April 2011 Archives

Summer reading: The Tale of Genji



The Tale of Genji (源氏物語, Genji Monogatari) has been called the first novel. It is, at least in part, attributed to Lady Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th century. Like Dickens did much later, the story was made public in installments or chapters, rather than as a complete book. Scholars believe that the story was finished by 1021, on 10-20 hand-written scrolls, which no longer exist. Many copies were made and at least one twelfth century scroll contains illustrations.

It would be hard to overestimate the cultural signifigance of The Tale of Genji, a work that has resonated throughout art and literature, in all periods, both in Japan and the rest of the world.


The first printed edition of The Tale of Genji was published in 1654 and includes woodcuts by Yamamoto Shunshô (1610-1682). Known as the Tale of Genji, Jou-oh Edition, our copy is complete with 54 volumes of main text and 6 commentaries, a grand total of 60 volumes.

The International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, posted a complete digitized copy at: http://shinku.nichibun.ac.jp/genji/en/genji_list.html


[Genji monogatari] [源氏物語]. Translated title: The Tale of Genji. Written in part by Murasaki Shikibu (born 978?) and illustrated by Yamamoto Shunshō (1610-1682). [Kyoto]: Rakuyō; [Kyoto]: Yao Kanbē kaihan, 1654. 54 volumes and 6 supplements. Graphic Arts (GAX 2011- in process)

In that Droll and Pleasing Manner of Mary Darly

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Mary Darly (flourished 1756-1779) managed a London print shop call The Acorn, first on Ryder’s Court, near Cranbourn Alley and later at 39 Strand, on the corner of Buckingham Street. Here’s a modern map to see where she worked:

View Mary Darly in a larger map


Darly designed and sold a variety of uncomplicated caricatures of politicians and upper class women’s fashion. Mary also taught etching and printing, probably to the very ladies she was satirized in her prints. Her husband, Matthew Darly (flourished 1741-1778) was also a printmaker and their penchant for both signing prints “M. Darly” has led to some confusion over authorship.

Mary Darly is credited with writing (and engraving) the first manual to drawing caricatures, A Book of Caricaturas on 59 Copper-Plates (1762), seen here. There is only one page of commentary, three pages of instruction, and a number of specimens.


Mary Darly (flourished 1756-1779), A Book of Caricaturas: on 59 Copper-Plates, with Ye Principles of Designing in that Droll & Pleasing Manner, with Sundry Ancient & Modern Examples & Several Well Known Caricaturas (Cornhill [London]: Printed for John Bowles, 1762). All etched and engraved. Graphic Arts GA 2005-2501N


Seba's Thesaurus

Pierre Tanje (1706-1761), after a design by Louis Fabricius Dubourg (1693-1775), Industria. Frontispiece in volume one of Albertus Seba (1665-1736), Locupletissimi Rerum Naturalium Thesauri Accurata Descriptio [An Accurate Description of the Very Rich Thesaurus of the Principal and Rarest Natural Objects] (Amsterdam: Wetsten, Smith, Jansson-Waesberg; 1734-65). Graphic Arts Dutch prints.


The engraving seen above was found in the graphic arts collection without attribution. After some searching, Vicki Principi matched it with a spectacular thesaurus of animal specimens by the Dutch zoologist Albertus Seba. The four-volume reference work was derived from the physician’s own Cabinet of Curiosities and has been called one of the greatest natural history books ever published.

Our plate is the frontispiece for volume one, engraved by Pierre Tanje (1706-1761) after a design by the Dutch painter Louis Fabricius Dubourg (1693-1775). A quick check of Princeton University’s copy showed that the plate had not been removed from Princeton’s set and so, we now have two copies of this engraving: one bound and one unbound.

Albertus Seba collected exotic plants, snakes, birds, insects, shells, lizards and other animals. At first, these specimens were part of his profession, used to mix treatments in his pharmacy. But then, collecting grew into a personal obsession. In the early eighteenth century his entire collection was sold to Peter the Great (1672-1725) and moved to St. Petersburg, helping to establish the Russian Academy of Sciences.

For the complete set, see Albertus Seba (1665-1736), Locupletissimi Rerum Naturalium Thesauri Accurata Descriptio (Amsterdam: Wetsten, Smith, Jansson-Waesberg; 1734-65). Rare Books EX Oversize 8607.847e

Long Live the Goose


Designed and published by William Hone (1780-1842) and etched by George Cruikshank (1792-1878), The Royal Shambles or the Progress of Legitimacy & Reestablishment of Religion & Social Order - !!! - !!!, 1816. Etchings. Graphic Arts Cruikshank. Gift of Richard W. Meirs, Class of 1888.


