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Naming Stones

Dumbarton Oaks acquires 18th-century Japanese garden scroll

Posted on Nov 29, 2017 04:04 PM by Bailey Trela |
Naming Stones

A little more than sixteen feet in length, Kyogoku dono sanseki no zu (The Kyogoku Residence Garden Scroll) is a rare 18th-century Japanese garden design scroll containing thirteen ink paintings of rock gardens. The simple, detached landscapes are painted in subdued shades of green, grey, yellow, and brown, and are heavily annotated with gardening advice and the names of particular structures.

More specifically, the scroll depicts tsukiyama, hill gardens, a style that places carefully chosen stones in a tended environment of sand, water, and unassuming vegetation. The name, which refers to the artificial hills often featured in these gardens, was at one point nearly synonymous with landscape gardening itself in Japan: the title of Tsukiyama teizouden, a 1735 manual on the craft written by the garden designer Kitamura Enkin, takes “tsukiyama” and “garden” to mean roughly the same thing.

In conjunction with Enkin’s text, the Kyogoku scroll sheds light on Japanese garden design culture during the Edo period (1603–1868). Tsukiyama teizouden ranges widely in its subject matter, reworking and synthesizing preexisting manuals while offering information on, among other subjects, the training of pine trees and goldfish husbandry. Its notes on tea gardens reflect a rising taste for the relatively simple style, unsurprising given the increasing number of commoners, like merchants and farmers, who found themselves able to afford personal gardens during the Edo period.

The Kyogoku scroll acts a bit as an instruction manual, offering clear depictions of particular gardens while inserting practical advice that alternates between the precise and the colloquial. The scroll’s image of an “east-facing garden,” for instance, advises that a waterfall should be no taller than sixty centimeters, while text for the “north-facing garden,” abundantly stippled with rocks, reminds the peruser not to overfill the space with stones.

Ultimately, though, the stones make the scene. Carefully selected for their size, shape, and color, and sometimes laboriously transported from distant points of origin, the stones in these illuminated gardens have clearly taken up the bulk of the painter’s care. While the rounded hills and wispy flora present few particular traits, the stones are clearly delineated and present an astonishing variety of types. The importance placed on the choice and arrangement of stones in the garden is exemplified by the practice of naming the stones.

The names given to the stones in the Kyogoku scroll fit the patterns of stone-naming in the broader tradition of Japanese gardening. Beneath, above, and to the sides of the stones, the names explain their function, their position in the landscape, their shape, their resemblance to other objects, or the particular deity whose attributes they embody. In the scroll’s first garden, for instance, the characters announce the “water god rock,” the “morningstar rock,” and the “rock that came down the stream.”

The gardens illustrated in the scroll typify traditional categories of hill garden, for instance, the wide river style, which emphasizes a low waterfall and the use of worn river boulders, and the mountain torrent style, in which stones are carefully placed at the waterfall’s base and throughout the stream to create a rushing, cascading effect.

Despite its age, the Kyogoku scroll has been remarkably well preserved. Other than some minor worming towards its end, the scroll is undamaged, its scenes complete, their muted tones perhaps even gaining from the aged paper of their ground.


Please visit our library pages for information about how to access materials in our Rare Book Collection.

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The Treatises of Melchior Guilandino

Dumbarton Oaks acquires sixteenth-century botanical texts

Posted on Aug 15, 2017 04:07 PM by Bailey Trela |
The Treatises of Melchior Guilandino

In the middle of the sixteenth century, Melchior Guilandino journeyed east. As he made his way into Palestine, Syria, and Egypt, he hoped to discover new botanical specimens and, perhaps, to disprove, merely by his absence, the rumors back home that had begun to cast his relationship with the eminent anatomist Gabriele Falloppio in a scurrilous light.

Whether it was love or duty that drew Falloppio—already famous for his pioneering studies of the female reproductive system, among other advancements—to pay the price of two hundred scudi for the freedom of Guilandino when the herbalist was captured by pirates off the coast of Africa is difficult to say. Regardless, back in Europe, they were never parted again; their remains lie next to each other in the General’s Cloister of the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua.

It was after returning to Europe that Guilandino, previously an itinerant Italian herbalist, wrote two botanical treatises, copies of which were recently acquired by Dumbarton Oaks: On Pliny’s Natural History and Botanical Observations

On Pliny’s Natural History analyzes the Roman naturalist’s encyclopedic tome. Its careful examination of chapters and passages from Pliny that focus on medicinal plants and herbs parallels contemporary attempts to revitalize the materia medica. Other scholars, like Guilandino’s occasional rival Pietro Mattioli, had diagnosed the ignorance and disorder typifying sixteenth-century medical practice, especially as it related to botanical cures; many palliative plants mentioned in writers like Pliny and Dioscorides were no longer identifiable, or were sometimes being called by the names of entirely different plants, leading to pharmaceutical concoctions that were placebos at best, and poisonous at worst.

The two volumes also exhibit the influence of Guilandino’s disastrous though ultimately productive trip abroad, which was itself an example of the rising tide of botanical expeditions. On Pliny’s Natural History features a discussion of papyrus and Egyptian flora, which Guilandino had personally encountered, while Botanical Observations collects the observations Guilandino made during his voyage. Taking the form of a series of letters written to fellow naturalists (five of which find Guilandino commenting rather acerbically on the work of Mattioli), Botanical Observations delves richly into botanical nomenclature, providing deep insight into the intricacies of naming that occupied naturalists in the sixteenth century.

The title pages of the two volumes, which are otherwise unillustrated, feature woodcut devices that, though simple, are striking in their clarity and precision. Above the scrawled signature of the French scholar Étienne Baluz (1630–1718), from whose library Dumbarton Oaks’s copy of On Pliny’s Natural History comes, a bear rampant is set within a simple escutcheon that is itself encircled by an oval motif. The title page of Botanical Observations bears an image of the goddess Athena, elaborately garbed, grasping an olive tree by its branch.

In 1561, four years after the publication of Botanical Observations, Guilandino was appointed prefect of the botanical garden at Padua. Falloppio died the very next year, sending Guilandino into deep despair. Nevertheless, his commitment to his work continued until the end of his own life, for a 1591 catalog of the garden, compiled two years after Guilandino’s death, lists nearly twelve hundred plants in its living collection.

