Quivers and Quarrels, the SCA archery E-newsletter, is looking for a new Chronicler/editor. The current Chronicler will be leaving due to mundane job requirements.
Viscountess Elashava bas Riva reports that she has created an album of photos and several videos from the recent Spring 2014 Coronation in the Kingdom of Northshield. The photos are available on Flickr, and the videos are on YouTube.
Wendy Martin-Glick, known in the SCA as Lady Maggie MacKeith, discovered the Society in 1987 and has been hooked ever since. The Seneschale of the Shire of the Shadowed Stars in Fort Wayne, Indiana recently spoke with Lynn Altevogt of the Journal Gazette.
A previously unknown portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (1701–1773), an aristocrat from what is today Senegal who was sold into slavery in 1730 but made his way back home through a series of fortunate events, has been acquired by Virginia’s Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. Along with its companion piece by the same artist, this is the earliest known portrait of a slave from the 13 colonies and the first Western portrait of a named African sitter. Its ultimate destination is the future American Revolution Museum at Yorktown which is slated to open in 2016, but it will be on display at the Yorktown Victory Center from June 14th through August 3rd.
Ayube Diallo, also known as Job ben Solomon in England, was the scion of a wealthy family of Muslim clerics and rulers in the West African Kingdom of Futa. While on a mission to the Gambia River to barter two slaves in exchange for supplies, Diallo was kidnapped and sold into slavery himself. He told the British slavers who bought him from his Mandingo kidnappers that his family would ransom him, but when the message didn’t get to his family in time, William and Henry Hunt loaded him into the ship and sold him to a dealer in Annapolis, Maryland.
He wound up the property of one Mr. Tolsey, a tobacco farmer on Kent Island, Maryland, who first attempted to put Diallo to work in the fields. He couldn’t hack it. This was back-breaking labor, and Diallo was a soft scholar. He was assigned to tending cattle instead, which he was a little better at. After being mocked by children for his prayers, in June of 1731 Diallo ran away. He was soon captured and put in prison in the Kent County Courthouse. There he met a British lawyer named Thomas Bluett whose curiosity was piqued by Diallo’s fine carriage and composure.
Bluett enlisted a translator and found out Diallo came from a wealthy family of important people. Tolsey, keen to derive some kind of profit from this liability of a slave, allowed Diallo to write a letter back home and then gladly allowed an official from the Royal African Company in London to buy his freedom. Diallo and Bluett sailed to London in March of 1733 where the cleric, nobleman and former slave made a social splash. He was commissioned by the future founder of the British Museum, Sir Hans Sloane, to translate Arabic manuscripts in his library. He was introduced at Court by the Duke of Montagu. And he had his portrait painted by William Hoare.
Bluett describes the painting of the portrait in Some Memoirs of the Life of Job, one of the earliest slave narratives (albeit not written in first person):
JOB’s Aversion to Pictures of all Sorts, was exceeding great; insomuch, that it was with great Difficulty that he could be brought to sit for his own. We assured him that we never worshipped any Picture, and that we wanted his for no other End but to keep us in mind of him. He at last consented to have it drawn; which was done by Mr. Hoare. When the Face was finished, Mr. Hoare ask’d what Dress would be most proper to draw him in; and, upon JOB’s desiring to be drawn in his own Country Dress, told him he could not draw it, unless he had seen it, or had it described to him by one who had: Upon which JOB answered, If you can’t draw a Dress you never saw, why do some of you Painters presume to draw God, whom no one ever saw?
Hoare figured it out in the end, painting Diallo in a white robe and turban, wearing verses from the Qur’an in a pouch around his neck. The use of national dress makes this portrait unique. Other prominent named Africans would be painted after Diallo, but they were depicted wearing English dress and wigs.
Hoare painted two versions of this portrait, although for centuries only one was known and it was long thought lost. The only evidence of it was a 1750 print. It turns out to have been in the same family since 1840 and was rediscovered in December 2009 when the owners put it up for auction at Christie’s in London. The Qatar Museums Authority purchased it for £554,937.50 ($932,517). The Culture Minister put a temporary export block on the painting to give the National Portrait Gallery a chance to raise the money by the end of August 2010. They came within £60,000 of the goal on August 12th, 2010. I was unable to discover if they actually managed to raise the full amount on time, but either way, the NPG made the QMA a purchase offer which it refused. The QMA did withdraw its export application, however, and eventually negotiated a long-term loan with the National Portrait Gallery.
