A is for Azbuka: Two Copies of a Russian Primer from the Reign of Mikhail I

9539c2front

Classic pedagogical technique in 1637. (Cotsen 9539 copy 2) frontispiece

Cotsen’s Soviet-era children’s book collection is well known, extensive, and portions even digitally available. Less well known is that our Russian-language material covers an even wider historical range from the 17th century to the present day. We have over 250 titles printed in Russia before the Revolution, and around 60 titles printed in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

To illustrate this point, I thought I would showcase our earliest Russian book: Bukvarʹ i︠a︡zyka slavenska ([Moscow]: Vasiliĭ Fedorovich Burt︠s︡ov, [1637]).

Titlepage (9539 c.2)

Title page (9539 copy 2)

From the title page, the discerning reading might (or might not) notice that this bukvar (a shared Eastern European word for a grammatical primer) is not actually in Russian. This book is in Church Slavonic, the liturgical language of the the Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, my Church Slavonic is a little too rusty for me to discuss the contents of the book other than the obvious matter of it’s being an introduction to the Slavonic alphabet, basic words, and grammatical training. Lucky for us, however, Cotsen has two splendidly different copies of this affectionately known: Azbuka (alphabet book):

Contemporary calf, elaborate stamped decorations and tooled boarder, clasps complete.

Contemporary calf, elaborate stamped decorations and tooled boarder, clasps complete (9539 copy 2)

Contemporary polished calf, elaborate rolled & stamped decorations, remnants of clasps

Contemporary polished calf, elaborate rolled & stamped decorations, remnants of clasps (9539 copy 1)

Copy 2 is the more complete of the two editions (for reasons explained more below). Though the binding is in arguably rougher shape (except for the the extant clasps), the paper quality is much higher, a hand colored frontispiece is included (pictured above), and the colophon information is more extensive. In fact, the date for this item was obtained from the colophon (Printer’s information typically found at the back of books printed before the end of the 17th Century). The colophon states that the book was printed in twenty fourth year of reign of the first Romanov Czar, Mikhail Fedorovich (elected 1613). As seen in the title page above, this edition is printed in black and red, with red used for initials and important words:

Unnumbered spread (9539 copy 2)

Unnumbered spread (9539 copy 2)

Unnumbered page (9539 copy 2)

Unnumbered page (9539 copy 2)

Speculatively, I would venture to say that copy 1 might be a later edition (alas, if only my Church Slavonic was better). Though it is worse for ware, the paper quality is lower, and it does not feature red ink at all. This relative lack of quality might indicate that the publisher endured less cost while producing a later edition for a book that was already in circulation (though, sometimes it proves to be the exact opposite since the popularity of earlier editions can lead to a less capital conscience publisher). It is, however, typographically unique and very different from copy 2 pictured above:

Unnumbered spread with initials (9539 copy 1)

Unnumbered spread with initials (9539 copy 1)

Copy 1’s most unique features, however, are one of a kind. Not only is this copy extensively annotated:

Unnumbered spread with annotations (9539 copy 1)

Unnumbered spread with annotations (9539 copy 1)

But it lacks around a dozen pages from the original printing. Lucky for us, a contemporary owner (probably the binder who did such a superb job) was kind enough to diligently copy out these missing pages in manuscript:

Manuscript title page (9539 copy 1)

Manuscript title page (9539 copy 1)

Not only that, but copy 1 has a very special hidden bonus. The waste paper used to line the inside front board of the binding is a manuscript leaf (complete with red ink!):

9539c1wastepaper

Waste paper on inside front board (9539 copy 1)

 

Francis Barlow “A Famous Paynter of Fowle Beastes & Birds”

Animals, birds, and nature… Who doesn’t like them and find them fascinating?  Pretty much all children, as well as illustrators, painters, naturalists.

Wild Lives,” the recent conference at Princeton, explored the intersection of naturalism, art, and science, and focused on how humankind sees and depicts animals and birds in visual terms.  Among the topics explored by speakers were dynamism of representation of animals and birds and the depiction of the “whole animal,” as opposed to a focus on microscopic presentation of detail.

