Recipe found in medieval mystics writings was probably for ‘dragges’

Margery Kempe was known for religious fervour, and a list in the manuscript of her pioneering autobiography has been analysed as a prescribed cure for her fits

It is a case that has intrigued historians, psychiatrists and theologians for the last 80 years, but an academic has found what may be the oldest known attempt to diagnose Margery Kempes erratic religious behaviour. A recipe for medicinal sweets, written 600 years ago in the back of the medieval mystics memoir, has been deciphered by Dr Laura Kalas Williams and the Exeter University-based researcher is convinced that it reveals an attempt to prescribe a cure for Kempes notorious fits of devotion.

Though the recipe, written in the final portfolio of the 1438 manuscript, has long been known to scholars, it had hitherto proved impossible to read. Dr Andrea Clarke, the British Librarys lead curator of medieval and early modern manuscripts, suggested multispectral-imaging technology be used to reveal its secrets. Kalas Williams and two colleagues, Professor Eddie Jones and Professor Daniel Wakelin, were then able to decipher the ingredients and discovered it was a cure for flux, defined in the Medieval English Dictionary as a pathological flowing of blood, excretions or discharges from any part of the body, or dysentery.

The recipe translates as containing: Sugar with aniseed, fennel seed, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger [to make the] confection and to [then] beat them together in a mortar and heat them in the manner of food and drinks and dry first and last eat. Photograph: Board of the British Library, Dr Andrea Clarke and Christina Duffy

Kalas Williams said she was convinced the recipe was a response to the mystics various bouts of illness as well as her copious crying. I dont think [the recipe] has been written there randomly, the academic said. The book tells us that at one point, she suffered a terrible episode of flux (probably dysentery) and was given extreme unction, thinking she was going to die, so the presence of this recipe at the end seems more than a coincidence.

A middle-class mother of 14, Kempe lived in Norfolk from about 1373 to 1440. After the birth of her children, she took a vow of chastity, and for the rest of her life undertook pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela, Italy and Germany.

Described by Kalas Williams as the Marmite of medieval mystics, she was infamous for loud cries and boisterous weeping in church and dramatic displays of religious devotion, which included mystical visions that placed her at the heart of the action during the nativity and crucifixion. They also made her as many enemies during her lifetime as they did followers; she was arrested for heresy and narrowly missed being burned at the stake.

Kalas Williams admitted her thesis was controversial. Scholars have speculated about the significance of the recipe since the manuscript was rediscovered in 1934. Though medieval books often feature arbitrary jottings because parchment was expensive, no other random notes appear in the manuscript, which was dictated by the mystic between 1436 and 1440, initially to her son. There are many other annotations in the book, but all of these directly engage with the words on the page, in dialogue with the content, the academic said. This makes it improbable that the recipe is a random, thoughtless, annotation.

The original manuscript of The Book of Margery Kempe. It is thought to have been finished and bound between 1442 and 1450. Photograph: Board of the British Library, Dr Andrea Clarke and Christina Duffy

Initially, the recipe was thought to be for a drink to cure the flux, but the thermal imaging revealed it to be dragges herbal sweets used to refresh the palate and cure a variety of ills. The ingredients sugar, aniseed, fennel seed, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger were luxuries at the time.

The manuscript, which is the only surviving copy of the memoir, thought to be the oldest autobiography by a woman in the English language, has proved controversial since it was rediscovered in the 1930s. Many attempts have been made to explain Kempes profuse weeping, collapsing and roaring while under the influence of her visions. As well as epilepsy, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, it has been posited that the mystic suffered postpartum depression, as her first extreme religious experiences and demonic torment followed her first difficult pregnancy.

Kalas Williams dismissed attempts at diagnosis as anachronistic and preferred to use Kempes memoir to understand the medieval view of womens bodies and health. For me, Kempe is a tenacious figure, determined to be heard in a culture where womens voices were not supposed to be heard, and brave enough to express her emotions publicly and viscerally, added the scholar, who is writing up her findings for academic publication later this year.

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Sex symbols: what does a blue hankie in your left back pocket mean?

