time and that will become important in the medieval period—certainly in China—because the Tang dynasty is the heir of these foreign dynasties that flourish in northern China. Buddhism expands in Central Asia and East Asia—not so much in the west—but the networks are very broad. Nomads are participants in these trading and religious networks throughout Eurasia. We have a new way of thinking about this period, not limited to one region or one country but more in terms of broad spaces and connections.
I think Michael was interested in some of my collaborations with scientists, climatologists in particular. I think this is the first lecture that addresses the broader community of Dumbarton Oaks, not just Byzantine, Garden and Landscape, or Pre-Columbian programs. I think Michael thought my interest in working with different types of sources—documentary, material sources, and scientific proxy data—might have a broader interest outside of just our work or Eurasia or Late Antiquity. Pre-Columbian scholars, for instance, have the same problems working with archaeological sources.
DO: What do you think can be borne from the relationship between traditional humanities scholarship and the sciences?
NDC: I work on nomadic history. We need to find other ways to understand nomadic history beyond the horizon of the written sources because written sources only appear when nomads got out of their natural environment. What happens while they are in the steppes is never represented in any way. As historians, we need to put our hands on whatever information we can get. Over the past ten to twenty years, there have been incredible advances in archaeology. Archaeology is very much influenced by new scientific methods. Archaeology has been transformed by isotopic research and climate data. Archaeology is important, but also a direct connection between historians and scientists is quite important; the development in the paleosciences is critical for the history, not just protohistory, of peoples with no writing. We can get information about their diet, about their movements, about their environments and how their environments changed, about their material culture through metallographic analysis. There is all this production of climate data and many other types of data in scientific journals that scientists just don’t read—I want to bring it into the historical world.
DO: Did you come up against a learning curve as you branched out to begin including scientific data in your historical arguments?
NDC: It’s still going on. In my book Ancient China and Its Enemies, I had to learn how to read archaeological reports, so that was the first learning curve—to move from documentary sources to material culture. That goes on. There’s a methodological issue—how you interpret these things—and the quantitative issue, especially in China, where they publish constantly, and it’s almost impossible to follow everything. Archaeology is just one additional tool kit, and there are many tool kits. The science data is another one. In my view, we need to put together as many tool kits as possible. It’s great to read the Chinese sources, but they are written by Chinese for the Chinese, so they only represent part of the picture and need to be decoded in various ways. It is the same with the material culture and with the science data. But as long as we can increase the number of data and get a richer, more articulate picture of the environment that these people were living in, of the objects that they were able to produce and exchange and value, and of their movements, we can probably say something more interesting. It’s all about getting a denser, richer picture that can help us understand why, at some points in time, nomads become important.
Ioli Kalavrezou, Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Byzantine Art History in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University, led an object-handling session at Dumbarton Oaks in a field trip for her seminar “The Art of the Court of Constantinople.” Pictured here, she and her students examine the middle panel from the museum’s Triptych with the Virgin Hodegetria and Saints.
Landscape Architecture Magazine’s November 2015 issue has warm words for the new book Women, Modernity, and Landscape Architecture, coedited by Sonja Dümpelmann, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and John Beardsley, Director of Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks. Caroline Constant writes in her review: “Sonja Dümpelmann and John Beardsley are to be commended for bringing an abundance of lesser-known landscape production to our attention. This book should inspire further scholarly scrutiny of . . . (to repeat their phrase) ‘the place of women in the emergence of modernist landscape architecture.’”
Jeanne Haffner, Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow in Urban Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks
In 1872, Friedrich Engels, coauthor with Karl Marx of The Communist Manifesto, made a contribution to ongoing debates about the lack of adequate and affordable housing for working-class individuals in industrial areas across Europe. In a series of articles titled “The Housing Question,” Engels positioned the problem as a “symptom of the industrial revolution” and the mode of production driving it: industrial capitalism, a version of capitalism marked by the decline of handicraft and the rise of factories and mechanized division of labor. The familiar sight of workers and their families living in squalor, Engels suggested, could only be addressed through a comprehensive social revolution. “[Only] by the abolition of the capitalist mode of production,” he wrote, “is the solution of the housing question made possible.”
What relevance does this statement have within the crisis of housing affordability in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, especially after the events surrounding the depression of 2008? This was the subject of a recent international housing forum in Berlin called the Wohnungsfrage Academy (“Housing Question”), which took place at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt from October 22nd to 28th.
The event, which intended to raise questions rather than propose concrete solutions, included artists, activists, architects, and journalists as well as scholars from various academic disciplines. Far from a conventional academic conference, it included exhibitions, including House Housing: An Untimely History of Architecture and Real Estate in Twenty-Nine Episodes by the Buell Center at Columbia University and two commissioned works by artist Amie Siegel, as well as presentations, lectures, intensive workshops on topics such as refugee housing and the right to the city, and guided excursions to some of the most important experiments in mass housing in twentieth-century Berlin.
Wohnungsfrage provided a model for the benefits of presenting nuanced research in novel and more publicly accessible ways. It also demonstrated the centrality of housing to the field of urban landscape studies, which is the focus of the new Mellon Initiative at Dumbarton Oaks. The question of housing, of course, always goes beyond the house itself; it includes the social, cultural, economic, environmental, and political ideas that shape our built and natural environments and, in turn, influence the ways we perceive the spaces in which we live and work. It is impossible, then, to consider housing without also considering landscape. The two must be thought of together.
A Conversation with Chinese Garden History Scholar Alison Hardie
Anatole Tchikine: You’ve had a very interesting career, one that involved a lot of trips and had a business component, before you became an academic. You really have done a lot in China and have seen different aspects of the country. I just wanted to ask you, how did it all come together, and how did you get interested not just in China but, specifically, in Chinese gardens?
Alison Hardie: Well, it’s quite a long story. I suppose it started, in a way—although I wasn’t conscious of this when I was young—with my uncle (my mother’s eldest brother), who was a missionary in China in the thirties. While he was there, he met an elderly Scottish medical missionary who was about to retire and had just lost his wife in an epidemic in Peking. My uncle wrote to his mother, who by then had long been a widow in Edinburgh, saying “Poor Doctor Livingstone-Learmonth has lost his wife and is retiring back to Edinburgh. Please invite him to tea just to cheer him up.” So my grandmother did that, and eventually she and Livingstone-Learmonth got married. So that was a happy ending. The result of that was that there were a lot of things he had acquired in China that were in my grandmother’s and subsequently my aunt’s apartment in Edinburgh.
Also, because my parents had worked in Kuala Lumpur, they had acquired a number of Chinese porcelain bowls and things. In fact, I was christened out of one of the porcelain bowls, so I always think that was probably what did it. Anyway, I grew up with a lot of Chinese things around me, though I wasn’t particularly conscious of any influence from that. And then when I was a teenager, my best friend at school gave me a book of Arthur Waley’s translations of Chinese poems, and I thought, “Oh, these are wonderful, I wish I could read the originals,” little realizing what a tall order that would be. So, nothing really happened. I went on to Oxford and read classics, and then when I was halfway through that—well, it was Greek history, really—I just couldn’t get my head around the fourth century BCE.
