The History Woman's Blog

Meeting Jacob Boehme in Dresden

Posted in exhibitions, History, Seventeenth Century, Sixteenth Century by thehistorywoman on October 21, 2017
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Pieter van Gunst, Bildnis Jacob Böhme, 1686/1715, engraving, Kupferstich-Kabinett 
© SKD

I had a few days off work and went on a spontaneous trip to Dresden for some quiet writing time. Naturally, once I got there I spent more time wandering around the city and enjoying the sights in the last rays of the autumn sun than actually writing, and so I stumbled upon this little gem: an exhibition on the German mystical philosopher Jacob Boehme (1575-1624).

I was initially surprised to find a tribute to Boehme in Dresden. But, of course, he spent most of his life some 100 kilometres east of the city, first at Alt Seidenberg where he was born and at Seidenberg where he was apprenticed to a shoemaker, and later in the town of Goerlitz where he set up shop in the 1590s.

The ‘fanatical cobbler’ from Goerlitz

Boehme was a remarkable man. He rose from humble beginnings to becoming one of the most important German thinkers. His first and principal work, Aurora, the 1612 manuscript of which is currently on display at the Palace Chapel in Dresden set out his view of the world. According to Boehme, the unfinished tract was the product of a divine inspiration going back to around 1600 when the young shoemaker contemplated on a ray of sunlight reflected in a pewter dish which revealed to him the relationship between God and man and the mysteries of the universe. Copies of the manuscript circulated among his friends and acquaintances and finally fell into the hands of the chief pastor of Goerlitz, Gregor Richter, who confiscated the work, considered it heretical and got the local council to issue a writing ban on Boehme.

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‘ALL IN ALL. The Conceptual World of the Mystical Philosopher Jacob Böhme’ , exhibition at the Palace Chapel in Dresden, Royal Palace. © SKD, Foto: Oliver Killig

Its author subsequently came to be known as the ‘fanatical cobbler’ from Goerlitz. The humble shoemaker had clearly risen above his station, and the authorities tried to keep him under control. However, Boehme resumed his writing in 1618 on the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War, which he considered as a sign of the dark powers of evil at work in the world, and outlined his ideas in On the Three Principles of Divine Being. He was to write another thirty-odd works before his death in 1624 dealing with a large number of subjects from readings of the Old Testament to disputes within the Protestant community.

Boheme’s work was well received at the court in Dresden

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The manuscript of Jacob Böhme’s first work, ‘Aurora’ of 1612 at the Palace Chapel in Dresden.
© SKD, Foto: Oliver Killig

Only one of his works, The Way to Christ (1624), was published during his lifetime. Yet, his other writings circulated in manuscript among his followers and Boehme managed to establish a considerable reputation during his lifetime and beyond. In the year of his death, he travelled to Dresden and reported in a letter that his Way to Christ was well received at the Elector of Saxony’s court. Nevertheless, the publication of his book caused controversy and he had to defend himself before the local authorities. He only walked free because he was able to prove that while he might have been the author of this work, he had not been responsible for its publication.

The current exhibition at Dresden engages both with Boehme’s life and work and with the broader context of his time. It is structured around key concepts of his writings, such as nature, darkness, creation, cosmos, rebirth, light and freedom, and it displays both manuscripts and editions of his works as well as later engagements with his thought by artists and thinkers. Alas, it is a very small exhibition. But it comes with excellent accompanying materials, including an exhibition catalogue (on which this blog post is based) and a collection of scholarly essays in English and German well worthwhile reading.

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All in All – The Conceptual World of the Mystical Philosopher Jacob Böhme, 26 August to 19 November 2017. Palace Chapel of the Dresden Royal Palace.

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Creating and Preserving the Digital Republic of Letters

Earlier this week I attended the excellent Durham conference on ‘Intellectual Networks in the Long Seventeenth Century’. With a theme like this it seemed inevitable for participants to talk about the early modern Republic of Letters and to draw parallels between early modern and modern networks around the (known) world. So I had the honour of chairing an exciting panel themed ‘Electrifying Intellectual Networks’ featuring ‘Three Case Studies in the Digital Republic of Letters’.

Professor Antony McKenna presented the critical electronic edition of the correspondence of the French philosopher Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) he is working on with colleagues at the University Jean Monnet at St Etienne in France. With this online database ‘we can accomplish the traditional tasks of a critical edition more quickly and efficiently’, including ‘indexing, annotation, and so on’, says McKenna.

