History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

23 October 2006

Museums and Libraries

Kalen’s upcoming trip to the Kent University Museummade me green with envy.. How I would love to tag along. Not only because she is a walking encyclopedia and just being around her makes me feel more knowledgeable but also because I love seeing, reading and, when I can, touching a primary source is what makes the Regency come alive for me.

Fortunately, I live only 90 minutes from Washington, DC, an area that abounds in museums and galleries. If you are not as lucky as I am , you can visit most of these spots on the Internet.

My all time favorite is what I call the "treasure chest" at the National Gallery of Art. Its official name is The Study Room. This explanation of the riches available for study is from the NGA website: “The Gallery's collection of prints, drawings, and illustrated books contains almost 100,000 Western European and American works on paper, dating from the twelfth century to the present day."

Students and “qualifying scholars” can make an appointment to view specific works. I qualify as a “scholar” so you could too. I have spent hours studying one of seven volumes of Rowlandson cartoons. For me they are a cross between a political cartoon and a Jay Leno monologue.

There are also books of architectural drawings published in the early nineteenth century – from lesser known architects like James Paine to the much honored Robert Adam. I came across an interesting anomaly when I compared the two designs they both did for the same house – I am saving that for a later posting.

The National Gallery of Art website is www.nga.gov Once there click on “resources” on the left hand side of the screen for phone number and other pertinent details if you are interested in visiting the study room. If not the website has many of its pieces available for online viewing. Be sure to check out my current favorites Guardi and Canaletto.

Are you interested in the medicine? The National Institute of Health has a special library for those with historical questions in the field. The collection there includes original works and reproductions. The single finest work I ever examined there was Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica. When published in 1543 it was a groundbreaking study of the human anatomy in such detail that it took seven volumes to display all Vesalisus's drawings. The work emphasized, for the first time, an anatomical view of the body, signficanly different than what had been seen before -- as Wikipedia says "seeing human internal functioning as an essentially corporeal structure filled with organs arranged in three-dimensional space." Not only is it valuable medically it is also a work of art.

The copy I looked at was a reproduction and I still was awed by the detail and intensity of the drawings. The good news is that this work is now available online. If you have a minute go to www.nlm.nih.gov -- in the search box enter ‘Archives Turn the Page Online’, then click on the first option under the National Library of Medicine. When you are directed to the Turn The Page website click on ‘Books’. De Humani Corporis Fabrica is the third book on the list. Once there you can leaf through Vesalius's masterpeice and read English summaries of the Latin text.

I was going to talk about the supreme experience of the Rare Book Room at the Library of Congress, but I think I will save that for next time. If I were to visit your home town what gallery or library should I be sure to visit?



Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Fabulous websites. I could spend hours surfing the National Gallery of Art site. Thanks, Mary, for the heads up!

9:57 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Wonderful post, Mary. We don't have great museums in San Francisco. Oddly, San Francisco State University's library has a better scholarly collection of Regency sources than the venerable UC Berkeley -- sometimes I think it's just an accident of one faculty member and his or her interests.

When I was writing THE BOOKSELLER'S DAUGHTER, I stared for hours at the few Bouchers and Fragonards in a smallish San Francisco Museum called The Palace of the Legion of Honor (it's provenance is partly French). Very early on, in the research for that book, I'd read a fascinating art history book called THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODDESSES: Women and Representation in the French Revolutionary Period. And something of the author's discussion of the eroticism of the rococo stayed with me. Sometimes it helps just to stare at a style of representation, doesn't it? If I ever write another French one, though, I think I'll take up permanent residence in the Frick Collection in New York with its rooms of Fragonard murals...

11:18 AM  
Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Hi, Mary,
You are making me realize we have tons of museums, almost around every corner. After touring England's Great Houses, for example, I found Mt. Vernon a bit provincial, but it, too, is a fascinating place.
There are so many places I've never been. The Textile Museum, for example. The Custis Lee Mansion. Then there is Alexandria! Gadsby's Tavern! I could go on and on.
Diane (who lives not too far from the church where Clara Barton nursed Civil War soldiers.)

6:16 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Ok, now I gotta get my butt back out to DC and check out those Rowlandson cartoons.

And Pam, how can you say we don't have great museums here? The Asian Art Museum? The Moma? The Legion of Honor? The de Young?

The combined print collection in the Legion of Honor and the de Young (which is available on line) is AMAZING.

They have an original The Triumph of Maximilian from the early 16th century!!! There are 917 items by Thomas Rowlandson! 55 for James Gillray. 409 for George Cruikshank. The collection is VAST and amazing.


8:15 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Hmm, perhaps I spoke unthinkingly about great museums. I like the Modern (but not relevant here) and I'm expecting great things from the Mexican Museum when it opens (again not relevant)... and I will check out that print collection. The Palace of the Legion of Honor paintings, furniture, and china have been very important to me. But I may as well admit it--I was born in Brooklyn, most of my family's still on the east coast, and every time I visit New York (which is pretty often), I start humming that little tune about how if I could make it here...
Right now I'm seriously in love with the Frick Collection and continually in awe of the Met. And when I visit my sister in New Haven, I particularly love the Yale Center for British Art.

10:04 AM  

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