Extinct shellfish brought back to Europe by Vikings?

This video says about itself:

After reducing the level of water in the shallows sand seashells [soft-shell clams] (Mya arenaria) became visible.

Lower Tiligul Estuary (Liman). Ukraine. May 17, 2015.

From the Netherlands Journal of Geosciences, May 2016:

Are Medieval Mya arenaria (Mollusca; Bivalvia) in the Netherlands also clams before Columbus?


During the Pleistocene [Ice Age], the coastal marine bivalve mollusc Mya arenaria became extinct in northwest Europe. The species remained present in North America. Datings of Mya shells found in northern Denmark and the southern Baltic Sea suggest that repopulation of northwest European coasts already occurred before Columbus’ discovery of America (1492), possibly facilitated by Viking (Norse) settlers at Greenland and northeast North America.

In this paper we report on findings of M. arenaria at five locations in the coastal landscape of the Netherlands: polders reclaimed from the Wadden Sea and the former estuaries of Oer-IJ and Old Rhine. The shells from four of these locations also date before 1492 AD.

Flying penguin on 17th-century painting

Flying penguin, by Dirk de Quade van Ravesteijn (1565–1620)

Apparently, penguins could not only fly on this video, but also on this 1610 painting.

Leiden University weekly Mare in the Netherlands writes about it (translated):

The flying penguin

[Dutch painter] Dirk de Quade van Ravesteijn (1565-1620) painted at the [Prague] court of [Habsburg emperor] Rudolf II, and made two animal albums there: one about four-legged animals, and one about birds.

He had a great interest in animals that were interesting from a natural history perspective. [Art historian] Rikken: “He chose animals with abnormalities, such as a chicken with three legs, or species that had just been discovered.” The Magellanic penguin was then a fresh discovery. Biologist Carolus Clusius – in Leiden known as the first boss of the Hortus Botanicus – described the species in 1605.

But what did Quade know about that? And how is it that the drawing of the coat is so accurate, while Clusius’ publication was in black and white? Again, Walker suspects that the artist has seen a stuffed specimen. “How the animal moved, about that he had of course no idea. You do see more artists struggling with penguins; they are so different from other birds!”

And a 3D-printed boot enabled this penguin to walk again.

Are armadillos ungulates?

Armadillos, probably by Lambert Lombard

We continue with another blog post about the research by art historian Marrigje Rikken into depiction of animals in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This drawing shows two armadillos; American animals, unknown to Europeans before the 16th century.

According to Ms Rikken, the drawing is probably by Walloon artist Lambert Lombard (1506/1566).

Now, another sixteenth century depiction of an armadillo (and three other animals).

It is by Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder (c. 1520 – c. 1590) from Flanders.

Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, 'ungulate' animals

It depicts four animals. From left to right: a giraffe; an armadillo; a sheep and an unicorn.

Ms Rikken said about this picture:

This engraving with four animals, I found in a not really accessible collection, it was a key work for me. I have used this image as front and back pictures of my thesis. Why did Gheeraerts want to combine especially these animals? And why are so they static, all in side? This was done deliberately, I think. All animals are depicted as ungulates, and that makes this picture a contribution to science.

The first encyclopedias were still not sure about the format: should they be in alphabetical order, or did the animals have to be gathered in groups? This is the first image in which even-toed ungulates are grouped together and in that Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder was ahead of the science of his time. Not in every respect by the way: about unicorns we do not know whether they are even-toed ungulates, and armadillos are certainly not – as we see in the [drawing] by Lombard. But the idea about how animals are related was already there.”

Painter Jan Brueghel and birds

Jan Brueghel the Elder, Allegory of Air, 1621

This painting is Jan Brueghel the Elder, Allegory of Air, 1621 version.

Translated from Leiden University weekly Mare in the Netherlands, 16 June 2016:

Escaped from Noach’s ark

How depicting animals came into its own

In the sixteenth century in the Southern Netherlands, a number of new art genres developed, including depicting animals. PhD Marrigje Rikken investigated this development.

