Wander through the history of world art

The Heilbrunn Timeline of World Art, on the Metropolitan Museum of Art site, is a garden of delights in which one can easily become lost. It now includes over 6000 items and more are being added. Covering the time period from 20,000 BCE to the present, the site allows exploration by keyword or subject, name of artist, time period, country or region, time period and region, medium, and more. You can even sort the alphabetical list of essays by region or time period, see a cultural time line (e.g. Central and North Asia, 8000–2000 B.C.), or search for something specific in both the Timeline and the Met’s overall collection database. I searched for “hat,” and found 2020 hits in The Costume Institute, and 75 in the Heilbrunn Timeline itself.

I arrived at this site while googling prehistoric Japanese sculpture (of the “Jomon” culture) and then somehow found myself looking at Moroccan embroidery and a 19th c. American quilt using squares with the signatures of notables of the time such as Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Each item has at least one photo that can be viewed in two sizes, a short description, and perhaps most enticing, links to other pieces related by time period, region, or material. Short essays are provided for many topics. Here’s one on the American Arts and Crafts movement; here’s one on a site in China, dated to 7000 BCE, with pictograms and bone flutes–”the earliest playable musical instruments” found (disputable, but let’s not carp).

Go to the list of artists and sort them according to medium or type of work: performance artist, calligrapher, painter, weapons maker, architect, metal worker, etc.

If this sounds wide rather than deep, who can complain? African Rock Art, Albrecht Dürer, Arms and Armor—Common Misconceptions and Frequently Asked Questions, Ancient Greek Dress, Botanical Imagery in European Painting, the Bikini, the Bronze Age, the Bauhaus…if I had to choose a few sites to be able to access on a desert island, this might make the list. (All of the foregoing are thematic essays on the A-B page.)

Embroidered panelMorocco.jpg

Above, embroidered panel, ca. 1800, Morocco.
Linen, silk; 9 ft. x 32 1/2 in. (274.3 x 82.5 cm)

Purchase, Everfast Fabrics Inc. Gift, 1970 (1970.272)
One of the rarest and finest examples of Moroccan embroidery, this wall hanging (arid) displays the most remarkable achievement of a Chechaouene needlewoman’s skills. The arids were used to cover the surrounding areas of interior arches in matching sets. Worked in plaited stitch, these panels contain geometric motifs based on tracery, arabesques, stars, rectangles, and diamonds, all closely associated with Andalusian elements. Said to have been used as an altar curtain in a Nestorian church in Jerusalem, this particular piece is certainly conversant with a variety of cultures and civilizations. The importance of embroidery in Moroccan life can be illustrated by the ceremony held for every infant girl at the age of four months, when the baby was placed in a chair and given a needle and thimble along with some silk thread to hold, in anticipation of a life blessed with the needle’s art.

[The images may be used for non-commercial purposes, with credit to the source, but the museum stipulates that the accompanying text must be used also.]


Above, detail, Autograph quilt, ca. 1856–63, by Adeline Harris Sears (American, 1839–1931). Silk with inked signatures; 77 x 80 in. (195.6 x 203.2 cm).
Below, entire quilt.

Purchase, William Cullen Bryant Fellows Gifts, 1996 (1996.4)
In 1856, seventeen-year-old Adeline Harris, the daughter of a well-to-do Rhode Island mill owner, conceived of a unique quiltmaking project. She sent small diamond-shaped pieces of white silk worldwide to people she esteemed as the most important figures of her day, asking each to sign the silk and return it to her. By the time the signatures were all returned and ready to be stitched into a “tumbling-blocks” patterned quilt, Adeline had amassed an astonishing collection of autographs. Her quilt features the signatures of eight American presidents; luminaries from the worlds of science, religion, and education; heroes of the Civil War; such authors as Charles Dickens and Ralph Waldo Emerson; and an array of prominent artists. Today, the autographs displayed in this beautiful and immaculately constructed quilt provide an intriguing glimpse into the way an educated young woman of the mid-nineteenth century viewed her world.