Louis XVIII (1755-1824) was King of France from 1814 to 1824, except for 100 days in 1815. Napoleon Bonaparte had escaped his island prison and was headed to Paris. The soldiers stationed outside Paris defected to Bonaparte and Louis XVIII quickly left France. Happily for him, the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo and the King was able to return, reentering Paris on July 8, 1815.

There was a celebration the following July and in August 1816, the British artist William Hone (1780-1842) published this panoramic caricature of the French King’s procession, literally on the backs of the French people. Princeton is fortunate to own three copies, a hand colored proof, an uncolored proof, and a finished copy with lettering added.

In Hone’s procession, Louis XVIII rides on a cannon pulled by Wellington. Four men/countries march along, including Francis I, Emperor of Austria; Frederick William III, King of Prussia; John Bull; and Alexander I, Tsar of Russia. Behind, on a crowned donkey are two couples, Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duc d’Angoulême (1775-1844), Charles, Duc de Berry (1686-1714), and their wives.

On the scaffolding above, a variety of executions, hangings, and mutilations continue in-between cheers. Rather than “Long live the King” the crowd shouts “Vive l’Oie,” (Long live the goose).

Play reviewed: The horse acted well

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Paul Pry, a comic drama written by the English playwright John Poole (1786-1872), premiered September 1825 at the Haymarket Theatre and ran 114 performances. Variations on the mischievous exploits of Pry continued until the early 1870s.

On May 21, 1826, the London Examiner announced: PAUL PRY ON HORSEBACK! ROYAL AMPHITHEATRE May 22d, and until further notice, the new local, characteristic, eccentric, panoramic, pedestrian, and equestrian speaking picture of life, manner, and peculiarity of the present day, called PAUL PRY on HORSEBACK … The Seventh appearance of the celebrated German Artist, Herr Cline, upon an Elastic Cord. Seventh time of Mr. Ducrow’s wonderful performance upon Three Horse at one time, in the character of the Chinese Enchanter. The Entertainment to commence with the forty-ninth representation of WAR in INDIA, or the Burmese.

A later review read in part: “…It was a very poor piece but there was some fun in Paul Pry’s jumping through the bar window of an inn on horseback. The horse acted well.”

The British caricaturist William Heath sometimes used Paul Pry as his pseudonym.

See also: Paul Pry: in which are all the peculiarities, irregularities, singularities, pertinacity, loquacity, and audacity of Paul Pry, as performed by Mr. Liston, at the Theatre Royal (London: T. Hughes …, [1826]). Engraving by George Cruikshank. Graphic Arts Collection Cruik 1826.7

John Poole (1786-1872), Paul Pry: a comedy, in three acts (London: John Duncombe, [1830]). Etching by Robert Cruikshank. Rare Books (Ex) 3593.999 v. 9

John Poole (1786-1872), Paul Pry: a comedy in three acts (New-York: E.B. Clayton, [ca. 1833]). Rare Books: Theatre Collection (ThX) TC023 (Playbooks Collection) Box 113

Before and After

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William Hogarth (1697-1764), Before (left) and After (right), 1736. Etching and engraving, 2nd state (Paulson 141 and 142). Graphic Arts Hogarth collection

Hogarth painted two versions of these scenes, one depicting the lovers indoors and one outdoors. The first was commissioned by John Thomson, who fled to France before the paintings were finished, after being charged with fraud and theft in the 1731 Charitable Corporation scandal.

The man in the scene has been identified as Sir John Willes, Walpole Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas and a notorious womanizer. Hogarth fills the prints with sexual innuendo, such as the framed cupid preparing to shoot his rocket before and smiling contentedly as the rocket returns to earth after.

Although she hesitates, the woman is not completely virtuous. On her vanity is a book of erotic poems by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1647-1680) and in the drawer is another volume labeled simply “novels.” After sex, the man dresses quickly while the woman entices him to stay. On the floor, a book is open to a quotation from Aristotle: “Omne Animal Post Coitum Triste” (Every animal is sad after intercourse).

The diptych sold well throughout Hogarth lifetime but after his death both Mrs. Hogarth and John Boydell suppressed it from some bound editions of his complete works. In later editions, they were often placed inside folders at the back of the volume.

