3,900 Pages of Paul Klee’s Personal Notebooks Are Now Online, Highlighting His Bauhaus Teachings (1921–1931)

Paul Klee led an artis­tic life that spanned the 19th and 20th cen­turies, but he kept his aes­thet­ic sen­si­bil­i­ty tuned to the future. Because of that, much of the Swiss-Ger­man Bauhaus-asso­ci­at­ed painter’s work, which at its most dis­tinc­tive defines its own cat­e­go­ry of abstrac­tion, still exudes a vital­i­ty today.

And he left behind not just those 9,000 pieces of art (not count­ing the hand pup­pets he made for his son), but plen­ty of writ­ings as well, the best known of which came out in Eng­lish as Paul Klee Note­books, two vol­umes (The Think­ing Eye and The Nature of Nature) col­lect­ing the artist’s essays on mod­ern art and the lec­tures he gave at the Bauhaus schools in the 1920s.

Klee Notebooks 2

“These works are con­sid­ered so impor­tant for under­stand­ing mod­ern art that they are com­pared to the impor­tance that Leonardo’s A Trea­tise on Paint­ing had for Renais­sance,” says Mono­skop. Their descrip­tion also quotes crit­ic Her­bert Read, who described the books as  “the most com­plete pre­sen­ta­tion of the prin­ci­ples of design ever made by a mod­ern artist – it con­sti­tutes the Prin­cip­ia Aes­thet­i­ca of a new era of art, in which Klee occu­pies a posi­tion com­pa­ra­ble to Newton’s in the realm of physics.”

Klee Notebooks 3

More recent­ly, the Zen­trum Paul Klee made avail­able online almost all 3,900 pages of Klee’s per­son­al note­books, which he used as the source for his Bauhaus teach­ing between 1921 and 1931. If you can’t read Ger­man, his exten­sive­ly detailed tex­tu­al the­o­riz­ing on the mechan­ics of art (espe­cial­ly the use of col­or, with which he strug­gled before return­ing from a 1914 trip to Tunisia declar­ing, “Col­or and I are one. I am a painter”) may not imme­di­ate­ly res­onate with you. But his copi­ous illus­tra­tions of all these obser­va­tions and prin­ci­ples, in their vivid­ness, clar­i­ty, and reflec­tion of a tru­ly active mind, can still cap­ti­vate any­body  — just as his paint­ings do.

Klee Notebooks 4

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2016.

via Mono­skop

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Home­made Hand Pup­pets of Bauhaus Artist Paul Klee

Watch Bauhaus World, a Free Doc­u­men­tary That Cel­e­brates the 100th Anniver­sary of Germany’s Leg­endary Art, Archi­tec­ture & Design School

The Women of the Bauhaus: See Hip, Avant-Garde Pho­tographs of Female Stu­dents & Instruc­tors at the Famous Art School

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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The Rarest Sounds Across All Human Languages: Learn What They Are, and How to Say Them

When first we start learn­ing a new for­eign lan­guage, any num­ber of its ele­ments rise up to frus­trate us, even to dis­suade us from going any fur­ther: the moun­tain of vocab­u­lary to be acquired, the gram­mar in which to ori­ent our­selves, the details of pro­nun­ci­a­tion to get our mouths around. In these and all oth­er respects, some lan­guages seem easy, some hard, and oth­ers seem­ing­ly impos­si­ble — those last out­er reach­es being a spe­cial­ty of Youtu­ber Joshua Rud­der, cre­ator of the chan­nel NativLang. In the video above, he not only presents us with a few of the rarest sounds — or phonemes, to use the lin­guis­tic term — in any lan­guage, he also shows us how to make them our­selves.

Sev­er­al African lan­guages use the phoneme gb, as seen twice in the name of the Ivo­rian dance Gbég­bé. “You might be tempt­ed to go all French on it,” Rud­der says, but in fact, you should “bring your tongue up to the soft palate” to make the g sound, and at the same time “close and release your lips” to add the b sound.