In addition to his celebrated reign over the botanical garden of Padua, Guilandino was appointed to a lectureship at the University of Padua—a remarkable rise for the herbalist who had grown up Melchior Wieland in poor circumstances in Königsberg.

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The Records of Life

Dumbarton Oaks acquires colonial Latin American manuscripts

Posted on Jul 18, 2017 03:46 PM by Bailey Trela |
The Records of Life

We’re excited to announce the acquisition of two richly documentary colonial Latin American manuscripts. Featuring vivid illustrations and painstakingly detailed maps, the manuscripts contain enough material to satisfy a bevy of research interests and pursuits.

Relación de gobierno del Excmo. Sor. Virrey del Perú Frey D. Francisco Gil de Tobada y Lemus is a work whose extensive title does a good job of encapsulating its reach. Composed by Francisco Gil de Taboada y Lemos, the governor of the Viceroyalty of Peru from 1790 to 1796, as a detailed report on the operations of the colony, the text was meant to provide the viceroy’s successor, the Irish-born Spanish colonial administrator Ambrosio O’Higgins, with a guidebook of the region, in the hope of ensuring a fluid transition.

While such transitional reports were not uncommon, the sheer length of this piece and its comprehensive detail of colonial life makes the Relación de gobierno a sui generis acquisition. In it, carefully sketched charts abound, and while customary tabulations of population, natural resources, and tax collecting fill up much of the page space, Taboada y Lemos’s other inclusions offer insight into a naturally curious personality bent on fully educating his successor.

In addition to copious notes on the organization of the hacienda system and a discussion of the operation of the Inquisition in the Viceroyalty, for instance, Taboada y Lemos includes descriptions of Lima and of the commerce, mineral wealth, and architecture of Peru. Two well-preserved folding leaves reveal colorful fine-lined illustrations of the twelve indigenous ethnic groups of Peru as they were understood by the colonial power at the time. Variously cross-legged, bow-wielding, or pointing, garbed in light cloth or tunics or capacious furs, the detailed figures show differences chosen by the eye of the colonizer—a thin waist tightly bound in woven material; broad, muscular shoulders; pale white skin—standing out.

These images, executed by an unknown hand, are kept company by two fold-out maps at the end of the text showing the interior of Peru and the west coast of South America—depicted, curiously, horizontally. Drawn in lines faded, blurred, and expanded with age, the maps yet offer up the familiar names of mountain ranges, rivers, and cities.

The second manuscript is an eighteenth-century ejecutoria, a certificate that legally accredits the nobility of a family or individual. A petition of sorts, the ejecutoria is concerned with the title and coat of arms granted by Prince Philip II of Spain in a 1545 cédula (order or decree) to Felipe Tupac Inca Yupanqui and Gonzalo Uchu Hualpa as grandsons of the Inca emperor Tupac Inca Yupanqui. The provenance of this particular ejecutoria, however, is unknown.

In 1800, María Joaquina Inca, claiming descent from the royal families of Mexico and Peru, submitted a series of documents to the Council of the Indies, among them a similar ejecutoria now held in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville. It was common practice to create a copy when drafting these application packages in case anything should happen to the documents sent to court. Thus, it’s possible that the ejecutoria acquired by Dumbarton Oaks is the personal copy of Maria Joaquina Inca, or one that belonged to her family. Support for this theory comes from the illustrations in the ejecutoria, which remain bound to the text, meaning the manuscript was likely never held in a state archive, where images were often removed and catalogued separately.

The images in question are full-page illustrations. Two facing illustrations depict the coat of arms granted to the descendants of Gonzalo Uchu Hualpa and Felipe Tupac Inca Yupanqui. Crowns and helmets and castles blare out from a majestic red ground decorated with light blue vine-like tracery; a golden mask dangles from a chain formed by twelve pairs of crowned snakes. Notably, Inca symbols (crimson tassels, for example) are mingled with Spanish (the helmet, the castle, the crown).

A full-length portrait of Tupac Inca Yupanqui, flanked by two figures who are likely his descendants Gonzalo Uchu Hualpa and Felipe Tupac Inca Yupanqui, occupies a full page. Standing in a mountainous landscape, Yupanqui is garbed in a regal tunic (uncu), a headdress (mascaypacha) and a red cloak (llakota), and covered in gold—gold kneepads, headdress, earmuffs, and weapons.

The ejecutoria is a particularly valuable acquisition because it contains far more than document-collections of the sort typically do. Whereas many collections simply comprise the cédula describing the coat of arms to be granted once proof of lineage is provided, the Dumbarton Oaks ejecutoria contains the surrounding necessary documents—in short, it is claim and proof. Accordingly, scattered throughout the manuscript are carefully constructed stamps and signatures so elaborate they sometimes seem absentmindedly scrawled curlicues.

Both “new” manuscripts offer up an abundance of information that still needs much sifting. Francisco Gil de Taboada y Lemos’s report, oddly prolix and encompassing, provides a stunning firsthand account of the particularities of governing a colonial state, while the ejecutoria—thanks to the differences from its official counterpart, and its relation to previous applications—is ripe for comparative research and studies of the evolution of self-representation.

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Grammars of the Former World

Rare Book Collection acquires Andreas Sennert’s seventeenth-century lexicographical studies

Posted on May 17, 2017 11:15 AM by Bailey Trela |
Grammars of the Former World

Most of the pages are uniform. The Latin text unfolds in a carefully sculpted type, serifs jutting or drooping from the aged ink. On certain pages, though, a sudden order breaks out: charts align the flowing forms of various languages, and the text transcends, for a moment, its didactic purpose.

Dumbarton Oaks is pleased to announce the acquisition of a compendium of pioneering works on Semitic languages penned, primarily, by the seventeenth-century librarian, theologian, and philologist Andreas Sennert. The book, which contains four philological studies by Sennert and one by his mentor, Martin Trost, encapsulates a unique scholarly moment: the burgeoning European interest, post-Reformation, in Hebrew and Jewish studies, and the new awareness of the interplay between theology and philology that subsequently arose.