Hal Fischer took the language of the instruction manual and applied it to the jocks and leathermen of gay San Francisco in the 70s. He explains the code

In one of the first photographs Hal Fischer composed for Gay Semiotics, we see two sets of male buttocks, each clad in high-cut, form-fitting Levis. One sports a blue bandana in the left back pocket, which, according to the overlaid text, indicates that the wearer will assume the active or traditional male role during sexual contact. The other has a red bandana in the right back pocket, indicating that the wearer takes the passive role in anal/hand insertion. But, the text cautions dryly, red handkerchiefs are also employed in the treatment of nasal discharge and in some cases may have no significance in regard to sexual contact.

Made in 1977, when Fischer was in his 20s, the Gay Semiotics series is a wonderfully poker-faced portrait of queer male culture in San Franciscos Castro and Haight-Ashbury neighbourhoods at their carefree apogee. As well as deciphering the codes of hankies, key chains and earrings, Gay Semiotics guides us through archetypes, street fashions and various BDSM practices. Forty years on, the images can now be seen at Project Native Informant in London, along with other Fischer works from the 1970s.

The work was very subversive, and I still get a kick out of that, says Fischer, in London for the shows opening. I wanted people to see the photographs first, then get up close. I wanted there to be a certain innocence when they started reading, then of course theres a little shock, and some punchlines, then people start laughing.

The meaning of earrings, from Hal Fischers Gay Semiotics. Photograph: Hal Fischer

For Fischer, the humour, the labels, the instructive text and the use of greyscale all served to undermine the romanticism that still surrounded photography in the US at the time. Its a visual language borrowed from banal instruction manuals. Even the images dealing with domination are composed with a lightness of touch and salting of humour that is decidedly unmenacing. I dont think someone who was really into the S&M culture would be drawn to these, because theyre really too playful, says Fischer, pointing out that in his experience, giggling is something of a mood-breaker in such situations.

It was reading Lvi-Strauss the anthropologist, rather than the manufacturer of denims that inspired Fischer to codify the dress and behaviour of San Franciscos gay community. Anthropologically, this was going on all around me: it was amazing and nobody was dealing with it like that, so I just went for it.

Unlike the distant anthropologist, Fischer was quite literally embedded in the culture he portrayed. Fischer encountered one of his subjects hanging around outside his local cafe, and another at Guss Pub. The chap who posed for the Basic Gay picture worked in the photo store down the street. Its where youd go on Wednesday and put in your marijuana brownie order, because then Brownie Mary if she wasnt in jail would drop off the brownies on Friday.

An explanation of Dominance. Photograph: Hal Fischer

All the men from the Jock in his snug satin shorts to the leatherman with a cockring on his epaulette are sporting their regular clothes. Fischer was inspired by the German photographer August Sanders People of the 20th Century in portraying his subjects on their own terms. The thing that appealed to me about Sanders work was the idea of letting the person present themselves to you. I did not tell these people what to do, what to wear or anything.

The figures selected for inclusion are, by and large, those who Fischer was interested in looking at himself: It is, on a certain level, a lexicon of my own desires, though maybe a little broader than that. I didnt put in anybody in drag and there were people in drag around. I was part of the clone group.

The codes and dressing-up fulfilled an important function at a time when the ability to read a situation accurately was imperative: The reality of some of this is, back in the day, if you hit on a straight man, it could have had not-good consequences.

Shortly after completing the works on show here which also include the 1979 project A Salesman, in which a naked man with a moustache appeared on a billboard in San Franciscos Castro district Fischer decided to cease working as an artist. Today his photographic output is largely restricted to iPhone snaps of his dog, Jasper albeit in appropriately extravagant costume. When I had my first solo show in 1977, the critic part of me kind of took over. I thought to myself, Youve hit the perfect moment, everything has come together. Culturally, youre doing this at exactly the right time. Art-wise, youre involved in something that has methodology and is conceptual. Most people dont even get this once. And Id got it.

Gay Semiotics is at Project Native Informant, London, until 1 April. The book has been republished by the LA gallery Cherry and Martin.

