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A life devoted to art – Olga Boznańska

Mon, 18/03/2019 - 06:00
Olga Boznańska was a notable Polish painter of the turn of the 20th century. In a special guest post, curator Dr Piotr Kopszak of Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie explores her life and work.

Olga Boznańska (1865-1940) was born in Kraków, Poland and later active in Munich and Paris. Her father, Adam Nowina-Boznański, came from a noble Polish family which cherished traditional values but, in the spirit of 19th-century positivism, he became a train engineer rather than a landowner. Her mother, Eugénie Mondan, came from Valence and was a teacher in the convent school of Premonstratensians in Imbramowice near Kraków.

Olga first received drawing lessons from her mother. Her teachers in Kraków included Kazimierz Pochwalski, an academic portrait painter at the Viennese court, and the more realist-inclined Antoni Piotrowski, draughtsman-correspondent of the Serbo-Bulgarian war. In 1884-85 Boznańska attended Adrian Baraniecki’s Higher Courses for Women at the Technical and Industrial Museum in Kraków, before she travelled to Munich to continue her artistic education, in the studios of Carl Kricheldorf and Wilhelma Dürr (Munich Academy did not admit women at that time).

Study of an antique bust, an outline from a graphic pattern, 1881.
Olga Boznańska. Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie. In copyright.

In Munich, Olga found herself in the middle of a great artistic capital still enjoying the patronage of Ludwig II of Bavaria. She had close contacts both with the established Polish Munich school (especially Józef Brandt and Alfred Wierusz-Kowalski) as well as young Polish and German artists like Wacław Szymanowski, Samuel Hirszenberg, Hedwig Weiss and many others). Brandt was her mentor and he introduced her to the workings of the art world, from which she would soon profit.

Olga quickly realised the importance of appearing in international exhibitions to which she would later send many works. But more importantly, Munich formed her as an artist and made her realise that if she was to succeed, she had to devote herself entirely to art and find her own artistic idiom.

Although she had been exhibiting since 1886, it was not until she painted the portrait of Paul Nauen in 1893 that she received real recognition. The following year, it brought her a gold medal at the International Exhibition in Vienna. Boznańska was under the influence of German realism although her paintings from that period show an interest in Impressionist technique and slightly less obvious symbolism.

Olga Boznańska in the studio at Georgenstrasse in Munich. On the left is the painting ‘Girl with a nurse’ from around 1896, on the right ‘Mother with child’ from 1893.
Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie. In copyright.

In the Orangery (In the Greenhouse) is one of the most important works from Boznańska’s Munich period when she often portrayed her friends and other young people. The introduction of adolescence as the main subject of her art was closely linked with the rise of the Symbolism movement in poetry. Boznańska’s painting refers unequivocally to one of the most talked about collections of poems from that time, Maurice Materlinck’s Les serres chaudes.

The Greenhouse can be interpreted as the symbol of a protective and at the same time oppressive system of upbringing. Boznańska was experimenting with merging the academic precepts she received from her teachers with Impressionist effects.

In the Orangery, 1890
Olga Boznańska. Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie. In copyright.

In Munich, she started working as a teacher, and in 1895, she replaced Theodor Hummel in his private school. The next year, she was offered a position of professor at the Art Academy in Kraków which she rejected. She was already a recognised artist and no longer an aspiring art student. The Berlin magazine Bazar nominated her as one of the 12 best European women artists. Having visited Paris and kept in touch with her French family, she decided to settle there permanently in 1898.

Portrait of a boy in junior high school uniform, 1890
Olga Boznańska. Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie. In copyright.

She was also very much interested in the Old Masters. Alte Pinakothek was one of her favourite places in Munich, and Diego Velázquez was her favourite painter, whose technique she tried to absorb. Portrait of a Boy in His Gymnasium Uniform (seen above) shows this influence as well as that of Whistler, who at that time was elected member of Munich Academy.

Boznańska’s aesthetic was influenced by artistic ideas current around 1900 and espoused by Whistler in his famous ‘Ten O’Clock’ lecture. Colour and form were the key elements painters could use to create artworks analogous to musical compositions. The influence of Whistler and Japonism can clearly be seen in Olga’s Japanese Girl from 1889.

Japanese Girl, 1889
Olga Boznańska. Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie. In copyright.

Boznańska was acquiring a following as a gifted portrait painter with a personal and inimitable style. Her portraits were compared to old frescoes or antique tapestries. Her exceptional ability to create psychological likenesses of her models as well as a firm resolve not to flatter the sitter won her recognition in Paris. Two of her portraits were purchased by the French state, which was exceptional.

Art historian Jan Cavanaugh has highlighted Boznańska’s subtle colourism and sensitivity to expression, and wrote the following about Portrait of Anna Sariusz–Zaleska:

‘Though the grey of the landscape painter’s eyes almost blends with the pale flesh tone of the face, her gaze is intense and penetrating. The concentration of psychic force in her face is emphasized further by the isolation of the head against the dark background…’

Jan Cavanaugh, Out Looking In: Early Modern Polish Art, 1890-1918
University of California Press, 2000 Portrait of Anna Saryusz Zaleska, ca. 1880-1883
Olga Boznańska. Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie. In copyright.

Boznańska’s uncompromising attitude towards sitters sometimes put her in trouble with her clients, unhappy about the prolonged sessions (she always took her time when it came to painting), but it also won her the admiration of connoisseurs, intellectuals and other artists. Boznańska painted many insightful portraits of the European intelligentsia from the beginning of the 20th century. Among her models were: Henryk Sienkiewicz, Émile Verhaeren, Artur Rubinstein to name a few.

Indifferent to new trends in art, Olga withdrew more and more into her studio. It became one of the places to visit in Paris for Poles and Americans, who often became her students. Boznańska was one of key figures in Polish artistic circles in Paris during the 1920s and 30s.

Her art found official recognition just before her death – in 1937 Boznańska was awarded the Grand Prix at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne and in 1938 she enjoyed success at the Venice Biennale.

Explore a gallery of Olga Boznańska’s art on Europeana Collections

The story of Monopoly: how Charles stole Lizzie’s idea and made his fortune

Thu, 14/03/2019 - 08:15

‘Hepeating‘ might be a new word, but the concept it represents is tried and tested. Woman comes up with great idea. Man takes it and passes it off as his own. Man receives great acclaim. Woman doesn’t make a fuss. Add in a dinner party ending in a broken friendship, a courtroom revelation, and escaping prisoners of war, and you have the story of one of the world’s most popular board games, Monopoly.

Lizzie Magie’s great idea

The story begins in 1903 in the United States. Elizabeth Magie came up with a board game called ‘The Landlord’s Game’. She wanted to use it as an educational tool to teach people about the single tax theory of Henry George. He thought that land and natural resources belonged to the people, and they should rent it but never own it. And that governments should only charge tax on land, not on improvements, labour or profits. In the instructions that came with the game, Magie wrote:

‘Let the children once see clearly the gross injustice of our present land system and when they grow up, if they are allowed to develop naturally, the evil will soon be remedied.’


The Landlord’s Game had a board around which were various different properties, their purchase price and rental value. There were also utilities, and chance cards. Sound familiar?

By Drawing for a Game Board, 01/05/1904. This is the printed patent drawing for a game board invented by Lizzie J. Magie. From the U.S. National Archives. Public domain.
Source: Brian0918 Wikimedia Commons

She took out a patent in 1904 and self-published it in 1906. In 1909, she approached manufacturer’s Parker Brothers, who rejected the game on the grounds that it was too complicated.

How Charles Darrow came upon it

In 1932, a man called Charles Darrow went to dinner at the home of his friend, Charles Todd. After dinner, they played a few rounds of The Landlord’s Game, in which Darrow took a great deal of interest.

Not long after, Darrow took an idea to Parker Brothers and in 1935, they published the game Monopoly, complete, it is thought, with a spelling mistake copied directly from The Landlord’s Game.

Spiel, Monopoly. 1982. Toy Museum of the City of Nuremberg (Museum Lydia Bayer),

The Todds and the Darrows fell out and never spoke to each other again. Players of after-dinner board games, take note!

Covering up the truth

Parker Brothers bought The Landlord’s Game from Lizzie Magie for the sum of $500 in 1936 in a deal that included zero royalties, ever. She refused to have any changes made to it, but made no demands to promote it, and no objections to the manufacturing of Monopoly. A 1936 newspaper article reported that she said it was ‘all right with her if she never made a dime so long as the Henry George single tax idea was spread to the people of the country.’ In a sworn testimony many years later, Parker Brothers’ president described how he saw the little old grayhaired Quaker woman as ‘a rabid Henry George single tax advocate, a real evangelist’.

That same 1936 newspaper article recognised Magie’s The Landlord’s Game as the source of the game Monopoly. But determined to deny it, Parker Brothers included information in every box of Monopoly crediting Darrow as its creator. It would be 40 years until the truth was widely known.

And uncovering it again Anti Monopoly II met Euro bilijetten, 2002, Deventer Musea, CC BY-SA

25 years after Magie died, another game designer, Ralph Anspach, was in a legal battle with Parker Brothers over his ‘Anti-Monopoly’ game. Parker Brothers claimed he was violating their copyright. Anspach, during his research to support his own case, turned up Magie’s patents and used them in court.

Europeans just love Monopoly

Today, Monopoly is in the top five most popular board games worldwide – up there with chess, Scrabble, checkers and backgammon. Monopoly is licensed in 103 countries and printed in 37 languages.

Spiel, Monopoly, 2004, Spielzeugmuseum der Stadt Nürnberg (Museum Lydia Bayer),

There are versions covering 32 European countries, with many having bespoke localised editions. There are almost 100 versions for different towns, cities and regions of the United Kingdom. There’s even one for the fictional setting of TV soap opera, Coronation Street. France is gamified in nearly 50 editions and Germany in 35.

