Love and skulls: An exhibition loan to the Art Gallery of Ballarat

The exhibition Romancing the skull at the Art Gallery of Ballarat opened to the public on October 14th. Object loans from three of the University’s Cultural Collections (Harry Brookes Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology, Rare Books and the Baillieu Library Print Collection) are key features of this edgy and multi-layered show. The Nuremberg Chronicle, open to the image of the Dance of Death, and the exploded skull model by Tramond & Co. are some highlights.

Tramond & Co., Model of an exploded skull

The exhibition also reunites a husband and wife: the artists Will Dyson (1880-1938) and Ruby Lindsay (1887-1919). Dyson was born at Ballarat and Lindsay at nearby Creswick where they were later married. When Ruby Lindsay died from influenza, at the age of just 32, Will Dyson’s biographer said ‘The fire and sting went out of him from this time on.’ [1.] The two works on loan convey that their love for each other is as enduring as their imagery. Dyson wrote:

There is no soft beatitude in Death:
Death is but Death;
Nor can I find
Him pale and kind
Who set that endless silence on her
Death is but Death! [2.]

Romancing the skull is an exhibition both for lovers and for lovers of skulls. These enthralling objects will be on display in Ballarat until January 28th 2018.

Will Dyson, Why did I do it?
Ruby Lind, Death (1907)



Vane Lindesay, Australian Dictionary of Biography

Will Dyson, ‘Death is but Death’ in Poems in memory of a wife, [London: Cecil Palmer, 1919]

Bursting a bubble: Using prints to teach finance and economics

Just what a hall filled with finance students were not expecting on their first lecture for semester two, was a print curator armed with printed images, historic banknotes and a rare book, set to explain how these items convey financial and economic concepts. Printed material (and by extension other cultural materials) convey economic concepts both in the subjects they exhibit and in the ways they are consumed and used. Additionally, their production often follows trends of financial booms and crashes.

The student’s topic for week one was financial bubbles. A simple description of a bubble is an unstable asset or business accompanied by high speculation. For example, an investor sells commodities or shares worth $100 onto a second investor for an inflated $200 who sells them onto a third party for $400 and so on. Should the company collapse, the original investor makes a tidy profit while the last person into the scheme loses a great deal of money. [1.] The world’s most famous cases and the student’s subjects are: tulip mania, the Mississippi Bubble and the South Sea Bubble.

engraving by Hollar
Wenceslaus Hollar, Spring (Ver) 1641, engraving

Tulip mania occurred between 1634 and 1637 and saw the price of tulip bulbs rise to an extraordinary level. Economic bubbles are also characterised by the influence of crowd behaviours whereby people are irresistibly drawn to an asset, such as tulip bulbs, which appear to offer a ‘get rich quick’ opportunity, and a mania ensures. The engraving by Hollar was made in 1641 just a few years after tulip mania. It shows the wealth of the woman who wears an expensive costume and to her right is an open chest displaying a costly fur garment. She holds a bunch of rare tulips (rare striped tulips were affected by the mosaic virus), much sought after by tulip traders and the fashionable. When looking at objects like this engraving, a useful technique to uncover their interpretation, is to ask them questions. For example, when considering an asset whether it is a tulip bulb, a work of art or a company share, how does rarity influence buying behaviours?

The Mississippi Bubble was a more complex financial scheme masterminded by economist John Law (1671-1729). Law became the Finance Minister of France, a country which in 1716 was bankrupt through wars. This provided Law with the landscape with which to launch his economic experiments. The Mississippi Bubble was his misadventure into converting France’s debt into shares of the Mississippi Company, a business focussed on the French colony in Louisiana. Law’s exaggerations of the success and wealth of his company led to wild speculations on its shares. Profits from the shares were issued to investors as banknotes. In 1720 there was a mass urge by shareholders to convert their shares into coin at the bank. However, the Banque Royale did not hold the amount of money represented by the paper notes and was therefore unable to pay. [2.]

Bubble cards
Unknown artist, Pasquins Windkaart op de Windnegotie van 1720, engraving

This episode is captured by a new acquisition for the Print Collection: Pasquins Windkaart op de Windnegotie van 1720, an uncut Dutch set of cards satirising John Law and the Mississippi Bubble.[3.] The first card depicts John Law as the King of Hearts and other characters and players in the scheme such as shareholders follow suit. There are many visual references to the Dutch terminology for inflating shares: a ‘wind scheme’, and for selling shares yet to be officially released: to ‘trade in the wind.’ Other financial schemes are referenced, for example the three of spades shows three girls sitting on a swing to represent the South Sea Company, the Mississippi Company and the West Indian Company. As well as an economist, John Law was a gambler and was known to spend his evenings playing cards. These cards are a comical means to enable the disgruntled investor to take their revenge and wield their power upon Law. They seem to ask: how much does chance and emotion play in financial investment?