The publicity from the NPG’s fundraising campaign brought attention to the portrait, inspiring the owners of the second version to engage in private sale negotiations with the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.
The Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Inc., purchased the oil-on-canvas painting with funds raised privately, including a lead gift from Foundation trustee Fred D. Thompson, Jr., of Thompson Hospitality, the country’s largest minority-owned food service company. “This portrait is a powerful symbol of the diversity of colonial America’s population, which included people from many different African cultures,” says Thompson. “Diallo – his image and story – is an ideal teaching opportunity for the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown galleries.”
“For approximately three years now, the Foundation has been in confidential negotiations to acquire this important portrait,” says Thomas E. Davidson, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation senior curator. “Diallo’s visage speaks for the hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans and African Americans who remain largely unknown, yet who constituted a major part of late-colonial America’s population.”
The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded Family Names of the United Kingdom Project has completed its first phase with 45,000 surnames, from the 11th to 19th centuries, researched and explained.
Caelin on Andrede reports that he has created an album of photos from Steppes Warlord 2014 which took place recently in the Kingdom of Ansteorra. The photos are available to view on Flickr.
After years of negotiations, the City of Gothenburg in southwestern Sweden has agreed to return its collection of 89 textiles from the Paracas peninsula to Peru. The 2,000-year-old textiles are in extremely fragile condition, so they will be repatriated in phases. The first four pieces arrive in Peru next week and will be unveiled on June 18th. The rest will be transported over the course of seven years until the whole collection is returned by 2021.
These extraordinary embroidered textiles first came to archaeologists’ attention in the early 20th century when they began to appear in private collections. Their intensity of color, size, design and composition were unique, unlike any textiles from known Peruvian cultures. Realizing that the textiles had to have been looted from an unknown site, Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello hired professional looter Juan Quintana to guide him to the find spot in 1925. He led Tello to Paracas, a desert peninsula on the southern coast of Peru, where Tello’s team excavated the remains of a civilization that flourished from around 700 B.C. to the second century A.D. when it became assimilated into the Nazca culture.
The people of the Paracas culture were able fishermen, farmers and craftspeople. They made obsidian tools, ceramics, hammered gold jewelry, basketry and most gloriously of all, complex and beautiful textiles. Made from the wool of camelids (llamas, alpacas and vicuñas) and cotton, the textiles were colored in more than 200 different bright shades using natural dyes. Every fabric was embroidered by hand with cactus thorn needles, and when you consider that textiles have been found that are 34 meters (112 feet) long, you can imagine what an incredibly labor-intensive process it was. Archaeologists believe it took years to produce a single such masterpiece.
Creating such intricate and large textiles was a collaborative effort, the work of many people working at once. The textiles had important religious significance and indicated a person’s status in the community. The most exceptional examples were discovered by Tello on October 1st, 1927, when he encountered a vast funerary complex he named the Wari Kayan necropolis. There 429 people were found buried wrapped in layer after layer of textiles. The dead were adorned in their most prized possessions — jewelry, clothes, headbands — and seated in fetal position in a basket. Grave goods, food and sacrificial objects were added, and then the entire basket was wrapped in layers of fine embroidered textiles with a rough cotton cloth on the outermost layer. That’s why the large textiles were needed, because by the time they got to the outer layers, the bundles got big, as much as five feet high and seven feet wide.
When Tello unearthed these marvels, they had been kept in pristine condition by the arid desert climate and the lack of oxygen and light in the underground burials. As soon as they were excavated, the textiles started to degrade. All the Paracas finds were sent to museums in Lima for study and conservation. In 1930, the dictatorship of Augusto B. Leguía was overthrown in a military coup led by Lieutenant Colonel Luis Miguel Sánchez Cerro. The subsequent social and political upheaval and war with Colombia left the Paracas textiles vulnerable to depredation. Looting and smuggling increased dramatically.
It was during this chaos that 89 Paracas textiles found their way to Sweden. They were smuggled out of Peru in the early 1930s by Sven Karell, then the Swedish Consul General in Peru, who acquired them on the black market and shipped them back home into the appreciative arms of the Ethnographic Department of Gothenburg Museum. They went on display in November of 1932, but they were exposed to UV light, varying levels of heat and moisture, and repeated handling, all of which contributed to their decay.
