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Good Ink

Posted on Jul 06, 2016 09:33 AM by Lain Wilson |

Though the Dumbarton Oaks Museum is currently closed for renovation through the end of 2016, Fodor’s Travel has glowing remarks for its collections in its “Art Lover’s Guide to Washington, D.C.,” writing, “In-the-know researchers seek out Dumbarton from far and wide—it’s about time that locals, and visitors, do the same.”

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Dumbarton Oaks Welcomes Its 2016 Summer Interns

Fifteen Harvard Undergraduates Arrive for an Array of Projects

Posted on Jul 06, 2016 09:33 AM by Lain Wilson |
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Dumbarton Oaks Welcomes Its 2016 Summer Interns

Dumbarton Oaks is delighted to welcome its 2016 class of summer interns from Harvard University. They will embed within the institute's administration and programs of study, work with the museum and gardens, edit publications, and conduct short-term research.

  • Andrea Brown, a rising sophomore from Takoma Park, Maryland, will work on the garden biodiversity project in collaboration with the staffs of the gardens and Garden and Landscape Studies program.
  • Brett Davis, a rising senior from Kingston, Massachusetts, will be completing institutional video projects as the outreach media intern.
  • Noah Delwiche, a rising senior from Catonsville, Maryland, will assist with Latin translations for the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series.
  • Theodore Delwiche, also a rising senior from Catonsville, Maryland, will assist with Latin translations for the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series.
  • Tyler Dobbs, a recent graduate from Wichita, Kansas, will assist in cataloging the Byzantine seals collection.
  • Melda Gurakar, a rising senior from Lutherville, Maryland, will work on the “Mapping Cultural Philanthropy in Washington, D.C.” Project.
  • Iriowen Ojo, a rising sophomore from Dix Hills, New York, will be in the director’s office, working on public programming and outreach initiatives.
  • Melissa Rodman, a rising junior from Riverdale, New York, will work on the “Mapping Cultural Philanthropy in Washington, D.C.” project.
  • Jude Russo, a recent graduate from Davidsonville, Maryland, will assist with Latin translations for the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series.
  • Madeleine Stern, a rising junior from Northampton, Massachusetts, will work with the museum staff on the deinstallation and reinstallation project.
  • Sam Vasquez, a rising junior from Everett, Massachusetts, will assist in compiling the catalog of Pre-Columbian objects from Central America and Colombia.
  • Joy Wang, a recent graduate from Southampton, Pennsylvania, will work on the “Mapping Cultural Philanthropy in Washington, D.C.” project.
  • Abby Westover, a rising senior from Austin, Texas, will work on the ephemera project.
  • Leah Yared, a rising sophomore from Rockville, Maryland, will work on the “Mapping Cultural Philanthropy in Washington, D.C.” project.
  • Ashley Zhou, a rising senior from Basking Ridge, New Jersey, will assist the publications department in producing the Dumbarton Oaks Annual Report.

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Dante in the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens

The History and Design of the Arbor Terrace

Posted on Jul 06, 2016 09:33 AM by Lain Wilson |
Dante in the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens

The following is reproduced with permission from: Linda Lott, “The Arbor Terrace at Dumbarton Oaks: History and Design,” Garden History 31, no. 2 (2003): 209–17. Figures 4, 5, 6, 7, and 11 have been replaced, with the following credits: Figures 4, 6, and 11: Brett Davis, July 2016; Figure 5: Dumbarton Oaks Garden Archives, GD P-3-24A; Figure 7: Dumbarton Oaks Garden Archives, GD P-2-13B.

In her Plant Book, written for the future maintenance and preservation of the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, Beatrix Farrand (1872–1959) begins the description of ‘The Herb Garden and Wisteria Arbor’ (currently called the Arbor TerraceIn some of the early drawings, the Arbor Terrace is identified as the ‘E’ Terrace.) (Figure 1) by stating that:

This small terrace, with its elegant heartwood tidewater cypress arbor (which was replaced in 1955), has changed considerably in character. It was originally intended as an intimate garden, a ‘giardini segreti’ [sic],The term translates as a secret garden and generally refers to a small, strongly enclosed garden room in fifteenth-century Italian Renaissance gardens that grew out of the medieval tradition of the hortus conclusus. with emphasis on contrast between sunlight and shade, the sound of falling water, the scent of herbs, the movement of wind and birds.Diane Kostial McGuire (ed.), Beatrix Farrand’s Plant Book for Dumbarton Oaks (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Trustees for Harvard University, 1980), 71.

arbor2.jpg Figure 2. The Arbor, perhaps in the 1950s. The lead bookcase, inscription, and lotus flowers are now visible in the arch on the left

A discussion of the Arbor Terrace should logically begin with its most dominant feature; the Arbor (Figure 2). Farrand’s text provides an interesting overview (Figures 3–5):

It is not a display garden but, rather, one in which shaded seats can be occupied under the big Wisteria arbor, which was placed in this position in order to minimize the rather overwhelming height of the stone wall which was needed to retain the northeast corner of the Rose Garden. This arbor was modified from a design of Du Cerceau (from his drawing of the garden of the Chateau Montargis). It is planted almost entirely with Wisteria, mainly of the lavender variety but with some few plants of white. The Wisteria Arbor is designed so as to be seen from below, so that the hanging clutches of the flowers will make a fragrant and lovely roof to the arbor. In order to make the high wall less noticeable in its austerity, a wall fountain with an old, French, lead fountain head was designed; and a second niche, also ornamented with lead (which lead ornament needs revision), is placed to the south of the wall fountain, with a simple lead box under the arch in which a book or two might be left. This lead box had not proved practical, as the dampness in this position would ruin any book before many weeks.Ibid., 72. ‘Du Cerceau’ is Jacques Androuet Du Cerceau (c. 1515–85).

arbor3.jpg Figure 3. Design for the arbour at the Château Montargis; from Jacques Androuet Du Cerceau, “Le premier [-second] volume des plus excellents Bastiments de France” (Paris, 1576–79).

In July 1933, Caroline Phillips, a friend of Mildred B. Bliss, owner of Dumbarton Oaks, sent her a note thanking her for a visit to the garden and enclosing three quotations taken from Dante Alighieri’s Purgatorio (begun c. 1307). She wrote:

I have found three little extracts from Dante’s Earthly Paradise at the end of the Purgatorio, which I think fit into your garden. There might one day be a stone or block of wood to carry them on, if you want some words of the Divine Poet in your wood.The letter (dated 9 July 1933) is part of the Farrand-Bliss Correspondence at Dumbarton Oaks. The lines from the letter appear on pp. 2–3. Next to the canto selected is written: ‘For all of Dumbarton Oaks’.

arbor figure 4 Figure 4. The Arbor.

lead bookcase Figure 5. Construction drawing (copy) for a lead bookcase for Robert Woods Bliss, and signed ‘Beatrix Farrand Landscape Gardener 7/14/34’.

Bliss adopted only one of Phillips’ suggested quotations, lines 139–41 from Purgatorio, canto XXVIII: ‘Quelli chanticamente poetaro leta dell oro/ & suo stato felice forse in parnaso esto loco sognaro’, which was translated by Phillips as ‘Those who in olden times, sang of the Golden Age, and its happy state, perchance dreamed in Parnassus of this place’.The capitalization and spelling are as they appear in the quote on the Arbor Terrace. This phrase, along with the lead book box and lotus flowers, originally adorned the second niche of the Arbor Terrace, but the quotation has since been relocated to the low wall on the left inside the Arbor (Figure 6) and the other ornament removed, leaving a blank arch of masonry. Beneath the quotation appears the phrase ‘codice caetani’, indicating the edition from which it was taken, and the words ‘all amigo Gelasio’, an allusion to the Bliss’s friendship with Gelasio Caetani.

Arbor Terrace inscription Figure 6. Inscription from Dante Alighieri’s “Purgatorio” on the inside left of the Arbor. Parts as well as entire letters are missing in the inscription.