Correspondance de Pierre Bayle

Correspondance de Pierre Bayle

Researchers can simply click on a highlighted name in any given letter to be taken directly to an entry with more information about the individual mentioned and a list of further links to letters authored by or featuring the person in question. There is also an extensive critical apparatus on the correspondence as well as plenty of visual material and more.

More than a gadget

But McKenna is eager to point out that the electronic Correspondance de Pierre Bayle ‘is not simply a fashionable gadget or another free-standing online edition, but in combination with other tools could be a key resource for the study of the social history of ideas.’

One of these ‘other tools’ is the brand new ePistolarium launched by Dr Charles van den Heuvel and his team at the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands in The Hague only three weeks ago. This resource helps ‘to analyse the circulation and appropriation of knowledge produced by Dutch scholars’, explains van den Heuvel. (more…)

‘The World is Our House’: A Midsummer’s Symposium of Jesuit Culture and Music, 1540-1700

Posted in Conferences, Early Modern, History, literature, Religion, Seventeenth Century, Sixteenth Century by thehistorywoman on May 12, 2013

Swansea University and Hereford Cathedral are holding a Midsummer symposium on international Jesuit culture, 1540–1700. The event on 21 June celebrates the re-evaluation of the Cwm Jesuit Library, housed at Hereford Cathedral since 1679.

The library is the largest surviving seventeenth-century Jesuit missionary library in Britain. Scholars are currently analysing the library as part of a joint project between Swansea University and Hereford Cathedral, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The study day aims to place the library in its larger international context by exploring the rich and fascinating world of seventeenth-century Jesuit culture.

The symposium is to feature six speakers and an exhibition of early Jesuit books and music as well as other rare material, including the Hereford Mappa Mundi. There will also be an evening concert of early Jesuit music.

An agenda for the day as well as a booking form can be downloaded from the conference web page worldisourhouse.blogspot.com.

For queries, please contact the organisers, either via the conference web page, emailing library@herefordcathedral.org, or by calling 01432 374225/6.

On the economic power of God’s invisible Church

Posted in Early Modern, History, Religion, Reviews, Seventeenth Century, Sixteenth Century by thehistorywoman on March 12, 2013

Brethren in Christ‘Brethren in Christ’ was the common form of address in correspondences among Calvinist elites in early modern Europe as they asked for each other’s support and solidarity, in particular in times of displacement and hardship caused by bouts of intolerance sparked by the Counter-Reformation. Among those forced into exile for their faith during the sixteenth century were four families from Lucca: the Calandrinis, Burlamachis, Diodatis and Turrettinis. Uprooted and displaced multiple times from Italy, France, the Netherlands and Germany by such key events as the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre or the Thirty Years War they travelled around Europe like the Israelites escaping Babylon and more often than not found at least a spiritual home in their ‘new Jerusalem’, the Swiss city of Geneva.

Ole Peter Grell’s most recent book Brethren in Christ: A Calvinist Network in Reformation Europe is not a work about Calvinist rhetoric, as the first half of its title might suggest. It is a work of social history dealing with networks and collective biography, or rather lots of short biographies that add up to one bigger story, showing that the aim for a grand(er) narrative does not have to go at the expense of detail, or rather that a certain amount of detail is sufficient to make a bigger point.

Thus, as we follow different generations of Calandrinis, Burlamachis, Diodatis and Turrettinis across Reformation Europe we get a sense of how things hang together, how the Counter-Reformation in Tuscany led to an exodus of wealthy merchant-bankers to Lyon and Paris, how the St Bartholomew Day Massacre in France subsequently made them move on to the United Provinces, England and Germany, and how Frederick V’s acceptance of the Bohemian crown did not just trigger the Thirty Years War, but also caused a refugee crisis in the Imperial city of Nuremberg, which was overrun by exiles from the Palatinate, and finally how Calvinist elites managed the relief effort by appealing for money and triggering collections in the stranger churches of London and elsewhere. (more…)

Continental Connections: Anglo-European Intellectual Networks, c1500-1800

Posted in Conferences, Early Modern, Eighteenth Century, History, Seventeenth Century, Sixteenth Century by thehistorywoman on February 9, 2013

A Day Workshop at Northumbria University

2 May 2013

Lipman Building, Room 121

Early modern England was more European in outlook than much of the (anglocentric) historiography suggests, and nowhere was this more obvious than in the Republic of Letters, which crossed both territorial and linguistic boundaries. However, this community of scholars and literary figures was not the only network available. Grand tourists, political exiles, printers and publishers, and even religious orders contributed to a variety of continental connections that shaped the way early modern men and women interpreted their environment and saw themselves as part of a wider European context. This one-day workshop looks at a range of different, though sometimes overlapping, Anglo-European intellectual networks in the early modern period in an attempt to understand the many ways in which the English connected and shared their ideas with men and women on the Continent.

