Archive for September, 2012

Picture of the Week #194

Posted: September 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

Chirk Castle in northeast Wales. Photo May 2000. Chirk was one of the lordships given to Robert Dudley by Elizabeth I. Read story



Posted: September 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

Lord Cochrane (Thomas Cochrane 10th Earl of Dundonald) was born in 1775 into a family of the Scottish nobility. He was to become a radical politici… Read story

Regarding last week’s marginal horse-on-man action,*  a reader contacted me off blog to ask, “What’s been blotted out there in between the horse guy and the rabbit?”–by which the curious reader meant this:

If you missed this blatant manuscript defacement before–and who wouldn’t, with that dashing bridled man on the left drawing the eye–it’s cool. What once was there, now damaged beyond recognition, is that most useful of manuscript illuminations, the original patron’s coat of arms. Nobles who directly commissioned manuscripts often instructed the illuminators to include their coats of arms, so that all who gazed upon the commissioned book would know exactly whose wealth was squandered on its lavish decorations. You might keep such a tagged manuscript on display in your personal library or gift it to a friend or potential ally–though in that case, it’d probably be a good idea to include the giftee’s coat of arms, too, at least on a couple of pages.**

So why the defacement? Usually it’s my oldest foil Reynard the Fox social mobility that’s to blame. Say you’re a noble who’s fallen on hard times. That fancy manuscript with all the penis trees in the margins might fetch enough to keep you in lavishly embroidered surcoats for at least a few more months, so off it goes to the consignment shop. Now say you’re an up and coming middle class type,*** and you’d like a couple of manuscripts around the house you just bought cheap off some other impoverished noble–y’know, class the place up, with the butt trumpetry and all that. You’re not likely to want to keep the old owner’s coat all splattered on everything, especially if you’ve managed to purchase a coat of arms of your own. Fetch hither the pumice stone, time to rub and scrape away the offending evidence of someone else’s patronage!

This particular manuscript, though, its damage is probably coincidental,**** as there are still some other pages in the manuscript bedecked with the owner’s original coat. But since I don’t have any good pics of those, here’s an example of an intact coat from a manuscript held at the same library:

As you might expect (and current exemplars notwithstanding), coat-of-arms pages tend as a rule to be more conservatively decorated than other pages in the manuscript. Wouldn’t want to detract from the stately splendor of a shield wrapped up in ivy. That’s another reason I was glad to come across last post’s image and the one above. These manuscript patrons were unafraid of marginal hijinks detracting from their familes’ good names. And just for giggles, care to wager a guess as to what the monkey on the right of the coat immediately above is shooting at, or what the monkeys to the left are up to? Got your guesses all together? Good. Here we go:

OK, so the first one was a gimme. Of course the one monkey is shooting another monkey’s willingly offered butt. That’s just what marginal monkeys do with their butts, when they’re not having other stuff stuck up there.

[Update 7-13-12: Actually… it looks like my old enemy Not Tagging Images As I Download Them has struck again. The proffered monkey-butt is actually from a different image I found in the same manuscript image repository. Should’ve noticed that his floriate border isn’t quite a match to the one in the other image. Ah well. The monkey on this coat-of-arms page is shooting at something far more prosaic, a butterfly that’s flitting over a fishermonkey’s head:

So if you predicted butterfly before, go ahead and give yourself an extra 20 points. Those who predicted monkeybutt, you can keep your points, as it’d be unfair to dock you now.] But off to the left?

What are they up to? Well… you got me. No idea. Comparing shoe sizes?***** Y’know, on the off chance they come upon a hunter’s booby-trapped shoes? Actually, the more I stare at certain details of the picture, the more I worry that the joke I just made in that last footnote****** might actually be true. I’m not enlarging anything,******* but it is curious how all the monkeys have little pouches strategically placed to cover their naughty dangly bits, except for the seated monkey, who may just be having a little wardrobe malfunction.