Evi­dent­ly, Rud­der pulls it off: “Haven’t heard a for­eign­er say the gb sound right!” says a pre­sum­ably African com­menter below. From there, the phone­mic world tour con­tin­ues to the bil­abi­al trilled africate and pha­ryn­geals used by the Pirahã peo­ple of the Ama­zon and the whis­tles used on one par­tic­u­lar Canary Island — some­thing like the whis­tled lan­guage of Oax­a­ca, Mex­i­co pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture.

Rud­der also includes Oax­a­ca in his sur­vey, but he finds an entire­ly dif­fer­ent set of rare sounds used in a riv­er town whose res­i­dents speak the Maza­tec lan­guage. “For every one nor­mal vow­el you give ’em,” he explains, “they have three for you”: one “modal” vari­ety, one “breathy,” and one “creaky.” He ends the video where he began, in Africa, albeit in a dif­fer­ent region of Africa, where he finds some of the rarest phonemes, albeit ones we also might have expect­ed: bil­abi­al clicks, whose speak­ers “close their tongue against the back of their mouth and also close both lips, but don’t purse them.” Then, “using the tongue, they suck a pock­et of air into that enclosed area. Final­ly, they let go of the lips and out pops a” — well, bet­ter to hear Rud­der pro­nounce it. If you can do the same, con­sid­er your­self one step clos­er to readi­ness for a Khoekhoe immer­sion course.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Speak­ing in Whis­tles: The Whis­tled Lan­guage of Oax­a­ca, Mex­i­co

What Eng­lish Would Sound Like If It Was Pro­nounced Pho­net­i­cal­ly

Why Do Peo­ple Talk Fun­ny in Old Movies?, or The Ori­gin of the Mid-Atlantic Accent

The Scotch Pro­nun­ci­a­tion Guide: Bri­an Cox Teach­es You How To Ask Authen­ti­cal­ly for 40 Scotch­es

Was There a First Human Lan­guage?: The­o­ries from the Enlight­en­ment Through Noam Chom­sky

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A Brief History of Japanese Art: From Prehistoric Pottery to Yayoi Kusama in Half an Hour

The ear­li­est known works of Japan­ese art date from the Jōmon peri­od, which last­ed from 10,500 to 300 BC. In fact, the peri­od’s very name comes from the pat­terns its pot­ters cre­at­ed by press­ing twist­ed cords into clay, result­ing in a pre­de­ces­sor of the “wave pat­terns” that have been much used since. In the Heian peri­od, which began in 794, a new aris­to­crat­ic class arose, and with it a new form of art: Yamato‑e, an ele­gant paint­ing style ded­i­cat­ed to the depic­tion of Japan­ese land­scapes, poet­ry, his­to­ry, and mythol­o­gy, usu­al­ly on fold­ing screens or scrolls (the best known of which illus­trates The Tale of Gen­ji, known as the first nov­el ever writ­ten).

This is the begin­ning of the sto­ry of Japan­ese art as told in the half-hour-long Behind the Mas­ter­piece video above. It con­tin­ues in 1185 with the Kamaku­ra peri­od, whose brew­ing sociopo­lit­i­cal tur­moil inten­si­fied in the sub­se­quent Nan­boku­cho peri­od, which began in 1333. As life in Japan became more chaot­ic, Bud­dhism gained pop­u­lar­i­ty, and along with that Indi­an reli­gion spread a shift in pref­er­ences toward more vital, real­is­tic art, includ­ing cel­e­bra­tions of rig­or­ous samu­rai virtues and depic­tions of Bud­dhas. In this time arose the form of sumi‑e, lit­er­al­ly “ink pic­ture,” whose tran­quil mono­chro­mat­ic min­i­mal­ism stands in the minds of many still today for Japan­ese art itself.