AT: Because half of your family is classicists, so you also had that in your blood pretty much.
AH: Yes, it’s in the Hardie DNA and the Morton DNA. The missionary uncle was a classicist as well. Somehow it came over me that I had to do Chinese. I can’t explain it. So I ended up—I did think of switching from classics to Chinese, but it would have meant taking an extra year at Oxford, and at that point I couldn’t face it. Anyway, I didn’t. So, instead—and this does sound a bit mad—I went and did another undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, so I have two undergraduate degrees, which is really quite pointless. But at least they let me do it in three years instead of four, because I already had a degree, so I didn’t have to take any outside subjects. In those days, you couldn’t go to China as part of the undergraduate degree. Nowadays, they all have a year abroad or a semester abroad. But we didn’t have that. So I got a British Council scholarship to go for a postgraduate year of language study in Peking, at the Language Institute, which was interesting but we didn’t really learn a lot, and the authorities did their best to keep us from actually talking to any Chinese people.
AT: So which period are we talking about?
AH: This was 1979–80. It was really just very shortly after the Cultural Revolution, so times were hard. Living conditions were pretty Spartan. When I came towards the end of that year, I wanted to stay in China and see more of the country and learn more about the culture, but I did not want to go on being a student. I had done a little bit of part-time secretarial work for the Scottish Hong Kong–based trading company Jardine Matheson, which had just opened a Peking office. They offered me a full-time job as a kind of glorified dog’s body in the Peking office. I took it, thinking I would stay for a year and then go back to the UK and get a proper job.
In the end, it was so interesting, and I learned so much that I stayed there for three years. So it was four years altogether, counting the time I was a student in Peking. And then, Jardines posted me back to London for a couple of years and then to Hong Kong. While I was in Hong Kong, I was still working on China trade, and I changed companies after a bit and worked for various other companies. So I traveled a lot in the mainland. I got to know China pretty well, at least contemporary, modern China.
While I was in London, I wanted to keep up my classical Chinese, because my modern Chinese had become quite good, but I wasn’t getting enough practice on the classical. And Maggie Keswick, who had written the standard English introduction to the Chinese gardens, was the daughter of the former chairman, or tai-pan, of Jardines. She mentioned that no one had ever translated the seventeenth-century Chinese garden design manual, which was Ji Cheng’s Yuanye. In the sort of mad way that one does when one is young, I thought, “I’ll do that. How hard can it be?” I wasn’t all that busy while I was in London because the Hong Kong office had kind of forgotten I was there, so they didn’t send me very much to do. So I started doing this. Maggie helped with getting a publisher and so on. In fact, she was extremely supportive and helpful to the whole thing. I couldn’t possibly have done it without her. So that’s what happened. I started on this project with absolutely no knowledge of Chinese gardens at all or much about the Ming dynasty. So I had to learn a lot. The more I learned, the more interested I got.
Once the book was published—by that time, I was in Hong Kong, and people asked me to do things like review books for the Far Eastern Economic Review in the days when it had proper book reviews. I wrote things about Chinese art for a couple of Hong Kong magazines and things like that. That was kind of extracurricular, to take my mind off dreary, you know, airline catering joint ventures and selling flow meters and things like that.
AT: So when and how did you make the decision to become an academic? Because one could be a scholar without being an academic.
AH: Well, I kind of drifted into it. My whole life, my whole career, has been approached as drifting into fun things. So, what happened? I was working by that time—we’re at about 1995 or 1996 now—I was working for a small trading company, which clearly wasn’t making a lot of money, and I was quite an expensive member of staff. I could see the writing on the wall, as far as my job was concerned, and the lease on my apartment was coming up for renewal. My mother was getting quite elderly, and I was an only child. I thought, “Well, I had better get back to the UK.” Also, I was getting pretty fed up of business. I’d never been interested in business as such. I was interested in it as a way of learning about China. I felt I had been doing an awful lot of the same thing over and over again and traveling a lot, and it was getting quite boring. I wasn’t traveling to nice places, generally. I was traveling to Daqing Oilfield, that kind of thing. I decided that I would go back to the UK and do a PhD on Chinese gardens. So I did. I did that at Sussex University with Craig Clunas.
AT: So you did a PhD on Chinese gardens bypassing art history.
AH: I was in an art history department.
AT: But you didn’t have an art history degree, so you were coming from a different perspective.
AH: Yes, but I’d done Greek vase painting and Greek archaeology as special subjects in Classics. So I did have a little bit of art historical training. And I was also approaching the Chinese gardens from literary evidence as well. Really, my training is as a literature person.
AT: And that’s very important for the understanding of Chinese gardens.
AH: Chinese gardens are very literary. So, that’s the story, really. When I came to the end of my PhD, I was again, really, very fortunate that the British government had put quite a lot of money into Chinese Studies at that point, so there were a number of jobs that opened up. And with my business experience, that was quite a good selling point, so I was able to get an academic job. As I said, it was all fairly random.
AT: But you were working in the Department of Chinese Studies.
AH: Yes. The School of Modern Languages.
AT: Was it odd to be a garden specialist in a department like that?
AH: Yes, in the sense that I was almost never able to teach anything about my specialty. I had to teach general stuff: modern history, a kind of first-year survey course, practical translation from Chinese to English. I even taught interpreting, which was a bit of a nightmare. I mean, I had done a lot of interpreting, but I had no idea how to teach it. I was never really teaching anything that I knew anything about, but that’s typical of Chinese departments in the UK. Students are not at a very high level, so you have to teach general stuff. Unless your topic is something like modern Chinese history or contemporary Chinese culture, you never really get to teach your specialty.
AT: This was the time when you came in contact with Dumbarton Oaks. Do you remember the first time you heard about Dumbarton Oaks, the first time you visited?
AH: Yes. That’s when I was still doing my PhD, actually.
AT: Really? That’s quite early on.
AH: Yes. It was 1999, because I just recently found a letter that I had written to my mother at that time describing my first visit to Dumbarton Oaks. This was when Stan Fung and Michel Conan had organized a workshop to discuss this project that Stan had thought of, to create this vast anthology of not just Chinese texts about gardens, but critical essays and incredibly detailed annotations of the texts.
AT: Which became, eventually, your Dumbarton Oaks project. You drifted into that too, didn’t you?
AH: Yes, I did. I think Stan must have gotten in touch with me, or I with him, through Craig Clunas, I suppose. But because I had done quite a number of translations of Chinese texts in connection with my own PhD research—because I needed to translate the texts in order to make sure I’d understood them—I had these translations kind of lying around, so I was one of the original contributors to the project.
AT: So the Dumbarton Oaks connection and the Chinese anthology pretty much began at the same time.
AH: Yes, yes, for me, totally. That was how I got to know Richard Strassberg, who was also a contributor to the anthology. Then, when he was coming up to the end of his period as a Senior Fellow in Garden and Landscape [Studies], I think he put my name forward as a substitute for him, to keep the chain in Chinese Studies going. I became a Senior Fellow in 2010.
AT: Can you say a few words about the anthology itself? It’s something that started almost twenty years ago now. How did this anthology evolve? What was the original purpose of building it? Will the resulting anthology—which hopefully you are going to finish during your stay here—have the same objectives, or have they changed as time has gone on?
