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2010 Graduate Practicum in the History of Art & Architecture

The original emphasis of the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection was the world’s military and naval uniforms, but the collection also now contains a vast amount of material on military and naval history, biography, portraiture and caricature, medals and decorations, flags, general costume, military artists, and royalty and ceremony. Festival books from the 16th to the 19th centuries, which commemorate royal weddings, funerals, coronations, and even bullfights, occupy a large portion of this rich collection. At the time of their making these books served purposes of internal and international diplomacy, political propaganda, and established legacies for centuries after the king’s passing.

Looking through books commemorating festivals, processions, and celebrations reminds us that books do not simply record the spectacle; they offer an interpretation of it. Most often, the book trims and fits the multiplicity and variety of simultaneous events at the festival into a single coherent narrative. It reduces the event to what one person may have seen from one fixed position. This position often belongs to the king, who is the only one among the participants who moves through the stations of the ceremony in a logical sequence, but even he cannot have the full picture of a coronation – he cannot see himself. Even the sheer size and weight of nearly 60 pounds of Alexander II’s 1856 coronation book impresses upon any reader the formality of the act of reading it. It must be read standing up; and it takes both hands to turn the pages. Just as the coronation was an important, formal event, the accounts of it must not be read casually. —VT

The exhibition associated with the production of this website was curated by the Graduate Practicum in the Department of the History of Art & Architecture led by Professor E. Lincoln in Spring, 2010: Emily Handlin, Ruth Lo, Kristen Oehlrich, Chelsea Tarvin, Vera Totos, and Nathan Walker. We would like to thank Peter Harrington, Curator of the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection for his support and enthusiasm throughout its preparation, as well as Ann Dodge, Andy Moul, the staff of the John Hay Library, Sarah Bordac from Outreach and Instructional Design, and especially Ben Tyler and Lindsay Elgin of the Center for Digital Scholarship. We also especially express our thanks to Lynne deBenedette, and Ilia Dorontchenkov, of the Slavic Languages Department for their generosity with their time and their helpful advice.