February 4, 2013

Antiquities of Samarkand. Madrasah of Bibi Khanym. Minaret on the Northwest Corner

This photograph of the northwest minaret at the Bibi Khanym Mosque ensemble in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) is from the archeological part of Turkestan Album. The six-volume photographic survey was produced in 1871-72, under the patronage of General Konstantin P. von Kaufman, the first governor-general (1867-82) of Turkestan, as the Russian Empire's Central Asian territories were called. The album devotes special attention to Samarkand’s Islamic architecture, such as 14th- and 15th-century monuments from the reign of Timur (Tamerlane) and his successors. Built in 1399-1405 with the spoils of Timur’s victorious campaign in India (fall of 1398 to January 1399), the ensemble was designated the city’s main mosque. It is also traditionally named in homage to Timur’s senior wife, Sarai Mulk Khanym (bibi meaning “lady” or “mother”). Intended to be one of the largest mosques in the Islamic world, the ensemble contained a madrasah, a mausoleum, and an entrance structure to the courtyard, all of which suffered major damage from seismic activity over the centuries. The complex also included four minarets (only one of which survived at the time of the Russian conquest). The northwest minaret shown here is missing its uppermost structure, but its monumental design is still evident, with a decoration of tiles forming block Kufic letters that signify words such as “Allah.”

Jerusalem Delivered

La Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem delivered) is a verse epic by the late-Renaissance Italian poet Torquato Tasso (1544–95). Written in the eight-line stanzas common to Italian Renaissance poetry, Tasso’s masterpiece is known for the beauty of its language, profound expressions of emotion, and concern for historical accuracy. The subject of the poem is the First Crusade of 1096–99 and the quest by the Frankish knight Godfrey of Bouillon to liberate the sepulcher of Jesus Christ. Tasso was born in Sorrento, in the Kingdom of Naples, and his interest in the Crusades probably was kindled by the sacking of Sorrento in 1558 by the Turkish Ottomans and the ongoing struggle between Muslim and Christian powers for control of the Mediterranean. He completed the work in 1575 but spent several years revising the text before it was published in 1581. Tasso’s reputation as a poet and man of genius was well established in 17th-century Italy and throughout Europe by the 18th century. This monumental, two-volume edition of his most important work was completed in 1745 by the Venetian publisher and journalist Giovanni Battista Albrizzi (1698–1777), a member of a family active in the Venice book trade for some 150 years. The illustrations are by Giovanni Battista Piazzetta (also called Giambatista Piazzetta; 1682–1754), a Venetian-born painter who was the first president of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia. The frontispiece is printed in red and black with a copperplate engraving of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria (1717–80), to whom the work is dedicated.

February 6, 2013

Books 1–5 of History. Ethiopian Story. Book 8: From the Departure of the Divine Marcus

Under the influence of Italian humanism and of his book-collector tutor János Vitéz, the Archbishop of Esztergom, Matthias Corvinus of Hungary (1443–1490), developed a passion for books and learning. Elected king of Hungary in 1458 at the age of 14, Matthias won great acclaim for his battles against the Ottoman Turks and his patronage of learning and science. He created the Bibliotheca Corviniana, in its day one of Europe’s finest libraries. After his death, and especially after the conquest of Buda by the Turks in 1541, the library was dispersed and much of the collection was destroyed, with the surviving volumes scattered all over Europe. This codex, one of eight manuscripts originally in the Corvinus Library and now preserved in the Bavarian State Library, contains Books I-V of The Histories by the Greek historian Polybius, a part of the only known work by the third century Greek historian Herodianus, and the text of Aethiopica, a third-century Greek romance attributed to Heliodorus of Emesa, which recounts the Ethiopian adventures of Theagenes and Chariclea. The codex is believed to have survived the siege and capture of Constantinople in 1453, after which it came into the possession of Corvinus. After his death it is recorded to have belonged to the Nuremberg doctor Joachim Camerarius II, who gave it to Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria as a gift in 1577. It has remained in the Bavarian State Library ever since. The Bibliotheca Corviniana Collection was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2005.

Amadis of Gaul

Amadís de Gaula (Amadis of Gaul) is a famous prose romance of chivalry, first composed in Spain or Portugal and most likely based on French sources. An early version of the work probably existed by the late 13th century or early 14th century. A version in three books, of which brief fragments are extant, can be dated around 1420. Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo, ruler of Medina del Campo, reworked that version, added a fourth book, and continued with a fifth, entitled Las sergas de Esplandián (The adventures of Esplandian). The work remained popular during the Spanish Golden Age in both Europe and America, with 19 Spanish editions published in the 16th century. The edition shown here was printed by Juan Cromberger, who was instrumental in introducing the printing press to the Americas in the 1530s. The Cromberger family of Seville specialized in printing books of chivalry, which were characterized in general by being produced in folio size, with gothic typefaces, in two columns, with a print of the hero on horseback on the cover and minor woodcuts in each chapter. The Cromberger editions set the tone for future printings and were imitated until the mid-16th century.

February 7, 2013

General View of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra

This view of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra is from Souvenir of Kiev, an early 20th-century album showing the main sites of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine and at that time one of the most important cities of the Russian Empire. Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, also called the Monastery of the Kiev Caves (pechera means cave; lavra indicates a monastery of status), is a large complex founded in 1051 by a monk named Anthony in caves dug out of the hillside. The monastery soon became the center of Christianity in Russia and played an important part in local cultural development, housing the first printing press in Kiev and famous chroniclers, writers, physicians, scientists, and artists. After a fire in 1718, most of the lavra ensemble was rebuilt in the baroque style, including the Assumption Cathedral in the center here, the great bell tower center-left, other churches, and other monastic buildings, which are surrounded by high stone walls. Together with the city’s Saint Sophia Cathedral, the lavra is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The 25 views in Souvenir of Kiev are collotypes, made using a chemically-based printing process widely employed before the invention of offset lithography.

The Acts and the Epistles of the Apostles

The Acts and the Epistles of the Apostles, also known as the Apostle, is the first dated imprint published on the territory of present-day Ukraine. Written in Church Slavic, the liturgical language of the Orthodox Church in Russia, Ukraine, and other Slavic-speaking countries, it was printed in 1574 at the Saint Onuphrius Monastery in Lviv by Ivan Fyodorov (circa 1510-83). One of the fathers of printing in the East Slavic region, Fyodorov graduated from Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, and later worked in Moscow, where he published liturgical works using movable type, the first books printed in Russia. He was driven from Moscow by scribes who feared competition from his innovation and fled to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, where he set up a press in Zabłudów (Zabludovo, in present-day Belarus). In 1572, he moved to Lviv. The Apostle was among the most widely used liturgical books of the Orthodox Church. The 1574 edition contains an autobiographical epilogue by Fyodorov in which he recounts the history of his printing houses in Moscow, Zabłudów, and Lviv. About 120 copies of this edition are known to exist, of which five are in the collections of the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine.