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For considerable time almost every London church had its own cemetery. Before 1800 there were more than two hundred such graveyards in the capital. St George’s at Hanover Square, Mayfair, was built between 1721 and 1724 to the designs of John James (George Frederick Handel was a regular worshipper here). The church originally sat in open countryside in the middle of its own burying place . Paddington Street Gardens were originally formed as an additional burial ground for St George’s. Burials at St George’s included that of Ann Radcliffe and Laurence Sterne. The latter was born in 1713 in Clonmel, Ireland, into a military family, the second of seven children. Since the age of ten he lived in Yorkshire, away from his parents and by the age of twenty he entered Jesus College, Cambridge. His education prepared him for taking clerical orders, and in 1737 he accepted the assistant curacy of St Ives, Huntingdon. Four years later, he assumed the vicarage of Sutton on the Forest, a village eight miles north of York which remained his home until 1760. This cosmopolitan mind spent most of his adult life serving a rural parish. He lived his life in relative obscurity participating on occasion in local politics – until 1759. That year he offered bookseller and publisher Robert Dodsley a manuscript of what eventually became the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy. The book was an immediate success and Sterne became the literary toast of the day. He died in London on 18 March 1768. He was buried four days later at St George’s.

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Physician Charles Collignon was the son of Paul Collignon, a minister of the Dutch church in Austin Friars. Charles began lecturing at Cambridge University in 1754. He stressed the significance of anatomy, the desirability of a legal supply of bodies for dissection, and the importance of post-mortems to improve medical knowledge. His Compendium anatomico-medicum (1756) provided a general introduction to students of anatomy. When giving a seminar on dissection someone in the audience recognized the corpse waiting to be cut up. It was that of Sterne. It appeared that the body had been stolen by some of Collignon’s students and taken to Cambridge. Charles had it sent back to London to be reburied, but no marker was placed on the grave.

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Robbing graves in order to facilitate the study of bodies and bones has been a long standing tradition in art and medicine. Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were known for stealing corpses from morgues in order to research human anatomy. In the early eighteenth century, when dissection became an integral part of medical studies, grave robbers prospered in Britain. They were feared and despised by the public at large. In the folklore of every culture interring the remains of the dead is heavy with rituals that must be observed if the souls of the deceased are to prosper and the living not troubled by their ghosts. A body should be buried in its complete state. If a limb is missing the deceased might risk spending eternity without an arm or leg. People preserved their lost teeth so that they might be buried with them. When it comes to interment yet more superstitions apply. Sites towards the eastern and southern boundaries of a graveyard were the most desirable. The cold and dark northern quarter was allocated to criminals and suicides. The opening of a new graveyard posed a serious challenge to undertakers. No caring person would volunteer a deceased relative to be interred first, because of the widespread belief that the Devil would claim the soul of that particular corpse for himself. The difficulty was overcome by the initial burying of an animal.

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The earliest recorded medieval anatomies were also carried out on animals. The beginning of modern surgery was held back by theologians who stressed the unlawfulness of meddling with a corpse. The human body was recognized as the temple of the Holy Spirit. Hence Tertullian denounced Greek physician Herophilus, deemed to be the first anatomist, as a butcher. In 1248, the Council of Le Mans forbade surgery to monks. During the Crusades a practice arose that when a nobleman was killed in battle far from home, the body would be defleshed and his bones transported back to his estate for burial. In response, Pope Boniface VIII promulgated a law in 1299 which excommunicated anyone who disemboweled bodies of the dead or boiled them to separate the flesh from the bones. He further decreed that bodies which had been so treated were to be denied a Christian burial. Such ideas were deeply rooted in the mind of the universal Church. For considerable time surgeonship was judged to be a dishonourable profession. However, from the thirteenth century onwards, the body became increasingly part of a theological discourse. The physicality of Christ was highlighted in works of art; stories of saints and martyrdom came to include gruesome details of physical mutilation; descriptions of mystical experience took on a physical form, the most spectacular manifestation of which was the reception of stigmata as in the case of Francis of Assisi. The change in focus also made the practice of anatomy acceptable and more widespread.

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The first dissection of a human body was performed around 1315 by Mondino de Liuzzi in Bologna, but the activity remained as yet relatively isolated elsewhere in Europe. In other countries, and especially in Britain, dissections occurred much later. Physician David Edwardes was educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he was made a fellow in 1524. A year later he was in Venice where he helped to complete the Aldine version of Galen’s works in Greek and it is probable that he spent time studying in Padua, then a centre of medical excellence. In 1528 he moved to Cambridge. He is credited with being responsible for the first recorded dissection of the human body in England which took place in 1531. Anatomy teaching which included the dissection of a human corpse did not become standard practice until the middle years of the sixteenth century. Finding suitable corpses was one of the main problems. Usually, the bodies used were those of criminals or heretics – predominantly males in other words. The occasional dissection of a woman, it being a public event, attracted large numbers of spectators by the prospect of the exposure of female organs. A public dissection in those early days was both spectacle and instruction. It was a ritual attended by professionals, artists and the curious alike. A dissection was the highlight of the academic term. Within medical circles, the cutting up of a body was regarded a celebration of scientific progress.

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Medical schools in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries found it difficult to teach anatomy because the supply of bodies for dissection was limited. Legally only the corpses of convicted murderers might be used, and even those were hard to obtain because of public revulsion. Battles between family and friends with the authorities over the remains of the condemned had started to occur since the introduction of the ‘Murder Act’ of 1752 which established the public dissection of murderers following their execution. The underlying idea was the process would not only serve science, but also overwhelm the crowd with a graphic set of images that restored the deterrent element of the legal process. Dissection replaced the earlier punishment of hanging, drawing and quartering, in which the four quarters were exhibited on spikes in various parts of the city. A continuous shortage of bodies however meant that academics had to improvise their teaching methods. Some practitioners carved up the bodies of family members. Rondeler of the Montpellier Medical School dissected his own child before his students – the ultimate act of clinical detachment. William Harvey dissected the bodies of his father and sister. As a consequence of the shortage of bodies, a clandestine trade grew up of grave robbing. A dead body had cash value: it could be bought and sold – the corpse as commodity. Anatomists paid resurrectionists (the name given to those who were involved in body snatching or grave robbing) to go out at night, especially in winter when the cold would slow down putrefaction, to dig up freshly interred bodies and convey them to the medical schools. The authorities turned a blind eye to grave robbing because surgeons and students were working to advance medical knowledge. They kept publicity to a minimum in order to avoid public outrage. Moreover, body snatching was not an offence. The body was not regarded as property, and, once dead, could not be owned or stolen. Until the passing of the Anatomy Act of 1832 body snatchers were hard at work. The passing of this act allowed unclaimed bodies to be turned over to the medical profession, effectively substituting the poor and destitute for the executed.

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The public panic (often resulting in riots) created by the shenanigans of anatomists and grave robbers obscured the fact that at one time the study of anatomy was the sexiest of all scientific disciplines. Some of the most sumptuous books of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are studies on that particular academic subject. A spectacular example is the enlarged second edition of William Cowper’s Myotomia reformata, or A New Administration of the Muscles. The book was published in London in 1724, fourteen years after Cowper’s death, and is considered to be one of the best of anatomical atlases of the eighteenth century. The first edition of the book was published in 1694 as an octavo volume containing just ten plates after the author’s own drawings of subjects which he felt had previously not been properly illustrated. In addition, an appendix was added describing the anatomy of the penis and the mechanism of erection.