AH: I think the original motivation for Stan to try to develop this project was because he was doing a lot of teaching on Chinese architectural and garden history. But his students were mostly people who couldn’t read Chinese. I think he wanted texts to be available in English—key texts about gardens, about garden culture—and also for increasing numbers of scholars or the general public who were interested in China and were becoming more knowledgeable about China, but, again, have no way to read a lot of the important texts. Or else, texts had been published but only in very obscure scholarly publications, and they weren’t accessible to the general public or to students. So I think that was the original idea, to put together an anthology of things that would be helpful for people to read in order to understand Chinese garden culture.
AT: So, from the outset it was going to be a Dumbarton Oaks project—or was it not?
AH: I’m not sure if it was. I think the original funding for the first meeting actually came from the Graham Foundation. Stan got a good grant from them. I think the NEH might have stumped up some money at some point, as well. I think initially Dumbarton Oaks was just kind of a handy location for everyone to meet. And then, I think the second meeting, if I recall correctly, was at Harvard under the aegis of Peter Bol, who had become involved in the project. And then I think there was a third meeting back at Dumbarton Oaks, as far as I remember. By that point, Dumbarton Oaks or Harvard were kind of putting up the money to support it.
I think it was after the third meeting that Stan became very busy with other work and didn’t have the time, really, to keep the project on track. Some of the contributors were perhaps not as timely as the others in delivering their materials. The whole thing kind of fell into abeyance for a bit. And then, after John [Beardsley] was appointed as the Director of Garden and Landscape [Studies], he revived it. I think Richard Strassberg was very supportive of that as well. They brought in Duncan Campbell, who had been one of the original contributors, to edit it. I think he did a terrific job in cutting it down to a manageable size because the original concept was that every chapter would have a full-length scholarly article introducing it. And then there was going to be an incredibly complicated system of dual footnotes and endnotes.
AT: So what, exactly, is the content of the anthology? They are texts, various texts that concern gardens. But what were the criteria for selecting them?
AH: Well, I’m not sure that criteria were ever explicitly defined. I mean, there are certain canonical texts that you couldn’t possibly leave out, and if you’re a Chinese garden person, you just kind of know what those are. It’s a slightly unquestioned canon. But I think that’s the point, really. The point is to make the canon available to people who can’t read Chinese, so the fact that we’re not being edgy and creative is not actually a problem. I think it’s the right thing to do. So, the thing is divided into nine chapters. The first chapter covers early texts, up to about the 6th century, at the latest. There are a number of texts that are just so fundamental to the Chinese garden tradition that you couldn’t possibly leave them out: poetry by Tao Yuanming and so on, and some very early stuff from the Confucian classics that deal with issues that are at least related to gardens or are often referred to in later garden texts. And then it goes through, chronologically, from the Tang dynasty, but there are also thematic chapters—after the Tang dynasty, there’s one on rocks and flora, which kind of fits quite nicely into the time period, although it also includes much later stuff. Then there’s the Song dynasty, then there’s another thematic chapter on one specific site, which has a very long history with a lot of texts about it. Then there’s the Ming dynasty, and a thematic chapter on imaginary gardens from, well basically, Ming and Qing. Then private gardens in the Qing dynasty, and then the final chapter is called “Landscapes of Power,” and that’s basically about the West Lake in Hangzhou and the Qing Imperial Gardens. So that’s the basic structure. I now see what I hadn’t really so clearly seen before: that it’s alternating chronological and thematic chapters.
AT: Most of the texts would be descriptions of real gardens; and, clearly, you have this whole phenomenon of imaginary gardens. But how well do those real gardens survive?
AH: Well, basically, they don’t. So the texts, and in some cases, illustrations, are all that’s left. There are no gardens that are in their present form earlier than perhaps the very late nineteenth century, the very late Qing dynasty.
AT: And you feature Ming and Qing imaginary gardens—what is all that about? Why imagined gardens? Was that a literary genre?
AH: I’m not sure it was quite as prominent as an actual genre.
AT: But a widespread phenomenon.
AH: Yes, quite a widespread phenomenon. I mean, the garden record, the description of a garden, was definitely a genre. And then you might have a poorer scholar who couldn’t actually afford a garden, but he could still write a description of his imaginary garden, the ideal garden that he wished he could have had.
AT: So what role did gardens play in Chinese life and culture? It seems to be of enormous importance, so that if you don’t have a garden, you have to imagine one.
AH: They became a very important part of the self-image and self-representation of the scholar-official class, or the literati, who of course dominated literary production. They wrote and published immense screeds of stuff, so we think of their culture as the culture of China. Of course, it wasn’t. It was the dominant culture, but there was a whole folk culture, which gets overlooked. And it would be nice to know a lot more about how ordinary people conceptualized their land, whether it was agriculture or a little patch of land or a courtyard near a farmhouse where you might grow a fruit tree or two or some herbs. Of course, we know almost nothing about the culture of the nonliterate population of premodern China.
AT: And was there a uniform idea of a Chinese garden? We like talking about “Italian” gardens and “French” gardens, which are pretty much late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century constructs, and we talk about the “Chinese” garden in the same way. But if you actually go to China, would you have regional dialects and different variations? And does the anthology reflect that to any extent?
AH: Well, you can certainly see regional differences if you look at present-day traditional gardens. You can see that gardens in the south, in Guangzhou for example, clearly, since at least the nineteenth century if not earlier, have been influenced by Western architecture, particularly Portuguese, from Macau and so on, so they have a different style. They’ve always been regarded by the mainstream as kind of being a bit provincial. But they have their own idiom. They are provincial—they’re in a different province—but they have their own tradition and their own style, and that’s true of gardens in other areas as well.
AT: Was there any difference in the use of plants, for example? Were there any plants that were more specific to certain regions, or were gardens pretty much uniform in this respect?
AH: No, there clearly are differences. You know, China is so vast and the climate varies so much that there are regional differences. But things like bamboo and pine trees and so on can survive in a fairly wide range of climatic conditions. Obviously, you get different types of bamboo in the south and the north—in the north they have to be hardy and survive very severe frost, whereas in the south you get these enormous bamboos, which grow so well in that warm, humid climate—but the kind of vegetation that you sort of have to have, like bamboo, is pretty constant, I would say, throughout China. Obviously there are regional differences. The Cantonese style, for example, requires a lot of pot plants arranged in geometric rows in a way that would look very odd in Jiangnan or in the north.
AT: Is that because of Cantonese exposure to other cultures, perhaps? Or is that native local tendency?
AH: Well, it’s hard to say. It seems to be perhaps connected with the fact that there was a very strong tradition of commercial gardening in Canton, like the Fati Gardens in the south of Canton City, which were open to Europeans when they were allowed to stay in Canton. Those were commercial gardens, which sold plants in pots. They were arranged in the way that you’d arrange plants in a garden center, which is essentially what it was. So that seems, perhaps, to have been duplicated in private gardens or in temple gardens. But that is something that’s quite distinctive of Cantonese garden style.
AT: And now that the anthology is pretty much coming, finally, to the point of publication in 2018, do you think the audience is still going to be what was envisaged by Stan fifteen years ago? Or is it going to broaden its audience beyond students?
