Sunday, May 1, 2011

The dominant position of an mediocre book. The Perfect Dyer part two.

A few weeks ago the mailman brought a package that would complete my solitary standing second volume. To be precise: now that I finally got a copy of Delormois' Nouveau teinturier parfait' (1769), I have been able to read it in full.
And that includes the preface. Beside its state of the 18th century art recipes it is interesting to note how the booklets advertise themselves.
The name is already a nod to the standard guidebook of the time, the Teinturier parfait, but it comes clear from the text that it is not meant to replace, but to supplement. As a example, page 9 of the foreword mentions that the frequent use of vermillion (kermes) in the earlier book is totally replaced by cochenille. No wonder: most recipes from the Teinturier date from around 1650. It also explains the focus on 'special' colours (jujube, belette, ardoise - a deep granite grey bordering on lilac - ), as the regular reds green and blues had already had their part in the previous manual.
Surely, Delormois (anonymous still in this edition) had some harsh critique on his predecessor, but admits that the book is 'assez bon pour ce qui concerne l'accessoire de la teinture & qu'il s'en fait plusieurs editions'.
Especially the ardoise interests me at the moment: more on that in a later post.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

What Dante felt like: Veltro and the feltro

I can truly admire when someone writes a book about something so specific that it should be nerdy and trivial, but in a manner that (at the end) you think to have read something really special.
This is exactly the case in Leonardo Olschki's 'The myth of felt'. Mr. Olschki is clearly a specialist in Dante literature, but he takes his reader on a journey on account of just one sentence in the first canto of the Divina Commedia:

E sua nazion sara tra feltro e feltro

No-one really knows what is feltro. Well, actually it is of course the word for felt as a fabric, but the meaning is obscure. To make things even more complex, one of the central themes of the canto is the 'Veltro', the Greyhound, as a symbol for the powerdul leader that would lead Rome/Italy out of its moral confusion. So it is also a grammatical joke(?) with its subject.
Olschki supplies a double explanation, first a tour in Tartaric tradition in which felt is also a royal fabric, and in which kings are lifted by their lower officials on felt, both at the start of their reign and at their burial.
Then he switches to the mythical twins Castor and Pollux, and their designation as the classical good sign/omen and their traditional depiction with felt Phrygian caps.

As the booklet build up slowly with its theory, the royal grandeur of the humble fabric works all over the pages. Felt-obsessed Beuys would have been proud (would he have known the book). One thing is clear at the end of the book. Felt can be seen as something royal, powerful, or if you want - that something this interlaced, and this strongly layered, can only be compared to life itself.
Fascinating read!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Coffin dyeing: black, white and ... yellow

In a very nice booklet called 'De volmaakte schrijnwerker' (the obsession with perfection is clear in the titles of craft books), published around 1860, some recipes are given especially for coffins. The reason for this is simple: coffins needed to be ready in several hours in the desired colour shade, and the usual recipes often called for days or even weeks of drying.
Black dye is made out of thin glue with Frankfurt black powder, and varnished with a mixture of 16 lood Venetian turpentine and 1 lood sandarac (thinned with hot turpentine-oil to the thickness of common oilpaint).
A more expensive version of the varnish was made with amber, which had to be boiled, mixed in small amounts with turpentine oil, and cleared through a clean cloth, and cooled afterwards before use.
In the text following more recipes are given for a luxurious white ('waardoor de kist zal blinken als glas') to glitter in the sunlight, brown (umbra or Keulsch aarde), and red (roode oker of Engelsch rood),
all more dark and sober shades of red.
But it surprised me to find a specific paragraph on yellow, to be made out of fine yellow ochre. Yellow is a rather unusual colour in the Dutch folkloristic spectre.
It just feels not Dutch, and out of its place. That must surely be my own prejudice.
Next time I visit an old cemetary, however, my thoughts will at least be more colourful than before...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The changing face of the Perfect Dyer

In my search on the development of dyeing literature a continuous focus for me is the 'Teinturier parfait', the Perfect Dyer, a handbook that was by far the most printed handbook in the 18th century. As I pointed out in an earlier post, there are several books printed with this title, but the major book (the (incorrectly attributed) Delormois book) turns also out to be a developing book.