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Provisional Programme

10.00                               Arrival & Coffee

10.15                                Welcome (Gaby Mahlberg)

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10.30-12.00                  Panel 1, chair: Monika Smialkowska (Northumbria University)

Glyn Parry (Northumbria University): ‘The Magical Republic of Letters and Its Opponents’

Fred Schurink (Northumbria University): ‘How the classical tradition came to renaissance England: The continental source editions of Tudor translations of Plutarch’

Andrea Knox (Northumbria University): ‘Her Book-Lined Cell’: Irish Nuns and the Development of Texts, Translation and Literacy in late medieval Spain’

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12.00-13.00                  Lunch

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13.00-14.30                  Panel 2, chair: Claudine van Hensbergen (Northumbria University)

Jane Everson (RHUL): ‘England and the English in the Italian Academies (16th and 17th centuries).’

Alasdair Raffe (Northumbria University): ‘George Sinclair, Petrus van Mastricht and Anti-Cartesianism in late seventeenth-century Scotland’

Thomas Biskup (Hull University): ‘A special relationship? Situating scholarly links between the University of Göttingen and England in the Republic of Letters, 1737-1806’

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14.30-15.00                  Coffee

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15.00-16.30                  Panel 3, chair: Neil Murphy (Northumbria University)

Rachel Hammersley (Newcastle University), ‘The Huguenot Network, the Enlightenment Republic of Letters and the Transmission of English Republican Ideas’

Delphine Doucet (Sunderland University), ‘Translating republicanism and clandestine circulation: Toland’s Pantheisticon’

Gaby Mahlberg (Northumbria University), ‘Les Juges Jugez ses Justifians: Republicanism meets the Republic of Letters’

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16.30-17.00                  Concluding Discussion (chaired by Gaby Mahlberg & Alasdair Raffe)

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If you would like to attend, please contact gaby.mahlberg@northumbria.ac.uk .

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The Holbein Stare and Other Works of Art

Posted in Art, Early Modern, News, Reviews, Sixteenth Century by thehistorywoman on November 3, 2012

Derich Born, 23-year-old merchant of Cologne, by Hans Holbein the Younger (1533).

Be prepared for the Holbein stare. His sitters will look right at you, or through you – like Derich Born. Serious beyond his years, wealthy and confident, the 23-year-old merchant of Cologne was the youngest member of the London Hanseatic League and seems remarkably lifelike as his dark brown eyes look out from underneath his black cap. Hans Holbein the Younger (c1497-1543) painted him in 1533, and as with most of Holbein’s portraits, it is the eyes that hold the viewer’s attention, be it in the sketch of Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor Thomas More (c 1526-27) or in the painting of ‘Hans of Antwerp’ (1532).

While most of the attention is usually on the paintings, I often prefer the chalk, pen and ink drawings. They are like shadows or ghosts of people who once lived and have all but faded out. I was particularly taken by the ethereal looks of a beautiful, young Lady Parker (c1540-3), possibly one of Jane Seymour’s attendants who gazes out from the white background with her big round eyes. There is also a drawing of a young ‘Lady’ Mary (c. 1536), demoted from her position as ‘Princess’ after the birth of her younger brother Edward, Prince of Wales, in a frame alongside hers, aged one (c 1538).

More often than not, these drawings were studies for paintings; and it is particularly interesting to see one next to the other, as in the case of the portrait of Sir Henry Guildford (1527), who was one of Henry VIII’s closest friends and Comptroller of the Royal Household. As a court painter, meanwhile, Holbein was not beyond the art of flattery. The exhibition blurb informs us that Guildford’s slightly chubby-drawn face was lengthened on the painting for ‘a more flattering expression’. (more…)

Charitable Hatred, or the Trouble with Tolerance in Early Modern England

Posted in Early Modern, Religion, Reviews, Seventeenth Century, Sixteenth Century by thehistorywoman on August 10, 2010

In her book on ‘tolerance and intolerance’ in early modern England Alex Walsham takes a swipe at the Whiggish notion of the ‘rise of toleration’ (7) and the domination of the field by the history of ideas. Emphasisng the point that it was the moral duty of every good Christian at the time to correct any deviance from true religion in their neighbours, Walsham considers persecution itself as some kind of ‘charitable hatred’. Toleration, however, meant no more than ‘to permit or license something of which one emphatically disapproved’ (4). The relationship between ‘tolerance’ and ‘intolerance’ was therefore much more complex than the dominant Whig interpretation suggests.

