Category Archives: Art

Notes from a Newly Discovered English Recipe Book

By Francesca Vanke

Sir Robert Paston (1631-1683) of Oxnead Hall in Norfolk was known in his own time for his loyal support of Charles II, his magnificent house and kunstkammer collection, his political activities, and for his chymical and alchemical pursuits. His family died out in the early eighteenth century with the premature deaths of his grandsons, and today the Pastons are remembered mostly for the famous letters of an earlier generation. However, some seventeenth century items survive: inventories, documents, artefacts and an enigmatic painting The Paston Treasure in Norwich Castle Museum, which depicts some of Robert’s and his father’s collection. (Figure 1). This is the subject of a current research project between Norwich Castle Museum and the Yale Center for British Art, culminating in a joint exhibition in 2018.

The Paston Treasure, anonymous, Dutch School, c1665, oil on canvas, Norfolk Museums Service
The Paston Treasure, anonymous, Dutch School, c1665, oil on canvas, Norfolk Museums Service

Recently further evidence of Robert Paston’s activities was discovered: his manuscript notebook, probably dating from late 1650s-1670s. This comprises some 250 culinary, medical, alchemical, cosmetic and artistic recipes, fascinating both for their variety, and for their varied cited sources. An FRS elected 1661, Paston’s associates included many of the noted scientists and intellectuals of his day, although his most frequent known correspondent and co-experimenter was Thomas Henshaw (1618-1700) with whom he worked for more than twenty years on the ‘red elixir’, a version of the Philosopher’s Stone.

Many of the medical recipes in Paston’s book were not uncommon and may be found in similar form in contemporary English publications such as An English Huswife or The Queen’s Closet Open’d. Others, such as his cure for The Falling Sickness (Figure 2) appear more unusual.

Robert Paston, Earl of Yarmouth, Recipe Book Containing Medical, Chemical and Household Recipes and Formulas. James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
Robert Paston, Earl of Yarmouth, Recipe Book Containing Medical, Chemical and Household Recipes and Formulas. James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

Remedies for falling sickness appear regularly in English recipe books. The most frequently cited ingredient in these is peony, a plant with ancient precedents for its curative properties. One of Paston’s recipes also cites peony tincture, but the other involves a distillation of chopped magpies ‘intrails, feathers and all’, an ingredient which does not seem to have a ready precedent in English recipe books.

To use live birds in recipes was not unknown. As Michelle DiMeo has commented previously on this blog  ‘oil of swallows’ as an unguent for joint pains appears in several sources in this period. However, research so far has uncovered the use of magpies or, seemingly interchangeably, swallows, for epilepsy, referred to as Aqua picarum epileptica and Aqua Epilepticae Hirundinum, in only two sources apart from Paston’s book.

There appears no obvious rationale for this use of black and white birds, although the similarities in colouring between swallows and magpies do raise the question whether the use of magpies, traditionally considered as magical birds in many cultures, may have arisen initially as a more readily available alternative to swallows, the elusive and migratory habits of the latter perhaps proving somewhat inconvenient. It may have been believed that the colouring was of more significance than the species, and that any black and white bird would be efficacious.

The use of birds to treat epilepsy seems unrelated to their use for aching joints, and the appearance of this recipe in an English book is intriguing. Both the sources uncovered so far are of French origin. The first is Pharmacopœia Galeno-chymica Catholica published in 1656 by Johan Daniel Horst (1616-1685) which, his sub-title states, is post Renodaeus et Quercetanus, namely, after Jean de Renou (1568 – 1620 ) and Joseph du Chesne (c.1544-1609). In 1676, Thomas Sherley’s Medicinal Councels or Advices, a translation from Theodore de Mayerne’s (1573 – 1655) French original, lists a similar recipe, the source of which he cites as Guillaume Rondelet(1507 – 1566) (pg 140).

Robert Paston’s scientific associates included many with European connections such as Samuel Hartlib (ca. 1600 – 1662), Frederick Clodius (1625 – 1661) and Sir Kenelm Digby (1603 – 1665), whose close links with French alchemists during his long stays in Paris have recently been explored by Lawrence Principe, in “Sir Kenelm Digby and His Alchemical Circle in 1650s Paris: Newly Discovered Manuscripts.Ambix 60 (2013): 3-24. Paston, who was involved in alchemical pursuits from a young age, also met Theodore de Mayerne, and owned a manuscript, Sloane MS 2222, which once belonged to the famous physician, although the extent and nature of their association is not known.

Jean de Renou, Joseph du Chesne and Guillaume Rondelet were closely connected with Mayerne. As Principe has pointed out, (op cit) Digby associated with du Chesne when in Paris. Robert Paston’s citing of this unusual epilepsy recipe therefore maybe further evidence of his continental contacts and influences, either via Digby, or Mayerne himself.

