Four activities with the Print Collection to keep you entertained during times of isolation

Are you isolated because of COVID-19? The Baillieu Library Print Collection is available online, and images that are out of copyright are freely available for you to study and enjoy. There are over 9,000 individual items to search in the database which date from the 15th century onwards. Here are four ideas to keep you creative during this time of quarantine:

Activity one: curate a print album or scrapbook

Before Instagram, creatives and collectors housed their images in albums. This practice allowed individuals to select and arrange works of art to their own personal desires and tastes. Some prints were inlaid into the album in window mounts and carefully drawn borders, while others were simply pasted down. Collectors sometimes wrote comments under the prints or left other mementos. The nine Sadeler albums comprising 1200 prints by a dynasty of Flemish printmakers and arranged in the 18th century, are the most expansive examples in the collection.

Norblin album: etchings by Jean Pierre Norblin (1774-89)
Norblin album: etchings by Jean Pierre Norblin (1774-89)

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Taking a breath with Special Collections: An interview with Lauren Ellis

Special Collections Blogger, Ana Jacobsen, recently interviewed Lauren Ellis to find out about the role of Program Manager, Curation and Innovation and the latest exhibition in the Noel Shaw Gallery.

Lauren Ellis in the Noel Shaw Gallery
Lauren Ellis in the Noel Shaw Gallery

Q1. Can you describe what your role as Program Manager, Curation and Innovation entails and what the Take a Breath exhibition that you’re currently working on for the Noel Shaw Gallery is about?

My role is to support and lead a team of subject expert curators across the areas of Rare Books, Rare Music, Prints, Maps and the East Asian Collection. As curators, it’s part of our practice to consider how the collections are being utilised, what is their value to the university community. We look at ways to promote their existence and raise their profile, to provide access to them for students and researchers, and we ensure that they are well looked after and well organised.

In terms of Take a Breath, the approach has not been driven by subject matter or telling a story in a top-down, didactic way. Our starting point was an investigation into what it is that we can offer the people in our community and environment.

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Insights on the pirouette with Mademoiselle Parisot

Attributed to Arthur William Devis, Mademoiselle Parisot, c. 1797, pencil, watercolour.
Attributed to Arthur William Devis, Mademoiselle Parisot, c. 1797, pencil, watercolour.

Mademoiselle Parisot, the French-born dancer and singer, enthralled conservative English audiences when she debuted on the London stage in 1796 aged about 18 years. She captivated audiences with an almost magical power to balance herself horizontally while pivoting on one toe. Her bold grace also caught the attention of the press and caricaturists. The Monthly Mirror reported that she created ‘a stir by raising her legs far higher than was customary for dancers’ while artists such as Cruikshank lampooned her audience, rapt from gazing beneath her skirts.

The delicate drawing of Parisot in the Baillieu Library is a far less risqué portrait of the dancer renowned for her scandalous, gauzy costumes. The image is not signed, but a 1797 mezzotint after Arthur William Devis suggests that this is the original work of art reproduced. The artist has shied away from capturing the famous height of her leg in the pirouette and instead it trails awkwardly behind her (Devis’ career as an artist struggled in the 1790s). Dancers had just dispensed with heeled shoes and Parisot is depicted with the new flat shoes which were secured with ribbons and allowed the performer to leap, turn and fully extend their feet.

Peep at a vue d’optique

Vue d'optique: Vue de la Facade du Louvre à Paris (1770-90)
Vue d’optique: Vue de la Facade du Louvre à Paris (1770-90), etching, Gift of Russell Beedles, 2012.

The 18th century gave us the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the lightning rod. It also gave us the less well known vue d’optique, a type of print that was viewed with a zograscope. These scenic prints were designed to be seen through an optical device comprising a lens and mirror which combined to form an experience commonly called a ‘peep show.’

Logically, perspective played an important role in these pre-photographic images because depth gave the picture the ability to advance and recede before the eyes of the viewer. They also offered the viewer the chance to travel by picture to far away destinations. Vue d’optique were exported around Europe and America, and notably, to Japan where they are credited with introducing Western perspective to Japanese printmakers.

Vue d’optique are identifiable by their use of extreme perspective, contrasting colours and by their titles which are printed in reverse.

New Year, New You!

At the beginning of a new decade, it seems important to reflect on what aspirations we have not just for ourselves as individuals but also for our collective species. What do we place the most value on in Western culture today? What signifies an individual’s worth? It is undeniable that physical beauty is associated with success and wealth in contemporary society but without questioning where and when this association might have originated, it dangerously becomes the assumption that beauty has always been symbolic of accomplishment or that to achieve something, one must be beautiful.

To many, it seems that placing such value on physical appearance is somehow an unavoidable, innate quality of human beings – perhaps it has even been framed as a necessary trait for our species to differentiate from other animals and progress our civilisation via our ability to conceptualise beauty. But this obsession with the aesthetics of the human body and the widespread dissemination of images that project an ideal of beauty to the masses only began around the time of the Industrial Revolution, during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Broadsheet: The shop for new heads (Newer haupt und kopff kram), c.1650, engraving and letterpress
The shop for new heads (Newer haupt und kopff kram), c.1650, engraving and letterpress

The University’s Print Collection contains an absurdist satirical broadsheet (c. 1650), which was created prior to this era, with a darkly comical engraving titled ‘The Shop for New Heads’. Its featured image shows insecure and gullible civilians, dissatisfied with their current facial appearances being decapitated. Whilst this strange practice occurred, cabbages were placed at the top of their necks to stop them bleeding out. This gory scene references a legend that was popular during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in parts of central Europe about a bakery in a Flemish town called Eeklo where people could go to have their detached heads made more aesthetically pleasing by sprinkling them with flour, glazing them with egg yolk and baking them in an oven, to then be reattached once they had been ‘improved’.

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