Where Sheep May Safely Graze

Where Sheep May Safely Graze… (plate from Francis Barlow’s Animals of Various Species)

Francis Barlow, a seventeenth-century illustrator and etcher, was not among the subjects discussed at the conference, but looking at Barlow’s work this past week while cataloging a Cotsen Library collection of published plate-books featuring his work, it was easy to think of the conference and reflect on how an illustrator can depict nature, animals, and birds and provide all sorts of insights in the process.  I have to admit I hadn’t known much about Barlow or his work beforehand, but I was astounded by various aspects of his illustrations as I looked through Cotsen’s book and even more interested once I learned more about him.  A contemporary called Barlow “a famous paynter of fowle beastes and birds” (1), not necessarily a term of praise (“foul” beasts not “fowl” and beasts).  More recent writers have termed Barlow: “the central figure of British graphic art of the second half of the seventeenth century” (2) and “the leading illustrative interpreter in England before 1800… the first and one of the best of English animal and bird draftsmen” (3).

Barlow’s notable work also included political commentary prints and illustrations for an edition of Aesop’s Fables that he published himself in 1666.  His Aesop illustrations of course picture animals — the anthropomorphized actors in the fables — and his political prints make use of animals to convey a message. But I’d like to focus on his illustrations in this collection of plate books that feature more “naturalistic” depictions of animals and birds, in which where the illustrations themselves not only depict animals and birds in remarkably dynamic detail but also convey subtle interpretations about the “whole animal” and the workings of nature.

Animals of Various Species

Title page plate: Animals of Various Species

Cotsen’s volume of plates books includes four separate Barlow titles: Animals of Various Species accurately drawn by Francis Barlow, and three other published collections of his plate books: Divers Species of Birds (Parts 1 & 2, separate publications) and Birds of Various Species, both Foreign and English.  These four titles were all been bound together later on, along with two other, slightly later, collections of plate books featuring work by other illustrators: the Book of Horses and the Book of Cattle.  So, while all these individual titles were published and most can be found in other libraries, Cotsen’s volume is a unique, with a number of particular aspects (more on that aspect in a moment…).

“Interpretive illustrations” of birds and animals are evident in all four of Barlow volumes, as we can see on the title-page plates of each of them.

Animals of Various Species

Animals of Various Species

Birds of Various Species

Birds of Various Species

 

 

 

 

 

 

The title plate from Animals of Various Species is shows a highly dramatic scene, not really what we’d expect to introduce a series of illustrations intended to depict different animal species.  Barlow depicts a fox in the process of taking a goose and beginning its escape; in the background, other terrified geese cry out, and a farmer rushes out of her house, one leg over the fence, and broom in hand in an attempt to chase off the fox (too late). The detailing of the animals is impressive, as is the sense of dynamic motion; the fox, farmer’s broom, and larger background goose all lean to the left, enhancing the sense of sweeping movement.  All the figures are in motion — nothing is static.  Take a look at the background detailing too; Barlow provides a snapshot depiction of what a small English farmstead must have looked like. And fear of a fox in the hen-house or one preying on a goose flock would have been a very real fear — and recurrent event — even though it’s the stuff of fairy tales to us now

Barlow’s illustration tells a nuanced story all by itself — no words are really needed!  And apart from the details of this scene, his illustration also suggests a broader vision of “nature red in tooth and claw.”  Even in an apparently bucolic pastoral setting, predator animals hunt and prey.

Detail of eagle's feathers and clawsThe title plate for Birds of Various Species places a top-level predator — the eagle — front and center.  Look at the detailing of the eagle’s feathers and those claws!  And even though the overall arrangement of this scene is an artificial, somewhat static mini-compendium of birds, the eagle’s wings are unfurled, its beak open, and its claws seemingly ready for grasping prey.

