A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales: Volume III: North Wales

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The third volume of A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales has recently been published. This final volume focuses on the  inscribed stones and stone sculpture of north Wales c. AD400-1150.

The first two volumes were published in 2007 by University of Wales Press.  Volume I by Mark Redknap and John M. Lewis covers South-East Wales and the English Border. Volume II by Nancy Edwards covers South-West Wales. Each volume consists of a full analytical introduction and a catalogue of individual monuments with discussions and numerous illustrations, both photographs and line-drawings.

Volume III provides fresh insights and new interpretations of over 150 monuments, many of which have been found since V. E. Nash-William‘s  Early Christian Monuments of Wales was published in 1950. The introductory discussion analyses the historical and archaeological context of the monuments, early research, geology, their form and function, ornament and iconography, and the language and lettering of the inscriptions, as well as their cultural connections, dating and chronology. The well-illustrated catalogue provides more detailed descriptions and analyses of individual monuments.

Nancy Edwards is Professor of Medieval Archaeology at Bangor University. Her research is focused on the early medieval archaeology of Wales and Ireland, particularly on stone sculpture and the Church.

Acknowledgements
Volume III is published in association with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and the University of Wales Institute for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies. Research for Volume III has been generously funded by the British Academy through their grant of a Research Leave Fellowship to Nancy Edwards (2006–8) and a Small Research Grant to finance geological identification of the monuments. Financial assistance has also been received from the University of Wales Board of Celtic Studies and the  Cambrian Archaeological Association. Nancy Edwards is also grateful to All Souls College Oxford for a Visiting Research Fellowship, Michaelmass Term 2007, during which time much of the more specialized comparative research was conducted.

The Vyne Roman ring

The ring that may have inspired Tolkien's Hobbit books
 The Hobbit ring that may have inspired Tolkien put on show

In what was once the housekeeper’s office of a Tudor mansion in Hampshire, a very odd golden ring glitters on a revolving stand in a tall perspex column. In chapter five of The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins finds a ring in the gloom of Gollum’s cave. Not just any ring. “One very beautiful thing, very beautiful, very wonderful. He had a ring, a golden ring, a precious ring.”
A new exhibition opening today at The Vyne, now owned by the National Trust, raises the intriguing possibility that the Roman ring in the case, and the ring of power in JRR Tolkien‘s book The Hobbit, and in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, are one and the same.
As Dave Green, the property manager, explains, there’s more to the story than the ring – an iron-age site with ancient mine workings known as “the Dwarf’s Hill”, a curse on the thief who stole the ring, and a strong link to Tolkien himself.
Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford before he found fame as an author, with the publication of The Hobbit in 1937, and the first of the Rings trilogy in 1954. He certainly knew the story of the curse and the ring, and was researching the subject two years before he began work on The Hobbit.
The ring was in the collection of the Chute family – which for generations was interested in politics, collecting, and antiquarian research – for centuries before the house came to the National Trust in the 1930s.
“I was looking for the ring to show a visitor, and I walked right past the case with it – that’s when I decided we really had to make more of this amazing thing,” Green said. As well as the exhibition room, created with the help of the  Tolkien Trust, the house now has a dwarf trail for children and a new playground with circular tunnels and green hillocks recalling Bilbo’s home, Bag End.
The ring was probably found in 1785 by a farmer ploughing a few miles away within the walls of  Silchester, one of the most enigmatic Roman sites in the country – a town which flourished before the Roman invasion, was abandoned by the 7th century and was never reoccupied.
There are no details of exactly when it was found, but historians assume the farmer sold it to the history loving wealthy family at The Vyne. It was a strikingly odd object, 12g of gold so large that it would only fit on a gloved thumb, ornamented with a peculiar spiky head wearing a diadem, and a Latin inscription reading: “Senicianus live well in God“.
A few decades later and 100 miles away, more of the story turned up: at Lydney in Gloucestershire, a Roman site known locally as the Dwarf’s Hill,  a tablet with an inscribed curse was found. A Roman called Silvianus informs the god  Nodens that his ring has been stolen. He knows the villain responsible, and he wants the god to sort them out: “Among those who bear the name of Senicianus to none grant health until he bring back the ring to the temple of Nodens.”
Lydney was re-excavated by the maverick archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who called in Tolkien in 1929 to advise on the odd name of the god – and also spotted the connection between the name on the curse and the Chute family’s peculiar ring. It seems that Senicianus only got as far as Silchester before he lost his booty.
Dr Lynn Forest-Hill of the Tolkien Trust said Tolkien’s source was usually assumed to be literary sources, including the Niebelung legends. “It is, then, particularly fascinating to see the physical evidence of the Vyne ring, with its links to Tolkien through the inscription associating it with a curse.”
The ring is now on display with a first edition of The Hobbit and a copy of the curse – visitors are invited to vote on whether they are looking at the original of Bilbo’s ring.