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On 18 April 1693, London-born physician Richard Mead registered at the University of Leiden. It is likely that he arrived there several months earlier because he became a close friend of Archibald Pitcairne, who had settled in the city as Professor of Medicine in the spring of 1692, leaving abruptly in the summer of 1693. Mead lived in Pitcairne’s house for a time, along with Herman Boerhaave, then also a student. He left Leiden early in 1695 without taking a degree, and went on a tour of Italy before returning to London in 1696 to set up a medical practice in Stepney. He made a spectacular career and was elected to the Royal Society in 1703. Henry Pemberton arrived in Leiden in August 1714. There he joined many other English students who had crossed the Channel to study medicine under Boerhaave. Back in London, he was appointed Gresham Professor of Physics which brought him in close contact with Isaac Newton who invited him to superintend the third edition of the Principia. Mead and Pemberton joined forces to prepare the second edition of Cowper’s Myotomia reformata. Cowper had worked until his death in 1710 on a revised and expanded edition of his famous study. The book was published under Mead’s supervision and sponsorship. This substantially enlarged version that includes sixty-six plates appeared with an introduction by Pemberton. Thomas Hearne, a Bodleian librarian at the time, called it the most beautiful book ever printed in England.
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The status and popularity of anatomy made it a highly competitive domain of academic research. Rivalry in art and science is an inherent part of the creative process and has produced many noble achievements. However, if the means applied are corrupt, competition is often the cause of controversy. A notorious case is the ugly conflict between Bidloo and Cowper. In 1685, physician and anatomist Govard Bidloo published his Anatomia humani corporis in Amsterdam, using 105 plates drawn by Gerard de Lairesse which were engraved by the talented Amsterdam-born artist Abraham Blooteling. Bidloo originally accompanied the plates with a brief Latin text. A Dutch version was printed in 1690, entitled Ontleding des menschelyken lichaams. The plates were magnificent. Liège-born De Lairesse was a prolific and popular Baroque artist working in a French style (he is sometimes referred to as the ‘Dutch Poussin’). In his anatomical illustrations, which include dissected pregnancies and prematurely born infants, he portrays his subjects in classical and dramatic poses without sacrificing the harsh realism of anatomic features. Tools of dissection are also represented, including the pins, ropes, and props used to position the body parts, thus effectively pairing aesthetic refinement with graphic detail. There is room for artistic licence as well: a fly perching on a cadaver, or a smiling skeleton holding an hour glass in a mausoleum.

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Neither of Bidloo’s editions sold many copies which enabled Oxford publishers Samuel Smith and Benjamin Walford to purchase plates of the Dutch edition from its publishers in Amsterdam. Cowper used these plates and published them in his 1698 Anatomy with new and more extensive accompanying texts based upon his own original research which are often critical of his Dutch predecessor. Lettering in (offensive?) red ink was added to the plates to accommodate Cowper’s observations which, by his own count, amount to above seven-hundred references. He also commissioned nine plates drawn by Henry Cook and engraved by Antwerp-born artist Michiel van der Gucht, among which were front and back views of the entire musculature. In 1698, the first edition of this large and weighty folio (nine kilograms) was published under Cowper’s name with a faint and almost ‘hidden’ reference to Bidloo. The original engraved title-page was amended with a piece of paper that reads: The Anatomy of Humane Bodies. It covers the Dutch title. Cowper also replaced Bidloo’s portrait with one of his own. At the time of publication, the study containing 114 illustrations was hailed as the most comprehensive atlas of human anatomy. Over time the book raised the standard British approach to the study of anatomy and the practice of surgery.

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A number of vitriolic exchanges took place between these two eminent scientists which serve as an illustration of an early intellectual property dispute. An outraged Bidloo claimed that Cowper published his plates without properly crediting him, but he had no legal recourse. He (in vain) petitioned the Royal Society to revoke Cowper’s member status and wrote a series of pamphlets admonishing his actions. Just how Cowper acquired the plates is a matter of dispute. Although the plates were purchased from Bidloo’s publishers, some accounts argue that Cowper had crossed the Channel on multiple occasions to secure them under false pretences. It was in fact a common practice in the history of anatomical publication that plates were used and re-used over and again. Critics nevertheless have called Cowper’s Anatomy a blatant act of plagiarism. Our legal understanding of plagiarism of course does not apply at a time when national – let alone international – copyright laws were not in operation. Historically, governments issued monopoly-rights to publishers for the sale of printed work. Great Britain was the first to change this in April 1710 with the passing of the ‘Statute of Anne’ which stated that authors and not publishers had the right to claim a monopoly on the work. It limited exclusive rights to twenty-eight years, after which a printed work would be released to the public domain. Moreover, the plates were legally purchased in a transaction between publishers. The ‘crime’ in a world of emerging academic pomposity was Cowper’s lack of respect for the research achievements of his Dutch rival. The bitter dispute between the two anatomists made an impact on the discussion of copyright law and academic integrity in the late seventeenth century in which Britain played a leading role.

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What in the meantime had happened to the remains of Laurence Sterne? When St John’s Wood burial ground opened in 1814, St George’s was officially closed leaving some 80,000 unattended graves behind. In 1886, the grounds were turned into a recreation area and in the process most of the tombs were swept away. During the First World War the land was covered with top soil and used for growing vegetables. In 1969 the area was completely cleared and sold off for redevelopment. Urban expansion does not acknowledge the past and even in death city-dwellers find no peace. Faced with the relentless demands of progress, history sinks into the abyss of oblivion. Just prior to the indiscriminate disposal of human remains from the site, Kenneth Monkman – a keen collector of Sterneana – recovered what is believed to be Sterne’s skull. The top had been sawn off, indicating the involvement of medical students. It was reburied in the graveyard of St Michael’s Church in Coxwold, North Yorkshire, close to his former home at Shandy Hall.

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Johan van Oldenbarneveldt – the powerful Secretary of the States who lost his head in 1618, accused of treason by prince Maurice of Orange. His dead ended the first great struggle between the princes of Orange and the Dutch regents. More were to follow.

Half way a biography of the Dutch pensionary Johan van Oldenbarneveldt  published in 1648, almost 30 years after his death on the scaffold, the text takes an unexpected turn. When you turn to page 3f-recto the text suddenly breaks off in mid-sentence and the publisher takes up the pen. A dramatic effect that was used two centuries later by the famous Dutch author Multatuli to shock his readers who thought they were reading a novel and now were confronted with the harsh realities of colonialism.

Multatuli’s 17th century forerunner wrote something like this: ‘Dear reader. We had come this far with the printing of this book when on 12 march 1648 at half past nine in the evening the bailiff and three of his henchmen kicked in the door of the printer’s office. They had blank cutlasses in their hands and they also carried blinded lanterns as if they were common burglars. One of them posted himself at the door, another at the stairs to the first floor. Then the bailiff went through the premises, turning over tables and type-cases, kicking at the type that was waiting to be printed and tearing up already printed paper.  They had been stumbling back and forth from the attic to the cellar for at least two hours when at last the bailiff called for the printer. He told him that they had come on on orders of the burgomasters for the book that was on the press Het leven en sterven van Johan van Olden-Barnevelt (Life and Death of Johan van Oldenbarneveldt). The printer remarked that it was an offense to break in a house like that to seize a book that was not even finished. The bailiff told him to shut up and to hand over the copy. The attic, where the printed paper was kept in parcels, was sealed and guarded. The next day the bailiff came back with a few helpers and carried of the copy and all printed matter he could lay his hand on.’