Japan’s long his­to­ry of frac­tious­ness came to an end in 1568, when the feu­dal lord Oda Nobuna­ga made deci­sive moves that would result in the uni­fi­ca­tion of the coun­try. This began the Azuchi-Momoya­ma peri­od, named for the cas­tles occu­pied by Nobuna­ga and his suc­ces­sor Toy­oto­mi Hideyoshi. The cas­tle walls were lav­ish­ly dec­o­rat­ed with large-scale paint­ings that would define the Kanō school. Tra­di­tion­al Japan itself came to an end in the long, and mil­i­tary-gov­erned Edo peri­od, which last­ed from 1615 to 1868. The sta­bil­i­ty and pros­per­i­ty of that era gave rise to the best-known of all clas­si­cal Japan­ese art forms: kabu­ki the­atre, haiku poet­ry, and ukiyo‑e wood­block prints.

With their large mar­ket of mer­chant-class buy­ers, ukiyo‑e artists had to be pro­lif­ic. Many of their works sur­vive still today, the most rec­og­niz­able being those of mas­ters like Uta­maro, Hoku­sai, and Hiroshige. Here on Open Cul­ture, we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Hoku­sai’s series Thir­ty-Six Views of Mount Fuji as well as its famous install­ment The Great Wave Off Kana­gawa. As Japan opened up to the west from the mid­dle of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, the var­i­ous styles of ukiyo‑e became prime ingre­di­ents of the Japon­isme trend, which extend­ed the influ­ence of Japan­ese art to the work of major West­ern artists like Degas, Manet, Mon­et, van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec.

The Mei­ji Restora­tion of 1868 opened the long-iso­lat­ed Japan to world trade, re-estab­lished impe­r­i­al rule, and also, for his­tor­i­cal pur­pos­es, marked the coun­try’s entry into moder­ni­ty. This inspired an explo­sion of new artis­tic tech­niques and move­ments includ­ing Yōga, whose par­tic­i­pants ren­dered Japan­ese sub­ject mat­ter with Euro­pean tech­niques and mate­ri­als. Born ear­ly in the Shōwa era but still active in her nineties, Yay­oi Kusama now stands (and in Paris, at enor­mous scale in stat­ue form) as the most promi­nent Japan­ese artist in the world. The rich psy­che­delia of her work belongs obvi­ous­ly to no sin­gle cul­ture or tra­di­tion — but then again, could an artist of any oth­er coun­try have come up with it?

Relat­ed con­tent:

Down­load 215,000 Japan­ese Wood­block Prints by Mas­ters Span­ning the Tradition’s 350-Year His­to­ry

Down­load Vin­cent van Gogh’s Col­lec­tion of 500 Japan­ese Prints, Which Inspired Him to Cre­ate “the Art of the Future”

Japan­ese Com­put­er Artist Makes “Dig­i­tal Mon­dri­ans” in 1964: When Giant Main­frame Com­put­ers Were First Used to Cre­ate Art

How to Paint Like Yay­oi Kusama, the Avant-Garde Japan­ese Artist

The Entire His­to­ry of Japan in 9 Quirky Min­utes

The His­to­ry of West­ern Art in 23 Min­utes: From the Pre­his­toric to the Con­tem­po­rary

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A Newly-Discovered Fresco in Pompeii Reveals a Precursor to Pizza

Archae­ol­o­gists dig­ging in Pom­peii have unearthed a fres­co con­tain­ing what may be a “dis­tant ances­tor” of the mod­ern piz­za. The fres­co fea­tures a plat­ter with wine, fruit, and a piece of flat focac­cia. Accord­ing to Pom­peii archae­ol­o­gists, the focac­cia does­n’t have toma­toes and moz­zarel­la on top. Rather, it seem­ing­ly sports “pome­gran­ate,” spices, per­haps a type of pesto, and “pos­si­bly condiments”–which is just a short hop, skip and a jump away to piz­za.