In 1939 the museum was renovated. To prepare for their new exhibition, the Paracas textiles were sewn onto linen or dyed cotton and framed in glass. In 1963 the textiles were mounted vertically onto panels that could be pulled out. This turned out to be a disaster, as the vibrations from the pulling out damaged the increasingly delicate pieces. Finally in 1970 the textiles were taken out of public view. The museum moved to a new building in 1992, by which time the textiles had been installed in custom-built display cases. Then the Paracas collection moved again in 2001, this time to the Museum of World Culture. Because the fibers were in such poor condition, the textiles were moved on air suspended truck.
They remained out of view until 2008, when after careful analysis the textiles which were found to be able to withstand movement were put on display. They were laid out horizontally and transported the short distance from the archives to the Museum of World Culture in vibration-free cases. A crane lifted them into the gallery through a window. The exhibition ran for three years. When the textiles returned to the museum archives, there was more fiber damage even with nothing but the utmost of caution employed in their transportation and display.
It was that 2008 exhibition that spurred the repatriation talks. Not only did the museum not deny that the textiles had been smuggled by the Consul General, the exhibition was entitled A Stolen World and detailed the whole saga without flinching. It’s quite remarkable, really. I’ve never seen a museum so directly confront its complicity in the traffic in looted antiquities. Peruse the museum’s dedicated Paracas website to see how they handle the issue and to view some exquisite photographs of the collection.
In December of 2009, Peru contacted the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs formally requesting the return of the purloined Paracas textiles. Since the museum had just opened an exhibition whose catalog included copies of the letters between Karell and the Gothenburg Museum officials overtly plotting the receipt of stolen goods, there was none of the usual nonsense about “good faith” and “anonymous Swiss collections.” Peru’s legal right was undisputed. The main question was whether the textiles could stand transportation across the globe when they could barely stand to be transported a mile or so from storage to the display galleries.
Now those issues have been dealt with as responsibly as possible, and the first four Paracas textiles are on their way home. One of them is a particularly exceptional example, a cloak about 104 by 53 centimeters made of squares with 32 different figures of animals, humans, plants and tools. Paracas textiles usually employ single motifs repeated over and over, so this tiled design is unique. Archaeologists believe it represents the movement of time, like a gorgeously embroidered Advent calendar. According to the felicitously named Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, Peru’s Vice Minister of Cultural Patrimony, the Paracas calendar textile is “the most important textile from Peru and one of the most important in the world.”
At Their recent Rowany Festival XXXII, Their Majesties of the Kingdom of Lochac, Alfar and Angharat, offered elevation to the Peerage to four of Their subjects.
Sign-ups are now open for Duke Paul's individual or small group instruction sessions at Pennsic 2014. opics of instruction are the choice of the student.
It was a mostly beautiful day upon which Their Imperial Majesties, Brennan Augustus and Caoilfhionn Augusta, visited their Barony of Bergental on 31 May 2014, AS XLIX for the competition to choose their Champions of Archery.
There was some fine shooting, nearly eighty archers took the field, including Their Majesties and Their Highnesses. In the end, sixteen stood to compete for the victory, and to be named Queen’s Champion.
The finals came down to Rupert the Unbalanced, and Urho of the Pines. Following a dramatic shoot-off, Rupert emerged the victor, and would be named Queen’s Archery Champion for the 5th time.
At the beginning of court Krakken Gnashbone relinquished his place to Rupert, who was presented the regalia of the Queen’s Archery Champion, and a scroll by Charis Accipiter.
Colin Ursell was thanked for his service, and relieved of his duties as King’s Archery Champion. His Majesty chose Peter the Red, who had displayed incredible prowess to reach the semi-finals, to serve as His champion. Peter received the regalia of the King’s Archery Champion, and a scroll by Charis Accipiter.
The skies began to open, and though a light rain started to come down, court continued onwards.
Godric of Hampton was called into court. There, he presented to Alexander von Heisler the medallion of a Master Bowman. Alexander has achieved a royal-round average greater than 80 points to earn that honor.
Jehannine de Flandres was called to attend the court. She had in her possession old IKAC (Inter-Kingdom Archery Competition) medallions from many years ago. Since all of the recipients were present, she passed them the earned awards for this.
Next was Duchess Avelina called before the court. There, she presented to a recipient of Her Queen’s honor of distinction, Alberic, a token for his work with the state dinner.
The rains abated, much to the delight of those in attendance.
Their Majesties invited before them Mirabet de Gumy. She was named a Lady of the Court, and presented an AoA scroll with calligraphy and illumination by Wulfgar Silverbraid, words by Theodora Bryennissa called Treannah.
