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’.

Continue reading “New Year, New You!”

Making rare collections accessible: An interview with Lisa O’Sullivan

Special Collections and Grainger Museum Blogger, Ana Jacobsen, recently interviewed Dr. Lisa O’Sullivan to find out what the role of Program Manager, Outreach and Engagement at the University of Melbourne entailed. Lisa is a qualified historian who has also worked as a curator in London, New York and Australia.

Rare books card catalogue.
Rare books card catalogue.

Continue reading “Making rare collections accessible: An interview with Lisa O’Sullivan”

Lasting Impressions: Understanding the significance of the Great Seal of England

Ana Jacobsen viewing the Great Seal of England in the Reading Room
Ana Jacobsen viewing the Great Seal of England in the Reading Room

Symbols and reminders of the British Commonwealth in modern day Australia appear not only in the form of images but also in the language we adopt. The terminology we use to define the status of our laws, what we choose to call the day this continent was colonised and the figures we decide to honour in the naming of our streets, suburbs and cities are all linguistic reflections of our nation’s apparent values.

Understanding the history of certain monarchical practices in England can help us to understand the origin of colonial perspectives that not only go unquestioned but still get largely celebrated in contemporary culture and society.

The University of Melbourne’s Rare Books collection houses many items that can assist in this kind of research that involves developing an understanding of the significance of a residual British colonial presence in Australia.

One such item is the Great Seal of England – also known as the Great Seal of the Realm – which has been used since the 11th century to signify the approval and authentication of state documents by the monarch. Originally made by pressing an engraved matrix into a wax and resin mixture, the Great Seal served as an accessible means of pictorial expression to show that an official document had been approved by the sovereign during a time when much of the population of England could not read or write.

The Great Seal of England, 1338, Rare Books, University of Melbourne
The Great Seal of England, 1338, Rare Books, University of Melbourne

Continue reading “Lasting Impressions: Understanding the significance of the Great Seal of England”

Engaging Digital Learning Tools: a virtual tour of Horizon lines

Horizon lines exhibition

There is only one month left to experience the Noel Shaw Gallery’s current exhibition, Horizon lines: the ambitions of a print collection. Showcasing works from renowned European print makers such as Albrecht Dürer, Adriaen van Ostade and Rembrandt, the exhibition celebrates some of the significant pieces within the Baillieu Library Print Collection and helps students connect to the cultural history of their institution.

A virtual tour is now accessible through the University of Melbourne’s Library website that identifies objects or motifs within selected prints and links them to architecture, sculptures or other fascinating items within the Special Collections that can be found on the Parkville campus. Discover how the Tudor-style windows of the Old Quadrangle Building relate to van Ostade’s The Painter and learn where to find an armillary sphere like the one that can be seen in Jacopo Caraglio’s School of an Ancient Philosopher. This virtual tour was created by Mary Henkel, one of this year’s research assistant interns for the Special Collections at the University of Melbourne.


Ana Jacobsen

Special Collections and Grainger Museum Blogger

Ana is currently studying a Master of Creative Writing, Editing and Publishing.

Number of posts found: 213

Don’t miss our recent posts

Previous posts

Post type