Unknown artist, Lucipher’s new row barge c. 1721, engraving, etching

The engraving Lucifer’s new row-barge satirises Robert Knight (1702–1772) and the South Sea Bubble, the second financial crash in England following on the heels of John Law’s experiments in 1720. This, another failed scheme to refinance national debt through a trading company, saw Knight the Cashier abscond with a fortune. Knight stands in a boat bound for hell named the S.S. Inquisition. Various devils and demons control the gold, which is scathingly portrayed in the commentaries as the object of individual and national ruin. Like the cards, this broadside is made by an anonymous artist and would have been sold on the streets of London, the location of an audience ready to revel in sensationalism. It also echoes popular card games for in the top right corner is a playing card which is the knave or jack of diamonds and this card the viewer may associate with Robert Knight.

For contemporary finance students, the 17th and 18th centuries are rather distant and hazy constructs, yet these primary source items provide them with tangible evidence and genuine context. Financial bubbles are as prevalent today as they were in the past and through their example, the Print Collection has now entered the financial arena.

Kerrianne Stone, Curator, Prints


[1.] John Chown, A history of money: from AD 800, London; New York: Routledge, 1994, p. 144
[2.] see John Chown, 1994, pp.201-211
[3.] See Roger Tilley, A history of playing cards, New York: C.N. Potter; distributed by Crown Publishers, [1973] especially pp. 123-133.

The Manicule: A Remnant of Readers Past

Between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries, the manicule was one of the most common symbols inscribed by readers in the margins of manuscripts and inserted by publishers in printed books. This small hand with the index finger extended, was primarily used to indicate a particularly important passage of text, but would become so much more than a simple highlighting device.  

I first noticed this intriguing symbol in some of the eighteenth-century texts from the Rare Books Collection, which I am working with as part of the Cultural Collections Projects Program (pictured left). The very first one that I examined had a relatively simple, yet well-drawn manicule in the margins of one of the pages, pointing directly at a sentence in the text.[1] However, as I progressed to the next text, the manicule had become no more than a quick scribble which faintly resembled a hand.[2] The quality between the manicules in these books was striking – why was there such a difference?   

One explanation could be that in the latter case I had stumbled across a late example of the handwritten manicule, which began to fall out of use during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and printed manicules, inserted by publishers, took their place. In the centuries before, the handwritten manicule was a sight to behold, with some so detailed that they took over the entire margin of a page.  These fascinating hands, which are often severed just after the cuff, shared a generic form yet were undeniably individualistic, reflecting the personality of their inscriber.  

While each manicule shared the same basic features and function, their appearances were very distinctive. Some would have extravagant cuffs, dotted with jewels, while others sported simple sleeves. The hands themselves could also be extremely detailed and lifelike, right down to the fingernails. Or, they could be no more than a few scribbles suggesting the barest outline of a pointing hand.

They all, however, have the ability to evoke the reading concerns of their long departed writers. Working almost like a signature, the manicule was a personal symbol that readers developed and used to indicate their presence in the text.[3] Indeed, the clothing accompanying the hands can be dated if detailed enough, enabling us to know the exact period in which the reader was active.  

It is interesting to note that despite the pervasiveness of the manicule in the history of textual culture, it took quite a long time for a single word to come to represent the device. The manicule has had approximately fifteen English names: hand, hand director, pointing hand, pointing finger, pointer, digit, fist, mutton fist, bishop’s fist, index, indicator, indicule, maniple and pilcrow.[4] The term ‘manicule’ has become the one most employed by manuscript specialists, however. The word itself derives from the Latin maniculum, meaning ‘a little hand’ (in any posture), providing quite a general and accurate description of this common symbol.  

While beginning as a simple indexical tool, over time, the manicule has become a remnant of readers past, a pictorial signature that enabled the reader to leave their presence with the book, long after they had gone.  

Gemma Lee 

PhD Candidate 

School of Historical and Philosophical Studies 

Research Assistant, Great Rare Book Archaeological Dig Project

Museums and Cultural Collections Projects Program

University of Melbourne 


[1] Cicero, Marcus Tullius, John Davies, Adrien Turnèbe, and Petrus Faber. M. Tullii Ciceronis Academica (Cantabrigiae: Typis academicis, sumptibus autem Corn. Crownfield: Prostant apud Jacobum Knapton, Robertum Knaplock, & Paulum Vaillant, bibliopolas Londinenses, 1725).  

