Magical Unicorns at Musée Cluny: Centuries of Fascination

 

Everywhere you look there seems to be some product inspired by a unicorn: purple frappuccinos, table lamps, there’s even a shop (in Brooklyn, naturally,) that specializes in unicorn horns proudly crafted in the USA. Privately held companies valued at over a billion dollars are known as “unicorns” to represent the statistical rarity of such entities. (Airbnb and SpaceX are two examples.) Yet, despite what seems to be rampant unicorn fever, it’s nothing new; the ancient Indus carved unicorns onto seals, and the beasts appear in the Physiologus, an ancient Greek bestiary, which ascribes curative powers to unicorn horns. By the Middle Ages, unicorns came to symbolize the life and trials of Jesus Christ.

 

Far from the playful, purple-and-pink hued creature we often think of today, historical unicorns were squat, compact, notoriously ferocious creatures that could only be captured by virgins. Unicorn horns were believed to be powerful aphrodisiacs as well as effective teeth whiteners, leading to the robust sale of ground-up narwhal horns passed off as genuine unicorn. Wealthy families and merchants often commissioned unicorn images for their coats of arms and emblems to suggest magnificence and power.

 

Now, Magical Unicorns, the latest exhibition on view at the Musée Cluny in Paris offers a comprehensive look at how unicorns have been depicted over the past 500 years. Engravings, sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, and other items illustrate the allegorical significance of these mythical beasts and humankind’s enduring fascination with them.
The highlight of the show is a set of six tapestries entitled The Lady and the Unicorn, part of the Cluny’s permanent collection. Woven around 1500, the tapestries are believed to have been designed by Jean Bourdichon, offical court painter to four French Kings and the illuminator responsible for the sumptuous Book of Hours created for Queen Anne of Brittany. Showcased in a dimly-lit rotunda to preserve the fabrics, the scarlet 12-feet by 9-feet silk and wool tapestries are complex visual meditations on the meaning of life, filled with allegorical iconography.
To quote Sebastian from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “Now I will believe that there are unicorns.”
Magical Unicorns runs now through February 25.


Images (Top) Aquamanile : Licorne Alliage cuivreux, vers 1400 Cl. 2136 © RMN-Grand Palais (musée de Cluny – musée national du Moyen-Âge) / G. Blot. (Middle) Livre d’heures dit de Yolande d’Aragon: «la Vierge Marie et la chasse à la licorne» Enluminure sur parchemin, vers 1460 – 1470 Ms 22 (Rés. ms 2) © Bibliothèque Méjanes, Aix-en-Provence. (Bottom) Graduel de Sainte-Rictrude de Marchiennes: «David menacé par le lion et la licorne» Parchemin, 1548 ms 112, fol. 88 Bibliothèque municipale de Douai, © IRHT-CNRS. Reproduced with permission from the Musee Cluny.

Westsider Rare Books to Close After 35 Years Unless a GoFundMe Campaign Comes Through – The Fine Books Blog

Source: Westsider Rare Books to Close After 35 Years Unless a GoFundMe Campaign Comes Through – The Fine Books Blog

An American Master: Ursula Le Guin

It’s been almost exactly one year since her death, but Ursula Le Guin remains a literary powerhouse. Check out Elisa Shoenberger’s look at the enduring influence of an American master over at the Book and Paper Fair Blog: https://bit.ly/2RtVzBc

 

Eye Balm: 10 Bookish Insta Feeds to Put on Your Radar

Ah, January: that month touted as the time to refresh everything from one’s diet and wellness to home decor. Why not apply the same mentality to your daily Insta scroll with some new bibliocentric feeds.

Special collections libraries, rare booksellers and collectors have embraced Instagram as an ideal platform to virtually share their treasures with the world. Fellow FB&C writer Nate Pedersen wrote the inaugural “rare Books on Instagram” post back in 2016, profiling institutional accounts like those of the British Library (@britishlibrary), the American Antiquarian Society (@americanantiquarian), and others. Follow-up posts looked at librarian accounts and collector feeds. Keeping with that theme, below, in no particular order, are ten noteworthy institutional Instagram accounts that excel at showcasing rare books, manuscripts, and other works on paper.