Charles Nègre's Héliogravures

Charles Nègre (1820-1880), Chartres Cathedral, South Transept, printed ca. 1857. Héliogravure. Graphic Arts in process

The French photographer Charles Nègre (1820-1880) was one of the earliest practitioners of photogravure. Together with Nicéphore Nièpce, Nièpce de St. Victor, and Alphonse Poitevin, he developed the process he called héliogravure, which translated a light-sensitive photograph to a permanent ink print. Héliogravure should not to be confused with the photogravure process commonly used today, which was invented by Karl Wenzel Klic (1841-1926) and combines aquatint with a photographic negative.

In 1854, Nègre published the first reproduction of a small proto-photogravure within a page of text in the journal La Lumière. Not long after this, at the request of the architect Jean-Baptiste Lassus (1807-1857), Nègre produced a series of large architectural studies and details of Chartres cathedral, which was under renovation. Graphic Arts is fortunate to hold two of these enormous prints.

See also Françoise Heilbrun, Charles Nègre photographe 1820-1880 (Paris: Éditions des Musées nationaux, 1980). Marquand TR647 .N43 1980

Charles Nègre (1820-1880), Chartres Cathedral. Right Door of the Royal Portal, West Side, printed ca. 1857. Héliogravure. Graphic Arts in process

Toulouse-Lautrec and the Red-Haired Woman

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), La passagère du 54 - Promendae en Yacht (The Passenger in 54 - On a Cruise), 1896. Lithograph. Third state. Graphic Arts French Prints.

In 1895, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and his friend, the photographer Maurice Guibert (1856-1913), took a vacation on a steamship, intending to sail from Le Havre to Bordeaux. While on board, Lautrec became infatuated with a red-haired woman. He never spoke to her or learned her name; he only knew that she slept in cabin number fifty-four. At his friend’s request, Guibert secretly took a photograph of her while she was relaxing on a deck chair.

Lautrec learned that she was traveling on to Dakar, Africa. Rather than disembark at Bordeaux, he remained on board hoping to speak to her. It was not until Lisbon that Guibert is said to have dragged the artist off the ship and back to Paris.

The Parisian magazine La Plume, under the leadership of Léon Deschamps, sponsored a series of exhibitions from 1894 to 1900 called Le Salon des Cent, because the shows were limited to 100 artists. Lautrec was commissioned to create a poster for the 1896 exhibition and used Guibert’s photograph to draw the red-haired woman. His lithograph became known as La passagère du 54 - Promendae en Yacht (The Passenger in 54 - On a Cruise).

See also La Plume. No 1-426 (15 avril 1889-1 jan. 1914). Firestone Recap 0904.726

Resist the devil and he will fly far from you


Albert Alden (1812-1883), The Life and Age of Man: Stages of Man’s Life, from the Cradle to the Grave, wherein all Christians May Behold their Frail Nature, and the Miseries that Attend a Sinful Life, Set Forth in an Alphabetical Poem. Barre, Mass.: Printed by Thompson and Alden, [ca. 1835-1840]. Broadside with a large allegorical wood engraving attributed to Albert Alden. Paul M. Ingersoll, Class of 1950, Graphic Arts Acquisitions Fund. Graphic Arts Broadside Collection.


Picturing the different ages and/or stages of life has been a favorite subject of artists, from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century. The earliest broadsides were printed for a popular audience, to appeal to their fears about life and death; sin and salvation; and stimulate the belief in a moral life.

In 1540, the German painter Jörg Breu, the younger (ca. 1510-1547) published Ten Ages of Man, one of the first engravings showing the steps of life, with staircases leading both up and down, as man passes from the cradle to the grave. Abraham Bach repeated the motif in the seventeenth century, but added a woman on each step, with the more politically correct title, Ten Ages of Human Life.

Satirical print (The Ages of Man), 1630s. Published by Thomas Jenner (died 1673). Engraving. British Museum.

This seventeenth-century Ages of Man engraving closely resembles the nineteenth-century broadside held in Princeton’s graphic arts collection. It presents a man’s life in eleven steps, with three muses in the central arch below. Albert Alden’s broadside depicts life in eleven stages, but offers the more typical devil at the bottom center, tempting two men. One accepts and one rejects these temptations. In both prints, a clock is ticking, moving us ever closer to midnight.

