Essays

Pens and Needles: Reviving Book-Embroidery in Victorian England

Pens and Needles: Reviving Book-Embroidery in Victorian England

Fashionable in the 16th and 17th century, the art of embroidering unique covers for books saw a comeback in late 19th-century England, from the middle-class drawing room to the Arts and Crafts movement. Jessica Roberson explores the bibliomania, patriotism, and issues around gender so central to the revival. more

"Alas, Poor YORICK!": The Death and Life of Laurence Sterne

"Alas, Poor YORICK!": The Death and Life of Laurence Sterne

On the 250th anniversary of Laurence Sterne's death, Ian Campbell Ross looks at the engagement with mortality so important to the novelist's groundbreaking work. more

Darwin's Polar Bear

Darwin's Polar Bear

Musings upon the whys and wherefores of polar bears, particularly in relation to their forest-dwelling cousins, played an important but often overlooked role in the development of evolutionary theory. Michael Engelhard explores. more

Illustrating Carnival: Remembering the Overlooked Artists Behind Early Mardi Gras

Illustrating Carnival: Remembering the Overlooked Artists Behind Early Mardi Gras

For more than 150 years the city of New Orleans has been known for the theatricality and extravagance of its Mardi Gras celebrations. Allison C. Meier looks at the wonderfully ornate float and costume designs from Carnival's "Golden Age" and the group of New Orleans artists who created them. more

The Dreams of an Inventor in 1420

The Dreams of an Inventor in 1420

Bennett Gilbert peruses the sketchbook of 15th-century engineer Johannes de Fontana, a catalogue of designs for a variety of fantastic and often impossible inventions, including fire-breathing automatons, pulley-powered angels, and the earliest surviving drawing of a magic lantern device. more

Yvette Borup Andrews: Photographing Central Asia

Yvette Borup Andrews: Photographing Central Asia

Although often overshadowed by the escapades of her more famous husband (said by some to be the real-life inspiration for Indiana Jones), the photographs taken by Yvette Borup Andrews on their first expeditions through Central Asia stand today as a compelling contribution to early visual anthropology. Lydia Pyne looks at the story and impact of this unique body of images. more

Pods, Pots, and Potions: Putting Cacao to Paper in Early Modern Europe

Pods, Pots, and Potions: Putting Cacao to Paper in Early Modern Europe

Christine Jones explores the different ways the cacao tree has been depicted through history — from 16th-century codices to 18th-century botanicals — and what this changing iconography reveals about cacao's journey into European culture. more

Brief Encounters with Jean-Frédéric Maximilien de Waldeck

Brief Encounters with Jean-Frédéric Maximilien de Waldeck

Not a lot concerning the artist, erotic publisher, explorer, and general enigma Count de Waldeck can be taken at face value, and this certainly includes his fanciful representations of ancient Mesoamerican culture which — despite the exquisite brilliance of their execution — run wild with anatopistic lions, elephants, and suspicious architecture. Rhys Griffiths looks at the life and work of one of the 19th century's most mysterious and eccentric figures. more

Flash Mob: Revolution, Lightning, and the People's Will

Flash Mob: Revolution, Lightning, and the People's Will

Kevin Duong explores how leading French revolutionaries, in need of an image to represent the all important "will of the people", turned to the thunderbolt — a natural symbol of power and illumination that also signalled the scientific ideals so key to their project. more

Defining the Demonic

Defining the Demonic

Although Jacques Collin de Plancy’s Dictionnaire infernal, a monumental compendium of all things diabolical, was first published in 1818 to much success, it is the fabulously illustrated final edition of 1863 which secured the book as a landmark in the study and representation of demons. Ed Simon explores the work and how at its heart lies an unlikely but pertinent synthesis of the Enlightenment and the occult. more

Race and the White Elephant War of 1884

Race and the White Elephant War of 1884

Feuding impresarios, a white-but-not-white-enough elephant, and racist ads for soap — Ross Bullen on how a bizarre episode in circus history became an unlikely forum for discussing 19th-century theories of race, and inadvertently laid bare the ideological constructions at their heart. more

Master of Disaster, Ignatius Donnelly

Master of Disaster, Ignatius Donnelly

The destruction of Atlantis, cataclysmic comets, and a Manhattan tower made entirely from concrete and corpse — Carl Abbott on the life and work of a Minnesotan writer, and failed politician, with a mind primed for catastrophe. more

