Essays
Art & Illustrations

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

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

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

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

A Queer Taste for Macaroni

A Queer Taste for Macaroni

With his enormous hair, painted face, and dainty attire, the so-called "macaroni" was a common sight upon the streets and ridiculing prints of 1770s London. Dominic Janes explores how with this new figure — and the scandalous sodomy trials with which the stereotype became entwined — a widespread discussion of same-sex desire first entered the public realm, long before the days of Oscar Wilde. more

The Many Lives of the Medieval Wound Man

The Many Lives of the Medieval Wound Man

Sliced, stabbed, punctured, bleeding, harassed on all sides by various weaponry, the curious image of Wound Man is a rare yet intriguing presence in the world of medieval and early modern medical manuscripts. Jack Hartnell explores this enigmatic figure's journey through the centuries. more

Harry Clarke’s Looking Glass

Harry Clarke’s Looking Glass

With their intricate line and often ghoulish tone, the works of Irish artist Harry Clarke are amongst the most striking in the history of illustration and stained glass design. Kelly Sullivan explores how, unknown to many at the time, Clarke took to including his own face in many of his pictures. more

Out of Their Love They Made It: A Visual History of Buraq

Out of Their Love They Made It: A Visual History of Buraq

Although mentioned only briefly in the Qur'an, the story of the Prophet Muhammad's night journey to heaven astride a winged horse called Buraq has long caught the imagination of artists. Yasmine Seale charts the many representations of this enigmatic steed, from early Islamic scripture to contemporary Delhi, and explores what such a figure can tell us about the nature of belief. more

"Unlimiting the Bounds": the Panorama and the Balloon View

"Unlimiting the Bounds": the Panorama and the Balloon View

The second essay in a two-part series in which Lily Ford explores how balloon flight transformed our ideas of landscape. Here she looks at the phenomenon of the panorama, and how its attempts at creating the immersive view were inextricably linked to the new visual experience opened up by the advent of ballooning. more

"For the Sake of the Prospect": Experiencing the World from Above in the Late 18th Century

"For the Sake of the Prospect": Experiencing the World from Above in the Late 18th Century

The first essay in a two-part series in which Lily Ford explores how balloon flight transformed our ideas of landscape. We begin with a look at the unique set of images included in Thomas Baldwin's Airopaidia (1786) — the first "real" overhead aerial views. more

The Secret History of Holywell Street: Home to Victorian London's Dirty Book Trade

The Secret History of Holywell Street: Home to Victorian London's Dirty Book Trade

Victorian sexuality is often considered synonymous with prudishness, conjuring images of covered-up piano legs and dark ankle-length skirts. Historian Matthew Green uncovers a quite different scene in the sordid story of Holywell St, 19th-century London's epicentre of erotica and smut. more

Picturing Don Quixote

Picturing Don Quixote

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes, author of one of the best-loved and most frequently illustrated books in the history of literature — Don Quixote. Rachel Schmidt explores how the varying approaches to illustrating the tale have reflected and impacted its reading through the centuries. more

The Strange Case of Mr William T. Horton

The Strange Case of Mr William T. Horton

Championed in his day by friend and fellow mystic W. B. Yeats, today the artist William T. Horton and his stark minimalistic creations are largely forgotten. Jon Crabb on a unique and unusual talent. more

Who Says Michelangelo Was Right? Conflicting Visions of the Past in Early Modern Prints

Who Says Michelangelo Was Right? Conflicting Visions of the Past in Early Modern Prints

When the lost classical sculpture Laocoön and His Sons — lauded as representing the very highest ideal of art — was dug up in 1506 with limbs missing, the authorities in Rome set about restoring it to how they imagined it once to look. Monique Webber explores how it was in reproductive prints that this vision was contested, offering a challenge to the mainstream interpretation of Antiquity. more