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Meryl Streep slams Karl Lagerfeld over Oscars dress ‘slander’

Chanels creative director withdraws claim that actor snubbed his dress after another designer offered to pay her to wear their design to awards ceremony

Meryl Streep has castigated the designer Karl Lagerfeld for overshadowing her record 20th Oscar nomination with inaccurate claims about the dress she will wear at the awards ceremony.

Earlier this week Chanels creative director accused the actor of rejecting a dress he was working on for her, claiming that a different designer was willing to pay her to wear one of their designs.

He subsequently admitted this was not correct, but his retraction left Streep unsatisfied, and she has released a damning statement criticising both him and Womens Wear Daily, the fashion website that printed his comments.

Despite Lagerfelds statement saying he had misunderstood and that he regretted the controversy, Streep has dismissed the so-called apology and said the original comments have eclipsed her latest nomination.

I do not take this lightly, and Mr Lagerfelds generic statement of regret for this controversy was not an apology, her statement read.

She also accused the designer of defaming her, her stylist and the illustrious designer whose dress she chose to wear, in an important industry publication, adding: That publication printed this defamation.

The story received global attention, she said, and continues to overwhelm my appearance at the Oscars, on the occasion of my record-breaking 20th nomination, and to eclipse this honour in the eyes of the media, my colleagues and the audience.

The dispute began when the website published an interview in which Lagerfeld said he had started work on a dress for Streep to wear at the awards ceremony. He claimed he was then told by one of the actors representatives not to continue as they had found somebody who would pay them.

After we gift her a dress thats 100,000, we found later we had to pay, he said. We give them dresses, we make the dresses, but we dont pay … A genius actress, but cheapness also, no?

The designer later issued a statement admitting he had misunderstood that Ms Streep may have chosen another designer due to remuneration and said he regretted the controversy.

A spokesperson for Chanel said that they had engaged in conversations with Streeps stylist to design a dress for her to wear to the Academy Awards, with the full understanding that she was considering options from other design houses: When informed by the stylist that Ms Streep had chosen a dress by another designer there was no mention of the reason. Chanel wishes to express our continued and deep respect for Ms Streep.

Streep, one of the most admired and honoured actors of her generation, is nominated for playing an eccentric opera singer in the comedy Florence Foster Jenkins. She has won three academy awards for previous roles.

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By numbers: breaking down the key facts behind the Oscars

How rude can a movie be and still win best picture? How many men with toupees have triumphed? And does anyone watch it anyway? Weve trawled the archives to unearth the real history of the Academy Awards

Audience graphic

TV ratings for the Oscars broadcast have been on a steep decline in the US, despite the producers revamping the ceremony and drafting in an endless parade of new hosts. Polls this year suggest that a Trump-focused show could prove a turn-off for his supporters so incoming host Jimmy Kimmel will have his work cut out. The one thing that does make people tune in is really giving a damn about the big movie. In 1998, 57.3m people watched James Camerons iceberg-fated romance trawl its way to 11 wins. This year, six in 10 Americans cant name a single Oscar nominee. You do the maths.

Nominations graphic

Top of our charts of the actors, actresses and directors to have been nominated multiple times is poor old Peter OToole, who never got to hold a gong despite it being dangled in front of him no fewer than eight times. But spare a thought for Roger Deakins, the brilliant cinematographer whos been unsuccessfully nominated for an Oscar 13 times although this year could at least see a happy ending for Hacksaw Ridges sound mixer, Kevin OConnell. If he wins on Sunday, hell break his own record for the longest losing streak in Oscar history: currently at 20 nominations to zero wins.

Box office graphic

Remember how people tuned into the Oscars when a massively popular movie won and how theyre less keen when little-seen films triumph? Just to underline that point, heres a comparison of the takings of the best picture winner and the box-office topper in the US the same year. Last year, for instance, Spotlight made 5% of the total takings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

R-rated graphic


Deadpool, Ryan Reynoldss filthy and filthy rich superhero movie had been tipped to sneak into this years best picture nominees. That it didnt might well have been on account of its language. The tolerance of Oscar voters for that sort of thing has declined dramatically since the 70s, when an X-rated movie (Midnight Cowboy) actually won best picture.