Eagles and raptors feature prominently in other Barlow illustrations throughout all four sets and on the title-page plates for Diverse Species of Birds and Birds & Fowles of Various SpeciesCertainly these birds of prey are visually dramatic in a way that would appeal to a naturalist-artist, and they would also presumably have caught the eye of a potential book-buyer in an era before bright book covers or dust-jackets.  But Barlow’s frequent use of birds of prey also suggests something about his own naturalistic interests and overall view of nature, I think.

Birds & Fowles of Various Species (Part 2)

Birds & Fowles of Various Species

Diverse Species of Birds (Part 1)

Diverse Species of Birds

 

 

 

 

 

 

A large eagle in a dynamic pose and a more static hawk and vulture frame the engraved title cartouche of Diverse Species of Birds. Take a closer look at the at the cartouche, though.  It’s a sheep.  In a sense, the illustration summarizes the life of much of the natural animal world: predators take their prey and the scavengers clean up the remains.  The title-plate of Birds & Fowles also features a central raptor and its prey (which at first may look like a log or something else convenient for the hawk to be posed upon).  These images may seem disturbing to us today, but they were really very much a part of everyday life that an Englishman like Barlow would have frequently seen at the time pretty much anywhere outside London or another major city or town.  And it seems likely to me that Barlow used these illustrations to provide a visual commentary on his view of nature.  (And he did use animals in symbolic ways in his political commentary illustrations.)

The body language of the two fancier, crane-like birds in the Various Species illustration is striking too: both turn away, but whether out of fear or disgust at the red-in-tooth-and-claw “animal” instincts of the hawk is hard to say — Barlow does seem to have given them somewhat haughty expressions, an expressiveness seen in other animal illustrations in these sets.

Elk (Animals of Various Species)

rabbitsThe range of Barlow’s vision of the natural world in these four sets of illustrations is striking.  He sometime presents finely-detailed studies of animals in a peaceful settings.  He thus shows us sheep safely grazing in England’s fair and pleasant land.(above), rabbits eating and playing, and a pair of elk at rest.  Take a closer look at the depth of perspective he achieves in these illustrations by picturing animals and things in their natural environments with other animals or figures at various distances in the background, as opposed to the more flat-plane presentation of some contemporaries.

deer-hunted rabbits-huntedBut in other illustrations, Barlow shows these same peaceful animals being attacked by other animals, sometimes as part of the cycle of nature and sometimes at the behest of humans, as shown in two separate illustrations of hunting dogs pursuing rabbits and deer. The animals are doing the hunting, but not really for themselves.

dog-cat-birdAnother Barlow illustration presents the hierarchy of natural predation, whereby a dog is shown attacking a smaller animal that has itself just preyed upon down a small bird.  There’s real emotion depicted in the scene.  It’s hard not to feel sympathy for the plight of both victims, which I think is Barlow’s intent.

He also presents an owl sitting impassively while other birds apparently seek to frighten it away in one scene, and then another with an owl seeking to protect its own chicks from a menacing hawk, one of several illustrations in these four collections of his work which show animals protecting their young, one of the key aspects of animal behavior that Barlow no doubt observed during the close observation he made of them in their natural contexts.

owl2owl1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall, Barlow’s work seems to not only display details of animal life and his vision of the natural order, but also to evince considerable sympathy for animals in their various roles in nature.  It’s hard to think of a more important lesson than that.

uppercover

Upper cover of Cotsen collection of plate books (#17032), showing lion illustration and armorial crest pasted down

Apart from the four sets of Barlow plates and the two other collections of animal etchings that all bound together within this unique Cotsen  volume, the book is further extra-illustrated with a number of additional plates depicting animals mounted on blank pages at the end of the volume, on the endpapers and inside covers, and even on the upper cover (along with an armorial crest).  How these items all came to be bound together is something we’re still investigating, but it seems safe to say that it was done by someone with a keen interest in animals and nature — and judging from the well-worn covers and pages, this was a volume perused many times over its lifetime.


Notes:

  1. John Evelyn, quoted in the Oxford DNB
  2. Antony Griffiths, The Print in Stuart England, 1603-1689
  3. Edward Hodnett, Francis Barlow: First Master of English Illustration