Umberto Boccioni Life and Art Periods

"What we want to do is to show the living object in its dynamic growth"

UMBERTO BOCCIONI SYNOPSIS

Umberto Boccioni was one of the most prominent and influential artists among the Italian Futurists, an art movement that emerged in the years before the First World War. Boccioni was important not only in developing the movement's theories, but also in introducing the visual innovations that led to the dynamic, Cubist-like style now so closely associated with the group. Emerging first as a painter, Boccioni later produced some significant Futurist sculpture. He died while volunteering in the Italian army, aged only thirty-three, making him emblematic of the Futurists' celebration of the machine and the violent destructive force of modernity.

UMBERTO BOCCIONI KEY IDEAS

Although Boccioni deserves a great amount of credit for evolving the style now associated with Italian Futurism, he first matured as a Neo-Impressionist painter, and was drawn to landscape and portrait subjects. It was not until he encountered Cubism that he developed a style that matched the ideology of dynamism and violent societal upheaval that lay at the heart of Futurism. Boccioni borrowed the geometric forms typical of the French style, and employed them to evoke crashing, startling sounds to accompany the depicted movement.
Boccioni believed that scientific advances and the experience of modernity demanded that the artist abandon the tradition of depicting static, legible objects. The challenge, he believed, was to represent movement, the experience of flux, and the inter-penetration of objects. Boccioni summed up this project with the phrase, "physical transcendentalism."
Despite his fascination with physical movement, Boccioni had a strong belief in the importance of intuition, an attitude he inherited from the writings of Henri Bergson and the Symbolist painters of the late 19th century. This shaped Boccioni's approach to depicting the modern world, encouraging him to give it symbolic, almost mythical dimensions that evoked the artist's emotions as much as the objective reality of modern life. In this respect, Boccioni's approach is very different from that of the Cubists, whose work was grounded in an attempt to closely describe the physical character of objects, albeit in a new way.
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UMBERTO BOCCIONI BIOGRAPHY

Childhood

Umberto Boccioni was born in 1882 in Reggio Calabria, a rural region on the southern tip of Italy. His parents had originated from the Romagna region, further north. As a young boy, Boccioni and his family moved frequently, eventually settling in the Sicilian city of Catania in 1897, where he received the bulk of his secondary education. There is little evidence to suggest he had any serious interest in the fine arts until 1901, at which time he moved from Catania to Rome and enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma (Academy of Fine Arts, Rome).

Early Training

It was in Rome that Boccioni first connected with his future Futurist collaborator Gino Severini. Both studied under Giacomo Balla, who was renowned as a Divisionist painter, and Boccioni became a loyal student of the style. During these years he also continued his travels in Italy and beyond; he visited Paris for an extended period, where he encountered Impressionism for the first time, and followed this with a sojourn to Russia.

Umberto Boccioni Biography
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During this period, much of the art being produced in Italy was, to Boccioni's mind, rather provincial. In the city of Milan, however, there existed a forward-thinking society of young artists known as the Famiglia Artistica. So, in 1907, Boccioni moved to Milan, where he met Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the Symbolist poet and theorist. Two years later, on February 20, 1909, Marinetti published the first Futurist manifesto on the front page of the established French newspaper Le Figaro. It quickly attracted followers, among them Boccioni, Severini, Balla, Carlo Carra and Luigi Russolo. But in the years that followed, Boccioni proved to be Futurism's most outspoken proponent and foremost theorist, not to mention primarily responsible for applying Marinetti's example to the visual arts.

Mature Period

The beginning of Futurism coincided with Boccioni's most prolific period as an artist. On February 11, 1910, under the leadership of Boccioni, the "Manifesto of Futurist Painters" was published by Marinetti's magazine Poesia, and was signed by Severini, Balla and others. Addressed to the "Young Artists of Italy," this new manifesto, much like its predecessor, attacked institutions like museums and libraries, which the Futurists now considered redundant. Boccioni and the Futurists were aiming at one of the Italy's principle claims to prestige, its classical past, which they considered a hindrance to the country's development as a modern power.

Later on in the same year Boccioni published the "Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting," also through Marinetti's Poesia. He declared "That all subjects previously used must be swept aside in order to express our whirling life of steel, of pride, of fever and of speed."

As a young artist, Boccioni had chosen subjects that simply caught his eye, but as a Futurist, he selected subjects as vehicles for painterly theories. One subject that often inspired him was the city, and it is explored in works like The Forces of the Street and The Street Enters the House (both 1911).