Human Forms in Nature: Ernst Haeckel's Trip to South Asia and Its Aftermath

Human Forms in Nature: Ernst Haeckel's Trip to South Asia and Its Aftermath

An early promoter and populariser of Darwin's evolutionary theory, the German biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel was a hugely influential figure of the late 19th century. Bernd Brunner looks at how a trip to Sri Lanka sowed the seeds for not only Haeckel's majestic illustrations from his Art Forms in Nature, for which he is perhaps best known today, but also his disturbing ideas on race and eugenics. more

The Art of Philosophy: Visualising Aristotle in Early 17th-Century Paris

The Art of Philosophy: Visualising Aristotle in Early 17th-Century Paris

With their elaborate interplay of image and text, the several large-scale prints designed by the French friar Martin Meurisse to communicate Aristotelian thought are wonderfully impressive creations. Susanna Berger explores the function of these complex works, and how such visual commentaries not only served to express philosophical ideas in a novel way but also engendered their own unique mode of thinking. more

Rescuing England: The Rhetoric of Imperialism and the Salvation Army

Rescuing England: The Rhetoric of Imperialism and the Salvation Army

Ellen J. Stockstill on how William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, placed the ideas and language of colonialism at the very heart of his vision for improving the lives of Victorian England's poor. more

Out From Behind This Mask

Out From Behind This Mask

A Barthesian bristle and the curious power of Walt Whitman’s posthumous eyelids — D. Graham Burnett on meditations conjured by a visit to the death masks of the Laurence Hutton Collection. more

Inventing the Recording

Inventing the Recording

Eva Moreda Rodríguez on the formative years of the recording industry, focusing on the culture surrounding the gabinetes fonográficos of fin-de-siècle Spain. more

The Long, Forgotten Walk of David Ingram

The Long, Forgotten Walk of David Ingram

If three shipwrecked English sailors really did travel by foot from Florida to Nova Scotia in 1569 then it would certainly count as one of the most remarkable walks undertaken in recorded history. Although the account's more fantastical elements, such as the sighting of elephants, have spurred many to consign it to the fiction department, John Toohey argues for a second look. more

Decoding the Morse: The History of 16th-Century Narcoleptic Walruses

Decoding the Morse: The History of 16th-Century Narcoleptic Walruses

Amongst the assorted curiosities described in Olaus Magnus' 1555 tome on Nordic life was the morse — a hirsute, fearsome walrus-like beast, that was said to snooze upon cliffs while hanging by its teeth. Natalie Lawrence explores the career of this chimerical wonder, shaped by both scholarly images of a fabulous North and the grisly corporeality of the trade in walrus skins, teeth, and bone. more

Gustav Wunderwald’s Paintings of Weimar Berlin

Gustav Wunderwald’s Paintings of Weimar Berlin

The Berlin of the 1920s is often associated with a certain image of excess and decadence, but it was a quite different side of the city — the sobriety and desolation of its industrial and working-class districts — which came to obsess the painter Gustav Wunderwald. Mark Hobbs explores. more

Stuffed Ox, Dummy Tree, Artificial Rock: Deception in the Work of Richard and Cherry Kearton

Stuffed Ox, Dummy Tree, Artificial Rock: Deception in the Work of Richard and Cherry Kearton

John Bevis explores the various feats of cunning and subterfuge undertaken by the Kearton brothers — among the very first professional wildlife photographers — in their pioneering attempts to get ever closer to their subjects. more

Woodcuts and Witches

Woodcuts and Witches

Jon Crabb on the witch craze of early modern Europe, and how the concurrent rise of the mass-produced woodcut helped forge the archetype of the broom-riding crone — complete with cauldron and cats — so familiar today. more

W. B. O'Shaughnessy and the Introduction of Cannabis to Modern Western Medicine

W. B. O'Shaughnessy and the Introduction of Cannabis to Modern Western Medicine

Cataleptic trances, enormous appetites, and giggling fits aside, W. B. O'Shaughnessy's investigations at a Calcutta hospital into the potential of medical marijuana — the first such trials in modern medicine — were largely positive. Sujaan Mukherjee explores the intricacies of this pioneering research and what it can tell us more generally about the production of knowledge in colonial science. more

Lofty Only in Sound: Crossed Wires and Community in 19th-Century Dreams

Lofty Only in Sound: Crossed Wires and Community in 19th-Century Dreams

Alicia Puglionesi explores a curious case of supposed dream telepathy at the end of the US Civil War, in which old ideas about the prophetic nature of dreaming collided with loss, longing, and new possibilities of communication at a distance. more

Pantagruel
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