AH: Yes, I hope it will be a broader audience. I certainly think it will be an extremely useful resource for teaching. I think it will also be a useful resource for a lot of the Chinese students and scholars who are writing in English about Chinese gardens now because they won’t have to struggle with translating these Chinese texts themselves. There will be a standard translation available for them that they can quote, so that will save them a lot of headaches.
AT: Do you think it will also result in a more nuanced conception of the Chinese garden?
AH: Well, I hope so. I think it will give people a much better understanding of the whole cultural background or cultural context in which the Chinese garden, or Chinese gardens, developed.
AT: And perhaps its evolution as well, so it won’t be seen as a static concept.
AH: Hopefully it will be of interest to people who are landscape architects and historians, and people who don’t read Chinese but would like to know more about Chinese gardens. As China becomes more economically dominant, people want to know more about it, so that can’t be bad. It will be a resource that people can turn to. So I think it was very visionary of Stan to think of this in 1999. I’m sure that now, or in a couple years’ time, the audience for it will be much broader and bigger than could have been imagined at that time.
AT: And we are also delighted and grateful that you have agreed to bring this project to completion. It’s a great pleasure to have you here, because as a Senior Fellow you only come twice a year.
AH: I mean, it’s great for me to be here. It’s a fantastic scholarly community, and I’m working on such a fun project.
AT: Thank you, Alison.
James N. Carder (December 2015)
Although the inauguration of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection occurred during the first three days of November 1940, the legal transfer was realized only on November 29. At that time, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss deeded Harvard University sixteen and a quarter acres, including the house, the library and museum buildings, and their contents. At the same time, they gave the U.S. National Park and Planning Commission twenty-seven acres to create what they asked to be called Dumbarton Oaks Park. News of the transfers was withheld for a few days but appeared in many major newspapers on December 1, and these clippings, preserved in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives, offer interesting details of the event. The Washington Post, for example, quoted Mildred Bliss:
We are glad that [the National Capital Park and Planning Commission] could accede to our desire that it be named Dumbarton Oaks Park. It is now our earnest hope that this park in the center of Washington, on which we have endeavored to preserve the trees and the beauty of the land, may be cared for with the same solicitude that we have always had for it.
Our wish that this land shall not be used otherwise than as a pedestrian park is with a view to the preservation of its present rural character, which gives it so great a charm.
We are content in conveying this land in the thought that the natural beauty of a small tract is being preserved and made freely available to the people of the District of Columbia.
The Post also reported that William Royall Tyler, Mildred Bliss’s godson and the future second Director of Dumbarton Oaks, was one of the witnesses to the land transfers.
The Times Herald valued the gifts at $1,315,000, although asserting that the “actual value of the donation was stated to be considerably higher.” The Times Herald reported the value of the gift to Harvard as $885,000 and the gift to the Park and Planning Commission as $430,000.
The Boston Globe quoted Harvard’s president, James B. Conant:
The gift serves as a reminder that in these days of trial and stress there falls on our colleges and universities an obligation to maintain steadfastly their positions as custodians of the cultural treasures of our civilization. This duty falls particularly on American colleges and universities existing in one of the last free lands of the world.
The Bliss gift is an important contribution to the resources of the nation in the field of art and humanities.
President Conant’s first official action on behalf of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection was to invite Henri Focillon to be the first Research Fellow in Residence at Dumbarton Oaks, from December 1, 1940, to December 1, 1941, at a salary of $5,000 (see post). He next appointed an Administrative Board with Fogg Art Museum Associate Director Paul J. Sachs as its chairman. The Board members were Edward Waldo Forbes, Fogg Art Museum Director; Charles Holt Taylor, Harvard Professor of Medieval History; Elmer Drew Merrill, Harvard Professor of Botany and Administrator of Botanical Collections; Wilhelm Koehler, Harvard Professor of Medieval Art History and Dumbarton Oaks Senior Fellow in Charge of Research (see post); and George Chase, Dean of Harvard University, as an ex-officio member. They had their first meeting on December 20 at Sachs’s Cambridge home, Shady Hill. (By 1942, this Administrative Board would be divided and enlarged into both an Administrative Committee and a Board of Scholars.) By the end of the month, the Administrative Board had approved a proposed annual budget of $173,253.24 for Dumbarton Oaks’ first fiscal year, 1941.
On December 3, 1940, a few days after the legal transfers of Dumbarton Oaks and its land, Robert Bliss wrote the following to his wife, Mildred:
At Dumbarton Oaks you have created something very beautiful, very special both in the garden and inside the house. It will remain a monument to your taste, knowledge and understanding—a delight to all who visit it and a great resource to those who are fortunate enough to work there. And it is all due to you—to your inspiration, insight and foresight and may you reap the satisfaction and comfort you deserve.
Love in a Dream
For those who already know the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, the volume needs little introduction; for those who are unaware, the mere title may bewilder. The intimidating Greek neologism means “The Strife of Love in the Dream of Poliphilus,” and it has served for centuries as a kind of password among bibliophiles, especially those dedicated to incunabula, the earliest printed books manufactured before the year 1500.
There are three interrelated characteristics that have made the Hypnerotomachia notorious over the centuries. The first is its visual beauty; the book is one of the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius’s finest works, combining text (set in an instantly legible Roman typeface) with intricate and often enigmatic woodcut illustrations that far surpassed any previously printed book. The second is its language: a disconcerting and highly artificial blend of Italian and Latin with occasional borrowings from other languages, like a Renaissance precursor to the dream language of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. The third is its content; on the surface, the Hypnerotomachia appears to be a kind of romance, yet one oddly preoccupied with lengthy descriptions of architecture and ancient rites. It describes the torments and adventures of its protagonist, Poliphilus—shunned by his lover Polia—as he progresses through a bizarre dream world in pursuit of his beloved. Soon after its anonymous publication in 1499, the Hypnerotomachia acquired a reputation for being not just entertainment, but also an elaborate allegory masking knowledge—antique, humanistic, and alchemical—for a learned audience. (In addition to the rivers of ink spilled by entranced scholars over the centuries, the work has even inspired one suspense novel, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason’s The Rule of Four.
The first edition of the Hypnerotomachia apparently failed to sell well, and there are only around thirty copies still extant. But Manutius’s sons printed a second edition in 1545 with the same typesetting and woodcuts. A copy now resides in the Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection. “I’d always wanted a Hypnerotomachia!” explained Librarian Linda Lott. “But I knew a first edition was impossible to get.” In the early 2000s, however, Lott found a copy of the second edition in good shape and without any cuts from censors. (Many copies of the Hypnerotomachia had their most ribald illustrations removed at some point, so a fully intact copy of either of the earliest two editions is precious.) The library acquired it soon after.
Lott then found a second book crucial to understanding the reception and diffusion of the work in Renaissance Europe: an early French translation of the Hypnerotomachia under the title Le tableau des riches inventions couvertes du voile des feintes amoureuses, executed by a polymath by the name of François Béroalde de Verville and published in Paris in 1600. The two books together comprise a powerful pair for making sense of the Hypnerotomachia’s place in the history of ideas. The process of translating the esoteric language of the dream narrative required a dynamic interpretation of what the work means, opening a window onto how the work was being read. In addition, illustrations had to be recut and type had to be reset, the process of which implicated graphic culture in the act of translation and made the translated book potentially as rich an object of study as the original.
