Browse Exhibits (24 total)
Throughout history for many European citizens, prayer books fulfilled a very unique and significant role in religious life. Allowing prayers to be carried, often in one’s pocket, provided the opportunity for the faithful to personally guide and develop their own religious journey outside of the physical structure of a church. The pages of these prayer books were often decorated with masterful patterns, calligraphy, and miniature artworks both to inspire the reader to prayer and to offer visual aid to the reader, encouraging them to achieve a proper mental and spiritual state for reciting, interpreting, and retaining the prayers. Over time, a tradition of the decoration of prayer books developed, and certain regions of Europe began to formulate their own individual stylistic traditions for the illustration of prayer book pages.
This exhibition explores the diversity of the decorative illustration of European prayer books across multiple geographical areas, focusing specifically on England, Wales, Ireland, Spain, and France. When placed side-by-side, we are able to compare and contrast the stylistic intricacies of the books’ illustrations. Depending on the region of origin, we are able to observe distinct artisanal traditions in certain prayer books that do not exist in other places, giving the books a heightened sense of cultural identity. However, at the same time, we are also able to observe similarities in these artisanal traditions, allowing us to witness various unifying factors of the Christian faith.
In certain prayer books, specific biblical stories are illustrated to their fullest. In such works, artists often depict the scenes with physical features that are inspired by their own geographical location. Characteristics such as terrain, landforms, styles of architecture, species of foliage, and even clothing fashions are all local influences that appear in these biblical illustrations. These embellished iterations of the same Bible story indicate Christianity’s ability to integrate with the cultures of various populations, as well as indicate the willingness of these cultures to adapt Christianity to fit their everyday lives, therefore allowing the faith to be more relatable and accessible to all. Certain prayer books also utilize forms of calligraphy and decorative lettering in their pages. Depending on the culture of origin, this type of lettering can fulfill many different roles, from inspiring the reader to continue their prayer with wonder and awe to providing the reader with symbolism for visual aid, thus setting the spiritual tone for what they are reading. In other cases, prayer books can also have fore-edge painting, in which an illustration is applied to the edge of a book’s pages. Most of these paintings depict landscapes, cityscapes, or specific structures that pertain to the origin or subject matter of the book, providing us with a wealth of historical information about both the existence of the reader and of the publisher. While at the time fore-edge painting was intended to be purely decorative, these works leave us valuable knowledge about the societies that utilized these books.
At the time of their publishing, prayer books were considered to be an extension of church teachings; the literature of a vast religious organization. However, they were also considered to be very intimate and personal possessions. It is compelling to witness this dynamic within the context of each book’s illustrations. In their similarities, they demonstrate the universality of the Church. However, in their differences, they exhibit the unique traditions of local cultures, allowing us to more fully understand the lives of those who carried these books.
Political Cartoons: Attitudes towards British Imperialism
With the rise of modern newspapers and magazines, political cartoons became more popular as a form of criticism and satire. Through the use of caricaturization and jokes artists commented on political issues in a satirical or humorous way. Political cartoons can also be a tool of propaganda, portraying a nation in a glorified light while portraying their enemies and subjects as irrational, inferior, or, in some cases, dehumanized. This exhibit focuses on British political cartoons that glorified British imperialism, promoted an unequal social order, and argued for the subjugation of colonized peoples.
Two pieces that highlight the exhibit’s aim are John Tenniel’s “Two Forces” and Edward Linley Sambourne’s “The Rhodes Colossus.” The former highlights the insidious ways in which British imperial subjects were depicted by pro-imperial cartoonists; the piece features an Irish man, rebelling against British rule, as an ape-like monster attacking and harming his own homeland. Tenniel argues that British rule over Ireland is necessary, and that Irish people are unable to rule themselves, through the dehumanization of their depiction. Sambourne’s Colossus illustration depicts British mining magnate and imperial governor of South Africa Cecil Rhodes standing over the African continent, holding the telegram line that he had proposed building. This piece reflects how British imperial rulers saw Africa as a resource to be exploited, showing it as quite literally propping up men in power like Rhodes. It also displays Britain as a benevolent savior, bringing the telegram and other technology to Africa; it reflects white savior attitudes of Britain as “civilizing” Africa rather than subjugating them.
Another theme of the exhibition is in the depiction of Britain as under threat, and needing protection in order to stop from being destroyed or degrading, as can be seen from James Gillray’s “Britania’s Assassination” and Michael Cummings’ illustration of Winston Churchill. Gillray criticizes progressive reformers of the time as destroying Britain, showing them destroying a statue of Britannia; meanwhile, two more conservative politicians are shown trying to pull the statue away and save it, while Britain’s foreign enemies–America and France–run away with the pieces. Cummings’ illustration of Churchill criticizes the compromise he made with Egypt regarding control over the Suez canal, arguing that Churchill was meant to be a man who preserved British imperial power. The piece reflects anxieties over Britain's declining power in the 20th century.