In 1912, the Futurist group held an impressive exhibition of paintings at the Bernheim-Jeune in Paris. The centerpiece of Boccioni's contribution was a group of three paintings entitled States of Mind I-III: The Farewells, Those Who Stay, and Those Who Go (all 1911), considered by many to be the artist's most ambitious work thus far. In States of Mind, he attempted to abandon the dependence on any descriptive reality, opting instead to, as he put it, "[have the] colors and forms ... express themselves." In short, Boccioni designed these works to express the Futurist mind-set, in which the past had no bearing on how the artist viewed the world around him.

While in Paris, Boccioni visited various artists' studios, including those of Braque, Brancusi, Archipenko and Duchamp-Villon. What he saw encouraged him to apply his principles to sculpture, resulting in works like The Development of a Bottle in Space (1912) and Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913). This new interest also led him to write the "Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture."

Late Period and Death

Umberto Boccioni Photo

In 1913, Boccioni began contributing to the experimental newspaper Lacerba, which had been founded by the Florentine author and Futurist Giovanni Papini (Lacerba published 70 issues between January 1, 1913 and May 22, 1915). With this newspaper, Boccioni and others now had a publication exclusively devoted to promoting the movement's ideas. In April of the following year, Boccioni published his book Futurist Painting and Sculpture, by far the most comprehensive account of Futurist artistic theory written by a founding member.

In 1914, the Great War began and quickly spread throughout Europe, and its remarkable ferocity very closely resembled the cleansing violence that the Futurists had long called for. So, in July 1915, Boccioni, along with Marinetti, Russolo and several other Futurists, enrolled with the Lombard Volunteer Cyclist Battalion.

The battalion was disbanded in December later that year and during a leave of absence from the war, Boccioni continued to paint, write and lecture. He was called back into service in June 1916, and stationed outside Verona with an artillery brigade. During a training exercise, Boccioni was thrown from his horse and trampled. Still a young man of just thirty-three, Boccioni succumbed to injuries and died a day later on August 17.

UMBERTO BOCCIONI LEGACY

Although the Futurist movement is most associated with its founder, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, its artistic direction owes much to Umberto Boccioni. He is responsible for producing the seminal texts on Futurist art, and was by and large the movement's most talented, technically proficient, and best educated artist. Despite the brevity of his career, he became a prolific student of avant-garde styles, while simultaneously striving to create something entirely novel: an art that uniquely expressed the speed, dynamism and tragedy of modern-day life.

Original content written by Justin Wolf
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UMBERTO BOCCIONI QUOTES

"Nothing is absolute in painting. What was truth for the painters of yesterday is but a falsehood today."

"To paint a human figure you must not paint it; you must render the whole of its surrounding atmosphere."

"[War is] a wonderful, marvelous, terrible thing. And in the mountains it seems like a battle with the infinite. Grandiose, immense, life and death. I am Happy."

"I shall leave this existence with a contempt for all that is not art."

Umberto Boccioni

Umberto Boccioni Influences

Interactive chart with Umberto Boccioni's main influencers, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.

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Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne was an influential French Post-Impressionist painter whose depictions of the natural world, based on internal geometric planes, paved the way for Cubism and later modern art movements.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Paul Cézanne
Auguste Rodin
Auguste Rodin
The French artist Auguste Rodin is often considered the father of modern sculpture. His diverse ouevre includes traditonal styles, strongly allegorical work, and the fragments and textured physicality that are hallmarks of modernism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Auguste Rodin
Georges Braque
Georges Braque
Georges Braque was a modern French painter who, along with Pablo Picasso, developed analytic Cubism and Cubist collage in the early twentieth century.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Georges Braque
Alexander Archipenko
Alexander Archipenko
Alexander Archipenko was a Ukrainian avant-garde sculptor and graphic artist, commonly considered among the early-twentieth century's leading practitioners of abstract and Cubist art. Throughout his years living and exhibiting in Moscow, Paris and Nice, Archipenko showed work alongside the likes of Malevich, Lissitzky, Derain, Braque and Picasso. His sculpture is also considered an important precursor to the Russian-led Cubo-Futurist movement.

Modern Art Information Alexander Archipenko
Giacomo Balla
Giacomo Balla
Giacomo Balla was an Italian artist. Influenced by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Balla adopted the Futurist style, creating a pictorial depiction of light, movement and speed. He was signatory to the Futurist Manifesto in 1910. He also taught Umberto Boccioni.

Modern Art Information Giacomo Balla
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was an Italian poet and editor, the founder of the Futurist movement and a fascist ideologue. He was the author of the Futurist Manifesto, which he wrote in 1908. In early 1918 he founded the Futurist Political Party.

