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The Book of Miracles

August 6, 2017 1 comment

The recently reformatted and republished Taschen version of “The Book of Miracles” is truly a wondrous thing.

A mirror to the hopes, beliefs and fears of the northern European Renaissance mind, it is a collection of nearly 170 mesmerising watercolour and gouache paintings, that illustrate through a fantastic combination of bold images and vivid colors, a cornucopia of long accepted visions, miracles and wonders from both biblical and secular life.

Astral happenings, dragons & multi-headed monsters, plagues and visitations, spectral apparitions, birth defects, messages from the heavens and other unfathomable acts of God, are all beautifully captured with imagination and skill.

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Commissioned, written and illustrated by wholly unknown sources, the book was originally produced as a folio of images and published in Augsburg, Southern Germany in the mid 1550’s.

How well it was received, how popular it became is not recorded, what is obvious however is that it effectively disappeared from history. That is until an almost intact copy of the manuscript came to light less than 10 years or so ago.

It is this amazing find, along with a handful of previously known pages that can now be seen as being obviously part of the original publication, that Taschen have used to create this latest edition.

The miracles depicted range chronologically from the early stories of the Old Testament and The Book of Revelations, right through to contemporary 16th Century Europe, with the spires and towers of Augsburg itself clearly playing a key part in setting the narrative.


Many of the miracles collected in the book are clearly based on earlier, popular and widely distributed woodblock illustrations by the likes of Albrecht Durer, Hans Holbein and Cranach the Elder, and it seems likely that whoever commissioned this amazing work, was looking to collect and document in a consistent and easily understood style, all the miracles that were known up to that time.


Although these images look undoubtedly dated through our 21st Century eyes (I used the word naive previously) they still have the power to inspire & intrique. I can’t help but wonder if the people that drew these monstrous and fantastical pictures, really believed in them fully. Did their overwhelming faith and fear of the Almighty drive them unquestioningly on, or was there a little voice in the back of their mind saying.. “hang on a sec, five suns in the sky at the same time? Really?.. 

 

Martian Surface Photos…

May 29, 2017 2 comments

A new book This is Mars has just been published that collects together some of the most striking black and white images of the surface of Mars I’ve ever seen, none of which have previously been published.

These amazing pictures were taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) which entered the Martian atmosphere in 2006 and which has since then, been quietly mapping the planet’s surface with its HiRISE telescope.

This one above and the one below particularly grab the attention as they seem to show landscapes that would be familiar here on  Earth, such as trees in the snow and river deltas…

The large majorityseem very alien however, and I’ve genuinely no idea what kind of geomorphic or tectonic processes makes shapes and patterns like these below…

These stunning images add a completely new dimension to that of the dusty red planet that we’re more used to seeing from the Mars Rovers. I for one can’t wait until a manned mission to Mars is finally a reality and the world watches as the real life equivalent of Mark Watney and his crew, finally leaves Earth to visit our nearest neighbour.. (I just hope I’m around to share the experience…)

Joseph’s Yard: Charles Keeping…

December 3, 2014 Leave a comment

_MG_9552My new job finds me in Spitalfields, an area I know pretty well from evenings and weekends spent there experiencing its undoubted charms for the last 20 years or so, but it’s interesting being able to now discover its lunchtime delights… Not the least of which are more varieties of food than you could ever imagine, a huge second hand vinyl market every third (I think) Friday and an even bigger second hand/ tat  market… Which is where for the princely sum of £1, I came across this rather marvelous little book… Written and illustrated by Charles Keeping and published in 1969, its the simple story of a boy whose back yard is barren and full of rusty old junk. One day he answers the call of the rag and bone man and swaps the iron junk for a plant… _MG_9556 After pulling up a stone and digging the plant into the dirt, Joseph watches it grow and then die back in the winter only to see it bloom again the following spring, encouraging cats, birds and insects to all come to spend time with Joseph in his yard… _MG_9567 Maybe not quite a classic, but it was for kids and apart from Joseph’s teeth (which are a tad disconcerting in a number of instances) it’s the glorious illustrations that really make the book for me. Executed in a riot of different styles and patterns, every page is dense with colour and texture, almost completely overpowering the simplicity of the story at times, but leaving a lasting impression all the same… Charles Keeping is sadly no longer with us, but I came across this site managed by his wife, dedicated to his many wonderful book illustrations and from where I’ve borrowed these images (as our scanners bust at the moment…) _MG_9575 _MG_9572 _MG_9571 _MG_9566 _MG_9570

A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method – Sir Banister Fletcher

October 20, 2014 Leave a comment

banfletch_cov 001Back in the mid 1980’s when I started learning to be an architect up in Leeds, before the days of the internet with its instant access to unlimited knowledge, the library was where you went to learn more about things that interested you…

Big enough to be exciting to a small town boy like me whilst still being small enough so that all your mates lived no more than 10 minutes walk away, Leeds was a most excellent city to be a student in.

