Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Video reports on the Byzantine art exhibition at the Royal Academy, London

Here are two video news reports about the Byzantium 330-1453 Exhibition currently being held at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The first is from AFP and the second from the BBC:

Medievalism, Colonialism, Nationalism: A Symposium

29 October 2008
States News Service

In cooperation with the Australian Research Council, University of California - Riverside will bring together leading international and University of California scholars on how ideas about the Middle Ages have shaped recent political agendas and national identities in a conference Nov. 7-8.

Panels will discuss King Arthur as a national symbol, medieval chivalry in World War I, the psychological significance of reviving the past, "Beowulf" on the page and on the screen, the Middle Ages in ballet, medieval crime fiction, the origins of blasphemy, and the destruction and reconstruction of medieval monuments.

"Medievalism, Colonialism, Nationalism: A Symposium" is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 7, and from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 8, in Humanities and Social Sciences 1500. Attendance is free, but there is a fee of $6 for parking.

The conference grew out of an ongoing UCR workshop on "Medieval Cultures and Postmodern Legacies" sponsored by the Mellon Foundation Workshop in the Humanities. Over the past four years, the workshop has brought together UCR faculty and graduate students with distinguished researchers.

"In addition to studying the past, scholars have recently realized that it is important to study how ideas about the medieval past have contributed to modern politics and culture," said conference organizer John Ganim, professor of English. Ganim noted, for example, how recent conflicts both in the Balkans and in the Middle East have been justified as unfinished business from medieval wars.

A related display will be on view at Special Collections on the fourth floor of UCR's Rivera Library. Melissa Conway, director of Special Collections and a specialist in medieval studies, has assembled items from UCR's collections related to the symposium.

An afternoon tea on Friday, Nov. 7, will be served in Special Collections, which will give participants an opportunity to view the specially curated display.

The speakers and their topics include:

Elizabeth Allen, UC Irvine, "Perkin Warbeck and Pretenses of the Past"; Seeta Chaganti, UC Davis, 'Raymonda': A Medieval Past in Nineteenth-Century Motion"; Louise D'Arcens, University of Wollongong, Australia, "Life on the Murrumbidgee: Medieval Legacies in the Novels of Mark Twain and Joseph Furphy"; Aranye L. O. Fradenburg, UC Santa Barbara, "(Dis)Continuity: A History of Dreaming"; David Lawton, Washington University, St Louis, "Blasphemy in the Twenty First Century"; Andrew Lynch, University of Western Australia, "Arthur, Empire and Australia."

David Marshall, California State University, San Bernardino, "Hrothgar, Heorot, and Colonialism in Popular Culture"; Anne McKendry, University of Melbourne, Australia,

"Celts, Saxons and Detectives: The Political Medievalism of Peter Tremayne";

Kristen Noone, UC Riverside, 'Coming home without a head is not very delightful': J.R.R. Tolkien and the Battle of Maldon"; Thomas Prendergast, College of Wooster,

"Medievalism and the Uncanny: A Fantasy of History"; Brenda Schildgen, UC Davis,

"Medievalism and Post-Revolutionary France: Making the French Nation"; Carol Symes, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and Harvard University, "At War with the Past: The Medieval Battlegrounds of the Western Front"; and Stephanie Trigg, University of Melbourne, Australia, "The Republican Robin Hood: Ned Kelly, Medievalism and Anti-Medievalism."

The conference has been organized by John Ganim, professor of English at UCR, and is sponsored by the University of California Humanities Research Institute, the Center for Ideas and Society at UCR, the UCR Department of English, the Australian Research Council and the Mellon Workshop on Medieval Cultures. For information contact Laura Lozon at (951) 827-1555 or

La Catedral del Mar, by Idelfonso Falcones

Spaniard sees historical novel as escape from modern life
28 October 2008
EFE News Service

The Spaniard who wrote "La Catedral del Mar" (Cathedral of the Sea), a best-seller set in medieval Catalonia, said here that the popularity of the historical novel today is due to the public's need to escape the 'saturation" of news and current events.