I recently acquired a copy of the 1724 version as printed by Claude Jombert (the 3rd volume of a larger 4 volume set on many more arts and manufactures). While the later Teinturier Parfaits (as printed after 1747, maybe even the 1737 Avignon edition) have 4 parts, the 1724 edition has only half this text and describes in 23 chapters the same subject and chapters as the later editions till part 2, chapter 8. To make it even more confusing, pagination is almost the same in all editions. The earlier edition, however, uses a much larger font, and much less dense use of the pages. But is also offers slightly more: the descriptions are much more precise on some points, especially on provenance. And while some are clearly wrong (possibly simply gone corrupt and unintentional - f.e. p. 296: sieur Haghe de la Haye), most point in the same direction for authorship: a manuscript by Henri Gobelin from 1631 (p. 336), as copied by his nephew.

This also would provide the answer why some recipes are outdated, but in a highly conservative (still almost guild-like) environment as 18th-c. dyeing, they would probaly have counted as 'the good old way' and complemented with newer versions rather than replaced. It also explains the way this kind of recipe-books grew, and why the 1716 version could still furnish a reprint of a 16th century Ruscelli tractate. It depicts a closed culture where novelties were tried and tested over and over before acceptation, and excellent provenance of recipes was obligatory.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The starless, bible-black and cobblestone patterned.

Bible-black is a term that is loaded with emotion. It evokes something deeply religious, maybe sometimes in a negative way but also an honest piety.
It is a term that, perhaps only in my mind, must almost stand for one definite colour. There can be none, however. I remember an issue of the fashion magazine View on Colour (now merged in Provider) that was devoted to black, and had a small sample card of blacks that were deemed fashionable in the coming years. All blacks, but oh so different in hues, shinyness, and depth.
But it is probably just a perception of blackness. As Dali once proposed that he thought that the centre of the world was the earring in Vermeer's picture (as the light in the picture seems to come from the earring, instead of direct sunlight), I would propose another counterpart.

The way the simple stone casts a shadow on a child's grave in Walker Evans' Let us now praise famous men, that could well be bible-black.

The strange thing is that those black bibles, supposedly so basic and stark, in fact, have traits of fashion. While Dutch black bibles tend to be matte, in discreet sharkskin clad. German black bibles are made from bovine leather, polished with arabic gum. English-made bibles tend to be made from longer-grained morocco. It is not only by country that black bibles are divided, also preferences in taste over time are visible when carefully comparing.

The exact numbers are unknown to me, but certainly worth exploring. I owe it to my fascination with a word.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The joyful side of strict christianity

Combinations of religion and art forms have always fascinated me, and its more abstract components are even more interesting. To paint Biblical scenes is rather straightforward, but the clearly religious feeling in modern art (think Mark Rothko or Bill Viola) is more complex.
But also 'merely' decorative art sometimes has unusual roots. This interesting article show the link between Herrnhutter protestantism and brocade paper industry.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Job Baster and Philip Miller. The Dutch-English madder connection.

English horticulturist Philip Miller travelled to the Netherlands in the mid-18th century and is known to have met Dutch physician and scientist Job Baster at Middelburg. Shortly after, Miller published a book on the cultivation of madder in the Dutch Zeeland province (1758), probably helped in his desciption by Baster (who, in his turn, translated several of Miller's works on garden culture).
He advocates the culture of madder in England, but warns against a simple matter of planting and growing. He notices the details of soil selection for madder, and distinguishes three kinds of madder, all cultivated and traded as roots and shoots. A first without mention of origin, but supposedly the Dutch mother plants, are preferable as planting material. A second (aspera), imported from France and Spain, is decidedly inferior. A third, native to the English coast, is described as still botanically the same species, but clearly unsuitable for culture.