Found in the atri­um of a house con­nect­ed to a bak­ery, the fine­ly-detailed fres­co grew out of a Greek tra­di­tion (called xenia) where gifts of hos­pi­tal­i­ty, includ­ing food, are offered to vis­i­tors. Nat­u­ral­ly, the fres­co was entombed (and pre­served) for cen­turies by the erup­tion of Mt. Vesu­vius in 79 A.D.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent

Explore the Roman Cook­book, De Re Coquinar­ia, the Old­est Known Cook­book in Exis­tence

How to Bake Ancient Roman Bread from 79 AD: A Video Intro­duc­tion

Watch the Destruc­tion of Pom­peii by Mount Vesu­vius, Re-Cre­at­ed with Com­put­er Ani­ma­tion (79 AD)

1,500 Paintings & Drawings by Vincent van Gogh Have Been Digitized & Put Online

Every artist explores dimen­sions of space and place, ori­ent­ing them­selves and their works in the world, and ori­ent­ing their audi­ences. Then there are artists like Vin­cent van Gogh, who make space and place a pri­ma­ry sub­ject. In his ear­ly paint­ings of peas­ant homes and fields, his fig­ures’ mus­cu­lar shoul­ders and hands inter­act with stur­dy walls and gnarled trees. Lat­er coun­try scenes—whether curl­ing and del­i­cate, like Wheat­field with a Reaper, or heavy and omi­nous, like Wheat­field with Crows (both below)—give us the sense of the land­scape as a sin­gle liv­ing enti­ty, pul­sat­ing, writhing, blaz­ing in bril­liant yel­lows, reds, greens, and blues.

Van Gogh paint­ed inte­ri­or scenes, such as his famous The Bed­room, at the top (the first of three ver­sions), with an eye toward using col­or as the means of mak­ing space pur­pose­ful: “It’s just sim­ply my bed­room,” he wrote to Paul Gau­guin of the 1888 paint­ing, “only here col­or is to do every­thing… to be sug­ges­tive here of rest or of sleep in gen­er­al. In a word, look­ing at the pic­ture ought to rest the brain, or rather the imag­i­na­tion.”

So tak­en was the painter with the con­cept of using col­or to induce “rest or sleep” in his view­ers’ imag­i­na­tions that when water dam­age threat­ened the “sta­bil­i­ty” of the first paint­ing, Chicago’s Art Insti­tute notes, “he became deter­mined to pre­serve the com­po­si­tion by paint­ing a sec­ond ver­sion while at an asy­lum in Saint-Rémy in 1889,” then demon­strat­ed the deep emo­tion­al res­o­nance this scene had for him by paint­ing a third, small­er ver­sion for his moth­er and sis­ter.

The oppor­tu­ni­ty to see all of Van Gogh’s bed­room paint­ings in one place may have passed us by for now—an exhib­it in Chica­go brought them togeth­er in 2016. But we can see the orig­i­nal bed­room at the yel­low house in Arles in a vir­tu­al space, along with 1,500 more Van Gogh paint­ings and draw­ings, at the Van Gogh Muse­um in Ams­ter­dam’s site. The dig­i­tized col­lec­tion show­cas­es a vast amount of Van Gogh’s work—including not only land­scapes, but also his many por­traits, self-por­traits, draw­ings, city scenes, and still-lifes.

One way to approach these works is through the uni­fy­ing themes above: how does van Gogh use col­or to com­mu­ni­cate space and place, and to what effect? Even in por­traits and still-lifes, his fig­ures com­pete with the ground. The scored and scal­loped paint­ings of walls, floors, and wall­pa­per force our atten­tion past the star­ing eyes of the painter or the fine­ly-ren­dered fruits and shoes, and into the depths and tex­tures of shad­ow and light. We begin to see peo­ple and objects as insep­a­ra­ble from their sur­round­ings.

“Paint­ing is a faith,” Van Gogh once wrote, and it is as if his paint­ings ask us to con­tem­plate the spir­i­tu­al uni­ty of all things; the same ani­mat­ing flame brings every object in his blaz­ing worlds to life. The Van Gogh Muse­um hous­es the largest col­lec­tion of the artist’s work in the world. On their web­site you can read essays about his life and work, plan a vis­it, or shop at the online store. But most impor­tant­ly, you can expe­ri­ence the stun­ning breadth of his art through your screen—no replace­ment for the phys­i­cal spaces of gal­leries, but a wor­thy means nonethe­less of com­muning with Van Gogh’s vision.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2018.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Vin­cent van Gogh Vis­its a Mod­ern Art Gallery & Gets to See His Artis­tic Lega­cy: A Touch­ing Scene from Doc­tor Who

