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By Brenda S. Cox

We got to enjoy “Jane Austen in the Arts” at the 2021 Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Annual General Meeting (AGM). Over 500 participants gathered in Chicago last weekend to learn, enjoy each other’s company, and have fun!

The crowd was smaller than usual, and covid precautions were taken. Europeans weren’t able to come, though we had a few brave Canadians join us. It was a delight to be back together in person. Most regional JASNA groups are only now re-starting in-person meetings after many months of gathering only on Zoom. (If you didn’t know about JASNA, check it out; you will likely find a group near you.)

The Jane Austen Society of North America recently held their Annual General Meeting in Chicago.

So what does Austen have to do with the arts, you might wonder? We learned both about the arts during Austen’s time, and artistic adaptations of Austen today. Here are some of the topics we discussed.

Plenary Sessions

  • Gillian Dow told us about theatre and Austen’s dialogue.
  • Devoney Looser compared Jane and Cassandra’s inspiring one another through writing and art with Jane and Anna Maria Porter, sister-novelists writing at the same time.
  • Desmond Shawe-Taylor explained the Prince Regent’s enjoyment of art, especially the Dutch and Flemish painters popular at the time.
  • Maestro Stephen Alltop and Soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg gave us a concert of some of Jane Austen’s favorite music. One of the highlights of the weekend for me was their hilarious interpretation of “The Battle of Prague,” with Josefien’s farcical dramatization: shooting, riding an imaginary horse, “suffering” from wounds, and ducking cannonballs. (And, Maestro Alltop introduced the piece with a wonderful reading from Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad about it, which started us laughing and we didn’t really stop!)

Special Interests

Participants chose from a rich palette of special interest sessions and breakout sessions, addressing all of these arts:

  • Music of the time, and the music used in Austen movies
  • Fashion
  • Painting
  • Sketching
  • Drama
  • Elocution
  • Dance
  • Embroidery
  • Costume Design
  • Graphic Novels and Comics
  • Cooking
  • Art Appreciation
  • Collecting Art
  • Adaptations of Austen
  • Satirical Cartoons
  • And even making videos for Tik Tok!
Joy Refuerzo Provost shows the silhouette she cut of the Prince Regent. Cassidy J. Alexander, standing next to her, is a professional silhouette artist and historian who taught the workshop at the AGM.

Tours and Workshops

For those who came a day early or stayed late, tours were offered of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, Chicago movies, and more. Workshops, organized by Lori Mulligan Davis, let participants try their hands (and feet) at:

  • Calligraphy
  • Making Feather Headpieces
  • Watercolors
  • Silhouettes, and of course
  • English Country Dance

Entertainment

Besides all these fascinating learning opportunities, I loved the two main events.

  • Chicago’s Ghostlight Ensemble performed a captivating reading of A. A. Milne’s play, Miss Elizabeth Bennet: A Play from Pride and Prejudice. Bennet stole the show, with many hilarious lines. The play more or less followed the plot of Pride and Prejudice, but with some fun new twists thrown in.
  • And of course, the Ball, following a banquet. So fun to be back dancing again, even with masks on! Callers Tom and Toni Tumbusch led the four long lines of dancers through two easy dances, to get the newbies comfortable, then brought us through the complex dance from the 1995 movie of Pride and Prejudice. This was loosely based on the dance “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot”—maggot meant a favorite, not a worm! The caller explained that choreographers totally revised that dance so that it would look good on film and give Darcy plenty of chances to give Elizabeth “smoldering” looks! The changes did make it harder to dance, but we did it. And the last dance was the slower Duke of Kent’s Waltz. It didn’t actually include waltzing, though it was in ¾ time.
  • Those who didn’t want to dance could play whist or join a trivia tournament.
Renata Dennis, chair of the Diversity (JEDI) Committee, and Brenda S. Cox, dressed for the banquet and ball at the AGM.

Diversity

JASNA has been making great efforts to make Austen more accessible to a wide variety of people, including younger audiences and audiences from various backgrounds. The JASNA Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee (fondly called the JEDI Committee) includes nine committed Janeites from a variety of backgrounds. I asked the JEDI chair, Renata Dennis, what she saw as the highlights of this AGM.

Renata sends kudos to the amazing AGM organizers, Kristen Miller Zohn and Jennifer Swenson, for making a point of including topics related to Jane Austen and diversity.

