Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Fuller Brooch - not a manuscript

The Fuller Brooch
Originally uploaded by uk - charlie
For a change of pace, I thought I would not do a manuscript today. This is the Fuller Brooch, a piece of 9th century Anglo-Saxon jewelry. It may be the only piece of secular Anglo-Saxon metal work to survive above ground. (All other secular pieces have been found as part of treasure hoards. Some religious pieces survived in churches.) Years ago, when I first started at Wikipedia, I wrote my first article about this brooch. To quote what I said there:

The Fuller Brooch is a large disc made of hammered sheet silver inlaid with black niello and with a diameter of 11.4 cm. Its center roundel is decorated with personifications of the five senses. In the center is Sight with large staring oval eyes, surrounded by the other four senses, each in his own compartment. Taste has a hand in his mouth. Smell's hands are behind his back, and he stands between two tall plants. Touch rubs his hands together. Hearing holds his hand to his ear. This is the earliest known representation of the five senses. In the outer border are human, bird, animal and plant motifs.


Tree limb with snow
Originally uploaded by forficatus.books
We had snow today, about four inches. This was the first big snow in years that fell on a day that I could take the kids out to play in it. Sophia built a snowman, using the traditional three ball form; dark stones for eyes and mouth, carrot nose. Rosemary made a snow angel, and then we came in and had hot cherry turnovers and made maple syrup and snow candy. All good fun. It may well be the last snow of the year. Don't let The Elder Daughter here me say it, but I hope so.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Todays manuscript

Today's manuscript (British Library, Yates Thompson 26) is a twelfth century copy of Bede's prose Life of Cuthbert. (Bede also wrote a verse Life of Cuthbert). This manuscript was produced in northern England in the last quarter of the twelfth century, probably at Durham. It is know to have been at Durham during the later fourteenth century and early fifteenth century. The manuscript has 150 surviving folios with 46 full page miniatures. This miniature shows Cuthbert setting sail with two disciples. All of the illustrations are set before the gold background within the heavy colored frame seen here. This has the effect of emphasizing the otherworldly nature of the scene. This is after all an illustration of a Saint. This is one of my favorite manuscript pages. I particularly love the way the water is piled up in alternating shades of blue into a mound.

Swords and stuff

After several years, I finally convinced my family that the Tulsa library is superior to the Bartlesville library. For the last year or so, we have been making a weekly trip to the downtown library. Late last summer, as we were leaving, we noticed some people swinging swords about in the Aaronson Auditorium. It seems we had found the Tulsa School of Defense, a group of people dedicated to the study of western martial arts. They do German longsword, German side sword, and rapier. Now it happens that Sophia has wanted to learn fencing since before she was five. We were signed up on the spot. I am attending also. Now, many years ago, I did a little heavy weapons fighting in the SCA. I sucked. Actually I didn't do it long enough to know if I would suck or not, but I did get beat on a lot. Never won a fight. Not sure that I ever landed a good blow. I have been treating these lessons as a kind of Tai Chi with a stick. Actually getting hit or hitting someone wasn't really something I thought about. Last night was bout night, when the students go out and put theory into practice, and, as usual, I watched. During some of the time between bouts one of the instructors took Sophia and I the side and started to work with us. Started asking questions like "If you are in left Pflug and your opponent comes at you with right Zornhau, what do you do?" They are expecting me to let someone try and hit me! I'm afraid my responses usually would have had me dead. Sophia, on the other hand did much better. She got the right guard every time. She is also getting to be faster than me. Is it wise to teach your children to use weapons, when they might be better at it than you?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Another manuscript

This is a page from the Escorial Beatus (Escorial, Biblioteca Monasterio, Cod. & II. 5). Beatus of Liébana was an 8th century monk who wrote a commentary on the Book of Revelation. Actually "wrote" is a bit of strong word, as what he actually did was compile a bunch of other writer's comments together. For some reason his Commentary became a very popular book in the 9th and 10th centuries. There are twenty some copies extant, most of which are lavishly illustrated, often with full page miniatures. The Beatus manuscripts are an important part of what is called Mozarabic Art. There existed in the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula a tradition of manuscript illustration that was unlike anything else be doing anywhere else in Europe. This tradition emphasized flat, stylized forms for the human bodies. The drapery of the clothes was portrayed as abstract patterns that gave little indication of a body beneath. There was a strong, almost garish sense of color with vivid yellows, greens and reds dominating. The iconography was often startlingly original. It seemed almost as if the entire tradition of book illumination had to be invented anew.

This manuscript dates from the 10th century. It has 151 surviving folios with 52 surviving miniatures. It was probably produced at the monastery at
San Millán de la Cogolla. It is now in the Escorial.

Chicago Basin

Years ago I was an assistant scoutmaster to a troop in Tulsa. Although the troop did not have a history of high adventure, I talked, wheedled and browbeat the the other leaders into taking the kids on a backpacking trip. The route I chose went through the the Chicago Basin pictured here. As the slowest hiker in the group (imagine that), I was far behind the group as we went up the basin one afternoon. I stopped for a breather, and looked up, and was struck. The shock and surprise of the light on the mountains and trees hit me with a sort of ecstasy that is impossible to describe, and equally impossible to forget. The moment seemed to last forever, and perhaps did, because I was still standing there who knows how much later when I forest ranger came down the path and asked how I was doing. I haltingly tried to express what I was feeling. She smiled and said "You know when you are away it easy to forget." She then moved on to discuss more mundane matters, like the fire ban in the basin, and the moment passed. A year later I returned to the basin on a solo trip, in part seeking to recreate that moment. Although it was a fine trip, the moment never came. That ranger may have been right, it is easy to forget the magnitude of the scenery, but in a sense she was wrong. I haven't forgotten. These decades later, in the dark of winter, I can close my eyes and see the light on Mount Windom.

I wander'd lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneathe the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodills.

William Wordsworth

Year List

April and I have set the the goal for 2008 of seeing 200 bird species. So far we have only managed one birding outing, on January 1, to Lake Copan. It was very cold that day, so we did most of our birding from the car. Most of the birds on this list were seen on that trip, plus a few more picked up here and there.

Great Blue Heron
Canada Goose
Common Goldeneye
Northern Harrier
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
House Sparrow

22 birds, not the best start, perhaps, but a start.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A manuscript

This is a page from the Quedlinburg Itala fragment. The Quedlinburg Itala fragment was found in the binding of some books from the town of Quedlinburg. It is the oldest surviving Biblical illustrations and is thought to date to the 5th century. The style of the illustrations are similiar to the those found in late Roman manuscripts, notably the Vatican Virgil. The illustrations are heavily damaged. Beneath the illustrations are instructions to the artists on what to paint, giving insight into the working methods of book production during late antiquity.

To start

So how does one start a blog? I'm not talking about the mechanics, but the actually writing. What should be the content of the first post? This question has actually delayed my starting this, or any other blog, for some time. However, an old friend recently started blogging, and that was my kick in the pants to do something. I think I will take some comfort in the idea that in all probability no one is actually reading this.

Today we decided to go do a little nature hike at the Oxley Nature Center in Tulsa. Got everyone into the car bright and early, about noon. Drove down to Tulsa. It seems that trails are closed because they are still blocked by limbs from the ice storm last month and branches are still falling. Sigh. Plan B, we'd go to Gilcrease, see some good art, read the copy of the Declaration of Independence. Sophie could commune with Moran's Shoshone Falls. Museums are closed on Monday. Sigh. We ended up getting fabric for Sophia's Easter dress. Perhaps next time.