Political cartoons reflect the creator’s views, and how they wish to share them with the world. Through this exhibition, we hope to show how pro-imperial British cartoonists sought to glorify Britain, put down its enemies, and further pro-imperial thought among the general public.
Heavy Metal: Decorative Evolution of Prayer Books
Drew University Special Collections Prayer Book collection is full of beautifully decorated prayer books. When looking specifically at the Prinster collection it is easy to gravitate to the metalwork seen throughout the collection. Glistening gold, shining silver, and earthy copper catches a viewer's eyes and draws them into the intensely decorated books. Not only is metal used, but rich fabrics like velvet are used to bind some of the books and complement the metal present. This exhibit will focus on a chronological evolution of the use of metalwork in prayer books starting in the 1700’s, ending in the early 1900’s.
We start this journey through time in the 1700’s with two books. One book from 1703, and the other from 1757. These two books are about 50 years apart, but are very similar. A common theme of black leather, silver bosses, and an emblem in the centers of each book are quite apparent. There is a focus on leatherworking with illumination, as well as mimicking the style and design from the emblem to the bosses.
Moving 100 years forward into the 1800’s the focus shifts to gold metalwork and the incorporation of rich fabrics. This section has three books, one from 1840, one from 1842, and one from 1855. The 1800’s. Though they are close in time, they depict a transitional period in exterior bookbinding decoration. The early part of the 1800’s had a focus on different kinds of fabrics binding books, with bosses being the main protection and preservation of those fabrics. They then started to turn towards metal work being the main decorative feature with the velvet being in the background. In the second half of the 1800’s there was a shift to completely metal covers and an emphasis on botanical motifs.
Moving to the end of the 1800’s and early 1900’s there was the focus on iconography and metal being the main decoration. This exhibit contains two miniature common prayer books from 1903. One has the botanical motif, but is unique in metal; the other has a very common iconography seen on prayer books from the early 1900’s, with symbols associated in Christianity. Though not all prayer books from the early 1900’s had this kind of metal work, these are interesting examples of small yet elaborate decoration.
Exploring the use of metal work through the 1700’s to the early 1900’s in prayer books exemplifies the intricate details and evolution of exterior decoration. The evolution of book binding in prayer books is one based in aesthetics and luxury materials. Going through this exhibit chronologically characterizes the zeitgeist of each century and their stylistic evolution through metal work. The Prinster collection exemplifies these ideas and these books present one of the many stylistic features seen in this collection.
Misogyny in Comics and Cartoons of the Twentieth and Twenty First Centuries
The purpose of this exhibit is to demonstrate the ways that gender roles manifest in visualizations and depictions of women in a selection of comics and cartoons from throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In each of these depictions, women are reduced to several characteristics that serve to objectify them and limit the scope of their character. This manifests in the way they’re illustrated, their relationships with men, both visually and as spoken in the text, and their actions, or lack thereof, in relation to the scene.
Drawing from notable sources such as DC Comics, Batman, Marvel, the X-Men, Popeye, and Disney, these portrayals are accepted and normalized in the media. This creates instances where over a series of decades, certain depictions which negatively portray women remain as hallmarks in the genre. One aspect of this that is explored in the exhibit is the trope of the “damsel in distress”. Common especially in comic books, this trope sees women as helpless or captive, entirely reliant on their male counterparts to save them. This trope manifests itself in a portrayal of women who lack narrative power or influence in the story. They become objects with no agency that get swept up in the story by no choice of their own. This is something that can not only be read in the text of a material, but seen in the way that the artist illustrates the situation.
This exhibit aims to showcase the evolution and prominence of the objectification of women in these types of media. Objectification of female characters often presents itself in the way they are shown in relation to men. Commonly, they are treated as an accessory of sorts. Think of the cover of a comic book where a woman is hanging off the arm of the superhero. Objectification also occurs in absence of an identity in a female character. This occurs mainly when focus is brought onto the body of a female character while her name, face, or role in the plot is absent. In these cases, the relevance of a female character is regulated to her body or attractiveness while ignoring integral parts of her character.
Intention is a large part of understanding how and why a female character is depicted in a certain way. Along with many of the Disney characters present in this exhibit, there is also text describing the intention behind their design. You will be able to see instances where characters who otherwise would not be understood to exhibit sexual characteristics are purposefully imbued with them. Take, for example, Minnie Mouse or the little girl in the Jungle Book. Both characters which typically would not be understood as sexual had been purposefully created to exude such characteristics.
Throughout the almost century-wide range of materials in this exhibit, many of the earliest depictions remain prominent while some evolve over time. Take, for example, women in relationships. In early media such as in the Popeye and Sappo comics, women are portrayed as inferior and subservient to their male partners. In later media such as the X-Men, the focus on women in relationships is not so much their inferiority, though that is undoubtedly still present, but on their sexuality. In either setting, the placement of women in comics and cartoons remains to be observably misogynistic, and seeing as these forms of media are easy to consume and marketed towards impressionable audiences, namely children, their reproduction of harmful stereotypes and misconceptions is especially damaging.