Her Majesty addressed Her Highness, and invited her into court. She offered her a stuffed blue tyger, as congratulations on her becoming Princess of the East. However, this was a pretense to get Þóra Eiríksdóttir into court, so that the companions of Order of the Silver Crescent may be called forth. She was inducted into said order, presented a medallion as well as a scroll by Nest verch Tangwistel.
Her Majesty next invited the children who had participated in Her service initiative into court. They were presented with beads and cheered. Then were the rest of the children present called before the court, as was Her guard Llewellyn Walsh. Llewelyn took the toy box, and ran into the field, where he served as human piñata for the children to get toys from.
Duke Kenric æt Essex was called before the court. His Majesty did expound upon the many, many, many things Kenric does, and lamented that he leaves nothing for anyone else to do! However, such was his work that it did not go unrecognized, and this day was his rapier prowess in particular noted. The recipients of the Order of the Silver Rapier were called forth. Kenric was inducted to the order, and received a medallion and a scroll by Elisenda de Luna.
Their Majesties called before their court Elisabeth Playledere. She was named a Lady of the Court, and presented with an AoA scroll with calligraphy by þóra Eiríksdóttir, and illumination by Emma Makilmone.
His Majesty addressed Her Excellency Bergantal. He could not help by admire the fine illumination work on the scroll just presented. He invited Emma Makilmone before the court. Noting her contributions to the Arts and Sciences, the companions of the Order of the Maunche were called forth. Emma Makilmone was inducted into the order, and received a medallion, as well as a scroll by Eloise of Coulter.
It was the conclusion of a fine day, and thus closed the court of Their Imperial Majesties, Brennan Augustus and Caoilfhionn Augusta was closed. Long may they reign over the Empire of the East!
Filed under: Court Tagged: archery, champions, court report
Just a short note today to announce that when I wasn’t looking, The History Blog passed 5,000,000 total pageviews since I installed the counter in September 2009. I posted about crossing the threshold of the first million in September of 2011, so stat-wise we’re moving along at a vigorous pace despite certain setbacks. This time I missed the moment the odometer flipped by more than 100,000, but I figured it’s still worth taking a moment to plant the 5 million flag.
Thank you all so much for your eyeballs and your comments and your hot tips and your kind words and for sharing my nerdy enthusiasms.
Sir Jon FitzRauf, co-editor of Quivers and Quarrels, reports that material is needed for the summer edition of the SCA wide archery E-newsletter.
Tomorrow, June 7th, a sewing Solarium will be held in the Barony of Settmour Swamp.
The great Pennsic War looms! Is there a seamstress or tailor among us who does not struggle with clothing self and household? Or wrestle with fitting problems, piles of mending, and banners with too darn many laurel leaves? Do you long to hear minstrels strumming and bards singing for your pleasure while you stitch and chat? Come join us in the solar for an afternoon of good company, good food, and good advice for your tailoring issues.
In addition to the solarium, or open area where all may work while being entertained by musicians, bards, and storytellers, there will be two smaller classrooms where we will offer more specific project assistance. We will have teachers on hand to help folks sort out problems with their sewing projects, as well as tables for seamsters to set up sewing machines and an iron, if needed. And, there will be an Athena’s Thimble panel for those working on embroidered pretties.
Do you have fabric, trim, or old clothes taking up space? Bring it to swap or sell! (No other merchanting permitted, sorry.)
Musicians and bards who are interested in performing, please contact the Autocrat, Baroness Elizabeth Talbot, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We ask all attendees to bring an item of any size or type for the potluck. Contact Lady Vika at email@example.com to coordinate. Alas for our spirits (but good for our handwork) the site is Completely Dry.
We will not take pre-registration for the event, but we’d appreciate an RSVP (to firstname.lastname@example.org or the “Day in the Solar” FB group) so we can plan resources accordingly. The fee is $12.00, and will include soup, bread & fruit, & a wonderful site token.
Schedule of the day:
11am: Site opens
11am-5pm: Main Hall, Solar — open sewing and entertainment
12pm-3pm: Main Hall, Potluck dayboard served
1pm: Classroom 1, “How to fit a bodice”, Mistress Caterina Gioacchini (volunteer from the audience needed: please email autocrat)
Classroom 2, “Simple embroidery stitches to embellish basic garb”, Lady Elizabet Marshall
2pm: Classroom 1, “Get help fitting problem pieces”, Mistress Elizabeth Talbot and Mistress Caterina Gioacchini
Classroom 2, Athena’s Thimble Panel
3pm: Cutting out period garment shapes: Main hall, T-tunic/early gown, Mistress Elizabeth Talbot
Classroom 1, Italian Gamurra, Mistress Kamilla van Anderlecht
Classroom 2, Gothic Fitted Dress, Mistress Caterina Gioacchini and Lady Vika Grigina zPrahy
5-6 pm: Site Cleanup, all are welcome!