And so, the publisher continued, I took the decision to publish this book as soon as possible, even when it was not complete since it lacked the chapter the bailiff had found and taken with him.

This little anecdote is a rare description of Dutch censorship in action: the bailiff dropping in after dark, kicking in doors, making threats and creating havoc before taking the copy with him. It has indeed all the trappings of censorship in action. Except for one thing. Not only did the printer answer back to the bailiff but he also told him that he could expect legal action. Which is what he did.  And when the bailiff and his minions had left printing went on. That a chapter was missing was something the readers had to put up with. The publisher promised that in time a second, completed, edition – and indeed such a book would appear ten years later. It counted twelve extra pages so we can calculate the damage the bailiff had done. Since the print run of the first edition seems to have been about 1700 copies, it may have costed the publisher about 50 guilders in profits. Of course the printing shop had to be cleared and type reset, which might have taken a few days.  Still one cannot but wonder if this paltry sum was the reason to sue the bailiff for years on, even up to the High Court at The Hague. Probably the publisher felt that the insult and the desultory way in which his rights as a citizen were disregarded deserved to be punished. The little scene also shows another peculiarity of Dutch censorship. It was not only arbitrary, it was also personal in the sense that the people who were involved knew each other, if not personally, at least by face. Censorship was an affair of individuals. There were no set rules for publishing in the Dutch Republic, nor was there a secret police working for a distant and indifferent government, that locked people up and no questions asked, as in France. Nobody was tortured or died at the stake on a public square.

The Dutch historian Paul Valkema Blouw spend a major part of his life on the study of 16th century subversive printing. Apart from tracing most if not all these subversive publications and bringing together the scarce facts on the lives of their printers, Blouw showed that printing forbidden books was a dangerous affair in the 16th century. The government did it’s best to catch and punish subversive elements and printers who were caught lost everything, often including their lives. It is in fact surprising to see how few where actually caught, but also how tenacious they kept on printing, moving their presses from town to town and often abroad, probably under difficult circumstances. The difference with the seventeenth century is striking. We know of a printer that was whipped because he had offended a powerful member of the Amsterdam oligarchy and also of one author of subversive pamphlets who ended on the scaffold – but not because of what he had written. Two died in prison, Koerbagh, who was convicted to ten years in a workhouse because of his atheism while pamphletist Eric Walten was kept there without a trail because of pamphleteering but also for his shady political deals.

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The Rasphuys where Adriaen Koerbagh is often supposed to have been worked to death. In fact he was kept somewhere else where the work was light but the circumstances bad and there, after a year, he died of a disease.

The most striking characteristic of 17th century censorship – or it’s absence – is perhaps that on the one hand very few titles were forbidden but that bookshops also abounded with pamphlets that were illegal because the publisher had not printed his name and address on the title-page. In most years almost half of all published pamphlets did not carry the name of it’s publisher (nor that of the author of course) but in some years the percentage could climb as high as 80%. The standard fine for this kind of publication was 500 guilders, a substantial sum that was to be shared with the informer. The profit that a publisher made on his illegal pamphlet – most of them seem to have reached an edition of about 200-250 copies – was perhaps twenty guilders so it is obvious that the government did not spend much time maintaining their own placards. Nor was the promise of a substantial reward enough for the public to bring booksellers to justice. The avid readers seem instead to have run to the bookseller to ask for the latest pamphlet. Illegal publications were sought after and sometimes more expensive than their legal brothers. Thus they were the source of an interesting bit of extra income for the booksellers – if the publication had the succes they hoped. But that extra income would never have covered the costs of an arrest and condemnation so the risk must have been very small.

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Henricus Slatius, the only Dutch author to die on the scaffold. He was accused of plotting against the life of prince Maurice of Orange and confessed under torture. But the real reason was probably his virulent pen that he used to poke fun at the calvinists. 

In most cases nowadays scholars can trace these illegal publications to their makers without much effort. One only has to compare the ornaments and historiated initials to find out who printed a specific text. But there are publications that hide their origins very well. The differences between the traceable pamphlets and the untraceable ones are of course of the greatest interest if you want to know what was dangerous and what was not.

(to be continued …)

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Cities prosper and cities decline. Sometimes they rise, at other times they sink. Prior to Napoleon’s invasion in 1797, Venice had long established an economically minded Republican government that encouraged business, art and culture. The Venetians installed their first Doge as the leader of their young autonomous state in 697. At its height the Republic of Venice, known as the Seranissima or ‘the most serene’, divided its power amongst members of the Inner Circle which included the Doge, six Ducal Councilors, and three Inquisitors who were responsible for law and order. After all, the city also produced one of the great ruffians in European history.

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It was here that Giacomo Casanova was born, arrested and sentenced to five years imprisonment in the east wing of the Doge’s Palace from where he managed to escape and flee to Paris. Wealth in Venice was amassed primarily from local industry, maritime trade and banking. Main industries included textiles and agriculture. Shipbuilding provided commercial vessels and a naval fleet that controlled the seaways. Venice rapidly became a centre for art and printing. From Titian to Tintoretto, the city was home to renowned Renaissance painters and laid claim to the celebrated architects Jacobo Sansovino and Andrea Palladio. Aldus Manutius was the founder of a veritable dynasty of great printer-publishers, and organizer of the famous Aldine Press producing the first printed editions of many of the Greek and Latin classics. Roughly fourteen to fifteen percent of all printing of the fifteenth century came from this city alone. Venice ruled the world. The city was visited by dignitaries and art lovers from far and wide, frequented by young gentlemen making their Grand Tour, its monuments painted by the great masters, and its splendour praised by the European literary elite.

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The Riva degli Schiavoni is a promenade that sits on the waterfront at St Mark’s Basin between the Doge’s Palace and the Arsenale. It was originally built in the ninth century from dredged silt and was named for the Slavic men who brought cargo to Venice from across the Adriatic Sea. The market stalls that crowd the area probably had their start in the fifteenth century, when Slavs and Greeks would line the promenade to sell their meat and dried fish near the wharf.

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Situated along the Riva degli Schiavoni is the Church of Santa Maria della Visitazione, known to locals as La Pietà. It was the home church of Antonio Vivaldi, who composed and performed some of his best works here. A walk along the Riva degli Schiavoni provides views of the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, located to the south, strewn with Palladian architecture that dominates the skyline.