Kristen Miller Zohn and Jennifer Swenson, organizers of the 2021 AGM

Some examples Renata appreciated:

  • Johann S. Buis and Lisa Brown shared about musicians of color including George Polgreen Bridgetower, Ignatius Sancho and others, with samples of their work.
  • Georgie Castilla, an artist from Mexico, gave a fascinating presentation on Austen adaptations in comics, manga, and graphic novels. I was surprised to learn that while comic adaptations of other classics have been around for a long time, the first Austen comics appeared only recently. Georgie also pointed out that in cartoon adaptations, the characters can easily be shown as from diverse backgrounds. I bought one of his t-shirts, which proclaims “Austen is For Everyone,” and shows a variety of people in Regency clothes. 
  • Lena Ruth Yasutake talked about ways to introduce “new, younger, and more diverse audiences” to Austen through drama, education, and costume.
  • Devoney Looser talked about Charles Austen’s connections to suppressing slavery. She encouraged us to not fear addressing difficult topics of the Austens’ connections to slavery. The issues are complex, with many gray areas, but well-worth exploring in depth.

A recent issue of Persuasions On-Line also focuses on Jane Austen and Diversity.

Dancing at the Ball. Georgie Castilla and Sheila Hwang, members of the JEDI Committee.

Shopping

What else? Of course we also got to shop! Jane Austen Books offered their usual incredible selection of books, magazines, and other goodies, including a book signing with authors who spoke at the AGM. Other vendors sold clothing, accessories, socks, the Wisconsin region’s lovely Austen calendars, and other fun stuff.

This image by Georgie Castilla premiered at the AGM, featured on t-shirts, mugs, stickers, and tote bags. Items are available from Cassandra’s Closet.

Want to join in?

JASNA will be offering recordings of many of the sessions for those who didn’t make it to the AGM, for a fee. (My own talk on “Satirical Cartoons and Jane Austen’s Church of England” will be included.) I suspect that, like the AGM, the recordings will just be available to JASNA members, but I encourage you to join. The organization provides wonderful resources as well as great friends to network with.

And, you might want to start saving up for the next AGM, which will be held Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 2022 in Victoria, BC, Canada. I hear it’s a gorgeous place. The theme is “Sense and Sensibility in the City of Gardens.” I’m looking forward to it!

SPECIAL NOTE: IF YOU WANT TO JOIN JASNA, DO IT THIS WEEK! FEES WILL INCREASE ON NOVEMBER 1. INDIVIDUAL MEMBERSHIPS, NOW $30 PER YEAR, WILL INCREASE TO $45 PER YEAR ON NOV. 1.

Brenda S. Cox blogs on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen

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Reviewed by Brenda S. Cox

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman: The Life and Times of Richard Hall, 1729-1801 provides fascinating insights into Jane Austen’s England.

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman, by Mike Rendell, explores 18th century life in England

Richard Hall was a tradesman, a hosier who made stockings in a shop near London Bridge. Like the Coles in Emma, he “was of low origin, in trade,” but moved up in society as he became wealthier. Hall accumulated his fortune through hard work, marriage, inheritance, and investments. From selling silk stockings, he moved into selling fine fabrics, silver buckles, and other fashionable accessories. Hall eventually owned several estates, and retired as a country gentleman. 

I asked the author, Mike Rendell, to tell us more about how he wrote this book.

Rendell says he inherited “a vast pile of old family papers, . . . stuffed into tea chests and boxes in the back of the garage” in his grandmother’s house. He focused on the papers related to Richard Hall and found it “a fascinating voyage of discovery.” 

This trunk was full of papers from the eighteenth century.

Rendell continues, “For instance, if he [Richard Hall] recorded in his diary that he had ‘visited the museum’ it made me research the origins of the British Museum, realizing that he was one of the earliest visitors. Which led on to researching what he might have seen, etc.”

He adds, “Writing my first book opened my eyes to a great deal about the world in which Jane [Austen] was brought up. I love her works – especially P&P and I must admit to binge-watching the entire BBC version in a single sitting, at least twice a year!”

In the context of Richard Hall’s story, Rendell tells us about many aspects of life in the eighteenth century, based on his extensive research. For example:

Religion

Richard Hall was a Baptist, one of the Dissenter (non-Church of England) groups in Austen’s England. This meant that even though Hall loved learning, he was not able to attend university. Oxford and Cambridge, the two English universities, would not give degrees to Dissenters. Hall could have studied in Holland, but his family decided to bring him directly into their hosiery business instead.