Spiel, Monopoly, 2005, Spielzeugmuseum der Stadt Nürnberg (Museum Lydia Bayer), CC BY-NC-SA And so did the British Secret Service

Adversity makes people creative. And while some resorted to making their own cardboard versions of Monopoloy in the Second World War, a very special edition was being created in the UK.

Homemade Monopoly board, 1940-1945, Museum Rotterdam, CC BY

In 1941, the British Secret Intelligence Service asked the game’s UK manufacturer – John Waddington Ltd – for help with a bold plan. Fake charities distributed a new version of Monopoly via the Red Cross to prisoners of war held by Nazis. Unlike the usual sets, these boxes included genuine maps, compasses, real money and a file to help the prisoners to escape, apparently with a good deal of success!

So, while Lizzie Magie’s The Landlord’s Game might not have saved the economy, it did end up, in a round about kind of way, saving lives. Well done, Lizzie!

Featured image: Two men and two women play Monopoly at the kitchen table, Gooi and Vecht Historic, CC BY-SA

Madame de Staël (1766-1817): from the Enlightenment to the Dawn of Romanticism

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 09:15

Writer, republican, literary theoretician and philosopher, Madame de Staël contributed to the diffusion of ideas in Europe through her travels and her Salon, where she received many European intellectuals.

A Woman of Letters and a Philosopher

Anne-Louise Germaine Necker was born into the Swiss bourgeoisie in 1766 and received an education steeped in the spirit of the Enlightenment. From her childhood, she rubbed shoulders with politicians, talked with the Encyclopaedists and developed an enthusiasm for Rousseau‘s ideas.

Portrait of Germaine Necker as a child (by Carmontelle)
Bibliothèque nationale de France, No Copyright – Other Known Legal Restrictions

After her marriage to Baron Staël von Holstein, Germaine de Staël opened a Salon where new ideas, brought by participants in the American Revolutionary War, could circulate.
She developed a passion for writing at an early age and some of her first compositions survive in ‘La Correspondance littéraire‘. Published in 1788, Madame de Staël’s ‘Lettres sur le caractère et les ouvrages de Jean-Jacques Rousseau‘ marked her first literary success.

Towards an Enlightened Republic

At the start of the French Revolution, Germaine de Staël was in favour of what she felt was progress and a step towards a constitutional monarchy. But after the fall of the monarchy, she left France and took refuge at Coppet in Switzerland and later in England. During this period she wrote many novels, plays and essays.

Portrait of Madame de Staël in ‘Les Françaises illustres‘ by Madame Gustave Demoulin
Bibliothèque nationale de France, No Copyright – Other Known Legal Restrictions

After her return to Paris in May 1795, Madame de Staël reopened her Salon and spoke in favour of a moderate and rational Republic with roots in the Enlightenment. In 1800, she presented a new view of literature in ‘De la littérature considérée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales‘.

A European Salon

Between 1795 and 1802, Germaine de Staël watched the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. Once she realised he wouldn’t promote the ideals of the Revolution, she fought him on the ideological level. Napoleon exiled her after she wrote ‘Delphine‘ (1802). Unable to publish, she travelled throughout Europe and received many people who were opposed to Napoleon at Coppet, including:

Madame de Staël‘s Conference (drawing by Philibert-Louis Debucourt)
Bibliothèque nationale de France, No Copyright – Other Known Legal Restrictions

Coppet was a new sort of gathering place, in transition from the Salons of the Enlightenment to the Cénacle of the Romantic movement. It was a place to exchange opinions and ideas, and drew intellectuals across three generations, of different nationalities, religious views and political opinions. United by the values of liberty, the individual and his rights, respect for others, and equality before the law, they all spread their ideas through their writings and their travels across Europe.

This copy of the first edition of ‘De l’Allemagne’ (‘Of Germany’), published in 1810 and immediately censured, managed to escape destruction
Bibliothèque nationale de France, No Copyright – Other Known Legal Restrictions

Corinne, ou l’Italie‘, written during Germaine de Staël’s exile, shows her ideas on aesthetics, the arts and literature. ‘De l’Allemagne’ was an important essay in developing the Romantic doctrine, and was published clandestinely in London in 1813, after its censure in 1810.

Germaine de Staël returned to France after the fall of Napoleon and was at the pinnacle of her glory during the First Restoration (1814-1815). She died in Paris on 14 July 1817, the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison and the beginning of the French Revolution.

Nathalie Hersent
Department of Literature and Art, National Library of France

The blog post is a part of the Rise of Literacy project, where we take you on an exploration of literacy in Europe thanks to the digital preservation of precious textual works from collections across the continent.

Read more about Germaine de Staël in French on the National Library of France’s Gallica Blog

Or check out the chapter about Madame de Staël in Europeana’s online exhibition Pioneers: Trailblazing women in the arts, sciences and society

Featured image:
Anne-Louise Germaine Necker, Baroness Staël von Holstein (engraving by Laugier, based on a painting by Gérard), Bibliothèque nationale de France, No Copyright – Other Known Legal Restrictions

Marie Jeanette de Lange and the Dutch reform dress movement

Sat, 09/03/2019 - 08:00

This painting from 1900 by Dutch artist Jan Toorop employs a ‘modern’, pointillist technique to depict a genuinely modern woman: Marie Jeanette de Lange.

Marie Jeanette was born in Jakarta in 1865, where her father worked as an engineer. At 22, she moved with her first husband to the Netherlands and connected with the Amsterdam art scene, where she associated with photographer George Hendrik Breitner and painter Isaac Israels among others.

She later relocated to The Hague, where Jan Toorop painted her against the background of her house in the Van Stolkpark. At the time of this portrait, Marie Jeanette was involved in the Reform Movement which campaigned for loose-fitting and healthy clothes for women.

The movement, rooted in the protest actions of the ‘bloomers’ in mid-19th century America, was not only supported by social reformers and feminists, but also by doctors and hygienists.

Their prime concern was the medical danger of the corset, which prohibited freedom of movement and respiration because of the narrow laces tied around the back, and because of the heavy weight of the crinoline it carried.

Illustrations to denounce the crimes of the corset, 1908, Wellcome Collection, CC BY

As industrial production of loose-fitting wear was still in its infancy, reform clothes were often home-made. The outfit Marie Jeanette is wearing in the painting is probably a bespoke, handmade (and maybe self-made) creation, combining a peachy pink, softly flowing dress with a bolero vest. As with most reform clothing, the design of the dress is very simple and the fabric as well as the trimming are undecorated.

Reform dress, 1900-1910, Amsterdam Museum, Public Domain

In The Netherlands, the case for the reform dress was ardently pursued by the ‘Vereeniging voor Verbetering van Vrouwenkleeding’ (Association for the improvement of women’s clothing).

The reform dress movement led to Marie Jeanette meeting Toorop, probably during the preparations of an exhibition about women’s labour that took place in The Hague in 1898, for which Toorop designed the promotional posters and catalogue.

Beauty through Health, reform clothing, No. 187, 1904, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain

Founded in 1899 as a direct outcome of this exhibition, with Marie Jeanette as its first president (and host: most of the association’s meetings took place at her home), the association organised member meetings and published a monthly magazine, boasting patterns to enable women to craft their own clothes. Its membership grew rapidly – from 650 members in the first year to 2,000 4 years later. Though the association was active from 1899 till 1926, by 1902 Marie Jeanette was no longer president.

Beauty through Health, reform clothing, No. 190, 1904, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain

Yet despite their efforts to make ‘clothes in which we can walk, sit and work; that we can put on and take off without any help; that allow us to keep our tissues, our purse, our keys close; that don’t swipe the floor’, reform dresses would were not fashionable for long as women met a lot of disapproval for their less than flattering ‘bags’.

Furthermore, despite the dress style having originated in a desire to wear more ‘modest’ clothes in a less sexualized silhouette, the reform dress was found to be offensive by many a critic, as the flowing fabric occasionally allowed for a thigh or chest to be seen.

Advertising poster for Berger & Wirth, 1900, Fernand Toussaint, Museum Schloss Moritzburg Zeitz, CC BY-NC-SA

Marie-Jeanette’s legacy lives on today, not only in Toorop’s portrait, but also in the variety of female fashions that flourished following her and the association’s pioneering activities.

By Sofie Taes, KU Leuven

Feature image: Portrait of Marie Jeanette de Lange, 1900, Jan Toorop, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain

Carving a place for women on statues

Thu, 07/03/2019 - 09:40

If you were to count the statues in your local town, village or city, how many would you find that represent women?

Despite women making up more than half of the population of Europe, most of the statues you come across commemorate the lives of men.

Many statues of women that do exist tend to depict women as a concept – used for aesthetic or allegorical purposes – rather than specific female historical figures or their achievements.

Cubist Girl (Kubistisk flicka), Jssfrk. Wikimedia Commons Community – Public Domain Goddesses

The world of religion has always given us female statues – just think of Greek and Roman goddesses like Aphrodite, Venus and Minerva. And many Christian statues exist of female saints and, in particular, Mary, mother of Jesus.

Statue of Athena, Arachne, CC BY Virgin Mary statue in front of the Pauline Saint Emeric Parish Church, Csorba Győző Könyvtár, Public Domain Royal women

But even though you maybe need to look a bit harder to find statuesque examples of real, named and notable women, there are some wonderful examples.

In many countries, royal women are popular. For example, it’s estimated that nearly half of the statutes depicting women in the UK are of Queen Victoria, as well as other queens like Queen Louise, Catherine the Great, Empress Josephine and more.

