Baptism at the ‘Waist of the World’

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The 1690 Atlante Veneto : nel quale si contiene la descrittione geografica, storica, sacra, profana, e politica, degl’ universo by Vincenzo Coronelli contains the earliest illustration of a the line crossing ceremony. (Call#: G1015 .C82 Rare OO)

When planning this year’s Gallery Crawl I decided to include a station focusing on a well-known seafaring tradition: the line crossing ceremony.  If you’re asking yourself “what the hell is a line crossing ceremony?” and are planning to attend the Crawl let me just say you are in for a real treat!  While surveying the collection for items to display I was surprised to discover that I had to look at some of the oldest books in the library; which, of course, made me supremely curious about the ceremony’s origins and how it developed into the crazy ritual it is today. 

The tradition developed sometime after 1418 which is when expeditions coordinated by Prince Henry the Navigator began tentatively working their way down the Atlantic coast of Africa. By 1473, Portuguese explorer Lopo Gonçalves had reached and crossed the equator. Interestingly, no one on these early voyages mentions celebrating passing the equator, or anything else for that matter other than arriving back home alive! Presumably, these sorts of events wouldn’t develop until voyages became so frequent they were considered “normal.”   Read more

Tornado Saves Capital (and Steals Anchor for Museum!)

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Recently I had the pleasure of giving a behind the scenes tour to attendees of the annual conference of the National Society Children of 1812 (if you follow me on Facebook you might remember they gave us $1850 towards the conservation of a watercolor in the collection).  While planning the tour, I decided to include one of the anchors in our collection because it had a great War of 1812 provenance.

The anchor, a large Old Plan kedge anchor, had been recovered from the bottom of the Patuxent River near Point Patience, Maryland in 1959 by US Navy divers from the Naval Ordnance Laboratory Test Facility.  Luckily, despite spending 145 years underwater, the anchor was in fairly pristine condition and retained many of its identifying marks.   Read more

Hunting with the Amazons

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Scrapbook prior to disassembly

Well…probably not the kind of Amazons you’re thinking about, these were the Amazon-class steam screw sloop’s HMS Daphne, Dryad and Nymph of the Royal Navy and the “hunt” occurred off the East Coast of Africa as they worked to suppress the African slave trade.

I became interested in this story after the library transferred an album of watercolors and sketches over to the object collection (which is where works of art normally live).  The album contained thirty-seven images created by Lt. William Henn of the Royal Navy. For you America’s Cup fans that name should sound familiar.  Henn and his wife Susan and their pet Maltese monkey, Peggy, raced their 90-ton cutter yacht Galatea (which was also their house!) against Mayflower in the 1886 America’s Cup.   Read more

Venice’s Marriage to the Sea

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Hand-colored copperplate engraving titled ‘The Doge in the Bucintoro Departing for the Porto di Lido on Ascension Day.’ The original artwork was created by Canaletto and engraved by Giovanni Battista Brustolo. This third state engraving was printed by Teodoro Viera in Venice sometime around 1787. [Accession# LE 831]

This weekend marks the annual Festa della Sensa in Venice.  Although the festival didn’t start until 1965 it commemorates and recreates the ancient traditional ceremony of Sposalizio del Mar, the event in which Venice is symbolically married to the sea.

The origins of the ceremony date to the period when Venice was a sovereign state (from 697 AD to 1797 AD).  It commemorates two important events in the state’s history: the May 9, 1000 departure of Doge Pietro II Orseolo with a fleet on the successful mission to subdue Narentine pirates threatening Venetian power, trade and travel on the Adriatic and Doge Sebastiano Ziani’s successful negotiation of the Treaty of Venice in 1177. The treaty ended a long standing conflict between the Holy Roman Empire headed by Frederick Barbarossa and the Papacy.   Read more

The Death of an Attribution

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Magic and Gracie off Castle Garden by James Edward Buttersworth, circa 1868-1872 (Accession #2011.06.01. Gift of Janet and Rudolph Schaefer.)

What’s an attribution, you ask? It’s the act of ascribing an artwork to a particular artist (if the painting isn’t signed) or as a depiction of a particular event (if it isn’t specifically identified by the artist).  To attribute a painting to an artist one must be very knowledgeable about the artist’s oeuvre. To make an attribution to an event one must be a VERY careful and detail-oriented researcher.  Thankfully, the attribution I had to kill wasn’t to remove the artist; I was forced to remove the attribution to an event because it doesn’t appear that much research took place before the attribution was made.

The affected work is a beautiful painting by marine artist James Edward Buttersworth. It depicts the schooner Magic and sloop Gracie leading a fleet of six yachts down the Hudson River and around the tip of Manhattan on a partly cloudy morning (we know it’s morning because of the position of the sun). A fairly famous piece, this painting graced the cover of the 1994 reprint of Rudolph J. Schaefer’s seminal work “J. E. Buttersworth 19th-Century Marine Painter.”  At some point in the past, probably sometime before 1975, the scene was determined to be the annual regatta of the New York Yacht Club held on June 22, 1871. The slow and painful death of this attribution began when I was asked to provide historical details about the painting so it could be intelligently discussed during special events.   Read more