26 September 2009

Nicholas Hilliard

One of the plot points in Michael Innes's Lord Mullion's Secret involves miniatures by Nicholas Hilliard, a painter or limner at Elizabeth I's court (Hilliard's self portrait left). Although miniatures are small, the word actually derives from the Latin 'minium', meaning red lead. Since red lead was mainly used for illuminated manuscripts and small portable paintings, the word gradually took on the meaning 'small'.

The largest collection of Hilliard miniatures is in London's Victoria and Albert Museum. Every detail in miniatures is significant. Perhaps Hilliard's most famous work is the portrait below of an anonymous young man in a rose garden. For a discussion see this article from the V&A.

The Guardian discusses this Hilliard miniature from the V&A of a young man against a background flames, while The Independent discusses the miniature below, also from the V&A.

Timea Tallian and Alan Derbyshire of the V&A discuss Hilliard's techniques based on experimental reconstructions. Unfortunately, Hilliard's own work, "Treatise on the Arte of Limning", is not online.

The YouTube video below shows a selection of Hilliard's work to the tune of Greensleeves:

22 September 2009


Alcuin was born around 735 and grew up in York, where he attended the cathedral school. Encouraged by his teachers, one of whom became the Archbishop of York, he was appointed head of the school, where he was one of the key figures in preserving and enlarging the cathedral library. He gained such a reputation as a teacher that in 782 Charlemagne invited him to come to the continent to establish a palace school and scriptorium. Alcuin stayed with Charlemagne till his retirement in 796, when Charlemagne appointed him abbot of a monastery at Tours.He died in 804.

Alcuin's palace school at Charlemagne's court seems to have been an important influence in the adoption of the script we know as Caroline Minuscule (example above) and the copying of manuscripts in the new script. The picture below of Alcuin presenting manuscripts to Charlemagne was painted by Victor Schnetz in 1830 and is now in Paris's Louvre.

Alcuin wrote a number of textbooks in the form of dialogues. One example is this dialogue between Alcuin and Charlemagne's son Pippin. He also produced a set of mathematical puzzles Propositiones ad Acuendos Juvenes. The Wikipedia article on this work (caveat quaerens) links to a Latin version and a couple of English translations.

Alcuin also edited the Vulgate and wrote a number of theological works on the Trinity. The Catholic Encyclopedia and the Anglican Biographical Sketches have articles on Alcuin from their respective viewpoints. (all images are in the public domain and are taken from wikicommons)

16 September 2009

My New Blog

I'm starting a new blog called Elegant Extracts. It's basically just excerpts from books I'd like to share for various reasons. Do drop by. Matters Arising will continue. I'm currently gathering material for a post on Alcuin but work commitments are slowing things down.

10 September 2009

More Welcomes

Welcome to new followers Chris Ann Matteo, who runs a number of blogs related to teaching Latin in the United States, and David Powell, who blogs at studenda mira.

06 September 2009


I have written before about the life of Coriolanus as told by Livy and Plutarch and about Shakespeare's use of Plutarch's Life of Coriolanus. Irene Hahn of Roman History Books and More has written about Coriolanus in the arts, something I'd like to expand on.

Some time between 1495 and 1510 Michele da Verona painted Coriolanus Persuaded By His Family To Spare Rome, which is now in London's National Gallery. Towards the end of that period Luca Signorelli painted a fresco with the same title, also now in the National Gallery.

In the first half of the 17th century Nicolaus Knupfer produced a drawing of Coriolanus Receiving Roman Matrons, which is now in the British Museum. In the second quarter of the 17th century Bartolomeo Biscaino produced a painting of , which was sold in 2005, presumably to a private collection.

Poussin produced the above picture, Coriolanus Supplicated by His Mother, in 1650. It is now in Les Andelys's Musée Nicolas Poussin. (image from aiwaz.net used by permission)

Filippo Abbiati's picture Coriolanus Persuaded By His Family To Raise the Siege of Rome was painted in 1661 and is now in a private collection after being sold in 1996. In 1674 Gerbrand van den Eeckhout painted "Volumnia Before Coriolanus", now in Oregon's Portland Art Museum (it can be seen in this gallery view directly underneath the gallery name on the wall).

Around 1730, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo painted the above picture of Coriolanus, which is now in St. Petersburg's State Hermitage. (public domain picture from arthermitage.org)

In the 1780s, Giuseppe Bernadino Bison drew a picture of Coriolanus and the women of Rome which is now in Washington's National Gallery of Art.

In 1831 Jacques-Raymond Brascassat painted a more rural view of Coriolanus and his mother, now in the Monte Carlo Museum (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

In 1860 George Frederick Watts produced this study for a fresco in Bowood House. I have not been able to track down the location of the study so I assume it's in a private collection. More studies can be seen at London's Watts Gallery (search for Coriolanus). (public domain image from museumsyndicate.com)

The above statue of Virgilia by Thomas Woolner was produced in 1871 and is in Strawberry Hill, London. (wikimedia image used under GNU Free Documentation Licence)