[2] Cicero, Marcus Tullius, and John Davies. M. Tullii Ciceronis Tusculanarum disputationum (Cantabrigiæ: Typis Academicis. Sumtibus Corn. Crownfield. Prostant apud J. & J. Knapton, J. Crownfield, R. Knaplock, N. Prevost, & A. Vanden Hoeck, bibliopolas Londinenses, 1730). 

[3] William H. Sherman, Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).  

[4] The last two terms, ‘maniple’ and ‘pilcrow’ are considered mistakes in terminology, as neither accurately refer to a symbol which represents a pointed hand. The rest of the terms have all been correct at some point in the history of texts. William H. Sherman, Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008). 


Some Fascinating Early Woodcuts of Women from Boccaccio’s De Claris Mulieribus

De Claris Mulieribus, or De Mulieribus Claris, translated as ‘Concerning Famous Women’, by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), is a prime example of one of the treasures contained within the University’s Rare Books Collection. Originally published in 1374, the University acquired a copy in 1903, as part of the George McArthur Bequest.

The Rare Books Collection holds a German edition of this text, printed in 1541, which is full of intricate (and occasionally incredibly gruesome) woodcut illustrations of women, courtesy of notable German printer, Heinrich Stayner.[1]. De Claris Mulieribus is a crucial piece in the history of Western literature, and of Renaissance history, being one of the first texts to appear with women as its primary focus.

De Claris is comprised of 106 short biographies of ‘famous women’. This work acts as a feminine counter to a similar project undertaken by a compatriot and close friend of Boccaccio’s, Petrarch, whose De Viris Illustribus is a collection of 36 biographies of famous men through history. The subjects of Boccaccio’s work are drawn from a number of sources, including religious texts, as is the case with Eve, the first woman to appear in the book; through Greek and Roman myths, where a large number of the subjects including Circe, Medusa and Isis originally appeared; to real life heroines, including Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, and Sappho, the Greek poet.

Even though Boccaccio’s text focuses on famous female figures, his selections are somewhat puzzling. While he himself was deeply religious, his text favours subjects drawn from mythology, claiming in his Preface that the life stories of Christian women had already been celebrated in literature: they had ‘sought eternal glory by means of an endurance that was often contrary to human nature’, whereas his mythical subjects achieved ‘earthly fame with the help of gifts and instincts they had received from nature.’[2] A number of Boccaccio’s subjects, such as Medea, do legitimately bad things – according to Apollonius she helped Jason to steal the Golden Fleece. In order to distract her father, Medea kills her brother Absyrtus and, as is demonstrated in the accompanying woodcut in this book, throws his hands and head off a horse as they ride off. Yet, Boccaccio believed that the women he selected deserved to be praised, for their ‘intellectual powers…literary accomplishments…moral virtues or their artistic creations.’[3]

It is this praise of women of antiquity that marks this book as a pivotal moment in Renaissance literature. The familiarity Boccaccio displays with Livy, Ovid and Pliny, among other ancient writers is demonstrative of the ways in which they were embraced and drawn upon as a source for humanist philosophers. Indeed, as Virginia Brown, in the Introduction to her 2003 translation writes, Boccaccio here ‘provides a striking foretaste of ideas that would later find clearer expression in the Renaissance….such as the view that it was appropriate for gifted women to seek and acquire fame for their contributions to art, literature, and the active life of public affairs.’[4]

Over the course of its life, the University’s copy of De Claris has been witness to these changing attitudes towards women. As previously mentioned, the text contains a short biography of Sappho, the Greek poet. Sappho is best known for her poems about love and women, and through history, both her character and her writing has been subject to an array of both praise and condemnation. Her poetry, rediscovered in the medieval and later period, led to speculation regarding her sexuality, with critics chastising her for her apparent homosexuality.[5]

Perhaps this is why, in the University’s copy, the pages relating to Sappho have been torn out? Not removed carefully, but ripped, leaving a jagged shard of paper behind. It is easy to imagine this page devoted to Sappho, who was adopted during the Modernist period (by Djuna Barnes) as a ‘patron saint of lesbians’, being torn out at some point in the book’s life, during one of the many periods when patriarchal and religious views pertaining to women and homosexuality have erred on the side of condemnation.

De Claris Mulieribus is an incredibly important work, not only in the history of Western literature, but as an artefact and embodiment of Renaissance thought. This relatively progressive text paved the way for other early works depicting women, such as those by Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) and Christine de Pizan (1364-1430).[6] De Claris stands as a crucial piece in the history of women in literature, and indeed in the history of women and feminism, literally embodying the way attitudes towards women have changed over time.

Jaxon Waterhouse

Research Assistant, Rare Book Detectives Project

Museums and Collections Projects Program


[1] Giovanni Boccaccio, Ein Schoene Cronica oder Hystoribuch... Augsburg: durch Stayner, Anno M.D.XXXI [1541]

[2 Virginia Brown, On Famous Women, xv-xvi.

