Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Conservation Housing: Medieval manuscripts

July 2nd, 2019

I am in the finishing-up stages of a very enjoyable project to rehouse a group of medieval manuscripts in the Special Collections. The Abbey Dore collection (currently cataloged as MS 191, but soon to be located at MS Q80) includes fifteen parchment manuscripts from the 13th century. Some of the documents have pendant seals attached, and all were housed in a slim manuscript case in folders fitted with polyester film supports inside.

Abbey Dore manuscript with seal before rehousing. MS Q80: 14.
Abbey Dore manuscript with seal before rehousing. MS Q80: 14.

While this system allowed the manuscripts to be stored upright in folders, which is certainly convenient, it is not the ideal situation for such documents. The polyester film has sharp edges that could potentially cause damage to the seals or documents, and some of the seals are heavy or broken and in need of better support. In discussions with curators and the manuscripts processing coordinator, we decided to rehouse the manuscripts in flat enclosures. The collection will now reside in three flat archival boxes, a challenge for the stacks manager who had to find the space to put them, but all agreed that flat storage would be best for these materials.

Because these documents have information on both recto and verso, the curators desired that researchers could view both sides with minimal handling of the fragile items. I made a mock-up enclosure that we looked at together, and after some troubleshooting we devised an enclosure with two mirror-image, soft Tyvek-lined cavities. This enclosure can be gently flipped over and opened from either side to view both sides of the document. Plastazote foam bumpers protect the seals from shifting, and each enclosure will be labeled with instructions for use.

Abbey Dore manuscript with seal after rehousing (recto). MS Q80: 14.
Abbey Dore manuscript with seal after rehousing (recto). MS Q80: 14.
Abbey Dore manuscript with seal after rehousing (verso). MS Q80: 14.
Abbey Dore manuscript with seal after rehousing (verso). MS Q80: 14.

Enclosure Engineering: Housing a Japanese Triptych Woodblock Print

May 14th, 2019

This week I had the great pleasure of creating a special housing for a new acquisition, a tripartite Japanese woodblock print titled Joreishiki no zu, by the artist Adachi Ginkō. (This item is not yet fully cataloged. Its placeholder record is here; check back for full details soon.) Printed in 1889, this lovely piece depicts beautifully clothed women and girls writing, reading, and storing books, and belongs to a larger series showing fashionable women engaged in other pastimes such as sewing or arranging flowers.

Adachi Ginkō, Joreishiki no zu, 1889. Japanese triptych woodblock print.
Joreishiki no zu, a triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, 1889. Click image to enlarge.
Detail of triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, Joreishiki no zu, 1889.
Detail of center and right panels of Joreishiki no zu, a triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, 1889. Click image to enlarge.

As is often the case, this project began with a discussion between a curator – in this case, Karen Cook – and I about the anticipated use and storage needs of the item. This print is in three separate parts that may once have been joined, but we didn’t feel a particular need to unite them again at this time. This print is likely to be used in classes, which means two things: first, its enclosure needs to do double duty as both a storage container and a display, and second, its container should be compact, not taking up too much valuable space on the classroom table. I suggested a portfolio with a three-hinged lid, not unlike many tablet and mobile device sleeves, that could fold back to elevate the print for viewing. Karen agreed to this approach, so I set out to build some models and puzzle out the details of the structure.

After sketching a few ideas, I started with a tiny model made from scrap board, mainly to work out how the hinges would function. Next I built a scale model using the same materials I intended to use for the real housing. This proved to be a very valuable exercise; some features didn’t work quite as I’d expected, and I observed a couple of possible drawbacks to this design. I enlisted Collections Conservator Roberta Woodrick, who is something of a housing whiz, to offer her suggestions and we came up with a couple of small but significant modifications. Finally, I reviewed the model and modifications with Karen, and at last was ready to build the enclosure.

