THE JOURNALS OF JACOB MANDEVILLE

God does not elevate many men into heaven;

most of them are pulled out of the mud.
 

-Martin Luther, quoted in Mandeville's diary

Jacob Mandeville, born 1926 in York, England (his father was a book-binder,

his mother a prostitute), met his future wife Helga, the daughter of one of his mother’s friends, at the age of fourteen. Running away from home, the two travelled to Würzburg, Germany, where Jacobs’s grandfather worked at the Department of Geology at Würzburg University. For the next twenty years, Jacob assisted his grandfather. Eventually, he became on bad terms with the head of the department, Professor Sebastian Zanger, who was also Director of the city’s Zoological Garden. Mandeville was fired after having tried to set Professor Zanger’s house on fire, following a dispute over some fossils that he had found and claimed to be petrified sinners. Helga pleaded with the local authorities not to put her husband in prison or hospital, although his mental condition was deemed unstable. Shortly thereafter, Mandeville left Helga and Würzburg, claiming that »conspiracies« kept him sleepless.

In 1962, Mandeville arrived in Berlin, where he found part-time work as a window cleaner at the Swedish General Consulate. At the time, the Consulate was located in Rauchstraße 25, a building that now houses the Syrian Embassy (just across the street from the present Felleshus). He carried out his work fastidiously. Curiously, in letters to his wife Helga, Mandeville claimed to have received a prominent position at the Consulate as a »consultant on environmental issues.« The secretary of the General Counsel, Anne Marie Vogelsang, had her offices on the second floor, with a window overlooking the ruins of the former Swedish Embassy which had been bombed on November 22, 1943. For over a year, Jacob paid extra attention to her window panes. Eventually, the two became close and regularly strolled through the Zoological Garden as well as the Tiergarten. In 1966, it was discovered that one of the Consulate’s employees had falsified official letters, signing them as General Counsel Sten Lindbeck and even as Willy Brandt, then mayor of the city of Berlin. Addressed to the Director of the city’s Zoo and to the Minister of Environment, these missives recommended strongly that the Zoo be transformed »into a natural habitat, not for imported animals, but exclusively for squirrels, birds, and wild boar«– thus serving as a »civilized example« for »the rest of Europe«. The incident was duly investigated. Mandeville could not to be found for questioning. He was later believed to have drowned in the Landwehrkanal with Anne Marie Vogelsang as his only witness. 

As far as is known, Jacob Mandeville began keeping a journal in 1957. These documents consist of texts and photographs taken by himself. Helga Mandeville and Anne Marie Vogelsang have kindly put them at my disposal. I came in contact with Helga in 1997, through her granddaughter. Generously, she showed me her husband’s chaotic archive of photographs, texts, and objects, which led me on a journey from Würzburg to Berlin and on to Groningen, The Netherlands, where Jacob seems to have spent three interim years, before he disappeared entirely in 1971. In Berlin, Anne Marie Vogelsang shared with me stories from her turbulent relationship with Jacob and also granted me access to photo albums from the time.

In this exhibition, I have made enlargements of some of Mandeville’s negatives. As to the arrangement of the material, however, I have allowed myself personal interpretations. Also, I have excluded some of the more explicit material from Mandeville’s stay in Berlin. Nonetheless, I have made every effort to remain loyal to the inner logic of his mind. My heartfelt thanks go to Mrs. Vogelsang, who reminded me that the »smallest things are secret mirrors of the greatest.«

Albin Biblom 2005

 

THE JOURNALS 

Silver gelatin photographs. Jute cloth bound. Size, each spread: 124x62 cm.

I. The Discovery of Homo Diluvi Testis (1957-62)

This is Jacob Mandeville’s first known illustrated and bound journal. In it, animals are portrayed in reconstructed habitats together with Mandeville’s notes on Professor Dr Sebastian Zanger, Director of the Zoological Garden of the city of Würzburg and head of its University’s Department of geology. Mandeville accuses him of »enslaving animals« as well as of »selling reproduced dreams to the starving masses.« Helga Mandeville remembers her efforts to calm Jacob down as he became more outspoken with his convictions. In a passage in this journal, Mandeville also describes the discovery of a fossil in the park of Frankendahl, Würzburg. He was convinced the fossil was an ancient, partly responsible for the Deluge. He termed it homo diluvi testis and informed Zanger of his discovery with great pride. However, Zanger neither acknowledged nor shared Mandeville’s exhilaration. This lead to an obsession for Jacob, which culminated in 1962, when he attempted to set Zanger’s house on fire. As a consequence, Mandeville was forced to leave Würzburg.

Silver gelatin photographs. Jute cloth bound. Size, each spread: 124x62 cm.

