Saturday, 31 March 2018

London Lammassu

The latest and in many ways the best occupant of the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square is this version of the Assyrian lamassu statue. 

Best partly because its base dimensions match those of the vacant plinth, so it feels and looks right for its place, as also does its bulk and height, comparable to the equestrian figures for which such plinths were made; chiefly because of its implicit lament for the lost heritage of Syria owing to the current violence there.

The only issue is its orientation: so that the majesty of the sculpture can only be seen from a slightly awkward angle, looking up from the roadway to the west.  The side facing into the square bears the explanatory inscription in red gilt cuneiform script - aesthetically pleasing but secondary and not informative in itself.   The appropriate plinth, in the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square, is however not vacant, so this is where the tin-can lamassu must stand

As a great addition to the fourth plinth sequence.    Looks better in afternoon sun, however  - see further down



Wednesday, 14 March 2018

the first Black Icelander

Talking of Iceland, there is  the history of Hans Jonatan-  here as published on Wikipedia
Hans Jonatan (1784–1827)  was the subject of an important test case in Danish law on slavery, and a groundbreaking DNA study. Fleeing to Iceland, he became one of the first people of colour to live in Iceland. A biography of Jonatan by Gísli Pálsson was published in Icelandic in 2014. An English edition was published in 2016. Danish and French editions are forthcoming.

Hans Jonatan was born into slavery in 1784 on the plantation at Constitution Hill on the island of St Croix in the Caribbean, which had become a Danish colony in 1733 when purchased by the Danish West India Company from France. His paternity is uncertain, but Pálsson argues in his biography that his father was a white Dane, Hans Gram, who was the secretary of his owners for three years; his mother was Emilia Regina, a black 'house slave' who is first recorded in 1773 at the St Croix plantation of La Reine, where she was presumably born. In 1788, Emilia had a daughter, Anna Maria, this time by a black man, Andreas, who at the time was a house slave too; but their fates are not recorded.   The details of the West African ancestry of Hans's mother were unknown prior to a genetic study.
Hans Jonatan was owned by Heinrich Ludvig Ernst von Schimmelmann and his wife Henriette Catharina.  In 1789 the Schimmelmann family moved to Copenhagen as the plantation business took a downturn, bringing Emilia Regina and, later, Hans Jonatan with them. Not long afterwards, Heinrich died, bequeathing Hans to his widow Henriette Catharine. In 1802, at the age of seventeen, Hans Jonatan escaped from Copenhagen to join the Danish Navy and fought in the Napoleonic War, for which he received recognition.

Later, when he was detained by the police, he and his lawyer argued in 1801 before a Copenhagen court under judge Anders Sandøe Ørsted that although slavery was still legal in the Danish West Indies, as slavery was illegal in Denmark, Hans Jonatan could not be kept as a slave. However, in the case Generalmajorinde Henriette de Schimmelmann contra mulatten Hans Jonathan 1802, Ørsted sentenced him on 31 March 1802 to be returned to the West Indies.

Hans Jonatan escaped, and his fate remained unknown to the Danish administration. It was only around the 1990s that the rest of his story was pieced together. In 1802 he arrived in Djúpivogur in Iceland. One of the first records of Hans Jonatan after 1802 is in the diary of the Norwegian cartographer Hans Frisak for 4 August 1812:
The agent at the trading post here is from the West Indies, and has no surname ... but calls himself Hans Jonatan. He is very dark-skinned and has coal-black, curly hair. His father is European but his mother a negro.
Frisak hired Hans Jonatan as a guide. Hans lived as a peasant farmer at Borgargarður working at the Danish trading station in Djúpivogur. He took over the running of the trading post in 1819. By February 1820, Hans had married Katrín Antoníusdóttir from Háls. They had three children; two survived childhood, and their living descendants now number nearly nine hundred. Hans Jonatan died in 1827.  His grave is unlocated.

His grandson, wife and their five children are shown in this family photo from around 1900.

In 2018, scientists achieved a genetic breakthrough when they reconstructed a part of Hans Jonatan's genome solely using samples from his descendants. This was the first time that a human genome had been reconstructed without using physical remains. For the study, 788 of his descendants were identified, and DNA samples from 182 family members were taken. The study was aided by the extreme rarity of African heritage in Iceland, the homogeneity of the country's population, and its comprehensive genome database. The samples were analyzed against known signs of African DNA, recreating about 38% of his mother's DNA profile and thus 19% of his own.

 It was determined that that Emilia Regina's ancestral origins were from a region now encompassing Nigeria, Benin, and Cameroon.  So her forebear must have been captured or sold to slavers on the African coast and shipped to the Caribbean in the early or middle years of the 18th century.

May Morris's vacation journals

the handwritten vacation journals that I was quoting from a while back, recording the summer excursions of May Morris and MF  have now been deposited with the Society of Antiquaries in London, which owns and manages Kelmscott Manor.  This is an appropriate home, because all the holidays were taken while the couple were living at Kelmscott, and by virtue of their ownership of the Morris estate, the Antiquaries own the copyright to May's unpublished writings.

This photo shows Stefan Johannessen, Icelandic ambassador to the UK, viewing the journal describing one of their visits to Iceland - highlight of May's later life - together with the photos taken there, postcards and business cards presented by Icelanders they met.  Their travels are recorded step by step, May taking special care to note down the correct names of places and people as far as she could, while also aiming to retrace her father's routes, to see what he had seen.

For now, as Kelmscott Manor is planning a major refurbishment programme, the journals will remain in the Antiquaries' library in Burlington House, available to the public by appointment, although subject to conservation and professional care.