The Pennsylvania printmaker Gustav S. Peters designed another version, with only slight variations, as did James Baillie, Nathaniel Currier, and the Kellogg Brothers. Dozens of other versions were published, purchased, and hung on bedroom walls throughout the nineteenth century.

James Baillie, The Life and Age of Man, Stages of Man’s Life, from the Cradle to the Grave, ca. 1848. Library of Congress.

For more information, see Thomas R. Cole, The Journey of Life: a Cultural History of Aging in America (Cambridge [England]; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992). Firestone Library (F) HQ1064.U5 C526 1992
Alan Wallach, “Voyage of Life as popular art,” Art Bulletin 59, no. 2 (June 1977)

More than 100,000 copies sold in the first few days

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George Cruikshank (1792-1878), The Bottle, 1847. Two issues of the imperial folio edition; eight glyphographs with tint (right) and with hand coloring (left). Both gifts of Richard Waln Meirs, Class of 1888. Graphic Arts GA Oversize Cruik 1847.6eq

In 1847, inspired by William Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress, George Cruikshank published a graphic narrative in eight plates showing one man’s descent into sin, poverty, and insanity, due to alcoholism. More than 100,000 copies of The Bottle were sold in the first few days. The book was exported to America and Australia, dramatized at eight London theaters simultaneously, and performed as a magic lantern show.

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George’s father, Isaac Cruikshank (1756-1811), was also a successful caricaturist until he died in a drinking contest. George was himself a heavy drinker until 1847, when he signed a vow of total abstinence. The Bottle was first published while he was still drinking.

The title page for an 1881 edition carries the following message: “Mr. George Cruikshank thinks it right to state that the first edition of this Bottle (the title of which ought to have been THE BLACK BOTTLE) was first published in 1847, double the size of this edition, and sold at One Shilling. And he wishes it to be further understood that these smaller plates are taken from the original Etchings, which he has in his own possession.”

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Broadsides from George Cruikshank’s scrapbook for The Bottle 1847-1848. Rare Books: Manuscripts Collection (MSS) C0256 (Series 10, volume no. 46)

“And Mr. George Cruikshank’s [objective] in producing this work of the Bottle was to assist, if possible, in putting a stop to the poverty, misery, wretchedness, insanity, and crime which are caused by strong drink. And this Bottle was published before G.C. became a Teetotaler; but upon mature reflection he came to the conclusion that nothing would ever stop these dreadful evils but Universal Total Abstinence from all intoxicating liquors; and thus having come to the belief that it was of no use preaching without setting an example, George Cruikshank in the same year, 1847, became a Total Abstainer.”

Cruikshank reproduced his drawings by glyphography, a quicker, cheaper way of making printing plates than carving wood blocks or etching plates with acid. Patented in 1842, the glyphographic plate was made by covering copper with a thick wax resist and drawing through the wax to expose parts of the metal. The plate was then electroplated creating a metal relief line, similar to the etched metal relief plates of William Blake but much less detailed or elegant. The relief plate can then be letterpress printed along with a caption or other text.

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Above: Tom Taylor (1817-1880), The Bottle. As first performed at the City of London Theatre, in 1847 (New York: DeWitt Publishing House, [1847?]). Theatre Collection (ThX) TC023 (Playbooks Collection) Box 155. Below:The London Journal and Weekly Record of Literature, Science, and Art, November 20, 1847

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The Freedman's Bureau


The Freedman’s Bureau! An Agency to Keep the Negro in Idleness at the Expense of the White Man. Twice Vetoed by the President, and Made a Law by Congress. Support Congress & You Support the Negro. Sustain the President & You Protect the White Man, 1866. Woodcut. Graphic Arts Broadsides Collection

Following the Civil War, the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission was established to suggest how to help newly emancipated slaves. Out of their report was born the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, also known as the Freedman’s Bureau. Under the leadership of Major General Oliver Howard (1830-1909), the agency issued food and clothing, operated hospitals and temporary camps, helped locate family members, and promoted education.

In December 1865, the radical republicans in Congress attempted to strengthen the agency with the Freedman’s Bureau Act, but President Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) vetoed it. This racist poster was one of many graphics used to attack the congressional republicans and other groups working for Black suffrage. Specifically, it promotes the election of Hiester Clymer (1827-1884), who was running for Governor of Pennsylvania on a white-supremacy platform.

Note in the back right, the U.S. Capitol has columns labeled, Candy, Rum, Gin, Whiskey, Sugar Plums, Indolence, White Women, Apathy, White Sugar, Idleness, Fish Balls, Clams, Stews, and Pies.