1550. Antwerp – then still part of the Netherlands – one of the most important centers of Europe. For trade, but also for arts. The city had since 1531 the first art fair in Europe, and rich traders bought art for collections.

In the preceding Middle Ages, the church had been the largest client for artists. “From these Bible stories developed in the Southern Netherlands of the sixteenth century new artistic genres,” says art historian Marrigje Rikken. “Landscapes, still lifes and depictions of animals. My PhD research focuses on the latter genre. Struggling to free itself from biblical paintings of Noah’s Ark, or the Garden of Eden. That religious motive moves increasingly into the background. Later it is no longer necessary, because the genre is established. Buyers do not necessarily want an ark, they just want an attractive painting with lots of animals on it.”

But that brings up a problem: how do animals look like? Painting an elephant is difficult if you have only heard descriptions. Fortunately, in the same period also the first animal encyclopedias were published. Those were real status symbols, luxury goods, not always accessible to artists. Nevertheless, they knew the natural history works. They take motifs from these books: giraffes look like a cross between a camel and a leopard and are always in the same position. How could they do that?

By finding out whom the artists contacted, Rikken discovered a pivotal role in the network for mapmaker Abraham Ortelius. He corresponded with both the artists and the natural historians, and was a kind of bridge between the two. “Cartographer Ortelius was also a merchant and collector of prints. He seems to have actively encouraged artists to make drawings of animals: a lot of them only depicted animals after they had come in contact with Ortelius.

Another key figure did not live in the Southern Netherlands but in Prague: Emperor Rudolf II of Habsburg. Rudolph was not really successful as a ruler, but was a great patron of the arts and sciences. His court was full of the big names of the time: astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler came, the Dutch inventor Cornelis Drebbel, and a huge list of artists. Among them were a number of animal painters of the Southern Netherlands, who took full advantage of Rudolf’s natural history collection.

Starting in 1630, the depiction of animals as a genre was quite mature, Rikken explains: “The important developments that at first quickly succeeded each other, then stopped.”

The bird collection

“There are three versions of the painting Allegory of the Air. The version at the top of this post is the last one in which everything worked. Brueghel added more birds in each new version, as more species were discovered. The Senegal parrot (right, with the yellow patch on the chest, ed.), and the yellow-crested cockatoo were at the time new birds for Europeans. The penguins do weird with their wings, though.

Below left you see two birds of paradise. According to the myth these birds did not land, but always remained in the air. They, according to that story, had no legs, and the female laid her eggs in a cavity in the back of the male. Brueghel prominently pictured them here with legs and visible eggs, to debunk the myth. Had he seen a bird of paradise? The collection of Emperor Rudolf II had one, which explicitly states that it had legs. Other Prague artists, however, depicted them without legs, so it remains mysterious.”

There will be more on ancient depictions of animals, so stay tuned!

Birds depicted in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum: here.

Ancient artists depicting animals

Jan Brueghel the Elder, animals, including toucan

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

How artists classified the animal kingdom

Published on 21 June 2016

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries artists were fascinated by how the animal kingdom was classified. They were in some instances ahead of natural historians.

This is one of the findings of art historian Marrigje Rikken. She will defend her PhD on 23 June on animal images in visual art. In recent years she has studied how images of animals between 1550 and 1630 became an art genre in themselves. ‘The close relationship between science and art at that time was remarkable,’ Rikken comments. ‘Artists tried to bring some order to the animal kingdom, just as biologists did.’

Beetles, butterflies and dragonflies

In some cases the artists were ahead of their times. They became interested in insects, for example, before they attracted the attention of natural historians. It was artist Joris Hoefnagel who in 1575 made the first miniatures featuring beetles, butterflies and dragonflies, indicating how they were related to one another. In his four albums Hoefnagel divided the animal species according to the elements of fire, water, air and earth, but within these classifications he grouped animals on the basis of shared characteristics.