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Pharmacopoeia

A new exhibition which includes some of the earliest recorded interpretations of the natural sciences has opened as part of the British Science Festival.
Pharmacopoeia, meaning ‘preparation of drugs’, is an exhibition featuring rare and beautiful printed and manuscript material, which explores the study of the medicinal qualities of plants in the treatment of disease.
It forms part of the British Science Festival – running in Aberdeen from September 4 to 9 – and makes links with contemporary scientific research and practice at the University of Aberdeen including cutting edge examples from the Marine Biodiscovery Centre as well as the Kosterlitz Centre for Therapeutics.
Pharmacopoeia, at the Gallery in the University of Aberdeen’s library includes early records of plants for specific medical treatments which were recorded in texts such as the late 15th century De Hortus Sanitatis.
The exhibition will also explore how medical knowledge was shared through the Renaissance and beyond.
Siobhan Convery, Head of Special Collections at the University of Aberdeen, said: “Advances in pharmacy and medical chemistry are evident in the popular botanical literature of the 17th century such as A Curious Herbal by the Aberdonian botanist and illustrator, Elizabeth Blackwell.  The many items on display demonstrate this history from its roots in a monastic setting through to modern chemical isolation and synthesis.
“The exhibition also highlights the work of the early plant collectors such as Professor James Trail, who made a substantial contribution to the University Herbarium and the Cruickshank Botanic Gardens.”
As well as tracing the history of the use of plants in medicine, the exhibition explores how plants are still being used to find new drugs, even if there is no historical use of the plant to treat disease.
Ms Convery added: “Scientists at the University of Aberdeen are engaged in the search for new treatments for infection, inflammation, parasitic diseases and cancer using nature’s bounty.
“More recently they have turned to investigating microorganisms from extreme environments such as the Mariana trench, the deepest place on earth, the Atacama desert, the driest place on earth and the Dead Sea. Cultivating bacteria and fungi from these environments has led to the discovery of unique compounds by Aberdeen scientists which may form the basis of future treatments.”
The exhibition, which runs until December 1, is located in the  Gallery on the ground floor of the University’s library on Bedford Road.

Brontë portraits

 Rare painting of the three Bronte sisters due to go under the hammer at Northamptonshire auction

AN auctioneer is aiming to secure a rare hat-trick by selling an “important” picture thought to depict all three Bronte sisters.
Jonathon Humbert, of  JP Humbert Auctioneers, based in Towcester, says he is confident the painting, which he claims is of “superlative quality”, is of the three literary sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne.
The rare portrait, thought to be a hitherto unknown watercolour, is the latest in the series of unrelated items concerning the trio to be put up for sale by the same firm.
The Northamptonshire auction house’s sale of  a small portrait believed to be of Emily Bronte recently fetched £4,600. In December, JP Humbert sold another painting of the reclusive writer for £23,836.
However, Mr Humbert said the latest painting could prove to be the most important yet.
He said there was no estimate on the latest discovery, which it believed to have come from an owner in Dorset, as it was impossible to say how much it would fetch.
He added: “We just had one and then with all the media interest someone came into us with the second and now we have a third one, which is by far the most important painting.
“The evidence has been put together by the vendor for the past four years and our own investigations.
“We have been incredibly forensic about this and we believe that not only is this a hitherto unrecognised portrait of the Bronte sisters, but moreover we believe it was painted by  Edwin Landseer, who went on top become Sir Edwin Landseer.”
The piece of art is thought to contain the signature of Landseer, who was an important Victorian painter, and depicts a broach [sic] and bracelet believed to have been worn by the sisters.
The jewellery is now kept in museums.
Mr Humbert added: “It has come to us from a long way away and we are already having a lot of international press interest and what we hope is the art world will embrace it accordingly.
“We have had success from two out of two and we are hoping for the hat-trick but we have no idea what it will make because there is nothing to compare it to.”
He added: “I hope it will end up in a museum or collection, where it will be recognised for what it is.”
The painting is set to go under the hammer on April 26 as part of a two-day fine art and antiques sale.

