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The Old Library had three very successful events in June to bring the treasures of the past to a wider audience.

Preservation and Interpretation of Seals
Cambridge college libraries and archives contain a wealth of sealed documents. While the documents themselves are generally well recorded and valued for their content, the seals attached to the documents are often less well studied.

Trinity Hall hosted two workshops and a public talk on the subject of seals and sealed documents. The workshops on Friday 7 June were an opportunity for librarians, conservators and museum professionals to hear from two experts in the field, Dr Elizabeth New and Dr John McEwan, Research Associates on the Arts and Humanities Research Council seals projects at Aberystwyth University.

Seals Public Talk

Seals Public Talk

Participants learnt about the technology of creating matrices and seals, the historical and artistic significance of seals, and the approaches for preserving these vulnerable wax objects. Examples of medieval sealed documents from the Old library and from the Archive of Christ’s College were on display. There was also a chance to handle resin facsimiles of historical seals (including one in the form of a fridge magnet!). In addition, there was a lunchtime visit to the Parker Library to view selected seals from the Corpus Christi Archive including a wonderfully sharp impression of the Cambridge town seal.

Studying a resin replica seal

Studying a resin replica seal

Seals are a potent connection with the past. They are highly tactile and many bear the thumb or finger prints of their creators. They deserve to be preserved and studied for the light they shed on the medieval world.

General Admission
Every year the Old Library is open on the afternoon of General Admission for Trinity Hall graduands and their guests. It is a day of celebration when another cohort of students collects their degrees and goes out into the world. The treasures of Trinity Hall are on show, including the college silver and the rare books of the Old Library.

Enthralled by the manuscripts

Enthralled by the manuscripts

Over 200 people visited the Old Library during the afternoon and for many students it was their first time in this hidden gem of Trinity Hall. The visitors were fascinated and amazed by the treasures on show.

Under the Covers
At the end of June the Old Library hosted an event for the Supporters of the Old Library and the 1350 Society. Guests were given a tour of the Old Library and then visited the “Under the Covers” exhibition in the Chetwode Room.

This fascinating exhibition by the Cambridge Colleges Conservation Consortium looked in detail at the physical structure of medieval books – literally under the covers! On display were the traditional materials used for binding manuscripts and early printed books: vellum leaves, sewing materials, oak boards, Nigerian goatskin, tawed alum skins and hand marbled papers. Visitors could look at some of the recently conserved items from the Old Library to see the finished result of the reinstated medieval-style bindings.

Manuscript rebound in the medieval style using a vibrant red Nigerian goatskin

Manuscript rebound in the medieval style using a vibrant red Nigerian goatskin

There were some surprises too! Conservation on the binding of a printed book, Speculum Spiritualium by Richard Rolle de Hampole (London, 1510), revealed that the boards were made up of manuscript leaves which had been pasted together. The conservators carefully separated the leaves and replaced the boards. Some of the leaves are from an early medical manuscript! These leaves have yet to be studied and we would welcome any scholars who would like to look at them.

Conserved manuscript leaves removed from the covers of "Speculum Spiritualium"

Conserved manuscript leaves removed from the covers of “Speculum Spiritualium”

Experienced conservators, Edward Cheese and Bridget Warrington of the Cambridge Colleges Conservation Consortium, were on hand to explain the book-binding techniques and to guide people who had a go at sewing together the leaves of a book. The event gave people first-hand experience of this important medieval craft and helped to bring the past vividly alive!

Coming Up…

The Old Library will be open for two events in September 2013.

The Old Library

The Old Library

On Friday 13 September the Old Library will be open to the general public for bookable tours during Open Cambridge. Booking starts on Monday 19th August via the Open Cambridge website.

The Old Library will also be open to Cambridge alumni for bookable tours during the Alumni Festival on Sunday 29 September. Booking starts on Monday 15th July via the Alumni Festival website.

Please book early for either event to ensure a place on an Old Library tour!

References

Seals and Sealing Practices by Elizabeth A. New,  (London: British Record Association, 2010).