Idelfonso Falcones, a 49-year-old practicing attorney, traveled to Toronto to take part in the annual International Festival of Authors. "The historical novel has always had its attractions. Today more than ever. But if we look for the reason I believe that people are pretty saturated with modern, contemporary situations. If you go to the movies you'll find very few historical films," he said in an interview with Efe.

The writer also said that he has to limit himself when he sits down to write and that he finds creative work easy. "I not only find it easy but enjoyable, which is the important thing. I've always thought that we all have to develop an intellectual interest different from the one that puts food on the table but stresses us out and has us working 14 hours a day," the author said. "In my case it's writing. I have always seen writing as a way to channel that intellectual yearning. I don't think stress can be relieved by punishing the body, and that's from someone who has done a lot of sports, horseback riding above all," he said.

Falcones, who heads a law firm with offices in Barcelona and Madrid, said that despite the success of "La Catedral del Mar," which has sold more than 2 million copies, and of having a contract for a second novel, his daily routine has scarcely changed.

Falcones writes in the morning before going to the office. "I don't allow myself to do it in the office, because if I write in the office I won't do any work. And often it's hard to stop writing at nine in the morning. You have to stick to your time schedule because otherwise I could be writing and rewriting all morning without working."

The only change is that instead of the hour a day he spent writing "La Catedral del Mar," the author now allows himself two hours "and sometimes three." But Falcones said that it is a constant battle with his professional and family responsibilities.
"When I go on vacation it's impossible to write. I have four kids and if it isn't the beach its the bicycles. It's impossible."

About the origin of "La Catedral del Mar," Falcones explained that "at a certain moment" he wanted to write a historical novel. "I like all kinds of novels but especially historical ones," he said. "When it's true and reflects real historical events, it gets very interesting. When one has very little time the most practical thing is to choose your own city as the background. The fact is that Barcelona is an attractive city about which no historical novel had been written. The oldest settings were from the 19th century, but nothing ancient."

Falcones acknowledged that he had a hard time getting his book published. "All the publishers, the eight or nine biggest publishing houses rejected it," he recalled. "In the end it was the same old thing - through a friend of a friend of a friend you get into the circuit, you sign with a literary agent, and from the time you get your foot in the door of this very closed world, from that time on everything starts to function. But if you don't find that opening, you don't get in," he said.

On the subject of his next novel, Falcones was discreet, but said that he was working on another historical novel, although he wasn't sure when it would be published.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Late Byzantine celebrations of the human and the image

Conference on Byzantine iconography in Venice
14 October 2008

A conference on the theological and philosophical fundamentals of the Byzantine iconography, held by Anca Vasiliu, Research Manager of Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, will take place on Wednesday at the Aula Magna of the Fine Arts Academy in Venice, the Nine O'Clock daily writes on Tuesday.

The conference 'Late Byzantine celebrations of the human and the image' will present the theological and philosophical fundamentals of the Byzantine iconography, representing the patrimony of a common inheritance of the Romanian culture of the fifteenth and sixteenth century and of the Venetian Republic history and civilization.

Two of the most important landmarks of this patrimony are the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Torcello and the Saint Mark's Basilica in Venice.

One of the most valuable contributions is represented by the mural art of the monasteries in Northern Moldova, analysed by Anca Vasiliu in numerous studies and volumes, many of them released by prestigious publishing houses abroad.