Enclosure models for Adachi Ginkō, Joreishiki no zu, 1889.
Enclosure models for Joreishiki no zu, a triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, 1889. Left: Tiny model and scale model (closed). Right: Scale model in the open/display position. Click image to enlarge.
Adachi Ginkō, Joreishiki no zu, 1889. Side view of Japanese triptych woodblock print in enclosure.
Completed enclosure, shown in display position, for Joreishiki no zu, a triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, 1889. Click image to enlarge.

The finished enclosure is protective, lightweight, and, I hope, will be user-friendly for Spencer staff and researchers. We make a lot of enclosures for many types of library materials here in the lab, and many of those enclosures we know by heart and can turn out quickly. This project illustrates how we can always be rethinking our practice to better serve the collections and users, and how important collaboration is to conservation work.

Finished enclosure for Adachi Ginkō, Joreishiki no zu, 1889.
Completed enclosure, shown closed, for Joreishiki no zu, a triptych woodblock print by Adachi Ginkō, 1889. Click image to enlarge.

Angela M. Andres
Assistant Conservator for Special Collections

El álbum costarricense: una incertidumbre que queremos resolver/ A Costa Rican Photograph Album: Help Us Solve the Mystery

April 3rd, 2019

El álbum de fotografía costarricense, MS K35, que se presenta en este blog, es uno de los tantos documentos valiosos que el profesor emérito, Charles L. Stansifer, donó a Kenneth Spencer Research Library hace algunos años. Siendo parte del archivo y de la colección latinoamericana, el álbum acopia un valor doble. Por una parte, es un registro que ofrece evidencia histórica de Costa Rica y por otra, es un documento que identifica al país centroamericano como productor de fotografía y fotoperiodismo desde principios del siglo XX.

Sin embargo, hasta el momento no se tiene la certeza de quién es el personaje central de esta serie de fotografías. Si bien el álbum se compone de dieciséis imágenes que narran la ceremonia fúnebre de algún representante político, no hay evidencia directa que responda al quién pertenecen. Gracias a la presencia militar (imágenes 1 y 2), sobre todo a un pequeño escrito en el que se lee “Bot in lib El Erial Oct 1980. Reported to be pictures of funeral of Federico Tinoco 1919,” se tomó como un hecho que las fotografías documentan el funeral de Federico Tinoco Granados, presidente de Costa Rica entre 1917-1919. Si bien el final de la presidencia de Federico Tinoco se da junto a la muerte de su hermano, José Joaquín Tinoco Granados quien fue asesinado el 10 de agosto de 1919, su muerte sucede durante su exilio, en Paris. Así mismo, es a través de la fotografía #25992 (imagen 3) que se puede cuestionar si realmente lo que presenciamos como espectadores es el funeral de alguno de los Tinoco.

Image from Costa Rican photo album depicting a funeral in San Jose. Call number MS K35, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
Image from Costa Rican photo album depicting a funeral in San Jose. Call number MS K35, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
1 y 2. La presencia militar en el funeral. / Military presence at the funeral. Click images to enlarge.
Image from Costa Rican photo album depicting a funeral in San Jose. Call number MS K35, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
3. El Templo de la Música, San José, Costa Rica, construida en 1920. / The Templo de la Música in San José, Costa Rica, which was constructed in 1920. Click image to enlarge.

En tal imagen se puede apreciar el Templo de la Música, inaugurado el 24 de diciembre de 1920, un año después del asesinato. Por otro lado, en otra de las fotografías (ver imagen 4) se puede apreciar que lo que cubre el féretro del sujeto en cuestión es la bandera representante de la cruz roja.  A través de estos hechos y de revisar la historia se puede suponer que el celebrado es o Francisco Aguilar Barquero, que murió en octubre de 1924, o Juan Bautista Quirós Segura, fallecido en noviembre de 1934. Tanto Aguilar Barquero como Quirós Segura fueron presidentes provisionales después del golpe militar que terminó con la presidencia de Tinoco. Cabe también la posibilidad de que se trate de Ramón Bernardo Soto Alfaro quien en 1885 fue presidente provisional de Costa Rica, mismo año en el que ante la amenaza de guerra tuvo que fundarse la Cruz Roja Costarricense.

