Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Oddly, it seems that people haven't actually read Rowland Vaughan's Most approued, and long experienced water-workes or at least the long (and I mean long) dedicatory poem by Davies. I'd been looking for the smoking gun connecting agricultural innovation with aristocratic pastoral traditions (otherwise pastoralism is irrelevant). Here are some lines describing meadows unimproved by Vaughan's method:
The Brookes runne murmuring by their parched Brincks
(Pure virgin Nimphes) and chide against the Stancks, [weirs]
When as their sweetest profer'd seruice stinkes,
So coyly kisse the chapt-lippes of the Bankes. (4)
Pretty pastoral, eh? This reminds me of Drayton's Polyolbion. As it happens, Vaughan set up his water meadows on the river Wye. When Drayton gets to the Wye in Polyolbion he digresses into an extraordinary celebration of ancient British learning and virtue. Furthermore, throughout the whole piece Vaughan and his cronies cast his enterprise as one of noblesse oblige, revealing the legitimacy of aristocratic control of the land itself. Lots to work with here.

Vaughan, Rowland, and John Davies. Most approued, and long experienced water-workes. Imprinted at London, 1610., 1610. 

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lady and the Tramp

I'm turning my thoughts about Veronese into an abstract responding to a call for papers on dogs in early modern culture at the MLA.  I'll turn in the edited version tomorrow, but here's the rough cut:

Lady and the tramp:
Canine metonymy in Paolo Veronese's Family of Darius before Alexander


     The paintings of Paolo Veronese abound with animals. Monkeys, parrots, horses, and especially dogs appear in nearly all of his major works, and Veronese himself appears to have been particularly conscious of their artistic place. Once, in 1573, he even refused a direct request by the Inquisition to replace a dog in a painting with an image of Mary Magdalen.  Veronese's animals have remained untheorized, however, in part because art historians have treated them as purely decorative and in part because  Veronese's reputation itself has suffered among critics in recent generations. To a modern eye, his bright colors and huge ceremonial paintings can appear trivial. Compared to Titian and Tintoretto, for example, Veronese has been accused of being “unconcerned with the intellectual challenges of meaning.”[1]  Yet Veronese has always been popular, and his work, if not self-consciously intellectual, nevertheless speaks to some of the most deeply held beliefs of early modern European culture.  One painting in particular, the celebrated Family of Darius before Alexander (c. 1569-71), is an allegory of the confrontation between the worlds of Europe and Asia. It depicts an event following the battle of Issus when Alexander the Great and Hephaistion are supposed to have visited the mother, wife and two daughters of the defeated Persian king, Darius. The ostensible subject is magnanimity or nobility, but the painting also develops a series of symmetrical contrasts. On the viewer’s right are European men, on the left, Persian women.  The men are towering, the women supplicating. The Europeans form a coherent dark mass, a Macedonian phalanx, while the Persians are disordered, a jumbled group of women, eunuchs, children, dwarves, and clothing.  This symmetrical opposition finds its extreme in the animals that inhabit the painting. On the viewer’s far right is Alexander’s dog, large and dignified.  On the extreme left are a pair of small lap-dogs, tumbling awkwardly out of the hands of a dwarf. Drawing on zoological and philosophical works, early modern historians, literary passages, and contemporary portraiture, I argue that the dogs of Veronese’s painting, posed at opposite ends of the canvas, serve as metonymic vehicles for a growing sense of regional differentiation, a sense in which hopes and anxieties about race and gender coincide.

[1] Rosand, David. Painting in cinquecento Venice : Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto. (New Haven: Yale UP, 1988) 145.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Magritte à la sixteenth century

I've laid out my plans for my conference paper (at UCSB) on early modern environmentalism. I know that others will be using Powerpoint, and that frees me up to add some visual arguments (including, yes, counting). Here's a thought for a hook. I want to begin with a problem. Before you can be even precociously environmentalist you need to have a concept of the environment itself. There is some good evidence that this concept was lacking, at least in the early sixteenth century. I thought I might use the changing meaning of the word "desert," which to us signifies a particular environment characterized by lack of water. It once meant something like "uncultivated," though (and Keith Thomas and the OED will back me up on this), a fact which leads to phrases like this one from As You Like It:  “In this desert inaccessible, / Under the shade of melancholly boughes.”  The result would be a slide like this:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lose the dog for Mary Magdalen

Paolo Veronese is called upon to paint a masterpiece version of the Last Supper for the dining room of the Dominicans in Venice, at Santi Giovanni e Paolo. It's a giant painting, over thirty feet long. Veronese, who loves lively figures and especially animals, figures that he might as well fill in the huge expanse with things like a dwarf, a man with a nosebleed, some German mercenaries leaning on pikes, and a dog (center, foreground). The Prior, appalled, complains to the Inquisition. They tell him to instruct Veronese to replace the dog with Mary Magdalen. Veronese points out that he can't just drop Mary Magdalen in where a dog is sitting scratching for fleas. The Inquisition hauls Veronese in and questions him at length about the painting. Veronese pleads artistic license. He points out how big the painting is. He says all the funny details are "per ornamento, come si fa" (for ornament, everyone does it). The Inquisition tells him to change the picture.  Veronese returns to the now-finished painting, takes a brush, and writes on it "Feast in the house of Levi." Voilà, no more scandalous Last Supper.  I like this guy.  Michele does not.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wow, that's a lot of beer

I had to do a lot of math to figure this out, but according to Gregory King, the annual consumption of beer and ale in early modern England was 381 liters/person.  That would mean that my family (five of us) would drink approximately 9.5 gallons of beer every week. Wow. We only drink 3 gallons of milk a week, and I thought that was a lot. 

OK, the real reason I'm looking into this has to do with my EMC article. I wanted to determine the relative importance of pasture vs. arable land in the 17th century. Approximately 62% of England's agricultural economy was pastoral, according to King. That's roughly twice the value of the arable economy. Fun stuff.  And you can track some of the anxieties about this in popular ballads of the period, too. In one of these, we hear that, "the Shepherdes God, / Doth deface Ladie Ceres crowne, / And Tilli[n]ges doth decay / Doth decay in every Town." Pasture was sometimes associated with the wool industry and thus with foreign trade and wealth rather than food.  Sounds a bit like the complaints about ethanol and corn these days.

Anonymous. “A Songe Bewailing the time of Christmas, So much decayed in England.” Old English Ballads 1553-1625. Ed. Hyder Rollins. Cambridge, 1920. 372-375. 

King, Gregory. “Natural and Political Observations and Conclusions upon the State & Condition of England (1696).” A reprint of economic tracts. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1936. 12-56. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Database day

I spent some of the day finding some sources, not enough time reading. Happily, there is lots of work being done on the concept of Fate, although I think too much attention has understandably been devoted to Fate-as-an-element-of-tragedy. But at least I ought to be able to use that material to be able to lay some issues aside.  

My Albion website is finally uploaded.  It needs a bit more work before I can safely leave it alone for months at a time (my goal - I hate constant web page updating). I think I will save enough time to make it worthwhile by not having to spend so much time emailing students about the required texts for classes.

Monday, February 2, 2009

fiddling while Rome burns...

Lots of busy work today, including two meetings, doctor's office (yay no ear infection any more), applications to be a GLCA liaison to the Bratislava Institute of Liberal Arts, a blurb for Communications, and updating my long-overdue-to-be-updated Albion web site (the update should be posted by noon tomorrow). Then Lanya accused me of procrastinating on my main sabbatical project, so now I'm going to show her the money. Oh yeah.