Research into Robert Paston as an alchemist and chymist is new, but on-going, and his connections with Mayerne and others are only beginning to be considered. This falling sickness recipe suggests that further research in this direction would be fruitful. Promising new material is emerging, and the Norwich/Yale research partnership has provided an unprecedented opportunity for an in-depth focus on this little-known English alchemist. Even preliminary research into Paston and his work has positioned him squarely within the fascinating and important group of scientists operating during this most influential mid seventeenth century period.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Francesca Vanke FSA is Keeper of Art and Curator of Decorative Art at Norwich Castle. She gained her BA in classics from Oxford, and an MA in art conservation and PhD in history from Camberwell College of Art. Her academic speciality is collecting history, but she researches a wide range of related subjects. Her studies have recently included seventeenth century material culture, alchemy and recipes for the research and exhibition project she is working on, together with the Yale Center for British Art and a group of other curators and scholars.

Introducing ARTECHNE – Technique in the Arts, 1500-1950

By Sven Dupré and Marieke Hendriksen

Gerard Dou, Man Writing by an Easel. c. 1631-32. 31.5 x 25 cm, oil on panel. Private collection
Gerard Dou, Man Writing by an Easel. c. 1631-32. 31.5 x 25 cm, oil on panel. Private collection

What is ‘technique’ in the visual and decorative arts? And how is ‘technique’ transmitted? Those are the central questions of ARTECHNE, a five-year project supported by the European Research Council, and led by Sven Dupré, that started at Utrecht University and the University of Amsterdam in September 2015. ARTECHNE is the acronym of the project. Its full title is “Technique in the Arts: Concepts, Practices, Expertise, 1500-1950”.

To answer these questions an interdisciplinary team of researchers with backgrounds in history of art, science and technology, based at the Descartes Center for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities in Utrecht umanitiesworks together with conservators and conservation scientists at the Atelier Building / NICAS in Amsterdam.

One aim of the ARTECHNE Project is to write the history of the conservation studios or laboratories and the research uniting conservation, art history and science in the Atelier Building. This field of research (or is it a nascent discipline?) is now often called technical art history.

‘Technique’ is a fundamental concept in technical art history, but its meaning has evolved over time. By providing a history of technique in the arts, the ARTECHNE project will help to reflect on both historical and current knowledge practices in technical art history, conservation and restoration. For example, one of the four sub-projects focuses on the ways in which new visualization technologies and science-based methods (such as X-rays, black-and-white photography and chemical analysis of paint cross sections) shaped art history and conservation practice in the first half of the twentieth century.

Daniel V. Thompson's 1954 translation of Cennino Cennini's Libro dell'Arte.
Daniel V. Thompson’s 1954 translation of Cennino Cennini’s Libro dell’Arte.

The ARTECHNE Project starts from the observation that the transmission of ‘technique’ in the arts has been a conspicuous ‘black box’ resisting analysis. The tools of the humanities used to study the transmission of ideas and concepts are insufficient when it comes to understanding the transmission of something as non-propositional and non-verbal as ‘technique’.

Therefore, one sub-project, in which PhD candidate Thijs Hagendijk works closely together with conservation and restoration specialists at the Atelier Building, undertakes the experimental reconstruction of historical recipes to open the black box of the transmission of technique in the visual and decorative arts. The aim of these reconstructions is understanding the textual culture of the early modern workshop and the role of recipes in practices. Did early modern people learn from texts to do things? And if so, in which ways did they use recipes? We primarily look at artisans, but this was a hybrid identity at the time.

The historical sources of the ARTECHNE project are foremost recipes, or how-to instructions. We should also reflect on why and how these sources have come down to us. Jenny Boulboullé in her sub-project investigates the creation of editions and translations of premodern and early modern texts, such as the editions and translations of Cennino Cennini by Mary Merrifield and Daniel Thompson, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While such editions are still used by conservators and restorers today, one point of attention in ARTECHNE is the role of conservation and restoration projects, painting practice and reconstructions in these editorial projects.

Finally, in response to one of the main questions driving the ARTECHNE Project, Marieke Hendriksen writes a history of the shifting meanings of the term ‘technique’ in the arts and sciences. To support her research and that of the other project members, building on ColourConText hosted at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, she will create a database containing recipes as well as art theoretical texts that can clarify the development of the use of the term ‘technique’ – a neologism in the vernacular in the mid-eighteenth century – as well as related terms referring to processes of making and doing. The database (which will be hosted at the ARTECHNE website) will be linked to GIS software, thus creating an online historical semantic map of ‘technique’.