Image from Costa Rican photo album depicting a funeral in San Jose. Call number MS K35, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
4. La bandera de la Cruz Roja cubriendo el féretro. / A Red Cross flag draping the coffin. Click image to enlarge.

Al prestar atención a la arquitectura que aparece en la mayoría de las fotografías, se llega también a la conclusión de que el funeral puede tratarse de Manuel María de Peralta y Alfaro quien muere en agosto de 1930. Don Manuel es un importante personaje diplomático que, aunque fallece en París, su cuerpo fue trasladado a San José de Costa Rica para ser sepultado. Se dice que la ceremonia fúnebre tomó lugar en la Catedral Metropolitana, la cual podemos observar en siete de las imágenes (ver imágenes 5 y 6).

Image from Costa Rican photo album depicting a funeral in San Jose. Call number MS K35, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
Image from Costa Rican photo album depicting a funeral in San Jose. Call number MS K35, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
5 y 6. La ceremonia tomó lugar en la Catedral Metropolitana. / The ceremony took place in the Catedral Metropolitana. Click images to enlarge.

A pesar de desconocer para quién es la ceremonia, se sabe con certeza que las fotografías fueron tomadas por algún miembro del estudio de Manuel Gómez Mirales; si no es que por el mismo Mirales, considerado padre del fotoperiodismo costarricense. Además, Gómez Mirales fue uno de los fotógrafos encargados de fotografiar la vida política en Costa Rica y que utiliza la fotografía para dar a conocer la riqueza natural de su país.

Por estas razones, el álbum que hoy le pertenece a esta biblioteca, gracias al profesor emérito Stansifer, tiene un valor histórico y estético para los investigadores interesados en el país de Costa Rica. La riqueza histórica, política y artística no puede quedar paralizada por las incertidumbres que todavía permanecen. El álbum costarricense está disponible en la biblioteca Kenneth Spencer y esperando que algún investigador, al reconocer la arquitectura y alguno de los retratos más visibles (imagen 7), nos proporcione información relevante.

Image from Costa Rican photo album depicting a funeral in San Jose. Call number MS K35, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
7. Un orador. / A funeral speaker. Click image to enlarge.

The Costa Rican photo album, MS K35, featured in this current blog post, represents one of the many valuable documents that Emeritus Professor Charles L. Stansifer donated some years ago to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. The photo album is housed among the library and archival material and is part of the Latin-American collections. The album has a double value: it offers historic evidence of Costa Rica and, simultaneously, offers insight into Costa Rican documentary photography and photojournalism in the early twentieth century.

Nevertheless, we are unsure of the identity of the central individual in the photographic series. The album contains sixteen photographs that record the funeral of a politician, but we are lacking precise information to identify the deceased. The military scenes in the album (images 1-2) and the presence of a small piece of paper inserted inside the album stating, “Bot in lib El Erial Oct 1980. Reported to be pictures of funeral of Federico Tinoco 1919,” led us to consider that the series documents the funeral of Federico Tinoco Granados, president of Costa Rica from 1917-1919. However, if we look closer at the images, especially at image 3, we realize that the funeral took place after the end of his presidency and that the funeral can be neither Tinoco’s nor that of his brother José Joaquin Tinoco Granados, who was murdered on August 10, 1919. The Templo de la Música, which opened on December 24, 1920, and which clearly appears in that image, eliminates José Tinoco Granados as a possibility. It is true that former president Federico Tinoco Granados died in 1931, years after the construction and opening of the Templo de la Música, but he passed away in Paris when he was in exile and his body wasn’t returned to Costa Rica until 1960. In addition to the facts presented by architectural and historical details, we see in another photograph that a Red Cross flag covers the coffin (image 4).