Richard Hall’s grandfather and father were Baptists, and Richard attended a Baptist church and listened to sermons by the famous Baptist preacher Dr. John Gill for many years. Richard also collected printed sermons by Dr. Gill. However, it was not until Richard was 36 that he “gave in his experience” and was baptized. Rendell explains that “giving in his experience” meant “explaining before the whole church at Carter Lane in Southwark how he had come to faith in Christ.”

Some of the leaders of the English Baptists of the time are part of Hall’s story, as well as disputes and divisions between Baptist churches.

Hall sometimes attended Anglican churches, and was even a churchwarden for a time. Rendell comments, “The fact that he was a Baptist did not mean that he was unwilling to attend Church of England services – just as long as the gospel was being preached.”

Methodists were another important movement in Hall’s England, though they were still part of the Anglican Church for most of Hall’s lifetime. One of Hall’s relatives, William Seward, became an early Methodist minister, preaching to open-air crowds. Rendell writes that Seward “died after being hit by a stone on the back of the head while preaching to a crowd at Hay-on-Wye, on 22 October 1740 – one of the first Methodist martyrs.”

Silhouette of Richard Hall, probably “taken” (cut out) by his daughter Martha. In 1777 Martha “gave her experience” and was baptized in a Baptist church, as her father had done.

Science

Rendell often explains advances in science that affected Hall’s life (and Jane Austen’s). He writes, “By the standards of his day . . . Richard was a well-educated man. Above all, he was a product of his time – there was a thirst for knowledge all around Richard as he grew up. There were new ideas in religion, in philosophy, in art and in architecture. This was the age of the grand tour, of trade developments with the Far East, and a new awareness of the planets and astronomy as well as an interest in chemistry and physics. It was a time when the landed gentry were experimenting with new farming methods – inspired by ‘Turnip’ Townsend and Jethro Tull – and where a nascent industrial revolution was making its faltering first steps.” Richard wrote down many scientific “facts”—or fictions—some of which are listed in an appendix.

Surprisingly, Richard Hall records several times that he saw the Aurora Borealis in southern England. Apparently, the aurora was sighted many times in Austen’s England, though it has since migrated northward.

Rendell also tells us about an invention that greatly improved transportation: the development of macadam roads. These were named for the Scotsman John McAdam who invented the process. When bitumen (tar) was added in the nineteenth century, such roads were called “tar-macadamised”: a word eventually shortened to “tarmac.”

Travel was quite an adventure in Austen’s time. Richard Hall made this detailed paper cutout of a coach and four, showing one of the fastest means of transportation available at the time. Hall also did cutouts of a coach and four about to crash because of a boulder in the road, and a one-horse coach being held up by a highwayman.

Medicine

Richard Hall’s small daughter was inoculated against smallpox, which meant she was given the actual disease. She had “between two and three hundred pustules.” But Richard writes that about three weeks later, “Through the goodness of God . . . the Dear Baby finally recovered from inoculation.” 

About ten years later, inoculation–giving the patient a hopefully mild case of smallpox–was replaced by vaccination. Dr. Edward Jenner developed this technique, where patients were given cowpox rather than smallpox to develop their immunity. However, Jenner became a member of the Royal Society (of scientists) not for his work on vaccination, but for his observations of cuckoos and their habits! He also experimented with hydrogen-filled balloons. The “naturalists” (not yet called “scientists”) of this age were interested in topics that nowadays we would separate into many different branches of science.

When Hall’s first wife, Eleanor, died of a stroke, he cut this tiny Chinese pagoda in memoriam, with her name, age, and date of death. Rendell says it is “like
lace. It is just an inch and a quarter across and most probably fitted in between the outer and inner cases of his pocket watch. In other words it was worn next to his heart. Very romantic!”

Weather

Hall also noted the weather. In 1783 he refers often “to a stifling heat, a constant haze, and to huge electrical storms which illuminated the ash cloud in a fearsome manner.” These were the effects of a huge volcanic eruption in Iceland, the Laki volcano. This eruption, the most catastrophic in history, caused an estimated two million deaths worldwide, and wiped out a quarter of the population of Iceland. In England, the harvest failed, cattle died, and about 23,000 people died of lung damage and respiratory failure.

Highwaymen were another danger in Austen’s England. In this paper cutting by Richard Hall, a criminal, possibly a highwayman, hangs on the gallows while spectators are unconcerned.