Sennert’s works, bundled together in the acquisition, include the Chaldaismus & Syriasmus of 1651, focusing on Chaldean and Syriac, and the Arabismus, a 1658 study of Arabic. When the Rabbinismus, which concerns itself with the usage of Hebrew in Talmudic commentaries, was published in 1666, the printed sheets from the first editions of Sennert’s two previous studies were rebound with new preliminaries, meaning that the 1666 editions included in the recent acquisition are, in fact, first editions masquerading as later reprintings.

Rounding out the compendium are Martin Trost’s Grammatica Ebraea, first published in 1627, and Sennert’s Schediasmus, a sort of philological salmagundi surveying a wide number of languages, including Samaritan, Persian, Ethiopic, Coptic, and Armenian.

In one sense, the acquisition reflects the passions of an individual. Sennert (1606–1689), the son of a physician, studied at a number of prominent universities, including those at Leipzig, Jena, and Leiden, where, working under the Dutch mathematician Jacob Golius, he first learned the Arabic language. Settling down to a long administrative and academic career at the University of Wittenberg, Sennert continuously advocated for the study of Semitic languages. Driven by a desire to open up the writings of the Arab world to the academic minds of Europe, including philosophers and theologians, Sennert developed a large collection of Arabic and rabbinic literature while serving as university librarian.

At the same time, Sennert’s treatises are indicative of larger trends in European philological studies, including the growing academic interest in Hebrew studies from the fifteenth century on. Within this field, Sennert is often seen as one of the progenitors of the comparative approach to philology—an approach exemplified by the recently acquired volume. And yet, while Sennert is often described as having liberated philological studies from the religious and theological concerns that had hobbled the discipline, his texts bear witness to a curious theoretical disjunction.

“There was actually a debate that came out of the medieval period, and that’s picked up in Sennert, that tried to determine what the first language spoken by humans was—the language of Adam and Eve,” explains John Zaleski, a Tyler fellow at Dumbarton Oaks. “What’s fascinating is to see Sennert’s critical and philological comparisons between these languages—what we would consider a more scientific approach to linguistics—juxtaposed with this section on the Adamic language, which we wouldn’t really consider critical philology at all.”

The volumes also correspond to developments in typography. The elegant arabesques of four of the volume’s works were provided by Hiob Wilhelm Fincelius, whose printing offices stocked Arabic, Syriac, Greek, and Hebrew types—a relative rarity at the time. By the time Sennert’s Schediasmus was printed in 1681 by the university press at Wittenberg, the need for Ethiopic and Samaritan types was being filled by the famed Leipzig typefounder Anton Janson, who had for years been offering a uniquely wide array of oriental types on the open market.

For all that the studies contain, the physical book is surprisingly small. In fact, at first glance, it seems exactly like a modern textbook, with a relatively unadorned cover and spine and pages that, barring the bends of the various scripts, offer instruction in a visually spare layout. Here and there, however, elegant woodcut tailpieces stain the page, along with designs derived from cast fleurons—calling back to an age when the history of language was treated with mystical reverence.

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City Water/City Life

Upcoming exhibit showcases the history of waterfronts in urban design

Posted on Apr 10, 2017 03:34 PM by Bailey Trela |
City Water/City Life

There’s a peculiar vibrancy associated with water in the city. Images of strollers on Florence’s lungarni, or riverside paths, seem to encapsulate the practice of restorative leisure, while the canals of Amsterdam, photographed or painstakingly penciled in, gesture at a hybrid state between coziness and mobility. City water—channeled, controlled, incorporated—seems to posit a different way of being: life, lived harmoniously, on the edge of two elements.

City Water/City Life, which opens on April 25, will use contemporary photographs as well as prints and images from Dumbarton Oaks’ Rare Book Collection to trace the development of water elements in three historic cities—Paris, Amsterdam, and Florence—and their interaction with social and cultural milieus. The exhibit was curated by Humanities Fellow John Wang and advised by GLS Director John Beardsley and Assistant Director Anatole Tchikine.

Planning for the exhibit began back in September, as Wang, working closely with Dumbarton Oaks’ rare book librarian Linda Lott, set about acquainting himself with the Rare Book Collection: “The first step was just figuring out what was there, what you might consider for an exhibition, what types of themes might naturally emerge.” Eventually, a watery motif began to evolve: “We had these wonderful pictures of Amsterdam, Florence, Paris, all of which were capital cities at one point, and all of which had, and still have, prominent water elements—so that became its own way of looking at urban landscape.”

“Today we tend to think of water as an ecological problem—we might be concerned about rising sea levels, for instance—but in these three cases waterfront developments are deeply tied in with social and economic developments,” Wang explains. “One goal of the exhibit is to highlight how urban waters can change and influence, in multifaceted ways, the planning of a city.”

Paris, represented in the exhibit by two separate volumes, is an excellent case study in the influence of urban waters on city design. The first volume in the exhibit, featuring works by the printmaker Gabriel Perelle and his sons, Adam and Nicolas, dates from the mid-seventeenth century; the second, by Jacques Rigaud, is from the eighteenth century. “You end up with this really nice one-century comparison,” Wang explains. “In the earlier volume, the river is crowded with barges and these signs of commercial activity, whereas in the second volume, the river becomes cleaner, more picturesque—a shift begins to emerge, from Paris as a commercial center to a cultural center.”

Images featured in the exhibit range from the idyllic to the technical. Giuseppe Zocchi’s engravings of eighteenth-century Florence, for instance, depict a period when the Arno began to take on a more prominent role in civic life. “There are a lot of scenes of promenading along the river, aristocrats in their carriages, and so on,” Wang says. “They’re beautiful prints in their own right, but they’re also executed in this strict documentary style—they’re artistic and historical at the same time.” In contrast, one of the volumes focusing on Amsterdam—a compendium of prints by different engravers—examines the construction of the city’s famous dikes and the process of land reclamation from the angle of hydraulic engineering.

In examining the uses of water through time, the exhibit leaps forward three centuries by incorporating contemporary photographs. Sometimes, the interactions of water and culture have led to devastation. A picture of Florence, for instance, captures the destruction wrought by the 1966 flooding of the Arno, which irreparably damaged millions of artworks and rare books.