Marieke Hendriksen and Thijs Hagendijk have taken up their posts in the first months of 2016. We look forward to the arrival of Mariana Pinto (from the conservation and materials science program at UCL Qatar) and Jenny Boulboullé (from the Making and Knowing Project at Columbia University)  over the summer, and to earnestly start with the reconstructions in the fall. Tonny Beentjes, leader of the metal conservation program at the University of Amsterdam, and Maartje Stols-Witlox, lecturer of paintings conservation, have joined the ARTECHNE Project. We are still looking to appoint a glass expert. ARTECHNE is supported by program manager Jill Briggeman, who also maintains the website.

This website, www.artechne.nl, is now online. Over the next few months, we will add more information about the project in blogs, and we list events, like the monthly Technical Art History Colloquium. Sign up for updates on the website and follow us on Twitter! (@ArtechneProject)

The ERC ARTECHNE project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 648718) and is a cooperation of Utrecht University and University of Amsterdam.

Picturing Seething Meat in the New World

By Cynthia D. Bertelsen

Early English settlers in the New World possessed very specific ideas about food, its effect on their bodies, and the social factors influencing who ate what and when and how and why. Once they arrived in the New World, they faced very real challenges, not just because of the lack of food–although that obviously played a major role at times. But these beliefs followed them. As Trudy Eden puts it in The Early American Table, they saw the new foods as “savage” and  “feared a regular diet of native foods could very possibly transform them into a lower class of human beings” (4).

The debate over the origins of American food has taken some strange swerves over the centuries. The influence of Native Americans and African slaves on early American cooking remains somewhat nebulous. And yet the foods of the New World “first peoples” did make inroads on the English kitchen.

Some of the reasons for this confusion over the impact of Native American foodways lie in the

  1. lack of written information by Native Americans;
  2. inability of archaeological information to convey how food was cooked, particularly the exact ingredients and how they were put together;
  3. records left by early European explorers, who interpreted Native American foodways through their sixteenth- and seventeenth-century worldviews.

Early chroniclers possessed an ulterior motive: commerce. Through their writings, they hoped to entice investors and colonists to the New World. For that reason, it is important to take all the verbiage with the proverbial grain of salt. And the artwork as well.

One of those early explorers and chroniclers was Englishman Thomas Hariot (1560-1621), who spent the year 1585-1586 in Virginia. He arrived in the New World via one of Sir Walter Raleigh’s ships, the Tiger, under the leadership of Sir Richard Grenville. The colonization attempts failed, but Hariot–and artist John White (1549-1593)–returned to England with timeless and invaluable material from their explorations of Roanoake Island in North Carolina.

Image Credit: British Library.
Image Credit: British Library.

Hariot could well be dubbed the first Anglo-American ethnographer. Prior to his trip, Hariot learned some rudimentary Algonquian language from two Virginia Algonquian men (Manteo and Wanchese) who had been brought to England by Raleigh in 1584. Hariot recorded his observations of the New World, while White created detailed watercolors of their surroundings and Alongonquian activities such as cooking. Together, they left a valuable record of the culture and eating habits of the Ossomocomuck (Algonquians): A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia, which first appeared in Latin in 1588. This was the first account of the New World written by an English author. Only eight of the original copies now exist, but the material is available in digitized form as well.

In 1590, at the urging of Richard Hakluyt the younger, Theodore de Bry (a Liège engraver) printed a third edition of Hariot’s 48-page work. Hariot added headnotes to De Bry’s engravings of 1590, with engravings based on White’s original drawings.

John White, "The Seething of Their Meate in Poots of earth". Courtesy of the British Museum.
John White, “The Seething of Their Meate in Poots of earth”. Courtesy of the British Museum.

Hariot added headnotes to De Bry’s engravings in the 1590 edition. John White’s original drawing of cooking in a pot became quite something else under the engraving pen of one of De Bry’s workshop artists, Gijsbert van Veen.

G. Veen, "Their seetheynge of their meate in earthen pottes". Image Credit: British Library.
G. Veen, “Their seetheynge of their meate in earthen pottes”. Image Credit: British Museum.

That De Bry himself elaborated on most of White’s other illustrations as well, suggests the care needed in interpreting these drawings and engravings…

My next post on Thursday will consider the book’s descriptions of Algonquian cooking.

 

Making ‘powder for hourglasses’ in the early modern household

By Stephanie Pope

There are numerous fascinating recipes in BnF Ms. Fr. 640, the sixteenth-century French metallurgist’s manual which forms the basis of Pamela Smith’s Making and Knowing Project–but, for me, the most fascinating of all is the one to make ‘powder for hourglasses’:

It must be made very fine and not subject to rust and with enough weight to flow. Taking i lb. of lead, melt it and skim and purify it from its filth, then pour into it four ℥ of finely ground common salt, and take care that there are no stones or earth. And immediately after pouring it, stir continuously very well with an iron [tool] until the lead and salt are quite incorporated, and take it immediately off the fire, stirring continuously. And if it seems too coarse, grind it on a marble slab and pass it through a fine sieve then wash it as many as times as necessary until the water runs clear, throwing out the fine powder that will float on it, renewing the water as many times as necessary until it is completely cleared.