Carlo Marochetti (sculptor) from “George Square, Glasgow; and the lives of those whom its statues commemorate, etc”, The British Library, Public Domain Female icons

In France, many statues depict Joan of Arc, such as these examples from Paris, Saint Etienne and Orleans

Equestrian statue of Jeanne d’Arc, Emmanuel Fremiet, KU Leuven, CC BY-NC

In Amsterdam, you can find statues of a queen (Wilhelmina), a diarist (Anne Frank) and a singer (Tante Leen).

Further afield, we find actors such as Wenche Foss in Oslo, poets and writers like Agnieszka Osiecka in Warsaw and nurses such as Edith Cavell in London depicted on statues.

Carving a place for female statues

But overall, women are still in the minority on statues. Now, some organisations and projects like ArtUK are documenting how many statues commemorate women and those like Invisible Women and Erect More Women are trying to make a change by campaigning for more statues commemorating women’s achievements.

Tell us about your area

Which women are commemorated by statues where you live? And which women would you like to see immortalised in statue form? Comment below or tweet us @europeanaeu

Feature image: Queen Louise, Erdmann Encke, KU Leuven, CC BY-NC

Elsa Schiaparelli: Declaring Feminine Willpower through Fashion

Mon, 04/03/2019 - 08:47

Elsa Schiaparelli is one of the most renowned personalities in fashion history. Not only because she was one of the most striking designers of 1930s Paris, but also because she was a woman who always fought for her plans to become reality, and for her voice to be heard directly through her stunning and unforgettable creations.

Schiaparelli was born on September 10, 1890, in Rome, Italy, in an aristocratic family. While in Rome, she studied philosophy at university, and then moved to London, where she later married Count William de Wendt de Kerlor. The coupled lived in New York for a while, where Elsa encountered the fashion world by working a boutique selling French fashion.

After the break-up of her marriage, she moved to Paris, where she decided to set up her own clothing brand in 1927.

Schiaparelli’s debut collection featured a series of sweaters with big bows in trompe-l’oeil motif. An editor from French Vogue saw them and immediately decided to feature the designs on the magazine. After knitwear, she produced bathing suits and ski-wear, also including some avant-garde designs, as the so-called “divided skirt”, a sort of pleated shorts – one of the first time something like this was proposed for women.

Schiaparelli is today most remembered for evening-wear, which she added to her collection in 1931.

Evening dress, Elsa Schiaparelli, Victoria and Albert Museum, CC BY

In her witty creations, humour and fantasy came together in sophisticated and very conceptual kind of couture. Schiaparelli decided to include in her most precious creations intellectual references that could turn the clothes in something else, applying the artistic methods used by the Surrealists. Schiaparelli was in fact a close friend of artists as Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dalì, with whom she used to collaborate for her creations, having them design textiles and suggesting ideas for the construction of the clothes.

Frau in Badeanzug und Rock von Elsa Schiaparelli, Lipnitzki, Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, CC BY-NC-SA

Schiaparelli was pioneering, challenging the limits of traditional couture. She pushed the boundaries of acceptable couture standards, and played with the accepted definitions of ‘high’ and low’ fashion.

For instance, her designs made use of visible zips in couture, something that had previously been confined to underwear or cheaper productions.

Schiaparelli discontinued her couture business in 1951 and closed her design house 1954 due to heavy debts, but continued her work in design producing accessories and wigs.

Her 1954 autobiography Shocking Life was the coronation of the activity that she loved: ‘make clothes.’ Here, her life is told like a sort of fairytale, in which the characters seem to be lost at times, and finally find themselves again during the journey and thanks to fashion.

Jackenkleid mit Blumentopfmotiven, Elsa Schiaparelli, Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin CC BY-NC-SA

A direct line can be drawn between Schiaparelli’s life, creations and even her writing style. She’s  playful and carefree – from moments in which he speaks of collaborations with great artists to the descriptions of her husband leaving her for the dancer Isadora Duncan.

Elsa Schiaparelli’s life was, in itself, a sort of surrealist “ready-made”: something transported in a context different from its own in order to become an artistic creation. A ready-made made by fate, in which Elsa Schiaparelli, a bourgeois Roman destined for a cultured and idle life, decide instead to “make clothes” and become famous for it, following her tenacious soul.

Explore more designs by Elsa Schiaparelli this gallery

Blog by European Fashion Heritage Association

Featured image: Black wool coat, Elsa Schiaparelli, Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, CC BY-NC-SA

Language by design: Jonas Jablonskis, linguist on a mission

Tue, 26/02/2019 - 08:59

Many people, while living away from home, feel that they slowly get less proficient in their mother tongue. Not so for linguist Jonas Jablonskis (1860-1930), who was the first to formulate and outline the basic principles of  the Lithuanian language, while spending a significant part of his academic career and life in emigration.

Teaching and living abroad

After graduating from Marijampolė Gymnasium, Jablonskis first move was to Moscow. There, he studied History and Philology (the study of the structure, history and development of languages) at the University of Moscow from 1881 to 1885.

In his native Lithuania, Jablonskis, as a Catholic, was not unable to find employment as a teacher so instead worked in a number of other nations in the region over the course of the following 30 years. In 1889, he found a role as a teacher in Latvia, and later in Estonia, Belarus and, during World War 1, he taught at a Lithuanian refugees’ school in Voronezh, Russia.

The Council of Educators of the Yčs Gymnasium in Voronezh in 1916, Museum of Lithuanian Education History, CC BY

Eventually he returned to Vilnius. When the University of Lithuania in Kaunas opened in 1922, he was elected an honorary professor and taught there until 1926.

Lithuanian Linguistics

During his time away from Lithuania, Jablonskis continued his linguistic studies in the Lithuanian language. During all this time, his most notable achievement was contributing to the formation of standard Lithuanian.

While teaching in Latvia, in the summer breaks, Jablonskis returned to Lithuania to collected data for linguistic studies among native speakers. In 1901, the Russian Academy of Sciences charged Jablonskis with editing a Lithuanian dictionary which had been compiled by Antanas Juška. This charge caused him to be dismissed from his teaching position at the time. In spite of this, he continued his efforts, beginning to work on his Lithuanian Grammar (1901) under the name of Petras Kriaušaitis.

Kalbininkas Prof. J. Jablonskis, 1900-1905, Maironis Museum of Lithuanian Literature, Public Domain

Designing the dictionary

Jablonskis chose to base the language on the western High-Lithuanian dialect, a language being spoken at the time. He eschewed earlier attempts to establish a standard Lithuanian language which were based upon the dialect of Prussian Lithuanians. In doing so, Jablonskis went against the style of contemporary literary language, which was heavily influenced by foreign elements.

From then onward, written Lithuanian would be more authentically Lithuanian than it had ever been.

Jablonskis dedicated his life to the language: defining how words are spelled, substituting loan words from other languages with Lithuanian alternatives, developing rules for how new words should be formed and bringing consistency to syntax and grammar. He also introduced the letter ū into Lithuanian writing.

Jablonskis collected his linguistic findings in an academic text, which is still in use. And still, today, the Lithuanian language evolves, grows and expands owing to the accomplishments of this legendary thinker.

Featured image: Kalbininkas prof. J. Jablonskis, I. Kisinas, V. Rubaževičius, 1929, Maironis Museum of Lithuanian Literature, Public Domain

By  Dalia Cidzikaitė, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania & Sofie Taes, KU Leuven / Photoconsortium

What is the real palaeo diet, and who invented bread? Archaeological findings on eating and drinking in the past.

Thu, 07/02/2019 - 08:52
Rotsschilderingen van Minateda, KU Leuven, Belgium, Public Domain Marked

Archaeology can give great insight into what processes have made us the humans we are today. Seemingly small things have hugely influenced our contemporary lives, and maybe the most important one is the invention of cooking. Richard Wrangham, professor of biological anthropology, in his book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, describes how cooking reduced the caloric cost of digestion and increased the efficiency of food consumption. According to Wrangham, homo erectus (who lived between about 1.89 million and 143,000 years ago), evolved to develop a smaller, more efficient digestive tract that freed up the energy to enable brain growth.1 This was thanks to Homo Erectus being able to cook their food, setting the stage for modern humans. But what, and how, did these palaeolithic humans cook?

two Coptic bread loaves, Medelhavsmuseet, Sweden, CC BY-NC-ND. Who invented bread and pancakes?

Amaia Arranz Otaegui, a postdoctoral researcher from University of Copenhagen and her colleagues have found archaeobotanical evidence revealing the origins of bread 14,400 years ago in north-eastern Jordan. That’s about 4,000 years before agriculture!2 “Our work shows that bread was not a product of settled, complex societies but of Paleolithic hunter-gatherer society,” said Otaegui for The Washington Post. One of Otaegui’s articles poses that “Interdisciplinary analysis indicates the use of some of the “founder crops” of southwest Asian agriculture (like wild einkorn) and root foods (e.g. club-rush tubers) to produce flat bread-like products.”

The first known flatbread comes from Shubayqa 1, a Natufian hunter-gatherer site. Through cultural diffusion, and over time, these first flatbreads have evolved into the pizzas, pita, puri, pane carasau, chapati and tortillas we know and love today.

Fragment of a relief. Two men with a bull. Medelhavsmuseet, Sweden, CC BY-NC-ND

How humans have evolved to eat meat is another area of discussion and debate among archaeologists. Humans might have resorted to meat eating as a necessary adaptation to their changing environment, but it might also have been a milestone change that allowed for quick development of the human brain. Katherine Milton of the University of California says that “early humans were forced into this dietary change because the forests of Africa were receding and these hominids simply couldn’t get enough plant matter to stay alive”.3 Meredith F. Small from Cornell University adds that “for these few million years, humans apparently stuffed themselves with raw meat. And then somewhere, somehow, somebody offered it up cooked.”4

So what about the palaeo diet?