At other times, water carries its culture backward, returning to old solutions. Along the canals of Amsterdam, history curiously recurs: “For Amsterdam, we have an image of contemporary houseboats, and there’s a whole story behind that,” Wang explains. “In the postwar period, during a housing shortage, barges started to be converted into dwellings, as a sort of emergency solution. Now, that same process is looked on as an innovative solution to the problem the city still has of housing its growing population.”

The combination of historical and contemporary perspectives is aimed at bolstering analysis of this notoriously mutable element. In line with this objective, the exhibit has been designed in conjunction with two upcoming events. The D.C. Water Atlas, an online map of the D.C. watershed created by Dumbarton Oaks Tyler Fellow John Davis, is expected to launch this summer, while the 2017 Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, “Landscape of Pre-Industrial Cities,” which will take place May 5–6, reflects on many of the same themes.

Between the exhibit, project, and symposium, the subject of city water—no less protean than beautiful—will certainly get its due.

Image: An engraving of activity on the Arno by Giuseppe Zocchi, from a volume in the Rare Book Room.

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A New Old View

Dumbarton Oaks Acquires Seventeenth-Century Monument Guide

Posted on Feb 07, 2017 01:55 PM by Anatole Tchikine |
A New Old View

When we think of the Grand Tour, it is the English rather than the Dutch who first come to mind. Yet, seventeenth-century Holland (or, more correctly, the United Provinces) was a rich mercantile empire with trading outposts as far the island of Kyushu in Japan and colonial settlements and plantations, such as Surinam, in South America, India, and Africa. A community of enterprising travelers and cartographers, the Dutch engaged in the exploration of the New World just as they were rediscovering the legacy of classical antiquity. They were thus the principal audience for the Theatrum Civitatum et Admirandorum Italiae, whose first three volumes, originally published in 1663, have recently been acquired by Dumbarton Oaks. Usually translated as the “Town Book of Italy,” this project was a brainchild of the leading Amsterdam mapmaker Johannes Blaeu (1599–1673), who ran one of the city’s largest printing establishments. Published in Latin, which was still the lingua franca at the time, it was intended as a cultural and historical guide as well as a cartographic atlas for the educated elite, curious about the past and present of one of the heartlands of European civilization.

Blaeu, Rome Map This highly detailed color map shows noteworthy monuments of ancient Rome.

Blaeu’s original idea was an ambitious publication that would have comprised a total of ten volumes, five of which were supposed to deal with the monuments of ancient Rome, organized into specific types, and another five with the main attractions of various states of seventeenth-century Italy. Nine years after the appearance of the three initial volumes, however, his main workshop was destroyed by fire, with much of the material ready for publication irredeemably lost. Blaeu’s heirs continued his work, adding in 1683 two more volumes on Piedmont and Savoy, but were unable to complete the full series. Yet, even in this incomplete form, the “Town Book of Italy” was a success, as attested by subsequent editions produced by other Amsterdam publishers well into the eighteenth century.

Blaeu, Roma Nova The volume on the Papal States features this highly detailed depiction of seventeenth-century Rome.

The three luxurious volumes at Dumbarton Oaks, bound in the original Dutch vellum with gilt borders, feature over a hundred engraved plates (mostly maps and views), some of which are hand-colored. The first volume, dealing with the cities of the Papal States, is a rich visual and textual introduction to their main monuments and landmarks, beginning with a brief outline of the pivotal historical events, the leading local families, and other important characters, followed by the survey of the principal buildings. Some illustrations also represent major gardens, such as those of Frascati and Tivoli, as well as sacred and devotional sites located in the immediate vicinity.

Blaeu, Tivoli This print, from the first volume on the Papal States, depicts the waterfalls of Tivoli. Though most of the books’ text is in Latin, this illustration is titled in Italian.

The second volume, on the monuments of ancient Rome, includes sections on circuses, theaters, and amphitheaters; its important focus, however, is on Egyptian obelisks with meticulously recorded hieroglyphic inscriptions, a source of scholarly fascination throughout the seventeenth century. A special highlight is an account of the moving of the Vatican Obelisk in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the greatest engineering feats of the sixteenth century, carried out in 1586 by the papal architect Domenico Fontana. For Blaeu and his readers, the glory of the ancient Rome, therefore, was always interlaced with the achievements of the modern city.

Blaeu, Obelisk A four-leaf-wide pull-out section illustrates the moving of the Vatican Obelisk.

Finally, the third volume, which deals with Naples and Sicily, pays much attention to the natural attractions of these regions, especially the unique geology and vegetation in the areas of volcanic activity, such as Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields.

Blaeu, Naples The books feature beautiful typography, most in early modern Latin, as here: “Neapolis [modern-day Naples] is a highly celebrated city, situated on the coast of the sea and at the bases of the loveliest of hills—no wonder, then, that even in ancient times there were those who lived there.”

Blaeu, Vesuvius The workshop somewhat fancifully depicted the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, with peasants fleeing in the foreground.

For Dumbarton Oaks, the acquisition of these three fascinating volumes coincides with the increasing focus of its Garden and Landscape Studies program on urban landscape studies, supported by a generous grant by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. By putting this rare and incredibly rich resource at the service of scholarship, we hope to promote a deeper understanding of the intricate and dynamic relationships that exist between the natural environment and urban form, putting them in a broad historical perspective.

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Dumbarton Oaks at the Rio Olympics

Margaret Mee’s Painting Included in the Opening Ceremony

Posted on Aug 04, 2016 03:45 PM by Lain Wilson |
Dumbarton Oaks at the Rio Olympics

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.

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Librarian, Bookbinder, Poet, Patriot: Ethel Burnet Clark

Librarian, Bookbinder, Poet, Patriot: Ethel Burnet Clark

Librarian, Bookbinder, Poet, Patriot: Ethel Burnet Clark

Ethel Burnet Clark, Dumbarton Oaks’ first rare book librarian.

A devoted bibliophile and longtime friend of the Blisses, Ethel Burnet Clark helped Mildred Barnes Bliss catalog 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 from 1940 until 1944, when she reached mandatory retirement age. Highly knowledgeable about the rare holdings of Dumbarton Oaks, Clark published occasional essays on the collection, such as Chronicles of Froissart at Dumbarton Oaks, in 1947. Particularly close to Mildred Bliss, Clark wrote to her frequently and enthusiastically, often compiling extensive accounts of events at Dumbarton Oaks.