 

Don’t have an Instagram account? No problem: All of these accounts are freely accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

La Bibliothèque nationale France (@labnf)

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The Barr Smith Library at the University of Adelaide (@uofaspecialcollections)

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The New York Public Library (@nypl)

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Musée de Cluny (@museecluny)

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The Harry Ransom Center (@ransomcenter)

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The Emily Dickinson Museum (@emilydickinson.museum)

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The Printing Museum (@theprintingmuseum)

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The HuntingtonLibrary (@thehuntingtonlibrary)

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The Johns Hopkins University (@jhuspecialcollections)

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The Alaska Digital Newspaper Project (@alaskahistoricalnewspapers)

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Grolier Club Reopens Renovated Exhibition Hall with French Book Arts Exhibit

Today, the country’s oldest and largest bibliophilic society, the New York-based Grolier Club, will unveil the fruits of a three-and-a-half-year, $5-million renovation of the organization’s entire first floor and exhibition hall with, appropriately, a show highlighting the club’s Francophile roots. French Book Arts: Manuscripts, Books, Bindings, Prints, and Documents, 12th-21st Century includes nearly one hundred items pulled from the Grolier’s rich trove of French books and illuminated manuscripts. Also in the show are six items that once hailed from the collection of the “Prince of Bibliophiles” and club namesake, Jean Grolier (1489-1565).

Today, the country’s oldest and largest bibliophilic society, the New York-based Grolier Club, will unveil the fruits of a three-and-a-half-year, $5-million renovation of the organization’s entire first floor and exhibition hall with, appropriately, a show highlighting the club’s Francophile roots. French Book Arts: Manuscripts, Books, Bindings, Prints, and Documents, 12th-21st Century includes nearly one hundred items pulled from the Grolier’s rich trove of French books and illuminated manuscripts. Also in the show are six items that once hailed from the collection of the “Prince of Bibliophiles” and club namesake, Jean Grolier (1489-1565).

 

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The exhibition and accompanying book were curated and written by Grolier Club member George Fletcher. A member since 1973, Fletcher’s lifelong love of books led him to the Morgan Library as the Astor Curator of printed books and bindings, followed by a position as director of special collections at the NYPL. In 2013, Fletcher was bestowed with the title of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. “As the inaugural exhibition in our new gallery, this is the first that presents a survey of so many areas of French bibliophilia, going back to illuminated manuscripts to contemporary livres d’artistes,” Fletcher explained during a press tour. Expect to see sumptuous illuminated Books of Hours, miniatures by Boyvin, a letter by a distraught Thomas Jefferson to a French bookseller concerning a shipment of waterlogged books, and decorative bindings hailing from the 14th to the 21st centuries.
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As to the renovation: it’s a complete overhaul. Previously, the first floor exhibition hall was awash in mauve-toned walls, light wood flooring, and track lighting (see below). Standard-issue glass cases lined the walls while the back of the hall was dominated by a faux-Palladian window, also mauve. The upper balcony, where many of the Grolier Club’s treasures are stored, was flanked by white solid-wood railings. With a client portfolio that includes renovations at places like the New England Conservatory of Music and Boston Symphony Hall, Ann Beha Associates of Boston took up the challenge to update the aesthetics of the space while also addressing conservation issues, lighting, ventilation, and sound systems.

 

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“The Grolier Club put together a nine-member design team task force, and together we examined various issues while also keeping in mind the club’s history and stewardship of collections,” explained Ann Beha at the press preview. “Part of the preparation included hopping in a van and visiting other institutions throughout New York that had also recently undergone renovations, such as the Brooklyn Museum and the Cooper-Hewitt.” Staying true to the Grolier Club’s roots was essential. “The Club prides itself on welcoming the public to free exhibitions and various programs, and this renovation took that into consideration. This design incorporates heritage and technology, welcomes new visitors and promotes scholarship and engagement,” Beha said.