Below, one result of the “hat” search: [Cornelius Conway Felton with His Hat and Coat], early 1850s
John Adams Whipple (American, 1822–1891)
Daguerreotype; Each 3 1/4 x 2 3/4 in. (8.3 x 7 cm)

The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg, and Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gifts, 1997 (1997.382.41)
This rare daguerreotype diptych shows Cornelius Conway Felton (1807–1862), Eliot Professor of Greek Literature at Harvard University, reaching for his felt hat and duster. The first son of a poverty-stricken furniture maker, Felton became one of the most renowned classical scholars in the country and, in 1860, Harvard’s president. Although Felton donned academic robes, he never lost his connection to the everyday experiences of common folk. As opposed to the inflexible silk top hat worn by dandies and professors alike, the broad-brimmed felt duster that co-stars here was worn by outdoorsmen and was practical, casual, and fundamentally democratic.


“Sweat of the brow” copyright

As a person who enjoys the digitized reproductions, on the web, of old illustrations, I found this interesting reading:

Gutenberg: No Sweat of the Brow Copyright

From Project Gutenberg, the first producer of free electronic books (ebooks).

Work performed on a public domain item, known as sweat of the brow, does not result in a new copyright. This is the judgment of Project Gutenberg’s copyright lawyers, and is founded in a study of case law in the United States. This is founded in the notion of authorship, which is a prerequisite for a new copyright. Non-authorship activities do not create a new copyright.

Some organizations erroneously claim a new copyright when they add value to a public domain item, such as to an old printed book. But despite the difficulty of the work involved, none of these activities result in new copyright protection when performed on a public domain item:

▪ scanning and optical character recognition (OCR)

▪ proofreading and OCR error correction

▪ fixing spelling and typography, including substantial updates to spelling such as changing from American to British English

▪ adding markup (HTML, XML, TeX, etc.)

▪ digitizing, cropping, color-adjusting or other modifications to images

▪ addition of trivial new content, such as images to indicate page breaks in an HTML file, or pictures of gothic letters for the first letter in a chapter, or adding or removing a few words per chapter

▪ substantial reorganization, such as moving footnotes to end-notes, or changing the locations of pictures within the text

▪ recoding to new character sets, such as Unicode, or new formats, such as PDF

There is some value-added content that DOES get a new copyright, but only for the actual new work (that is, it may be possible to remove the new copyrighted content to go back to a public domain document):

▪ translation into another human language

▪ creating a new compilation of existing materials (though the individual items compiled retain their public domain status)

▪ creating new original art work

▪ creating an original derivative work, such as an audio performance, a new chapter, or a set of favorite quotations

▪ adding a new introduction or critical essay

Project Gutenberg is able to utilize any material which is judged to be public domain in the country of use (i.e., the United States). If it is determined that components of an item are public domain, but others are not, then the copyrighted components may be removed without the permission of whoever owns the copyright for the new content.
It is Project Gutenberg’s practice to seek permission of those who distribute materials, including copyright claimants, before harvesting their materials. This is done in order to be polite, and to allow the producer or distributor to request a particular credit be used. But if permission is not given, public domain items can still be used by Project Gutenberg, typically without any attribution. Because Project Gutenberg receives submissions from many different sources, it is not always clear where an item came from. Volunteers who submit content they did not themselves generate should be diligent about reporting sources, even if the source will not be credited in the item as distributed by Project Gutenberg.

Children’s books online: social history, public-domain illustrations



I’m fascinated by the wealth of vintage illustrations that have been scanned and made available on the web. The BibliOdyssey blog is all about this and a great place to browse. Lately I’ve been doing some ferreting about for myself too, and of course have to share my discoveries.