Other prospects include Francisco Aguilar Barquero, who passed away in October 1924, or Juan Bautista Quirós Segura, who perished in November 1934. Both Aguilar Barquero and Quirós Segura assumed the Costa Rican provisional presidency after Tinoco´s resignation and exile following his brother’s assassination. Another candidate is Ramón Bernardo Soto Alfaro, who was president of Costa Rica in 1885, the same year in which the Costa Rican Red Cross was established. Soto Alfaro died in January 1931. Given that the majority of the photographs display a particular architecture from the early 20th century, it is also plausible that the funeral might be for Manuel María de Peralta y Alfaro, who died in August 1930. Don Manuel was an important diplomat who died in Paris, and whose body was transported to San José, Costa Rica, for burial. The funeral was conducted in the Catedral Metropolitana (images 5-6), a building that can be seen in seven of the photographs.

Despite our uncertainty about whose funeral is pictured, we know that the series of photographs was taken by a member of Manuel Gómez Mirales’s studio, if not Gómez Mirales himself. Gómez Mirales is considered the founder of Costa Rican photojournalism, and was committed to photographing Costa Rican political life and the natural beauty of his home country. 

Our discoveries to date confirm that the album, held in Kenneth Spencer Research Library thanks to the generosity of Emeritus Professor Stansifer, has historic and artistic significance for researchers interested in studying Costa Rica. We hope that readers of this blog post will recognize architectural clues or individuals featured in the photographs (image 7) to help us uncover new and relevant information, including the identity of the funeral’s central individual.

Indira García Varela
Student Assistant
Spanish- and Portguese-Language Materials Preservation Project

Physical/Digital Archives: Teaching with Spencer Manuscripts

April 2nd, 2019

This week’s post is by Dr. Whitney Sperrazza, Digital Humanities Postdoctoral Research Fellow at KU’s Hall Center for the Humanities.

Digital methods offer a new way to teach with and in the archives. I designed my Fall 2018 course, “Digital Feminist Archives,” around this conviction, aiming to build a class that worked at the intersection of archival and digital practices.

For sixteen weeks, twelve students from a wide range of KU departments (English, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies [WGSS], History, Humanities, Museum Studies, and Theater) met at the Spencer Research Library to study, transcribe, and develop projects on one object from the library’s holdings: Elizabeth Dyke’s Booke of Recaits (dated 1668).


Image of ownership inscriptions in the front board and first page of "Elizabeth Dyke, her Booke of Recaits 1668" (MS D157)

Family Ownership inscriptions in “Elizabeth Dyke, her Booke of Recaits 1668.” England, approximately 1668.
Call Number: MS D157, Opening 2. Click image to enlarge.

Early Women’s Recipes

Are you interested in learning more about early Western remedies for headaches? What about the effectiveness of rose water in preventing plague (56)? Did you know that pickled cucumbers were made frequently in seventeenth-century English households (86) and that powdered hazelnuts were used to stanch bleeding (43)? Or, as Elspeth Healey asks in her blog post on the manuscript, are you simply looking for some seventeenth-century dietary advice?

Image of remedy using hazelnuts to stanch bleeding in Elizabeth Dyke, her Booke of Recaits 1668." (MS D157)

Hazelnuts to stanch bleeding? From “Elizabeth Dyke, her Booke of Recaits 1668.” England, approximately 1668.
Call Number: MS D157, Opening 43. Click image to enlarge.

This is just a taste of the wealth of information we collected from Dyke’s Booke of Recaits, which contains over 700 culinary and medicinal recipes. But the manuscript is so much more than a recipe archive. It is a document of familial and social networks and a record of cultural practices.

On the manuscript’s opening page (see photo above), several women catalogued their ownership of the book—Sarah Dyke, Dorothy Dyke, Elizabeth Dodsworth—suggesting that the text was passed down through the family’s female line. Like many surviving recipe books from the period, the titles of the recipes themselves also include names of women and men, either to note the original creator of the recipe (“Lady Rivers’ recipe for orange or lemon cakes”) or to mark the recipe’s effectiveness (“A very good green salve and ointment proved often times by goodwife Wesens”).

The Spencer Library acquired the manuscript in 1977 from UK bookseller, Henry Bristow Ltd, and it was recently featured in an exhibition titled, “Histories of the English Language” (Summer 2017). While the manuscript has long been available for visitors to the Spencer, it is now available as part of the KU Libraries digital collections and as a fully searchable (original spelling only) transcription on the “Digital Feminist Archives” course site.

