Pretzels at the Last Supper?

Yes indeed! In several richly illuminated medieval manuscripts preserved in the Morgan’s vaults there are pictures of the Last Supper with beautifully depicted pretzels. In this example, from a mid-eleventh century Gospel Lectionary made in the Abbey of St. Peter in Salzburg, a pretzel can be found on the right side of table.

The mystery of a “spurious Dickens letter”

Last month, browsing the Bonhams auction catalogue Papers & Portraits: The Roy Davids Collection Part II, I came across a description of a three-page manuscript short story by Charles Thomas Clement James (1858–1905), a prolific author whose name and work were completely unknown to me. The story bears the Dickensian title “Concerning the Sinkingsop and Slush Railway” and the footnote accompanying the lot description is amusingly arch: “This manuscript is a fine example, the only one seen commercially, of the remarkable similarity in the handwritings of Charles Dickens and Charles James.

Mary Lamb's not so gentle madness

The Romantic essayist William Hazlitt described Mary Lamb as the most “reasonable woman” he ever knew. This choice of adjective -- reasonable -- is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Mary Lamb. Interesting, perhaps, or articulate, or even brilliant, but reasonable seems an odd choice to describe a woman who, in a “fit of mania,” killed her mother with a kitchen knife.

Before Chickamauga

The first shots of the American Civil War were fired 150 years ago today from Fort Sumter, South Carolina, and the two-day bombardment ended in the surrender of the fort to Confederate General Beauregard. There were no casualties in this initial engagement, but in the following four years at least 618,000 died. It remains the bloodiest war in United States history.

Dante Rossetti requires a suitable owner for his supersize masterpiece

Dante’s Dream (1871) has resided at the Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool, since 1881, when the institution purchased the painting directly from Dante Gabriel Rossetti for £1575. The museum was not the first owner of this massive, stunning example of Pre-Raphaelite work, however. A single item from the Morgan’s collection of Rossetti letters figures into its interesting (read: frustrating) exchange of hands and underlines the turbulent nature of the art business...

Happy Birthday, William Wordsworth!

Today marks the 241st anniversary of William Wordsworth’s birth. He was a founder of the so-called Lake School of poetry, and I have a mental image of Wordsworth wandering “lonely as a cloud” through the mountainous Lake District, penning his lines in the very settings he describes. He has been called “our greatest nature poet,” and was a master of the walking tour – Thomas de Quincey estimated that he “must have traversed a distance of 175 to 180,000 English miles.”