 

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Now, the exhibition hall features custom-built Goppion glass cases lit by LED bulbs, a properly balanced ventilation system, and mahogany-stained floors and wall panels. Gone is the mauve Palladian faux paneling in favor of a multi-paneled video wall, and the wood paneling on the upper balcony has been replaced with glass, allowing visitors on the ground level to fully appreciate the impressive surroundings. Plus, the Grolier’s 60th Street townhouse is handicapped accessible. The hall feels more open and inviting, yet still suffused with the tradition and history of the space. In short: Beha seems to have hit a home run. (Professional photos are being shot Monday, so check back here for images shortly.)

 

The club invited members earlier this week to tour the hall before it opens to the public as well as to listen to a lecture given on Wednesday night by Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress.
Just as Jean Grolier was known to share his library and its treasures with friends, the public is welcome to revel in the richness of human ingenuity and talent and the newly redesigned hall, too. As an added incentive, Mr. Fletcher will be offering free lunchtime tours of the exhibition today, December 19, and February 1, all from 1-2 p.m. No reservations needed.

 

Images, from top: Florent Rousseau Binding On:Printing for Kingdom, Empire, and Republic: Treasures from the Archives of the Imprimerie Nationale. Ed. H. G. Fletcher New York, The Grolier Club & Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 2011; Matisse in a Brugalla Binding Henry de Montherlant. Pasiphaé : Chant de Minos (les Crétois) Gravures originales by Henri Matisse Paris : Martin Fabiani, 1944; Homer. Opera (Greek). Two volumes Venice: Aldus Manutius, after 31 October 1504. Both Collection of The Grolier Club and reproduced with permssion; Grolier Club Exhibition Hall pre-renovation reproduced with permission of Grolier Club; Renovation rendering reproduced with permission of Ann Beha and Grolier Club. 

The Holiday Round-Up: Books for All!

The #Holiday Round-Up: Books for All! Our top picks for the #bibliophiles in your life. @foliosociety @nancyrosep @hudsontalbott
@puffinbooks #puffinplated @PeachtreePub @bethanwoolvin @simonschuster

Yes, ’tis the season for frantic holiday shopping, unless you’re one of the rarefied people who check everyone off your list during those Christmas in July sales. If you’re more of a last-minute shopper, there’s still time to ace your gift-giving game this holiday season with a carefully selected title or two.  Below, our top picks for the bibliophile in your life. Get ’em while the gettin’s good!

The Folio Society Black Beauty cover shot

Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell, illustrations by Annette Hamley-Jenkins; Folio Society, $53.95, 224 pages.

Originally published in 1877, Sewell’s bestselling tale championing fair treatment for working horses in Victorian-era England gets the sumptuous Folio treatment with lush, full color illustrations by Annette Hamley-Jenkins and an introduction by War Horse author Sir Michael Morpurgo. This edition of Black Beauty comes in a handsome blue slipcase printed with horses galloping across in silhouette. This is the gift that keeps on giving: a timeless story, beautifully presented.

Please note: Folio Society’s order deadlines to make Christmas delivery are December 8 for standard shipping and December 14 for express.

(Images copyright 2018 Annette Hamley-Jenkins and reproduced with permission from Folio Society. )

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Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: The Classic Novel with Recipes for Your Holiday Menu by: Giada de Laurentis, Ina Garten, Martha Stewart, and Trisha Yearwood; Puffin Plated, $25.00, 168 pages.

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Is there any better combination than a good book and a good meal? Perhaps a frothy brew, but I digress. Puffin Plated, a new endeavor launched this fall by Penguin Random House, recently released A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, unabridged and accompanied by mouth-watering photographs (by Tisha Cherry and Vega Hernando) of fruitcakes, gingerbread, and other holiday treats.  Delectable recipes come courtesy of culinary giants like Ina Garten and Martha Stewart. (Looking for a non-denominational gift? Pride and Prejudice also got the Puffin Plated treatment and is filled with sugary sweet confections.)

 

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(Images reproduced with permission from Penguin Random House.)

Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art, by Hudson Talbott; Nancy Paulsen Books, 32 pages, ages 4-7.

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“The painter of American scenery has, indeed, privileges superior to any other. All nature here is new to art,” wrote Thomas Cole (1801-1848), the father of the Hudson River School of painting and the patriarch of the young country’s first art movement. Here, author-illustrator Hudson Talbott introduces readers to a man who was at once an immigrant, an artist, and an environmentalist by weaving elements from some of Cole’s most iconic paintings into the book. A perfect gift for budding naturalists with an artistic streak.

