Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘illustration’

05 SEPTEMBER, 2014

The Book of Miracles: Rare Medieval Illustrations of Magical Thinking

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A visual record of humanity’s most eternal fears and our immutable longing for grace, mercy, and the miraculous.

In 1552, a curious and lavishly illustrated manuscript titled Augsburg Book of Miraculous Signs appeared in the Swabian Imperial Free City of Augsburg, then a part of the Holy Roman Empire, located in present-day Germany. It exorcised, in remarkable detail and wildly imaginative artwork, Medieval Europe’s growing obsession with signs sent from “God” — a testament to the basic human propensity for magical thinking, with which we often explain feelings and phenomena beyond the grasp of our logic. This unusual Roman manuscript was recently discovered and published for the first time as The Book of Miracles (public library) — a sumptuous box-sized trilingual tome in English, French, and German, produced in Taschen‘s typical fashion of pleasurable aesthetic bombast. Somewhere between Salvador Dalí’s illustrations of Montaigne, the weird and wonderful Codex Seraphinianus, and the visual history of Gotham’s imaginary apocalypse, the book is a singular shrine to some of the most eternal of human hopes and fears, and, above all, our immutable longing for grace, for mercy, for the miraculous.

What makes the book particularly notable is that its vibrant artwork, while strikingly beautiful, also illustrates religion’s heavy reliance on magical thinking. The word “religion” itself originates in the Latin for “binding together,” suggesting a sense not only of creating community but also of bridging complex things we don’t understand with simple ideas we do, via storytelling — something Carl Sagan famously explored.

The manuscript also offers a record of how word-of-mouth propagates the building blocks of belief and, eventually, the belief itself — the history of miracle-sighting is essentially a history of media, as “wonders” were first transmitted via regular letter correspondence and became a news item after the surge in broadsheets and pamphlets made possible by the invention of the Gutenberg press.

Complement the formidable Book of Miracles with other Taschen masterworks of visual delight and cultural history, including the best illustrations from 150 years of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, the life and legacy of infographics godfather Fritz Kahn, a Victorian reimagining of Euclid’s elements, and the visual history of magic.

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03 SEPTEMBER, 2014

Everything I Need To Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book: Grown-up Advice on Modern Life from Vintage Children’s Books

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A charming compendium of little reminders about what it takes to live a happy and fulfilling life today.

As an enormous lover of vintage children’s books, I was instantly smitten with Everything I Need To Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book (public library) — a semi-serious, playful and practical guide to life culling wisdom for modern grown-ups from the iconic Little Golden Books series of mid-century children’s books. From mental and physical health to money to relationships, this charming compendium captions and reframes vibrant vintage illustrations — many by artists whose talent was cultivated under legendary children’s book champion Ursula Nordstrom’s magnanimous wing — as little reminders about what it takes to live a happy and fulfilling life today.

The project is in many ways an organic extension of the Little Golden Book ethos, which has sustained generations through troubled times with creative nourishment for young souls. This compendium offers heartening solace for those weary of the hardships our world is currently facing. Diane Muldrow, longtime editor of the beloved children’s series, writes in the introduction:

We’ve been forced to look at ourselves and how we’re living our lives. Ironically, in this health-conscious, ecologically aware age of information, many of us have overborrowed, overspent, overeaten, and generally overdosed on habits or ways of life that aren’t good for us — or for our world. The chickens have come home to roost, and their names are Debt, Depression, and Diabetes.

How did we get here? How, like Tootle the Train, did we get so off track? Perhaps it’s time to revisit these beloved stories and start all over again. Trying to figure out where you belong, like Scuffy the Tugboat? Maybe, as time marches on, you’re beginning to feel that you resemble the Saggy Baggy Elephant.

Or perhaps your problems are more sweeping. Like the Poky Little Puppy, do you seem to be getting into trouble rather often and missing out on the strawberry shortcake in life? Maybe this book can help you! After all, Little Golden Books were first published during the dark days of World War II, and they’ve been comforting people during trying times ever since — while gently teaching us a thing or two. And they remind us that we’ve had the potential to be wise and content all along.

From 'Circus Time' by Marion Conger, illustrated by Tibor Gergely, 1948

From 'The Seven Sneezes' by Olga Cabral, illustrated by Tibor Gergely, 1948

From 'Duck and His Friends' by Kathryn and Byron Jackson, illustrated by Richard Scarry, 1949

From 'Animal Gym' by Beth Greiner Hoffman, illustrated by Tibor Gergely, 1956

From 'I Can Fly' by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Mary Blair, 1951

From 'The Friendly Book' by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Garth Williams, 1954

From 'The Three Bears,' illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky, 1948

From 'The Color Kittens' by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen, 1949

From 'Tawny Scrawny Lion' by Kathryn Jackson, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, 1952

From 'The Little Red Hen,' illustrated by J. P. Miller, 1954

From 'The Musicians of Bremen,' adapted from Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, illustrated by J. P. Miller, 1954

Everything I Need To Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book is an absolute delight. Complement it with some actual Golden Books, including I Can Fly by the great Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Disney’s Mary Blair, a lovely adaptation of Homer for young readers by creative power duo Alice and Martin Provensen, and perhaps the best of the bunch, The Little Golden Book of Words.

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02 SEPTEMBER, 2014

Fox’s Garden: A Tender Wordless Story About the Gift of Grace and the Transformative Power of Kindness to Those Kicked Away

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A gentle reminder that life can be a cold wasteland of cruelty or a whimsical wonderland of grace, depending on the generosity of spirit with which we approach it.

The question of human nature — whether we are born full of goodness or spend our lives concealing our inherently rotten souls — is perhaps the most timeless and most significant of humanity’s inquiries. A subtle and infinitely heartening answer comes in Fox’s Garden (public library) — a breathtaking wordless picture-book by French artist Princesse Camcam, born Camille Garoche, whose lyrical cut-paper illustrations tell a story of cruelty redeemed by kindness, of coldness melted away by the warmth of compassion that is our true nature.

One cold winter night, the fox loses her way in the forest and stumbles into a village. Kicked away by the grownups — those strange beings chronically paralyzed by their fear of the unfamiliar — she finds refuge in a shut-down greenhouse, where she gives birth to a litter of baby foxes.

A curious and warmhearted little boy, full of children’s inherent openness to experience, follows her and offers a small gift — a beautiful gesture bespeaking the transformative power of acknowledging the rejected and making mindful room in one’s heart for those outcast by the mindless majority.

Reminiscent of Norwegian artist Øyvind Torseter’s handcrafted dioramas for My Father’s Arms Are a Boat, Camcam’s refreshingly analog cut-paper vignettes, meticulously lit and photographed, exude a towering tenderness that only amplifies the story’s overwhelming purity of emotion.

The wordlessness mirrors the silence of the snowy winter, a backdrop against which we are reminded that, like winter, life can be a cold and barren wasteland or a whimsical wonderland of grace, depending on the eyes we bring to it and the generosity of spirit with which we approach it.

Fox’s Garden comes from Brooklyn-based indie powerhouse Enchanted Lion, champion of quietly moving masterworks of extraordinary emotional intelligence and sensitivity — lyrical treasures like The Lion and the Bird, The River, Little Boy Brown, and Mark Twain’s Advice to Little Girls, among others.

Images courtesy of Enchanted Lion

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