Thursday, April 29, 2010

The use of batik as bookbindings. Not Dutch but Indonesian.

Batik is well known in pre-war Dutch bookbindings, but this mostly concerns (Dutch-produced) imitation batik. Sometimes as a logical extension of Indonesian mood, such as the popular childrens books of S. Franke or the 'luxury' edition of Lelyvelt's Javaanse danskunst. But also other books tried to boost their sales with the warm character of dense batik patterns: the charming series of the Dutch 'Meulenhoff Kleine Boekjes' series frequently featured batik patterns, even if only sometimes printed on wafer-thin paper.
Besides this popular and commercial use, there also was a 'Nieuwe Kunst' (Art Nouveau) development, which featured Dutch artists like Lebeau and Lion Cachet producing beautiful batik bindings in a distinct style. In the first quarter of the twentieth century batik (as a kind of ultimate fulfilment of the Jugendstil dream of handproduced textile craft, in which every object was unique) would stretch its influence all over Western art.
The use of batik for bookbindings in Indonesia itself, however, is a relatively unknown terrain. The bindings depicted above shows that copperstamped batik was used by Indonesian artisan themselves. As you can see from the label there must have been a (large? or just local?) market for serially produced batik bindings.

For a general view on Dutch colonial attitude towards batik and its collectibility, see link

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Chay (Oldenlandia umbellata) as an alternative for madder.

In the Indian calico industries, madder root (as in various Rubia species) is sometimes replaced by the root of its relative, the Oldenlandia umbellata (Chay, chaia, chadar). It is considered to give a more brilliant red color (Sandberg 1994), in combination with calcium-high water and the exclusive use of stone mortars.
Eliot James, 1880: 'In the jury reports of the Madras exhibition considerable information on the subject of chay-root will be found, also on the Cherinji bark, and Jagi leaves, which of late years have been used in the place of chay-root dye, and have indeed very nearly superseded its use, though not possessing its claims to brilliancy of colour and durability of effect'.
In contrast to regular madder, Oldenlandia contains no purpurin, just alizarin. Hofenk de Graaff (1992) mentions the occurence of rather large amounts of yellow crystalline elements that tend to dissolve tanning substances. This can be remedied by adding bases. This would also explain why Oldenlandia (she mentions Saya wera as name) from coastal areas is considered superior, as the destroying acids would have already been neutralised there. The same goes for the calcium/high water.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Galuchat chagrin shagreen galluchat: a sea of names

Rayskin has some mythical aura around it: especially about the question: what is it?
Main problem is the use of the term (and with this: the kind of leather meant) during time. Used in the beginning for embossed horseskin, it now applies to fish leather.
I think many people can say how it looks, but not how it is made. I will try to reduce to 'problem' to its sources and rework history from there.
At the moment the horseskin variety is most interesting to me, and the reported use of Chenopodium seeds to make the whirling dense patterns in the leather, and the tradition of green dyeing for these leather. At least, besides the Chenopodium seeds as printing device, there must have been tools for making these patterns. And not even exclusively used for horseskin: a lot of the 'chagrin' leather is simply printed goat or sheep leather. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but for the terminology, confusion is complete in this case!
A conservator at the Dutch Army Museum, Mathieu Willemsen, wrote a nice article on the use of rayskin and its leather pendant, which can be found here

... to be continued...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A neglected treatise on 18th-c. dyeing in India

Information on 18th-c. dyeing in India has largely on based on a few sources, especially the Beaulieu manuscript (1734), the letters by father Coeurdoux (as published in the influential Lettres edifiantes series, 1743) and the earlier Roques manuscript (c. 1679).
Other sources largely relied on earlier sources, or supplied variations on the recipes, combining years of experience in European counterfeit imitation of Indian fabrics and actual Indian practice (read: Indian practice as described by travelling sources).
I found information in Buchoz' Les secrets de la nature et de l'art that seems to have been neglected by scholarship. In the 4th part (p. 165), on textile dyeing, Buchoz states: 'M. Guillard, Chef du Comptoir de la Compagnie à Aganaou, distant de quarante lieues de Mazulipatan, ou l'on en fait de fort beau, m'a envoyé le détail de cette opération' (of indigo dyeing). He also quotes extensive recipes of green and red, however without mentioning the source, but differences with other descriptions are clear. And not unimportant: all these descriptions are highly detailed.
It is hard to say whether Buchoz' notations are really 'messages from the field'.
He certainly has his reputation against him, as reputed polygraph. Many of his works are more known for the quality of their engravings than for their scientific value.
Besides, in his large and encyclopedious works, accuracy had often been by speedy output and popular trivia.
Maybe this explains why no-one seemingly ever took notice. Not only Indian dyeing, but also Chinese colour-producing is amply discussed in the book. At the moment I am still reading and comparing, I will publish more when conclusions seem to pop up.
.. to be continued..

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Madder trade in shoots and seeds

Madder culture was propagated by both shoots and seeds. Shoots were more expensive but made the crop cycle shorter. And any shortening could be the lifeline for the depending families: quick(er) revenue was essential in this slow multi-annual type of agriculture. Seeds were mostly locally sourced or homegrown, but there is also evidence for a more international trade.
Chenciner (2000) focuses largely on the Caucasus cultures, but the use in Dutch madder culture of three main plant types suggest a surprising link to Minor Asia madder.

Enklaar (1855) mentions: 'In Zeeland en Vlaanderen worden drie soorten van meede gekweekt, die men op het eiland Schouwen, alsmede in de polders bij Goes, Brielsland, Ouddorp en andere plaatsen de Darmstadtsche, de Glazemakers en de Arabische of Smyrnasche Meekrap noemt, en waarvan de laatste in hoedanigheid voor de beste gehouden wordt, zijnde de Rubia foliis annuis caule oculeato. De Smyrnasche of Levantsche meekrap geeft een meer roode verwstof dan die van meer noordelijke streken'.
To add Chenciner: 'In France, in 1756, and (according to Shtorkh) 1821, the government bought seeds from Smyrna (Izmir). Some of these seeds also their way to the Gent and Tronsheim areas in Holland.'
It seems like the favored plant was not Rubia tinctorum (as often assumed), but the near related Rubia peregrina, sometimes even seen as a subspecies from R. tinctorum.
However, (because of the high price of the imported seeds?), the actual planted material (and the material that was produced and resold locally), was mostly the local cultivated version of R. tinctorum.
In addition to the Smyrna-connection with R. peregrina, the name of the darmstadtsche suggests a German provenance, but whether this is actually (again) a connection with the flourishing Caucasus trade (transported through the Black Sea and Donau/Rhine) or (nearer) with the madder culture along the Elzass Rhine, needs to be seen.
And if I am talking names now, what about the name of the glazemakers? Buchanan (1987): 'In 1842 on the island of Schouwen in Zeeland there were three species grown: 'darmstats', 'glazemakers', and 'arabian', of which the last was preferred. Nearby, in Aksel and Gulst 'arabian', 'swiss', 'gaspar' and 'old-French' were grown, of which 'old-French' was the worst because it gave a blackish-red when milled into krap'.
Not species maybe, but at least there seems to have been a nice diversity in cultivars.
The exact balance between imported and homegrown plant material has yet to be researched, but I am confident that price lists for madder shoots and seeds have to be available in the larger Zeeland and Zuid-Holland archives.
work in progress...