Seals in Context: Medieval Wales and the Welsh Marches edited by: John McEwan and Elizabeth A. New, with Susan M. Johns and Phillipp R. Schofield (Aberystwyth: Canolfan Astudiaeth Addysg, 2012).

For more about the Cambridge Colleges Conservation Consortium see: Collaboration in special collections by Suzanne Paul.

Richard Hampole: in addition to the Wikipedia article there is a biography of Richard Hampole in the Catholic Encyclopedia

Speculum spiritualium. There are several copies of this book in Cambridge University Library ( in addition to the copy in the Old Library, Trinity Hall)

Open Cambridge: http://www.cam.ac.uk/open-cambridge

Alumni Festival:

http://my.alumni.cam.ac.uk/s/1321/interior.aspx?sid=1321&gid=1&pgid=924

The archives, libraries and museums of Cambridge are full of the most amazing treasures. But one kind of artefact is all too easily overlooked – the myriad of seals that are attached to historical documents. Seals come in all shapes and sizes and are artworks in miniature.

Disambiguation: not this kind of seal! (Photograph (c) The Daily Telegraph)

Disambiguation: not this kind of seal! (Photo (c) The Daily Telegraph)

The use of seals dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, however, the examples of seals present in most Cambridge collections are medieval European (and principally English) seals dating from the 11th century onwards. Medieval seals were attached to documents as proof of their authenticity and were used by royal government, cities, monastic houses, commercial enterprises and individuals much as a signature is today.

Trinity Hall matrix

Trinity Hall matrix

Seals were created by using a metal matrix which was impressed on a green or red wax made of beeswax and resin. From the 16th century onwards the use of shellac became common practice. There is a huge range of artistic sophistication, style and size in medieval and early modern seals: from generic designs bought ready made, through bespoke designs, to the intricate magnificence of the Great Seal.

Elizabeth I Confirmation Charter (1559) with the Great Seal

Elizabeth I Confirmation Charter (1559) with the Great Seal

Seals also provide us with important historical information, in addition to the written content of the documents to which they are attached. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “The growth in government in England can be traced by its use of seals. The Great Seal …, first used in in the 11th century, was augmented by smaller seals, and finally the Privy Seal, the keeper of which was a minister of state. As the power of the seal grew the king sometimes found it necessary to adopt a private sometimes secret, seal for his correspondence”.

Letter from Elizabeth I to the Master and Fellows of Trinity Hall sealed with a wafer seal

Letter from Elizabeth I to the Master and Fellows of Trinity Hall – sealed with a wafer seal

There is much to discover through the study of seals, however, they can be difficult to interpret! Do you have seals on documents in your care, have you come across seals during your historical research and wondered how to interpret them or do you simply have an interest in medieval history? Anyone with an interest in local history and in the wide variety of seals attached to medieval documents will be fascinated by a forthcoming public talk “Making an Impression: seals as a resource for historical research” at Trinity Hall Cambridge on Saturday 8 June at 11am.

The speaker, Dr Elizabeth New of Aberystwyth University, is a medieval historian and an expert on British seals. She is Senior Researcher on the Arts and Humanities Research Council Exploring Medieval Seals project and author of Seals and sealing practices (London, British Records Association, 2010).

The talk is free but booking is essential.

To book a place at the talk please email library@trinhall.cam.ac.uk

Making an Impression Poster

References:

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th Ed.) Chicago, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1974.

Seals and sealing practices / by Elizabeth New. London, British Records Association, 2010.

Exploring Medieval seals blog

Trinity Hall public talk: Making an impression: seals as a resource for historical research

One of the great treasures of the Old Library is a manuscript of Boethius’ “Consolation of Philosophy” translated into medieval French (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.12). This manuscript is illustrated throughout in a naive and lively style with images relating Boethius’ story.

These charming images provide a fascinating insight into the medieval mind and a unique view of the medieval world. Interspersed throughout the story are numerous full page illustrations of scenes from the Holy Scriptures and of the Chrisitan saints, including a number of images which tell the story of Christ’s Passion.