Such careful assessment of the course of the Hypnerotomachia’s influence on French culture is a significant part of the research conducted at Dumbarton Oaks this year by 2015–16 Garden and Landscape Studies Fellow Tom Conley, Abbott Lawrence Lowell Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University. “I’m working on a composite study of space and garden [as] unclassifiable materials right at the cusp of that moment when historians of science like Michel Foucault and François Jacob distinguish between an ‘age of analogy’ and an ‘age of representation,’” Conley explained. “So I’m looking at all of these things right around 1600, when there seems to be a kind of epistemological shift—using materials that aren’t in the established literary canon, but that are nevertheless incredibly rich from a literary point of view and also have a great practical presence.”
Béroalde de Verville worked at this junction to “resuscitate” the work by “bringing gardens and space into an alchemical edition of the Songe de Poliphile,” Conley explained as he pointed to a number of alchemical symbols lurking in an illustration of the translation. “He turns it into something else. . . . The French really crystallizes the Italian, cleans it—and then it turns into more than just a novel, but a book that one consults for the construction of décor de figures in architecture. All those hieroglyphs in the book—they appear on panels, on spiral staircases, on pilasters in Italianized French architecture.” By examining how a text like the Hypnerotomachia expands into fields well beyond “literature” as it is normally construed, Conley hopes to “extend our sense of what social literary space was [like] around 1600.”
Conley consulted Harvard’s other 1499 first edition of the Hypnerotomachia in Houghton Library as well. Houghton also has a second-edition copy (once owned by John Ruskin), several editions of the 1546 French translation edited by Jean Martin, and the 1592 first English edition, translated by Robert Dallington. The Dumbarton Oaks Library also holds a 1998 reproduction of the 1499 edition, and a significant amount of scholarship on the work. Some of the French and English translations have been digitized (and can be viewed online through the HOLLIS catalog), but the two early Manutius editions with the original text are only available for viewing in person. The effort is worthwhile, though; the books are works of art, and the quality of the impression and typesetting, as well as the sophistication of the graphic interplay of image and text, sets this relative newcomer to the collection among the top rank of masterpieces held at Dumbarton Oaks.
Deirdre Moore, 2015–17 Tyler Fellow in Garden and Landscape Studies, has spent the last month working in the archives of the Royal Society in London, building on work she has already completed in Mexico. Here is her research report:
I started the first year of my Tyler Fellowship at the beginning of this fall. This month, I have been exploring eighteenth-century documents in the archives of the Royal Society. In particular, I’ve been studying an image sent to Hans Sloane in 1730 that depicts indigenous methods of breeding cochineal in Oaxaca, Mexico. It has been helpful to compare these reports with my previous work of growing cochineal in the same area of Mexico. One of the main focuses of my research is on the indigenous understandings of the reproductive cycle of cochineal. At the Royal Society, I’ve been able to locate notarized documents relating to the generation and life cycle of cochineal that were created in Oaxaca nearly three hundred years ago. It has been great to have a chance to track down documents that ended up on the other side of the Atlantic. Thank you to Dumbarton Oaks for making this research opportunity possible.
Pre-Columbian Studies celebrated yet another successful fall symposium with maximum attendance on the theme of “Smoke, Flames, and the Human Body in Mesoamerican Ritual Practice.” Organized by Vera Tiesler and Andrew Scherer and held on October 9th and 10th, the symposium embraced diverse approaches to the uses and multilayered meanings of fire and the body in ancient, historic, and contemporary Mesoamerica.
The disciplinary interests represented at the proceedings ranged across archaeology, bioarchaeology, epigraphy, iconography, ethnohistory, and ethnography. The papers catalyzed fruitful discussions during and long after the formal symposium sessions. A concluding discussion was skillfully led by Senior Fellow John Verano, who offered reflections and observations from an Andean perspective leavened by his own special brand of humor to round out the weekend’s scholarly exchanges.
“While celebrating seventy-five years of supporting humanities and arts, we are studying the state of our fields trifocally: how did they look on the eve of the Second World War, what is their current condition, and what will their future prospects be?” Director Jan Ziolkowski asked the crowd assembled in the Music Room for the seventy-fifth anniversary celebration at Dumbarton Oaks. In remarks that introduced the celebratory concert and reception, Ziolkowski reflected on the decision by Robert Woods Bliss and Mildred Barnes Bliss to gift Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard as an institution that would preserve and further study the humanities. In 1940, the year they transferred the home and gardens, the Blisses were reacting to the “epoch of disintegration and dislocation” they witnessed during the Second World War. Seventy-five years later, in an era with myriad problems of its own, Ziolkowski spoke of the sustained growth of Dumbarton Oaks and the continued necessity of its contributions to the study of the humanities.
“If ever what is dimly perceptible on the horizon argued against vocationalizing and narrowing education, it would be now. If ever we needed to ensure that learners were exposed to different modes of expression and interpretation, and to art and scripture from outside their own heritages, it would be now. And so here we stand, those of us in the humanities and arts, ready as ever to contribute, eager as ever to engage with new publics in new media by interrogating afresh old and new beauty alike,” Ziolkowski said.
The “new beauty” to which Ziolkowski referred was the centerpiece of Dumbarton Oaks’ seventy-fifth anniversary celebration: a concert featuring the world premiere of a commission from composer and musician Caroline Shaw, who was Dumbarton Oaks’ inaugural Early-Career Musician in 2014–15. Shaw’s new piece, titled Plan & Elevation (The Grounds of Dumbarton Oaks), was performed by the Dover Quartet; Shaw also joined the quartet as second violist for a rendition of Mozart’s Viola Quintet No. 2 in C Minor, K. 406, in the second half of the program. (The Quartet will return to Dumbarton Oaks on March 6 and 7, 2016, as part of our Friends of Music Concert Series.)
Before her new work’s performance, Shaw explained briefly that the title Plan & Elevation carries a double meaning. It refers not just to architects’ drawings of structures from above and on each side, but also to how Fellows at Dumbarton Oaks, in Shaw’s words, often “have a plan that develops and changes over their time here in ways they didn’t expect.” Plan & Elevation takes inspiration from the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens and consists of five movements, each named after one of the “rooms” of the gardens: the Ellipse, the Cutting Garden, the Herbaceous Border, the Orangery, and the Beech Tree (Shaw’s personal favorite).
Read Ziolkowski's full remarks here.
Jan Ziolkowski’s Welcome to a Concert by the Dover Quartet, with the World Premiere of Caroline Shaw’s Plan & Elevation (The Grounds of Dumbarton Oaks)
Before the treat of music, you must endure, in the form of my palaver, the “trick” part of “trick or treat!” My name is Jan Ziolkowski. As director of Dumbarton Oaks I take profound pleasure and feel deep appreciation in welcoming you. Today we celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of this institution. Yesterday was Halloween, and in many Christian calendars today is All Saints’ Day. But the holiday has not determined why our own joyful solemnity takes place on November 1st. Instead, the explanation is that on this very date in 1940 Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss hosted a black-tie reception to mark two interconnected events. One was the transfer of Dumbarton Oaks from the Blisses to Harvard. The other was the foundation of a research study program in Byzantine art and culture.