Filed under: Events
Duke Cariadoc of the Bow has issued his annual invitation to experience the Enchanted Ground at Pennsic.
Combat Medallions will be producing Northern Army belt placards as a fundraiser to assist Master Feral with his medical expenses. Once costs to produce the placards have been recovered, 100% of the profits will be donated to Master Feral.
When asked how his business started, JP, the proprietor of Combat Medallions, said that people liked what he was making, so he just kept going, and now he is in 10 different kingdoms.
JP has advised that the placards will be ready in mid-July, and will be available either online at www.combatmedallions.com or at events he is attending. For event availability, he may be contacted through https://www.facebook.com/combat.medallions.1?fref=ts&ref=br_tf.
Filed under: Tidings Tagged: Fundraising
Scientists have confirmed that one book in Harvard’s Houghton Library — Des destinées de l’ame (The Destinies of the Soul) by French poet and essayist Arsène Houssaye, first published in 1879 — is bound in human skin. The book belonged to Dr. Ludovic Bouland, a doctor and book collector from Metz in the northeastern French province of Lorraine who combined his professional vocation with his interest in books and book binding in a rather macabre way. Arsène Houssaye was a personal friend of his. He gave the doctor a copy of his new book and Bouland had it rebound. A handwritten letter signed by Bouland found inside the book describes the new binding:
“This book is bound in human skin parchment on which no ornament has been stamped to preserve its elegance. By looking carefully you easily distinguish the pores of the skin. A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering: I had kept this piece of human skin taken from the back of a woman. It is interesting to see the different aspects that change this skin according to the method of preparation to which it is subjected. Compare for example with the small volume I have in my library, Sever. Pinaeus de Virginitatis notis which is also bound in human skin but tanned with sumac.”
There used to be a typed document with the book that elaborated on the source of the skin. The original is gone, but we know from notes that the skin came from “the back of the unclaimed body of a woman patient in a French mental hospital who died suddenly of apoplexy.” The second book Bouland refers to that uses the same skin is now in the Wellcome Library, and according to a 1910 article in a French magazine, Bouland got the piece of skin when he was a medical student at a hospital in Metz. He received his medical degree in 1865, which means he held on to that poor lady’s skin for decades before sectioning it for use in binding at least two books.
The note Bouland wrote on the flyleaf of De integritatis et corruptionis virginum notis, a 1663 edition of the influential book by Doctor Séverin Pineau that described the hymen in great anatomical detail (little of it accurate compared to the modern understanding of that intriguing membrane) and provided valuable instruction on how to tell if a virgin had been “corrupted,” is a creepier version of the Des destinées de l’ame explanation:
“This curious little book on virginity, which seemed to me to deserve a binding in keeping with its subject matter, is bound with a piece of woman’s skin that I tanned myself with some sumac.”
As far as Bouland was concerned, a book on the immortal soul and one on hymens were equally well-suited to be bound in the skin of a destitute mentally ill woman who had the misfortune to die of a stroke in the hospital where he was studying.
Two other books at Harvard, one in the Law School Library, one in the Countway Library’s Center for the History of Medicine, had inscriptions identifying them as examples of anthropodermic bibliopegy (the official term for book binding using human skin). The Law School book is Practicarum quaestionum circa leges regias Hispaniae, a treatise on Spanish law by Juan Gutiérrez published in Madrid in 1605. A dramatic inscription on the last page of the book claimed:
“The bynding of this booke is all that remains of my dear friende Jonas Wright, who was flayed alive by the Wavuma on the Fourth Day of August, 1632. King Mbesa did give me the book, it being one of poore Jonas chiefe possessions, together with ample of his skin to bynd it. Requiescat in pace.”
The book’s binding was DNA tested in 1992 but the results were inconclusive, most likely because of the tanning process. A year after that, a new analytical technique called peptide mass fingerprinting was developed. Peptide mass fingerprinting breaks proteins up into component peptides whose masses can be measured by mass spectrometer and the results compared to a database of known proteins. Two months ago, peptide mass fingerprinting conclusively proved the binding to be sheepskin, not the product of Jonas Wright’s flaying.