Christ's entry into Jerusalem (MS.12 14v)

Christ’s entry into Jerusalem (MS.12, f. 14v). Image (c) Trinity Hall Cambridge

Although these holy images seem to have nothing to do with the “Consolation of Philosophy” there is in fact a strong connection. The medieval French scholar Professor Sylvia Huot has pointed out that earthly suffering is the theme of most of the holy images in the manuscript. Depictions of the suffering of Christ and the ordeals of the saints were included in order to reinforce the central theme of Boethius’s work.

Boethius was a senior government official who in 524AD, having offended the king, Theodoric the Great, was stripped of his wealth and offices, thrown into prison and condemned to death. Whilst awaiting execution he was visited in a dream by Lady Philosophy who dictated to him a treatise on the futility of pursuing worldly wealth and power.

The resurection

The resurection (MS. 12, f. 34v). Image (c) Trinity Hall Cambridge

The central thesis of the Consolation of Philosophy is the assertion that lasting happiness is only to be found in a mind that is centred and philosophically recollected. The inclusion of images from the Scriptures in the Trinity Hall manuscript is in keeping with the medieval Christian interpretation of Boethius. These images of Christ and the saints are used to reinforce Boethius’s message of how to endure (and triumph over) the suffering of this world.

Christ at the right hand of God. Christ is depicted on the cross and npointing to the wound in his side (MS.12 f. 98v)

Christ at the right hand of God. Christ is depicted on the cross and is pointing to the wound in his side (MS.12 f. 98v). Image (c) Trinity Hall Cambridge

Boethius’s treatise was tremendously popular in medieval times and is still in print today. It was translated into many languages including into English by King Alfred the Great, Chaucer and Queen Elizabeth I amongst others.

References

The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius. (Penguin Books, 1999)

“The Chastelaine de Vergi at the crossroads of courtly, moral and devotional literature” by Sylvia Huot. Published in Philologies old and new, edited by J. Tasker Grimbert and C. J. Chase (Princeton, 2001)

Wikipedia for Boethius and the Consolation of Philosophy.

Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, was educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge (no, not Trinity Hall but our younger rival next door!). His enthronement will take place in Canterbury Cathedral next week, on 21 March and will be televised by the BBC.

One item due to play a key role in the ceremony is the St Augustine’s Gospels (Corpus Christi College MS286). This magnificent manuscript is a vulgate text of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and was probably brought to England by St Augustine in 597. The practice of using St Augustine’s Gospels for the enthronement of the Archbishops of Canterbury was revived in 1945. The Parker Librarian, Christopher de Hamel, will remain in charge of this precious manuscript throughout the ceremony.

St Augustine's Gospels viewed via the Parker Library on the web

St Augustine’s Gospels viewed via the Parker Library on the web

But why is a Corpus manuscript featuring in our Old Library blog and what its connection to Trinity Hall?

The answer lies in one of our own most precious manuscripts Thomas Elmham Historiae Abbatiae S. Augustini (Trinity Hall, Cambridge, MS1) created in about 1410-1413. On one leaf of Thomas of Elmham’s history is a remarkable early plan of the East end of St Augustine’s Abbey. It is finely drawn in red, blue and black and features the chapels of the East end, various reliquaries, the high altar and the altar screen.

Plan of the East end of St Augustine's Abbey (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

Plan of the East end of St Augustine’s Abbey (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

“At the top of the screen are six books identified by a small inscription as the books sent from Pope Gregory (the Great) to Augustine”. The entry in the Cambridge Illuminations exhibition catalogue continues, “It is intrinsically probable that they included the St Augustine’s Gospels.” Thus our manuscript contains the earliest depiction of the Gospels used for the enthronement of the new Archbishop! As one of the holiest works in Britain it is more than likely that St Augustine’s Gospels were kept as an object of veneration with other sacred texts above the high altar of the Abbey.

