The art and science of locked letters on video

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The Historical Museum of The Hague is currently holding an exhibition entitled ‘Courtly Rivals: Elizabeth Stuart and Amalia van Solms’ that features locked letters of the 17th century. The letters have been brought to life thanks to some videos made by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT Libraries’ conservator, Jana Dambrogio and others helped film six videos on the science of 17th century letterlocking.

‘Courtly Rivals’ is based on Dutch professor Nadine Akkerman’s publication by the same name, exploring the tense relationship between two of the most influential women in the Dutch Republic during the 17th century – Elizabeth Stuart, sometime Queen of Bohemia and her former lady-in-waiting Amalia von Solms, who became Princess of Orange in 1625. Elizabeth’s corpus of over 2,000 letters shows she was an astute politician, with a vast network of kings, queens, generals, ministers, church leaders, courtiers, and spies. Amalia’s correspondence has just come to light, but it appears she was no different. Both ladies, their secretaries, and their correspondents resorted to intricate methods to lock their letters shut.

(Links: www.haagshistorischmuseum.nl, libraries.mit.edu)

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