The palaeo diet is a diet based on the idea that your body benefits most from the same foods that palaeolithic humans ate. It, among others, cuts starchy vegetables, cereal grains, and legumes in favour of unprocessed meat, nuts and seeds, and a lot of fruits and veggies.5 But archaeological research shows that maybe flatbreads and other grain products might have been a bigger part of the palaeolithic diet after all, and that meat might have played a smaller role than first thought in our ancestors’ daily meals. Ann Gibbons at National Geographic mentions the high level of plant-based food in hunter-gatherers societies: “It’s true that hunter-gatherers around the world crave meat more than any other food and usually get around 30 percent of their annual calories from animals. But most also endure lean times when they eat less than a handful of meat each week.”6 The palaeo diet might not be so palaeo after all, as archaeological research keeps unearthing new evidence and formulating new hypotheses about the evolution of our species. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the palaeo diet isn’t healthy, but it does show interesting insights into the constantly changing landscape of archaeology.

By Rimvydas Laužikas,
University of Vilnius

Explore more archaeology at Europeana Collections

boogschutters uit rotstekeningen, KU Leuven, Belgium, Public Domain Marked

#ColorOurCollections – our new colouring blog about women in history

Mon, 04/02/2019 - 16:07

It’s this week again when all you need is coloured pencils, crayons and some great openly licensed images to colour in. #ColorOurCollections is back! This year, we prepared a colouring book about women in history. From the first medieval depiction of a female dentist to suffrage posters – there’s a lot to colour and to learn.

Download the book here and share your creations on social media using hashtag #ColorOurCollections

And if you would like to know more about remarkable European women in the arts, sciences and society, visit our online exhibition Pioneers and join us for a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month in March.

The Watersnoodramp: the Dutch battle against water in moving image

Thu, 31/01/2019 - 09:05

It is 66 years ago to the day that the Netherlands was hit by a big natural disaster, the North Sea flood (“Watersnoodramp”). In the early morning of 1st February 1953, the dykes broke through due to a heavy storm and high tide and water flooded large parts of the South-West provinces. Over 1800 people died and many were forced to leave their houses and seek refuge elsewhere. This blog highlights several videos in relation to the disaster, the migration of people, aid actions and the reconstruction.

The Dutch have a centuries-long tumultuous relationship with water. Twenty per cent of the country is below sea level and fifty per cent is less than one meter above it. Floods have been depicted in images for hundreds of years, for instance in this lithography, by Jan Kuypers, which shows relief actions and shelter provided to the victims after a flood in 1876.  

A lithograph presenting five scenes of assistance during the flood in 1876, Jan Kuypers, Flipje en Streekmuseum Tiel, CC BY

The storm surge in 1953 however also marks the first time that video footage captured the aftermath of the flood. These moving images of the “Watersnoodramp” reached people days after the flood, as televisions sets were not yet common in Dutch households and newsreels were only shown in cinemas. Radio broadcast, press photography and illustrations were the fastest medium at the time. Reporters were often quicker at the scene than aid workers.1 It still took until 5pm on that fatal Sunday for the first radio broadcast to be aired.2

Early material of the North Sea flood (1953), Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, In Copyright

In total 72.000 people were evacuated for a longer period of time. The majority of people eventually returned to their homes, but large groups migrated to other places in the Netherlands to start new lives. Especially farmers were hit hard as their land had become infertile after the flood. At least 34 Zealand farmers had to start over in the Noordoostpolder, an area in the Flevoland province. This video shows the farmers officially giving up their land and singing a lease for their new farms.

Farmers from the disaster area find a new future in the Noordoostpolder (in Dutch),
Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, CC BY-NC-SA.

The Dutch tried to help their fellow countryman by donating to the National Relief Fund. There were also international actions, like the one held by Dutch illustrator Eppo Doeve. People were encouraged to buy a ‘Doeve-postcard’ for 10 cents with the Latin text “Luctor Et Emergo” (I struggle and emerge), which is the motto of the Zealand province. The card shows an image of the disaster and includes a text in Spanish, English, French and German on the back to thank people and reassure businesses relations about the resilience of the Dutch industry. Over 100.000 postcards were sent.

Eppo Doeve, International postcard National Relief Fund, Collection: Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.

In addition, a local action called ‘operatie snert’ (operation pea soup) was organised. Soldiers of the Prince Hendrik Barracks in Nijmegen made 30.000 litres of pea soup and sold it in the streets and at people’s houses. In this video, the director of the National Relief Fund sells the first bowls of soup. The contributions added tens of thousands of Dutch guilders to the fund.

‘Operation pea soup’ for the benefit of the National Disaster Relief Fund (in Dutch),
Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, CC BY-NC-SA.

A disaster of this magnitude should not happen again and therefore the government accepted the ambitious Delta Plan in 1957, one of the most revolutionary hydraulic engineering projects in the world, as shown in the video ‘Six years after the storm tide’. One of the most important tasks was to shorten the coastline by 700 kilometers, the motto being “The shorter the coast, the easier the defence’.3 To this day, the Dutch continue to defend their country from the water, anticipating short and long term solutions with the Delta Programme. With current climate change and the rise of the sea level, this is a matter of urgency, not just on a national but also a global level.

Six years after the storm tide (in Dutch), Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, CC BY-SA.

Finally, the relationship between the Dutch and the North Sea has also been an inspiration for music artists. Irish DJ duo Lakker produced an album solely sampling field recordings, TV and radio broadcasts from the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. To gain insight into the topic, Lakker went on a trip around the Netherlands to meet professors and researchers who could explain to them different aspect of this theme. Their journey is captured in this documentary:

By Lizzy Komen,
The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision

Cover image (at the top):
Frame from the video Six years after the storm tide, Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, CC BY-SA.

Sources and references:

Jan Karski – Witness to the Holocaust

Thu, 24/01/2019 - 10:44

It was spring, the last week of April in 1987, when Jan Karski, a then 73-year-old professor of comparative government and theory of communism, entered, as he did regularly for more than 30 years, the lecture hall at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington D.C. The room was packed. Karski’s courses in Middle European studied were always over-subscribed. Students loved him for his work as a professor, but also for his “presence and grace”, an air of Polish aristocratic gallantry that made him stand out when he walked across the campus. Washington Post’s Sarah Booth Conroy described him as follows: “His speech has a charming, lilting accent, as well as grace and eloquence. He’s very thin, a body of bones and nerves”.

Jan Karski, autor nieznany, 1938,
 Ośrodek “Brama Grodzka – Teatr NN”, In Copyright

He was no stranger to affection or even admiration. But this time things were different — he got a standing ovation. Everyone cheered and clapped. Karski was surprised and moved. Probably no less so than his students, when they saw their beloved professor on PBS earlier that week. Karski was one of the key witnesses interviewed in the eagerly anticipated Shoah, a 9.5 hour long, seminal Holocaust documentary by Claude Lanzmann, three decades later widely considered a cinematic masterpiece and a milestone in Holocaust studies. Karski’s testimony, shot in 1978, accounts for 40 minutes of the film.

During the II World War Karski was a lieutenant of the Polish Underground State, tasked with special courier missions, carrying dispatches to France and Britain. But his true life mission — which marked his life forever — came in the autumn of 1942. Karski was selected to undertake a secret mission to contact world leaders, and inform them of Nazi atrocities in occupied Poland. In order to gather evidence, Karski with the help of Jewish activists, entered twice the Warsaw Ghetto. He recounted in Shoah:

My job was just to walk. And observe. And remember. The odour. The children. Dirty. Lying. I saw a man standing with blank eyes. I asked the guide: what is he doing? The guide whispered: “He’s just dying”. I remember degradation, starvation and dead bodies lying on the street. We were walking the streets and my guide kept repeating: “Look at it, remember, remember”.  And I did remember. The dirty streets. The stench. Everywhere. Suffocating. Nervousness. Tention. Then something horrible happened. Two boys from Hitlerjugend were walking around, laughing joyfully. One of them took the gun from his pocket and started shooting. Window glass broken. A voice: “Aaa!”. It was not part of this world. It was not part of humanity. I was not a part of it. I was told that these are human beings. They didn’t look like human beings. Then my guide said: “We might be able to arrange your visit to a death camp”.

Staging Point, Rozenfeld, Jewish Historical Institute, public domain

What they managed to do is put Karski in a transit camp in Izbica Lubelska, dressed as an Estonian guard. What Karski saw in the Ghetto and in the camp, he had to engrave in his memory, smuggle out of Poland and weaponize — convert into words that would convince the most powerful people of the world to take action.

What followed was a spy-thriller-style escape from Poland, involving prison escapes and teeth being pulled out in order to disguise foreign accent in Karski’s otherwise impeccable German and French. There was a secret meeting with British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. There was the White House conversation with Franklin D. Roosevelt himself. And then the mission was done. Karski went back to London, but was told that he became identifiable to the Nazis. So his job a soldier was done too and Karski decided to go back and start a new life in the United States. What didn’t end were the Nazi atrocities. The feeling of failure. And then — in the long run — the haunting memories, the images of inhumanity.

Black and white postcard (text: Lodz Jude Getto), Biblioteka Cyfrowa – Regionalia Ziemi Łódzkiej, public domain

Shoah begins with an excruciating scene. Karski says: “Now I go back 35 years”. But he chokes up and abruptly leaves the room saying: “No, I don’t go back!”. It was the first time in many years that he had to revisit the experience. For 30 years of his career as a teacher Karski failed to mention to his students a story that later made him a towering historical figure, honored with numerous statues in New York, Washington, Tel Aviv, Warsaw and other cities.

The screening of Shoah on national television marked a turning point late in Karski’s life. Now he was no longer first and foremost a professor. His job title seemed to change. He started being introduced as a „Witness to the Holocaust”. This caption seems now inseparable from his name. And it sounds like something more than just a description of one of his many life roles, more than a profession even — it’s something from the realm of biblical fate. Karski became, apparently at a great personal cost, the role model par excellence — the embodiment of the universal task, which every human being is invited to undertake at some point in their life. That is: to look, to remember and to personally confront the inhuman suffering of others.