Even (or do I mean especially?) in D.C., not everyone likes formal socializing. In many circles the eighteenth-century Englishman Horace Walpole is best known for the Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto. Around our horticultural institution he is more famous for having revived the Gothic architectural style in Strawberry Hill House, with its marvelous gardens. In a letter, Walpole once observed: “They say there is no English word for ennui: I think you may translate it most literally by what is called ‘entertaining people’ and ‘doing the honors’: that is, you sit an hour with somebody you don’t know, and don’t care for, talk about the wind and the weather, and ask a thousand foolish questions.” To make this evening sheer joy, let’s swear a no-wind and no-weather pact. To render at least the men more comfortable, we have dispensed with the black-tie gear required in 1940. Finally, we will furnish the treat of music.
I relish get-togethers like this one. At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, cultural institutions and universities specialize in transmitting all sorts of things across time. Thanks to libraries and teaching, we store and build knowledge and memory. We safeguard money in endowments and objects in museums. Perhaps most importantly, we perpetuate passions through decades and even centuries. As far as names go, our donors laid out with great rigor their causes but forwent any naming opportunity. Yet, even if only in photographic portraits, Roberts Woods Bliss and Mildred Barnes Bliss will oversee us at the post-concert reception. I exhort you to come: the food, view, and company will be glorious.
In envisaging this session, my team hoped for just such a gathering of old and new friends as we now together form. Among us I see cultural attachés, directors and staff of museums, institutes, and associations, close allies from throughout the region who have helped us in multiple capacities, including legal and architectural, our friendliest Friends of Music, and faculty members from D.C.–area universities. Finally, we have Fellows from this year’s cohort and staff from Dumbarton Oaks. I cannot imagine a nicer or more appropriate group with which to fete a special day.
To everyone I am grateful for coming, but I wish to express special appreciation to cherished colleagues in teaching and administration from Harvard who have made the trek: my dean, Diana Sorensen; her associate dean, Mathilda van Es; our HR consultant, Andrea Kelton-Harris; the Classics departmental administrator, Teresa Wu; the retired project manager for our new building, Peter Riley; and colleagues John Duffy, Ioli Kalavrezou, and Michael Puett. It means the world to have you here, only the latest token of your backing.
If I feel blessed in what can be the painful posture of having my feet planted over four hundred miles apart, it is from having the greatest imaginable collaborators at both ends of the straddle. In nine years I have flown nearly a thousand flights on what has morphed into American Airlines, mostly hops back and forth between two remarkable regions. Last winter I understood Raymond Chandler’s dictum: “I guess God made Boston on a wet Sunday.” But never once have I felt like agreeing with Fred Allen, when he wrote to Groucho Marx: “I have just returned from Boston. It is the only thing to do if you find yourself up there.”
Today is about here, the here of Dumbarton Oaks. By the intent of the donors this is an elegantly but strangely complex place. For that reason, I should clarify what we are. Our establishment serves and preserves the humanities. As gardeners, we cultivate cultures we are charged to protect and propagate through such disciplines as art history, history, and philology. At the same time, we endeavor to benefit international and national communities, Washington, and Harvard. It can become a tricky balancing act, but it is unfailingly a rewarding one.
Owing to the attractions of the library and collections, Dumbarton Oaks attracts residential Fellows and other scholars in Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and Garden and Landscape Studies. It sponsors lectures and conferences, summer schools, and other such events. It publishes major books. In a delicate equilibrium, our institution opens to the public our museum and formal gardens. Last but not least, it presents regular monthly concerts. In all these ambitions we aspire to be what one idolatrous visitor described as “God’s temple, and a tribute to beauty.”
Our anniversary theme is “Preserving the Past, Inspiring the Future.” On our website under that heading you can find three sentences: “The United States was struggling to emerge from a prolonged economic downturn. Europe had to contend with extremist groups that made the future deeply worrisome. The humanities were the last thing on the minds of most people.” Those three dozen words relate not to any recent year, but rather to 1940–41. That was the first year in which Dumbarton Oaks operated under the aegis of Harvard University, after its gift by the donors. While celebrating seventy-five years of supporting humanities and arts, we are studying the state of our fields trifocally: how did they look on the eve of the Second World War, what is their current condition, and what will their future prospects be?
Above the wording of the theme on the webpage appears the inscription outside our library, excerpted from a letter written by Mildred Bliss to the director of the Fogg Art Museum, Paul Sachs: “If ever the humanities were necessary . . . it is in this epoch of disintegration and dislocation.” For all my preoccupation about what is happening right now around the globe, her perspective was far more apocalyptic than I feel either in general or today in particular. The world is far from problem-free, but reflect upon 1940. Militarily, it witnessed the Battle of Britain and Dunkirk Evacuation. In civilian suffering it saw the opening of Auschwitz and the massacre of Katyn Forest. In the holocaust to come, it brought the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto. Offsetting those nightmares we can point on the cultural side to the discovery of the cave paintings at Lascaux, the debut of Bugs Bunny, and the opening of the first McDonald’s.
What did our donors believe? From the vantage point of one-half decade later, Robert Bliss wrote in the forty-fifth anniversary report of Harvard’s class of 1900: “As the depression increased and Nazism gained control of Germany we knew war was a certainty and that inevitably this country would be sucked into the cataclysm. So we faced the future squarely and decided to transfer Dumbarton Oaks to the University in 1940. To ease the wrench, we assured each other . . . that to give up our home at our own time to assure the long range realization of our plan was the way of wisdom. Thus we are enjoying the transformation of Dumbarton Oaks into an institution—the only one of its particular sort in existence.” Bliss’s words still hold true.
What accounts for my own good cheer? Why do I consider our shared optimism anything but Pollyannish? Our calendar year of festivities began in January with a Harvard College Wintersession course on “Culture and Power: Philanthropy, Art, and Diplomacy in America.” The last fellowship year also saw our first composer/musician in residence, courtesy of our beautiful new Fellowship House on Wisconsin Avenue.
This evening we take delight in the spirit of fellowship in arts and humanities that the donors intended. For three-quarters of a century Harvard has husbanded their gift wisely. Lately the university has contributed ever more vibrantly through human resources. Faculty in the Arts and Humanities have participated in our intellectual life. Equally important, graduate and undergraduate students have come for classes, internships, fellowships, postbaccalaureate positions, and postdocs.
So if ever things appear to fall apart elsewhere, we should consider how lucky we are by constrast. In 1790, Edmund Burke lamented the closure of an era with a tone that seems very familiar from the more defeatist of humanists nowadays. He wrote: “the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of England is extinguished forever.” If we substitute the U.S. for England, this jeremiad might apply. But recall the context: Burke was bemoaning the unchivalrous treatment of none other than Marie Antoinette. He was not a true prophet, or at least not an accurate one.