On Oscar Wilde and Plagiarism

On Oscar Wilde and Plagiarism

Celebrated for his innovative wit, Oscar Wilde and the notion of originality are common bedfellows. The pairing, however, is not without its complications. Joseph Bristow and Rebecca N. Mitchell explore the claims of plagiarism that dogged Wilde's career, particularly as regards his relationship with that other great figure of late-19th-century Decadence, the American painter James McNeill Whistler. more

Tribal Life in Old Lyme: Canada’s Colorblind Chronicler and his Connecticut Exile

Tribal Life in Old Lyme: Canada’s Colorblind Chronicler and his Connecticut Exile

Abigail Walthausen explores the life and work of Arthur Heming, the Canadian painter who — having been diagnosed with colourblindness as a child — worked for most of his life in a distinctive palette of black, yellow, and white. more

Sex and Science in Robert Thornton's Temple of Flora

Sex and Science in Robert Thornton's Temple of Flora

Bridal beds, blushing captives, and swollen trunks - Carl Linnaeus' taxonomy of plants heralded a whole new era in 18th-century Europe of plants being spoken of in sexualised terms. Martin Kemp explores* how this association between the floral and erotic reached its visual zenith in Robert Thornton's exquisitely illustrated Temple of Flora. more

The Eternal Guffaw: John Leech and The Comic History of Rome

The Eternal Guffaw: John Leech and The Comic History of Rome

At the beginning of the 1850s, two stalwarts from the heart of London-based satirical magazine Punch, Gilbert Abbott à Beckett and John Leech, cast their mocking eye a little further back in time and published The Comic History of Rome. Caroline Wazer explores how it is not in the text but rather in Leech's delightfully anachronistic illustrations that the book's true subversion lies, offering as they do a critique of Victorian society itself. more

Illustrations of Madness: James Tilly Matthews and the Air Loom

Illustrations of Madness: James Tilly Matthews and the Air Loom

Mike Jay recounts the tragic story of James Tilly Matthews, a former peace activist of the Napoleonic Wars who was confined to London's notorious Bedlam asylum in 1797 for believing that his mind was under the control of the "Air Loom" - a terrifying machine whose mesmeric rays and mysterious gases were brainwashing politicians and plunging Europe into revolution, terror, and war. more

Redressing the Balance: Levinus Vincent’s Wonder Theatre of Nature

Redressing the Balance: Levinus Vincent’s Wonder Theatre of Nature

Bert van de Roemer explores the curiosity cabinet of the Dutch collector Levinus Vincent and how the aesthetic drive behind his meticulous ordering of the contents was in essence religious, an attempt to emphasise the wonder of God's creations by restoring the natural world to its prelapsarian harmony. more

The Tale of Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Beatrix Potter

This year, the works of one of the most successful and universal writers of all time came into the public domain in many countries around the world. The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck - in all, thirty-three books bearing the name “Beatrix Potter” have sold close to 200 million copies. Frank Delaney enquires into the more complex woman behind the safe and warm-hearted stories. more

Picturing Pyrotechnics

Picturing Pyrotechnics

Simon Werrett explores how artists through the ages have responded to the challenge of representing firework displays, from the highly politicised and allegorical renderings of the early modern period to Whistler's impressionistic Nocturne in Black and Gold. more

Moonblight and Six Feet of Romance: Dan Carter Beard’s Foray into Fiction

Moonblight and Six Feet of Romance: Dan Carter Beard’s Foray into Fiction

An esoteric disease which reveals things in their true light; three pairs of disembodied feet galavanting about the countryside - Abigail Walthausen explores the brief but strange literary career of Daniel Carter Beard, illustrator for Mark Twain and a founding father of the Boy Scouts of America. more

1592: Coining Columbus

1592: Coining Columbus

For many, the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas is inextricably linked to a particular image: a small group of confident men on a tropical beach formally announcing their presence to the dumbfounded Amerindians. Michiel van Groesen explores the origins of this Eurocentric iconography and ascribes its persistence to the editorial strategy of the publisher who invented the initial design, a full century after Columbus' encounter. more

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