4.17.2008

The Firman: Bring me the head of ...



Artemisia Gentileschi is one of my favorite artists. In this painting, now in the Pitti Palace in Florence, she depicts Judith and her maid with the head of Holofernes.

Apparently she was "a beautiful Hebrew widow" - and we are about to celebrate Passover ... Actually that's where we run into a little trouble, since although the Book of Judith is part of the Septuagint, it is excluded by Jews. I'm stretching the analogy a little as I'm planning to start blogging again because several issues have been bothering me - one of which has been the rise in anti-Semitism in London.

I've also been having some issues with the behaviour of two men who work in a museum in Bloomsbury - so will be blogging about those. I was unhappy with certain aspects of my book on The Elgin Marbles - partly because a certain gentleman from that museum rang my editor and scared him, which led to various cuts and re-writes. I have been working on a new version of it.

Apparently that might not work out the way I had hoped, as the British Museum don't seem to like to give people access to material which they hold on behalf of the British people. I did manage to have a look at the Firman this week (with a senior curator constantly watching my every move, and half the Department walking past - guess I can't be trusted to look at a letter on my own without 'help'), and made a transcription of the Italian text. I wanted to type up and check my transcript - seemed a sensible thing to do - and look at the rest of the Hunt Archive (formerly in the care of William St. Clair, but now in the care of the British Museum, and acquired using tax payers' money). Dyfri Williams wants to publish the Firman this summer - and before anyone gets a proper look at the archive. At least that's the only conclusion which seems logical, because they can't find me a tiny corner to sit at before June at the earliest. Oh, and of course I'm sure that it's not in any way linked to my declining to tell Dr. Williams where I have found another version of the text ... is it a new BM rule where you have to do the work, give them the information, or you can't get access to material? Whilst I'm normally quite happy to tell anyone anything, my experience with people at the BM is that they sometimes forget to credit me - so my new rule is not to give away research until I've published it.
For those looking for a hint, recent trips have taken me to Georgetown, Istanbul, Florence, Paris and Monaco.

I had planned to save the transcript of the Firman for a journal, but now it seems more fun to post it on the web, and will do so as soon as it's 'tidy'. For now, here is my old English translation.

In addition, I would like to be clear about how I found out that the BM had the Hunt Archive and Firman. The Museum seem to have had them for about 18 months to two years, but seem not to have bothered to tell most people. In fact, when I asked about this strange omission, I was told that the official policy was to only tell a few people that they considered "important" - not those working on the Parthenon or its history. I found out because quite by chance I sat next to the cousin of a man I know, and he told me that he had helped raise the money to buy the Archive. Had it not been for this coincidence, when I was under the impression that Dr. St. Clair still had the archive, I would not have known.

I'll be in Florence next month for a very good friend's wedding, so I shall have the pleasure of seeing the painting in person. I was ill - various parasites and viruses picked up on travels - and the blog was one of the many things I let slide. It's back.

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