Friday, August 26, 2011

Pieces of Wood

We have a lot of pieces of wood in our collections. We never seek them out, they find us. That's because Dartmouth loves its trees, and when a particularly memorable tree goes down, students carry away bits as mementos. The scraps of wood represent much more than the tree, they evokes the students' Dartmouth experience.

No tree is more represented in our collection than the Old Pine. Struck by lightning on July 29, 1887, the Old Pine was severely damaged, then a wind storm in 1892 weakened it further. On June 23, 1895, the tree was cut down (the stump was treated, and still serves a ceremonial role in campus life) and students gathered bits of it as keepsakes. One piece was carved into a letter opener by a member of the class of '94. He later donated it to the College, and it now resides here in Rauner.

Last week we all watched the "Parkhurst Elm" fall victim to Dutch Elm disease. We noticed a few students walking away from the site with small pieces of wood. A ceremonial bonfire? Probably not, more likely we will see one of those bits of the Parkhurst Elm again in 40 or 50 years in another form. And it will be too cool to throw away...

To see the letter opener, ask for Realia 117.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What's with the arrow in his head?

In 1662, Joan Blaeu published his 11-volume Grand Atlas, Geographia. The frontispiece to the final volume depicted the New World in allegorical terms. America stands amid a scene of wealth and violence, her foot placed on the severed head of a European, an arrow shot clean through his skull.

What is that all about? We have used it for years in classes where we discuss the various components of the image--the Conquistador ushering in Christianity, the bars of silver, the exotic caiman-like lizard--but it was not until this spring that we acquired the key, the 1618 edition of Cesare Ripa's Nova Iconologia (Padua: Pietro Paolo Tozzi, 1618).

The Nova Iconologia was first published without illustrations in 1593, then with 151 images in 1603. This 1618 edition contains over 300 woodcuts with descriptions that were used by artists and poets to make abstract concepts like the passions, virtues and vices, and even places, concrete in form. The book influenced late-Renaissance artists and is an essential guide to the imagery of the time. America appears on page 353, looking very much like Blaeu's later frontispiece. The detailed explanation of the iconography reveals that the severed head is all that remains of a victim of the barbaric cannibals.

To see the Blaeu atlas, ask for Rare Book G1015.B48 1662.  For the Ripa, request Rare N774.R52 1618.