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The Canal family, whose Venice lineage is traceable from the mid-sixteenth century, were ‘cittadini originari’, a class immediately below the patrician. Its most famous son was Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto. His first dated work is a large ‘Capriccio of Classical Ruins and a Pyramid’ (1723), which already surpasses anything in this genre produced by his contemporaries.
It shows an imaginary landscape (capriccio means ‘fancy’) with arched Roman ruins supported by Corinthian columns, through which a church with a campanile can be seen while small figures are digging around. Futher back a pyramid and Roman statue are depicted. From the start architecture and architectural elements played a dominant part in his paintings. Just like his predecessor Luca Carlevarijs, the first of the great Venetian view painters, Canaletto realized that the demand for views of Venice among foreign visitors to the city offered a great commercial potential. Throughout his career, however, in creating his urban panoramas he took the liberty of including distortions in order to ‘improve’ reality for pictorial effect. He also developed the additional skill of depicting ceremonial events and festivals. From the late 1720s to the early 1750s Canaletto’s fortunes were bound up with the figure of Joseph Smith, British Consul in Venice. The latter was one of the foremost collectors in the city who, over three decades, acquired fifty paintings by the artist, which he housed in his palace on the Grand Canal. They were eventually sold en bloc to George III in 1762, along with 142 of the artist’s superb drawings. By 1730, Smith was acting as an agent in the sale of Canaletto’s work to English collectors which resulted in a constant flow of commissions throughout the decade which marks the peak of Canaletto’s career.

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His masterpiece, however, ‘The Riva degli Schiavoni’ was painted for retired German diplomat Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg, a resident in Venice. With the constant demand for Canaletto’s work came a need to delegate various tasks to assistants. One of those, in the late 1730s and early 1740s, was his nephew Bernardo Bellotto, the only artist to rival him as the greatest Italian view painter of the eighteenth century. The outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1741 restricted travel to Venice. As a consequence, the number of commissions for paintings of Venetian views diminished. In May 1746 Canaletto moved to London. There he was to remain for ten years as a resident at no. 16 Silver Street (now: Beak Street). Although his English paintings vary in quality, he soon found himself as busy as he had been in the 1730s.

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Canaletto’s nephew Bernardo Bellotto was famous for his views of European cities such as Vienna, Turin, and Warsaw. From 1747 to 1758 he stayed in Dresden, following an invitation from King August III of Poland where he created paintings of the city and its surroundings. His paintings of Dresden show the overall picture of the city, the Zwinger, the principal squares and the two most important churches, the Kreuzkirche and the Frauenkirche. Today these paintings preserve a memory of Dresden’s former urban beauty which was devastated by relentless bombing towards the end of World War II.

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Francesco Guardi was, after Canaletto, the main painter of views of Venice in the eighteenthth century. He recorded both the architecture of the city and the celebrations of its inhabitants in interior and exterior scenes. Guardi soon developed his own style, taking pleasure in rendering the vibrant Venetian atmosphere. His ‘impressionistic’ approach also found expression in small-scale imaginary scenes or capricci of which he was particularly fond. However, during the early 1760s Guardi turned from painting capricci or vedute ideate to producing vedute dai luoghi or vedute estate. What caused this change in focus? It was a classic case of creative rivalry. By the middle of the century the great Venetian masters had either died or left the city in pursuit of their fortune. Marieschi (one of Francesco’s teachers) had died at the beginning of 1744, Canaletto had been in England since 1746, and Bellotto had moved to Dresden in 1747.

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Francesco may have sensed instinctively that he no longer had to suffer the presence of great rivals, and that this popular Venetian subject-matter was there for him to continue and develop. In fact, he took the genre a step further. The criteria for producing a veduta esatta were entirely different from those applying to a capriccio, the very name of which carried a licence for imaginative treatment. His eventual success in merging the two genres and introducing an admixture of ‘capricious’ freedom into the depiction of specific localities was one of his great achievements and would have an impact on the future development of the cityscape.

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Venice’s days of glory did not last. In February 1789, Paolo Renier died and was succeeded by Lodovico Manin as Doge of Venice (number 118 in the sequence), the last person to hold this powerful office. A weak figure in a time of decline, the latter was unable to resist the threat of a French occupation and was forced to abdicate by Napoleon Bonaparte. The presence of the French lasted but a few months. The signing of the Treaty of Campo Formio on 17 October 1797 transferred Venice into Austrian hands. In the short time available to him, Napoleon – the Godfather of Art Robbery – confiscated many of the city’s art treasures from panel pieces by Veronese inside the Doge’s Palace to the infamous four bronze horses from antiquity that had crowned the Basilica of St Mark’s since the thirteenth century. By disassembling her remaining naval fleet, Napoleon left Venice in a defenseless position. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna decreed Venice to Austrian control, where she would remain until unification with the rest of the Italian peninsula. When Mark Twain visited Venice in 1867, he wrote about a city that once was ‘haughty, invincible, magnificent’, but had fallen into destitution. Her glory departed, she slumbered among her stagnant lagoons, forlorn and forgotten by the world. Venice’s former reputation had quickly dissolved.

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Early photography preserved images of the old inner cities of Paris or Glasgow before many of those areas were flattened and modernized. In Venice’s more recent history photography has played a different role. It offered the city an opportunity to transform itself and regain some of her former attraction. Venice of course had a tradition of using cameras and lenses as tools for artistic production. Vedute painters such as Canaletto and Guardi used a camera obscura which allowed them to create ‘photographic drawings’ in assistance to their paintings. On 7 January 1839 Louis Daguerre introduced his daguerreotype in Paris. As the first machine-produced image that was comparable to functioning of the human eye this was a transformative moment for the arts. Its success was phenomenal.

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The first known daguerreotype taken in Venice was by the English philologist and mathematician Alexander John Ellis in 1841. At the age of twenty-six, Ellis decided to undertake an ambitious publishing project entitled Italy Daguerreotyped, for which he took a large quantity of landscapes and architectural views. His choice of subjects traded on associations with the Grand Tour and the Enlightenment concern with classical civilisation. The focus of the Ellis collection is on topographical views in the tradition of vedute, a repertoire of locations well-known from previous illustrations. Ellis undertook the project with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm. As well as Rome, he visited Pompeii, Pozzuoli, Paestum, Naples, Pisa, Florence and Venice (where he made sixteen daguerreotypes) between April and July 1841. Dur¬ing this period he took 137 daguerreotypes but the book itself was never produced most likely because of the cost involved.

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The most famous collector and user of the daguerreotype in Venice was John Ruskin. His extensive study on Venetian art and architecture eventually led to the writing of The Stones of Venice. British interest in photographing Venice remained vibrant throughout the century. James Craig Annan was the son of the early documentary photographer Thomas Annan (who published his Photographs of the Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow in 1878). He apprenticed in his father’s photographic printing business. The firm specialized in the carbon process, and after James learned photogravure directly from its Czech inventor Karel Klic in 1883, the firm became expert in that process as well. When his father died in 1887, Annan continued to run the family business. By about 1890 he began to follow his own creative interests in the medium which was particularly drawn to photography’s ability to render mood and atmosphere.

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His 1894 ‘Riva Schiavoni’ is an excellent example of his work. The dynamic disintegration of form verging on the abstract is reminiscent of the paintings of James MacNeill Whistler – one of Annan’s favourite artists. In the meantime, local exponents of photography in Venice had established their studios on the Riva degle Schiavoni and the Piazza San Marco. Carlo Ponti was the first to open a commercial business in Venice. Competition came from Carlo Naya, the most famous architectural photographer of the city. After the invention of the camera it was feared by artists that photography would push painting aside. It was interpreted as a ‘battle’ for supremacy. However, when it came to photographing imposing buildings such as the Doge’s Palace in Venice, compositional elements and formal devices were borrowed from traditional vedute painters. Facades for example were depicted at angles rather than from a frontal vantage point, therefore heightening the building’s monumentality. Many photographers included groups of figures to emphasize scale.