II. Aerial Photographs of Possible Gates to Paradise (1962-64)

 

In 1962, Jacob Mandeville was working part-time as a window cleaner at the Swedish General Consulate in Berlin. There he fell in love with Anne Marie Vogelsang, the secretary of the General Counsel, who eventually responded to his affection. When Jacob did not clean windows, he strolled along the newly built wall, visited the Zoo, and began to build an airplane in Grunewald. He developed a keen interest in medieval maps, especially in so far as they might reveal the secret location of Paradise. Intending to make his own maps, Mandeville surveyed the grounds from his his own fragile airplane. One morning in October 1962, he held a pompous speech on a field in Grunewald, addressed to the few who happened to be there. In his speech, he declared that his historical journey would result in photographic evidence of the gates of Paradise. Subsequently, Mandeville disappeared from the Consulate, only to return a few months later. Claiming to have recovered from a severe plane crash, he was given back his job. To those close to him, Mandeville declared that he had not only located the Gates of Paradise, but also had visited the Garden and seen the Tree of Knowledge. He even sent an article about his sensational discovery to a newspaper, enclosing a photograph of the Tree. To his disappointment, the article was not published. From this period stems Mandeville’s suspicion that he was the victim of a conspiracy. 

Silver gelatin photographs. Jute cloth bound. Size, each spread: 124x62 cm.

III. Heaven and Its Inhabitants (1962-65) 

In this journal, Jacob Mandeville projected morality onto the skies. Mandeville and Anne Marie Vogelsang would often stroll through the Tiergarten at night, after their usual visit to the Zoo. During these excursions, Mandeville would develop theories about the stars and the moon, yet express great fear of using a telescope for closer observations, as this had once caused Galileo’s blindness. Ignoring obvious facts, he concluded that the stars were the shining remains of lives lived. Yet only those with a noble past were given a place, whereas all others fell back to earth. It is possible to detect Mandeville’s mounting suspicions in his claim that he does »not trust the gatekeeper« and that »they have made heaven look like hell«. Anne Marie Vogelsang recalls that occasionally, her lover would be troubled by a past of which she knew nothing. During their walks, few words were exchanged about the matter; often, the two prefered to listen to the birds instead.

Silver gelatin photographs. Jute cloth bound. Size, each spread: 124x62 cm.

IV. The Sea and Its Inhabitants (1964-65)

According to the employees at the Swedish delegation, Jacob Mandeville carried out his work quietly. In contrast to their colleague Anne Marie Vogelsang, they paid him little attention. However, they were concerned when, on repeated occasions, he would disappear from work. Mandeville seems to have travelled to unidentified locations at the Black Sea, where he retrieved evidence in support of his theory about fallen stars and sinners. Occasionally, Anne Marie Vogelsang received letters from places near and far. They never contained any information, however, as to where she might find him. One letter was posted from Turkey. Here, Mandeville mentions the fossil of a fallen sinner, including a photograph of it. Like her lover, Ms. Vogelsang had a troubled past which she prefered to keep to herself. From the day that their »secrets began to travel through the window at the General Consulate«, as Mandeville later put it, he feared that their love for each other was sadly destined to end.

Silver gelatin photographs. Jute cloth bound. Size, each spread: 124x62 cm.

V. The Vegetation (1966-71)

 

 

This journal is Jacob Mandeville’s last known journal. It demonstrates clear signs of mental instability. Apart from cleaning windows at the General Consulate, Mandeville began to work extra at Museum für Naturkunde, in order to be able to pay his rent. Colleagues there remember him as a kind and humble person. However, he was more interested in butterflies than in cleaning windows, and some rare specimens from the collections disappeared. Anne Marie Vogelsang recalls that, during this period, small talk with Mandeville might turn into haughty, biblically inspired monologues. Insignificant details could be reinterpreted as signs of major portent. In October 1966, the Swedish General Counsel Sten Lindbeck received letters from the secretary to the Mayor of the City of Berlin, Willy Brandt, and the Director of the Zoological Garden. Curiously, both seemed to be responses to letters written by himself. However, the Counsel had never made any strong recommendations »either to close the Zoo or to reform it.« In fact, he had never written any letters at all.

 

EXHIBITION VIEWS

The Felleshus, Common House of the Nordic Embassies,

Berlin, Germany, 2005.

From Journal II, "Heaven and its inhabitants", 110x140cm. private collection.

From Journal V, "The Vegetation", 110x140cm. private collection.

From Journal V, "The Tree", 110x140 cm.

Detail.

From Journal III "Heaven and Its Inhabitants", 110x140 cm Private collection..

 

TEXTS

2012:  "The Journals of Jacob Mandeville", Monthly Photo Art Magazine. in Korean.

2011:  Documentary on Swedish Radio with Albin Biblom, Gabriella Håkansson and

           Joakim Pirinen. By Katarina Wikars and Jenny Teleman. LISTEN

2011:  "The Journals of Jacob Mandeville", exhibition text by Jonas Ellerström. (in Swedish) READ

2009:  "The Journals of Jacob Mandeville", Volkskrant, in Dutch.

2008:  "The Journals of Jacob Mandeville", Art World, in Chinese. READ

2005:  "The Mandeville Case-some psychological aspects", by Gabriella Håkansson READ

© Albin Biblom