By Jakub Zgierski
National Film Archive–Audiovisual Institute

A Tradition of Mourners – Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 13:30
In a special guest post to celebrate the Cleveland Museum of Art’s (CMA) new Open Access initiative, Curatorial Assistant in Medieval Art Amanda Mikolic illuminates the tomb sculpture of the Burgundian court, illustrated by openly licensed images from CMA and European institutions.

The court of the Burgundian Netherlands was known for the sumptuousness of its art which served as an indication of their rank, wealth, and power. The surviving tomb figures of the Dukes of Burgundy and their relations are a testament to this lavish lifestyle.

The Cleveland Museum of Art’s celebrated early 15th century alabaster tomb mourners are one of the highlights of its medieval collection. Originally these figures were arranged in processional order around the sides of the ducal tomb of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (r. 1363–1404).

This marked the beginning of an elaborate Burgundian tomb tradition which would continue throughout the 16th century for the subsequent dukes and their families. These tomb figures, known as weepers (pleurants), represented mourning family members and ancestors. Rather than true portraits, the statuettes are idealised images of Burgundian mourners.

Detail of a miniature of the genealogical table of descendants of Louis IX, with Louis IX, Philip the Bold (1270-1285), his son Philip the Handsome (1285-1314), and in a line Philip’s three sons, Louis X (1314-1316), Philip V (1316-1322), Charles IV (1322-1328), and his daughter Isabel, who married Edward II. The British Library. Public Domain

Philip the Bold’s son and the next Duke of Burgundy, John the Fearless (r. 1404-1419) continued the tradition with a slightly more elaborate version of his father’s tomb. The predominant feature of this tradition was the long procession of realistic-looking mourning figures who accompanied the deceased, walking beneath the effigy.

Mourner from the Tomb of John the Fearless and Margaret of Bavaria, 1443-1445.
Jean de la Huerta (Spanish). Salins alabaster; overall: 41 x 20.3 x 12.4 cm (16 1/8 x 8 x 4 7/8 in.). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from H.H. Wade Fund 1940.129. CC0

Over time these figures became less generic and more like portraits of individuals. These mourning figures were meant to illustrate the deceased’s noble and distinguished ancestors and retain minute details of costume and features with the faces of some being nearly portrait-like in their depiction, although idealized.

In the figures once belonging to the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon, daughter of Charles I, Duke of Bourbon (1401–1456) and granddaughter of the powerful John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy (r. 1404–19) the full evolution of these figures can be seen.

Ten weepers of the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon (1436-1465). Jan Borman (II) and Renier van Thienen (attributed to), c. 1475-1476. Bronze. Rijksmuseum. Public Domain

Following Isabella of Bourbon’s death in 1465, her daughter Mary built a funeral monument for her mother in the abbey of Saint Michael in Antwerp. The tomb was surrounded by 24 bronze figures of mourning family members and ancestors, of which just ten remain today.

These figures were themselves modelled after another tomb, commissioned by Philip the Good and located in Lille. From historical records and the detailed costumes, we can even determine the identity of some of these opulently dressed figures, such as Albert I, Duke of Bavaria (1336–1404), depicted with the Order of Saint Anthony around his neck.

Detail of weeper wearing the emblem of the Order of Saint Anthony. Jan Borman (II) and Renier van Thienen (attributed to), c. 1475-1476. Bronze. Rijksmuseum. Public Domain

Another of the male figures from Isabella’s tomb wears a traditional costume popular in the mid-1400s with the court of Philip the Good.  The large ring-shaped turban or bourrelet with trailing streamer was favoured by nobility as a sign of prosperity because of the excessive fabric used.

Weeper from the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon, c. 1475-1476. Jan Borman (II) and Renier van Thienen (attributed to).
Bronze. Rijksmuseum. Public Domain Mark.

Miniature of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, founder of the Order of the Golden Fleece.
Attributed to the circle of the Master of the London Wavrin. BL Harley 6199, f. 57v. The British Library, Public Domain

All of these surviving tomb figures testify to the lavish lifestyle, power, and wealth of the Burgundian court. The lasting legacy of Burgundian memorial art cannot be exaggerated, nor can the importance of the tomb figures within this tradition.

Explore Cleveland Museum of Art’s gothic painting and sculpture collections Further Reading

Morganstern, Anne McGee, and John A. Goodall. Gothic Tombs of Kinship in France, the Low Countries, and England. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.

Scholten, Frits. Isabella’s Weepers: Ten Statues from a Burgundian Tomb. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 2007.

Johnson, Ken. At the Met, Portraits of Grief, Written in Stone. New York Times, 12 May 2010

The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2011

Wisse, Jacob. Burgundian Netherlands: Court Life and Patronage. Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University, 2002.

Cover image: Mourners from the Tomb of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (1364-1404), 1404–10. Claus de Werve (Netherlandish, 1380–1439). Vizille alabaster; average height: 41.4 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Bequest of Leonard C. Hanna Jr., 1940.128, 1958.66–67. CC0

From cuddly toys to tea leaves – a child’s view of migration

Thu, 17/01/2019 - 08:00

When you’re a kid, moving house is a big deal. Moving to another country, learning another language, making new friends, facing a new culture… well, that’s a pretty huge deal.

During the Europeana Migration campaign, while adults shared stories about their childhood, we also heard stories about children from children, each illustrated by an object that means something to them. This blog explores some of the themes from these stories. 

This reminds me of my family

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the stories focus on an object that reminds the child of family members.

Ariadne’s is a golden badge which her dad got ‘for helping South Africa catching robbers’: a true superhero! ‘Having my badge makes me feel like I’m seeing my family. It has helped me remember my Great Grandma, and my Grandma who helps me paint with watercolour.’

Stella’s silver ornament ‘reminds me of my great grandma’s mother and her flossy cotton candy, silky and light caramels, bitter and rich chocolate, and vanilla cookies!’

My golden badge from Denmark, Ariadne, CC BY-SA

This is what I cuddle

Sometimes it’s not clear whether the link between the object and the family member is figurative or literal… Elsa tells us that her bunny teddy is important to her ‘because it reminds me of my dad. My Bunny has one banana yellow nose, one green eye, two soft black eyebrows and two faint yellow ears matching with his feet.’

Salavador says something similar: ‘It looks like a bear with fluffy ears. It has beautiful paws and reminds me of Dad.’

So does Isobel: ‘Back then my Bunny had beautiful flowers in her ears and her nose was not as torn and her fur was as soft as a polar bear’s. But now she is a bit scruffy and not as soft. When I look at her she reminds me of my sister and my Mum and Dad but I will always have my precious little bunny.’

And a toy monkey with ‘super sonic orange eyes’ makes Aidan think of his dad, ‘When we are together, we always go to new beautiful, magnificent places.’

The Monkey, Aidan, CC BY-SA

This feels nice to touch

Children experience the world in a different way to grown-ups. They talk a lot about how an object feels to touch, what it smells or even tastes like.

A holy thread feels rough and hard. A Rakhi soft and furry. A pen ‘smells like ice and tastes like salt’. A badge is cold and difficult to break. A cuddly bear smells like old toys and ‘sounds like soft little pillows when it falls’. A babygro smells of vinegar and ‘tickles a bit’. A soccer trophy ‘was ice cold’ and ‘as special as an old fossil’.

My favourite Rakhi, Het, CC BY-SA

This makes me feel at home

For some, the object they describe takes them back home even though home is now somewhere new.

Shaariq told us about his grandmother’s invention – ‘Palla podi’ – a powder made from burnt husk and cinnamon for cleaning teeth. ‘When you add water or saliva it becomes black and it makes your teeth white and clean.’ Another child brought the Indian silver cup they were fed from – tradition has it that feeding a baby out of silverware makes them smart, strong and precious.

Several children talk of shells they picked up and treasured – a pocket-sized piece of home. Abigail has two golden bracelets made especially for her Nanna by her sister in Croatia. Calypso’s doll’s house helps her to feel at home having moved from Cyprus to the Netherlands. For Kamila, it’s a rubber toy pig from Uzbekistan given to her when she was six that she just couldn’t stop hugging that reminds her of home. And for eight-year-old Kavin, a replica of the Shard reminds him of his time in London and remains his ‘third most treasured item’.

My toy pig from Uzbekistan, Kamila, CC BY-SA

This is my family

And of course, there are family photos. Nine-year-old Maanas moved from India to Brussels and returns every two years. He shared photos of both his father’s family and his mother’s family. And Maximilian says his snapshot ‘reminds me of when I was there in Switzerland to meet my family or go skiing. Some days I dream that I am in Switzerland with all my Swiss family eating delicious food in a restaurant or at the Badi Ruti swimming pool.’ 

Maanas’s big family, Maanas, CC BY-SA

I made this myself

Particularly special are the hand-crafted and unique – drawings, letters, school yearbooks. Ananya loves her Tanzanian yearbook. ‘It is so lovely to have a yearbook, which reminds you of nature, friends and teachers of your school.’

Leon appreciates the school folder his parents brought from his school in England when they moved to The Hague. And Aadit hand-wrote his contribution about ‘the best moment in my life’ – when he travelled with his mother and little brother from Mumbai to Brussels to move to a new country, rejoining his father who he hadn’t seen for six months.

Clara Herreros shared a picture showing Spain – churros, an omelette and a flag – and Holland – cheese, a tulip, a windmill and waffles. While Ana Lucia’s drawing puts Australia and Holland side by side as she remembers being bitten by ants.

Not all the stories are of happy times. Drawings by refugee and asylum-seeker children reveal both traumatic experiences and hopes for the future.