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Photography contributed to a renewed interest in the visual splendour of Venice. The intellectual passion for this and other Italian cities had a different cause. What Thomas Carlyle called the ‘Age of Machinery’ (1829) – later termed the ‘Industrial Revolution’ – had fundamentally changed the pace and purpose of European life. In a relatively short time, the social pattern of behaviour shown by countless generations went up in smoke. By the 1850s trains moved a mile a minute, gaslights illuminated the shops and streets, newspapers were printed on fast-production rotary presses spreading international news and local gossip. Soon after anaesthesia was employed in operating rooms, while epidemic diseases were controlled by inoculation. By the middle of the century, the industrial processes of coal mining, iron manufacturing and steam application had reached most of Western Europe. The continent was covered with railways which in turn increased iron production and encouraged further industrialization. Europe became the workshop of the world. Practical invention and mass production were key to commercial success. They were set in the new social environment of the factory that employed thousands of workers performing specialized mechanical functions. Social critics held industrialism responsible for the perceived degradation and joylessness of life. The machine was considered a curse and a tyrant.

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In 1848, as revolutions swept continental Europe and a movement for social reform known as Chartism unsettled England, in a time of industrialism and urbanization, of newspapers and expanding means of communication, seven rebellious young artists formed a secret society which they named the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Disenchanted with contemporary academic painting, the Brotherhood were inspired by late medieval and early Renaissance art up to the time of Raphael. This art was characterized by minute description of detail and by subject matter of a noble, religious or moralizing nature. Late medieval ideals in mid-nineteenth century England – this is historicity at it most absurd, a total retreat into the past. To many artists and intellectuals of the nineteenth century the Middle Ages offered an asylum in which to hide from the rapidly and relentlessly changing present. Another symptom of European intellectual flight from the here and now during the late 1900s and early twentieth century was the cult of the Renaissance. The veneration of this period, and of Italy’ past in particular, by such thinkers as Gobineau, Nietzsche, Taine, Jacob Burckhardt, John Addington Symonds and others – a phenomenon for which Franz Ferdinand Baumgarten in 1917 coined the ugly word ‘Renaissancismus’ – was associated with an intense contempt for the present. While being swept headlong into an uncertain future, men sought escape and counterbalance in the past. Venice, Florence, Rome or Naples offered intervals of respite and relief.

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The railway was a product of the first industrial revolution which was built on iron, coal and steam. It was the iconic technology of the Victorian age. Modernity was a steam engine, modern man a railway buff. The Victorians identified economic expansion and social progress with achievements in engineering. The railway was a penetrating expression of the triumph of technology. Mobility was used as an effective term for describing social relationships as well as geographical ones. By train and steamboat a massive voluntary migration took place, with millions of Europeans moving from countryside to city, or from country to country, either for work or pleasure. One of the consequences was that the tourist industry became increasingly democratized. Technological innovation allowed for cheaper and faster travel. In 1839, a first segment of Italian railroad was laid stretching the short distance from Naples to Portici. Seven years later the railway had reached Venice with the construction of the bridge that connects the island to the mainland. The paradox is that the critics of mechanization in Northern Europe escaped to the South by means of train or steamboat, the iconic symbols of industrial endeavour.

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The studios and photographers of Venice adhered to the demands of a growing tourist industry. Their city views were the modern version of the vedute that an earlier generation of painters had flocked to visitors. Advances in the photographic process provided a golden opportunity for renewed commercial success. Venice started to prosper again. Artists and authors joined the ever increasing number of tourists. Charles Dickens visited Venice in 1844 and published his Pictures of Italy. Novelists continued to write about the allure of the city during the second half of the century, notably Henry James in his Italian Hours and Mark Twain in Innocence Abroad. But Venice was above all a city for pencil and brush. Turner made several trips from 1819 to 1840, capturing the sublimity of the Venetian light.

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James Abbott McNeill Whistler worked in Venice and Maurice Prendergast created numerous watercolour paintings in which he has left us a sense of the staggering influx of tourists into the city’s squares and promenades. Born in Florence in 1856 of American parents, John Singer Sargent was a popular and sought-after society painter. But he led a double life. Throughout the years he was paid for producing portraits, he painted hundreds of landscapes and views that were not intended for public view. In Venice he found both a spiritual home and a challenge to his creative powers. Sargent first painted the city in the early 1880s. In this, his ‘first period’, the artist concentrated on street scenes and interiors, depicting Venetians going about their daily business. Between 1898 and 1913, his ‘second period’, he visited the city almost every year. Artistically, his focus shifted to canal and architectural views. The artist had laboured hard at acquiring the delicate skill of depicting water by making extensive use of watercolour and applying techniques he had learned from the Impressionists. His ‘Riva degli Schiavoni’, dating from around 1904, is an excellent example of his later work. The influx of many foreign artists reawakened the traditional Venetian awareness of the commercial value of art .When the Venice Biennale was founded in 1895 one of its main goals was to establish a new market for contemporary art. Producing art and making money does not necessarily exclude one another. There is capital in culture.

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Gutenberg brought freedom and suppression. He liberated the word, but from the sixteenth century onwards most secular and religious authorities in Europe tried to regulate and control it. Printers were required to hold official licenses to trade and produce books. In 1557 the English Crown aimed to stem the flow of dissent by chartering the Stationers’ Company. The right to print was restricted to Oxford and Cambridge and twenty-one existing printers in the City of London. The nature of censorship was initially predominantly religious in nature with the aim of suppressing views that were contrary of those of an organized religion on the grounds of blasphemy, heresy, sacrilege or impiety.

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Tolerance and censorship are incompatible. There are civil, ecclesiastical and social components to the notion of tolerance. The first concerns the policy of the state towards dissent; the second focuses on the degree of diversity tolerated within a particular church; and the third deals with accepting or celebrating difference in the street and work place. The practice of religious toleration depends on the principle that society and the state extend freedom of belief and expression by refraining to impose restrictions, conditions, doctrines, or forms of worship or association upon them. The principle goes beyond the sole domain of religion as it incorporates the broader (and more important) goals of intellectual liberty and freedom from censorship. The early history of religious toleration in England is – in one way or another – connected with the Low Countries.

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The accession of Elizabeth I put an end to the years of Catholic restoration under Queen Mary. With the 1559 Act of Supremacy in which Elizabeth declared herself Supreme Governor of the Church of England came an Oath of Supremacy, requiring anyone taking public or church office to swear allegiance to the monarch as head of the Church and state. Anyone refusing to take the Oath could be charged with treason. Between 1559 and 1561 a continuous drift of academics and intellectuals to the Low Countries can be observed. The Elizabethan purge of the universities created a remarkable Catholic diaspora in the Southern Netherlands. During the first decade of her reign more than a hundred senior members of the University of Oxford alone left for Louvain and Douai.