What was this recipe doing in the working manuscript of a sixteenth-century French practitioner? This recipe, however, provides valuable insight into the flexibility of ingredients in early modern recipes and the experimental nature of the domestic setting in this period.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, The Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1338), Palazzo Pubblico, Siena. Image credit: author’s own.
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, The Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1338), Palazzo Pubblico, Siena. Image credit: author’s own.

The origin of the hourglass is unclear. Although the device has its precedent in the ancient Egyptian water clock known as the clepsydra, the hourglass seems to be a medieval invention. The earliest reference to its existence is iconographical and symbolic. It appears in a series of frescoes dating to 1338 in the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, entitled The Allegory of Good and Bad Government, and is held by the female figure of Temperance, one of the six virtues of good government.

Although there is some confusion over the earliest functions of the hourglass, it seems that at some point the production of hourglass sand became part of a repertoire of standard household recipes. This is suggested by a recipe in Le Menagier de Paris (‘The Goodman of Paris’), written c. 1393 by a wealthy Parisian burgher for the instruction of his wife in various marital matters. The miscellaneous section, ‘Other small things that be needful’, includes–along with recipes for various preserves and rosewater–a recipe:

TO MAKE SAND FOR HOURGLASSES. Take the grease which comes from the sawdust of marble when those great tombs of black marble be sawn, then boil it well in wine like a piece of meat and skim it, and then set it to dry in the sun; and boil, skim and dry nine times; and thus it will be good.

Although the ingredients in this recipe differ from those in Ms. Fr. 640, the processes and their ends seem comparable to our recipe (e.g. heating and skimming are both required).

Attempting to determine why the production of hourglass sand became a sort-of domestic chore is difficult. Perhaps its presence among household recipes was partly due to the ready availability of the necessary ingredients. Variant seventeenth-century recipes state that pulverised eggshells can also be used to make sand of this sort, which would certainly have been easily accessible, and an efficient use of domestic waste. More than this, though, the various recipes for hourglass sand–lead and salt, eggshells, “grease” from marble–suggest that it could be produced from any materials that the experimenter had on hand.

So, lead and salt may be the principal ingredients of our author-practitioner’s recipe because these two substances would have been in ample supply in his workshop. While the marble grease that features in the Menagier de Paris’s recipe seems a little more exotic than lead or eggshells, we should bear in mind that great marble tombs were being constructed in Paris in the fourteenth century; this particular material probably played a more significant role in quotidian life than we might initially guess.

The notion that hourglass sand might be produced by any scraps of material readily available might also explain the spike in popularity experienced by the hourglass in the fifteenth- and sixteenth centuries: if the ingredients for hourglass sand could simply be anything readily available, hourglass sand could (and would) be produced frequently. Increased hourglass production would cause people to find more uses for it in their daily lives, and demand for its production would consequentially increase.

At any rate, the hourglass gained prominence in daily life during the fifteenth- and sixteenth centuries, and was used to measure intervals such as the length of sermons, cooking time, and breaks from labour. It was also employed in specialist domains: the hourglass marked the length of lectures for the students at Oxford University, helped medical practitioners to measure pulses, and regulated working hours in craftsmen’s shops. The last might be why our author-practitioner was interested in their production: he could have needed one as part of his working environment.

Even as domestic hourglass sand production spread across early modern Europe, the product was notoriously inaccurate. Can this tell us anything about the conception of time in early modern Europe? Well, the lack of time standardisation across areas of the same country in sixteenth-century Europe meant that time was much more heterogeneous than now. This non-universal understanding of time is reflected more widely in MS. Fr. 640 by the use of anthropocentric forms of temporal and spatial measurement.

For instance, the author-practitioner often measured objects in terms of handspan, an individually-variable form of measurement. Even more intriguingly, he also referred twice to the recitation of the paternoster as a measurement of time duration. In the recipe for ‘Something excellent against burns’, the author stated that an oil-wax must be stirred for ‘the time you need to recite 9 pater nosters’. The presence of a prayer as a form of time measurement provides a link between theology and horology. It also suggests that time was not a universal standard for our author-practitioner, but was something local to individuals and their measuring practices.

The domestication of hourglass sand production, then, is a neat illustration of how material culture can often shed new light on contemporaneous intellectual, ideological, artistic, and literary concerns.