Hoefnagel, insects

Even-toed ungulates

Other illustrators, print-makers and painters tried to bring some cohesion to the animal kingdom. Some of them used an alphabetical system but artist Marcus Gheeraerts  published a print as early as 1583 [visible below, Ed.] in which [he] grouped even-toed ungulates together. The giraffe and sheep – both visible on Gheeraerts’ print – belong to this [sic] species of animals. This doesn’t apply to all Gheeraerts’ animals. The mythical unicorn, which was featured by Gheeraerts, no longer appears in contemporary biology books.

Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, 'ungulate' animals

Wealthy courtiers

According to Rikken, the so-called menageries played an important role historically in how animals were represented. These forerunners of today’s zoos were popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries particularly among wealthy rulers and courtiers. Unfamiliar exotic animals regularly arrived that were immediately committed to paper by artists. Rikken: ‘The toucan, for example, was immortalised in 1615 by Jan Brueghel the Elder, court painter in Brussels.’ [See the main image, Ed.].’

In the flesh

Rikken also discovered that the number of animals featured in a work gradually increased. ‘Artists from the 1570s generally included one or just a few animals per work. With the arrival of print series a decade later, each illustration tended to include more and more animals. This trend reached its peak in the lavish paintings produced around 1600.’ These paintings are also much more varied than the drawings and prints. Illustrators and print-makers often blindly copied one another’s motifs, even showing the animals in an identical pose. Artists had no hesitation in including the same animal in different positions. Rikken: ‘This allowed them to show that they had observed the animal in the flesh.’

Love & Friendship, unpublished Jane Austen novella now film

This video says about itself:

Love & Friendship Official Trailer #1 (2016) – Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny Movie HD

Lady Susan Vernon takes up temporary residence at her in-laws’ estate and, while there, is determined to be a matchmaker for her daughter Frederica — and herself too, naturally.

By Joanne Laurier in the USA:

Love & Friendship: An early Jane Austen work adapted

8 June 2016

Written and directed by Whit Stillman; based on an unpublished novel by Jane Austen

Whit Stillman’s new film, Love & Friendship, is based on a novella by Jane Austen entitled Lady Susan, which the British author probably penned in the mid-1790s, when she was 19 or 20. Complicating matters, however, Stillman has actually borrowed the name of his film from another piece Austen wrote when she was merely 14. Neither work was published during Austen’s lifetime.

In England in 1790, the widowed Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is more or less fleeing the estate of the married Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearain), leaving that household and its relationships in some disarray.

Penniless and without prospects, Lady Susan takes up residence (“We don’t live, we visit”) at the home of her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards), and his wife, Catherine (Emma Greenwell). Catherine is not looking forward to her captivating but troublesome guest—“the most accomplished flirt in England.” Susan’s lady-in-waiting and unpacker of her clothes is unpaid, as the former feels “the paying of wages would be offensive to us both.”

Men are nothing but prey to Susan and she sets her sights on the naïve younger brother of Catherine, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), heir to a considerable fortune. While Reginald is in the process of falling victim to Susan’s duplicitous charms, Catherine and her parents (James Fleet and Jemma Redgrave) plot to break up the budding love affair.

Meanwhile, back in the land of feminine wiliness (and, of course, such wiliness was forced on women by their social vulnerability), Susan’s co-conspirator is the American Mrs. Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny), who is, if anything, a bigger schemer than her friend.

If Alicia continues her friendship with Susan, however, her husband (Stephen Fry) threatens “the severest punishment—sending me back to Connecticut.” Susan worries Alicia might get “scalped” in that “nation of ingrates”—this is in the wake of the American Revolution—and observes in regard to the Americans, “Only having children makes you understand such behavior.” Susan also opines that “facts are horrid things” and laments that Alicia’s husband is “too old to be governable and too young to die.”

As Susan is tightening the net around Reginald, her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) shows up at the estate, having left a school where, according to her mother, “the fees are too high to even think of paying.” Frederica is horrified by her mother’s proposal that she should be married off to Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), a wealthy but hopelessly silly man: “Cowper the poet? He also writes verse? Most impressive!” (William Cowper 1731–1800, an English poet much admired by Austen). James has, according to Susan, “the one thing of value—his income.”