Caetani served as Italian Ambassador to the United States from 1920 to 1925 and owned Ninfa, in Lazio, among the loveliest gardens in Italy. Like his grandfather, Michelangelo Caetani, Gelasio was a Dante scholar, and, in 1930, he published a limited edition of three hundred copies of the Codex Caetani,The Dumbarton Oaks Library owns number 27. his family’s manuscript copy of the Divine Commedia.Don Gelasio Caetani (ed.), Comedia Dantis Aligherii Florentini (Sancasciano, Val de Pesa, 1930). The manuscript itself is written on parchment in a calligraphic hand of the late fourteenth or very early fifteenth century. Georgina Masson reported that Caetani transcribed for Bliss the quotation that so aptly described the beauties of his own garden at Ninfa and those of Dumbarton Oaks.Georgina Masson, Dumbarton Oaks: A Guide to the Gardens (Washington, DC: Trustees for Harvard University, 1968), 24. The appropriateness of the quotation is underscored when viewed in the context of the entire canto.

After passing through Hell, Dante had to climb the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory on his way to Heaven, the summit of the mountain, on which lay the Earthly Paradise or Garden of Eden. It is here where Dante, abandoned by Virgil, encountered Matilda,Robert M. Durling (ed.), The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 484. Matilda can be seen to embody the innocent happiness of Eden: she is a sort of wood nymph or protective spirit of the place. For further information concerning the question of her identity, see A. Bartlett Giamatti, Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), 107–8. who told him, ‘Here the root of Humanity is innocent: here is everlasting Spring, and every fruit: this is the nectar of which they all speak’.Dante, Purgatorio, canto XXVIII. Certainly, the Arbor Terrace, with its fountain, arbour, flowers and location, evokes the Earthly Paradise of which Matilda spoke. Just as Dante encountered a garden before his final ascent into Heaven, so a visitor to the Arbor Terrace discovers an Earthly Paradise.The Divine Comedy takes place in a structured, concentric universe through which Dante and his guides move so that he might learn the results of evil and the meaning of Divine Love. The setting of the poem is a constantly varying landscape, which changes with the state of the author’s soul and the condition of those whom he observes. In order to understand the joys of Paradise he must descend to the depths of Hell’; Margaretta J. Darnall and Mark S. Weil, ‘Il Sacro Bosco di Bomarzo. Its 16th-century literary and antiquarian context’, Journal of Garden History, IV (1984), 1–94 (p. 6). While Darnall and Weil are writing about Bomarzo, their text can also be applied to the Arbor Terrace.

GDP213B.jpg Figure 7. Drawing (in coloured pencil) for the ‘Center Paving Arbor Terrace’ showing a rendering of a flute, lyre and flowers.

At this point, it is instructive to examine some of the drawings created for the Arbor Terrace from the mid-1930s. Possibly the theme of Mount Parnassus, mentioned in the quotation, was expanded upon and iconography representing Apollo was at one time to be subtly incorporated into the design scheme of the terrace. Mount Parnassus was sacred to both Apollo, god of archery, prophecy, music and healing, and to the Muses. One early drawing for the fountain depicts the head of a satyr and may have alluded to the story of Apollo and the satyr Marsyas, who challenged Apollo to a musical contest, lost and in defeat was flayed alive. Originally planned as a herb garden, the Arbor Terrace evolved into a pot garden and at present incorporates sweeping scrolls in the pavement design, but an early rendering shows the image of a flute lying diagonally over a lyre, partially framed with a spray of flowers (Figure 7). The iconography of both the flute and the lyre could refer to the fact that Apollo was the god of music, the flute also referring to his association with Marsyas. Furthermore, one of the designs for the Arbor Terrace has several wrought-iron gate finials with arrows incorporated into the design, possibly iconography associated with Apollo’s role as the god of archery. (The possibility also exists that the theme of Apollo might have been considered as a separate design scheme before the quotation from Dante had been selected. It may then have been decided to use personal rather than public language in the final design.)

arbor8.jpg Figure 8. Garden ornaments: a lead mask depicting a wind or a river god, dated 1931.

The fountain head selected for the final design of the Arbor Terrace has been identified, along with two others, as a river god (Figure 8).All three heads were purchased in May 1947 from Frances W. Huard (antiquarian), Versailles, France; Dumbarton Oaks House Collection Files. Barbara Israel, however, provides a different theory supporting the identification of the head as a river god:

Although the mask does not strictly conform to traditional images of Poseidon, or Neptune, the cattails, which are echoed at the base of the wall fountain, suggest rivers and wetlands, which fell within the sea god’s kingdom. The rays of sunlight, however, may allude to Apollo, the Greek god of music, song, and light, indicating instead a modern representation of that mythological deity.Barbara Israel, Antique Garden Ornament: Two Centuries of American Taste (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999), 130.

The current fountain, occupying the wall of the right arch, went through a number of revisions before the final design was selected: the head of a mythological god, perhaps a river god or Apollo, surrounded by sheaves of wheat, an element from the Bliss family coat of arms (Figure 9).Sheaves of wheat are also to be found on numerous gates at Dumbarton Oaks: in the design of the Pebble Garden and in the bench in the Rose Garden. While the lotus flowers placed either side of the book box have no connection with Apollo, their selection for the arch on the Arbor Terrace might be a reference to mythology and the story of Odysseus in the country of the lotus-eaters.In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew encountered the country of the lotus-eaters while journeying home to Ithaca. Odysseus sent three men to find out who inhabited the island. They were entertained by the Lotus-eaters, were given some of the food of the lotus plant and, as a result, lost all desire to return home. The dream-like state induced by the lotus plant may have provided the inspiration to use lotus flowers in the arch and might refer to the phrase in Dante’s quotation on the Golden Age: ‘perchance dreamed in Parnassus of this place’.

arbor9.jpg Figure 9. Detail from the Wisteria Arbor showing a dripping fountain with plants drawn in at the bottom.

Could these drawings and ornaments have been part of a conscious programme for the design of the Arbor Terrace, employing subtle references to Apollo and to mythological elements in the Odyssey? While there is no documentation to support this hypothesis and no references made to Apollo in the correspondence between Farrand and Bliss, the allusions evoked by the images mentioned are difficult to ignore. The only other mythological references currently found in the gardens appear in the Star Garden and the mosaics in the Swimming Pool Loggia, which depict the story of Diana and Actaeon.A watercolour by Allyn Cox (1896–1982) of Diana and Acteon has written in pencil in the lower right-hand corner: ‘first sketch for a loggia decoration, Allyn Cox, 1927’.

As Farrand indicated in her Plant Book, the original design for the Arbor Terrace grew out of an Italian garden tradition, the giardini segreti. While it is not possible to discuss the tradition of Italian gardening and Humanism within the scope of this note, it is instructive to look briefly at one text that was widely read in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Pietro de’ Crescenzi’s thirteenth-century Latin treatise on agriculture, Liber ruralium commodorum,De’ Crescenzi drew on the writings of ancient Romans such as Cato, Columella, Varro and Palladius, as well as on his own experience as a country landowner. His work began its wide circulation in manuscript form in 1305, and was one of the earliest printed books in Europe: in Latin in 1471, in Italian in 1478, in French in 1486 and German in 1493. described the construction and design of gardens from the 1300s to the Renaissance. Book VIII, Chapter 3, focuses on pleasure gardens and is divided into three classes: those of poor men, those of modest means, and those of wealthy nobles and kings. The following passage has particular relevance to the design of the Arbor Terrace:

Each of these [gardens] should be adorned with sweet-scented flowers, arbours of clipped trees, grassy lawns, and if possible, a sparkling fountain to lend joy and brightness to the scene. A pergola of vines will afford shade in the noonday heats, but in small gardens it is well to plant no trees on the lawn, and to leave the grass exposed to the pure airs and sunshine.Quotation in Julia Cartwright, Italian Gardens of the Renaissance and Other Studies (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1914), 2–3. The translations are also given by Robert G. Calkin, ‘Pietro de’ Crescenzi and the medieval garden’, in Elisabeth B. MacDougall (ed.), Medieval Gardens (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture, 1983), 155–73; and Frank Crisp, Medieval Gardens: ‘flowery medes’ and Other Arrangements of Herbs, Flowers, and Shrubs Grown in the Middle Ages, with Some Account of Tudor, Elizabethan, and Stuart Gardens (London: John Lane, 1924), 15–19.