The six books above the high altar of St Augustine's Abbey

The six holy books above the high altar of St Augustine’s Abbey

The Abbey was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries and remains a ruin today. The monastic library was dispersed and its manuscripts came onto the open market. Our manuscript was collected by the antiquarian and Catholic sympathizer, Robert Hare (d. 1611), who was a great donor not only to Trinity Hall but also to the University Library. Thomas Elmham’s Historiae Abbatiae S. Augustini came to us as a result of Hare’s friendship with Henry Harvey (Master of Trinity Hall 1559-1585) and has been a treasured by the College ever since.

Robert Hare's signature

Robert Hare’s signature

The St Augustine’s Gospels can be seen at the Parker Library on Maundy Thursday, 28 March, from 2-4pm (for further information see Easter at King’s on the Parker Library blog). Thomas of Elmham’s History of St Augustine’s Abbey can be seen in September during bookable tours of Trinity Hall’s Old Library organised by Open Cambridge 2013 and the Alumni Weekend.

References

Historia Monasterii S. Augustini cantuariensis / edited by Charles Hardwick (London, 1858)

The Cambridge illuminations: ten centuries of book production in the medieval West / edited by Paul Binski and Stella Panayotova (London, 2005)

The St Augustine’s Gospels can be viewed at the Parker Library on the web

Parker Library blog

Open Cambridge

Cambridge Alumni Weekend 2013

Website of the Archbishop of Canterbury

Wikipedia for Justin Welby, Thomas of Elmham, St Augustine’s Abbey, and Henry Harvey

St Augustine’s Abbey is an English Heritage property and can be visited

Love is in the air. The shops are full of cards pulsating with red hearts covered in glitter and on my desk is a pretty red morocco almanac which tells of a marriage.

The red morocco almanac

The red morocco almanac

The almanac belonged to Mary Boydell (1747-1820), a renowned beauty and niece of John ‘Alderman’ Boydell (1720-1804), a publisher and print seller who was then at the height of his fame and influence. Mary had been brought up by Boydell and, on the death of his wife Elizabeth Lloyd in 1781, she took over the management of his household. Her almanac reveals that she moved in the highest circles of society and that she was also a business woman involved in her uncle’s publishing enterprise. Thus we read of “Lord Shelborne’s invitation to Breakfast with him and to see his Library and Collection of prints” and “Any Books bound in France to be done by De Rome. Rue St Jacques a Paris. (Mr Edwards recommendation)”.

“Honored Uncle & Parent”

The son of a land steward and the grandson of a parson, John Boydell spent his early teenage years in Flintshire where his father worked for Sir John Glynne. There he saw a large print of Hawarden Castle which influenced his decision to become an engraver. He moved to London as an apprentice to the engraver W. H. Toms  and bought out his final year in order to set up on his own in 1746. Through a combination of hard work and strong business sense Boydell’s fortunes improved rapidly. He established links with publishers in France and Germany and imported sophisticated engravings from the continent. Then, seeing a business opportunity, he sponsored the creation of high quality British engravings. Print mania had taken hold of the aristocratic and middle classes. It was the fashion to paper the walls of a room with engravings and Alderman Boydell was the foremost publisher and supplier of excellent quality prints. As a result he became a wealthy and influential man.

Alderman Boydell (in red) talking to Josiah Boydell. Mary Boydell is depicted in profile (above the man in the black coat with his back to the viewer). (c) Guildhall Art Gallery

Alderman Boydell (in red) with Josiah Boydell. Mary Boydell is  in profile (above the man in the black coat with his back to the viewer). (c) Guildhall Art Gallery

Shakespeare Gallery

At the end of 1786 John Boydell embarked on his most ambitious enterprise: the project to publish an illustrated edition of Shakespeare’s plays, an edition of large engravings from Shakespeare and the creation of the Shakespeare Gallery in Pall Mall. His partners in this enterprise were his nephew Josiah Boydell (Mary’s brother) and George Nicol (1740-1828), the King’s printer. Josiah was to manage the workshop of engravers in Hampstead and Nicol was to oversee the presswork.