Expe­ri­ence the Van Gogh Muse­um in 4K Res­o­lu­tion: A Video Tour in Sev­en Parts

Vin­cent Van Gogh’s Self Por­traits: Explore & Down­load a Col­lec­tion of 17 Paint­ings Free Online

Vin­cent Van Gogh’s “The Star­ry Night”: Why It’s a Great Paint­ing in 15 Min­utes

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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How Wes Anderson Uses Miniatures to Create His Aesthetic: A Primer from His Model Maker & Prop Painter

If you haven’t yet seen Wes Ander­son­’s new movie Aster­oid City, I rec­om­mend doing so not just in the the­ater, but in a seat as close to the screen as you can han­dle. You’ll feel more enveloped by the desert land­scapes (the Span­ish desert, stand­ing in for Ari­zona), but you’ll also be bet­ter placed to appre­ci­ate the detail of all the minia­tures that fill it. Over his past two and a half decades of fea­ture films, Ander­son­’s sig­na­ture aes­thet­ic has become ever more Ander­son­ian. This has many aspects, one of them being an inten­sive use of mod­els: real, phys­i­cal mod­els, as opposed to dig­i­tal visu­als cre­at­ed entire­ly by com­put­er. In the new Vox video above, mod­el mak­er and prop painter Simon Weisse, vet­er­an also of Isle of Dogs and The French Dis­patch, explains the how and the why behind it

Aster­oid City opens with a train cross­ing a vast, parched expanse, pass­ing along­side (or through) the occa­sion­al rock for­ma­tion. Any view­er would assume the train is a minia­ture, though not every view­er would imme­di­ate­ly think — as revealed in this video’s behind-the-scenes shots — that the same is true of the rocks.

In both cas­es, the “minia­tures” are only so minia­ture: the rel­a­tive­ly large scale offers a can­vas for an abun­dance of paint­ed detail, which as Weisse explains goes a long way to mak­ing them believ­able onscreen. And even if they don’t quite look “real,” per se, they con­jure up a real­i­ty of their own, an increas­ing­ly cen­tral task of Ander­son­’s cin­e­mat­ic project, in a way that pure CGI — which once seemed to have dis­placed the art of minia­tures entire­ly — so often fails to do.

The video quotes Ander­son as say­ing that audi­ences pick up on arti­fi­cial­i­ty in all its forms, whether dig­i­tal or phys­i­cal; the film­mak­er must com­mit to his own arti­fi­cial­i­ty, accept­ing its short­com­ings and exploit­ing its strengths. “The par­tic­u­lar brand of arti­fi­cial­i­ty that I like to use is an old-fash­ioned one,” he adds (but needs not, giv­en his undis­put­ed rep­u­ta­tion as the auteur of the retro). Christo­pher Nolan, a direc­tor of the same gen­er­a­tion who has an entire­ly dif­fer­ent sen­si­bil­i­ty from Ander­son, also goes in for large, detailed minia­tures: most­ly build­ings that blow up, it seems, but his choic­es still show an under­stand­ing of the kind of phys­i­cal­i­ty that even the most advanced dig­i­tal effects have nev­er repli­cat­ed. If he’s seen the alien space­ship that descends on Aster­oid City (the men­tion of which no longer seems to count as a spoil­er), he must have felt at least a touch of envy.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Wes Ander­son Movie Sets Recre­at­ed in Cute, Minia­ture Dio­ra­mas

How the Aston­ish­ing Sushi Scene in Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs Was Ani­mat­ed: A Time-Lapse of the Month-Long Shoot

An Archi­tect Breaks Down the Design Details of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel

Why Do Wes Ander­son Movies Look Like That?