While the text itself might not have been a direct influence, it can be seen that elements listed in de’ Crescenzi’s text, and depicted in a later variant edition at Dumbarton Oaks (Figure 10)Pietro de’ Crescenzi, II libro della agricultura(Venice: Matteo Capasca di Codeca, 1495).

arbor_web10.jpg Figure 10. Woodcut text depicting a young woman in front of an arbour; from Pietro de’ Crescenzi, “Il libro della agricultura” (Venice, 1495).

In the preamble to Bliss’s will, a passage again echoes the Humanist theme found in Farrand’s Plant Book:

Those responsible for scholarship at Dumbarton Oaks should remember that gardens have their place in the Humanist order of life; and that trees are noble elements to be protected by successive generations and are not to be neglected or lightly destroyed . . . the serenity of open spaces and ancient trees . . . are as integral a part of Humanism at Dumbarton Oaks as are the Library and the Collections.Preamble to the will of Mildred B. Bliss, 31 August 1966.

The sentiment also appears, in modified form, on the plaque that flanks the right-hand side of the Museum entrance on 32nd Street, which also functions as a portion of the outside wall of the Rare Book Room of the Garden Library (designed and constructed to house Bliss’s collection of rare materials). At the top of the plaque is the phrase Quiescit Anima Libris (The spirit finds rest in books). This phrase is taken from the inlaid inscription on the sixteenth-century Italian bookcase cabinet in the Music Room and also recalls the lead book box originally housed in the Arbor Terrace. It is possible to View these as unifying, integral elements at Dumbarton Oaks, connected in part by their form and function, but also united by Humanist ideals. The concept of unity can be taken a step further with other design elements, such as the oak leaves and acorns on the wrought-iron railings in the main portion of the house (Figure 11) that help to bring nature indoors.

arbor figure 11 Figure 11. Detail of a banister in the Main House, leading to the second floor, with oak leaves and acorns incorporated into the design.

The current design of the Arbor Terrace is a distant echo of its former past as the terrace and its arbour wall have suffered over time, principally because of its location. As Farrand stated, it functions as a retaining wall for the Rose Garden, and in the past, the task of watering so many bushes was accomplished by flooding the entire Rose Garden. Over time, the flow of water and chemicals through the weep holes have clogged them and created an inhospitable environment for both the masonry and the original lead ornaments, causing them to deteriorate.In conversations the author has had with Gail Griffin, Superintendent of Gardens and Grounds at Dumbarton Oaks, the problems of conservation and preservation that exist on the Arbor Terrace have been discussed. The lead book box, as Farrand had predicted, was not practical for the setting and was eventually removed from the wall, along with the lotus flowers. There are several letters from Ruth Havey (1899–1980), an employee at Farrand’s office from the summer and fall of 1949, that included information about renovation work on the Arbor Terrace. Another note from Havey dated 1954 stated: ‘handle of lead cabinet is missing. Replace or cover the hole with a small plaque of lead’. Havey’s sketches presented alternative solutions to the problem of the walls, described in her text as ‘Sketch—two panels in arbour wall without lead lotus and bulrushes—leave waves’. None of Havey’s suggestions for the arches has ever been implemented. The paradigm for the garden that Mildred B. Bliss, Beatrix Farrand and Ruth Havey envisioned might exist in the early drawings and correspondence. The gardens as a whole, as well as individual areas, warrant closer study and examination.

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Digital Humanities at Dumbarton Oaks

Tyler Fellow John Davis Creates Online Map of the D.C. Watershed

Posted on Jul 06, 2016 09:33 AM by Lain Wilson |
Digital Humanities at Dumbarton Oaks

As in so many other cities, water is everywhere in Washington, D.C.—and yet it remains largely invisible to most of us, taken for granted or ignored. But D.C.’s waterways and plumbing shape the civic, social, and even commercial lives of its residents just as much now as in the past: the Anacostia, the Potomac, the C&O Canal, Rock Creek. And the crisis in Flint, Michigan, has shown that the questions of where and how cities find their water have tremendous importance for public health, down to the last pipe. 

“It’s interesting to be able to visualize things that aren’t always apparent when you’re walking around the city,” says John Davis, Tyler fellow in Garden and Landscape Studies. “It’s a totally different conception of how the city works.” During his time at Dumbarton Oaks, Davis, a PhD candidate in history at Harvard working on the history of engineering and infrastructure, has created a digital atlas of Washington, D.C.’s watershed. The “Water Atlas,” as he calls it, shows the development of the city’s water infrastructure over time, from large features like canals to the sewer grid and water treatment facilities. 

Unlike a traditional atlas on paper, the online atlas gives the user a clearer sense of the relationship in scale between a city block and the course of an entire river. It also facilitates visualizing changes over time in layers or phases, rather than having to combine those phases into a single diagram or distribute them over several maps. Davis’s atlas further highlights how different the city’s landscape might have looked if certain rejected projects had been realized. One area of the map allows viewers to see how a proposed dam on the Rock Creek would have created an enormous reservoir in the north part of the city. 

Davis created the Water Atlas using a free open-source application called QGIS, which is widely used for cartography. By tracing information from scans of historic maps found in archives onto existing geospatial data from the United States Geographic Survey, he was able to create a single digital composite that could illustrate changes over time. Davis says that he could imagine this approach being adopted to illustrate infrastructural history for any city: “Every city has documents and maps—the exciting project is assembling the paper data and then digitizing it.” Indeed, he adds, if you had such data for multiple cities, the payoff for historians would be that you could “compare cities and their infrastructures.” 

Davis hopes that the Water Atlas will be useful for both the general public and professional researchers, and also that it might help bring the two groups together. Asked to envision an audience for the project, he describes “a range of people, from academics, or people who have an academic interest in D.C. history, to people in the D.C. area who might be curious about how their water gets to them.” It’s important for academics to invest time in projects like this, he notes, because of the likelihood that the skills of cartography and digital publication will continue to be important to future work in history and the humanities: “Digital maps increase accessibility. You don’t have to go to a library to use them.”

Explore the Water Atlas

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Behind the Scenes

A Reading of Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” in the Gardens

Posted on Jul 06, 2016 09:33 AM by Lain Wilson |
Behind the Scenes

On Monday, June 13, the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens became a main stage as actors from the D.C. area offered a stunning and lively reading of Tom Stoppard’s 1993 play Arcadia.

The gardens, last used as a performance space during a 2010 production put on by the Byzantine Studies department, were an ideal setting for Arcadia. The play, a tragicomedy that explores modern ideas in the context of the past, is centered around an English estate. One plot line tells the story of its nineteenth-century inhabitants, focusing on a young girl’s relationship with her tutor and with her family. The present, a twentieth-century storyline, acts as a foil for the earlier plot, tracing concerns of contemporary academia, including poetry, science, mathematics, and philosophy, back to these characters. It is a work that resonates with arts admirers and science enthusiasts alike, perfect for bringing together communities with a wide variety of academic interests.

The idea of staging the play in the gardens came from a discussion between Tyler fellow John Davis and Emily Townley, a local actress who would become the producer—and one of the stars—of Arcadia in the gardens. Townley and Davis spent two months putting together the reading.

“They call it a reading that is ‘lightly staged,’” Davis said. “They were reading from scripts, but there was a director who gave them direction on where to stand, when to enter, to actually make it more dynamic.”

Arcadia 2 Local actors Thomas Keegan as Septimus and Erin Weaver as Thomasina read a scene in the Fountain Terrace.

