08 November 2012

Text/ile Technologies, Part 1

As I've mentioned on Twitter, I've started using Pinterest to collect images that relate to current or future research on early modern material culture. One of my favorite boards to pin has become Text/ile Technology. It began as a way of gathering images of machines for making both texts and textiles -- the hand press, rolling presses, Jacquard looms, stocking frames -- feeding my fascination for the strange relationships between them, and between presses, looms and computers. It's quickly morphed into a collection of images of people working around these machines, which is even more fascinating. When you cut across history horizontally, examining depictions of a few objects across a large swath of time, shifts in (for instance) the gendering of these machines and the various configurations of labor they enable become particularly evident.

Below, I've curated a few of my favorites so far. Each source is linked below the image. Enjoy.

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In this engraving after Joos van Winghe, circa 1600, St. Paul sits at a table writing while Aquila, a tentmaker, weaves in background. Aquila's wife Priscilla sits in the foreground spinning, her young boys helping her wind the thread. I love the juxtaposition of Paul's and Priscilla's various tasks -- his hand holding a quill, posed between thumb and forefinger, her fingers delicately pulling thread. I also love that Aquila at his loom looks a little like a pressman at his press (check out that hat!). His open-handed gesture is more closely aligned with that of the playful boys than with the focused "handiworks" of Paul and Priscilla.
Print made by  Jan Sadeler, after Joos Van Winghe. Flemish, ca 1600. From the British Museum.
After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers. // Acts 18
Almost exactly contemporary with the engraving above is this print from the Netherlands:
Print by Crispijn de Passe the Elder, after Maerten de Vos. Netherlands; published in Cologne, ca 1600. From the British Museum.
It shows the five wise virgins (from Jesus' Parable of the Ten Virgins); they weave, write, spin, weave and embroider, working both texts and textiles. Compare this seventeenth-century depiction of women's work with this late eighteenth-century advertisement for Moore & Co., a carpet and upholstery manufacturer (1797-8):
Print made by William Blake. London, 1797-8. From the British Museum.
At the bottom of the ad, women factory workers are seen weaving a carpet while a man knits stockings using a stocking frame. Another man shows a woman around the factory. It's a relatively early depiction of women working in a textile factory. Interestingly enough, this print was also made by William Blake.

Of course, I've yet to show you an actual image of a printing press; so here, have one in an eyeball:
Print made by Isaac Robert Cruikshank, published by George Humphrey. London, 1821. From the British Museum.
In this political print by Isaac Robert Cruikshank (1821), a portrait of Queen Caroline rests on a printing press, which is itself reflected in the iris of an eye. It's a kind of rebus for the radical press's support of Caroline during King George's efforts to divorce her. Note the reference to Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew

Pair that image with this 1928 etching by John Sloan, in which a nude woman reads a book in front of a rolling press, her clothes draped over one of the handles.
Print made by John Sloane. 1928. From the British Museum.
I'm reminded of Wendy Wall's and Margreta de Grazia's work on the masculine (and sexualized) metaphors of printing: hard type presses and imprints blank paper, inscribing feminized materials with masculine words. Although this etching is much later than the Renaissance examples Wall and de Grazia examine, it plays on the same contrast between a soft, open female body and a hard machine that "presses" its subject.

This seventeenth-century print study also sits a woman in front of a rolling press; however, instead of reading nude, she seems to be showing the man a copperplate she's engraved, perhaps with the image drawn on the paper at her feet. Did women work as engravers? She looks like a mythical figure -- who would be the goddess of engraving? 
Print study, drawn by Vincent Laurensz van der Vinne I. Late 17th-century. From the British Museum.
If I have little context for van der Vinne's print study, I have no context for this:
Print made by Hermann Vogel. German, early 20th century. From the British Museum.
It seems to be some kind of mourning scene: friends feast below in memory of a deceased man who hovers above, with some other people in earlier dress (ancestors?) and a floating press. My best guess is this man was a printer of some sort, and this is a kind of mourning card for him. Maybe for a memorial service, or a post-memorial dinner. In any case, historical proximity does not always lead to deeper understanding.

These are not the most skilled prints and drawings I've found of various types of presses and looms; just ones that piqued my curiousity. Many more examples, including some Japanese, Vietnamese and Indian paintings of looms and presses, can be found on my board.

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