 

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(Images copyright 2018 Hudson Talbott and reproduced with permission from Penguin Random House.)

Hansel & Gretel, by Bethan Woolvin; Peachtree Publishers, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 4-8.

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Bethan Woollvin is back with another twisted fairy tale. Now, the author of Little Red and Rapunzel has concocted a revision of the Grimm brother’s classic story of two siblings forced to outsmart a cannibalistic old witch. As in her previous adaptations, Woollvin’s Hansel & Gretel takes a surprise turn, with Hansel and Gretel as sassy brats and the witch (named Willow) cast in a more benevolent role. To be enjoyed fireside with a heaping plateful of tasty gingerbread cookies.

 

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(Images copyright 2018 Bethan Woollvin. Reproduced with permission from Peachtree Publishers.)

All is Merry and Bright, by Jeffrey Burton, illustrated by Don Clark; Little Simon, $24.99, 26 pages, ages 0-4.

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Get the littlest revelers into the holiday spirit by offering them this oversize board book by Jeffrey Burton and Don Clark. The retro volume, complete with sparkly foil and embossing on every page is a joyous celebration of Christmas. Sensory overload in the best sense awaits the tiny tots who find this book tucked under their tree this year.

 

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(Text copyright 2018 Jeffrey Burton. Illustrations copyright 2018 Don Clark. Reproduced with permission from Simon & Schuster.)

James H. Billington (1929-2018): A Remembrance

“If we didn’t already have libraries, they would now have to be invented. They are the keys to American success in fully exploiting the information highways of the future,” wrote James H. Billington in the winter 1994 issue of Media Strategies Journal. At the time, the thirteenth Librarian of Congress was reminding a nation enthralled with the nascence of the internet that libraries would be as important as ever in the electronic age, as preservation repositories, testing grounds for experiments in digitization, and strongholds where anyone could freely access humankind’s various written efforts.
Billington wasn’t just offering his opinion; he was engaged in what would become a battle to preserve the mission of the Library of Congress (LOC).
In 1995, a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggested, in an effort to streamline operations at the LOC, that the library’s $350 million annual operating budget be slashed to practically nothing and turn its focus to “increasing revenue” (whatever that means) rather than building and sustaining the country’s knowledge hub. Luckily, Congress committee members charged with reviewing the document rejected the plan. As Billington noted in Patience & Fortitude (Basbanes, 2001), the attempt to undermine the LOC’s mission was hardly noticed by the national media. “The Messiah could make a personal appearance in the main reading room, and the chances are fifty-fifty that it would get any attention from the press,” he said. But the GAO’s report, if acted upon, would have had serious consequences for the future of America’s library, and Billington “went after it tooth and nail….because it was a cautionary issue of no small significance.”
Indeed, what was at stake, as the career humanist realized, was whether the world’s largest library–charged with, as he put it, “stockpiling information”–could continue to ensure that anyone could browse the LOC’s unique treasures.

 

And yet, Billington did not shy away from the new digital medium. In fact, he embraced what this technology could offer. During his tenure from 1987 to 2015, Billington oversaw great change at the LOC, ushering in dozens of free digital initiatives like the online American culture resource for K-12 education now known as the National Digital Library; thomas.gov, a free portal to U.S. federal legislative information; National Jukebox, which provides free access to over 10,000 out-of-print music and spoken word recordings; and a digital talking books app. He also established programs like the National Book Festival and the Veterans History Project.
And though cost-cutting was often on the wish-list of many political agendas, over the years, Billington raised over half a billion dollars to supplement Congressional financial support no matter who was in office.
Billington faced the future of book culture with steely-eyed awareness and an understanding that far surpassed many contemporaries. He welcomed the Internet age as a liberation of physical books from the cumbersome task of storing facts and figures. “With the move to electronic formats, what I believe you will now see is that books containing data will be online, and the serious kind of traditional literature that has always been in book form will continue to appear in book form. The book, in my view, will be freed from a very heavy burden that it has to bear all these years,” he explained in Patience & Fortitude. “It will be allowed to flourish anew.”