The dynamism of the performance extended to the setting, as Arcadia’s main stage separated itself into the Fountain Terrace, the Lovers’ Lane Pool, and the Orangery. The actors and audience moved from space to space as the production progressed. Davis and Townley, seeking to emulate the play’s original English country estate backdrop, chose these parts of the gardens strategically. Townley opened the play on the Fountain Terrace, utilizing its balconies and staircases to introduce the characters. From there, the scene transitioned into the Lovers’ Lane Pool. The amphitheater layout of the pool, which had been drained for cleaning, served its purpose as an area designed for entertainment. As the sun went down, the play moved to the well-lit Orangery for its final scenes.

At the play’s end, “the enclosed nature of the Orangery provided a level of intimacy that was especially appropriate for the changes in narrative and tone,” noted Kaja Tally-Schumacher, a student attending the Garden and Landscape Studies summer school. “The transition from very open spaces to such an intimate and small space really heightened emotion and the sense of community between the audience members and the actors.”

Arcadia 3 Kimberly Gilbert as Hannah and Jonathan D. Martin as Valentine read a scene in the Lovers’ Lane Pool. 

For Tally-Schumacher and other summer school students, the play evoked the themes they have explored in the two-week course, such as the origins and cultural practices of gardens and design landscaping. “The history of gardens is integral to the setting and plot of the play,” added Thalia Allington-Wood.

Similarly, Davis mentioned the inclusion of theories about order and chaos in nature that are studied by the students and elaborated on in Arcadia, specifically through the effects of staging. The temporality between acts, coupled with the unchanging nature of the play’s props and setup, also related to discussions on the memory of place and the passage of time within gardens. However, many noted that one of the greatest consequences of staging the play in the gardens was the intimacy experienced by the audience in such a setting.

“I was very happy that that’s the way it turned out,” he said. “Just because we were that close and just because there wasn’t the separation between a stage and an area for an audience, I think it became intimate . . . just by the way that it was done. And it was good in that way. I hadn’t planned it but it worked out very, very well.”

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From Garden to City

Urban Landscape Outreach Launch

From Garden to City

By Jeanne Haffner, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Urban Landscape Studies

The Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies is located on the tree-filled grounds of the historic gardens at Dumbarton Oaks. But its mission, as its name suggests, is to extend landscape studies into the city. In April and May, the program did this literally, launching its outreach program for students from underserved schools in Washington, D.C. Over a hundred students were given tours of the new LEED-certified Fellowship House, the recently designed pollinator garden by the Garden Court, and the historic gardens themselves.

The first of these workshops, titled “Biodiversity from Garden to City,” built upon the landscape and architecture curriculum at Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School, located in northeast Washington, D.C. Students toured the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, paying particular attention to landscape design, topography, and water management, and met with Luís Mármol, gardener and horticulturalist. They were shown different types of plant beds—from the highly aesthetic Rose Garden to the more functional Kitchen Garden—and the Wilderness, an area located in the South Lawn, just before R Street, that serves to absorb water as well as to provide a contrast with more formal areas. Tyler fellow Deirdre Moore, who designed the new pollinator garden, discussed issues of water management as well as the connection between certain plants and the insects they attract. The field trip ended with a pop-up exhibit of Moore’s drawings and maps of the pollinator garden in the Lower Refectory, where students were given the opportunity to ask questions about the design process.

From Garden to City 1 Fourth graders from Achievement Prep learn about the role of trees in urban ecology.

In May, we expanded outreach initiatives to include elementary school students through the D.C. Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative, a group that organizes field trips for public and public charter schools across the District. The “Tree Notebooks” workshop, given to fourth, seventh, and eighth graders from Achievement Prep in southeast Washington, D.C., introduced the basics of tree identification and emphasized the importance of trees in urban sustainability and well-being. Students were first asked to identify the uses of trees, ranging from wood and food to spiritual renewal in some cultures. Then they sketched particular trees in the garden—an exercise aimed at reinforcing some of the elements of tree identification as well as landscape design. Another workshop, “City of Trees,” was given to sixth graders from McKinley Middle School. Using the grounds of Dumbarton Oaks, students were shown various ways in which ecological issues enter the city, from gardens like the ones at Dumbarton Oaks to water management and biodiversity at the pollinator garden and LEED certification at the Fellowship House. Throughout the tour, students also paid particular attention the gardens’ topography and various strategies for controlling the flow of water from garden to park.

From Garden to City 2 The National Building Museum’s Teen Council visited the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens on May 14 to examine differences in landscape design between the historic gardens and neighboring park.

The National Building Museum’s Teen Council, a part of the museum’s Design Apprenticeship Program, came to Dumbarton Oaks in mid-May to explore design features, hydrology, and historical topography in the gardens and Dumbarton Oaks Park in a workshop called “Private Garden, Public Park.” As those familiar with Beatrix Farrand’s work know, the gardens and Dumbarton Oaks Park used to be connected, giving the visitor the experience of going from a manicured garden to a more “wild”—but just as designed—space. The more feral parts, which lay at the bottom of the hill by the creek, were given to the National Park Service in 1940, the same year that the gardens and museum collections were transferred to Harvard University. After an extensive tour of the gardens, students walked through the gate at the base of the Forsythia Dell to Dumbarton Oaks Park. They saw remnants from the pre-1940 era, including the stone bridge, dams along the creek, and stone benches along the path, and then imagined new transitions from garden to park.

Outreach is just one aspect of the Mellon grant, which was awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's “Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities” initiative and runs through 2018. The program also provides fellowships for scholars working on urban landscape issues all over the world and organizes a variety of events aimed at encouraging interdisciplinary dialogue. The outreach component of the grant, however, is unique. It provides an opportunity to foster new collaborations between Dumbarton Oaks and outside organizations, such as the National Building Museum, and to rethink the gardens as the basis for a series of workshops on landscape and planting design, urban sustainability, and biodiversity in cities. In addition, preparing for these events drew together people inside Dumbarton Oaks, from the gardens staff and Garden and Landscape Studies program to the Director’s Office.

The Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies is excited to build on these workshops with more events next year with these and additional institutions. Extending scholarly research in urban landscape studies to students in secondary education occupies an important position in Dumbarton Oaks’ overall mission to support the humanities and serve the wider public and to find ways for local schools to use the gardens and museum as an educational resource. Dumbarton Oaks might have some very old relics in its possession but they are being looked at through younger and younger eyes.

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Household Linen

James N. Carder (June 2016)

Posted on Jun 02, 2016 03:45 PM by James N. Carder |
Filed under:
Household Linen

 

Facts Worth Knowing about Household Linen and Collection of Recipes for Removing Stains, Compiled by W. G. Pilgram, 1921.

Preserved in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives is a pamphlet titled “Facts Worth Knowing about Household Linen and Collection of Recipes for Removing Stains.” Published in 1921, this pamphlet originally belonged to Mildred Bliss’s mother, Anna Dorinda Blaksley Barnes Bliss (1851–1935), and is inscribed on the cover: “Property of Mrs. W. H. Bliss, please return.” Apparently, Anna Bliss gave the pamphlet to her daughter, as the cover is also inscribed: “Valuable. Keep for Mildred.” Possibly, she gave Mildred Bliss the pamphlet to aid in the housekeeping of Dumbarton Oaks, which the Blisses had purchased in November 1920. The printed flyleaf of the pamphlet reads: “Dedicated to the Ladies of America who Admire Fine Linen.”

The number of linens needed for a household the size of Dumbarton Oaks was considerable. On November 14, 1921, Mildred Bliss dictated a memorandum, also preserved in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives, to her housekeeper, Amy Olney. She requested that Miss Olney acquire bed linens and towels for Dumbarton Oaks to include a sufficient quantity for “six masters bedrooms and fourteen maids and eight chauffeurs rooms.” Undoubtedly, knowledge about the removal of stains from this large number of linens would have been paramount for the successful running of the house.