The event is the second collaboration of the Romanian Cultural and Humanistic Research Institute and the Fine Arts Academy of Venice, after an evening dedicated to the great personality of Ion Popescu-Gopo was organized this May. Teachers and students of the Academy were invited to come to the meeting, besides specialists and historians, as well as the Italian students attending the classes of the Romanian Language, Literature and Culture Lectureship of Venice. Anca Vasiliu graduated from the National University of Arts in Bucharest and presently teaches classical Greek philosophy at the University of Paris (Pantheon - Sorbonne), she is a scientific adviser of 'Centre Leon Robin de Recherche sur la Pensee Antique' and a full member of the International Society for the Study of Medieval Philosophy.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Istanbul project reveals Byzantine discoveries

Marmary is an undersea rail project linking the Asian and European shores of Istanbul under the Bosphorus strait. The work has led to the discovery of extraordinary treasures from the Byzantine times, including some 30 shipwrecks.

Pages from the Past: Highlights from USC's Collection of Medieval Manuscripts

7 October 2008
Targeted News Service

The University of South Carolina Upstate Campus issued the following news release:

Rare Books and Special Collections at USC's Thomas Cooper Library will be taking its medieval manuscripts on the road in a traveling exhibition called "Pages from the Past: Highlights from USC's Collection of Medieval Manuscripts." The exhibit will make a stop at the University of South Carolina Upstate on Tuesday, October 21. The exhibit will be open to the public beginning at 3:00 p.m. The exhibit, to be held in the Campus Life Center Ballroom, will feature a lecture and performance at 4:30 p.m. with a reception to follow.

Visitors at USC Upstate will be able to see a selection of 40 manuscripts, learn about the collection from an expert, and even hear medieval music sung right from the pages of USC's venerable Spanish choir book. Undergraduate music major Elizabeth Nyikos will lead members of the USC's ensemble Canticum Novum in a rare performance of medieval chant. The University Libraries conservation laboratory restored the gradual this summer in order for the very large volume to travel. The music contained has never been sung in modern times, not since the day this manuscript was retired from the church where it was housed, no doubt centuries ago. It should be noted that medieval choir books had to be large, so they could be read from a distance in candlelit churches.

Dr. Scott Gwara, professor of Medieval English at USC, is the curator of the traveling exhibition. "I've chosen the best items, a range of materials, including music, history, books of private prayer, bibles, liturgical manuscripts, and more. Many of these have stunning illuminations highlighted by pure gold. Nearly all have elaborate penwork decoration."

Featured manuscripts in the exhibition include the Towneley-Dyson Perrins manuscript of Ranulph Higden's Polychronicon layered in bright gold and colored paints, gorgeous prayer-books once owned by women, and a leaf from the Llangattock Breviary, commissioned for Duke Leonello d'Este of Ferrara around 1445.

"The Llangattock Breviary," Dr. Gwara explained, "is one of the most storied books of our time: thanks to the survival of the Este account books, we know its history, right down to the names of its illuminators." Dr. Gwara added that the exhibition will also include USC's Breslauer manuscript of medieval sermons, acquired last year by gift of the B. H. Breslauer Foundation in New York. "There's something for everyone in this exhibit, and it's all fabulous," Dr. Gwara stated.

To learn more about the exhibit, visit For further information on "Pages from the Past," please contact Frieda Davison, dean of the library at USC Upstate, at (864) 503-5610.

Medieval Islamic ewer sold at auction

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Fourth Viking Congress

I just wanted to give everyone a preview of the new website, which we are working on. The site is using a Wordpress content management system, so there are some changes still to be made and things like fontsize still need to be finalized. But we will be having a lot of content on it, including articles, interviews, videos and books. For now, here are a few links to articles from The Fourth Viking Congress, edited by Alan Small and published by Aberdeen University in 1961.

Here are the articles we have republished from this book:

Characteristics and Dating of Anglo-Saxon Churches, by H.M. Taylor

Anglo-Saxon Churches in Yorkshire, by H.M. Taylor

The York Viking Kingdom; Relations between Old English and Norse Culture, by Alan Burns

The Medieval Peasant House, by J.G. Hurst

Late Saxon Pottery, by J.G. Hurst

An Eleventh-Century Farmhouse in the Norse Colonies in Greenland, by C.L. Vebaek

Eysteinn Haraldsson in the West, c.1151: Oral Traditions and Written Record, by A.B. Taylor

The site will officially be ready to go sometime this month.