Language

Richard Hall wrote a list for himself of words that sound different than they look. He gives the spelling, then the pronunciation, which helps us see how people in his area and level of society spoke. A few examples:

Apron—Apurn

Chaise—Shaze

Cucumber—Cowcumber

Sheriff—Shreeve

Birmingham—Brummijum

Nurse—Nus

Dictionary—Dixnary

The history of some words are also explained. For example, the word “gossip” was a contraction of “God’s siblings.” Such women helped mothers in childbirth. The “gossips” offered sympathy, kept men away, and chattered in order to keep up the mother’s spirits throughout her labor.

Museums and Exhibitions

Rendell describes several museums and exhibitions that Hall visited. One of the most intriguing is Cox’s Museum, which Hall and his wife visited the year Austen was born. It featured rooms full of “bejewelled automata.” The most famous was a life-size silver swan, still a popular exhibit at the Bowes Museum in Durham (northern England). The Museum says it “rests on a stream made of twisted glass rods interspersed with silver fish. When the mechanism is wound up, the glass rods rotate, the music begins, and the Swan twists its head to the left and right and appears to preen its back. It then appears to sight a fish in the water below and bends down to catch it, which it then swallows as the music stops and it resumes its upright position.” No less a personage than Mark Twain admired this swan and wrote about it in The Innocents Abroad.

Richard Hall’s upbringing stressed values which still resonate with many people today. Rendell writes, “. . .from an early age it had been instilled into Richard that there were only three things which could help stop the fall into the abyss of poverty, sickness and death. The first was a strong belief in the Lord, and that without faith you got nowhere. The second was the importance of education. The third was that you got nothing without working hard for it. These were the cornerstones of his upbringing – and of the whole of his subsequent life.”

Richard Hall was an artist of paper cutting. He cut out everyday objects and scenes. Many, like this finely-done rapier, were found among his books and journals.

And Much More

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman is full of treasures for those of us who love reading about Jane Austen’s time period. We learn about guilds, clothing, food, disasters, transportation, prices, medical advances, explorers, and much more. 

To Rendell, Richard Hall “came across as a bit of a joyless, pious individual but then I thought: hang on, he had to face exactly the same problems as we do today – illness, worries about the business, problems with a son who was a mischief maker at school, problems with the drains etc etc. When he re-married  he fell out with his children because they didn’t approve of his new bride – and they excommunicated him [avoided and ignored him] for the rest of his life. In that sense his life was just as much of a mess as the ones we lead today!”

While Rendell originally wrote this story for his own family, when he decided to make it widely available he found he needed to promote it. He ended up in a surprising job. He says, “I had never before tried public speaking but quickly found that I loved it – and ended up with a totally new ‘career’ as a cruise ship lecturer (when Covid 19 permits!) travelling the world and talking about everyday life in the 18th Century. . . . These talks include talks about Jane Austen – in particular about the different adaptations, prequels, sequels, etc. of Pride and Prejudice – as well as talks about the venues used in the various films of Jane’s books. I also write articles for Jane Austen’s Regency World. . . . One thing led to another and I have now had a dozen books published, with two more in the pipeline.”

Mike Rendell’s books include topics such as Astley’s Circus (Astley’s is mentioned in Emma and in one of Jane Austen’s letters), Trailblazing Women of the Georgian EraPirates and Privateers in the 18th Century, and more. 18th Century Paper Cutting shows the illustrations used in this article, along with other lovely paper cuttings by Richard Hall. See Mike Rendell’s blog at mikerendell.com for more of Mike’s books and blog posts.

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman is available from amazon in the US and the UK. It is offered on kindle unlimited. If you order a paperback copy from Mike Rendell (Georgiangent on amazon.co.uk), he says, “if anyone orders a copy I will ask (through amazon) and see if they want a personal dedication/signed copy before popping it in the post.” (It is listed there as a hardback but is actually a paperback.)

By the way, Rendell pointed out that Jane Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, also did paper cutting (or silhouettes). You can see examples of James’s work in Life in the Country. There is also a well-known silhouette of Jane’s brother Edward being presented to the Knight family; that one was done by a London artist, William Wellings.

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman gives us valuable insights into the life of an Austen-era tradesman who became a country gentleman. What would you most like to know about the life of such a person?

___________

Brenda S. Cox blogs about Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen, and is currently working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. You can also find her on Facebook.