Una niña albaceteña en Holanda, Clara Herreros, CC BY-SA

This is mine, just mine

Some children talk about their object being special because it is theirs and theirs alone. A map of Uganda ‘belongs to me just me’. A teddy bear ‘has never belonged to anyone else’. Three shells on a beach ‘never belonged to anyone’. A way perhaps of gaining a little control when everything else is in transition.

My map of Uganda, Micah, CC BY-SA

This is my future

And the children talk of their hopes for the future – of revisiting their country of birth, of seeing family members again, of learning more languages, of learning to read the tea leaves with Nanny, or of wanting to ‘explore the ocean wide and find treasure because none of my family did’.

Reading tea leaves – a family tradition, George, CC BY-SA


We thank them all for sharing their stories with Europeana Migration. 

Discover more stories of migration on Europeana Collections.

The Ice Follies: how a Swedish family changed American entertainment history

Tue, 15/01/2019 - 09:59

This photograph shows Frank Otto Skeppstedt, his wife and four children stoically posing for a studio photographer. The formal portrait gives away nothing of their extraordinary family history. At the time this picture was taken, the Skeppstedts (now Shipstads) had settled at St. Paul, Minnesota, after having emigrated from Sweden. Father Frank Otto had found work at a foundry but barely brought in enough to feed his family, that would eventually count ten children.

Yet one of the boys in this portrait, Eddie, was to become one of the biggest names in the American entertainment industry.

It all started in St. Paul, when Eddie (at the time a seller of typewriters) met Oscar Johnson (who worked as a chemist) and joined him in skating on the frozen lakes. Soon they were practicing stunts and got hired to do their act during half-time shows for St. Paul’s professional hockey team and New York Rangers games.

Then they were asked to put together a complete variety show on ice. In the meantime, Eddie’s brother Roy Shipstad – a talented skater who won several amateur titles – teamed up with Eddie and Oscar. Together they produced a first show as a charity benefit performance. Afterwards, they decided to take the show on the road. From these early ventures, in 1936 Shipstad’s and Johnson’s Ice Follies were born: the first traveling extravaganza on ice.

Ice Follies founders Roy Shipstad, Oscar Johnson, and Eddie Shipstad, Billboard Magazine, January 6, 1945, Public Domain

The Ice Follies were among the pioneering ice shows that would thrive throughout the 20th century, combining skating with theatre, music, lighting, choreography, music hall entertainment, elaborate props and costumes. Their main attraction was the complete novelty of the spectacle, that soon rivalled the more old-fashioned circus show in popularity. And thus business took off, with Metro Goldwyn Mayer even producing a film with Ice Follies in 1939. Also in 1939, the comic skating duo Frick and Frack joined the show.

Soon many other shows started building upon the Shipstads’ success, such as the Hollywood Ice Review, the Holiday on Ice shows (using ingenious mobile rinks) and the Sonja Henie Ice Revue.

Norwegian star skater Sonja Henie, a rival of the Shipstad’s Follies, 1930, Oslo Museum. CC BY-SA

Yet the Ice Follies would remain – together with the Ice Capades – among the most successful, playing for over 60 million people in 30 years. In the mid-1960s the Ice Follies were placed within General Ice Shows Inc, that would later buy Holiday on ice as well. When Mattel acquired both shows in 1979, the idea arose to collaborate with Disney. This resulted in the Disney World on Ice tours, that took off in 1981 and run to the present day.

As for the Shipstads: along with the permanent change of their last names, their American adventure brought them fame, fortune, and … tons of ice! For Eddie’s son and grandson – both named after him – would make their careers directing ice shows as well, while Roy’s daughter Jill would tour with the Ice Follies as a star skater for many glorious years.

Featured image: Frank Otto Skeppstedt and family in the United States, c. 1910, Sörmlands Museum. CC BY-SA

This blog post is a part of the Migration in the Arts and Sciences project, and was written by Sofie Taes of Photoconsortium.

Lighting the Way: How Illuminated Initials Guided Medieval Readers through Books

Thu, 10/01/2019 - 13:49

Many medieval manuscripts are full of decorated capital letters that add colour to the page. They come in all styles and sizes, but what exactly are they and what was their purpose?

Zoomorphic initial D with a dragon forming the ascender. Bible, France, 12th century. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Arsenal, Ms 578, f. 6v. NoC-OKLR

What is an illuminated initial?

The word illuminate, in the medieval sense, means to decorate with colours. An illuminated initial is an enlarged and decorated capital letter, the first letter of a section of text. They can vary from the basic pen-and-ink drawn letter to the most elaborate letter painted with gold or silver leaf. Text and illumination were complementary and were either closely related or sharply contrasted.

Instead of initials, many Hebrew manuscripts have decorated initial-word panels. There is no distinction between upper and lower case in Hebrew, so the entire first word was often decorated.


Historiated initial-word panel of the story of Ruth. Bible, Southern Germany, ca. 1322 (Additional 22413, f. 71). Decorated initial-word panel at the beginning of 1 Chronicles in the “Duke of Sussex’s Italian Bible”. North-eastern Italy, 1448 or 1498 (Additional 15251, f. 313v). British Library, Public Domain.

These initials, like other painted elements, were added after the text had been copied, often by a different person – an illuminator. Space for these letters was marked out and left blank while the scribe worked, with just a small guide letter marked so the illuminator would know which letter to paint. In some manuscripts the initials were never added and you can see the space that was reserved for them.

What are they for?

Illuminated initials could have several purposes in medieval manuscripts. The most obvious is their decorative or aesthetic value.

Initials that include human or animal figures in or around them are said to be inhabited. Others may be more abstract, incorporating geometric or interlace designs – these are simply called decorated initials. Inhabited and interlace initial O. Second Bible of Charles the Bald, Abbey of Saint-Amand, c. 871-877 (Latin 2, f. 272); inhabited champie initial A with a dragon. Songbook of Noailles, Northern France, ca. 1275-1300 (Français 12615, f121v), Bibliothèque nationale de France, NoC-OKLR. Gilded initial S with the “bianchi girari” decoration typical of Italian humanistic manuscripts. Homer, Iliad, Italy, second half of the 15th century (Universitat de València BH Ms 413, f1 – CC BY-NC).

They could also be used to illustrate the text, in addition to or instead of miniatures.Historiated initials show a scene or a recognisable person that relates to the text, in and around the shape of the letter. Sometimes illuminated initials contrast with the text: they might show irreverent or humorous figures and scenes.

Historiated initial D: David beheading Goliath with his sword. Psalter, North-western France, c. 1175 (Koningklijke Bibliotheek, 76 E 11, f. 51 – Public Domain). Historiated initial C: Ptolemy at work as a geographer. Claudius Ptolemy, Geography, Florence, c. 1475-1480 (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Latin 4802, f. 3 – NoC-OKLR). When animal or human figures form the shape of the letter, these are called zoomorphic or anthropomorphic initials, or even zoo-anthropomorphic if there are both people and animals. Left to right: the Virgin Mary as an anthropomorphic initial I. Gellone Sacramentary, Meaux or Cambrai, late 8th century (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Latin 12048, f.1v – NoC-OKLR). Zoomorphic initial A formed by two birds. Corbie Psalter, Northern France, 9th century (Bibliothèques d’Amiens métropole, Ms. 18, f68v – NoC-OKLR). Zoo-anthropomorphic E. Songbook of Zeghere van Male, Bruges, 1542 (Cambrai, Bibliothèque municipale, Ms 126 B, f76v – CC BY-NC).

Beyond decoration and illustration, the primary role of illuminated initials was more practical. They provide a visual point of reference, marking the division of the text into books, chapters, paragraphs and sometimes even verses.

Three different sizes of initials, in alternating gold and blue with blue and red pen-flourishing, mark the major and minor divisions within Guillaume de Machaut’s poem “Remède de Fortune”. Paris, around 1350-1355 (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 1586, ff. 41v-42 – NoC-OKLR).

Unlike books published today, medieval manuscripts don’t have title pages and new chapters don’t generally start on a new page, because parchment was costly and the space on the page had to be used carefully.

Different types, different styles

Illuminated initials can look very different from one manuscript to another, and even within the same manuscript. This may depend on several factors:

  • when and where the manuscript was decorated
  • the type of manuscript and its intended use
  • the level of significance of the initials within a programme of decoration
  • the importance and wealth of the person commissioning the manuscript
A puzzle initial is a letter divided into interlocking pieces, often painted red and blue, with a fine line of white to separate the two parts. From left to right: puzzle initial A in red and blue with red and blue pen-flourishing. Lumley Bible, Southeastern England, 2nd half of the 13th century (British Library, Royal 1 E II, f. 370). Puzzle initial B in red and blue with red, blue and yellow pen-flourishing. Bible, Italy or Southern France, 2nd quarter of the 13th century (British Library, Arundel 287, f. 163). Puzzle initial D in red and blue with red and blue pen-flourishing. Book of Hours, 15th century (National Library of Romania, Ms III 28 4, f. 1v). Public Domain

Styles and techniques particular to one region would spread as scribes and illuminators travelled and exchanged ideas and techniques. One example of this is the Channel School. This style of illumination flourished on either side of the English Channel during the 11th and 12th centuries, and also influenced illuminators as far away as Bavaria and Bohemia.

Initials in the Channel School style, from left to right: initial E. Psalter, England 3rd quarter of the 12th century (British Library, Add MS 17392, f. 129v – Public Domain). Initial U. Bible, Foigny, 4th quarter of the 12th century (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Latin 15178, f. 2v – NoC-OKLR). Initial E. Bible “Codex Gigas”, Bohemia, ca. 1220 (National Library of Sweden, MS A 148, f. 45v – CC BY).

This practice continued with the first printed books, which were designed to resemble manuscripts as closely as possible. Many printers left space on the page so that initials and other elements could later be added by hand, according to the owner’s specifications.