Walsham also emphasises the often contradictory behaviour of the population towards deviant groups, in particular Catholics. Since post-Reformation Catholicism had a political dimension Catholics were usually considered ‘traitors rather than hereticks’ (22) , and anti-popish prejudice could ‘inflate Catholicism to menacing proportions’ (27). Nevertheless, many people who hated ‘papists’ in the abstract could still get on perfectly well with their Catholic neighbours. The uniformity in religion seen as so crucial for national unity meanwhile seemed like a utopian goal, even though this was not publicly acknowledged before the passing of the 1689 Toleration Act.

Unsurprisingly, many at the receiving end of persecution were ‘foreigners and strangers,’ and there was a clear ‘xenophobic dimension of contemporary intolerance’ (141). The experience of persecution, meanwhile, led to both ‘active forms of resistance’ (177) and ‘concessions to repressive regimes through conformity and dissimulation’ (188) – a response that is often neglected by the historiography.

Overall, however, there was a considerable amount of negotiation between people of different faiths and confessions and a great willingness of neighbours to get on with each other. Like the rest of Europe, England underwent a process of ‘confessionalisation’ as the people slowly began to understand that ‘religious pluralism’ (301) was there to stay.

Walsham’s book is an excellent work of synthesis, covering much of the available literature on the topic as well as bringing together the social history of religion with the history of ideas and political history. Not all of its facts or insights might be new, but the way in which they are presented and brought together certainly is. A great introduction for all newcomers to the subject, and an eye-opener for many specialists in the field.

Alexandra Walsham, Charitable hatred: tolerance and intolerance in England, 1500-1700 (Manchester: MUP, 2006; paperback ed. 2009).

The ‘Monarchical Republic’ and its Critics

Posted in Early Modern, Reviews, Seventeenth Century, Sixteenth Century by thehistorywoman on June 5, 2010

Patrick Collinson first set out his idea of ‘The Monarchical Republic of Queen Elizabeth I’ in a journal article in 1987. In this article he emphasised in particular two ways in which Elizabethan subjects conceived themselves as ‘citizens’ and displayed considerable self-governing capacities. First, there were Elizabeth’s Privy Councillors at the centre, who were hatching plans for a possible Interregnum in the case of the Queen’s sudden death. And secondly, there were the ‘chief inhabitants’ of localities such as Swallowfield, who made arrangements to govern themselves at their parish meeting because their governors were so ‘far off’. The first group was motivated by humanist ideals of the vita activa and counsel to the prince, the second group by a native English sense of independence as well as a Puritan concern for the community.

Some twenty years after Collinson’s seminal article, John F. McDiarmid has gathered a number of responses to his thesis of the ‘monarchical republic’ in a small volume of extremely useful and refreshingly short essays. None of them exceeds 20 pages, and most of them are immensely clear and readable.  As with the majority of volumes produced ‘in honour’ or ‘in response’ to an eminent historian, the essays treat Collinson’s ideas with great respect, and most of them show further examples or new aspects of the ‘monarchical republic’ in action.

Dale Hoak, for instance, argues that the monarchical republic of Queen Elizabeth actually had its origins in the earlier reign of Edward VI, when courtiers like Sir William Cecil and Sir Thomas Smith realised that the monarchy depended on the support of Parliament and the people. In particular, parliamentary backing was necessary for ‘a royal Reformation’ (54). The volume editor John F. McDiarmid similarly stresses the link between the leading thinkers and statesmen of the Edwardian and Elizabethan ages. He claims that these ‘Edwardo-Elizabethans’ (55), in particular Thomas Smith and his Cambridge circles, were ‘significantly informed by classical republican thought, especially Cicero’ (56), and that there was a clear ‘link between language and the polity in the Ciceronian tradition’ (59). Both, he argues, arose from the people and depended on their consent, and both language and the res publica were ‘the work of a community’ (59). However, as different communities spoke different languages, so different communities had different political structures. And these structures, like languages, were open to change and shaped by the community itself (60). (more…)