A print workshop by Rowlandson, 1785

A print workshop by Rowlandson, 1785

Mary’s almanac is for the year 1787 at the height of activity at the start of the Shakespeare project. The almanac is interleaved with blank pages which Mary has used to make notes which give a fascinating insight into her life at the time, ranging from information about books and prints to the state of her finances and of course the entry about her marriage.

“Friendship in Marble and Injury in Dust”

Despite, or perhaps because of, her beauty Mary’s romantic life had not been smooth. She had an unhappy love affair with Ozias Humphry, a miniature painter, who left England for India in 1785 to paint portraits of rajas and Englishmen abroad.

Her next suitor was the Cambridge alumnus and scientist Dr John Elliot, but she went on to reject him in favour of George Nicol, her uncle’s business partner. John Elliot took Mary’s rejection very badly – so badly that on 9 July 1787 he tried to shoot her from close range while she was out walking with Nicol in Soho. This notorious incident was reported in the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ and in the ‘British Mercury’ which recounts “Providentially, though they were so close as to set fire to the lady’s cloack, yet by the balls glancing on her stays, she received only a slight contusion under the shoulder”. Unfortunately Dr John Elliot did not escape so lightly. He was taken to Newgate prison to await charges for the attempt on Mary’s life. In prison his refusal of food and water led to his death on 22 July. It must have been a traumatic time for all concerned.

Newgate prison (in 1833)

Newgate prison (in 1833)

“My dear Husband”

Reader she married him! Entered in a regular and confident hand the entry for 8th September 1787 reads, “Married at St Martin’s Ironmonger Lane between 8 and 9 o’clock in the Morning – and set out from thence to Dover and Paris with my dear Husband and honored Uncle & Parent Mr Alderman Boydell.” Mr and Mrs George Nicol trvelled to Paris with the Alderman – perhaps not the most romantic of honeymoons! But, ever the business woman, Mary combined business with pleasure. Just a year before, in 1786, she had travelled to Paris with Alderman Boydell on publishing business and now that her new husband was Boydell’s partner it was natural for them all to travel to Paris together.

Entry for her marriage

Entry for her marriage

This was not young, tempestuous love but perhaps it was all the more attractive to Mary after the high drama of John Elliot. Mary was 40 and she was an independent woman. George Nicol was 47 and it was his second marriage.  The month before she married Mary made a careful record of her finances in her almanac. She was well off, with income from investments and from her estate in Kinnerton in Flintshire. Her subsequent annotation shows that she could afford to be generous to her new husband, “Since the above written have made Mr George Nicol a present of the above 300 pound …”

Mary makes no further entries in the almanac after her wedding day. However, it was likely to have been a happy marriage. They had much in common, united by a love of books and by business ties, and it seems that Nicol’s temperament was good. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes him as “courteous and tactful in business” and according to the Gentleman’s Magazine he was “not a bookseller but a gentleman dealing in books” (GM, 98/2, 279).

Postscript

Mary Nicol continued to play an active part in her uncle’s life. When the Alderman rose to be Lord Mayor of London in 1790-91 she was his Lady Mayoress. Unfortunately the French Revolution affected the English economy and cut off an important export market for Boydell’s prints and the vast scale of the Shakespeare project brought his finances to breaking point. By 1804 the Boydells were forced to conduct a lottery to dispose of the Shakespeare Gallery and its contents. Sadly the Alderman died before the lottery could be drawn, however it raised £78,000 for the business (now in the hands of Josiah). As a final act of devotion Mary Nicol paid for a bust of the Alderman and a memorial tablet in St Olave Jewry where he was buried.

This small almanac is a remarkable survival. A bookplate in the front of the volume reveals that it once belonged to the library of the author Hugh Walpole. It came to Trinity Hall as part of the library of alumnus and bibliophile Lawrence Strangman (1908-1980).

John Boydell's resting place

John Boydell’s resting place

References:

PDF transcript of manuscript notes in Mary Boydell’s almanac

Rider’s British Merlin for the year of our Lord God 1787. London: printed by the Company of Stationers, 1787.

John Boydell, 1719-1804 : a study of art patronage and publishing in Georgian London / Sven H.A. Bruntjen.