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English Catholicism in exile not only survived in the Low Countries, but also found a more distinct and polemical voice. In December 1425, John IV of Burgundy was allowed by papal bull to establish a university in Louvain, the capital of the Duchy of Brabant. The new university had three faculties: law, medicine and the arts. The faculty of theology was added in 1432. It developed into a bastion of conservatism and hence intolerance. Louvain accused Luther of heresy even before the Pope did. The faculty was actively involved in the battle against Protestantism and in listing books that on the index. In 1559, Philip II established the University of Douai in Flanders with the purpose of preserving the purity of the Catholic faith from the errors of the Reformation. Soon there were English, Scottish and Irish colleges and the university became the chief centre for exiles, including many young men from Oxford and Cambridge who remained loyal to the old faith.

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Next to Louvain and its famous university, Douai became the most important recusant centre on the European mainland. Catholics leaving Britain tended to settle in English monastic foundations in the Southern Netherlands where there were over twenty such islands of refuge representing all important orders. It was here that John Heigham started life in exile. The latter had been involved with the shadowy Catholic book trade in London at the close of the sixteenth century before moving to Douai first and later to St Omer, where he commissioned numerous devotional works for an English Catholic audience. His collaborations with printers in the Low Countries made him the most productive Catholic publisher of his day after the English College press. A notable publication was the Venerable Bede’s Historie of the Church of England (St Omer, first edition 1622; the second dates from 1626).

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Students at the English College at Douai (founded by William Allen in 1568) were groomed to undertake missionary work at home. English refugees in Louvain and Douai constituted for the Catholic authorities in Rome and Spain a potential recruitment force. Hence their financial support to those who had fled their country of origin and who found themselves isolated. Only a few English exiles managed to integrate. Refugees made no contribution to the economic or artistic life in the Low Countries. They were a displaced group of people waiting to return home, deliberately avoiding mixing with locals. Integration and tolerance were the last concept that came to the minds of these displaced exiles. A similar observation can be made for Protestant refugees in the Netherlands.

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In 1608, a group of separatists, who would later become known as the Pilgrims, fled prosecution in England and settled in Amsterdam. In 1609 the Pilgrims moved to Leiden where they stayed until 1620. One of the separatist leaders there, William Brewster returned to England in 1617 helping to make arrangements for the Pilgrim migration to America. In 1620 he and his 120 followers of the Leiden congregation set sail on the Speedwell for Plymouth from where 102 passengers embarked on the Mayflower to undertake the long journey to Virginia. It was because of the anxiety of losing their English identity, the fear that their children would become assimilated in Dutch society, and of course because of the threat of war with Spain, that these Puritans decided to sail for America.

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Protestantism has prided itself as being a liberating creed. Yet, it has to face the fact that its founding fathers believed in stamping out the beliefs of nontrinitarians. Toleration was condemned for encouraging erroneous beliefs – the persecuted advocating persecution. The case for conciliation was first made by English separatists who had fled to the Low Countries. The ideal of toleration was born in exile. In 1606, Leonard Busher fled to the Netherlands where he embraced Baptism. This particular tradition had grown out of the merging of English separatism and Dutch religious tenets during the first decade of the seventeenth century. Primary to this development was the figure of physician John Smyth while he was in Holland between 1608 and 1612. Having joined the so-called Ancient Church in Amsterdam, he was in close contact with local Mennonites, followers of Frisian Anabaptist Menno Simons. His flock were given space to hold their services at the ‘cake house’ of sympathizer Jan Munter. Thus the first English Baptist church was born on foreign soil. In 1614 Busher published his classic Religious Peace, or, A Reconciliation between Princes & Peoples, & Nations in Amsterdam. Addressed to James I and the English parliament, the book is a eloquently argued case for religious toleration, resting on the principle that no sovereign or bishop can compel conscience or command faith.

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Baptist leader Thomas Helwys sailed to the Netherlands in 1608, having been a key figure in organizing the emigration to Amsterdam and Leiden of the separatists led by John Smyth, Richard Clifton and John Robinson. In A Short and Plaine Proof (1611) he developed his radical ideas arguing for total religious toleration (he approved of the freedoms allowed by Dutch secular authorities). In his Mystery of Iniquity (printed in Amsterdam, 1612) he opposed all compulsion, even of Roman Catholics and non-Christians, in matter of conscience: ‘Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least’. He bluntly warned King James that he was ‘a mortal man and not God, and therefore hath no power over ye immortal souls of his subjects’. Earlier he had published A Declaration of Faith of the English People Remaining in Amsterdam (1611), it being the first such confession of an English Baptist church. Amsterdam was the chosen place of refuge for English dissenters during the seventeenth century. Such was the Amsterdam tolerant policy towards faith that the phrase ‘an Amsterdam of religions’ became almost proverbial in English. Independent minister and printer John Canne arrived in the Dutch capital in 1632, soon after becoming the leader of the English Brownist refugees there. In 1634 he published his most important book in Amsterdam, entitled A Necessitie of Separation from the Church of England in which he called for a break with the Anglican Church. Canne remained in Amsterdam until at least 1645 where he ran his own printing press bearing the Richt Right impress. It was at this time that dissident thinking started to make an impact. The 1640s are considered a key decade during which the impetus behind tolerationist ideas came from radical Puritanism. London-born Roger Williams is traditionally seen as opening the debate in 1644 when his call for toleration went as far as embracing heretics, blasphemers, Catholics, Muslims and pagans. Tolerationists provided a principled opposition to religious persecution whilst pleading for the peaceful co-existence of a plurality of religions.

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The 1689 Toleration Act was a landmark in this struggle for religious toleration although its idealistic purpose should not be exaggerated. Cromwell did not strive to create a liberal society in which divergent religious opinions were openly tolerated. Both his re-admission of Jews into England and William III’s Act of Tolerance were politically motivated manoeuvres rather than statements of principle. Theirs was a ‘qualified tolerance’. But toleration that calls for exceptions, freedom for some and not for others, is no tolerance at all. Persecution hides around the corner. As indeed was the case. Atheism, blasphemy, idolatry and adultery were excluded from toleration, because they were regarded as contrary to natural reason and public order. As, for many commentators, was Catholicism. Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, and the Levellers were remarkable voices in the toleration debate. During the period of their greatest influence, Levellers were willing to extend toleration to Catholics. They were the real champions of religious freedom voicing the idea of a constitution in which the state has no religious role.

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Even John Locke did not go as far. He published some of his early works in Holland, including the famous Epistola de tolerantia (Gouda, 1689), a plea for toleration in matters of belief. The text was translated in Dutch the same year and published in Rotterdam as Brief aangaande de verdraagzaamheid. Locke was one of several proponents of religious toleration who made an exception for Catholics (including Cromwell and Milton). They were objected to on two main grounds: Catholics were idolaters and disloyal subjects owing allegiance to a hostile foreign prince, the Pope.

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

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The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 33,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 12 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

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Medieval urban life held many hazards. There was no common law of the land. Regulations were set by the lord of the manor or by the mayor and his council in towns and cities. The streets of London were perilous and fraught with danger. Life was cheap and tempers were short. There were fights and assaults in the street, knifings in the tavern, and beatings in the home. Criminals received a quick trial and, if found guilty, they were dealt with immediately. In order to exercise some control, the town authorities imposed a curfew at night. After the bell had rung, it was expected that all townspeople were in their homes for the night. The city gates were locked. Anyone found outside their house would be challenged by a night watchman. Everyone in town had a duty to raise the alarm if they saw a crime being committed. The city offered protection and a limited degree of freedom to its citizens by imposing a strict system of compulsion and regimentation.