If ten years ago the Eeyores of our set obsessed with the ascendancy of economics, the wheel of fortune, economic and otherwise, has turned. Now the talk is all of STEM. STEM too will pass. Many of us will remember an oft-quoted exchange in “The Graduate,” a film made so long ago that by today’s standards it belongs with the Dead Sea Scrolls. In it Mr. McGuire says “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.” Benjamin (better known as Dustin Hoffman) responds “Yes, sir.” Mr. McGuire: “Are you listening?” Benjamin: “Yes, I am.” Mr. McGuire: “Plastics.”
Benjamin gets the last word by asking “Exactly how do you mean?” We are entitled to pose the same question. Before disavowing positive effects of liberal arts educations, we need to recall two realities. First, no one has performed well in predicting what jobs will be hot a decade hence. Second, careers require more and not less adaptiveness, flexibility, and change—all qualities enhanced by broad exposure to different ways of thinking. If ever what is dimly perceptible on the horizon argued against vocationalizing and narrowing education, it would be now. If ever we needed to ensure that learners were exposed to different modes of expression and interpretation, and to art and scripture from outside their own heritages, it would be now. And so here we stand, those of us in the humanities and arts, ready as ever to contribute, eager as ever to engage with new publics in new media by interrogating afresh old and new beauty alike.
As a medievalist, I am as fond of monophony as anyone. But who does not also adore polyphony? For the harmonic interdependence we call counterpoint, we need countervoices. We are those voices, relatively few but unquestionably strong. All the better that we sound our chorus here in the nation’s capital. Paul Sachs declared in 1932: “The importance of the fine arts in the life of a nation is abundantly testified by historic fact.” All cultural institutions represented here this evening can contribute much by reminding the public, including politicians and policy-makers, of that history. We have the duty to advance knowledge through research while simultaneously to demonstrate, in ever more engaging ways and ever more disparate media, our relevance and (maybe most meaningfully) our appeal.
Between 1940 and now the museum world, diplomats, journalists, and broader circles of Washington have become ever better acquainted with us at Dumbarton Oaks, and we with them. Let us now enjoy together, thinking back on seven and a half decades, and looking forward to seven and a half more (and then some!) to come.
The institution is poised for even stronger advances. After improving residential housing, and after increasing library study areas with a room of extra carrels and desk space, we have positioned ourselves to benefit more people than ever. We are gearing up to achieve greater outreach, so as to share knowledge and beauty of which we are fortunate stewards, and so that we may perpetuate fields we embody. But we will leave behind nothing that has made this institution the special place it has been. We sit here in the McKim, Mead, and White–designed Music Room, with the 1926 grand piano signed by Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Beyond spaces and Steinways, we are blessed in staff: I will not list everyone to whom I owe gratitude this evening, but I will at least thank department heads for their presence.
Taken together, all the buildings and grounds, objects, and people function as an integrated whole to support our mission. The basis for this totality was love between two people, for a place they made, and for a cause, which can be put most simply as humanities and arts.
A large mosaic that graces the floor of the foyer at the entrance depicts a woman flourishing a flower. It proclaims Apólausis, meaning enjoyment. The great historian Peter Brown defines this concept as “the shared enjoyment of the good things in life . . . a precious collective ritual, a celebration of the will to survive.” This time and place defy facile comparison with Antioch in late antiquity, but let us heed the mosaic by enjoying and celebrating together.
I will now hush up so that we may experience the collective elation of the Dover Quartet with Caroline Shaw. Like arts and humanities, almost by definition the concert mixes new and old. Like Dumbarton Oaks as a totality, it channels the past through the present into the future. For starters the Quartet will play the world premiere of Caroline Shaw’s Dumbarton Oaks commission Plan and Elevation (The Grounds of Dumbarton Oaks). After a five-minute intermission (stay close!), we will hear Mozart’s Viola Quintet in C Minor. I cannot tell how grateful I am to Caroline Shaw and the Dover Quartet for performing, to all of you for being in the Music Room to hear, and to the Blisses and my university for making it all imaginable.
The 2015–16 Fellows and their families gathered the night before Halloween at the residence of Director Jan Ziolkowski for a festive evening of food, costumes, and pumpkin carving. Jack-o’-lanterns included several ghosts and a rabbit, as well as baby-size pumpkins!
Seventy-Five Years Ago this Month: The Inauguration of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection
James N. Carder (November 2015)
Seventy-five years ago, on November 1, 1940, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss hosted a black-tie reception in the recently completed pavilions housing the Byzantine library and collection at Dumbarton Oaks. The reception celebrated the promised transfer of the property from the Blisses to Harvard University as well as the inception of a research study program in Byzantine art and culture. The following day the Washington Post reported:
One of the most distinguished gatherings in Washington this season had a preview of an unusual library and art collection last night given by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss in their Georgetown home. The occasion was the inauguration of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, housed in two recently completed buildings adjoining the Bliss residence. Scores of notables from out of town and a sizable section of social and official Washington were on hand to enjoy the event.
The library, on view for the first time last night, contains well over 16,000 volumes, and the collection of objects represents thirty years of interest in art on the part of Mr. and Mrs. Bliss.
After tomorrow the museum will be open to the public on Mondays and Thursdays—under certain conditions. Application for admission must be made to the curator of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection at 1703 Thirty-second Street, Northwest.
In follow-up articles in the Washington Post and Boston Herald on November 3rd, excerpts from Robert Bliss’s inaugural remarks were offered:
"Dumbarton Oaks is now ready to increase its contribution to the intellectual life of the country," Mr. Bliss said in making public the disposition of the collection and library. "This end can best be accomplished by its being guided and administered by Harvard University. In this way," Mr. Bliss added, "we shall be able to enjoy the full realization of our hopes during our lifetimes."
The owner of the collection said they chose to emphasize the medieval and Byzantine period "not merely because of the beauty and interest of its many-sided art, but essentially because the forces then forming the world of men are important for the study and understanding of our own era."
The Blisses’ friend, the art critic Royal Cortissoz, reported more of Robert Bliss’s remarks in an article he wrote for the New York Herald Tribune, published on November 10th:
"It is not always," Mr. Bliss said, "that dreams become realities. There was need in this country, we thought, of a quiet place where advanced students and scholars could withdraw, the one to mellow and develop, the other to write the result of a life’s study. Dumbarton Oaks could become such a place. We could make the beginning and give it the nucleus of a research library and study collection."
Copies of newspaper articles pertaining to the 1940 inauguration of Dumbarton Oaks are retained in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives, as well as the text of an unattributed poem written for the opening of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.
75 Years Ago this Month: An Administrative Structure for the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection
James N. Carder (October 2015)
On October 28, 1940, a couple of days before the official inauguration of Dumbarton Oaks, the rare book librarian Ethel B. Clark sent Mildred Bliss a “Chart of Personnel” for the administration of the nascent institution. The chart is preserved in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives. In an accompanying letter, she explained: “Here is a chart, embodying, I hope, the ideas of yesterday.”
At the top of the chart was John S. Thacher (1904–82), labeled “Administrator,” although his official title would be “Executive Officer.” Thacher was an art historian who had received his baccalaureate degree from Yale University in 1927 and his doctorate in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, in 1936. That same year, he began work at Harvard’s Fogg Museum, where his title was Keeper of Paintings, although he served primarily as an auxiliary to director Frederick B. Robinson in the director’s office. At Dumbarton Oaks, Thacher became director in 1945, a position he held until his retirement in 1969.