Collaborative Close Reading

I designed the course syllabus to build gradually toward the students’ final digital projects, so the first eight weeks were dedicated to close study and transcription of the manuscript’s content. The students became experts on this archival object through their transcription work and their conversations with each other on the manuscript’s content and structure.

The students each transcribed and encoded a section of manuscript pages and, one day per week, we structured the class as a large-scale text encoding project meeting. Students came to class with examples and questions from their assigned pages and we dedicated these class sessions to collective conversation about encoding standards and transcription problems. We started with basic observations—things like, “this is what Dyke’s r looks like”—but the conversations quickly became more complicated and critically rich: should we include content that’s been crossed out? how should we note text that’s been lost due to page damage?

Examples of loss of text in Elizabeth Dyke's Booke of Recaits (MS D157)

Photograph of crossed out text in Elizabeth Dyke's "Booke of Recaits" (MS D157)

Example of lost text (top) and crossed out text (bottom) in “Elizabeth Dyke, her Booke of Recaits 1668.” England, approximately 1668.
Call Number: MS D157, Openings 95 and 99. Click images to enlarge.

As an instructor, it was thrilling to participate in these student-driven discussions and listen as the students grappled with the critical and methodological decisions that go into transforming a physical object into digital content. Our focus was on the process rather the product, and part of that process was working together to really know this archival object. In addition to giving students insight into the logistics of digital project development, these lab sessions became opportunities for collaborative reading of the manuscript’s content as students shared interesting passages, unexpected recipe titles, and common ingredients.

Interdisciplinary Networks

The students’ collective transcription work became the basis for their final project development. Through their projects, the students animated this archival material. One group transformed Dyke’s medicinal recipes into a crowd-sourced ailments and remedies platform modeled on WebMD (WebED).

Screenshot of WebEd, a crowd-sourced ailments and remedies platform modeled on WebMD.

WebEd, a student project centered on Elizabeth Dyke’s Booke of Recaits for ENGL 590 | ENGL 790 | HUM 500 | WGSS 701: Digital Feminist Archives, Fall 2018. Click image to enlarge.

One group tried their hand at making some of the recipes, using Dyke’s directions to capture the historical experience (Cooking 17th-Century Recipes). Another group developed teaching resources and updated versions of the recipes to explore how Dyke’s recipes remain relevant for today’s audiences (Using Early Modern Recipes Today). Finally, one group mapped the availability of several of Dyke’s ingredients, tracking how the ingredients would have been traded across different parts of the world (Mapping Elizabeth Dyke’s Recipes).

Screenshot of "Mapping Elizabeth Dyke’s Recipes" site.

Mapping Elizabeth Dyke’s Recipes,” a student project for ENGL 590 | ENGL 790 | HUM 500 | WGSS 701: Digital Feminist Archives, Fall 2018. Click image to enlarge.

The students’ transcription work and project development built on ongoing digital work on early modern recipes (for instance, the Early Modern Recipe Online Collective and The Recipes Project), connecting the students’ original research to wider networks across the country. Most crucial, though, were the lessons we gained from the interdisciplinary networks at work in the classroom. With this archival object as our focal point, we all found ways to draw on and expand our particular areas of interest and expertise.

Digital projects require significant time, labor, and resources. If I learned anything from designing and leading this course, it’s that one semester is not long enough for such an endeavor. We merely scratched the surface of what’s possible with such a rich archival object and, hopefully, our efforts will be a starting point for much more work to come.

Whitney Sperrazza
Digital Humanities Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Hall Center for the Humanities

[Thank you to everyone at KU who worked hard to make this class possible and offered support for the students’ work at various stages: Elspeth Healey, Brian Rosenblum, Whitney Baker, Jocelyn Wehr, Erin Wolfe, Jonathan Lamb, and Scott Hanrath. And, of course, my sincerest gratitude to the “Digital Feminist Archive” students, all of whom brought so much energy to this process: Brianna Blackwell, Gwyn Bourlakov, Mallory Harrell, Yee-Lum Mak, Jodi Moore, Sarah Polo, Elissa Rondeau, Kate Schroeder, Phoenix Schroeder, Suzanne Tanner, Rachel Trusty, and Chris Wright.]