Other portraits:

The Brontë sisters by Patrick Branwell Brontë (1817-1848) © National Portrait Gallery, London

‘We don’t think it’s a painting of Emily’
The Bronte Society has cast doubt on claims a painting being auctioned in Northampton this month [December 2011] is a portrait of the famous literary figure Emily Bronte.
Ann Dinsdale, collections manager at the Bronte Parsonage Museum, said the society doubted the provenance of the oil painting and would not be bidding on it next Thursday.
“We are not 100 per cent convinced it is Emily. There isn’t enough provenance on the painting and there is an element of doubt about it,” she said.
“There are two portraits of Emily, both in the National Portrait Gallery, and they don’t bare a striking resemblance to this one. The experts are saying the woman in the painting is wearing the kind of clothes Emily would have worn, which probably thousands of other women of that period were wearing. They have done a huge amount of research on that painting but we are still not convinced.”
But art experts, who have assessed the picture, say there is strong evidence to suggest it could be of Emily Bronte.
The oil painting, which shows a young woman wearing a straw bonnet held in place by a silk scarf, was painted earlier than previously thought.
The picture, recently given to auctioneers J P Humbert of Northamptonshire by a retired headmaster, was found to have been painted circa 1840, making it contemporary with the age of the possible subject – Emily Bronte died in 1848.
It is almost identical to a print of a portrait of the writer published in the July 1894 issue of The Woman At Home, which itself was attributed to Charlotte Bronte. It is thought the artist responsible for the newly-found picture may be John Hunter Thompson (1808-1890) of Bradford who was a portrait artist and friend of Emily’s brother Branwell.
As well as that, written on the back is “Emily Bronte – Sister of Charlotte B… Currer Bell”, and on the backing paper “Emily Bronte/Sister of Charlotte Bronte/Ellis Bell”. Currer and Ellis Bell were the pen names of Charlotte and Emily Bronte from the winter of 1845 when the sisters published their poems and adopted pen names.
Auctioneer Jonathan Humbert said the attribution confirms that the portrait is earlier than previously thought.
“After much research, we are confident this portrait, recently discovered, is of Emily Bronte,” he said.
“So many factors support this contention and, as such, this represents a very important study of one of English literature’s most perennial figures.”
The oil on panel painting is set to go on sale at JP Humbert Auctioneers in Towcester, Northants, at a provisional estimate of £10,000 to £15,000.
The sale coincides with an auction where the society will be bidding for a rare Charlotte Bronte manuscript the Young Men’s Magazine.

And:

Emily Brontë portrait goes under the hammer
For the second time in two months, a previously unknown portrait captioned “Emily Brontë” is to be auctioned, showing the Wuthering Heights author as a winsome but pensive young woman.
Painted in oils and with the subject gazing directly at the artist with clear brown eyes, the picture is less formal and possibly more flattering than the smaller, bonneted study that sold in December for £23,836, exceeding the reserve price of £10,000-£15,000.
Measuring 33 by 24cms (13 by 9.5ins), the painting has been reliably sourced to the mid-19th century and has a note of the subject probably made by the artist around the time of painting. But absolute attribution is unlikely, as has been the case with most supposed Brontë portraits apart from the famous study of the sisters painted in 1835 by their brother, Branwell.
The painting has been sent for auction by the Northamptonshire firm JP Humbert, which handled the “bonnet picture” sale. Jonathan Humbert said a private owner brought the portrait into the firm’s office after reading about the previous sale. “One unknown portrait of Emily Brontë is lucky enough, but two in two months is quite remarkable,” he said. “I am amazed that both have turned up on our doorstep.”
Anything with a Brontë tag appears to sell well, although uncertainty about the authenticity of the latest picture has seen the reserve set at between £3,000 and £4,000. Last month the Haworth Parsonage museum, which has the world’s greatest trove of Brontë relics, was outbid by a Paris museum for a miniature magazine made by Charlotte Brontë when she was 14.
The dainty handwritten manuscript was bought at Sotheby’s by the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits for £690,850, more than twice the reserve and a record for a literary work by any of the three sisters. The price of the bonnet painting was driven up on the same day by determined phone bidding to Northampton from the US.