“But marriage is for one’s whole life!” Frederica protests. “Not in my experience,” replies her mother, who in the end, creates the dynamic that she desires and deserves! (Lady Susan, in Austen’s novella: “My understanding is at length restored, and teaches no less to abhor the artifices which had subdued me than to despise myself for the weakness on which their strength was founded.”)

Whitman’s [sic; Stillman’s] version of Austen’s Lady Susan is conscientious. He spent some years transforming an epistolary novel into a screenplay, and the results indicate the pains taken.

Stillman (born 1952), the son of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administrative aide, is best known for three brittle, articulate films he did in the 1990s, Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994) and The Last Days of Disco (1998), which were fairly realistic depictions of life within a layer of the upper middle class, or, as the director termed it, the “urban haute bourgeoisie.”

In regard to The Last Days of Disco, which also featured Beckinsale and Sevigny, the WSWS commented: “Stillman’s films are intelligently written. His direction is discreet and well-paced. He has a feel for the dynamics and conviviality of people in social settings. Indeed his group scenes are invariably greater than the sum of the one-on-one encounters that go on. …

However, “Stillman makes fun of his characters’ brainlessness … and then asks us to take their emotional traumas seriously. He wants credit both for exposing their amusing prattle (which also serves the purpose of demonstrating that he is smarter than they are) and for demonstrating sensitivity about their dilemmas. … Alternately sneering at, speaking through and seeking sympathy for his characters Stillman is incapable of providing a satisfying perspective on them. One doesn’t know which attitude to trust.”

In fact, Stillman wanted credit for making relatively sharp and incisive films about a certain milieu without ever having made up his mind about the overall society to which it belonged. Some of the same issues hold true for Love & Friendship .

A lot of obvious care went into the look of the film. The performances are all noteworthy. Beckinsale tackles her demanding role with finesse and intelligence. Sevigny is sufficiently conniving. The general artistic level of Love & Friendship is raised by the contributions of outstanding character actors who bring substance and verve to the project.

Our times cry out for savage satire. The endless wars justified on the basis of hypocrisy and lies, the ever more noxious politicians, the dreadfulness of the media and the celebrity culture, the gaping social inequalities––all this demands mockery, derision, ridicule, most especially in the US.

One only wishes this latest Austen project could be half of that, even in historical guise. But Whitman’s Love & Friendship is too polite, too blunted, too oblique. The fact that the writer-director can come up with a number of pointed, scathing lines makes it all the more unfortunate that he pulls his social punches.

Stillman wants to have his cake and eat it too. Why make this sort of social satire if one does not have present circumstances in mind? However, it is demanding too much of and is unfair to Jane Austen to make an unpublished novel of hers the medium for a serious critique of contemporary life. It doesn’t wash.

Furthermore, what would Austen have thought about the quality and maturity of the work, Lady Susan, on which the film is based? In her best-known novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma (all published between 1811 and 1816), she went considerably beyond her undeveloped adolescent writings. Those later novels presented considerably more of a broader and deeper picture, which helps explains their tremendous success. Whitman has chosen something earlier and narrower, although, unlike much of the fiction of the time, it does portray the female on equal footing with the male as predator.

Austen (1775-1817) lived through a period of vast upheaval (the American and French Revolutions, the Napoleonic Wars and the Industrial Revolution). She herself was known for her conservative, staid social outlook, but this does not mean she went unaffected by the tumultuous times. Of course, although it may never have occurred to her, the very fact that she, as a woman, was writing and publishing novels––and eventually making a name for herself by doing so––was itself a product of a transformative age. In fact, Austen belonged to that group of remarkable women writers who left such a mark on English literature, including Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Mary Shelley, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë, and George Eliot.

Austen, above all, was a great realist, who penetrated the everyday appearance of life and the official motivations of her characters to reveal what lay beneath. It fell to Sir Walter Scott, probably the most popular author on earth at the time and very much the opposite of Austen in terms of style and subject matter, to pay her one of the most heartfelt and accurate tributes.

Scott noted in his private journal in 1826: “Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain [!] I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!”