Ireland’s Most Beloved Painter? Irish Art for St. Patrick’s Day

March 15th, 2019

With St. Patrick’s Day falling on Sunday, this week we highlight some original artwork in Spencer’s collections by a notable Irish artist, Frederic William Burton (1816-1900).

Photographic portrait of Frederic William Burton inlaid in Madonna Pia volume (MS E184)
Portrait of Frederic William Burton inlaid in Madonna Pia volume. Sir Theodore Martin Collection. Call Number: MS E184. Click image to see full volume page.

Though Burton may not be a household name in the United States, his best-known work, “Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs” (1864), was voted Ireland’s favorite painting in a 2012 RTÉ poll.

That painting, housed at the National Gallery of Ireland, draws its theme from a medieval Danish ballad. As the museum’s label explains, the ballad tells the story of “Hellelil, who fell in love with her personal guard Hildebrand, Prince of Engelland. Her father disapproved of the relationship and ordered her seven brothers to kill the young prince.” Burton’s painting captures a moment of longing: a final fleeting meeting between the ill-fated couple.

Frederic William Burton (1816-1900), 'Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs', 1864. © National Gallery of Ireland.
Frederic William Burton (1816-1900), ‘Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs’, 1864. © National Gallery of Ireland. Click image to enlarge.

One of the more astonishing aspects of the painting is that it is a watercolor (Burton always worked in watercolors rather than oils). To protect the painting from light damage, the National Gallery of Ireland has it on display for just two hours a week, keeping it behind protective panels the remainder of the time.

A more modest example of Burton’s artistry in watercolors resides at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library in a series of costume designs he made for a play by the writer Theodore Martin (more on this soon).

A native of Co. Clare, Frederic William Burton was born to a wealthy land-owning family. He moved to Dublin at ten and by sixteen had exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy.  His early career was as a miniaturist and portraitist, always working in watercolors.

Through his friendship with the Irish antiquarian, George Petrie, Burton was inspired to turn to the Irish landscape and consider Irish subjects in his paintings, as in his 1841 watercolor The Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child.  

Burton’s connection to another friend, Thomas Davis, a leader of the nationalist Young Ireland movement, resulted in his contribution of the illustrated title page for The Spirit of the Nation (1845), an anthology of ballads and songs by Davis and other writers associated with periodical The Nation. At the time, however, Burton kept his contribution anonymous, reluctant to enter into the fray of politics. In a memorial tribute, Lady Gregory would recall that Burton had been in favor of Ireland’s union with England and did not share Davis’s nationalist politics, but that he had undertaken the title page to please his friend, “ there was nothing in the world he would not have done for Davis” [1].  Spencer Research Library’s multiple copies of The Spirit of the Nation deserve a St. Patrick’s Day post of their own.  The copy pictured below contains two inserted leaves of inscriptions of Young Irelanders Terence Bellew MacManus, Thomas Francis Meagher, Patrick O’Donohoe, and William Smith O’Brien, signed from Clonmel Gaol in Tipperary, following their 1848 attempted nationalist rising. The signature of O’Brien, is visible on the leaf tipped in next to Burton’s illustrated title page.

Image of Burton's illustration design for The Spirit of the Nation (1845), with tipped in inscription by Willliam S. O'Brien, Clomel Gaol, November 1848
Burton’s illustration design in The Spirit of the Nation (1845), with tipped-in leaf inscribed by young Ireland leader William Smith O’Brien, in Clonmel Gaol, Nov. 1848. Dublin: Published by James Duffy, 23 Anglesea-Street, 1845. Call Number: O’Hegarty C458. Click image to enlarge.