This time it’s old children’s books in two collections at the University of Florida: the Literature for Children Collection at the University of Florida Library (2455 titles), and the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature (4787 titles). Cruise the title lists (LCC, Baldwin) and find multiple versions of Robinson Crusoe, Aesop’s Fables, and other classics; various illustrated ABC’s, Annie and the elves, and other stories published in 1852 by the American Sunday-School Union, Around the World with Santa Claus (1891), At war with Pontiac, or, The totem of the bear : a tale of redcoat and redskin (1896)–––and we’re still in the “A” section. [Above are the first two pages from Aunt Louisa’s picture puzzle alphabet (1880).]

Below are a few illustrations from volumes in these collections, and I was assured when I enquired that “Nearly all of the books in this collection [LCC] are public domain. Those that are not are clearly labeled as such. You can use the images freely, although we always appreciate a statement attribution that they came from Literature for Children (palmm.fcla.edu/juv/).” I think the books from the Baldwin Collection would be public domain as well.

These are presented here considerably reduced in size and resolution, compared to the online originals, which are each over 1 MB when saved as pdfs.


Above, the cover from Puss in Boots (c. 1888), illustrations by André, R ( Richard ), 1834-1907 [nom de plume of English artist William Roger Snow].

Below, the “London Cries” page from Aunt Mary’s primer: adorned with a hundred and twenty pretty pictures (1851) shows some of the street pedlars of the city along with their characteristic “cries” to hawk their wares, which gave us phrases such as “Cockles and mussels, alive alive-o!” Also shown are the dustman collecting who knows what (horse manure?) and a “link-boy,” selling his services to light the way of those travelling the unlit streets before gas lighting.


Below, the cover and two pages from A museum of wonders and what the young folks saw there explained in many pictures (1884), text and illustrations by Frederick Burr Opper [Baldwin Library Digital Collection, also at the University of Florida].


Below, the cover and two illustrations from the ABC of Horses (1880)


But there’s more here than quaintness, nostalgia, or public-domain illustrations. Children’s books are always in some way a part of society’s revelation of itself to children, and its effort to shape their attitudes. The very first entry in the alphabetical list of titles is 10 little nigger boys (1890), no author given. A rhyme recounts how a group of ten young black boys gradually becomes only one, as various accidents befall them on their journey. One oversleeps (the most benign incident); one chokes, one is hugged to death by a bear at the zoo, one “cuts himself in half”, you get the idea.


This reminded me of the familiar title Ten Little Indians (Agatha Christie) and I wondered what the connexion was. Wikipedia was the first entry in a Google search and was very informative.

It is Christie’s best-selling novel with 100 million sales to date, making it the world’s best-selling mystery…The novel takes place on an island off the coast of Devon in late 1930s named Indian Island. Eight people of different social classes journey to the Soldier Island mansion are invited there by a Mr. and Mrs. U.N. Owen but the eight people don’t know them. Upon arriving, they are told by the butler and his wife, Thomas and Ethel Rogers, that their hosts are currently away. Each guest finds in his or her room a slightly odd bit of bric-a-brac and a framed copy of the nursery rhyme “Ten Little Soldier Boys” (“Ten Little Niggers” in the original 1939 UK publication and “Ten Little Indians” in the 1940 US publication) hanging on the wall:

Ten little Soldier boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Soldier boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Soldier boys traveling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Soldier boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
Six little Soldier boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five little Soldier boys going in for law;
One got into Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Soldier boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Soldier boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two Little Soldier boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Soldier boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.


Cover of the first UK edition of this book (from Wikipedia).

Thus we learn, among other things, that in England in 1939 it was acceptable for Agatha Christie to publish her mystery novel under the title Ten Little Niggers in England, but not in the US, the title was changed to And Then There Were None. The book has been filmed a number of times under this latter title, and also as “Ten Little Indians.”

I wonder what black children were reading in 1890, when 10 little nigger boys was published. Books for children were a luxury, whether in white households or black. Was there a parallel endeavor to publish reading material for black kids? Maybe I’ll email the people at the University of Florida again and see what they can tell me.