Friday, June 27, 2014

Roman Rooms

George Ticknor 1807 was a professor of languages at both Harvard University and Smith College during the 19th century and amassed a formidable personal library during his many trips to Europe for both study and pleasure. In particular, his collection of Spanish and Portuguese literature was arguably the best of its kind in the United States during his lifetime. Rauner Library was given a significant portion of Ticknor's library by his estate as well as his library furniture, mantlepiece, and sculptures, all of which now reside just off Rauner's reading room in a room named after the family.

In addition to George's library, furniture, and artwork, Rauner also holds his personal papers and those of his wife Anna, which include personal travel diaries written during their travels abroad in the 1830s. The diaries are filled with interesting perspectives on the countries and places that they visit, and comparing the couple's entries on any given day is a fun exercise in seeing how different individual impressions and experiences can be. Anna's diary is written in a beautiful cursive hand and begins in May of 1835, when the Ticknors landed in England, and ends in September of 1837 near the Spl├╝gen Pass between Switzerland and Italy.

In the winter of 1836, The Ticknors took up residence in Rome on the third floor of a private house overlooking the city. Anna took it upon herself to draft in her diary a floor plan of the rooms, which is quite detailed and provides a fascinating example of the style in which wealthy families of the period were accustomed to traveling. The apartments include "six sleeping rooms, a sitting room and dining room, servants' eating room, kitchen and outer & inner antechambers." For Anna, however, the best quality of the rooms is that they are situated upon the side of one of Rome's many hills and are therefore provided a wonderful and constantly sunny view of the city. She also mentions that everything has been provided for them upon their arrival, and that this comprehensive service is possible because tourists of their stature are so common in Rome.

Anna's diaries can be found in her personal papers, MS-1249, while George's diaries are located in his papers, MS-983. The Ticknor Room at Rauner Library can be viewed any time that the reading room is open.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sailing to.....

Before Mercator, pilots used charts that showed the location of ports and coastal features and provided directions on how to navigate between these points of reference. Details of the coast were critical as vessels often chose to sail closer to land to mitigate potential open sea and weather hazards. These earlier maps were known as portolan charts - a name derived from the Italian - and are often fantastically detailed and depict the coastlines of the major land masses with stunning accuracy.

Our portolan chart was made by Nicolas Comberford around 1657 in Redcliffe, England and depicts the Mediterranean and Black Sea. True to the style, numerous coastal towns and cities are pinpointed and the small islands of the area are numbered and listed in tables in the interior spaces of the adjoining countries. As with most portolan charts, the interior land masses are left largely blank since the focus of the chart was navigation on the water. Unlike most portolans, Comberford has not included the standard compass lines connecting major destinations, opting instead for a more open grid to demonstrate direction and relative distance.


The chart is constructed of vellum attached to hinged and folded oak boards. Despite its use on ship, the map shows very little water staining and is brilliantly colored with gold leaf accents. Though the map apparently belonged to a Captain John Smyth, this is, alas, not the Captain Smith of Virginia fame. That Captain Smith died before the creation of this chart.

Ask for Codex 657940 to see the chart.