Elizabeth MacDonald
Europeana Rise of Literacy Editorial Coordinator, National Library of France


Be sure to check out our gallery for more illuminated initials!

Further reading:

Géhin, Paul (dir.), Lire le manuscrit médiéval. Paris: Armand Colin, 2018.

Glossary for the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts

Codicologia (IRHT-CNRS), a multilingual glossary for describing medieval manuscripts

Codex Gigas (National Library of Sweden)

Making Medieval Manuscripts: Making Miniatures (video, British Library)


The blog post is a part of the Rise of Literacy project, where we take you on an exploration of literacy in Europe thanks to the digital preservation of precious textual works from collections across the continent.

Ivan Cankar – The Writer, The Migrant

Tue, 11/12/2018 - 09:18

Zala Mojca Jerman Kuželički of National and University Library in Slovenia introduces us to Ivan Cankar, who died 100 years ago today and is regarded as the greatest writer in the Slovene language.

Ivan Cankar, the first professional and most prolific Slovene writer and playwright, is mostly known for his skilful depictions of the petty bourgeoisie and the margins of society; his hometown Vrhnika; for the coffee he made his poor mother go beg for and then refused to drink, and the wine he’d never refuse to drink. He is hailed for his sweet language of sorrow and nostalgia, and the suffering somehow made beautiful.

Ivan Cankar (1876-1918) by Fran Vesel, National and University Library of Slovenia, public domain

What usually doesn’t come to mind is Vienna and migration. Cankar was a proud Slovenian, always giving praise to the Slavic nations and Slovene, but it must be noted that he spent a major and highly influential part of his most fruitful years in Vienna, Austria.

Vienna back then was, of course, the capital of Austrian Empire, Cankar’s own country. It only made sense at the time for any young person aspiring to any sort of greatness to pack their bags and leave (possibly by train, but mostly on foot) their home towns and villages for the broad, gleaming streets of the capital.

Ansicht von Wien aufgenommen von St. Stephansthurme, Johann Breyer, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, public domain

Cankar joined the battalion of youngsters gravitating toward the centre of everything to continue his technical studies at the Viennese Technische Hochschule. While enamoured with the city, he quickly grew restless in his classes, dissatisfied with the underwhelming challenges and dry technical language. Deciding to enrol instead at the Department of Philology to study Romance and Slavic languages, he lost his scholarship and took to writing as a means of making ends meet. Thus began the career of Slovenia’s greatest writer.

The metropolis offered Cankar a most colourful array of people to get to know and be inspired by; there, he rubbed shoulders with other writers, thinkers, bohemians and many great personas of the time like Stefan Zweig and Sigmund Freud. He participated in heated literary discussions in the notorious Beethoven Café, had easy access to all the important magazines, and got to experience first-hand the latest literary trends. His career blossomed. With his sardonic talent for hitting the nail on the head and his unwavering independence, he was quickly becoming the most sought-after writer back home. The conservatives feared him, the liberals ridiculed him; the public adored him.

At the same time, living in Vienna brought Cankar face to face with a new level of poverty and profound homesickness; an experience that crucially influenced his work and radicalised him. His political ideas about the clergy, the Austrian Empire, socialism and Slavic nations earned him an enormous amount of censorship, yet he persisted as the voice of the voiceless, the beacon of hope for the hopeless, the empathetic hug for the untouchables.

Večer na Dunaju, Ivan Cankar, National and University Library of Slovenia, public domain

In 1908, after ten years of the metropolitan life, Cankar left Vienna. Growing perhaps tired of the constant hubbub of the great city, he retired to Rožnik, a small hill perched atop Ljubljana. He continued writing profusely until his untimely death at 42, on 11 December 1918, his Vienna-won wisdom infusing every letter. It is for Cankar’s deep understanding of the human psyche and the constant calling out of the injustices of human society that we still cherish his work today.


The National and University Library is currently displaying “I AM CANKAR – THAT SAYS IT ALL!” an exhibition presenting a selection of letters from Ivan Cankar’s legacy. The exhibition runs until 26 January 2019. More info.

Featured image: Poet Peter (left), Ivan Cankar; portrait of Ivan Cankar (right) by Fran Vesel;  National and University Library of Slovenia, public domain  

Iberian iconography and ritual

Thu, 06/12/2018 - 10:30

In last week’s blog The history of the Iberians, we gave a high-level overview of the Iberian peoples. Today, we focus on the iconography shown in Iberian art and objects from archaeological research, and what it says about the social structures, beliefs, and myths of the Iberians.

Image and funerary ritual

Certain cultural features define the Iberian societies, perhaps the most noteworthy being Iberian pottery. This was decorated in red with mainly geometric forms, although in some areas (from Murcia to the south of Catalonia) figurative images were added. The art of these societies was characterised by powerful iconography: images were one of their best and most effective methods of dissemination and propaganda. Studying this iconography offers us an insight into the ideologically complex beliefs, narratives, and myths of the Iberians. expounded in the towns, shrines and cemeteries, as well as into their myths, both heroic and divine. All this gives us an idea of the ideological complexity of those cultures.


Supernatural and mythical beings. Left: Wolf. Sanctuary of El Pajarillo (Huelma, Spain); centre: Griffin. Sculptural group of Cerrillo Blanco (Porcuna, Spain); right: Patera of the Treasure of Perotito (Santiesteban del Puerto, Spain).

A great example of this is Iberian eschatology (i.e. the Iberian theological beliefs about the end of the world). For Iberian societies, the hereafter was a continuity of life; death was seen as the starting point for a journey symbolised by a crossing of the sea, the land or even the sky. Supernatural and mythical beings, such as the Sphinx, the Griffin or the wolf, and sometimes the divinity, accompanied and guided the deceased on this journey. The crossing of this threshold of death culminated in a celebration, a place of reunion symbolised by abundance.

All this was channelled through a funerary ritual characterised by the funerary banquet, the libations, the cremation and the definition of the spaces in the necropolis that linked the hereafter to the territory. The configuration and meaning of those spaces varied according to the historical period of the Iberian societies. It is noteworthy that, at a certain time in the late 5th century BC and, above all, in the mid-4th century BC, perfectly hierarchised funerary landscapes were laid out. In these landscapes, not only can we identify social groups differentiated on the basis of grave goods, tomb types and spatial distribution, we can also clearly see the relations with the ancestors and the divinity. The necropolises of Baza and Tútugi (both in Granada province, Spain) are clear examples.

Burial mounds. Left: Burial chamber of Piquía (Arjona, Spain); right: Burial mound 75. Cemetery of Tútugi (galera, Spain)

Worship sites

The cultural and social diversity of the Iberian societies is reflected in their wide variety of urban and rural sanctuaries. In general, archaeological research has focused on the analysis of sanctuaries or urban sacred sites that served to emphasise the ideological representational role of certain communities and their dominant lineages in the bosom of the power centres. These urban sanctuaries could be collective or family worship sites. Collective sanctuaries reflected the power of a town and its community in the structuring of the political landscape. Places of worship associated with the more restricted scope of the family or lineage were linked to the cults and rituals of ancestor veneration.

Iberian Sanctuary of Cueva de la Lobera and bronce exvote (Castellar, Spain)

Rural worship sites demonstrate the function of religiosity in the processes of territorial cohesion and control. They often defined the enshrinement of the territorial boundaries by placing worship sites on the frontiers. Those sanctuaries strengthened the relationship between the town and its political spaces and concretised the relations of the community with their neighbours. They were true centres of representation to which pilgrimages were organised to hold the most important community rituals (initiation, nuptial, aggregation, etc.). Of particular note, due to their size, are the sanctuaries of Collado de los Jardines (Santa Elena, Jaén) and Cueva de la Lobera (Castellar, Jaén). These worship sites were in the territory of the oppidum of Cástulo (Linares) and became true symbolic and territorial centres of reference, above all during the 3rd century BC.

Guest blog by Carmen Rueda, Alberto Sánchez, Pilar Amate, from the University Research Institute for Iberian Archaeology (University of Jaén, Spain), in collaboration with CARARE.

This is the second of two guest posts on the Iberians – read part one here and explore archaeology in Europeana Collections.

Featured image: Iberian Peninsula from “Winter and Spring on the Shores of the Mediterranean … Fourth edition”, British Library, public domain

ARANEGUI, C. (2012): Los iberos ayer y hoy. Arqueologías y culturas. Ed. Marcial Pons, Colección de Historia, Madrid.
GONZALEZ REYERO, S. (Ed., 2012): Iberos. Sociedades y territorios del occidente Mediterráneo, Madrid.
GONZÁLEZ REYERO, S. y RUEDA, C. (2010): Imágenes de los Iberos. Comunicar sin palabras en las sociedades de la Antigua Iberia. Colección Divulgación, CSIC. Editorial Catarata. Madrid.
GRAU, I. y RUEDA, C. (2018) : « La religión en las sociedades iberas : una visión panorámica », Revista de Historiografía 28 : 47-72.
IZQUIERDO, I.; MAYORAL, V.; OLMOS, R. y PEREA, A. (2004): Diálogos en el País de los Iberos. Ministerio de Cultura, Madrid.
RUIZ A.; MOLINOS, M. (1998): The Archaeology of the Iberians. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Pizza: a slice of migration history

Tue, 04/12/2018 - 09:00

Pizza – possibly one of the most popular, tasty and simple things you can have for dinner tonight. But behind its simplicity lies a much more complex history – this is the tale of the Margherita’s migration.

Take ingredients from Naples

Pizza has been around in Italy for more than 1,000 years in differing forms. What we recognise today as pizza was invented in Naples. This dish began to conquer the world in the 19th century.