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Good Ink

Dumbarton Oaks in the News

Good Ink

In the Washington Post, Michael Dirda calls Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau’s Letters of a Dead Man, recently published by Dumbarton Oaks as part of its ex horto series, a “classic of travel literature,” comparing the prince’s account of his time in Britain to Stendhal’s writings on Italy. “This richly illustrated edition of the Letters of a Dead Man is one of those books that bring an era to life,” Dirda writes. “En route to England, Pückler visits the aged Goethe in Weimar; in London, he dines with the great financier Nathan Rothschild; later, he flirts with the Duchess of St. Albans, a foundling raised by gypsies who slept her way to the top.” You can purchase Letters of a Dead Man on the Harvard University Press website.

The Washington Post’s Adrian Higgins meditates on the role of designed landscapes in academic life, including a mention of Dumbarton Oaks and a few words from John Beardsley, director of Garden and Landscape Studies: “Harvard University’s research center at Washington’s Dumbarton Oaks provides the sweetest blend of landscape and academia, even if the Georgetown garden started life as a private paradise.”

In another piece, Higgins features an installation on the Arbor Terrace that recreates a sixteenth-century physic garden in Padua. He also explores Dumbarton Oaks’ links to the Paduan model through Beatrix Farrand and the Rare Book Collection.

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Spectroscopic Analysis of Museum Objects

Dumbarton Oaks Collaborates with the Walters Art Museum

Posted on Jun 02, 2016 03:44 PM by Lain Wilson |
Spectroscopic Analysis of Museum Objects

In preparing the forthcoming catalogue of Pre-Columbian objects from Central America and Colombia, Dumbarton Oaks has collaborated with the Walters Art Museum in the analysis of greenstone artifacts—primarily pendants and beads—from the Nicoya Peninsula and the Central Caribbean region of Costa Rica. Typically these objects are labeled as jadeite, but the team, including Bryan Cockrell, Colin McEwan, and Juan Antonio Murro from Dumbarton Oaks and Glenn Gates and Julie Lauffenburger from the Walters, sought to nuance our understanding of the objects’ compositions.

A number of minerals may be present in a greenstone object, and jadeite may be entirely absent. Atoms of one element may substitute for those of a different element in the crystal structure of the mineral, giving the material a range of colors. The team used two noninvasive techniques with equipment brought to the Dumbarton Oaks Museum study room—Raman spectroscopy and X-ray fluorescence spectrometry—in order to learn about the mineral and elemental compositions of forty greenstone objects in the collection. Raman spectroscopy involves the application of a laser beam to induce molecular vibrations in the material being studied; as a result, the frequency of the photons of the laser beam changes and is measured by a detector, revealing information about mineral composition. X-ray fluorescence spectrometry uses an X-ray beam to ionize atoms in the material, leading to the release of energy (fluorescence) that is characteristic of the material’s elemental composition.

The team is currently comparing this data to reference materials, but a number of objects have compositions different from those that have been ascribed to them in the past. There are greenstone sources known in Costa Rica, including serpentine, but so far not jadeite, while there are other sources in Guatemala and in the Caribbean. By combining mineral and elemental information and comparing it to published data, the team can work toward a longer-term goal of identifying the greenstone sources present among the objects.

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Chinese Ambassador Visits Dumbarton Oaks

Thirty Young Diplomats Also Visit Birthplace of the United Nations

Posted on Jun 02, 2016 03:44 PM by Lain Wilson |
Chinese Ambassador Visits Dumbarton Oaks

On the occasion of China’s “Youth Day” on May 4, Dumbarton Oaks received a visit from Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai, who was accompanied by thirty young diplomats from China. The group was eager to see the Music Room, where the conversations that laid the groundwork for the United Nations were held in 1944, and also were given a tour of the museum and gardens. Dumbarton Oaks presented the ambassador with gift copies of its new publication, Thirty-Six Views: The Kangxi Emperor’s Mountain Estate in Poetry and Prints. In the picture above, the ambassador presents Dumbarton Oaks with a gift book from the Embassy of China.

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Notes on the 2016 Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium

Thinking About “Landscape and the Academy”

Posted on Jun 02, 2016 03:44 PM by Lain Wilson |
Notes on the 2016 Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium

The 2016 Garden and Landscape Studies symposium explored the many landscapes of the academy. John Beardsley and Daniel Bluestone presided over four groups of talks that considered not only central campuses but also designed landscapes managed by universities such as gardens, arboretums, and forests. The conference provided opportunities both to reflect on the importance of landscape to Dumbarton Oaks and to explore the complex and constant management of landscape and its larger role in our lives.

The first section of the symposium considered the role of the core campus in the lives and education of students. Joseph Claghorn discussed the monoculture of elms and the significance of their departure from Harvard’s central landscape during the twentieth century and addressed the shifting landscape of the university and the commons. His talk suggested that more diverse communities—whether of plants or students—are also more robust communities.

John Davis and Karen Van Lengen discussed the pedagogical landscapes of vastly different educational institutions on either side of the Hudson River. Davis spoke about West Point and its attempt to use a particular landscape, the “engineer’s garden,” to address a national lack of expertise in military and tactical knowledge in nineteenth-century America. He discussed how nineteenth-century military educators used the “engineer’s garden” at West Point to teach soldiers and citizens to judge a multitude of varying situations. Davis discussed how cadets internalized the landscape of West Point and used its lessons in their later careers. 

In contrast, Van Lengen stressed a different connection between pedagogy and landscape at Vassar College, which was an all-female institution until the late 1960s. Van Lengen focused on how Vassar students made their own landscaping program in response to their surroundings and interests in the environment. Students’ interaction with the landscape at Vassar helped shape the college as an early leader in ecology and conservation. As at West Point, students of Vassar carried conceptions of landscape into their future endeavors. But in the case of Vassar, this was more often in roles of stewardship and preservation of natural landscapes and habitats. Both Davis’s and Van Lengen’s talks addressed the gendered aspects of landscape in American education. They also opened questions about the difference between managing a landscape for practical education as opposed to research.

The middle of the symposium gestured at Garden and Landscape Studies’ continuing effort to bridge history and practice. These sections were crucial in incorporating the perspectives of those who consider themselves primarily practitioners rather than scholars, educators, or historians. Mark Hough and Linda Jewell discussed the various conflicts and compromises involved in reconciling typologies between the campus and the garden at Duke University. Their talk delved into the challenges of balancing the different needs of student use, ecology, pedagogy, and the general public as they interact on the modern campus in America. Hazel Ruth Edwards spoke of the role of landscape as a nurturing force on the Howard University campus. Her talk was strengthened by images drawn from her own familial connections to the institution over generations. Gary Hilderbrand delivered a talk about the Olmsted brothers’ work in designing two campuses, which they hoped would have a transforming effect on the students and university by creating an atmosphere of quiet good taste for the development of character. Hilderbrand’s interest in the Olmsted brothers is informed by his current work developing the same campuses and extending their tree canopies. He noted his role has changed from theirs, as he needs to give voice to a larger number of interested parties involved in these spaces without sacrificing either the intention or the conviction of the projects. The speakers in this section often addressed the question of how to build flexible landscapes. They also concentrated on the need to predict the spaces of the future.

Another session of speakers addressed the role of campus and landscape in changing social and political contexts outside America. John Dixon Hunt spoke of the symbolic and literal changes in the design of buildings and landscapes in the new British universities, in contrast to the older Oxbridge models. Tianjie Zhang discussed the reconfiguration of Chinese university landscapes in the early twentieth century during the period of intense educational reform. Burak Erdim gave an extensive discussion of academy and landscape in Turkey during the Cold War. Finally, Hilary Ballon added a twenty-first-century perspective by speaking about her instrumental role in building NYU Abu Dhabi’s new campus. Her talk raised multiple issues around globalized education and the advantages and limitations of the exported American campus. She also suggested possibilities for the American campus model to adapt to different cultures and contexts around the world. 