Emily by Patrick Branwell Brontë (1817-1848)oil on canvas, arched top, circa 1833 © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Charlotte Brontë
by George Richmond
chalk, 1850
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Anne Brontë ( 1820 – 1849 ), English poet and writer by Charlotte Bronte, her sister.

Branwell Brontë by J. B. Leyland

Brontë Photographs

A photograph believed to be that of Charlotte Brontë taken in the last year of her life in 1854.  Brontë Parsonage Museum.

The Brontë sisters?

Whether it depicts them or not there’s certainly a Bronte connection. The ladies resemble them, their names are on the back and there’s a link to a photo in the Bronte Museum.

Patrick Brontë.

Update: Bronte portrait withdrawn from auction

Update: Charlotte Brontë letter

Update:Charlotte Brontë poem

BronteSomethingAboutArthurBlog

St Cuthbert’s Gospel

The British Library has announced that it has successfully acquired the St Cuthbert Gospel, a miraculously well-preserved 7th century manuscript that is the oldest European book to survive fully intact and therefore one of the world’s most important books.

The £9 million purchase price for the Gospel has been secured following the largest and most successful fundraising campaign in the British Library’s history.
The single largest contribution to the campaign was a £4.5 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) together with major gifts from the Art Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation and the Foyle Foundation. In addition, the campaign received a number of significant donations from charitable trusts, foundations and major individual donors, along with gifts from members of the public.
A manuscript copy of the Gospel of St John, the St Cuthbert Gospel was produced in the North East of England in the late 7th century and was placed in  St Cuthbert’s  coffin on Lindisfarne, apparently in 698. The Gospel was found in the saint’s coffin at Durham Cathedral in 1104. It has a beautifully worked original red leather binding in excellent condition, and it is the only surviving high-status manuscript from this crucial period in British history to retain its original appearance, both inside and out. As such, it represents a major addition to the Library’s world-class collections relating to the early history and culture of Britain, and its unrivalled collection of texts associated with the world’s great faiths.
Now in public ownership, the St Cuthbert Gospel is on display in the  Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery in the British Library’s flagship building at St Pancras. Following a conservation review led by the British Library and involving leading international conservation and curatorial experts, the Gospel will be displayed open for the first time in this building.
To celebrate the successful acquisition, the Library has opened a special display exploring the creation, travels and near-miraculous survival of the Gospel across 13 centuries. Access is free to both the display and the Treasures Gallery where the Gospel is on show.
In addition, the manuscript has been digitised in full, allowing it to be made freely available online for the first time via the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts.
Announcing the acquisition, the Chief Executive of the British Library, Dame Lynne Brindley, said: “To look at this small and intensely beautiful treasure from the Anglo-Saxon period is to see it exactly as those who created it in the 7th century would have seen it. The exquisite binding, the pages, even the sewing structure survive intact, offering us a direct connection with our forebears 1300 years ago. Its importance in the history of the book and its association with one of Britain’s foremost saints make it unique, so I am delighted to announce the successful acquisition of the St Cuthbert Gospel by the British Library. This precious item will remain in public hands so that present and future generations can learn from it.
“I would like to pay tribute to the donors who have made this acquisition possible – and particularly the NHMF, who recognised the crucial importance of the St Cuthbert Gospel to our nation’s heritage, and who granted a remarkable £4.5 million – the largest single grant for an acquisition that the Library has ever received,” Dame Lynne added. “We are similarly grateful to the other major donors, and the many hundreds of people who made individual donations. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure the Gospel for the nation and we were both grateful and touched that so many people felt moved to support our campaign.”
Having acquired the Gospel, the British Library is now able to invest in its long-term preservation, as well as transforming the possibilities for improved access to the item through digitisation and display.
The acquisition of the St Cuthbert Gospel by the British Library involved a formal partnership between the Library, Durham University and Durham Cathedral and an agreement that the book will be displayed to the public equally in London and the North East. The first display in Durham is anticipated to be in July 2013 in  Durham University’s Palace Green Library on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham, said: “It is the best possible news to know that the Cuthbert Gospel has been saved for the nation. For the people of Durham and North East England, this is a most treasured book. Buried with Cuthbert and retrieved from his coffin, it held a place of great honour in Durham Cathedral Priory. The place in the Cathedral where it was kept in the middle ages is still the home of our unique manuscript collection.

The faces of Burke and Hare

 Doon the close and up the stair
Butt and ben wi Burke and Hare
Burke’s the butcher, Hare’s the thief
And Knox the boy that buys the beef!