Goddamn it. Just when you think you’ve managed to write a proper scholarly post about coats of arms and the second hand manuscript market, someone goes slipping gratuitous monkey smut in while you’re not looking. I’m just going to pretend that’s a bit of foliate border, and I think you all should as well.********

  1. * Time travel, bitches. Get used to it. []
  2. ** Otherwise, how rude. []
  3. *** Not you, the one who was just a noble. Some other you reading this. []
  4. **** I theorize the damage was caused by generations of monocles dropping from the suddenly widened eyes of upper crust leather patches and tweed types all “My word, a man being ridden by a horse?! Such ribald debauchery! I daresay!” []
  5. ***** Does what they say about men apply to monkeys, too? Y’know, big shoes mean big… <insert word that isn’t penis because you were totally expecting a penis joke here>. []
  6. ****** And I know you read all the footnotes as you go, so it’s kosher for me to reference them in the main text. That sort of attention to detail is why I let you be the up and coming middle class guy in the example earlier. []
  7. ******* I’ve got enough dubious claims to fame to add ‘monkey genitalia retoucher’ to my resume now. []
  8. ******** Lest I make you be someone entirely unsavory in my next second-person example. Like monkey genitalia retouchers, for instance. []

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The Horned Women

Posted: September 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

  A rich woman sat up late one night, carding and preparing wool, while all the family and servants were asleep. Suddenly a knock was given at… Read story

Screen capture of CCTV footage of thief about to break the display glass with a drain gratingA medieval bronze jug of great rarity and historical significance stolen from a museum in Luton, Bedfordshire, England this May has been found by the Bedfordshire police. The Wenlok Jug was stolen in a smash-and-grab burglary the night of May 12th from the Stockwood Discovery Centre. At 11:22 PM, the thief, his face wrapped with a scarf to stymie the CCTV cameras, climbed the museum’s fence, broke down the door and used a drain cover to smash through the half-inch thick laminated glass and polycarbonate compound of the display case. He took the jug and ran.

The museum’s insurance company offered a reward of £25,000 for the jug’s safe return because there was immense concern that the burglar planned to sell the 13-pound bronze artifact simply for its scrap value, a mere £20 ($32). The value to the museum was inestimable, both because of its market price and because of its national and regional importance. It is one of a very few datable medieval bronze jugs to bear the maker’s mark of an English bronze founder, possibly a bell founder, although the exact mark has not been found among extant medieval bells yet.

The Wenlok JugThe tankard is a foot tall and is decorated with coats of arms, including Plantagenet royal arms used between 1340 and 1405 and East Anglian arms, probably relating to the foundry. There are other royal and noble symbols — crowns, badges — decorating the jug, plus a dedication to “MY LORD WENLOK” inscribed all in capitals around the bottom half. There are two possible candidates for the Lord Wenlok in question. One is William Wenlock, Archdeacon of Rochester and canon of King’s Chapel, Westminster and of St. Paul’s Cathedral, who died in 1391 and is buried under St. Mary’s Parish Church of Luton. He wasn’t a lord in the sense of having the official title, but he was an important figure in local life and in the church hierarchy, so he could have been referred to as a lord for jug purposes.

The other is his great-nephew John, the first and only official Lord Wenlock, who fought and served under every king from Henry V to Edward IV. He was Chief Butler of England from 1461 to 1469, so the Wenlok Jug could well have been used to serve royalty. He was a Member of Parliament for Bedfordshire throughout the 1430s and 1440s, was High Sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire in 1444 and was elected Speaker of the House in 1455. His family seat was Someries Castle in Sir John Wenlock window in Wenlock Chapel at St. Mary's Church, LutonLuton which, since he changed sides twice during the Wars of the Roses, was forfeited to the crown after he died fighting (not very well, by some accounts, which claim he was killed by his commanding officer the Duke of Somerset for failing to press forward in support of him) for Henry VI at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471.

Both Wenlocks lived in Luton. The family bought the Manor of Luton in 1377 and lived there until John built Someries. Their names are on the town’s medieval guild register, and there’s a Wenlock Street in town. St. Mary’s Church also has a Wenlock Chapel with a stained glass window depicting Lord Wenlock in his knightly finery.