The last section discussed community, conservation, and environmental landscape. Peter Alagona talked about the role of field stations in American university research and academic life. He addressed the importance of these spaces in conservation and ecology, particularly in light of California’s ongoing water crisis. Dino Martins from the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya stressed the importance of making scientific research applicable to the lives and challenges of small farmers in East Africa. He also spoke of the importance of understanding the effects of population growth and its impact on wildlife and conservation in the coming century. In conclusion, David Foster spoke about the history and legacy of Harvard Forest and Farm. Foster’s work spans multiple communities across the ecology, research, and education sectors, and both his and Martins’s talks addressed spaces that work as hubs of knowledge negotiating between different interest points.

Speakers at the symposium emphasized the importance of stewardship and ecology. They also noted the opportunity to teach students these concepts and values within the landscapes of the university campus. Among other topics, the symposium raised questions about the limitations of the neoliberal university in the twenty-first century, the increasingly urgent issues of elitism, and the treatment of women. They particularly highlighted the necessity of adaptation as the needs and uses of university landscapes change. Dumbarton Oaks, which transformed from a residence into a research institute with the transfer to Harvard in 1940, is representative of this need for continual adaptation.

As a complement to the symposium, the gardens staff recreated an early modern physic garden once planned on paper by Beatrix Farrand, which she based upon a physic garden in Padua.

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Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going? (Part 2)

Posted on May 12, 2016 11:00 AM by Dumbarton Oaks Archives |
Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going? (Part 2)

 

Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going? (Part 2)

Byzantine Collection Courtyard Gallery (left) and View of Courtyard Gallery from the Music Room (right).

Not only the study programs have evolved over Dumbarton Oaks’ seventy-five year history. The Dumbarton Oaks Museum similarly has changed from its beginnings as a collection primarily for scholars and serving the public almost as an afterthought. Before the renovation of the Main House and museum in 2007–8, each collection (Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and House) was under the purview of its respective department, and special exhibitions, usually of objects from the Byzantine Collection, were sporadic. In 2008, the museum reopened with a name change, a renewed sense of purpose, and the mission “to connect scholars with art and art scholarship to the public.” Under Gudrun Bühl, curator and museum director since 2008, the museum has also pursued a robust agenda of temporary exhibitions, many of which include objects from across the three collections. Engagement with the public has also increased. Museum attendance has more than doubled since 2013, when museum hours were extended, from 2:00–5:00 p.m. to 11:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Bühl has also increased the online accessibility of the collections and has begun collaborations with Harvard University classes, area universities, and high schools.

Antioch special exhibition, 2010 Antioch special exhibition, 2010

In a similar vein, the objectives of the publications department have expanded since 1941, when it began publishing Dumbarton Oaks Papers, an annual journal for Byzantine studies. Today, the publications department produces between three and six books a year, including papers from the annual Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and Garden and Landscape Studies symposia and colloquia. Moreover, Dumbarton Oaks has embraced the world of the digital humanities, making use of opportunities for wider dissemination of scholarly information and texts via the Dumbarton Oaks website or through online databases such as JSTOR.

In addition, in conjunction with Harvard University Press, Dumbarton Oaks has initiated a new series: the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (DOML), which includes Byzantine Greek, Medieval Latin, and Old English texts with modern English translations on facing pages. The first titles in the series appeared in 2010, and today more than forty volumes are in print. DOML is modeled on Harvard’s Loeb Classical Library, which serves a parallel function for classical Greek and Latin texts, and will continue to expand its offerings, aiming to increase the accessibility of medieval and Byzantine literature to both the general public and scholars.

The Dumbarton Oaks Gardens are also cautiously changing, creating new garden experiences for an ever-wider audience. Beginning in 1922, Beatrix Farrand worked closely with Mildred Barnes Bliss over decades to design the gardens, making them one of the oldest parts of Dumbarton Oaks. The gardens provide a backdrop against which visitors and scholars alike may reflect and temporarily escape from typical city scenery. Gail Griffin, the director of gardens and grounds, strives to stay true to the original design while allowing for some flexibility in adapting to changing garden conditions, contemporary art installations, and planting variations.

The Ellipse with Patrick Dougherty's site installation Easy Rider, 2010-2012 The Ellipse with Patrick Dougherty's site installation Easy Rider, 2010–2012

Dumbarton Oaks has shown its willingness to adapt in order to meet changing demands. The institute continues its traditional mandate to serve the needs of scholars while striving to increase its interaction with the outside world in order to help keep alive an appreciation of the humanities. Projects such as the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library draw from both Byzantine and non-Byzantine cultures to further the scholarship for which Dumbarton Oaks is renowned. The internship program, high school field trips, digitization projects, and temporary exhibitions draw in new audiences. These efforts are institution-wide, involving the studies programs, the museum, publications, the gardens, and the Friends of Music, and aim both to expand accessibility and to meet the new demands of the twenty-first century, while remaining, as it has for seventy-five years, the “home of the Humanities.”

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Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going? (Part 1)

Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going? (Part 1)

 Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going? (Part 1)

 Jan Ziolkowski, Director of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary this past November 1st. More than the sum of its individual parts, Dumbarton Oaks is a paragon of the gestalt principle. Director Jan Ziolkowski, who came to Dumbarton Oaks in 2007, believes that the close proximity of the research library, residential scholar accommodations, museum, and gardens is an immense asset for the institution. Ziolkowski works to preserve a balance between attending to commitments to the public (museum and garden visitors), respecting the wishes of founders Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, and strengthening ties with Harvard—all while serving the needs of scholars, who have sought a quiet refuge in which to pursue their research projects. In addition, Dumbarton Oaks has cultivated relationships with universities and institutions in the area, affirming its role in the community while mutually benefiting from shared resources and audiences. Through internal collaboration, Dumbarton Oaks shows its dedication to its role, as Mildred Bliss famously termed it, as a “Home of the Humanities,” rising to meet ever-present opportunities to study the past in order to “clarify the present and inform the future with wisdom,” as the Blisses proclaimed in 1940 on the inscribed plaque at the entrance to Dumbarton Oaks.

The Dumbarton Oaks library The Dumbarton Oaks Library

Dumbarton Oaks’ residential scholarship program brings advanced researchers from all over the world to make use of the institution's research library, which has unparalleled collections for Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and Garden and Landscape studies. Indeed, as Yota Batsaki, executive director of Dumbarton Oaks, put it, “the library is really at the heart of the scholarship that is produced here.” Daniel Boomhower, director of the library since early 2015, describes the library as “one-stop shopping,” explaining that it “acts as a whole in doing things that it otherwise couldn’t do if it was conceived of independently. All of these different aspects wouldn’t be consequential if they were pursued independently.” The new library, completed in 2005, brought together the three separate collections, which were previously held by their respective programs in the Main House. This centralized system has improved usability and expanded the resources available to fellows, who also have their offices in the library.

While Dumbarton Oaks is firmly established as a physical destination for scholars, Boomhower hopes that the website will come to play an analogous role as an online research portal. He envisions the site as a place where scholars may begin their research, and hopes to get all of the different elements of the site neatly amalgamated to form a comprehensive search tool. However, a search engine cannot parallel the community at Dumbarton Oaks; scholars who might otherwise be quite isolated can enjoy at Dumbarton Oaks the company and collaboration that comes from sharing a field of study.

Margaret Mullet, the former director of Byzantine Studies from 2009 to 2015, explains the importance of fellowship opportunities: “With the stimulus of lectures, seminars, colloquia, and symposia, the support of dedicated staff concerned only to put resources in the hands of the fellows, and the delight of gardens, music, good food, museum, and archival collections, the experience is holistic. This was the Bliss vision, and it remains nonpareil.” Over the years, fellowship positions have opened to include not only postgraduates but also those who have just begun graduate work. Scholars may now apply for one-month research stipends, summer fellowships, project grants, and short-term predoctoral residencies. In addition, under Ziolkowski, Dumbarton Oaks welcomed its first undergraduates as interns beginning in 2008.