Upcoming Medieval Conferences

The Landscapes of South Yorkshire and the North Midlands
October 11, 2008
University of Sheffield

Click here for more details

Jews and antisemitisms
October 15, 2008
University of London

Click here for more details

The 34th Annual Byzantine Studies Conference
October 16-19, 2008
Rutgers University

Click here for more details

The Devil in Society in the Pre-modern World
October 17-18, 2008
University of Toronto

Click here for more details

Rye Medieval Conference: Medieval Seas
October 18-19, 2008
Thomas Peacocke Community College

Click here for more details (PDF file)

Beyond Saints and Scholars: Medieval Irish Studies in the Twenty-First Century
October 26-29, 2008
St.Louis University

Click here for more details

Translating the Middle Ages
October 28-29, 2008
University of Illinois at Urbana=Champaign

Click here for more details

CMH@20 - Metropolitan history: past, present, future
October 30-31, 2008
University of London

Click here for more details

Fourth Bangor Colloquium on Medieval Wales
November 8-9, 2008
Bangor University

Click here for more details

Global Encounters: Legacies of Exchange and Conflict (1000-1700)
November 14-15, 2008
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Click here for more details

Debating Urbanism: Within and Beyond the Walls: A day conference on life within and around towns from c. AD 300-700
November 15, 2008
University of Leicester

Click here for more details

Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies 7th Biennial International Conference
December 2-6, 2008
University of Tasmania

Click here for more details

The Twenty-First Barnard Medieval and Renaissance Conference: "The Shape of Time in the Middle Ages and Renaissance"
December 6, 2008
Barnard College

Click here for more details

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Beirut uncovers its hidden past

Beirut, a city of hidden treasures from the past. From the Romans to the Ottomans, ancient relics are constantly being discovered as the Lebanese capital undergoes a construction makeover.

John Rylands University Library to put medieval materials online

Medieval treasures go online
University of Manchester
23 Sep 2008

Some of the world’s greatest medieval literary riches are to be made available on the internet – giving the public free unlimited access for the first time. The treasures include one of the earliest existing manuscripts of the complete Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, 500-year-old translations of the Bible into English and one of England’s oldest recipe books.

The University of Manchester’s John Rylands University Library will use cutting edge technology to digitise their internationally renowned collection of over forty Middle English manuscripts thanks to funding from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC).

A rare copy of the ‘Forme of Cury’ – a 600-year-old recipe book compiled by the master cook of Richard the Second – will be available free of charge, along with the other treasures on the John Rylands Library website. The book contains recipes for dishes such as ‘blank mang’ – a sweet dish of chopped meat, milk, rice, sugar and almonds – and ‘custard’, an open pie resembling a modern quiche.

The project will also reunite fragments of a fifteenth-century manuscript of Chaucer’s ‘The Miller’s Tale’ in an online collaboration with the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. Other key works to be digitised and uploaded to the John Rylands Library website will be John Lydgate’s two major poems, the ‘Troy Book’ and ‘Fall of Princes’.

The work, which will be carried out using a state-of-the-art high definition camera, begins in October this year and will be completed in late 2009. Jan Wilkinson, University Librarian and Director of the John Rylands Library, said: “The Library’s Middle English manuscripts are a research resource of immense significance. Yet the manuscripts are inherently fragile, and until now access to them has been restricted by the lack of digital copies. Digitisation will make them available to everyone. For the first time it will be possible to compare our manuscripts directly with other versions of the texts in libraries located across the world, opening up opportunities for new areas of research. We hope that this will be the beginning of a wider digitisation programme, which will unlock the tremendous potential of our medieval manuscripts and printed books, for the benefit of the academic community and the wider public.”