The Countway Library book is a 1597 French translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses which has a faint inscription in pencil on the inside cover stating simply “Bound in human skin,” but experts doubted its accuracy because the binding doesn’t look like other confirmed human leather bindings. Peptide mass fingerprinting proved that it too had a sheepskin binding.
With two of the three claimed human skin bindings proved false, peptide mass fingerprinting was enlisted once again to test the binding of Des destinées de l’ame. This time the peptide mass fingerprint matched the human references, but while it eliminated the usual suspects like sheep and cow, it couldn’t conclusively exclude other primates because we don’t have the comparison data for them.
Although unlikely that the binding was made from a primate source, the samples were further analyzed using Liquid Chromatography-Tandem Mass Spectrometry (LCMSMS) to determine the order of amino acids, the building blocks of each peptide, which can be different in each species.
“The analytical data, taken together with the provenance of Des destinées de l’ame, make it very unlikely that the source could be other than human,” said [Director of the Harvard Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Resource Laboratory Bill] Lane.
In his will, Hugh Audley, known as The Great Audley, 16th century philosopher, land owner and money lender - and owner of the land where Buckingham Palace now stands - left 11 mourning rings, designed to be worn by his mourners. Such a ring, linked to him, has been discovered in a south Norfolk field. (photo)
Silver Buccle Herald, Kameshima-roku-i Zentarou Umakai reports that, at Their Court at the Festival of the Passing of the Ice Dragon 22, Their Majesties Timothy and Gabrielle offered elevation to the Peerage to four of Their subjects.
Scheduling conflicts have resulted in the cancellation (for this year only) of the American Red Cross blood drive that has been held near Pennsic War for the past few years.
Kuang began to painstakingly clean the canvas. Her work soon revealed an incongruous lone figure of a man standing on the horizon. There was only sea underneath him and sky above, so it was unclear how he fit into the composition. More cleaning of the area next to him exposed a dark grey triangular shape, which led Kuang to speculate that the man might be in the rigging of a sailboat that had been overpainted. She could see that the ocean in that spot was more crudely painted than in the rest of the painting.
After much discussion with Hamilton Kerr conservation experts and Fitzwilliam curators, they decided the overpaint was not the work of van Anthonissen. Its thick impasto and inferior quality indicated a later alteration done in the 18th or early 19th century. By the time the painting was donated in 1873, nobody knew it had been overpainted. Removing it was still a risky prospect. It’s difficult to take away just the paint layer that was added without harming the original paint, and you never know what ugly surprises might be concealed by the overpaint.
They decided to take the plunge, and Kuang set about removing the thick overpaint with a scalpel and a few carefully chosen solvents. To ensure she didn’t damage the original, she viewed the work under the microscope. Under the paint she found not a ship, but a beached sperm whale.
The man who seemed to be standing on the horizon is, in fact, balanced on the whale’s back where Kuang suggests that he might even be measuring its length.The chosen focus of the painting resonates with a surge of public interest in whales: contemporary records show many instances of whale beaching on the coastline of the Netherlands in the first half of the 17th century. While the Anthonissen painting seeks to represent the whale in a realistic manner, some prints from the period portray whales as rampaging monsters of the deep and omens of disaster.
Realistic depictions of beached whales and viewing them as omens of disaster was not mutually exclusive. The Dutch Republic in the late 16th, early 17th century was experiencing the religious and political upheaval of the Eighty Years’ War, a period that coincides with the heyday of the beached whale in Dutch art, literature and political writing. The appearance of a whale was seen as a portent of defeat in battle or a sign of God’s displeasure at the prospect of a truce between religious factions. A 1602 engraving by Jan Saenredam of a beached whale at Beverwijk has a long Latin note underneath detailing the exact measurements of the mammal (60 feet long, 14 feet high, 36 feet in circumference, 14-foot tail, 12-foot lower jaw) while above the tableau is a frame of allegorical references to earthquakes, eclipses and the passage of time. There are also more anatomically correct details of the whale after decomposition gases caused it to explode and Death shooting Amsterdam with a plague arrow.
By the time Anthonissen painted his beached whale landscape, the trend was losing steam. Negotiations between Spain and the Dutch Republic began in 1646, and a Treaty formalizing Dutch independence was signed in 1648. The prophetic vision of beached whales no longer bedeviled the stable, confident Republic. With the interest in the subject long faded, someone decided to hide the dead whale altogether, perhaps to make it more palatable to a wider market as an innocuous beach scene.
View of Scheveningen Sands, with a Stranded Sperm Whale is now on display in the reopened Dutch Golden Age gallery of the Fitzwilliam Museum.