Asante Ewer at the British MuseumThere are only two other medieval bronze jugs like it known to exist. One is in the British Museum, the other in the Victoria and Albert. They differ in size, color and decorative details, but they all share a number of characteristics. They’re the same pot-bellied shape, although the British Museum piece looks quite different because it’s the only one of the three to have retained its lid. The other two had lids originally, but only the hinges are left now. All three inscriptions say different things, but they’re done in similar, and may I say awesome, Lombardic-style lettering. They all bear the same age royal arms (1340-1405).

Robinson Jug at the Victoria and Albert MuseumEven under the surface the three pieces show themselves to be related. A study of the three done by the British Museum found that they are made of the same alloy of copper, tin and lead known as leaded bronze. This was a popular material, but the jugs have the same impurities in the metal which suggests all three were cast at the same foundry. X-rays show that they were manufactured using the same technique — molten bronze poured into a mould with a front part, a back part and a core — which again was popular at the time. Unusual, however, was the use of metal spacers inside the mouldsWenlok Jug X-ray that ensured the metal would flow freely between the outer casing and the core. All three jugs used these spacers.

The Wenlok Jug is the smallest of the three but bears the earliest maker’s mark. It’s also the most recent discovery. Nobody knew it existed until it was found in a cellar at Easton Neston, Northamptonshire, the stately home of Lord Alexander Hesketh which he sold to a Russian retail store magnate in July 2005. Sotheby’s auctioned off some of the contents in May of that year, the Wenlok Jug among them. It was purchased at that auction by a London dealer for £568,000 ($920,000). In October 2005, the dealer sold it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for £750,000 ($1,200,000).

Wenlok Jug (l), Robinson Jug (m), Asante Ewer (r)Given its extreme rarity, its connection to two similar pieces at the two top museums in the country, the royal arms and the medieval maker’s mark, the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest run by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council declared it of national importance and outstanding significance for the study of medieval metallurgy. Culture Minister David Lammy promptly put a temporary export ban on the jug. The deal with these export bans is if a museum in-country can come up with the same amount of money the foreign entity spent on the purchase, then the local museum gets to buy it.

The Luton Council’s museum service, anxious to secure a masterpiece with such a close connection to the city for themselves and for the nation, stepped up to the plate. In the world of museums, it doesn’t get more David and Goliath than this. The Luton museum’s total yearly acquisition budget is £2,500 ($4,000). The Met spent $36.5 million on art purchases between June 2010 and June 2011, and that’s just a fraction of its overall acquisitions endowment of $632 million.

By hook and by crook, Luton scrounged up the £750,000 it needed to buy the jug out from under the Met. The bulk came from large grants. They got £137,500 from the National Art Collections Fund and £590,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. They raised another £20,000 in donations from museum supporters, individuals, local organizations and small trusts. Throw in the museum’s annual acquisition budget and that makes exactly £750,000. They secured the Wenlok Jug at the end of February 2006, and in May it went on display at the Wardown Park Museum.

In 2008 it was moved to the newly constructed Stockwood Discovery Centre where it remained on display until the burglary earlier this year. The Bedfordshire police have been investigating the crime ever since it happened, and their doggedness has now paid off. They discovered the purloined jug on the morning of Monday, September 24th at a home in Tadworth, Surrey. Officers arrested two people at the scene. One has been charged with handling stolen property and the other is now out on bail pending further investigations. Museum experts have examined the jug today and confirmed it is the authentic artifact.

Police haven’t closed the investigation — they are still asking the public for any information they might have about the theft — but the Wenlok Jug is back home. The relief at the museum must be palpable. There was no replacing this piece. Even if they had the money, which obviously they do not, there simply isn’t another one like it.

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Fortune and Knowledge

Posted: September 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

One day Fortune and Knowledge took a walk together. They happened to drift into a discussion as to what would be of the greatest benefit to mankind. … Read story

Picture of the Week #192

Posted: September 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

Closer view of the tomb of Katherine Parr. Photo May 1998.

Today is the anniversary of Katherine’s death in 1548.