Byzantine Studies colloquium, December 2014 Byzantine Studies colloquium, December 2014

The three eclectic fields of study at Dumbarton Oaks originated over time from the Blisses’ personal passions, and have since developed into full-fledged research programs. Initially, Dumbarton Oaks was created as an institution specifically dedicated to Byzantine studies, in which collaborative research, as opposed to isolated scholarly research, on Byzantine monuments could take place. Early administrative changes shifted the focus to publishing the independent research of preeminent scholars in the field, shaping Dumbarton Oaks’ reputation as the premier center for Byzantine studies. As Margaret Mullett observes, “Nowhere else is there a place where a dozen Byzantinists with widely differing disciplines and specializing in periods over twelve hundred years can come together and work together over the course of an academic year.” Dumbarton Oaks also supports advanced research in lesser-known fields, such as Byzantine numismatics and sigillography (the studies of coins and seals, respectively). Now, with the establishment of other research fields at Dumbarton Oaks, Byzantinists also have the opportunity to work alongside Pre-Columbianists and Garden and Landscape scholars, resulting in topics that reflect a level of collaboration, such as the 1996 colloquium on “Byzantine Garden Culture.” Current Byzantine Studies director Michael Maas (2015–16) envisions supporting scholarship in additional directions, bringing Byzantium into greater dialogue with the cultures with which it interacted over its nearly millennium-long existence, including Islamic, Central Asian, and Iranian, emphasizing Byzantium’s contributions in the context of the wider world.

Pre-Columbian Studies roundtable, November 2011 Pre-Columbian Studies roundtable, November 2011

Serving as a similar haven for Pre-Columbian scholars, Dumbarton Oaks’ Pre-Columbian Studies program was born out of Robert Woods Bliss’s personal affinity for ancient Mesoamerican art. Dumbarton Oaks has played a leading and defining role in the field since its official inception in 1970, and in many ways, the program’s development has been inextricably linked with the development of the field as a whole. Similar to the Byzantine Studies program, the Pre-Columbian program has shifted its focus away from acquiring objects, due to regulations upon exports from countries of origin. Instead, it has moved toward supporting a broader array of scholarship, the scope of which has expanded hugely since Elizabeth Benson was curator and first director, from 1963 to 1978, in terms of both the number of publications generated and the integration of perspectives from art historians, anthropologists, ethnographers, and archaeologists. Similar to Dumbarton Oaks’ other fields of study, there are plans to expand the Pre-Columbian Studies program, both to reach broader audiences through digital initiatives and to bring different cultures into closer interaction by placing a greater focus on previously overlooked Mesoamerican civilizations.

Garden and Landscape Studies public lecture, March 2013 Garden and Landscape Studies public lecture, March 2013

Although Garden and Landscape Studies was slow to develop into a full-fledged program—its initial endowment was established already in 1953 but its first director, Elisabeth MacDougall, was not appointed until 1972—it has nevertheless established itself at the forefront of the field of garden studies. Over time, the program expanded its scope from primarily European garden studies—as befit a department that grew out of Mildred Bliss’s collection of rare books on European garden design—to a broader examination of the cultural landscape with the inclusion of non-European, contemporary, and vernacular gardens. The program has striven to strike a balance between historical and modern perspectives, distinguishing it from other institutions that are more inclined to focus on either the past or the present, but not both. Over the years, Garden and Landscape Studies has included the perspectives of practitioners as well as academics, lending a modern frame of reference to a field that studies humanity’s relationship with nature while reflecting social, political, and philosophical realities. Director John Beardsley, in collaboration with Gail Griffin, director of gardens and grounds, has also implemented an occasional series of contemporary art installations in the gardens, challenging viewers to reconsider space and reaffirming the ways in which gardens buttress creativity and aesthetic experiences.

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A Report on the Proceedings of the 2016 Byzantine Studies Symposium

Konstantina Karterouli on Reconsidering the “Worlds of Byzantium”

Posted on May 05, 2016 11:20 AM by Konstantina Karterouli |
A Report on the Proceedings of the 2016 Byzantine Studies Symposium

The 2016 Byzantine Studies symposium reconsidered the identity and character of Byzantium, especially the traditional understanding of an empire with a fixed center and periphery. It emphasized the plurality of cultures and multiple centers of action found in the Byzantine world and the connections that once existed among the various Eastern Orthodox Christianities. The symposium presentations painted a picture of complex interaction, and drew on a range of linguistic, theological, and visual material. Islam featured centrally in the discussion, while the Arabic language was also highlighted as a medium for Christian writings.

Scott Johnson put forward the model of a Byzantine “commonwealth,” based largely on a Greek theological legacy of integration and sharing across Christian denominational lines, as one that could prove more apt than that of an “empire.” Originally coined to describe Slavic peoples’ relation to Byzantium, Johnson, along with Stephen Rapp, proposed to apply the commonwealth model to the Caucasus and other areas in the eastern Mediterranean and the Near East, which were seen in the symposium as an integral part of this broader Byzantine world. Rapp and Robin Darling Young showed that not only Greco-Roman traditions of rulership and Byzantine Christianity, but also the Persian government and its Iranian past, were central aspects of both Georgian and Armenia’s cultural identities. Averil Cameron raised the related question of where Byzantium fits in transnational and global historical narratives, especially in the binary context of East and West. Kostis Kourelis moved the discussion of Byzantium’s identity into the modern period, exploring the extent to which the political agendas of the Second World War might have stripped Byzantium of its multicultural character, replacing it with an overtly Greek imperial hegemony.

Another major focus of the symposium was the period of Late Antiquity, both its expansion as a field of study in recent decades and its strengths and limitations as a scholarly framework. The questions concerned its geographical and chronological limits and the areas of study that this encompasses—for example, how the Arabian Peninsula fits in this discourse, and whether, as Antoine Borrut discussed, Late Antiquity requires a shared antique past. 

The symposium stressed the importance of religion and language for making sense of these “worlds of Byzantium,” as opposed to the traditional focus on political structure and the state. For instance, the pairing of languages in a one-to-one relationship with specific religious communities was shown to be untenable: Jack Tannous highlighted Syriac as a liturgical language for Chalcedonian Christians, contrary to an established understanding that these mainly wrote in Greek and Arabic. Arietta Papaconstantinou discussed multilingualism within the empire itself, and not only in its periphery. In the realm of religion, Daniel Galadza explored the gradual Byzantinization of the Jerusalem liturgy after the tenth century, when scribes in Jerusalem, Palestine, and Sinai saw Constantinople as a guarantor of Orthodoxy and a paragon of right faith and liturgical practice.

Speakers also highlighted artistic pluralism, emphasizing the need to shift attention away from Constantinople to other centers of production and microregions of exchange. Elizabeth Bolman juxtaposed visual material culture with language as a shared cultural tool that challenges the traditional divide between “Constantinopolitan” and “provincial” art—as manifested, for example, in the coexistence of styles in the Coptic art of Egypt. Alicia Walker showed that different networks of communication and particular socio-historical contexts allowed for varying patterns of cross-cultural emulation in the Middle Byzantine period, as seen in the use of pseudo-Kufic ornament in the decoration of the tenth-century church of Hosios Loukas in mainland Greece. Cecily Hilsdale discussed style as a carrier of meaning, with an emphasis on stylistic eclecticism (for example, thirteenth-century liturgical fans with Syriac script that are prime examples of Mosul metalwork) and its ability to suggest political and other affiliations.

Columba Stewart, director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library’s digitization project of over thirty thousand eastern manuscripts threatened with destruction, closed the symposium with a discussion of the importance of recording for the future of the field.  He drew attention to the richness of textual evidence in the various eastern languages—Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, and Hebrew—and how this promises a better understanding of the interaction between the various Mediterranean, Near Eastern, and Middle Eastern communities that once participated in this broader Byzantine world.

