Yale University Library

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Early Modern English culture existed at a crossroads of societal and urban planning, absorbing lessons from Italy, imagining utopian counter-realities, mapping their own society, and focusing on what seemed to be the tabula rasa of the New World.  England’s cultural identities were created, explored, and expressed in the production and transmission of a variety of interrelated works: illustration and documentation of the colonial enterprise in manuscript and printed works; architectural treatises; utopian tracts; maps of England, her colonies, and the empire; architectural plans for cities on the isle and settlements in the colonies; and carefully controlled depictions of the empire and the monarchy.  The thoughts and practices of Early Modern England truly came to be located in a nexus of the ideal and the real, in which the ordering of architecture and the ordering of society are linked, and in which classical bodies informed, helped form, and altered English society, its colonies, and the empire itself.

Using the rich collections of the Yale University Library and the Yale Center for British Art, Ideal, Real, and “New” Worlds looks at a variety of media to explore the questions that arise when these works are treated together as material objects, focusing on the spectra of verbal and visual envisioning. What is the relationship between the architectural treatise, the built world in England, her utopian tracts, and the utopian experimentations in the New World?  How do these created and imagined realities come into existence verbally and visually, in physical and theoretical ways – as the words and images of the architectural treatise and the utopian tract, and as the buildings, mappings, and descriptions of England and the New World?  How does the absorption and alteration of Italian classicism relate to England’s ideal and real plans, images, and structures?  What cultural identities emerge through the examination of the ideal, real, and “new” worlds created in Early Modern English thought, illustration, architecture, and urban planning?

This project focuses on the time period between 1476, the year that William Caxton set up his printing press in Westminster, and 1776, the year of America’s Declaration of Independence from England and of Nathan Hale’s famous last words, inspired by Joseph Addison’s Cato. It includes a series of exhibitions across the campus of Yale University, and a virtual exhibition with interactive scholarly discussion, coming to this website in late August 2011. For more information or to discuss participation, please contact the author.

— Mia Reinoso Genoni


12 June – 7 September 2009
The Utopian Impulse
Sterling Memorial Library
120 High Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Exhibition Guide and Essay [PDF]
Netcast Discussion, coming soon

22 March – 25 June 2010
Invented Bodies: Shapely Constructs of the Early Modern
Whitney Humanities Center
53 High Street
New Haven, CT 06511

12 April – 30 June 2010
By Draught or Design: England, Architecture, and Identity
Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library
180 York Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Summer 2010
Ideal, Real, and “New” Worlds:
Architecture, Utopia, and Empire in Early Modern England, c. 1476-1776

Virtual exhibition with interactive scholarly discussion

About the Author:

Mia Reinoso Genoni is the Mellon Special Collections Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale University Library and the Whitney Humanities Center.

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1. Artist Unknown, possibly after Lucas de Heere. Detail of An Allegory of the Tudor Succession: The Family of Henry VIII. c. 1590.
Yale Center for British Art. Obj. no. B1975.2.377.
Original size: 45 x 71.75 inches.

2. Detail of title page to Francis Bacon's Sylva Sylvarum, containing New Atlantis. London, 1626/7.
Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Call no. Ih B132 +627.
Original size: 7.3 x 11 inches.

3. Engraving by Theodor de Bry after John White. Detail of The Town of Potomac. In Thomas Harriot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. Frankfurt, 1590. 
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Call no. Taylor 194.
Original size: 9.5 x 13 inches.

4. Detail of Portrait of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. Frontispiece to Cavendish's Plays Never Before Printed. 1668.
Lewis Walpole Library. Call no. Quarto 49 2731.
Original size: 7.5 x 12.5 inches.

5. John Seller. Detail of A Chart of Ye Narrow Seas. London, 1671.
Yale Map Department of Sterling Memorial Library. Call No. 319cea 1671.
Original size: 16.9 x 20.9 inches.