The Boydell Shakespeare Gallery / edited by Walter Pape and Frederick Burwick, in collaboration with the German Shakespeare Society.

Boydell’s Shakespeare gallery / Winifred H. Friedman.

Wikipedia for biographies of John Boydell, Josiah Boydell, George Nicol and others

Your Pictures for images of John Boydell and the Ceremony of administering the Mayoral oath to Nathaniel Newnham

In 1988 the Scottish artist John Bellany came to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge for a life-saving operation by one of the pioneers of liver-transplantation and Fellow of Trinity Hall, Sir Roy Calne. Such was Bellany’s condition that it was uncertain whether he would survive the transplant.

Self-portrait

Bellany after the operation (Image from The Culture Show)

Art is as fundamental to John Bellany’s existence as breathing. When he came round after the operation at three o’clock in the morning the first thing he asked for was a pencil and paper. The paper was burning in his hand but it was only when he had finished his self-portrait that he felt sure that he would survive. Now celebrating his 70th year with an exhibition “A passion for life” at the National Gallery of Scotland John Bellany, in an interview with Alastair Sooke for the Culture Show, revealed that he still considers this to be his finest self-portrait.

Sir Roy Calne and his team had the imagination to recognise that Bellany lived through his art and that it was vital to his recovery. He was allowed to turn his hospital room at Addenbrookes into an artist’s studio and soon the walls were covered with works documenting his recovery in pencil or paint.

The artist's "studio" in Addenbrookes

The artist’s “studio” in Addenbrookes (Image from The Culture Show)

The corpus work from this period is a unique visual record of the process of recovery. We are shown a full range of emotions from joy at being alive (“Bonjour, Professor Calne”), an unflinching quest for veracity (notably in his self-portraits), imaginative reconstructions of the operation (“Surgeon’s Hall” and “The transplant I and II”), through to the depiction of feelings of terror at the violence done to the body (the series of “Prometheus” paintings). Bellany shows us his struggle to come to terms with what has happened to him and his journey through feelings of violation, loss, guilt, exhaustion to acceptance, joy and rebirth.

Bonjour Professor Calne (Image from www.bellany.com)

Bonjour Professor Calne (Image from http://www.bellany.com)

Bellany’s liver-transplant was a life-changing (as well as life-saving) event.  In his interview with Sooke, the artist said that he’d been living under a cloud and suddenly everything was in brilliant colour – colours that he simply hadn’t been seeing before. Bellany spent his convalescence at Little Eversden, just outside Cambridge. During this period he was a Fellow Commoner of Trinity Hall (1988-1990) and as a result we have now five of his works in our collection. Perhaps the most joyful is “Flora” which hangs in the Jerwood Library.

"Flora"

“Flora” (Image from BBC Your Paintings)

“Flora” was painted as a thank you to Trinity Hall and this large canvas is bursting with colour and vibrancy. It is so joyful that the canvas struggles to contain the vase of flowers which almost seems to be thrust towards the viewer as a gift. The patterns made by the cloth on the table, the piles of books and the rugs on the floor all jostle for our attention and create an explosion of vigorous lines and colour. The space is difficult to read, almost dizzying in its exuberance.

In the bouquet of flowers we have lilies (amaryllis and lilium regale – whose heady scent you can almost smell) accompanied by the bright yellow of sunflowers. These flowers are laden with symbolism. The white lilies embody purity and new life through their association with the Annunciation, while the sunflowers symbolize the life-force through their association with the sun, bending their heads to follow its course throughout the day. In the centre of the bouquet we have an unambiguous symbol of life and vigour: the red amaryllis which thrusts it way up right to the top of the canvas, almost bursting out of the top.

However, these flowers also have a darker side as symbols of death: white lilies are frequently used in funerals (symbolizing the restored innocence of the soul at death) and the sunflowers remind us of Van Gogh, whose struggle with life ended in bleakness and suicide. Here Bellany reveals that he has looked death in the face and that his near-death was close to suicide: we have an acknowledgement that it was his own actions, his hard-drinking, that brought him to death’s door.