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Catherine Wheel Alley is a tiny street leading to the hurly burly of Bishopsgate and into the market environment of Middlesex Street in Spitalfields. Today we associate the Catherine wheel with a type of firework consisting of a powder-filled spiral tube, mounted with a pin through its centre. When ignited, it rotates quickly, producing a display of sparks and coloured flames. Fireworks are of ancient Chinese origin. They were used in crude form in medieval times in Europe to celebrate military victories or royal occasions.

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More refined kinds of fireworks, such as the Catherine wheel, are first recorded in the eighteenth century, and it was not until the nineteenth century that new ingredients, such as magnesium and aluminium, could be added to the staple gunpowder base to achieve a colourful display. The name occurs in the history of printing as well. Thomas Creede was a London printer. In 1593 he opened his own printing house at the sign of the Catherine Wheel, near the Old Swan public house in Thames Street. At this establishment he produced a number of significant literary works, including the first quarto editions of Shakespeare’s Henry VI (1594) and Henry V (1600).

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In medieval days the Catherine (or breaking) wheel was a torture device used for capital punishment. A public execution at the time was a big public occasion and as such it was considered a triumph of the law. Every aspect of the process was carried out with military precision. Torture was not an act of blind savagery. It was a horror show, a play with a moral, and a strictly regulated practice. It was a skill, not an expression of rage. The pain to be inflicted was measured carefully. It ranged from the immediacy of decapitation to the slowly inflicted pain limits of quartering. The art of putting the hellish visions of Hieronymus Bosch into practice was experienced as a crowd-pleaser.

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Torture was a work of art. It was what Dostoevsky called ‘artistically cruel’, the penal system’s equivalent to Dante’s poetry. If the crowd gathered round the scaffold, it was not simply to witness the sufferings of a condemned man. This was real life drama. To hear someone curse the authorities was worth waiting for. Death-by-torture allowed the condemned person this sudden freedom where nothing was censored and all could be expressed. The ceremony of dismemberment was the climax of procedures which was eagerly awaited by the crowd. Even after the convict’s death, torture continued. Heads were put on spikes for public display, body parts stolen, corpses burnt, and ashes thrown in the wind. The festival of cruelty seemed never-ending. Capital punishment comprised many kinds of death. Some convicts were hanged. Those who had committed a more serious crime were condemned to be broken alive and to die on the wheel, after having their limbs broken. Some were to be broken until they died a natural death, others to be strangled and then broken. Another option was to be burnt alive which was sometimes preceded by strangulation, on other occasions not. Some serious offenders were drawn by four horses, or had their head cut off. There were no barriers to savagery. It was mostly manual work, done by hand – the hand of the executioner.

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The office of professional hangman did not exist in the early Middle-Ages but dates back to the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries with the development of new judicial procedures and more elaborate corporal punishments that were to shape criminal justice through the early modern period. Prior to this time the court basically arbitrated a private settlement between the victim and the offender in which the former or his/her family received a compensation that corresponded to their social status. When executions did occur they were carried out by a variety of people, all of whom were amateurs: by the accuser himself, by a member of the family, sometimes by a juryman or by the beadle. In the course of time governmental authorities became more actively involved in criminal proceedings. Corporal punishments resulted increasingly from the attempt by public authorities to monopolize the legitimate use of violence in the hands of government. The creation of the office of the trained executioner was a consequence of these developments. His rise coincided with increased criminalization in society which concerned unfortunate groups such as beggars, vagrants, or prostitutes. The rapid expansion of the city made his role all the more powerful. He became a central figure in early urban crowd control and crime prevention.

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Where does the name Catherine wheel come from? At the age of eighteen, Catherine of Alexandria, known as Saint Catherine of the Wheel, paid a visit to Emperor Maximus II. She hoped to persuade him to stop persecuting Christians. Whilst at the court, she succeeded in converting his wife. The Emperor was furious and Catherine was condemned to death on the breaking wheel. This torture instrument broke when she touched it, so she was beheaded instead. Her symbol became the spiked wheel, known as the Catherine wheel. In 1063, the Order of the Knights of St Catherine was formed with the aim of protecting pilgrims on their way to and from the Holy Sepulchre. These knights wore a white habit embroidered with a Catherine wheel traversed with a sword, stained with blood. It seems unlikely, but the Catherine Wheel became popular as a tavern name. By using the saintly sign, the publican suggested that he would protect his customers from any unpleasantness in his inn, just as the knights of St Catherine protected pilgrims from highwaymen. The name lives on in Catherine Wheel Alley, East London, leading to Petticoat Lane Market. For over 300 years the galleried Catherine Wheel inn stood here until it was destroyed by fire in 1895. During the early part of the eighteenth century this public house was one of the secretive haunts of Dick Turpin. At some point in its long history the name of the pub was changed to the Cat and Wheel in order to pacify Puritans who objected to the name association with a saint.

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The accession of Elizabeth I put an end to years of Catholic restoration under Queen Mary. With the passing of the 1559 Act of Supremacy she declared herself Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The act included an Oath of Supremacy which required anyone taking public or church office to swear allegiance to the monarch as head of Church and state. Those who refused to take the oath could be charged with treason. During that same year Philip II established the University of Douai with the purpose of preserving the purity of the Catholic faith from the errors of the Reformation. Soon there were English, Scottish and Irish colleges and the university became the chief centre for exiles, including many young men from Oxford and Cambridge who remained loyal to the old faith (to this very day there is an Irish College in Louvain). The purge of universities created a remarkable Catholic diaspora in the Southern Netherlands. Douai, located on the River Scarpe some twenty miles south of Lille, became the most important recusant centre on the European mainland. During the first decade of Elizabethan reign more than a hundred senior members of the University of Oxford alone left for Louvain and Douai.

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There is some irony in the fact that four Catholic activists were arrested in the Catherine Wheel tavern in Oxford, before being put through a horrendous ordeal. Thomas Belson had matriculated in 1580 at Oriel College but, like so many other Catholics of his generation, never graduated in order to avoid taking the Oath of Supremacy. Instead, he continued his studies at the English College at the University of Douai, which had been founded by William Allen in 1568. The latter was a former Principal of St Mary Hall, Oxford, but had to resign his post in 1560 with the Elizabethan persecution of intellectuals. He became the spiritual leader of the English community in the Low Countries and was one of many exiled authors who produced a sheer endless list of recusant publications. Many British students were groomed in Douai to undertake missionary work at home with all the dangers that task involved. The authorities in England were highly suspicious of the activities of the refugee community. By the time Elizabeth died, 450 Douai priests had served on an English mission, and 110 of them had been executed. Little is known of Belson’s activities until June 1585 when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He had been one of those who were involved in assisting the recently converted Philip Howard, 1st Earl of Arundel, in his attempt to leave for the Continent. On his release he continued liaising between exiled Catholics on the Continent and England. On 18 May 1589 Belson was arrested at the Catherine Wheel, together with two priests who had been with him at Douai, George Nichols and Richard Yaxley, and a servant at the inn, Humphrey Prichard. The four men were taken on horseback to London, where they were tortured and interrogated. After six weeks they were sent back to Oxford, tried, and found guilty. All four were executed on 5 July 1589, the two priests hanged, drawn, and quartered for treason, Belson and Prichard hanged as felons. The brutality of the executions shocked the local population and it took twenty years before another priest was executed in Oxford.