While the Blisses were in California, after they transferred Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard in 1940, Clark helped to generate the Underworld Courier, a short and sometimes tongue-in-cheek summary of events taking place at Dumbarton Oaks (see post). Mildred Bliss commented encouragingly on both the “versatile informativeness” and “feather-pated folly” that characterized the publication. In a letter written to Mildred Bliss, Clark expressed how fond she had become of writing for the publication, noting that after it ceased, she had been “lonely” without it, as her “heart had been kept warm and young” as a result of the “pleasant exercise of weaving” pieces for it.

Mildred Robert Woods Bliss in the Dumbarton Oaks Founders Room with the rare book collection, March 2, 1956 (Sunday Star) Mildred Robert Woods Bliss in the Dumbarton Oaks Founders Room with the Rare Book Collection, March 2, 1956 (Sunday Star)

Clark was also fond of creative writing, and she frequently wrote short segments of poetic prose to Mildred Bliss. An excerpt from one such work reads: “Life has bestowed many gifts upon me. Health with its companion resiliency; delight in the sky, the earth and the sea; unaccountable joy in life itself that surprises and sometimes shocks me by flashing its light when I ought to be sad.” Clark was especially moved by the Blisses donation of Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard University. She wrote about the gift: “All this time, I have marveled, saying ‘It can’t be possible. No human being, certainly not two, could so consistently, so unswervingly follow an ideal.’” She compared the Blisses’ creation of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection to a “road built with wisdom, vision and will” for “pilgrims” aspiring to reach the “mountain top.”

During her time working for the Blisses, Clark contributed much to the growth of what came to be called the Founders Room collection. Working with all forms of media, including books, manuscripts, letters, photographs, and even 78 rpm vinyl records, Clark was responsible for cataloging a significant portion of both the Blisses’ personal holdings and Mildred Bliss’ Garden Library Rare Book Collection. Beyond cataloging, she took responsibility for the acquisition of new rare books and miscellaneous other library matters. As such, she frequently interacted with book dealers, collectors, and authors to obtain new works. She also dealt with what she called the “exciting challenges” relating to the functioning of the library. Some of these challenges included rebinding library books, devising and mounting bookplates, and “sensibly and efficiently” organizing the location of books in the rooms at Dumbarton Oaks. She assisted in the binding of 388 volumes during her time working in the house bindery, from 1940 to 1942.

In 1943–44, Clark supervised a volunteer group that assisted the Arts and Skills Corps of the American Red Cross. This group took equipment and supplies to the Forest Glen Hospital, an annex of the Walter Reed Hospital, where they taught convalescing soldiers the art of bookbinding. She was strongly affected by the Second World War and strove to serve the nation’s war effort as best she could. She attempted to qualify for the cipher and code division of the Office of Naval Intelligence. In a letter to Mildred Bliss, Clark revealed her diligence in preparing for the “aptitude” exam: “Often I reluctantly put away my pads and pencils at midnight and later jump out of bed because a possible solution has flashed across my brain.” Clark contributed her time and effort as well to several book sales organized to raise funds for American troops.

Acorn House, converted from a kennels by G. Chapman as a residence for Ethel Burnet Clark, 1941 Acorn House, converted from a kennel by G. Chapman as a residence for Ethel Burnet Clark, 1941

Having happily worked to catalog and build the libraries at Dumbarton Oaks, Clark only surrendered her position because she had reached the age at which Harvard required retirement. A year before, Clark had commented on the “sorrow” of her predicament, especially after learning that she had no chance of being “an exception” to the retirement age after several conversations with “gentle and compassionate” John Thacher, the first director of Dumbarton Oaks. Nonetheless, Clark was able to remain at Dumbarton Oaks after her official “retirement,” under the title: “Keeper of Rare Books, Emerita.” In this capacity, Clark continued her work at Dumbarton Oaks and received a small monthly pension in addition to living quarters at the Acorn House, a small cottage on the Dumbarton Oaks property. Later, in the 1960s, she also helped catalog the Mary Mellon collection of books and manuscripts on alchemy and the occult, which Paul Mellon then gave to Yale University.

Robert Woods Bliss remembered Clark’s service and friendship: “She was the doyenne of our staff and bore the strain and inconvenience of bringing order out of our personal Library; as well as in organizing a Bindery, rebuilding the Quarters and making catalogues at the same time. For this, and much besides the unfailing charm she brings to all her relationships and duties, we thank her warmly.”

Particularly fond of the Acorn House (which had originally served as a kennel for the Blisses’ guard dog Doberman Pinchers), Clark wrote about her new home lovingly in correspondence with Mildred Bliss, describing her “fundamental happiness and content” in being allowed to reside in the small house and even admitting that she had “not dared to put [her] delight into words—for fear that [she] would suddenly wake up.” Mildred Bliss expressed her equal thrill at having Clark on the estate, writing: “I long to cross your threshold and to have you think aloud to me as we sit on the little terrace sipping lemonade.”

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The First Garden Library Accession Number: “Maison rustique, or The Countrie Farme”

Posted on Nov 23, 2015 11:00 AM by Dumbarton Oaks Archives |
The First Garden Library Accession Number: “Maison rustique, or The Countrie Farme”

Published in London in 1600, Mildred Bliss’s English-language edition of Maison rustique, or The Countrie Farme was 348 years old when, in 1948, it became the first book to be registered with an accession number in the Rare Book Collection at Dumbarton Oaks. The work was written in Latin by Charles Estienne (1504–1564), expanded and translated into French by his son-in-law Jean Liébault (1535–1596), and then translated into English by Richard Surflet (fl. 1600–1660). Its contents comprise “whatsoever can be required for the building, or good ordering, of a Husbandmans House, or Countrey Farme,” including the skills necessary “to foresee the changes and alterations of Times; to know the motions, and powers, of the Sunne and Moone; to cure the fickle laboring Man; to cure Beasts and Flying Fowles of all sorts” and to “dresse, plant, or make Gardens.”

Emphasizing functionality over aesthetics, Maison rustique served as the definitive text on the care of country houses for many years, until its popularity was eclipsed by Olivier de Serres’ Théâtre d’agriculture in 1600, the same year that Mildred Bliss’s English language first edition was published.