When I die, how can the cool grave hurt me?

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Geburts und Taufschein (Birth and Baptism Certificate for Tobias Grier) Allentown, Pennsylvania: H. Ebner und Comp., printed ca. 1824; written 1825. Broadside with hand coloring. Graphic Arts Broadside Collection.

From 1821 to 1829, Heinrich Ebner ran a printing firm in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which produced birth and baptismal certificates. This one matches two others found in the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Rare Book collection, with slightly different hand coloring. http://libwww.library.phila.gov/fraktur/detail.cfm?ItemID=frk01025.

Here is a rough translation of the central panel: To these two married people, namely Mister Sebastian Grier and his lawful wife Elisabeth Leister, was born a son into the world, the 2nd day of January in the year of our Lord, 1825. This son was born in Hilltown Township, Bucks County in [the] State [of] Pennsylvania in North America, and was baptized and received the name Tobias Grier on the 17th day of April in the year of our Lord 1825 from Mr. Pastor Rätter. The sponsors were Mister John Leister and his wife Maria.

Upper left: Scarcely born into the world, it is only a short measured pace from the first step to the cool grave in the earth. O with every moment! Our strength diminishes, and with every year we grow riper for the bier.

Upper right: And who knows in what hour the final voice will awaken us, because God has not revealed this to anybody yet. Who tends to his house will depart from the world with joy. Because surety, in contrast, can provoke eternal death.

Lower left: I am baptized, I stand united with my God through my baptism. I therefore always speak joyfully in hardship, sadness, fear and need. I am baptized, that’s a joy for me. The joy lasts eternally.

Lower right: I am baptized, and when I die, how can the cool grave hurt me? I know my fatherland and legacy that I will have with God in Heaven. After death, Heaven’s garment of joy and celebration is prepared for me.

Lower center: I am baptized in your name, God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I am counted as one of your seeds, to a people that you blessed. O! What fortune for me! Lord, let me be worthy of it!

For more information, see also: Klaus Stopp, The Printed Birth and Baptismal Certificates of the German Americans (East Berlin, Pa.: Russell D. Earnest Associates, 1997).

To see other examples: http://dspace.nitle.org/search?rpp=10&etal=0&query=geburts&page=3&order=DESC&sort_by=0

Chiyogami Papers

D. Sidney Berger, Chiyogami Papers (Newtown, Penn.: Bird & Bull Press, 2011). Copy 99 of 120. Composed in Ehrhardt types by Michael & Winifred Bixler & bound by Campbell-Logan bindery. The Japanese lettering is by master calligrapher Shozo Sato. Graphic Arts GAX 2011- in process


Chiyogami designs were originally developed in the Edo period as woodblock prints. The decorative papers were made into colorful paper dolls or pasted on tea tins or small paper boxes. In the twentieth century, these patterns began to be applied using silkscreens and this continues today.

As the preface notes, “Not much has been written in English about these lovely papers. Only one book, Ann Herring’s The World of Chiyogami, published in 1987, looks at the subject, but, while it has much information, it leaves out a great deal about chiyogami’s history, manufacture, papers, makers, pigments, woodblocks, stencils, uses, and patterns, among other things.”


Henry Morris founded Bird & Bull Press in 1958, where he has published numerous studies on paper marbling. This is his seventh and most beautiful. The volumes are especially useful because of the striking samples of hand-marbled papers tipped into each copy.

Sidney Berger is The Ann C. Pingree Director of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum and adjunct Professor at Simmons College and at the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana. He and his wife, Michele Cloonan, are the proprietors of the Doe Press, and they have a large collection of decorated papers.

Flavius Josephus, with a map of Paradise

Flavius Josephus (37-ca.100), The Whole Genuine and Complete Works of Flavius Josephus, the Learned and Authentic Jewish Historian and Celebrated Warrior (New-York: William Durell, 1792). (GAX) Oversize Hamilton 207f

Josephus was a first century Jewish historian. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Josephus’s second work, the Jewish Antiquities (Ioudaike Archaiologia), contains in twenty books the whole history of the Jews from the Creation to the outbreak of the revolt in A.D. 66. His writings were translated into English in 1609 by Thomas Lodge (1558?-1625) and published as: The Famous and Memorable Workes of Iosephus, a Man of Much Honour and Learning among the Iewes. (William H. Scheide Library (WHS) 24.5.12).