Modern Art Information Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
Carlo Carra
Carlo Carra
Carlo Carra was an Italian painter - a leading figure of the Futurist movement that flourished in Italy during the beginning of the twentieth century. In addition to his many paintings, he wrote a number of books concerning art. He taught for many years in Milan.

Modern Art Information Carlo Carra
Gino Severini
Gino Severini
Gino Severini was an Italian painter and a leading member of the Futurist movement. He was associated with neo-classicism and the pictorial return to order in the decade after the First World War. During his career he worked in a variety of media, including mosaic and fresco.

Modern Art Information Gino Severini
Luigi Russolo
Luigi Russolo
Luigi Russolo was an Italian painter and composer associated with the Futurist movement of the early twentieth century. In addition to being the author of the manifesto "The Art of Noises," Russolo is considered the singular pioneer in the experimental and avant-garde performance discipline known as "noise concerts." Russolo's work is also an important precursor to innovations in electronic music.

Modern Art Information Luigi Russolo
Impressionism
Impressionism
A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Impressionism
Neo-impressionism
Neo-impressionism
Neo-Impressionism was an art movement founded by Georges Seurat in the 1880s. It brought a new and quasi-scientific approach to the Impressionists' interests in light and color, along with new approaches to the application of paint, sometimes in dots and dashes. Its followers were drawn to modern urban scenes as well as landscapes and seascapes.

Modern Art Information Neo-impressionism
Expressionism
Expressionism
Expressionism is a broad term for a host of movements in early twentieth-century Germany, from Die Brücke (1905) and Der Blaue Reiter (1911) to the early Neue Sachlichkeit painters in the 1920s and '30s. Many German Expressionists used vivid colors and abstracted forms to create spiritually or psychologically intense works, while others focused on depictions of war, alienation, and the modern city.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Expressionism
Divisionism
Divisionism
Divisionism was the characteristic style in Neo-Impressionist painting defined by the separation of colors into individual dots or patches which interacted optically. Georges Seurat founded the style and believed it achieved the maximum luminosity scientifically possible.

Modern Art Information Divisionism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Cubism
Christopher Nevinson
Christopher Nevinson
Christopher Nevinson was an English painter. Richard Nevinson is one of the most famous war artists. He was friends with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the leader of the Italian Futurists, and the radical English writer and artist Percy Wyndham Lewis, who founded the short-lived Rebel Art Centre.

Modern Art Information Christopher Nevinson
Wyndham Lewis
Wyndham Lewis
Wyndham Lewis was a twentieth-century English artist and author, founder of the English Rebel Art Centre, and the co-founder of the short-lived Vorticist art movement, which is commonly considered the English counterpart to the more well-known Italian Futurist movement, although neither movement claimed any association with the other. Politically, Lewis was a polarizing figure in literary circles, given his sympathy for Fascism and in particular Adolf Hitler, whom Lewis portrayed as a sympathetic victim of communist oppression in his book "Hitler."

Modern Art Information Wyndham Lewis
Kazimir Malevich
Kazimir Malevich
Kazimir Malevich was a Russian modernist painter and theorist who founded Suprematism. Along with his painting Black Square, his mature works feature simple geometric shapes on blank backgrounds.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Kazimir Malevich
Antonio Sant'Elia
Antonio Sant'Elia
Antonio Sant'Elia was an Italian architect during the first part of the twentieth century, and is commonly associated with the Futurist movement. Although still unknown, many believe Sant'Elia to be the author of the manifesto of "Futurist Architecture," published in 1914. Sant'Elia's architectural designs are characterized by their vast monolithic and monumental appearance, and gothic elements. Although many of his designs were never built, Sant'Elia's Futurist sketches survive and remain influential today.

Modern Art Information Antonio Sant'Elia
Mario Sironi
Mario Sironi
Mario Sironi was an Italian painter, sculptor, designer and illustrator. He was also a late adherent to the Italian Futurist movement, adopting its artistic teachings in 1913. Seroni's style achieved singularity in the years following World War I, when he founded the Novecento Italiano movement, which called for a return to form in Italian art. Seroni's best known paintings recall the neo-classicism of early Picasso works, but also presage the metaphysical forms and subject matter evident in Surrealism.

Modern Art Information Mario Sironi
Ambrogio Casati
Ambrogio Casati
Ambrogio Casati was an Italian painter and close associate in the Futurist movement. Although Casati's influence and catalog of work come nowhere close to matching his fellow Futurists, Casati is well known for mentoring Aldo Giorgini, whose work with computer art graphics is considered pioneering.

