Thursday, September 8, 2016

Renaissance Magazine Newsletter #5

London Bridge Renaissance Faire


Raphael’s “Portrait of a Lady With a Unicorn” in San Francisco

The exhibition “Sublime Beauty,” which opened to the public Saturday, Jan. 9, at the Legion of Honor, comprises a single painting, grandly presented in its own ample room. Seen through a doorway at the end of a procession of museum galleries, barely more than 2 feet in height, “Portrait of a Lady With a Unicorn” (ca. 1505-06) commands attention from 100 yards off. It glows as if lighted from within: a golden-haired pyramid of sensuality, anchored on pillowed sleeves of ruby, cast in a clear, nearly shadowless light and set against a glowing horizon of blue….

She is lovely, certainly, but the perfection of her skin and the classic balance of her features heighten the soundless, surreal moment: It is the tiny animal in her arms that has seen more, and that knowledge shows in its expressive face. The unnatural slope of her shoulders, a fiction often maintained by Renaissance artists, softens her steely posture, just as the unicorn’s feline paws — not hooves — confirm that it is capable of being tamed....

Getting under the skin of a medieval mystery

A simple PVC eraser has helped an international team of scientists led by bioarchaeologists at the University of York to resolve the mystery surrounding the tissue-thin parchment used by medieval scribes to produce the first pocket Bibles.

Thousands of the Bibles were made in the 13th century, principally in France but also in England, Italy and Spain. But the origin of the parchment -- often called 'uterine vellum' -- has been a source of longstanding controversy.

Use of the Latin term abortivum in many sources has led some scholars to suggest that the skin of fetal calves was used to produce the vellum. Others have discounted that theory, arguing that it would not have been possible to sustain livestock herds if so much vellum was produced from fetal skins. Older scholarship even argued that unexpected alternatives such as rabbit or squirrel may have been used, while some medieval sources suggest that hides must have been split by hand through use of a lost technology.

A multi-disciplinary team of researchers developed a simple and objective technique using standard conservation treatments to identify the animal origin of parchment They analyzed 72 pocket Bibles originating in France, England and Italy, and 293 further parchment samples from the 13th century. The parchment samples ranged in thickness from 0.03 - 0.28mm.

Dr Fiddyment said: "We found no evidence for the use of unexpected animals; however, we did identify the use of more than one mammal species in a single manuscript, consistent with the local availability of hides.

"Our results suggest that ultrafine vellum does not necessarily derive from the use of abortive or newborn animals with ultra-thin skin, but could equally reflect a production process that allowed the skins of maturing animals of several species to be rendered into vellum of equal quality and fineness."

Alexander Devine, of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said: "The bibles produced on a vast scale throughout the 13th century established the contents and appearance of the Christian Bible familiar to us today. Their importance and influence stem directly from their format as portable one-volume books, made possible by the innovative combination of strategies of miniaturization and compression achieved through the use of extremely thin parchment. The discoveries of this innovative research therefore enhance our understanding of how these bibles were produced enormously, and by extension, illuminate our knowledge of one of the most significant text technologies in the histories of the Bible and of Western Christianity."

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