The front cover of this early American edition is stamped in gold letters with the name of Cornelius Brinckerhoff, who was one of the original subscribers. The book is impressively illustrated with sixty plates drawn by European artists Conrad Martin Metz (1749-1827), Thomas Stothard (1755-1834), and Richard Corbould (1757-1831), then engraved in wood by some of the leading American artists of the period, including Alexander Anderson (1775-1870), Cornelius Tiebout (1773-1832), Amos Doolittle (1754-1832), William Rollinson (1762-1842), J. Allen (active 18th century), Benjamin Tanner (1775-1848), and Elkanah Tisdale (1768-1835).


Above left: The Six Days Work of Creation. Above right: A Correct Map of the Countries surrounding the Garden of Eden or Paradise.


La défaite de Porus, engraved by Picart


Engraved by Bernard Picart (1673-1733) after a design by Pierre Gaubert (1659-1741), La défaite de Porus [Defeat of Porus by Alexander the Great at the Battle of the Hydaspes], ca. 1730. Engraving. Graphic Arts French prints


In 326 B.C.E., along the banks of the Hydaspes River, in what is present day Pakistan, there was a battle between King Porus of Paurava (4th century B.C.E.) and Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.E.). Alexander’s men faced an army that included 200 war elephants, which led the first charge. After a long and bloody battle, 3,000 cavalry and 20,000 infantry were killed, leaving Alexander and his men the victors. Impressed by the dignity of King Porus, Alexander is said to have made peace with him and given him the kingship of neighboring territory.


Picart created this scene at the same time that he was completing thousands of prints for the massive study Religious Ceremonies of the World (Ex Oversize 5017.247.11f). Professor Anthony Grafton wrote, “In 1723, the engraver Bernard Picart and the printer Jean Frederic Bernard revealed the varied religions of the world to European readers. In seven splendidly illustrated folio volumes that appeared from 1723 to 1737, Religious Ceremonies of the World offered—at least to anyone strong enough to lift one of the volumes and open it—a tableau of the world’s priests and believers, in action.” “A Jewel of a Thousand Facets,” New York Review of Books June 24, 2010.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art holds a similar, large format print of this battle, engraved by Picart but after a design by Charles le Brun (1619-1790). Unfortunately no image has been posted on their database.

See more:
Philip Freeman, Alexander the Great (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011). (Dixon) Firestone DF234 .F74 2011
Lynn Avery Hunt, The Book That Changed Europe: Picart & Bernard’s Religious Ceremonies of the World (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010). Firestone BL80.3 .H86 2010

Old, New, and Post Testament


In honor of the Quatercentenary of the King James Bible, we are posting a modern version created by the Chinese American artist Xu Bing. Just as his 1987-89 project A Book from the Sky was a reaction to the history of writing, calligraphy, and book culture in China, his Post Testament offers a similar response to one of the seminal text of the Western World, the King James bible.

Xu Bing created “three hundred specially printed and bound volumes that in appearance look like weighty tomes of literary significance. The content of the books, however, presents quite a different story: a strange, hybrid text which the artist created by combining the King James Version of the New Testament with that of a trashy contemporary novel, through alternating each word of the texts. As a result, the only way to read the complete text taken from either book is to skip every other word.”


Xu Bing, The Post Testament: Connoting Today’s Standard Version (Madison, WI.: Piblication Center for Culturally Handicapped, Inc., 1993). Artist’s proof copy. Edition: 300. Graphic Arts GAX 2011- in process

The artist’s statement continues, “…regardless of which narrative the reader is focused on, the visual presence of the other narrative cannot be avoided, creating a visual imprint on the reader’s mind. The hybrid text thus generates a new and abnormal reading pattern. At the same time and on another level of cognition, it creates a kind of third narrative that limns the border between avant-garde literature and visual art. Post Testament also allows readers to engage with highly loaded texts that are removed from their usual connotations.”

The Holy Bible, Conteyning the Old Testament and the New: Newly Translated Out of the Originall Tongues and With the Former Translations Diligently Compared … (Imprinted at London: R. Barker, 1611). RHT copy in contemporary paneled red goatskin. Robert H. Taylor Collection (RHT) Oversize 17th-706

For more information: Britta Erickson, The Art of Xu Bing: Words Without Meaning, Meaning Without Words (Washington, DC: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 2001). Marquand Library N7349.X8 E742 2001

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