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Gentle Readers,

What better way to resume my blog than with Jessica Purser’s lovely Jane Austen post cards and bookmarks? I apologize for my unexcused silence. Life simply caught up with me, and due to a schedule that overwhelmed me because of work and family obligations, I had to cut back on my blog, and Facebook and Twitter comments. I did keep up with my Pinterest boards, for I found that cataloging images was as relaxing as playing solitaire. Whenever I found 10 spare minutes here and there (while waiting, watching the news or a television show, or during a solitary meal), I would pin. I want to thank those who persisted in contacting me (and who I needlessly worried) and who coached me to return to my blogging duties a little earlier than I had planned. Jessica Purser sent these lovely cards and notes for me to review in July. They certainly deserved my immediate attention and not such a long wait.

JPurser_PrideandPrejudice.jpg

I placed a number of the images on my table. Sorry about the quality of the images. I have interspersed them with images from Jessica Purser’s Etsy site.

I am sure that many of you have already viewed samples of Jess’s images on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Twitter, but I couldn’t help sharing these cute interpretations of Jane Austen’s characters anyway.

Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy

Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy

Ms. Purser sent me quite a few samples, which I photographed (rather clumsily, I must admit). I am also featuring a number of images from her Etsy site.

persuasion_pride_purser.jpg

Anne and Captain Wentworth in Persuasion, and Bingley proposing to Jane in Pride and Prejudice

I can’t think of a better way to restart my blog than to share Jess’s wonderful creations with you. They are painted on pages of Jane Austen’s novels, which provide context.

Emma and Mr. Knightley

Emma and Mr. Knightley

The postcards are printed on hardy card stock and the larger images are suitable for framing. I have been using the bookplates and bookmarks, and sharing them with friends.

Bookmarks and book plates. How lovely.

Bookmarks and book plates. How lovely.

Thank you, Jessica, for this lovely art work.

Jess's book marks

Jess’s book marks

Jessica PurserRead more about Jessica in this Interview with Jessica Purser on Rockalily Cuts

Order her art work at: Castle on the Hill, Jessica’s Etsy Shop

 

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Dr. Syntax Visits a Boarding School for Young Ladies

One of the most unexpected (and wonderful) finds in the Emporium at the 2012 JASNA meeting in NYC were the four Rowlandson prints that I purchased. One, entitled “Dr. Syntax Visits a Boarding School for Young Ladies” is charming. I included a number of images I found online to accompany this post. Except for the composition, t is remarkable how strikingly different each looks. My print resembles none of the ones displayed here – it is slightly yellowed and delicately colored, but the colors are neither bright nor faded. I can’t wait to frame it.

Dr syntax visits a boarding school for young ladies,1821. This image from the Yale Center of British Art is much paler than mine, in which the headmistress’s skirt is colored red and the young ladies in the foreground wear colored dresses.

This 190+ year old hand-colored aquatint came from The Tour of Doctor Syntax, published by Ackermann’s Repository in London from 1812-1821. Dr. Syntax, a British clergyman, sits under a tree next to a stern looking Lady Governess, who addresses the young pupils arrayed around them. The scene accompanies text in The Second Tour of Dr. Syntax, In Search of Consolation. The illustration reveals how Rowlandson works, outlining the figures with a reed pen and then delicately washing certain areas of the print with color. His pen and inks were then etched by a professional engraver, an artist in his own right. The impressions were then hand colored.

Rowlandson’s Prints

Rowlandson was prolific. Art historians deem his earlier works to be more artistic and carefully observed. As his reputation spread, he began to produce his designs in haste and the quality of his art began to suffer. His caricatures became predictable and in some instances overly exaggerated, but he never lost the facility with which he handled his pen.

In this series, Rowlandson created the illustrations first. Writer James Combe then wrote the narrative that accompanies the images. “This series is one of the best parodies of the more traditional narratives on journeys to different parts of England featuring more “serious” landscape illustrations and prose.” ( Prints from The Tours of Dr. Syntax, Prints With a Past.)

This print is similar to the one I purchased, but slightly more colorful. Image from Dr. Syntax’s Three Tours at Internet Archive, Cornell University Library

Doctor Syntax talks to the Young Ladies at Boarding School

Below sits the text (in verse) that accompanied this image, in which Dr. Syntax expounds on his listeners’ youth and character, and how they can learn from good example:

In the following page, Dr. Syntax exhorts his young charges to never swerve from virtue’s path and to take care of their good looks, for “flowing looks display’d to view, of black or brown or auburn hue, and well combin’d in various ways, a certain admiration raise…”:

Dr. Syntax does not want for words. In fact, he is a bit of a windbag. How those girls could sit enraptured during this speech is a marvel to me. In this section the rich graces of the mind hold the beauty of the whole, the mortal form, th’ immortal soul.