As noted earlier, Spencer Library’s collections also reveal another dimension of Burton’s career as an artist. We hold a copy of a special volume belonging to the attorney and writer Sir Theodore Martin (with his bookplate).  It comprises pages of the 1860 privately printed second edition of Martin’s play Madonna Pia: A Tragedy juxtaposed with 11 original watercolors of costume designs. Though the sketches are not signed, Martin included in his special volume a manuscript letter from the artist signed “FWB” alongside a portrait of Burton, signaling his identity as the artist. The letter was sent in November 1855, the date of the first edition of Martin’s play, from Munich, where Burton was serving as curator of the Royal collection for Maximilian II of Bavaria.

Image of the Madonna Pia title page with a watercolor and gouache painting of Giacomo's costume, with costuming notes
Frederic William Burton’s watercolor and gouache painting of the costume for “Giacomo.” [Munich, 1855], bound with the title page of Theodore Martin’s Madonna Pia (1860, second edition). Sir Theodore Martin Collection. Call Number: MS E184. Click image to enlarge.

In the letter, likely addressed to Martin’s wife, the actress Helena Faucit, Burton apologizes for the quality of his watercolors. He self-deprecatingly explains:

These hasty sketches are not indeed what I had intended – but just as I was engaged about them the Fine Arts were under a cloud from weather such as ever you Londoners need not have envied us. They are very scribbly & coarse — & I fear none of them will answer, – but you will gratify me by giving them to any little relatives you may have under five years of age to amuse themselves by sticking pins through them.

Frederic William Burton's watercolour and gouache painting of Madonna Pia in gold dress costume, with pencil notes on costuming
Pencil, watercolor, and gouache sketch of "Pia 3d Dress" and "Count Nello"
Burton’s watercolor and gouache painting and sketch of the costumes for “Madonna Pia / 2d dress” and “Pia 3d dress” and “Count Nello” [Munich, 1855], bound with Theodore Martin’s Madonna Pia (1860, second edition). Sir Theodore Martin Collection. Call Number: MS E184. Click images to enlarge.
Image of Frederic William Burton's watercolor and gouache costume painting for Nello della Pietra, with facing text
Frederic William Burton’s watercolor and gouache painting for the costume of “Nello della Pietra,” bound with Theodore Martin’s Madonna Pia (1860, second edition). Sir Theodore Martin Collection. Call Number: MS E184. Click image to enlarge.

Fortunately for us, Martin preserved the watercolors and bound them together with a later edition of his play.  Madonna Pia takes its inspiration from a passage in Dante’s Purgatorio to tell the story of Pia’s imprisonment and poisoning by her jealous husband, Count Nello della Pietra. It was a popular subject during the Victorian era; KU’s Spencer Museum of Art holds a later painting, Pia de’ Tolomei, by pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti that references the same tale from Dante.

Three years after Frederic William Burton executed his “hasty sketches,” he took up residence in London. There, he was part of the circle of Rossetti and other Pre-Raphaelite artists, and it was during this time that he painted “Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs.” In 1874, Burton was made director of London’s National Gallery, and he retired from painting. Though he died in London on the day before St. Patrick’s Day in 1900, Burton returned to Ireland in death. He was buried in Dublin’s Mount Jerome Cemetery, and his work was exhibited at Dublin’s National Gallery later that same year.  In her remembrance, Lady Gregory wrote that despite his years spent abroad, which left him “almost forgotten” in Dublin, Burton’s “heart was Irish to the last” [2].

Come examine Frederic William Burton’s watercolor sketches for Madonna Pia at Spencer Research Library, and then continue on to explore other materials in our Irish Collections.  Not certain where to start? Take a glance at some past blog posts or explore our Irish Collections LibGuide.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian


[1] Gregory, Lady Augusta.  “Sir Frederic Burton.” The Leader: A Review of Current Affairs, Politics, Literature, Art and Industry. Vol 1, no. 15 (8 December 1900): 231. Call Number: O’Hegarty E98.

[2] ibid.

Works consulted include:

Caffrey, Paul. “Burton, Sir Frederic William (1816–1900), watercolour painter and art administrator.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. September 23, 2004. Oxford University Press. Date of access 11 Mar. 2019,

Clarke, Frances. “Burton, Sir Frederic William.” Dictionary of Irish Biography. James McGuire, James Quinn, Editors. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2009.