Wes Ander­son Explains How He Writes and Directs Movies, and What Goes Into His Dis­tinc­tive Film­mak­ing Style

Blade Run­ner’s Minia­ture Props Revealed in 142 Behind-the-Scenes Pho­tos

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Why Hasn’t the Pantheon’s Dome Collapsed?: How the Romans Engineered the Dome to Last 19 Centuries and Counting

In Rome, one does­n’t have to look ter­ri­bly hard to find ancient build­ings. But even in the Eter­nal City, not all ancient build­ings have come down to us in equal­ly good shape, and prac­ti­cal­ly none of them have held up as well as the Pan­theon. Once a Roman tem­ple and now a Catholic church (as well as a for­mi­da­ble tourist attrac­tion), it gives its vis­i­tors the clear­est and most direct sense pos­si­ble of the majesty of antiq­ui­ty. But how has it man­aged to remain intact for nine­teen cen­turies and count­ing when so much else in ancient Rome’s built envi­ron­ment has been lost? Ancient-his­to­ry Youtu­ber Gar­rett Ryan explains that in the video above.

“Any answer has to begin with con­crete,” Ryan says, the Roman vari­ety of which “cured incred­i­bly hard, even under­wa­ter. Sea water, in fact, made it stronger.” Its strength “enabled the cre­ation of vaults and domes that rev­o­lu­tion­ized archi­tec­ture,” not least the still-sub­lime dome of the Pan­theon itself.

Anoth­er impor­tant fac­tor is the Roman bricks, “more like thick tiles than mod­ern rec­tan­gu­lar bricks,” used to con­struct the arch­es in its walls. These “helped to direct the gar­gan­tu­an weight of the rotun­da toward the mason­ry ‘piers’ between the recess­es. And since the arch­es, made almost entire­ly of brick, set much more quick­ly than the con­crete fill in which they were embed­ded, they stiff­ened the struc­ture as it rose.”

This has­n’t kept the Pan­theon’s floor from sink­ing, cracks from open­ing in its walls, but such com­par­a­tive­ly minor defects could hard­ly dis­tract from the spec­ta­cle of the dome (a feat not equaled until Fil­ip­po Brunelleschi came along about 1300 years lat­er). “The archi­tect of the Pan­theon man­aged hor­i­zon­tal thrust — that is, pre­vent­ed the dome from spread­ing or push­ing out the build­ing beneath it – by mak­ing the wall of the rotun­da extreme­ly thick and embed­ding the low­er third of the dome in their mass.” Even the ocu­lus at the very top strength­ens it, “both by obvi­at­ing the need for a struc­tural­ly dan­ger­ous crown and through its mason­ry rim, which func­tioned like the key­stone of an arch.” We may no longer pay trib­ute to the gods or emper­ors to whom it was first ded­i­cat­ed, but as an object of archi­tec­tur­al wor­ship, the Pan­theon will sure­ly out­last many gen­er­a­tions to come.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Beau­ty & Inge­nu­ity of the Pan­theon, Ancient Rome’s Best-Pre­served Mon­u­ment: An Intro­duc­tion

How to Make Roman Con­crete, One of Human Civilization’s Longest-Last­ing Build­ing Mate­ri­als

A Street Musi­cian Plays Pink Floyd’s “Time” in Front of the 1,900-Year-Old Pan­theon in Rome

How the World’s Biggest Dome Was Built: The Sto­ry of Fil­ip­po Brunelleschi and the Duo­mo in Flo­rence

The Mys­tery Final­ly Solved: Why Has Roman Con­crete Been So Durable?

Build­ing The Colos­se­um: The Icon of Rome

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A Stand-Up Comedy Routine Discovered in a Medieval Manuscript: Monty Python Before Monty Python (1480)

A fun­ny thing hap­pened on the way to the 15th cen­tu­ry…

Dr. James Wade, a spe­cial­ist in ear­ly Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge, was doing research at the Nation­al Library of Scot­land when he noticed some­thing extra­or­di­nary about the first of the nine mis­cel­la­neous book­lets com­pris­ing the Heege Man­u­script.

Most sur­viv­ing medieval man­u­scripts are the stuff of high art. The first part of the Heege Man­u­script is fun­ny.

The usu­al tales of romance and hero­ism, allu­sions to ancient Rome, lofty poet­ry and dra­mat­ic inter­ludes… even the dash­ing adven­tures of Robin Hood are con­spic­u­ous­ly absent.