Source material graphic

Obviously. But optioning a brilliant book is also a very good way forward. Failing that, try to dream up your own idea. Just dont take your cues from telly.

Dead or alive graphic

Nobody loves a good deathbed scene more than Oscar voters, it seems. Roughly 20% of best actor and actress winning performances feature the character expiring at some point in the film. So its well worth flicking to the end of the script to start with.

Oscar bait graphic

Ben Stillers controversial comedy Tropic Thunder suggested that actors eager for an Academy Award should never go full retard, but that going part retard (like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man or Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump) was a guaranteed winner. The dominance of Oscar wins for lead performances featuring a character with mental health issues lends credibility to the quip.

Hair graphic

Finally, the data everyones being waiting for: what hairstyle is best if youre tilting for a prize? For both sexes, the results are conclusive: get it chopped off if youre a fella, and ladies, dont be afraid to go au naturale. And, chaps, if you cant make it, fake it: a surprising number of hairpieces have proved triumphant.

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Best picture chaos and Kimmel trolling Trump the 2017 Oscars as it happened

From the announcement cockup to Gary from Chicago catch up on all the Academy Awards news from the Oscars ceremony

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Salvador Dal portrait of estranged sister Ana Maria up for auction

Figura de Perfil, painted a few years before the siblings relationship disintegrated, expected to fetch up to 1.2m at Bonhams

A tender portrait by Salvador Dal of his sister, Ana Maria painted a few years before the devoted siblings fell out so badly that an attempted deathbed reconciliation ended in her being thrown out of his room is coming up for sale for the first time since he presented it to her.

Dal was 21 when he painted Figura de Perfil figure in profile and chose to include it in his first solo exhibition in Spain in 1925. Ana Maria, three years his junior, kept the picture for years, despite the permafrost of their later relationship, before giving it to friends whose family have kept it ever since. Bonhams estimates that it will fetch up to 1.2m when it is auctioned in London this week.

India Phillips, the head of impressionist and modern art at Bonhams, described the picture as laden with meaning and utterly enigmatic.

She said the sale was exceptionally rare, as almost all his work from the period is in public collections She added: It is one of the most beautiful works I have had the pleasure of handling.

Ana Maria was Dals favourite model when he was beginning his career as an artist and she was a teenager. He repeatedly drew and painted her from behind, often gazing out at the view from their seaside holiday home in Cadaqus. She recalled that she did not mind how long she sat for him, and that the experience gave her a lifelong love for the landscape of the view, but the angle he chose has led some of his biographers to claim that he had incestuous feelings for her.

Their relationship began to disintegrate a few years later, when Dal met the formidable Gala, 10 years his senior and married to the surrealist poet Paul luard. She became his model, muse, wife and business manager, and both Ana Maria and their father detested her.

During the Spanish civil war, Ana Maria was briefly arrested and imprisoned by the Republican forces and believed Gala had denounced her falsely as having fascist sympathies. The same suspicion hung over Dal, possibly with more justification, since in one of his notoriously unreliable autobiographies he wrote: Hitler turned me on in the highest.

His sister hated the impression he gave in his writing of a troubled childhood and tormented relationship with their father and he in turn loathed her more idealised version in her memoir, Salvador Dal As Seen By His Sister. He responded with a brutally explicit version of another portrait of her, this time inspired by an image in a pornographic magazine, showing her bending naked over the window sill, assaulted by flying phalluses, titled Young Virgin Autosodomized by Her Own Chastity.

In 1984, after Galas death, Dali was taken to hospital after a fire at his home, which some suspected to be a suicide attempt. Although the siblings had not met for decades, she attempted a reconciliation. Both believed he was on his deathbed, but he shouted abuse at her and had her turned away from the room. They never met again, though he recovered sufficiently to return home, and died of heart failure in 1989 in his home at Figueres, which became his burial place and is now a museum. Ana Maria outlived him by five months, dying at their old home less than hours drive away.

The painting will lead the Bonhamsimpressionist and modern art sale on Thursday.

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Highlights, lowlights and shutouts of the Brit awards 2017 in pictures

Little Mix, the 1975 and the late David Bowie emerge as the nights big winners while grime artists go home empty handed and George Michael is remembered

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