“Flora” is a painting of resurection and rebirth. The title “Flora” refers not only to the vase of flowers but also to Botticelli’s masterpiece “Primavera” where the flower-crowned Flora is the companion to the central figure in the painting. In Bellany’s painting we see the almond-shaped eyes of a beautiful young face gazing out at us from beneath a crown of sunflowers. This is the unmistakably steady, limpid gaze of Flora, a celebration of spring in all its abundance and laden with the enigmatic mystery of “Primavera”.

Flora from "Primavera" (Image from Wikipedia)

Flora from “Primavera” (Image from Wikipedia)

As in Botticelli’s painting the face in “Flora” is androgynous – is it the face of a boy or of a woman? Is this the face of  Bellany himself, reborn, literally rejuvenated, after his operation – or is it the face of Helen, his wife, whose constant support was a life-giving source of strength?  Or might it even be the face of an undergraduate at Trinity Hall, a “Fresher”, almost submerged by the pile of books that covers the bottom of the face, whose time at Trinity Hall promises to be one of a flowering of potential and the start of a new life? Certainly “Flora” was painted for Trinity Hall so the latter interpretation is possible!

Detail of "Flora"

Detail of “Flora”

That John Bellany is still alive today is a remarkable testimony to Sir Roy Calne, the Addenbrookes team, the constant support of his wife Helen and above all to his own passion for life. As he said recently, “I love life”!

Postscript:

Sir Roy Calne

Sir Roy Calne

Professor Sir Roy Calne (Honorary Fellow) and Dr Thomas Starzl (University of Pittsburgh) have been honoured with the 2012 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for their work on liver transplantation, an intervention that has restored normal life to thousands of patients with end-stage liver disease. Through their systematic and relentless efforts, they created a medical procedure that most physicians deemed an impossible dream. Some of Starzl’s and Calne’s early patients – originally diagnosed with untreatable and lethal diseases – are still thriving today, decades after their surgeries.

References:

John Bellany’s website

John Bellany 31 March – 5 May 1989. Fischer Fine Art Limited. Exhibition catalogue.

John Bellany in Cambridge 19 March to 30 June 1991. Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge. Exhibition catalogue

BBC Your Paintings: uncovering the nation’s art collection

Culture Show (BBC)

Wikipedia

Current Exhibition:

This titan of Scottish contemporary art is celebrated in the current exhibition “A passion for Life” at the National Gallery of Scotland. 17th November 2012 − 27th January 2013.

Bellany’s work at Trinity Hall:

Oli paintings: Flora, Self-portrait, Professor Sir John Lyons

Watercolour: Mountainous landscape.

Drawing: Dr. J. A. Cremona

Paintings by Sir Roy Calne:

Sir Roy Calne was inspired to paint through his friendship with John Bellany. Works by Calne can be seen in several collections, including the Royal College of Surgeons (the Hunterian Museum) and Trinity Hall.

The space outside the Old Library has been transformed by a new sculpture. The work “Trinity” was created by the artist Helene Fesenmaier for her current exhibition “Trans|figur|ation” at Trinity Hall.

All the works in the exhibition have multiple resonances and this sculpture is no exception. Looking relatively modest at first glance, “Trinity” works on many levels to challenge the viewer. Its tripartite construction, embodying the title with its associations of Christian spirituality, is striking for its appearance of fragility. Its verticality and the use of wood and metal echoes the Crucifixion, and in particular the artist’s preoccupation with Grunewald’s Isenheim altarpiece which has played a pivotal role in her work.

Grunewald’s depiction of the lacerated arms and tortured hands of Christ is echoed by the emaciated and battered arm and hand (possibly of the artist herself?) which help to anchor the piece. The gilding on the arm links it back to the altarpiece, reinforces its sacred/sacrificial quality and reminds us also of the toxic therapy used for cancer (through its visual reference to “The man with the golden arm”).

