Marking time

Marking time

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Contents of my library

Thanks to LibraryThing for revealing how my library stacks up against others of similar size. A new LibraryThing function can automatically classify my books using the Dewey Decimal System and produce a web infographic at the click of a mouse.

The results are interesting, but not surprising:

The top-level score​—​my library is strong in technology (600s), arts (700s), and biography and history (900s); but weak in philosophy (100s), religion (200s), and literature (800s). The full report has much more detail.

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Thursday 25 May 2017

The colour of Pompeii

This is a sequel to those tourist pictures of local colour around the Bay of Naples. It’s a group of four cartes-de-visite of the wall decorations revealed when the ancient city of Pompeii was ex­cav­ated. Once again these are hand-coloured, and the colour makes them appealing.

Four hand-coloured carte-de-visite copies of engraved illustrations of ancient wall decorations at Pompeii. The backs of the cards are blank.

From about 1750, when archaeological excavation of Pompeii began, the site became an essential stop for wealthy British trav­el­lers undertaking a Grand Tour. The young John Soane was there in 1780 and collected a fragment of plaster which he took back to London. It is still in his collection, preserved along with drawings, models, and books about Pompeii.

A fragment of plaster with the real Pompeian red paint. [Sir John Soane’s Museum collection].

Architects like Soane were thrilled by the colours they saw at Pompeii. Pompeian red became one of the signature colours of late eighteenth century English interiors​—​though recent in­vest­ig­a­tions have suggested that some of those reds were not quite what the Romans saw.

My carte-de-visite pictures are artefacts from a later time​—​when steamships, railways, and middle-class holidays brought larger numbers of tourists to Pompeii.

At least two of the images are copied from copper engravings from Gli Ornati delle pareti ed i pavimenti delle stanze dell’Anti­ca Pompeii [The ornaments of the walls and floors of the rooms of ancient Pompeii], a book first published in Naples in 1796. There is a copy of this book in Soane’s collection. You can find libraries that hold copies via WorldCat. You can also download a digital copy of the first volume of the 1838 edition from the University of Heidelberg.

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Monday 24 April 2017

Neopolitan tourism

Here are two delightful travellers’ souven­irs in the form of carte-de-visite photos​—​reminders of a visit to Naples. I’m guess­ing a tourist bought them after visiting the excavations at Pompeii in the 1860s.

Seventeen people (at least) crowded onto a one-horse carrozzella, with the Bay of Naples and Mount Versuvius in the background, a hand-coloured carte-de-visite copy of a drawing by Consalvo Carelli.

The carte-de-visite was the first broadly-affordable kind of photo­graph. Most cartes were posed studio portraits, but there was also a market for views of scenes and places, as we see here.

More vendors, and fewer passengers, in this copy of another Carelli drawing.

The photographic materials used​—​the wet-plate collodion neg­at­ive and the albumen print​—​could only record static subjects, and only in mono­chrome. But these two pictures have captured the colour and movement of the scene because they are re­pro­duc­tions of an artist’s drawings, with colour added by hand to each print. The artist was Consalvo Carelli, an Italian land­scape painter who is also remembered for the illustrations he made for a travel journal of Alexandre Dumas.

For me these souvenirs evoke the time when mass tourism was just starting​—​made possible, for a growing middle class of Eu­ro­peans, by the steam ship and the railway. Those tourists turned to a newly popular literary genre​—​the travel guide. Here are some tips on getting around in Naples from Karl Baedeker:

Carriages. The distances in Naples are so great, the charges are so moderate, and walking in the hot season is so fatiguing, that there is little inducement for ped­es­tri­an­ism. A private two-horse carrozzella for excursions costs 15-25 fr. per diem; in the town 15 fr. and gratuity. They are to be hired at the hotels, at S. Lucia etc. The fares of the public vehicles are considerably lower: two-horse car­rozzella per drive during the day 1 fr., from sunset to mid­night 1 fr. 50 c.; by time: 2 fr. for the first hour. 1 fr. 50 c. for each successive hour; at night 2 fr. 25 c. for the first, 2 fr. 65 c . for each successive hr. ​—​One horse carrozzella per drive 50 c., at night 65 c.; by time (generally dis­ad­vant­age­ous): 1 f:ยท. 25 c. for the first, 1 fr. for each successive hr.; at night 1 fr. 65 c. and 1 fr . 25 c. respectively. From midnight to sunrise double fares. In hiring by time any fraction above an hour is charged as 1/2 hr. In order to avoid im­pos­i­tion the best rule to observe is to pay the strict fare and not a single soldo in addition. Those who are disposed to pay liberally are sure to be victimized. In case of disputes, application should be made to the nearest policeman. [Karl Baedeker, Italy: handbook for travellers (Coblenz, 1867).].

Detail of the back of one of the cartes-de-visite.

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Sunday 12 March 2017

A Swiss alpine locomotive

Another piece has joined my collection of oddly pleasing carte-de-visite pho­to­graphs. It shows a little steam locomotive whose boiler is shaped like a claret bottle. The boiler is tipped forward about ten degrees, suggesting that this engine was built for hill climbing.

I put on my anorak, did some research, and found that the engine in the photo was built for the Vitznau–Rigi Bahn, the first moun­tain rack rail­way in Europe. The line opened in 1871 and this is the earliest type of engine used on it. The carte-de-visite is not marked with a date or the pho­to­grapher’s name, but there is a good chance it was taken by Adolphe Braun in the early 1870s.

This happy find has sent me on a search for more alpine travellers’ ephemera.


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