The Library holds fifteen fifteenth-century copies of the New Testament translated into English by John Wyclif, the fourteenth-century radical and church reformer. Wyclif is seen as a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation and attacked the wealth and worldliness of the Church, and translated the Bible from Latin into English, to make it accessible to the people. He was denounced as a heretic during his lifetime and forty years after his death the Pope ordered his bones to be dug up, burnt and the ashes scattered.

Assistant Librarian Carol Burrows said: “The project, entitled ‘In the Bigynnyng’ will act as a pilot for an ambitious Manchester Medieval Digital Library – ‘Incipit’ – which will contain digital versions of the Rylands’ outstanding collections of medieval manuscripts and early printed books. An exciting element of the project is the virtual reunification of a key manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, fragments of which have been separated by the Atlantic Ocean for over a century. Leaves located at the John Rylands Library and at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia will be digitally stitched together and viewed on a joint website.”

High quality images are available of:

*Lydgate's 'Troy Book'
*John Rylands fragment of Chaucer's “The Miller’s Tale”
*The 'Forme of Cury'
*Wyclif New Testament

Recipes from the Forme of Cury are available

Matilda of Tuscany

25 September 2008
ANSA - English Media Service

The northern province of Mantua is celebrating the life and times of one of Italy's most powerful medieval women, Matilda of Tuscany (1046-1115). Three exhibitions exploring her steady rise to power and her close relations with the Church are running in the city and the surrounding area. Matilda was the daughter of Boniface II of Canossa, who controlled great swathes of land in northern Italy, and his second wife, Beatrice.

At the age of six, Matilda became sole heir to her father's estate when he died, even though she had an older brother. Beatrice, herself a strong, intelligent and deeply religious woman, was responsible for her daughter's upbringing, which was considered unconventional for the time.

Matilda enjoyed an extensive education and was able to speak, read and write Latin, Italian, German and French, and also developed a great love of literature that led her to acquire numerous manuscripts. Some sources also suggest she had military training, including horseriding, swordsmanship and tactical skills, and her presence on important battlefields seems to support the theory.

Matilda governed the vast tracts of land she owned in northern and central Italy for almost 40 years but is today best known for her pivotal involvement in the Investiture Controversy. This involved a struggle between Europe's secular rulers, especially the German emperors, who believed they had the power to appoint Church officials, and the papacy, which declared that the pope alone had the power.

Throughout her life, Matilda was a strong and active supporter of the papacy and played a crucial role in mediating an agreement of 1077 between the two main adversaries in the struggle, Pope Gregory VII and the German king Henry IV, later Holy Roman Emperor.

Each of the three exhibits explores a different aspect of Matilda's life.

The first and largest, in Mantua's Casa del Mantegna is entitled 'Matilde di Canossa, il Papato e l'Impero' (Matilda of Tuscany, The Papacy and the Empire). It features 250 items, including Henry IV's imperial throne of wrought iron and Gregory VII's papal throne.

The only remaining seal used by Matilda is displayed, as well as 22 documents she personally signed. Other items include hangings, jewellery, sculpture, crucifixes and weapons, as well as a host of archaeological artefacts, giving a sense of what day-to-day life was like at that time.

The second exhibition in the small town of San Benedetto Po, focuses on the Benedictine Abbey of San Benedetto Polirone founded by Matilda's grandfather, Tedaldo in 1007. Matilda withdrew to the Abbey for increasingly long periods of her life as she grew older and was eventually buried there. Entitled 'Matilda's Abbey', the exhibit collates artworks, including portraits of Matilda, and original documents from the abbey, as well as archive maps, showing work carried out by the complex's inhabitants.

The final show in the Diocesan Museum of Mantua spotlights the life of the Archbishop of Lucca Anselmo (1035-1086), sent by Gregory VII to be Matilda's advisor and confessor. This contains a variety of artworks and valuable documents. All three exhibitions are open until January 11 2009.