[3] Brown, xviii.

[4] Brown, xiv-xv.

[5] Reynolds, THE Sappho Companion, 295.

[6] See: Christine di Pizan The Book of the City of Ladies, Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales.

Bound in History – Never Judge a Book By Its Cover…Or Its Spine

Following the invention of the printing press, bookbinders in the 15th to 18th centuries cut up and recycled earlier handwritten manuscripts from the Middle Ages.[i] Take, for example, the Historia Jesuitica.[ii] Published in 1627, written in Latin and housed in the University of Melbourne Rare Books Collection, the subject of this book is Jesuit history. A Roman Catholic religious order of priest and brothers, the Society of Jesus (whose followers are Jesuits) was founded near Paris in 1534 and expanded to other countries in Europe (Italy, Spain) and further afield (Japan, India, Brazil). [iii]

While the contents of this book are fascinating, the book’s cover has its own story and comes from a 13th century manuscript. Made from vellum, animal skin, this earlier manuscript was part of a breviary, a book containing the necessary daily psalms and readings for Roman Catholics, and includes lections (sacred text read in a religious service), responsories (an anthem sung by a soloist and choir alternatively following a lection) and versicles (a short verse said or sung by a officiant which the congregation responds to) — (thank you!). [iv] Ornate in nature, you can see the sheet music on the back cover and if you can read Latin, you are in luck!

Recycling and repurposing was not limited to Middle Age Latin manuscripts nor is the Historia Jesuitica the only book of this nature in the University of Melbourne Collection. In 1820 London, a copy of Cicero De Officiis was printed and while not bound in an medieval manuscript (it’s a hardback), part of the book’s spine has fallen away to reveal – newspaper.[v] Not an ancient edition either but one dated to mid-December 1937.[vi] English language newspapers were not the only ones reused for binding. Part of the spine of A Manual of the Trichinopoly district in the presidency of Madras has fallen away to reveal newspaper in Tamil, the language of Tamil Nadu, India, and the same state where the book was published.[vii] It appears at some point these, and other, books were reinforced with newspaper and as the books start to fall apart, little fragments of history come to light.

Wandering through the Rare Books Collection, you often see something interesting poking from the spines of the older books. It makes you wonder what else is hidden among the shelves…

Tamara Jones

Research Assistant, Rare Book Detectives Project

Museums and Cultural Collections Projects Program


[i] Alberge, D. (2016, June 5). X-rays reveal 1,300-year-old writings inside later bookbindings. Retrieved August 2, 2017, from The Guardian:

[ii]  Lucius, L. (1627). Historia Jesuitica : de Iesuitarum ordinis origine, nomine, regulis, officiis, votis … in quatuor libros tributa … / per M. Ludovicum Lucium … Basel: Jacobi Genathi.

[iii] About Us – The Jesuits. (n.d.). Retrieved August 2, 2017, from Jesuits:; Australian Province of the Society of Jesus. (2016). About Us. Retrieved August 2, 2017, from Australian Jesuits:; Lucius, L. (1627). Historia Jesuitica : de Iesuitarum ordinis origine, nomine, regulis, officiis, votis … in quatuor libros tributa … / per M. Ludovicum Lucium … Basel: Jacobi Genathi.

[iv] Breviary. (2017). Retrieved August 2, 2017, from; Lection. (2017). Retrieved August 2, 2017, from; Responsory. (2017). Retrieved August 2, 2017, from; University of Melbourne. (n.d.). Historia Jesuitica : de Iesuitarum ordinis origine, nomine, regulis, officiis, votis … in quatuor libros tributa … / per M. Ludovicum Lucium … Retrieved August 2, 2017, from University Library Catalogue:; Versicle. (2017). Retrieved August 2, 2017, from

[v] Cicero, M. T. (1820). Cicero De officiis ; or his treatise concerning the moral duties of mankind : to which are subjoined, his moral paradoxes ; the vision of Scipio, concerning a future state ; and his letter on the duties of a magistrate ; with notes historical and explana. London: J. D. Dewick.

[vi] Cicero, M. T. (1820). Cicero De officiis ; or his treatise concerning the moral duties of mankind : to which are subjoined, his moral paradoxes ; the vision of Scipio, concerning a future state ; and his letter on the duties of a magistrate ; with notes historical and explana. London: J. D. Dewick.

[vii] Krishnamurti, B. (2017). Tamil language. Retrieved August 2, 2017, from Encyclopaedia Britannica:; Moore, L. (1878). A Manual of the Trichinopoly district in the presidency of Madras. Madras: R. Hill at the Government Press.


Number of posts found: 156

Popular posts

  • Loading...

Previous posts

By collection

Post type