Category: historyPage 1 of 2

The House of the Camel, Venice

Palazzo Mastelli, in the sestiere of Canareggio, is a peculiar and characteristically Venetian mélange of Roman fragments, Byzantine elements, and a lot of sixteenth-century construction, all topped with a Gothic balcony. On its walls is a depiction of a camel. Why?

Astronomicum Caesareum, 1540

A monumental example of European book arts of the sixteenth century, and one of the most beautiful books ever produced.

Shakespeare’s Globe

The aged are inclined to live in the past. In 1576, when Thomas Platter was seventy-seven, he published a charming autobiography. It would be admired centuries later by…

Punta della Dogana, Venice

The Punta della Dogana is the pointy tip of the Dorsaduro where the Grand and Giudecca Canals meet. It is named for the dogana (Dogana di Mare), or…

A Section of the Grand Canal in the Dorsaduro Sestiero of Venice

The Palazzo Genovese, Palazo Benzon, Palazzo Salviati, Palazzo Barbaro, and Palazzo Dario make up one of the finest stretches of Venice’s Grand Canal.

Ca’ Farsetti, Venice

I have been researching the interesting history of Venice and the Veneto, and will be posting a few entries, mainly incorporating photos I’ve taken during visits there. (This…

Orbis sensualium pictus, 1659

Teaching the alphabet with animal sounds, 1659.

Tomb Treasures: New Discoveries from China’s Han Dynasty

In 210 BCE Shi Huangdi, the “First Emperor” of China, died at the age of forty-nine, likely from poisoning by the very elixirs that were supposed to make…

A manuscript of geometric solids

This curious image, shamelessly copied from Peacay’s excellent Bibliodyssey, is one of several similar images from a 36-page manuscript said to date from the sixteenth century. The provenance…

The Gettysburg PowerPoint

As Presidents Day approaches, it is worth recalling one of our nation’s finest moments.  

Turkey Day

North American Turkey, ca. 1612, by Mansur. Victoria and Albert Museum, IM 135-1921. In honor of Thanksgiving, here’s a painting of an American turkeycock by the great Mughal…

How well do you know the Declaration of Independence?

Find out by taking this quiz. I scored 9/12 (thanks to some lucky guesses).

Help wanted: Italian painting specialist

quirinal fresco

Help! For the book I’m working on I’m trying to identify the painters of these frescos in the Quirinale (the Italian equivalent of the White House). They depict foreign ambassadors to the Vatican, and I’d also like to identify the ambassadors — but first things first.

quirinale frescos

I’ve consulted several books in both English and Italian but remain uncertain about the attributions. My best guess at this point is that the top two are mainly by Carlo Saraceni, the third one by Agostino Tassi, and the last one perhaps by Giovanni Lanfranco.

quirinale frescos

Among the ambassadors are Robert Sherley, Aliqoli Beg (not entirely sure who that is), Emanuele Ne Vunda, Hasekura Tsunenaga, and Luis Sotelo (the last a Franciscan missionary and not an ambassador per se). Can the Turkish and Persian ambassadors be distinguished by their styles of turbans?

Even if you don’t know the answers to these questions, if anyone can point me in the direction of an obliging Italian painting specialist I could be in touch with about this it would be a great help. Thanks!


When you attempt something ambitious you’re bound to make some mistakes along the way. I’m sure the book I’m working on will have its fair share (recently I…

WW2 vets head for DC

This news reports features my dad, who served on Guam. My sister recorded it off the TV and put a frame around it.

Early 20th-century scenes of Paris

Eugène Atget made a number of interesting sets of photos of aspects of Parisian life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France…

A brief history break

If it [the Pledge of Allegiance] was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me. — Sarah Palin Pop quiz! What historical event is associated…

Insert tab A into slot B

How did the order of letters in the Western alphabet get so firmly established that there are more similarities than differences between such languages as Latin (a, b,…

Vocabularium rerum

An early printed bilingual dictionary, the Vocabularium Rerum provided German readers with the meanings of common Latin words and phrases. This edition (photo from Helga’s Lobster Stew’s photostream)…


Typographia: An Historical Sketch of the Origin and Progress of the Art of Printing was published in 1825, “Printed for Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy.” The author was Thomas…

The Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp

The Plantin-Moretus Museum, located at the Vrijdagmarkt in Antwerp, Belgium, is one of the prime pilgrimage sites for typeheads. It is is the only Renaissance printing office that…

Text decoration

Since posting is light while I’m traveling, I think it’s time to devote another link to Bibliodyssey, that great ongoing compendium of book arts through the ages. This…

Recommended reading

At Frisco Vista I’ve told the story of the Belgum Sanitarium, which was located in Wildcat Canyon above Richmond on the San Francisco Bay. It’s a romantic little…

Left Abe, Right Abe

Using life masks of Lincoln owned by the Chicago History Museum, scientists have determined that Abraham Lincoln had an unusually asymmetrical face. Lincoln had a condition called cranial…