The same couldn’t really be said for Leeds Polytechnic however. Underfunded and lacking those visionary leaders and teachers that set great institutions apart, it generally seemed happy with its lot and didn’t push the design envelope (or the students) too far.

Consequently the architecture library (or more specifically section 720 if I remember the Dewey Decimal system correctly) was disappointingly thin, sadly lacking anything published after about 1975… and the few new/ contemporary books the library had were booked out all term by those that got there first..

Still there was one old book that caught my attention, even if it didn’t really help develop my design skills or understanding of Neo-Rationalism, and that was A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method by the marvelously named Sir Banister Fletcher.

Initially published in 1896, it was a huge tour de force, whose stated aim was to:

“…display clearly the characteristic features of the architecture of each country by comparing the buildings of each period and by giving due prominence to the influences – geographical, geological, climatic, religious, social and historical which have contributed to the formation of particular styles, and which hitherto have not been emphasised systematically in presenting the story of architectural development. The Tree of architecture will help the reader to realise the importance of these influences and the gradual evolution of the various styles.”

tree 001Containing literally hundreds of beautiful line drawings and grainy b&w photos, it became the standard reference text for architectural historians in the first half of last century and I can clearly remember tracing over some of the drawings for various history essay submissions (oh how the tutors must have sniggered, as yet another student tries to pass off achingly familiar drawings as their own…)

Several years ago I came across a Twelfth Edition from 1946 in a local book fair and so for the princely sum of £8, I could once again marvel at the quality of the drawings and wonder at the amount of time and effort that must have gone into this excellent tome…

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banflectch_5 001This last image is from the very back of the book and gives you an idea of how up to date the schemes and visuals were for a student hungry to know more about The Bauhaus and Modernism. And if more evidence were needed, I’ve just checked through the index and even as late as 1946, there is still no mention of Le Corbusier or Frank Lloyd Wright, let alone Walter Gropius…

Still, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed perusing the yellowed pages of this wonderful old book for today’s post. Well worth hunting down a copy if you have an interest in both architectural history and penmanship…. In fact I’ve just learned that there was a 20th edition/ 100th anniversary version updated by Dan Cruikshank published back in 1996. Its available here on Amazon, but at £145, I’d click over to an online second hand book shop, and see what they’ve got….

The Future Library Project…

September 5, 2014 Leave a comment

This has caught my imagination today…

Katie Paterson, a young Scottish artist has had, and implemented the most wonderful idea. Over the summer she and her team have planted over 1000 trees in a beautiful forest wilderness called Nordmarka, about 20 minutes outside Oslo in Norway.

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Every year for the next century, a respected writer will be invited to submit an offering to the Project, which sounds like an excellent idea in itself, but there is a cunning twist. All the submissions will remain secret and unread by anyone until 2114, i.e after 100 years have elapsed. Then and only then, will the trees be chopped down and pulped to make paper sufficient for all the works to be printed, and then read for the first time…

Margaret AtwoodThe first invited writer is Margaret Atwood, who understandably is very excited by the prospect. “It’s the kind of thing you either immediately say yes or no to. You don’t think about it for very long. I think it goes right back to that phase of our childhood when we used to bury little things in the backyard, hoping that someone would dig them up, long in the future, and say, ‘How interesting, this rusty old piece of tin, this little sack of marbles is. I wonder who put it there?'”

Over the intervening years, the submitted works will be stored under lock and key in a specially designed room in an Oslo Public Library, the walls of which will be lined with wood from the forest…

Paterson said that The Future Library “has nature, the environment at its core – and involves ecology, the interconnectedness of things, those living now and still to come. It questions the present tendency to think in short bursts of time, making decisions only for us living now. It freaks me out a bit when I think that many of the writers (who will finally be published in 2114) aren’t born yet.

What a fantastic concept, I wish it every success, and am only marginally disappointed that I will never see it come to fruition…

I can’t help but remember those closing scenes of François Truffaut‘s masterful 1966 film of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, in which “human books” wander around a wintry forest reciting the passages they’ve committed to learn by heart, keeping the “written” word alive for future generations to enjoy…

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