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There is a national myth in the Netherlands that was taught in school well into the sixties of the 20th century: a man who lived in Haarlem, Laurens Jansz Coster, was walking his small children in the nearby dunes and to amuse and teach them he cut a letter from a piece of wood. He dropped the stick with the letter by accident, it fell on sand instead of grass and then in a single instant he saw for his eyes the complete process of printing: the cutting and casting of letters, how to create pages with them and the printing itself. But the invention was stolen on Christmas-eve by a certain Fust or Faust who took it to Germany where he gave the secret to Gutenberg. Faust came to a bad end soon after, when he sold his soul to the devil, but the stolen invention was claimed by the Germans as theirs ever after.

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First told by the Dutch scholar Petrus Scriverius in his book on Haarlem (published in 1628), this story played an important part in the genesis of the history of the book as a serious activity for scholars. Of course printing was invented by Gutenberg, who may or may not have had the same ‘eureuka’ experience as his fictitious Dutch counterpart, but who was to spend long years of trail and error before his printing press became the machine that would change the world. The controversies – the Dutch of course did not give in right away and were helped by some French and English scholars – brought about a vast corpus of books on early printing. The serious study of incunabula (or ‘new-borns’ as they were known in later years) started in the late 18th century while the Dutch claim was only definitly rejected by historians and philologists in the 20th century. It still lingers on, in school and probably in the city of Haarlem too.

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What did Gutenberg invent? The printing process encompasses activities that are quite diverse. One can imagine the thought-process, starting with a ‘what if …’
What if you could press letters, sentences, even pages on a sheet of paper, instead of having to write it all down, letter by letter, word by word? You would have to print on the recto and the verso or frontside and backside of a sheet of paper but that was of course easy. And yes: it would even be easier to print more than one page on the side of a sheet to be able to fold and bind it afterwards. As the position of the pages on the sheet was not sequential this called for some math. To put each page on the right place was called imposition and it was known to the scribes of an earlier age who wrote books by hand.

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What if you cut each letter on a separate block so that you could use the letters again and again? The Chinese method of printing was to cut whole pages at a time on a block of wood and so did the makers of the so-called blockbooks that were published about or after the time Gutenberg started printing. But the cutting of whole pages in a tiny roman or gothic script was difficult – if not impossible at all – and uneconomical as the resulting block was to fragile to be put under a printing press. You could rub it of with your hands by placing a piece of paper on the inked wood thousands of times like the Chinese did but then you could only use one side of the paper. and the process was slower. You could also use such complete pages for one text.

The answer to this would be to use separate little blocks but you would soon find out that wood was to soft and sensitive to water and ink to put pages together from separate wooden letters. And was the cutting of hundreds of copies of each separate letter feasible at all? Using some kind of metal for letters was of course the answer – and so was casting them in series, instead of cutting them all separately. To cast letters you needed a matrix. How to create it? You could use sand or clay like the casters of silver and bronze did – this is how dentists still make crowns and how goldsmiths like Benvenuto Cellini worked in the days of Gutenberg. But you could also try and find a more permanent matrix. To be able to make that you had to create a punch that was struck in a small rectancle of copper and made to fit a mold later on. Dies and coins were made like that well before the classical era.

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What Gutenberg did, was to combine different techniques that had existed for some time – and sometimes even for ages – giving them a twist of his own. The ink was probably something that he created out of nothing, but even that may have been related to the oil-based paints that had recently been invented by the Flemish painter Van Eyck.

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The invention spread like a wildfire over Europe. His successors Fust and Schoeffer were not as secretive as Gutenberg – who may have been after the money, by selling “manuscripts” that were made at a fraction of the cost of a written book but were sold for the full price. But in some old sources printing was called ‘artificial writing’ and maybe we should think of it as that and accept that there was no clear divide between before and after Gutenberg. You bought a book – the artificial kind became cheaper in time and a few snobs declared that they would not have them in their palaces since they did not like paper.

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Some of the inventions ascribed to Gutenberg have been questioned. According to bookhistorian Paul Needham and scientist Blaise Aguerra y Arcas the variations in the letters show that Gutenberg at least in some of his books did not use matrixes as we know them from the 16th century. At least part of his material seems to have been casted in sand or perhaps some other not permanent material like plaster. As the detailed pictures of type in this book show there was a lot of variation in 15th century letters – even on pages that were printed by Jenson himself – who is credited by Lotte Hellinga as the inventor of the permanent matrix.

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Perhaps Gutenberg did invent the matrix as it was used until the 19th century but did he not invent or use it when he started to print his first books. It seems that not every printer used permanent matrixes, but that some had their letters casted in not permanent ones as were used by goldsmiths of their days. A non permanent matrix makes casting of type a labor-intensive job: you have to recreate the matrix for every single cast. Casting letters in sand takes probably at least forty times as much time to get a usable amount of type as using a permanent matrix. Why would printers use such a less advanced technique? The answer may be that they simply did not have all the information on how it was done. The first printers may have had to reinvent parts of the printing-process.

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It took at least twenty years before printers did their work more or less in the same way. We are then well into the eighties of the fiftheenth century. Some pictures in this book show a diversity that give some support to this idea. On the other hand the letters we see on the page are at least six steps away from the original design on top of the punch. With a punch one could make a lot of matrixes that would have to be adjusted and that was a process that may have created variations. Then there is the casting: handwork that needs a lot of dexterity and easely results in quite diverse letters – siblings that were looking different but were all coming from the same matrix. Simply by re-using casted type even more variation was created, and inking and the uneven quality of the paper also did their part.

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In the beginning there may not have existed a dichotomy between the written book and it’s printed cousin. Buyers were supposed to have their printed books rubricated, historiated and bound, just like they did before when they ordered their books to be written at one of the ateliers that could be found in any city. Most of the earliest printed books that survived, have spend time with the rubricator and the painter. But perhaps these copies own their survival just to that. There are of course lots of books that were meant to be touched up but that never saw a paintbrush. This completing of books by hand was done until the middle of the 16th century but the emancipation of the printed book from the artisans started somewhere in the seventies of the 15th century. Erhard Ratdolt is a printer who deserves to be named as one of the great innovators. He was one of the first who had his initials and ornaments cut in wood so they could be printed instead of having to be painted in in each single copy of an edition (in those days 300-500 was probably a normal print run).

The mechanization of all activities that were part of the process of creating books changed the way books looked in many ways. The one reason for this was the disappearance of color from the book. The rubricator touched up all letters and words with red or blue ink that deserved special attention from the reader or helped him on his way through the text. But printing in color was difficult and time-consuming and thus expensive. The printers had to find other ways to express the different kinds of information that could be found on the pages of their books. They did this by using white as a mean of dividing paragraphs, by using smallcaps, the italic and all the other ways that we now use to structure our texts even if we are writing them by hand. Eventually color returned to the book. But not as a way to bring articulation to the text. It was used for illustrations and for artistic expression.

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