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Pepys Library OCTOBER 2015

An exploration of a fascinating library

The Pepys Library and the historic collection of Magdalene College, Cambridge form the beating heart of the college. As Dr Rowan Williams says in his preface to our new book, seventeenth-century antiquarians knew that their heritage was a fragile one, vulnerable to the wild swings of politics and religion; the Reformation and the Civil War were fresh in their minds, and the Great Fire of London had swallowed up much of the physical and intellectual geography of old, leaving ash in its wake. Samuel Pepys, the great diarist, wanted to safeguard the future of his library and to this end he left his library to his former college. In 1724, the collection found its permanent home in a striking new building. 
There it resides to this day: medieval manuscripts rest alongside early printed books by Caxton and Wynkyn de Worde; a naval collection reflects Pepys’s time as Secretary to the Admiralty; works by Pepys’s contemporaries and members of the Royal Society stand as invaluable building blocks of today’s literary and academic theory. Accompanying these works is a fascinating collection of letters, playbills and invitations; scraps from the past that add colour to our perception of the era. 
Some 3,000 items make up the Pepys collection while Magdalene’s collection has evolved organically, as benefactors leave their legacies to the college and fresh new scholarship pours in for the use of students and scholars. Through unique photographs and fascinating descriptions, The Pepys Library and the Historic Collections of Magdalene College Cambridge by M.E.J. Hughes celebrates the library’s long, proud history as well as its continuing importance to scholarly thought. As long as there are students in the world, the historic collection will be needed, and this new volume provides the ideal introduction.  

Royal Taste OCTOBER 2015

'A stunning collection of priceless antiques'

The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was fittingly known as the ‘Empire of Great Brightness’; its contribution to visual culture shone throughout China, and shines still. Hubei, above all other provinces, had a unique significance to the dynasty: over one-fifth of Ming princes had fiefs in the region, and the shining relics they left behind speak to their influence. 

Blue-and-white men, gods and monsters dance, fight and adventure across the sleek flanks of ceramic; gold demons snarl and leap, every bit as impressive now as they were when they were first crafted; a phoenix, bedecked with gems, perches atop a crown, her wings flared open in a mantle of protection and authority. The power and prestige of the princes of Hubei resonate through the ages; a glimpse of a gold-flecked statue of a warrior, or the examination of a delicate sketch of a scholar immersed in a scroll, transports the viewer to another world. The Empire of Great Brightness glows from the pages of Royal Taste: The Art of Princely Courts in Fifteenth Century China, just as it shone in its three hundred years in power. 

Published to accompany the exhibition at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, this book provides the latest scholarship on Ming visual culture. More than 140 works of pictorial, sculptural and decorative art on loan from China reveal the inner life of princes outside the capitals; their palatial practices, how they prayed, and what they believed about the afterlife. 

This book draws on the latest scholarship in Ming visual culture, weaving together the pinnacle in academic thought with striking artwork. Important archeological finds from the Hubei region are placed in a wider historical and cultural context and the role of Wudangshan in Ming China is reassessed. Royal Taste couples exquisite images with fascinating text to draw the reader into the princely courts – reading it evokes the weight of a crown, the shuffle of silk robes, the chatter of courtiers. 

As SRQ Magazine describes it, this is a ‘stunning collection of priceless art’ that should not be missed.  

Cosmonauts Press Launch SEPTEMBER 2015

Tereshkova and her craft reunited

There has never been anything quite like the Cosmonauts exhibit at London’s Science Museum. An ambitious, respectful but joyful celebration of Russian space-exploration; a standing ovation to the men and women who saw the stars and reached for them – innovators and champions, a few madmen and many heroes, adventurers the likes of whom the world had never seen before. 
Public memory has draped the Stars and Stripes firmly over the start of the Space Age – we think of Earthrise, of Neil Armstrong bounding along the surface of the moon, ships named after gods of the sun. But it was in Russia that space exploration blossomed – and for the first time exhibits like the descent module of Vostok-6, the spacecraft that bore the first woman into space, the LK-3 lunar lander from Russia’s manned Moon programme (a state secret until 1989) and stunning Soviet space art are exhibited together. 
The objects that tell their stories are gathered in the Science Museum: poised and waiting, imbued with the tremendous weight of history. Most have never left Russia. Some have been de-classified for the purpose of the exhibition. Once jealously guarded, masked by the fug of the Cold War, they now stand ready for the eyes of the public. 
At last Thursday’s press preview were Ian Blatchford, the Director of the Science Museum Group, Sergei Krikalev, veteran of six space flights and prominent rocket scientist, and the first woman in space – Valentina Tereshkova. When asked about how the Science Museum could promote knowledge of Russian space exploration Blatchford joked that perhaps he should go into space himself; whereupon Tereshkova agreed to accompany him… 
Perhaps the highlight of the opening was Valentina Tereshkova reunited with the Vostok-6 descent module. She recounted how in training she referred to it as: ‘My lovely one. My best and most beautiful friend. My best and most beautiful man.’ At first it is hard to imagine this rickety metal jumble entering space at all, but Vostok-6 bears the scars of re-entry: its exterior thermal insulation blanketing scorched and tattered by the ferocious heat. It is mind-boggling to see the ejection seat rails and think of Tereshkova baling out of the module five miles above Earth in order to parachute the rest of the way home. But Tereshkova stands next to it, a proud, dignified presence, and the cameras flash like stars and – yes, you see it. The cosmonaut and her craft. The pioneers who led the charge: alive and together again. 
Cosmonauts is open now at the Science Museum and runs until 13 March 2016.
Below: Valentina Tereshkova in front of the Vostok-6 descent module.