Though by no means the most rare or valuable volume in the Rare Book Collection at Dumbarton Oaks, the impressive age of the work and its fine condition after centuries of handling no doubt did much to inspire Mildred Bliss and the original library staff who selected it to give the book the first number in the cataloguing of the rare works. As an instructional reference work on horticulture, it was a fitting start to the collection, which Mildred foresaw as a combination of “contemporary gardening guides and exceptional volumes on plants.”

In the nearly seventy years since Maison rustique officially became the first volume in the Rare Book Collection, over twenty-eight thousand secondary works on gardening and over ten thousand books, prints, manuscripts, photographs, and drawings in the Rare Book Collection have been accessioned in the Garden Library.

Evelyn Hofer, Mildred Bliss in Her Garden Library, 1965 Evelyn Hofer, Mildred Bliss in Her Garden Library, 1965

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The Garden and Landscape Studies Program: An Evolving Development

The Garden and Landscape Studies Program: An Evolving Development

Mildred Bliss enjoyed a long collaboration with her landscape architect, Beatrix Farrand, with whom she worked for almost twenty years on the design and creation of the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens. By 1950, the success of the gardens as well as Farrand’s gift to Dumbarton Oaks in that year of her complete office drawings, photographs, and letters for the gardens impelled the Blisses to establish at Dumbarton Oaks a research center in the history of garden design. Mildred Bliss had also begun collecting, from the late 1940s, important rare books, drawings, prints, and manuscripts on garden design, botanical illustration, and garden ornaments, which, along with the Farrand donation, were to become the foundation of the Garden Library and Rare Book Collection (see post). By 1951, the Blisses were ready to establish at Harvard University the first Garden Endowment Fund. In making the gift, they wrote the Corporation:

It is our hope and expectation that the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens may in time attain as high a standing in the study of, and for its publications on, Garden Design and Ornament as the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection has already attained for its scholarly work and research. Thus will the unusual potentialities of its Gardens be fully realized.

Proposal by Robert W. Patterson to convert the Cool House into a Garden Library, 1950 Proposal by Robert W. Patterson to convert the Cool House into a Garden Library, 1950

Proposal by Robert W. Patterson to build a Garden Library at the area of the present Pebble Garden (then tennis court), 1952 Proposal by Robert W. Patterson to build a Garden Library at the area of the present Pebble Garden (then tennis court), 1952

A big question was where to house this new center. Conversion of various outbuildings, including the director’s house, was considered as was the possibility of a new freestanding building, a prospect that at the time seemed too expensive. On August 16, 1949, Mildred Bliss wrote to Robert Patterson, who had become a consulting landscape architect:

Mrs. Farrand writes that she feels the cool house is too small, even for a start of what the Dumbarton Oaks Garden Centre ought to become. However, as I see no other suitable place, and as building is out of the question for a few years, and as for every reason—Harvard psychology, founders’ age, economic conditions, etc.—I think it would be better to start, get the centre running and able to prove its usefulness. Later a more spacious and suitable centre can be constructed.

The creation of a brick-and-mortar center, however, was not to happen until the early 1960s. Consequently, Mildred Bliss’s focus momentarily shifted from a research center analogous to the Byzantine Studies program to a “dirt-gardening” approach where garden fellows would work directly out of doors. In 1952, an advisory committee was formed, and soon thereafter fellowships were awarded. However, the annual reports indicate that the program was strictly praxis oriented. Indeed, the annual reports listed the program first under the “Gardens” section and later under “Gardens and Garden Library.”

In the second half of the 1950s, things began to change. In 1956, the first true landscape architecture fellow, Ralph E. Griswold, was appointed, thereby initiating a scholarly fellowship program in garden design and garden history. In early 1957, a new advisory committee was appointed, and this committee recommended establishing three categories of fellowships: a senior research fellowship in landscape architecture (for a “mature professional landscape architecture”), a junior research fellowship (for a recent graduate), and garden scholarships (for “possibly two or more undergraduate students”).

Philip Johnson's model for the new museum addition, September 1959 Philip Johnson's model for the new museum addition, September 1959

Frederic Rhinelander King's Garden Library for Dumbarton Oaks Frederic Rhinelander King's Garden Library for Dumbarton Oaks

In 1958, the Blisses and the institution began discussions on a new museum wing, to accommodate just about everything that at the time had not yet found permanent housing: the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art and its library, the Byzantine coins and seals collections, Antioch mosaics which were in storage, and the landscape architecture rare book collection and garden library. Through the Blisses’ patronage, Dumbarton Oaks commissioned Philip Johnson to design this addition, which was slated to be built where the Rare Book Collection presently is located. His building was envisioned as twice the size of the structure he eventually built in the Copse. The Blisses admired the modern design and, as Mildred Bliss put it, were “ready to try something new;” however a domed glass pavilion essentially in the front yard of the Main House was too radical a departure for them to countenance. They therefore decided to construct two new additions, putting the Pre-Columbian Collection and coins and seals in a reduced-scale Johnson building somewhat out of sight. Thus was born the Garden Library and its eighteenth-century style Rare Book Reading Room, designed by the more conservative Frederic Rhinelander King. With this addition, the landscape architecture center was brought indoors.

After the death of Mildred Bliss in 1969, the Garden Advisory Committee realized that the existing program needed to change. In their 1969 report, they wrote:

Fellowships were awarded exclusively to professionals in Landscape Architecture. However, the number of applicants from the practical side was never very great, and in recent years the Fellowships have been awarded to persons in related fields who have a scholarly or historical interest in garden and landscape architecture. . . . Thus the profession of Landscape Architecture does not appear at this time to be a very promising source of candidates for Fellowships.

They therefore recommended that the library be headed by a scholar who “could direct the building of the collection and also find qualified candidates for the Fellowship program.” In 1971, the program held its first annual landscape architectural symposium, “The Italian Garden,” chaired by David Coffin. And in 1972, a studies program in Garden and Landscape Architecture was officially inaugurated, and Elisabeth Blair MacDougall was appointed the first director of the program; she remained in that position for the next sixteen years.