I wonder if Dr. Syntax even drew breath! In this section the good doctor reinforces the concept that a woman’s place is in the home, overseeing the family and household.

The Doctor says his goodbye, admonishing the listeners to pay attention the kind preceptress, who “will explain what of this subject doth remain, and bring the whole before your view, to prove my solemn doctrine true.”

Sources: 

Books:

  • Dr. Syntax’s Three Tours Doctor Syntax’s three tours in search of the picturesque, consolation, and a wife. By William Combe. The original ed., complete and unabridged, with the life and adventures of the author, now first written, by John Camden Hotten. Eighty full page illustrations drawn and coloured after the originals by T. Rowlandson. Published 1868 by J. C. Hotten in London . Library of Congress, PR3359.C5 D6 1868

Other posts about the JASNA NYC 2012

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Inquiring readers: This article from frequent contributor, Patricia Saffran from Brandy Parfums, describes the exhibit at the British Museum, which opened in London on May 24. These exquisite works of art, along with others, will be on view through September 30th. With this exhibit, the upcoming Olympic Games, and the Diamond Jubilee Celebration, what a sterling year it has been thus far for Great Britain.

Queen Elizabeth’s love of horses is well-known. As part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration, an exhibition has been created in her honor on the history of the horse in civilization. Opening May 24, 2012 at the British Museum in London, the emphasis in this exhibition is on the domestication of horses and the revolutionary impact of horses on ancient civilizations. Artifacts and art from the Museum’s extensive collection, as well as various loans on display depict the horse in its early use in farming, hunting and warfare. In the exhibition, the role of horses in the history of the Middle East is examined with an emphasis on the breeding of the Arab as a foundation of the Thoroughbred. Britain’s long equestrian tradition figures prominently in the show.

253093: Fragment of carved limestone relief featuring the heads and foreparts of three horses drawing a chariot with reins, hands of
charioteer and whip, 9thC BC, Neo-Assyrian. Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum.

The genus Equus, including all current species such as horses, asses and zebras, is native to North America. During the first major glaciations of the Pliocene, around 2.6 million years ago, certain species crossed the Bering Land Bridge. From there they spread out, some to Africa diversifying into zebras. Other species spread to Asia, the Mideast and North Africa as desert asses. The modern horse, equus caballus, migrated to Asia, Europe and the Mideast. Other Equus species drifted toward South America.

Due to the possible change in grasses, forage, or the threat of hunting, it is believed that horses, asses and zebras remaining in North and South America died out at the end of the last glaciations of the Pleistocene around 10,000 years ago, but there is no definitive proof. Some horses may have stayed and survived in the Great Plains or elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere. Horses were reintroduced into the Americas by the Spanish about five hundred years ago, and possibly before that by the Vikings and Asians.

90313: Three horses (white, black and chestnut) galloping across a bare landscape, chestnut horse has a lasso round its neck and white horse round its hind legs. mid-16thC, Persian. Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum.

As horses moved toward the rich grasslands in the steppes of southern Russia around 5,000 years ago, their domestication occurred – the wild Przewalski’s horse in Central Asia is an exception.

Horses were introduced to the Ancient Near East in about 2,300 BC. Before this time donkeys, asses and oxen pulled crude carts in this area. Technological advances later on saw swifter carts and chariots pulled by horses, and the development of horseback riding. The history of conquest utilizing horses along with advancements in writing, art, architecture and agriculture were all part of the culture of these ancient lands.

The following are highlights of the exhibition with some of the history attached to the objects and art on display.

The famous standard of Ur, a Sumerian mosaic from 2,400- 2,600 BC with chariots drawn by equines is on display.

One of the earliest known representations of a horse and rider will be shown – a terracotta mould from Old Babylonia (Iraq) from about 2000-1800 BC. The rider sits well to the back of the horse where there is very little control. Later in the ninth century BC, Assyrian cavalrymen brought horses that may have been bred to be finer and faster. They sat forward on the horse for better maneuverability, and the calvary charge was born.