Instead it’s awash with the sta­ples of con­tem­po­rary stand up com­e­dy — top­i­cal obser­va­tions, humor­ous over­shar­ing, roast­ing emi­nent pub­lic fig­ures, razz­ing the audi­ence, flat­ter­ing the audi­ence by bust­ing on the denizens of near­by com­mu­ni­ties, shag­gy dog tales, absur­di­ties and non-sequiturs.

Repeat­ed ref­er­ences to pass­ing the cup con­jure an open mic type sce­nario.

The man­u­script was cre­at­ed by cler­ic Richard Heege and entered into the col­lec­tion of his employ­ers, the wealthy Sher­brooke fam­i­ly.

Oth­er schol­ars have con­cen­trat­ed on the man­u­scrip­t’s phys­i­cal con­struc­tion, most­ly refrain­ing from com­ment on the nature of its con­tents.

Dr. Wade sus­pects that the first book­let is the result of Heege hav­ing paid close atten­tion to an anony­mous trav­el­ing minstrel’s per­for­mance, per­haps going so far as to con­sult the performer’s own notes.

Heege quipped that he was the author owing to the fact that he “was at that feast and did not have a drink” — mean­ing he was the only one sober enough to retain the min­strel’s jokes and inven­tive plot­lines.

Dr. Wade describes how the com­ic por­tion of the Heege Man­u­script is bro­ken down into three parts, the first of which is sure to grat­i­fy fans of Mon­ty Python and the Holy Grail:

…it’s a nar­ra­tive account of a bunch of peas­ants who try to hunt a hare, and it all ends dis­as­trous­ly, where they beat each oth­er up and the wives have to come with wheel­bar­rows and hold them home. 

That hare turns out to be one fierce bad rab­bit, so much so that the tale’s pro­le­tar­i­an hero, the pro­saical­ly named Jack Wade, wor­ries she could rip out his throat.

Dr. Wade learned that Sir Wal­ter Scott, author of Ivan­hoe, was aware of The Hunt­ing of the Hare, view­ing it as a stur­dy spoof of high mind­ed romance, “stu­dious­ly filled with grotesque, absurd, and extrav­a­gant char­ac­ters.”

The killer bun­ny yarn is fol­lowed by a mock ser­mon  - If thou have a great black bowl in thy hand and it be full of good ale and thou leave any­thing there­in, thou puttest thy soul into greater pain —  and a non­sense poem about a feast where every­one gets ham­mered and chaos ensues.

Crowd-pleas­ing mate­r­i­al in 1480.

With a few 21st-cen­tu­ry tweaks, an enter­pris­ing young come­di­an might wring laughs from it yet.

(Pag­ing Tyler Gun­ther, of Greedy Peas­ant fame…)

As to the true author of these rou­tines, Dr. Wade spec­u­lates that he may have been a “pro­fes­sion­al trav­el­ing min­strel or a local ama­teur per­former.” Pos­si­bly even both:

A ‘pro­fes­sion­al’ min­strel might have a day job and go gig­ging at night, and so be, in a sense, semi-pro­fes­sion­al, just as a ‘trav­el­ling’ min­strel may well be also ‘local’, work­ing a beat of near­by vil­lages and gen­er­al­ly known in the area. On bal­ance, the texts in this book­let sug­gest a min­strel of this vari­ety: some­one whose mate­r­i­al includes sev­er­al local place-names, but also whose mate­r­i­al is made to trav­el, with the lack of deter­mi­na­cy designed to com­i­cal­ly engage audi­ences regard­less of spe­cif­ic locale.

Learn more about the Heege Man­u­script in  Dr. Wade’s arti­cle, Enter­tain­ments from a Medieval Minstrel’s Reper­toire Book in The Review of Eng­lish Stud­ies.

Leaf through a dig­i­tal fac­sim­i­le of the Heege Man­u­script here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Killer Rab­bits in Medieval Man­u­scripts: Why So Many Draw­ings in the Mar­gins Depict Bun­nies Going Bad

A List of 1,065 Medieval Dog Names: Nose­wise, Gar­lik, Have­g­ood­day & More

Why Knights Fought Snails in Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­scripts

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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