Modern Art Information Ambrogio Casati
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism was the most influential Italian avant-garde movement of the twentieth century. Dedicated to the modern age, it celebrated speed, movement, machinery and violence. At first influenced by Neo-Impressionism, and later by Cubism, some of its members were also drawn to mass culture and nontraditional forms of art.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Futurism
Cubo-Futurism
Cubo-Futurism
Cubo-Futurism was a painting and sculpture movement associated with the Russian Futurists, who in the early part of the twentieth century adopted the teachings and styles of the Italian Futurists and combined them with the Parisian Cubism of Picasso and Braque. Among the more well-known artists associated with Cubo-Futurism are Alexander Archipenko, Wladimir Baranoff-Rossine, and Sonia Terk.

Modern Art Information Cubo-Futurism
Suprematism
Suprematism
Suprematism, the invention of Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, was one of the earliest and most radical developments in abstract art. Inspired by a desire to experiment with the language of abstract form, and to isolate art's barest essentials, its artists produced austere abstractions that seemed almost mystical. It was an important influence on Constructivism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Suprematism
Constructivism
Constructivism
Russian Constructivism emerged with the Revolution of 1917 and sought a new approach to making objects, one which abolished the traditional concern with composition and replaced it with 'construction,' which called for a new attention to the technical character of materials. It was hoped that these inquiries would yield ideas for mass production. The movement was an important influence on geometric abstraction.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Constructivism
Symbolism
Symbolism
Symbolism is an artistic and literary movement that first emerged in France in the 1880s. In the visual arts it is often considered part of Post-Impressionism. It is characterized by an emphasis on the mystical, romantic and expressive, and often by the use of symbolic figures.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Symbolism
Constantin Brancusi
Constantin Brancusi
Constantin Brancusi, a Romanian artist working in Paris, was one of the founders of modern sculpture. His abstracted animals, portrait busts, and totem-like figures revolutionized the traditional relationship between the sculpture and its base.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Constantin Brancusi
Raymond Duchamp-Villon
Raymond Duchamp-Villon
Duchamp-Villon and three of the other five Duchamp children, including Marcel Duchamp, became famous artists. Duchamp-Villon was a self-taught French sculptor. He served as a juror in the Salon d'Automne in 1907 and helped promote the Cubist movement. He died in 1916 of typhoid fever.

Modern Art Information Raymond Duchamp-Villon
Self-Portrait
Self-Portrait

Title: Self-Portrait (1905)

Artwork Description & Analysis: This Self-Portrait demonstrates Boccioni's style as a student at the Academy in Rome. Although it differs greatly from his mature Futurism, being far softer in its tone and brushwork, he cherished the picture and never sold it during his lifetime. It is typical of the period when he was moving from a style inspired by early Impressionism to a more volumetric approach suggested by study of works by Paul Cézanne.


Oil on canvas - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The City Rises
The City Rises

Title: The City Rises (1910)

Artwork Description & Analysis: The City Rises is considered by many to be the very first truly Futurist painting. Boccioni took a year to complete it and it was exhibited throughout Europe shortly after it was finished. It testifies to the hold that Neo-Impressionism and Symbolism maintained on the movement's artists even after Futurism was inaugurated in 1909. It was not until around 1911 that Boccioni adapted elements of Cubism to create a distinct Futurist style. Nevertheless, The City Rises does capture the group's love of dynamism and their fondness for the modern city. A large horse races into the foreground while several workers struggle to gain control of it, suggesting a primeval conflict between humanity and beasts. The horse and figures are blurred, communicating rapid movement while other elements, such as the buildings in the background, are rendered more realistically. At the same time, the perspective teeters dramatically in different sections of the painting.


Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

The Street Enters the House
The Street Enters the House

Title: The Street Enters the House (1911)

Artwork Description & Analysis: The geometric elements and the perspectival distortion in The The Street Enters the House demonstrate the influence of Expressionism and Cubism on Boccioni. According to the original catalog entry for the work, "The dominating sensation is that which one would experience on opening a window: all life, and the noises of the street rush in at the same time as the movement and the reality of the objects outside."


Oil on canvas - Sprengel Museum, Hanover, Germany

States of Mind I: The Farewells
States of Mind I: The Farewells

Title: States of Mind I: The Farewells (1911)

Artwork Description & Analysis: The Farewells was the first of Boccioni's three-part series, States of Mind, which has long been seen as one of the high points of the Futurist style in painting. The focal point of the picture is provided by movement itself - the locomotive, the airplane, the automobile: modern machines that gave new meaning to the word "speed." In this work, set in a train station, Boccioni captures the dynamism of movement and chaos, depicting people being consumed by, or fused with, the steam from the locomotive as it whizzes past.


Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space

Title: Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Although Boccioni was a painter first and foremost, his brief forays into sculpture are significant. The speed and fluidity of movement - what Boccioni called "a synthetic continuity" - is brilliantly captured in this bronze piece, with the human figure gliding through space, almost as if man himself is becoming machine, moving head-on into forceful winds. Possibly in homage to Auguste Rodin's Walking Man (1877-8), and the classical Greek statue Nike of Samothrace (220-190 B.C.), Boccioni left the sculpture without arms.


Bronze - Museum of Modern Art, New York

The Charge of the Lancers
The Charge of the Lancers

Title: The Charge of the Lancers (1915)

Artwork Description & Analysis: The Charge of the Lancers is the only known work by Boccioni that is devoted exclusively to the theme of war. Being a collage, Charge was also a rare departure for the artist in terms of medium. In previous works, Boccioni had used the figure of the horse as a symbol for work, but in this collage the horse becomes a symbol of war and natural strength, since it appears to be overcoming a horde of German bayonets. If, in fact, Boccioni was establishing the brute strength of the horse over man-made weapons, it would suggest a slight departure from the Futurist principles of Marinetti. This work also eerily prefigures Boccioni's own death from having been trampled by a horse.


Tempera and collage on pasteboard - Ricardo and Magda Jucker Collection, Milan

Self-Portrait

Self-Portrait, 1905, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Oil on canvas

This Self-Portrait demonstrates Boccioni's style as a student at the Academy in Rome. Although it differs greatly from his mature Futurism, being far softer in its tone and brushwork, he cherished the picture and never sold it during his lifetime. It is typical of the period when he was moving from a style inspired by early Impressionism to a more volumetric approach suggested by study of works by Paul Cézanne.
The City Rises

The City Rises, 1910, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Oil on canvas

The City Rises is considered by many to be the very first truly Futurist painting. Boccioni took a year to complete it and it was exhibited throughout Europe shortly after it was finished. It testifies to the hold that Neo-Impressionism and Symbolism maintained on the movement's artists even after Futurism was inaugurated in 1909. It was not until around 1911 that Boccioni adapted elements of Cubism to create a distinct Futurist style. Nevertheless, The City Rises does capture the group's love of dynamism and their fondness for the modern city. A large horse races into the foreground while several workers struggle to gain control of it, suggesting a primeval conflict between humanity and beasts. The horse and figures are blurred, communicating rapid movement while other elements, such as the buildings in the background, are rendered more realistically. At the same time, the perspective teeters dramatically in different sections of the painting.
The Street Enters the House

The Street Enters the House, 1911, Sprengel Museum, Hanover, Germany
Oil on canvas

The geometric elements and the perspectival distortion in The The Street Enters the House demonstrate the influence of Expressionism and Cubism on Boccioni. According to the original catalog entry for the work, "The dominating sensation is that which one would experience on opening a window: all life, and the noises of the street rush in at the same time as the movement and the reality of the objects outside."
States of Mind I: The Farewells

States of Mind I: The Farewells, 1911, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Oil on canvas

The Farewells was the first of Boccioni's three-part series, States of Mind, which has long been seen as one of the high points of the Futurist style in painting. The focal point of the picture is provided by movement itself - the locomotive, the airplane, the automobile: modern machines that gave new meaning to the word "speed." In this work, set in a train station, Boccioni captures the dynamism of movement and chaos, depicting people being consumed by, or fused with, the steam from the locomotive as it whizzes past.
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Bronze

Although Boccioni was a painter first and foremost, his brief forays into sculpture are significant. The speed and fluidity of movement - what Boccioni called "a synthetic continuity" - is brilliantly captured in this bronze piece, with the human figure gliding through space, almost as if man himself is becoming machine, moving head-on into forceful winds. Possibly in homage to Auguste Rodin's Walking Man (1877-8), and the classical Greek statue Nike of Samothrace (220-190 B.C.), Boccioni left the sculpture without arms.
The Charge of the Lancers

The Charge of the Lancers, 1915, Ricardo and Magda Jucker Collection, Milan
Tempera and collage on pasteboard

The Charge of the Lancers is the only known work by Boccioni that is devoted exclusively to the theme of war. Being a collage, Charge was also a rare departure for the artist in terms of medium. In previous works, Boccioni had used the figure of the horse as a symbol for work, but in this collage the horse becomes a symbol of war and natural strength, since it appears to be overcoming a horde of German bayonets. If, in fact, Boccioni was establishing the brute strength of the horse over man-made weapons, it would suggest a slight departure from the Futurist principles of Marinetti. This work also eerily prefigures Boccioni's own death from having been trampled by a horse.
Bibliography
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggests some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.