265010: Album leaf. A horse with elaborate saddle and harness being led by a groom. On paper. Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum.

Horses were highly prized and given as gifts in the Ancient Near East around 2000 BC according to ancient texts. Also, around this time what appears to be an Arab type can be seen in Egyptian tomb paintings – horses with a short back, high tail and large eyes. In about 1,600 BC the use of the faster, superior chariot ushered in the Chariot age – which was to have a profound effect on warfare, even reaching later on to China and elsewhere. Particularly among the ancient Hurrians, between the Tigris and Euphrates, a system of royal patronage developed with an aristocratic military.

The Assyrians reveled in the horse as a source of prestige and created meticulously crafted horse trappings. A Neo-Assyrian carved relief from Nimrud(Iraq) from the 9th century BC shows the intricate detail in these chariot horse trappings.

The Achaemenid King Darius was known to hunt fast game like lions from a fast-moving chariot and a seal of this image is on display. Darius was better known for developing a system similar to the Pony Express where horses were changed at intervals to deliver mail along the improved Royal road, stretching 1000 miles long. It was Herodotus who wrote, “nothing stops these couriers from covering their allotted range in the quickest possible time. Neither snow, rain, heat nor darkness.” (Sound familiar?) – Herodotus, the Histories, Book VIII, 5th century BC.

948688: Man on horseback, with a falcon, early 18th century, India. Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum.

The Parthian Empire 3rd century BC to 3rd century AD, saw more developments in horse combat. They were famous for the “Parthian shot” – pretending to flee while on horseback, then turning around shooting an arrow backwards. We now use the expression, “Parting shot” that comes from this manoeuvre.

Under the Parthians and later Sassanian Dynasty in 224 AD horses and riders started to wear armor for battle. While we think of jousting as quintessentially European with its armored horses and riders, the sport was actually practiced early on by the Parthians and Sassanians.

The horse grew in importance in the world across what is now Arabia, India and Turkey with numerous depictions in paintings and ceramics. Lovely Mughal miniatures from the 7th century AD reveal the high status of horses. Many show an owner and his beloved horse with delicate detail. The famous
Furusiyya manuscript from the 14th century AD is on display with its text on horsemanship.

Fine horses in the Middle East are explored in the Abbas Pasha manuscript from the 19th century. This document is the main text to describe the lineage of the purebred Arabian horses acquired by Abbas Pasha (the viceroy of Egypt). The Arab is the result of deliberate selective breeding.

406001: The Godolphin Arabian, Butler, T, 1750-55: Copyright of the Royal Collection

This exhibition includes the famous painting of the Godolphin Arabian by Thomas Butler, painted around 1750- 1755. The Godolphin Arabian was one of three foundation stallions (the other two being the Byerly Turk and the Darley Arabian) brought to England in the 18th century and bred to native
English horses to eventually become the Thoroughbred. The majority of modern Thoroughbreds (95%) are descended from these stallions. Those readers who saw the fantastic exhibition, All the Queen’s Horses, at the Kentucky Horse Park in 2003, will be familiar with this painting, which is on loan from
the Royal Collection.

185544: Hambletonian and Diamond at Newmarket.1800, by John Whessell, Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum

Also from the Royal Collection is a silver Faberge sculpture of the race horse Persimmon who had been owned by the Queen’s great-grandfather, Edward VII. The horse created a sensation by winning the 1896 Doncaster, St. Leger and Epsom Derby, the Epsom Derby being shown around the world in an
early newsreel.

400997: Lady Laetitia, Stubbs, G, 1793: Copyright of the Royal Collection

Normally hanging in the private quarters of Windsor, a George Stubbs portrait of Laetitia, Lady Lade on horseback will be on display. Lady Lade was a somewhat controversial figure, who swore among other things, but who was a gifted horsewoman. This painting from 1793, was commissioned by George IV who was smitten with Laetitia, the wife of his racing manager. The pleasure-loving George IV was himself an expert horseman, whip and breeder of racehorses.

Discussing the exhibition, curator John Curtis told The Guardian, “There are probably horses somewhere in every gallery in the museum, from Assyrian sculptures to coins. They’re so familiar and ubiquitous they mostly go unnoticed. We want to bring them together and show their importance in
history. The horse was an engine of human development…..”

For more information: britishmuseum.org Admission is free. The exhibition runs from May 24 – September 30.
While in the Museum, be sure to see the Elgin Marbles, a must for horse enthusiasts.

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