As indicated on the personnel chart, directly reporting to Thacher were Clark, Keeper of Rare Books and Manuscripts; Barbara Foster Sessions, Librarian; and James Bryce, Superintendent of Gardens and Grounds.
Clark (1878–1964) had cataloged the Blisses’ personal library before the transfer of Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard University in 1940. After the transfer, she served as Keeper of Rare Books and Manuscripts from 1940 until 1944, when she reached what was then Harvard’s mandatory retirement age. Between 1940 and 1942, Clark also supervised the Dumbarton Oaks bindery, located at what would become the Fellows Building (known today as the Guest House), where she assisted in the binding of 388 volumes for the research library. On the “Chart of Personnel,” reporting to Clark were a bookbinder, a sewer, a letterer, and a book cleaner. Clark also published occasional essays on the collection, such as Chronicles of Froissart at Dumbarton Oaks, in 1947.
The librarian, Sessions (1899–1980), had majored in English at Smith College, where she met the composer Roger Sessions (1896–1985). They were married in 1920 and eventually lived in the Villino Cordignano on Bernard Berenson’s Florentine estate, Villa I Tatti. She assisted Berenson there as librarian and researcher. The Sessionses divorced in 1936, the year the Blisses hired her to help augment the Byzantine library at Dumbarton Oaks in preparation for the opening of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. She remained at Dumbarton Oaks until 1946. Reporting to Sessions were Berta Segall, who supervised the art collections; Margaret Rathbone, cataloger and research librarian; Elizabeth Dow and Louisa Bellinger, researchers for the Census of Byzantine and Early Christian Objects in North American Collections; Nathalie Scheffer, librarian in charge of the Slavic language division; and Elizabeth Bland, secretary to the librarian and acting registrar.
Bryce was in charge of the Gardens and Grounds, and had served as head gardener for the Blisses since 1936. He served as superintendent until 1948. During the Second World War, Bryce led other staff members in giving Victory Garden demonstrations to local groups interested in growing their own food. The Dumbarton Oaks kitchen garden became the focus of this initiative, but the Blisses also provided a half-acre at Massachusetts Avenue and Whitehaven Street for community Victory Garden plots.
At the sides of the “Chart of Personnel” are the words “Inspiration” and “Anima,” with arrows pointing to the founders, “Mr. & Mrs. Bliss.”
Dumbarton Oaks Director Jan Ziolkowski has been elected to the Academia Europaea, Humanities Class: Literary and Theatrical Studies.
The American Journal of Physical Anthropology praised the Dumbarton Oaks–published volume Embattled Bodies, Embattled Places: War in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and the Andes for “paving the way forward for more integrated, interregional studies of war in the future.” Read the full review here.
The Friends of Music 2015–16 concert series began on October 4 and 5 with the New York–based ensemble The Knights performing a program of works related to the First World War. Read the Washington Post’s review of the concert here.
The “Useful Art-Book of Gardening”
As part of an occasional series, we’ll be highlighting individual rare books from the Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection that have been digitized so that anyone, anywhere in the world, can read them at any time through the Harvard University Library Page Delivery Service. You can find a list of all the online rare books from Dumbarton Oaks at this link.
Hans Puechfeldner, Nützliches Khünstbüech der Gartnereij (probably 1593)
At roughly the same time that Shakespeare wrote his plays in the England of Elizabeth I, the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (ruled 1576–1612) in Prague drew a constellation of artists and intellectuals of the highest caliber. Despite Rudolf’s relative haplessness as a politician and ruler, he had exquisite taste and a curious mind: he carved out a home for the astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, for masters of occult arts, for the great Mannerist painters Bartholomeus Spranger and Giuseppe Arcimboldo. He also amassed an enormous Kunstkammer—a collection of art, curiosities, treasures, and rarities that included amulets, scientific devices, exotic weapons, more than three thousand paintings (including works of Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Albrecht Dürer, and Hans Holbein the Younger), unicorns’ horns, mandrakes, and many, many books.
Rudolf inherited a library of at least twenty-six hundred volumes, and commissioned more over the course of his thirty-six years on the throne. Many of those books were opulent creations—one-of-a-kind manuscripts full of illustrations and bound with the richest of materials. One of these is a book now in the Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection: the only copy of the Nützliches Khünstbüech der Gartnereij, or “Useful Art-Book of Gardening,” authored and drawn in pen and bistre by Hans Puechfeldner, the emperor’s gardener. (The entire book, scanned at a high quality, can be viewed at this link.)
The book consists principally of hand-drawn plans for garden features of great complexity that wend their way around ornate buildings rendered in fine detail. (There are also three pages of dedicatory text addressed to Rudolf II, and several overhead views of arrangements of trees.) An air of fantasy hovers around Puechfeldner’s wilder imaginings: palaces stretch indefinitely in the background, and lacy patterns of grass and hedge iterate opulently outward, longer than practicality might suggest. To the best of our knowledge, none of the plans were ever realized, and it would require a massive fortune to build the scenes suggested. None of the diagrams are marked with notes that would point in the direction of implementation, such as a fixed scale or suggestions for kinds of trees. The bulk of the drawings are done from a one-point perspective that suggests we are looking over these imaginary gardens from a very tall tower, and shading is minimal and careful, as if the view were from the middle of the day.
Yet the book is titled Nützliches, “useful.” Erik de Jong, former Garden and Landscape Studies Fellow and Senior Fellow (2001–8), has done extensive research on the manuscript and writes that Puechfeldner’s book is best seen as an attempt to draw the practices of the influential Brussels gardener Hans Vredeman de Vries eastward into Central Europe. Indeed, for decades the book’s catalog entry had attributed authorship to Vredeman. But de Jong matched it with two siblings, also by Puechfeldner, in Vienna libraries—thus clarifying the use of “HP” and “Hans Puec” monograms in the drawings, and supported by an entry for “drei garten buchs” by Puechfeldner in the court accounts for 1597. Puechfeldner copies Vredeman in using perspective in his designs; Vredeman in turn had gotten the technique from Italy. De Jong argues that the curious abundance of Puechfeldner’s sketches, which at first “may strike us as superfluous,” makes sense as an attempt to demonstrate proficiency in applying Vredeman’s theories, which are themselves an adaptation of classical architectural theory to garden design. Hence, “nützliches”: the sketches themselves are an application of concept. (De Jong was involved in the restoration of the gardens at the Paleis Het Loo in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, which gives some sense of what Puechfeldner’s ornaments like Puechfeldner’s might look like in practice.)
In addition to the Puechfeldner volume, the Rare Book Collection includes four treatises of Vredeman, the earliest of which dates to 1583. Vredeman’s work also influenced a number of other Northern European garden designers and theorists roughly contemporary with Puechfeldner whose books can be found at Dumbarton Oaks, including the Dutch artist Crispijn de Passe’s 1614 Hortus floridus and German architect Joseph Furttenbach’s 1640 Architectura recreationis.