December 14, 2012

The Book of Kings

Shahnameh Baysonqori is a copy of Shahnameh (Book of kings) composed by the highly revered Iranian poet Abū al-Qāsim Firdawsī (940–1020). The importance of Shahnameh in the Persian-speaking world is comparable that of Homer’s epics in the West. The book recounts in verse the mythological history of ancient Persia and tales of the famous heroes and personalities of Iranian history, from legendary times to the 7th-century reign of Yazdgerd III, the last king of the Sassanid dynasty. The tales are based on earlier historical works, but are mixed with fiction and mythology. Shahnameh Baysonqori is one of the two ancient Iranian manuscripts listed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Memory of the World register. The priceless, 700-page original manuscript is kept in Golestan Palace Library in Tehran. The present book is a facsimile copy of the original, reproduced in limited copies. The manuscript contains 22 superb miniatures drawn by a group of artists in the style of the Timurid (Teymurid) school. The text was created in 1430 by the famous calligrapher, Ja'far Baysonqori, and is an outstanding illustration of the art of book-making in Iran of the Timurid era.

Treatise on Holy War

The first Persian printing press in Iran was established in 1816 in Tabriz, and the first book published by the press was Jihādīyyah (Treatise on holy war), written by Abu al-Qasim ibn 'Isá Qa'im'maqam Farahani (circa 1779–1835), the prime minister of Persia at that time. During the reign of King Fath Ali Shah (1772–1834, reigned 1797–1834), while the Qajar government was absorbed with managing domestic turmoil, rival European colonial powers sought to establish themselves in the region. The British competed for influence in the south and southeast of Persia in the Persian Gulf, while in the north the Russian Empire, in the Russo-Persian War of 1804–13, established dominance over Persia's northern territories. The first Persian book was published in response to these events. It covers all the fatwas (decrees) that the religious leaders had issued about the necessity of performing jihad (holy war) against the Russians who had invaded Iranian territory during the reign of Fath Ali Shah.

Group of Circus Performers

This December 1932 photograph shows the members of three world-famous trapeze acts posing in the safety net at La Scala in Berlin: The Flying Codonas of Mexico, The Flying Concellos of the United States, and Les Amadori of Italy. Shown from left to right are Genesio Amadori (Les Amadori), Art Concello (The Flying Concellos), Alfredo Codona (The Flying Codonas), Vera (Bruce) Codona (The Flying Codonas), Antoinette Concello (The Flying Concellos), Ginevra Amadori (Les Amadori), Everett White (The Flying Concellos), Lalo Codona (The Flying Codonas), and Goffreddo Amadori (Les Amadori). The photograph reflects the internationalization of the circus in the 20th century, as famous artists and troupes were hired by circuses in other countries looking to present never-before-seen acts to their audiences. The flying trapeze was developed in the mid-19th century by Jules Léotard (1842–70), a French acrobatic performer at the Cirque Napoléon in Paris. By the 1930s, two- and three-person troupes had devised increasingly dangerous and demanding trapeze acts, including the famous triple somersault.

Letter from Otto Ringling, October 26, 1907

Otto Ringling (1858–1911) was the son of a German immigrant who, with his brothers Albert, Alfred, Charles, John, August, and Henry, created the Ringling Bros. circus empire in the late 19th century. The brothers bought the competing Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1907. They ran the circuses separately at first, but merged them in 1919 to create the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which came to be known as “the Greatest Show on Earth.” This letter, written by Otto to his brothers in October 1907, details how the assets of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, including the menagerie, stock animals, flat cars, and cages, could be split among the shows owned by the Ringling brothers. The letter provides an interesting glimpse of Otto’s perspective on the economic crisis facing America at the time and its implications for the circus business. The letter, along with many other treasures, was found in the fabled, abandoned winter quarters of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Baraboo, Wisconsin, in 1932 by Sverre O. Braathen.

Circus Spectacle Float

This photograph depicts an elaborate spectacle float in the “backyard” of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in September 1922. The spectacle, or “spec,” often opened the show and was a procession that took place around the hippodrome track inside the big top, or circus tent, featuring as many of the performers and animals as the circus director was able to costume. Traced back to the earliest circuses in America, the spec was originally a lavish performance of literary or historical tales intended to entertain and edify the audience. The photograph was taken by Charles Clarke (1878–1951), the catcher for the trapeze act The Clarkonians, who was also an amateur photographer who took hundreds of images documenting the behind-the-scenes activities of the circus.

Ringling Bros. Lion Tableau Wagon

Parades to celebrate the arrival of the circus to town in America featured highly decorated wagons carrying the circus band and artists along main thoroughfares to the big top circus tent, attracting patrons along the way. This “Lion Tableau” wagon was built by Sebastian Wagon Works of New York City in approximately 1880 for the Adam Forepaugh Circus.  A telescoping platform holding the figure of Saint George fighting a dragon was removed around 1889 and the lower portion was converted into a bandwagon. The wagon was purchased by the Ringling Bros. Circus in 1890 and used as the lead bandwagon in its street parade, pulled by an eight-horse team. Often referred to as the Lion and Mirror Bandwagon, it was retired in 1915. It was stored at the old Ringling Winter Quarters in Baraboo, Wisconsin, until 1927 when it was purchased by George W. Christy who in turn sold it to the Cole Bros. Circus in 1935. The wagon was eventually donated to Circus World Museum at Baraboo in 1961 where it was restored and remains on display today.