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75 Years / 75 Objects: Revealing

A Dumbarton Oaks Video

Posted on May 05, 2016 11:20 AM by Lain Wilson |
75 Years / 75 Objects: Revealing

This month brings the museum’s celebratory special exhibition 75 Years/75 Objects to a close with its ninth and final rotation, “Revealing.” In this video, museum director Gudrun Bühl and exhibitions coordinator Renée Alfonso talk about how they found a way to allow museum guests to look inside objects that are normally closed—without ever touching them. (“Revealing” is on display from now until May 22.)

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Museum Closure Announcement

Renovations from May 23 through the End of 2016

Posted on May 05, 2016 11:20 AM by Lain Wilson |
Museum Closure Announcement

Please note: The Dumbarton Oaks Museum will be closed to the public from May 23 through the end of 2016. We are excited about the reopening of the museum galleries with state-of-the-art lighting and upgraded exhibits. We regret that we cannot accommodate scheduled tours of the museum and Main House during this period. However, the gardens will be open, and both introductory group tours and booked private tours will be offered. During renovations in the museum, the Museum Shop will move to the Orangery in the gardens on June 1, and will be open during the gardens’ hours (2:00–6:00 p.m., Tuesday–Sunday). The “Pop-Up” Garden Shop will offer a limited selection of books and merchandise. The fall Friends of Music concert series will also continue, but will be held in an alternative Dumbarton Oaks venue. More information will be provided to subscribers in advance of the new season.

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From the Garden Blog

Wisteria Lane

Posted on May 05, 2016 11:16 AM by Lain Wilson |
From the Garden Blog

Wisteria blossoms along the amphitheater that overlooks Lovers’ Lane Pool and Mélisande’s Allée below.

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Dumbarton Oaks Publication Discussed at German Embassy

Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau’s Letters of a Dead Man

Posted on May 05, 2016 11:16 AM by Lain Wilson |
Dumbarton Oaks Publication Discussed at German Embassy

On April 13, German Ambassador Peter Wittig and his wife, Huberta von Voss-Wittig, hosted a book discussion of the recent Dumbarton Oaks publication Letters of a Dead Man, the first full English translation of a remarkable volume by the early nineteenth-century traveler, landscape designer, and author Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau. Consumed by his desire to finance an ambitious English-style landscape park on his estate in Saxony, Pückler amicably divorced his wife (who remained behind to look after the estate) and embarked on a tour of England in search of a wealthy bride. His romantic search failed, but produced instead a best-selling mix of memoir, travelogue, political commentary, and epistolary novel that served as an alternative source of support for the magnificent Muskauer Park, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Director of Garden and Landscape Studies John Beardsley and Linda Parshall, the book’s editor and translator, discussed aspects of Pückler’s career and letters. Parshall then read excerpts from the book ranging from descriptions of the British landscape and the comforts of its nineteenth-century inns to notable political figures and events of the period.

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New Books in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library

Hermit’s Lives, the Latin Timaeus, and Old English Psalms in Spring 2016

Posted on May 05, 2016 11:16 AM by Lain Wilson |
New Books in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library

This spring, the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (DOML) adds to its growing series of facing-page translations of important medieval literature with one new work in each of its current languages. Holy Men of Mount Athos assembles a number of accounts of the lives of hermits associated with the Byzantine Empire’s most important monastic center. Calcidius’ Latin translation of and commentary on Plato’s Timaeus was the only Plato available in Western Europe for a millennium. The Old English psalms of the Paris Psalter were a centerpiece of Anglo-Saxon religious life. All three volumes provide English translations of these texts for the first time.

Holy Men of Mount Athos

Often simply called the Holy Mountain, Mount Athos was the most famous center of Byzantine monasticism and remains the spiritual heart of the Orthodox Church today. This volume presents the Lives of Euthymios the Younger, Athanasios of Athos, Maximos the Hutburner, Niphon of Athos, and Philotheos. These five holy men lived on Mount Athos at different times from its early years as a monastic locale in the ninth century to the last decades of the Byzantine period in the early fifteenth century. All five were celebrated for asceticism, clairvoyance, and, in most cases, the ability to perform miracles; Euthymios and Athanasios were also famed as founders of monasteries.

The Greek text has also been substantially improved for one of the accounts, which was last edited in 1903. Alice-Mary Talbot, editor for the Byzantine Greek series, coedited and cotranslated the individual accounts that comprise Holy Men of Mount Athos along with Richard Greenfield. She emphasizes that producing the volume was a team effort: editorial board members Alexander Alexakis and Claudia Rapp, in particular, helped substantially with their endeavor. Talbot says that the project, which began at a weekly reading group during her time as Director of Byzantine Studies, is the fruition of fifteen years’ work.

Besides the textual improvements, Talbot adds that these life stories are important for any student of Byzantine culture and religion to consider. “For one thing, they show the many varieties of Byzantine monasticism, the different ways that one could be a monk: alone, in a group—the difference between communal and hermit life,” as well as the tensions between the two, she notes. On top of that, Holy Men of Mount Athos includes stories of hermits’ daily lives and their practical struggles: one account describes men who “constructed huts of wild grasses and lived in these summer and winter, scorched by the sun and frozen by the cold.” Talbot says that the life of Athanasios, in particular, offers “the best description anywhere” of the founding of a Byzantine monastery. Holy Men of Mount Athos offers an exceptionally clear look at these central institutions in Byzantine life from the ground up.

Calcidius’ On Plato’s Timaeus

Until the Renaissance, the work of Calcidius offered the medieval West almost the only direct access to Plato’s corpus not dispersed in fragments. Sometime between the mid-third and late fourth centuries, Calcidius translated into Latin an important section of Plato’s Timaeus, complemented by extensive commentary and organized into coordinated parts. Volume editor John Magee observes in his introduction that “Calcidius’ influence spanned much of Western Europe over the course of a millennium.” This medieval volume altered perspectives on Plato by drawing on other philosophical traditions, particularly the Stoic and Peripatetic, while including Judeo-Christian cosmology and anthropology.

The publication of Calcidius’ On Plato’s Timaeus complements other important literature in the history of medieval Western European Platonism already published in DOML, particularly the Poetic Works of Bernardus Silvestris and the Literary Works of Alan of Lille.

Old English Psalms

The Latin psalms figured prominently in the lives of the Anglo-Saxons, whether sung in the Divine Office by clerics, studied as a textbook for language learning by students, or recited in private devotion by lay people. They were also translated into Old English, first in prose and later in verse. Sometime in the middle of the eleventh century, the prose and verse translations were brought together and organized in a complementary sequence in a manuscript now known as the Paris Psalter. The prose version, traditionally attributed to King Alfred (d. 899), combines literal translation with interpretative clarification. In contrast, the anonymous Old English verse translation composed during the tenth century approaches the psalms in a spirit of prayer and devotion. Despite their differences, both reflect earnest attempts to capture the literal meaning of the psalms.

The complete text of all 150 prose and verse psalms is available here in contemporary English for the first time. With this translation, readers encounter the beginnings and the continuation of a long tradition of psalm renderings in English.

About the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library

The Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library presents original Byzantine Greek, Medieval Latin, and Old English texts with facing-page translations designed to make written achievements of medieval and Byzantine cultures available to English-speaking scholars and general readers. Aimed at a global audience, it offers familiar classics of the medieval canon as well as lesser-known texts of literary and cultural value in accessible modern translations based on the latest research by leading figures in the field.

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Celebrating 75 Years of Scholarship

A Selection of Books and Projects Supported by Dumbarton Oaks

Posted on May 05, 2016 11:16 AM by Lain Wilson |

Looking for something to read? To celebrate our seventy-fifth anniversary as a research institute, the directors of all three programs of study, with the input of staff and former Fellows, compiled lists of influential books and articles produced with our institution’s support. Explore the list and learn about Dumbarton Oaks’ support for scholars over the past seventy-five years in a special online feature.

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