Found: the faces of Burke and Hare

The forgotten faces of two of Scotland’s most infamous murderers have been discovered among a number of macabre artefacts languishing in the store cupboard of a former prison.
Almost exactly 180 years after their brutal crimes shocked the nation, a rare pair of plaster masks of the notorious body snatchers Burke and Hare have been found at  Inveraray jail in Argyll, along with a genuine hangman’s noose, launching a mystery as to how they got there. Neither of the murderers was ever held at Inveraray, nor was anyone ever hanged inside the prison.
“We found the masks during a clean-out of one of our store rooms, it was quite a surprise,” said Gavin Dick, the general manager of the jail, which is now a museum. “Initially we thought it was just Burke, but it turns out we’ve got two heads. A death mask of Burke and a life mask of Hare. Unfortunately very little is known about either head, or for that matter the hangman’s noose, and how they came to be here.”
William Burke and William Hare are among the most notorious of Scotland’s criminals but, contrary to popular belief, the two Irish labourers were not grave robbers. Although they supplied bodies for dissection to the  anatomist Robert Knox, at Surgeon’s Square in Edinburgh, the pair found it easier to kill rather than exhume their victims.
Until the  1832 Anatomy Act, the only legal sources of corpses for anatomical purposes in the UK were those of people condemned to death and dissection by the courts. However as the need to train medical students increased, the number of executed criminals fell, so Knox was only too glad to receive the Irishmen’s wares. It is believed that Burke and Hare murdered at least 16 people, possibly as many as 30, before their crimes were discovered. Hare turned King’s evidence and escaped the gallows, while Burke was publicly executed and his body exhibited before being flayed and dissected.
A number of ghoulish souvenirs were kept of Burke, including a book and a snuff box bound in pieces of his skin. His  skeleton [2nd pic. in link series] is still kept under lock and key at Edinburgh University.
The activities of the former  navvies, who had originally moved to Edinburgh to work on the Union Canal, repelled and fascinated the public. At the time, phrenology was a popular “new science” that claimed that the shape and contours of a person’s head could dictate their personality traits. So-called experts held talks across the country using casts of the heads of infamous criminals to illustrate their point.
A life mask is known to have been made of  Hare during the trial [3rd pic in link series], and  Burke’s shaven head was cast after his execution in front of 25,000 people on 28 January 1829.
Although a handful of masks are known to still exist, with at least one in the United States, one in a museum in  Swansea and copies at the universities of St Andrews and Edinburgh, they are very rare. “How or why they should end up in Inveraray jail is a something of a mystery,” said Owen Dudley Edwards, the author of several works about the murderous pair. “There are no links at all between Inveraray and Burke and Hare, so it seems a very unlikely place to find these masks. There have been cases where copies have shown up in strange places, usually because they were once owned by private collectors, but there certainly weren’t many of them made.
“There were some pretty ghoulish souvenirs from Burke, such as  book covers and a snuff box. There was never any death mask made of Hare because nobody knows for certain what happened to him.”
Although there was much public anger at the fact that Hare was allowed to go free, attempts to bring further charges against him failed and he fled to England. The man described at the time as a “rude ruffian, ferocious profligate” and “evidently the greatest villain of the two” was last seen heading east from Carlisle on the road to Newcastle.
There were reports that he was living at Buckminster in Leicestershire until his identity was discovered and he was forced to move on. He is said to have died a blind beggar in London, or even emigrated to the US.
Andrew Connell, museum collections manager at the Royal College of Surgeons, which has its own copy of Burke’s death mask, said the find was definitely unusual: “I’ve not seen them anywhere else. I don’t think they were like Charles and Diana souvenirs, churned out in their thousands. There was probably only a handful made, if that.”
Staff at Inveraray jail are considering whether to exhibit the masks and the noose alongside their existing house of horrors, such as a cat o’ nine tails, and a tongue holder for nagging wives, which are used to illustrate the history of crime and punishment in Scotland.

Other life and death masks:

 Death masks in a gibbet in the keep of Norwich Castle.
 Record about Phrenology and Death Mask Collection at Norwich Castle
 The Death Mask of Thetford’s Thomas Paine
 William Corder’s death mask

 Wax death mask of Oliver Cromwell
 Death mask of George Bernard Shaw

 Life mask – John Hunter
 Life mask – John Keats

Life Mask – Abraham Lincoln

Life Mask – Nelson