The Studies in Garden and Landscape Architecture program had evolved from the praxis-oriented gardening focus to a scholarly program concerned with the history of garden design. As stated in the minutes of the Garden Advisory Committee meeting of January 9, 1973: “The research program should emphasize the study of the history of landscape architecture and the history of horticulture.” The Garden Advisory Committee was dissolved in 1974 and replaced by the Senior Fellows Committee in 1975. In the late 1970s, under the directorship of Giles Constable, Dumbarton Oaks standardized its fellowships for all of its studies programs—Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and Garden and Landscape. Under the new structure, fellowships, junior fellowships, and summer fellowships were to be granted, and this system continues to the present day.

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From the Rare Book Collection

The “Useful Art-Book of Gardening”

Posted on Oct 15, 2015 03:55 PM by Lain Wilson |
From the Rare Book Collection

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.

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The Garden Library Rare Book Collection and the Creation of a Studies Program

The Garden Library Rare Book Collection and the Creation of a Studies Program

Between 1947, when Mildred Bliss seriously began to acquire rare garden library books, and the late 1950s, the Garden Library Rare Book Collection grew rapidly. Within a decade, it contained publications dating to over four centuries and could boast, in the words of director John S. Thacher, “virtually every major work relating to garden design which was published in Europe and America.” However, by the late 1950s, the collection had outgrown its housing in the Founders Room. Space had become so limited that some acquisition opportunities had to be turned down for lack of shelving. Among the notable books under consideration that were declined was the Comte de Buffon’s seminal thirty-five volume Histoire naturelle.

In order to make further growth possible, in 1959 the Blisses offered the funds for an additional wing to house the Garden Library Rare Book Collection. Designed by Frederic Rhinelander King in 1960, the Garden Library Rare Book Room was conceived in a French neoclassical style reminiscent of an eighteenth-century European library. Books were kept in elegant mesh-fronted cases in the company of paintings and antique furniture formerly owned by the Blisses.

Frederic Rhinelander King design for the Dumbarton Oaks Garden Library Frederic Rhinelander King design for the Dumbarton Oaks Garden Library. Archives, AR.AD.MW.GL.001, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

To insure the maintenance of this collection as well as the gardens themselves, and to assure that both would help to advance scholarship in garden design, the Blisses already, in 1951, had established the Dumbarton Oaks Garden Endowment Fund Number I in the amount of $250,000,

. . . for the maintenance, operation and development of the Gardens at Dumbarton Oaks; for the establishment of Visiting or Exchange Fellowships to or from this or other countries for the individual study of Garden Design and Ornament; for the publication of monographs or books on such subjects as garden design and ornament—and incidental decorative horticulture; for the maintenance and enlargement of the Garden Research Library already established at Dumbarton Oaks; for the support of the Garden Information Center; and for other related educational purposes.

In making this gift, however, the Blisses were quick to point out to the President and Fellows of Harvard College both its restrictions and its overreaching purpose:

This fund is not be limited to the actual maintenance, operation and development of the Gardens, which are now supported from the income of the original Dumbarton Oaks Endowment Fund established by one of our letters to you dated July 2, 1940. It is our hope and expectation that the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens may in time attain as high a standing in the study of, and for its publications on, Garden Design and Ornament as the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection has already attained for its scholarly work and research. Thus will the unusual potentialities of its Gardens be fully realized.

In 1957, Ralph Griswold became the first fellow appointed to the program that the Blisses had created, and he was followed in the early 1960s by further appointments, including those of David Chase, Bodfan Gruffydd, and Georgina Masson.

When Mildred Bliss died in 1969, the Garden Library Rare Book Collection consisted of some twenty-four hundred rare books, five thousand reference works, and a significant number of prints and drawings. The nascent program had also seen the appointment of nine fellows. As part of her residuary bequest to Harvard University on behalf of Dumbarton Oaks, Mildred Bliss increased the standing of the garden program by establishing the Dumbarton Oaks Garden Endowment Fund Number II, now in the amount of six million dollars,

For the maintenance, operation and development of the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks including the establishment and maintenance of visiting or exchange fellowships for the individual study of garden design, and ornament and special planting; the publication of monographs or books on such subjects as plant material, design ornament and subjects germane to city and country gardens.

Frederic Rhinelander King study for bookcase design Frederic Rhinelander King study for bookcase design

With this new and sizable endowment, in the early 1970s Dumbarton Oaks could formally inaugurate a Garden and Landscape Architecture Studies program, created on the model of the existing Byzantine Studies program. To facilitate this, a significant reorganization of the Garden Advisory Committee took place and a director of studies was appointed. This director was to be responsible, among other duties, for the expansion of the garden library rare book collection in order to further develop the collection for research purposes.

In 1972, Elisabeth Blair MacDougall was appointed the first director of studies in Garden and Landscape Architecture. Both she and her immediate successor, John Dixon Hunt, who served as Director from MacDougall’s retirement, in 1988, until 1991, focused largely on acquiring rare British, Italian, and French books on garden design and garden ornament. In 1991, Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn succeeded Hunt as director of studies. A fellow in the Garden and Landscape Architecture Studies program the previous year, Wolschke-Bulmahn was familiar with both the reference and rare book collections and recognized that they had noticeable strengths and weaknesses. Working with librarian Linda Lott, he sought to augment the library’s holdings in areas where the collection was lacking, particularly German garden literature and American garden books of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Today, the Garden Library Rare Book Collection contains over seven thousand works, and the continually expanding reference collection boasts over twenty-one thousand items. Begun as Mildred Bliss’s desire to collect and protect rare books, the collection has evolved into an in-depth collection suitable for scholarly research and publication, just as the Blisses had envisioned it.

Rare Book Reading Room Rare Book Reading Room

Rare Book Reading Room bookcase detail Rare Book Reading Room bookcase detail

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Washington Rare Book Group Visit

Posted on Dec 13, 2013 04:59 PM by Lain Wilson |
Washington Rare Book Group Visit

The Washington Rare Book Group includes librarians, collectors, conservators, book artists, and book dealers who frequently visit area libraries and private collections, and who host programs on topics of interest to rare book professionals. On November 14 they visited Dumbarton Oaks for a tour of “The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century” exhibition. After introductory remarks by Linda Lott they toured the exhibit with its curator, Sarah Burke Cahalan.