That a such a fragile looking sculpture can stand up to the elements is a surprise, but within it is a hard core, literally the backbone of the piece. This central element of concrete, metal, wood, slate and flint speaks of humanity’s ability to endure, even when completely stripped back to essentials. Here we have an embodiment of suffering: from Christ’s suffering on the cross, through the universal suffering of living beings, to the artist’s own struggle with cancer and the ravages of the illness and treatment.

Trinity spine

As we move round the sculpture we are challenged once again: writ large is “The birth of a book is the death of a tree”. What are we to make of this statement in the middle of a Cambridge college – at the heart of academia? The title of the piece leads us to identify the “book” with the Bible (and the New Testament in particular) and the “tree” with Christ, through his sacrifice on the cross. However, the artist’s choice of words also points away from the specific to the general – to further layers of meaning.

Trinity by Helene Fesenmaier

The choice of site for the sculpture is significant. It is set squarely between the Fellows garden and the Old Library. Here we have the opposition between the natural world and civilisation. The rough wooden plank faces the garden while the gilded arm with its polished books faces the Old Library. In order to read the message on the piece we have to turn our back on the garden and face the Old Library. Are we in danger of turning a blind eye to the damaging effects of our civilisation on planet Earth? The artist forces us to confront the impact of human progress on the natural world and to count its cost.

The “Trinity” can be seen as the trio of nature, civilisation and the human being who, as the fulcrum of the piece, is poised between the two. There is conflict: humanity is faced with a choice and is pulled in two directions. But there is also interdependence: each of the three elements of the piece plays a vital part in supporting the whole and cannot exist in isolation.

Trinity detail

Moreover, human beings act as both agents of change and interpreters of the world around them. This is not nature in the raw – the tree has been through the saw-mill and it has been inscribed (maybe even beautified) by the power of the word. Our environment is constantly affected by our intervention and is perceived through the filter of our literary imagination. We may yearn for Arcadia, but our very presence alters, interprets, tames and even brutalises the wilderness.

Culture does not come without human cost – the arm is elongated and weighed down by the books it holds. We are reminded of the pressure of academic life at Cambridge and the demands that are made of students and academics alike. But learning is something to be prized. Books are precious: they are brushed with gold and are the most polished element of the piece. They form the anchor of the sculpture underpinning the structure just as learning and academic excellence underpin the life of the College.

Detail of Trinity by Helene Fesenmaier

For Fesenmaier poetry is at the centre of her inspiration and books are a recurring theme in her work. And this brings us full circle to the Isenheim altarpiece – itself many layered, with its leaves unfolding just like the leaves of a book.

Forthcoming talk

There will be a unique opportunity for students and the general public to hear the artist Helene Fesenmaier talk about the exhibition on Tuesday 13 November 2012 at 5:45 pm in the Graham Storey Room. All welcome, admission free, but please book in advance by calling 01223 332555 or email events@trinhall.cam.ac.uk

Exhibition opening times

Trans|figur|ation – an exhibition of paintings and sculpture by Helene Fesenmaier is open to the public from Saturday 29 September until Sunday 25 November 2012 at the following times:

Saturdays 9.30 – 12.30

Sundays 2-5pm

Other viewing times may be arranged by calling Trinity Hall on 01223 332555 or emailing events@trinhall.cam.ac.uk

Bibliography

The exhibition catalogue is available for purchase from the Porters Lodge:

Helen Fesenmaier: Trans|figur|ation (London: Redfern Gallery, 2012) ISBN: 0948460377

See in particular the Introduction by Mary Rose Beaumont with her discussion of “Trinity” on page 6 of the catalogue.

Links:

Trinity Hall exhibition

Helene Fesenmaier is represented by the Redfern Gallery

Wikipedia for articles on Arcadia, the Isneheim altarpiece and the “Man with the golden arm”.

Isenheim altarpiece image from http://strawhutembassy.wordpress.com

You Tube video of the unfolding of a maquette of the Isenheim altarpiece

Man with the golden arm image from http://www.creativereview.co.uk/

TTrinity Hall and Cambridge University offer an extensive network of pastoral support  to students and academics to help them with the demands of academic life.

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