There's the Rub
An exhibit on campus is bringing new life to the dead—or at least some of the vivid, often life-size, images of them that were produced from the 13th through the 17th centuries. Lasting Impressions: Monumental Brass Rubbings showcases 23 figures depicted on medieval and early modern brass tomb monuments in England and Germany, and reveals much about these individuals and their times.
The exhibit, which a group of Haverford students played an important role in organizing, celebrates the inauguration of President Dan Weiss, an art historian whose own scholarship focuses on Crusader art. It showcases a collection of brass rubbings made in England and Germany in the early 1970s by David Cook ’64 and his wife, Maxine, who produced the images by laying paper on engraved metal monuments and rubbing colored wax on the paper to pick up the incised lines. The Cooks donated their collection to the College in 2013 for use in teaching and research. Featuring more idealized than lifelike portraits—and often including surviving heirs as well—the brasses were intended to inspire viewers to pray for the soul of the dead person, to preserve familial memory, and to trumpet the deceased’s social status. They have been a rich source for historians, reflecting as they do evolving fashions in clothing and armor, the development of heraldry, shifting social structures, and more.
The exhibit is broken up into five sets of images on display in different locations on campus, and explores the themes of family and marriage, identity and self, spirituality and the afterlife, and power and rank. Among the figures on view is a daughter of King Edward III by one of his mistresses; a gentleman who com- missioned his own monument a full 40 years before he died; and Joan, Lady of Cobham, who had five husbands— including the man who inspired Shakespeare’s character Falstaff.
The exhibit, which can also be viewed in a digital version (hav.to/brass), might not have been possible without the help of several Haverford students who worked full-time through the summer putting it together. With advice from faculty and librarians, the students researched the people memorialized in the brasses, examined the historical eras in which they lived, and identified thematic issues, says Margaret Schaus, lead research and instruction librarian at Magill Library. “One group wrote catalog descriptions, exhibit labels, and digital content,” say Schaus. “Another group of students designed the layout of the digital exhibit, which guides users from one location to another, allows them to tap on points on a rubbing to get more information, and see related images.”
Rachel Davies ’16, Shannon Smith ’15, and James McInerney (a visiting student from the University of King’s College, in Nova Scotia) helped develop exhibit content; Blair Rush ’16, Karl Moll ’ 14, and Mohamed Abdalkader ’14 worked on the digital exhibit site, which was developed to optimize mobile browsing. “They had no previous experience,” says Mike Zarafonetis, digital scholarship librarian. “But they learned to organize data to create dynamic web content, write code, present it in a visually appealing way, and manage a large technical project over a defined period of time.” By the time they were done, he says, “They said they will never look at a webpage the same way again.”