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Good Ink

Dumbarton Oaks in the news

  • The role of Dumbarton Oaks—and of Director of Byzantine Studies Margaret Mullett—in the continuity of Byzantine Studies and in fostering the field is mentioned in G. W. Bowersock’s review of two recent books by Judith Herrin, “Storms Over Byzantium,” in The New York Review of Books 60, no. 18.
  • The Friends of Music concerts of November 3rd and 4th by pianist Joel Fan were recently reviewed in the Washington Post.
  • The October symposium on "The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century" and Linda Lott's Four Seasons of Flowers were reviewed by Patricia Jonas in the Newsletter of the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries, no. 131 (November 2013).

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Maria Sibylla Merian

A new online exhibit from the Rare Book Collection

Posted on Dec 10, 2012 03:15 PM by lisaw |
Maria Sibylla Merian

In 2012 the Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection participated in a project, organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, to celebrate works by great women artists in Washington, DC museums. The artist we selected is the naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), and specifically her 1719 publication Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (first published in 1705).

To accompany Dumbarton Oaks’ participation in the NMWA exhibition, the Rare Book Collection presents an online exhibit featuring information about the artist and images from, among other sources, Merian’s Metamorphosis.

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Now on View: The Ancient Future

Mesoamerican and Andean Timekeeping

Now on View: The Ancient Future

The Aztec, Maya, and Inca civilizations used complex and multiple timekeeping systems for purposes of agriculture, worship, and political authority. Because little of the material record of the pre-Conquest peoples of the Americas survived, scholars through the ages have had limited primary sources to study in order to reach a comprehensive understanding of timekeeping in the Americas.

The Library’s newest exhibit was prepared to coincide with the recent Pre-Columbian Studies symposium, "The Measure and Meaning of Time in the Americas." The online exhibit further explores these themes.

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Engravings of North Africa

A featured item from the Library exhibit Rome Re-Imagined

Posted on Jun 04, 2012 02:27 PM by lisaw |
Engravings of North Africa

Sarah Burke Cahalan and Deb Brown

Historical and archaeological research into the ancient and medieval periods of the Maghreb must confront the legacy of nineteenth-century colonialist enterprises. In honor of the Byzantine spring symposium, "Rome Re-Imagined: Byzantine and Early Islamic North Africa, 500-800," a rare-book exhibition in the Library invites viewers to reflect on the nineteenth-century authors and publications that contributed to this legacy.

Featured item

Captain Robert Murdoch Smith (1835–1900) and Commander Edwin A. Porcher (1824–1878), History of the recent discoveries at Cyrene: made during an expedition to the Cyrenaica in 1860-61, under the auspices of Her Majesty's Government. London: Day & Son, lithographers to the Queen, 1864.

Cyrene is one of the most famous ancient cities of North Africa. It was founded around 630 B.C.E. and abandoned sometime after the Arab conquest of 643 C.E. The extensive ruins of the city and its necropolis left a distinctive mark on the landscape. The ancient name for the surrounding territory, Cyrenaica, was still in use in the nineteenth century, when the region was nominally controlled by the Ottoman Empire. The visible ruins of the famed city attracted a handful of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European travelers, who described the necropolis and fountains, produced paintings and book illustrations, and dug in various spots for collectible antiquities. Robert Smith and Edwin Porcher were the first team to approach Cyrene with the expressed purpose of "scientific" exploration and mapping of the ancient city. The British government and the British Museum sponsored their project during the years 1860 and 1861. The museum received many of the finds from their excavations.

Porcher himself produced the drawings and watercolors that were later lithographed by T. Picken and produced for publication by Day and Son—it is worth noting that Day and Son, lithographers to the Queen, was the same lithographic firm (soon to become Vincent Brooks, Day & Son) that in 1852 produced the chromolithographs in Gaspare Fossati's Aya Sofia, Constantinople: as recently restored by order of H. M. the sultan Abdul-Medjid, also in the collection of Dumbarton Oaks Research Library. Porcher's original watercolors are now in the collection of the British Museum. The published chromolithographs (one of which is reproduced here) are valuable archaeological documentation of the site before the many excavations and restorations that followed. They also typify the picturesque quality of nineteenth-century images, frequently featuring small details that would increase their charm to casual viewers. In addition, the team used a camera, supplied by the British Foreign Office, but their publication includes only a few black-and-white photographs of statues which were found at the site.

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Now on View: Rome Re-Imagined: Antiquarianism and Colonialism in the Nineteenth Century Maghreb

Rare book exhibition in the Dumbarton Oaks Library

Posted on May 04, 2012 05:10 PM by lisaw |
Now on View: Rome Re-Imagined: Antiquarianism and Colonialism in the Nineteenth Century Maghreb

Deb Stewart

Historical and archaeological research into the ancient and medieval periods of the Maghreb must confront the legacy of nineteenth-century colonialist enterprises. In honor of the Byzantine spring symposium, "Rome Re-Imagined: Byzantine and Early Islamic North Africa, 500–800," a new rare book exhibition in the Library invites viewers to reflect on the nineteenth-century authors and publications that contributed to the creation of this legacy. Featured items include Alphonse de Lamartine’s Voyage en Orient, Charles Tissot’s Exploration scientifique de la Tunisie, Nathan Davis’s Carthage and her remains, the Beechey brothers’ Proceedings of the expedition to explore the northern coast of Africa, Smith and Porcher’s Discoveries at Cyrene, and items by Adrien Berbrugger, Stephane Gsell, and other influential nineteenth-century scholars of Roman Africa. The exhibition will be up through July 15 in the Dumbarton Oaks Library.

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Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Archives join Facebook

Launch of the official Dumbarton Oaks Library and Archives Facebook page

Dumbarton Oaks Library and Archives are pleased to announce the launch of the official Dumbarton Oaks Library and Archives Facebook page created by the library and archives staff. This page represents the wide variety of collections and projects from the Research Library, Rare Book Collection, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, and the Dumbarton Oaks Archives. Through this page we hope to further the overall mission of Dumbarton Oaks by sharing information about our multi-formatted collections, as well as the institutional history of Dumbarton Oaks.

Our page officially launched April 14, 2012, on the 104th wedding anniversary of Robert and Mildred Bliss, who were married on April 14, 1908.

Please visit, “Like”, and share our new Facebook page!

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