The ‘Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana’ (‘True Neapolitan Pizza Association’), which was founded in 1984, sets the very specific rules that must be followed for an authentic Neapolitan pizza. For example, many Naples pizzerias will only use San Marzano tomatoes grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. This video shows Neapolitans living and working in Milan in the 1960s, with some working in the pizza industry.

Today, however, you don’t need to be in Naples, or even Italy, to get your hands on a great pizza. In many ways, this is due to movement and migration.

Kraftfahrzeug, Spielzeugmuseum der Stadt Nürnberg (Museum Lydia Bayer), CC BY-NC-SA

Roll the dough across the seas

A number of factors led to a rise in the popularity of pizza around the world. Large numbers of Italians migrated to the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, bringing with them their local food traditions which were enjoyed mainly by Italian and Italian-American communities. What would those original migrants think to the now-iconic New York-style pizza, cut into huge slices with extra thin crusts that you fold in half to eat?

Pizza’s popularity boomed in the years after World War II. Allied troops stationed in Italy during the war ate and enjoyed pizza, bringing their taste for the dish home to their countries. During the 1950s and 1960s,  increased prosperity and leisure times led to populations from other Western European countries holidaying in Italy, discovering the delicious dish and creating an appetite back home for it.

Arrival of Italian guest workers […] in Brunssum, 1957, Historic Center Limburg, CC BY-SA

Add toppings to taste

In these decades too, many Italians moved to Germany, Sweden, Netherlands and other Western European countries as guest workers, and later established their own restaurants. These photographs of pizzerias in Swedish towns in Örebro County all have names associated with Italy: Pizzeria Italia, Pizzeria RomaPizzeria Verona, Pizzeria Mona Lisa and Pizzeria Colosseo.

Like the good ingredients of a pizza, all these factors combined to bring pizza to the world. In the collections gathered in Europeana, we see evidence of pizza’s popularity.

Leaflet advertising for a Hungarian pizza and pasta house, s.d.
Bács-Kiskun County Katona József Library – Kecskemét. CC BY-NC-ND

Local food traditions in individual countries now combine with the original Italian pizza recipes: Japanese enjoy pizza with squid and Tabasco; banana topping is popular in Iceland and Sweden; Hungarian pizzas, promoted in the leaflet above, boast sausage, smoked knuckles, beans, leek and mustard-sour cream sauce.


Pizza & Kebab House i Karlskoga, Johanna Björck, Örebro läns museum, CC BY-NC

In Sweden, one of the most popular dishes – now considered a Swedish tradition – is kebabpizza. It combines pizza, ‘brought’ to Sweden by Italian guest workers, with kebab, brought to Sweden by Turkish and Middle Eastern guest workers. Read more about how the Swedish tradition of kebabpizza came about.

We can also see examples of the mixing of migrant communities’ food traditions in the Netherlands: here are the gyros pizza and the tandoori chicken pizza.

Enjoy with a side of tradition

But, in some cases, the age-old Italian traditions still remain.

My Pizza and bakery shop, Gheorghi Kostadinov, CC BY-SA

At the Roads of Remembrance and Identity – Migration Stories from Romania collection day in Sibiu, we heard from Gheorghi, a Bulgarian man who trained in Italy to be a pizzaiolo and now owns a pizzeria in Romania.

My strong wish is to carry on the tradition of making a good and healthy food, to preserve the old pizza recipes, innovating at the same time. I have brought with me from Italy four traditional pizza peels and even some high quality oven plates made from refractory materials from the Vesuvius Area.

So the next time you tuck into a pizza, think about the ingredients and where these have come from, and the communities who have migrated around the world and helped this dish from one city in the south of Italy become a world favourite.


Featured image: Pizza vegetaria, Sörmlands museum, CC BY-SA

Europeana EYCH 2018 Advent Calendar

Fri, 30/11/2018 - 17:01

December is here so it’s time for a countdown! We know you (secretely) love a chocolate advent calendar, but due to a digital character of our activity, we can’t provide one here. But no worries, we prepared some brain candy that will make you equally happy – a Europeana Advent Calendar. And as 2018 is European Year of Cultural Heritage, there’s no better way to celebrate than discovering a festive piece of cultural heritage content every day. Enjoy!

The history of the Iberians

Fri, 30/11/2018 - 09:17

Archaeological research provides us with a broad overview of the past life of cultures and communities. One such culture that has seen extensive archaeological study is the Iberians. We use the generic name Iberians to refer to a group of peoples who inhabited a large part of the Iberian Peninsula for much of the first millennium. This is a brief overview of their history, their political structures, and their demise.

Diversity in time and space

The Iberians lived along the Mediterranean coast and in the south and centre of the Iberian Peninsula, as well as in the French Languedoc region. The large cultural area of the ancient Mediterranean was the staging ground of the historical dynamic between the 6th-1st centuries BC that the Iberian peoples took part in.
The term Iberian encompasses a huge diversity. Iberian society was a mosaic of political entities with common cultural features, as well as their own regional and local traits. The ancient writers referred to them by different names: Oretani, Contestani, Bastetani, Indiketi, Edetani, etc. These people shared a language that today we call Iberian. Of course, that does not mean there were no other languages, as we have evidence of others on the Iberian Peninsula just prior to Romanisation.

An aristocratic and clientele society

In the late 5th and early 4th centuries BC, we see a series of important social changes that would lead to the consolidation of an aristocracy and the emergence of a clientele system. This meant that a single aristocrat or prince would become a dominant leader of groups of people who supported him and his lineage. This new political system led, among other things, to cities and towns that centered around these leaders, also known as territorial nucleation. In this context, the oppidum or fortified Iberian town became the centre of reference in the landscape and the political space. The town focused and organised the territory and, mainly from the 4th century BC on, led expansion programmes. This meant that the differences between towns became more evident and the hierarchy in the territory accentuated. The Iberian landscape stayed heterogeneous in the way that its towns were constructed, however: the Romans did territorial organisation very differently, and not all Iberian towns became oppida.


Oppidum of Puente Tablas (Jaén, Spain). Left: aerial view; right: Gate of the Sun. Instituto de Arqueología Ibérica-Universidad de Jaén, CC BY-NC.


Iberian pottery is a unique and distinguishing feature of this culture. Most Iberian pottery was decorated in red with mainly geometric forms, although in some areas (from Murcia to the south of Catalonia) figurative images were added. The powerful iconography of these societies made the images on pottery a great way of sharing information and spreading propaganda. Studying this iconography offers us an insight into the ideologically complex beliefs, narratives, and myths of the Iberians.

Funerary urns. Left: funerary urn with lead cover from grave 51, cemetery of Piquía (Arjona, Jaén, Spain); right: funerary urn from grave 229, burial mound E, cemetery of La Noria (Fuente de Piedra, Málaga, Spain). Instituto de Arqueología Ibérica-Universidad de Jaén, CC BY-NC.

A great example of this is Iberian eschatology (i.e. the Iberian theological beliefs about the end of the world). For Iberian societies, the hereafter was a continuity of life; death was seen as the starting point for a journey symbolised by a crossing of the sea, the land or even the sky. Supernatural and mythical beings, such as the Sphinx or the wolf, and sometimes Divinity itself, accompanied and guided the deceased on this journey. The crossing of this threshold of death culminated in a celebration, a place of reunion symbolised by abundance.

The end of the Iberians

The Second Punic War shook the deeply-rooted social and political structures of the Iberian societies. In the final years of the 3rd century BC, the Iberian peninsula became the staging ground for the war between Carthage and Rome, accelerating a series of transformations that affected all levels of life. Iberia soon came under the effective domination of the Roman victors. This process did not affect the whole Iberian area in the same way, as the official interests varied according to the territory. It is, therefore, difficult to summarise such a complex and varied process that in the late 1st century BC would lead to the end of the Iberian societies, as they became integrated into the homogeneity of the Roman structure.

Battle of Baécula, Cerro de las Albahacas (Santo Tomé-Cazorla, Jaén, Spain). Left: Weapons (selection); right: Iberian mercenary, Roman legionary and Carthaginian soldier.

This historical and contextual complexity offers us an open panorama for archaeological research in which the University Research Institute for Iberian Archaeology (University of Jaén, Spain) is a centre of reference for the multidisciplinary analysis of those Iron Age societies.

Guest blog by: Carmen Rueda, Alberto Sánchez, Pilar Amate, from the University Research Institute for Iberian Archaeology (University of Jaén, Spain)
This is the first blog in a series of two on the Iberians, written for Europeana Archaeology. Explore the collection here!

ARANEGUI, C. (2012): Los iberos ayer y hoy. Arqueologías y culturas. Ed. Marcial Pons, Colección de Historia, Madrid.
GONZALEZ REYERO, S. (Ed., 2012): Iberos. Sociedades y territorios del occidente Mediterráneo, Madrid.
GONZÁLEZ REYERO, S. y RUEDA, C. (2010): Imágenes de los Iberos. Comunicar sin palabras en las sociedades de la Antigua Iberia. Colección Divulgación, CSIC. Editorial Catarata. Madrid.
GRAU, I. y RUEDA, C. (2018) : « La religión en las sociedades iberas : una visión panorámica », Revista de Historiografía 28 : 47-72.
IZQUIERDO, I.; MAYORAL, V.; OLMOS, R. y PEREA, A. (2004): Diálogos en el País de los Iberos. Ministerio de Cultura, Madrid.
RUIZ A.; MOLINOS, M. (1998): The Archaeology of the Iberians. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
1: Featured image:Iberian aristocrats and warriors. Left: Rider dismounting from the horse to spear the enemy, (Cerrillo Blanco, Porcuna, Spain); centre: Warrior with double armour (Cerrillo Blanco, Porcuna, Spain); right: Hero from El Pajarillo (Huelma, Jaén, Spain) Instituto de Arqueología Ibérica-Universidad de Jaén, CC BY-NC.