Book Sets 2 & 3: William Morris’ Ideals & Influence



Please use the following questions as a starting point in developing your response to Book Sets 2 & 3.  How would you articulate the ideals at the heart of “Fine Printing”?  Please choose a book from each book set to consider in depth.  In what ways do your chosen books embody William Morris’ ideals and reflect his aesthetic influence?  In what ways do they diverge from Morris’ work?  Which aesthetic approach do you prefer, and why?   You may wish to incorporate your response to Michael Russem’s critique of Fine Printing.

Book Set #2 – Cobden-Sanderson

For Book Set 2, I’ll be focusing on ‘Cobden-Sanderson and the Doves Press: Arts and Crafts Typography’, a composite of all books printed by the Doves Press in its approximate sixteen year lifespan.

A finely crafted book itself, as if to mirror its prestigious contents, ‘Arts and Crafts Typography’ (as I will refer to it throughout the rest of this post) was interesting to me not because of its aesthetic beauty. Yes, the paper it was printed upon is obviously handmade; it utilizes various shades of roman types, including a particularly elegant italic introduction; and it certainly bears the heavy coloring of a Cobden-Sanderson-inspired work, a transparent and graceful vehicle for communication. But if I wanted to discuss spectacle, I would have picked The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, which practically oozes ornament (a trait I admit I itched to write about at first. Gosh, so pretty).

I was more interested in ‘Arts and Crafts Typography’ for its palimpsestual element. I enjoy seeing the history of a book layered within its own pages, and I felt unnatural fondness for whatever blatantly disrespectful student started doodling in one of the pages of the Encyclopedie, from last week’s book set. In this case, ‘Arts and Crafts Typography’ includes a page from one of Cobden-Sanderson’s works, a small German leaflet in spiky blackletter. The leaflet is, as the introduction proudly proclaims, made of vellum, and this is telling, I think. I did some quick-dip research into John Henry Nash, the publisher of this composite, and he appeared to be an admirer and, frequently, partaker of the Arts and Crafts movement Cobden-Sanderson represented. And he’s Canadian, which is hilarious to me for some reason.

John Henry Nash waxes rhapsodic about the Arts and Crafts movement in his introduction, describing the handmade ‘book beautiful’, a concept begun and perpetuated by William Morris. His decision to make this testament a handmade book itself is proof of Nash’s sentiment for the books he’s compiling. However, the single vellum page in the beginning of his book is what drew my attention most, because it was a nod to the reverence the art of bookmaking had, even in the early 20th century. The contrast between the handmade paper Nash used and the rich vellum he praises in its pages is poignant; and the page he used, a German work in blackletter, seems indicative of a respect for past tradition. It’s charming and a bit encouraging to see the industry and art of bookmaking begin to reflect upon itself.

Blake and Young


Of the first book set I was most interested in Night Thoughts. I was first drawn to the book because of the familiarity of the illustrations. William Blake is one of my favorite poets, and I have always enjoyed his combination of text and image; his Songs of Innocence and of Experience was one of my first encounters with cohesive visual and textual elements. As I read the lyric The Tyger I was always struck by how Blake’s artistry extended beyond the verse as he illustrated his subject in the background of the calligraphic lines.


Having only read and viewed the engravings of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience I was surprised when I looked at Night Thoughts to discover that Blake illustrated for poetic works beyond his own. While I personally prefer Blake’s poetry to Young’s, I found the combination to be stimulating as Blake’s engravings further dramatized Young’s verse. The flowing lines of Blake’s images implied a movement that was mirrored in Young’s determined pace.

The binding of Night Thoughts followed the cool color scheme that Blake employed in the book’s pages, and was eye-catching in its difference from the other books that we viewed. However, I would have enjoyed seeing the original leather binding of the book as it would have completed my first exposure to an original 18th century publication of Blake’s illustrations.



Covers, Translation and Illustration

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” I did not take this advice. I found I was drawn to books with elaborately decorative bindings or those which were delicate and simple, their cleanliness evoking a sort of mystery which drew me in to explore what delightful illustrations could be held within.

My favorite experience was looking through the Nuremberg Chronicle. I enjoyed looking at the illustrations and finding where blocks may have been re-used.

It was thrilling to be able to understand what was being described due to the availability of a faithful translation. Knowledge of their meaning brought life to the illustrations which before had been bizarre and perplexing. But reading the translation was not enough — I wanted the real thing. I was able to find matching pages and read through them line-by-line. I wish we had translations for all of the different texts.

Book Set #1

One book that I spent a lot of time with was The complaint and the consolation, or Night Thoughts by Edward Young, illustrated by William Blake (1797).  What I liked about the book was that I could see how it was restored and rebound years ago.  (I’m guessing) that the paper wasn’t very strong, and so it ripped over time.  When it was fixed, the restorer used a different, stronger type of paper, much like the Asian paper sample we saw in class.  I would have preferred if the restorer had made it look as similar to the original as possible, but I also loved being able to more easily see its history.

Another book that I spent a lot of time with was De humani corporis fabrica librorum epitome, by Andreas Vesalius (1566).  The detail in the illustrations was incredible, especially when it is so old.  I found it interesting that, in some of the drawings, the humans were still dressed and they were usually in very strange poses.  There was one page with a man in full battle armor, but the section covering his stomach was missing to show his intestines.  It made me think that it was drawn so that when killing someone on the battle field, you would know what you are stabbing at.  Other diagrams looked like he was peeling the man apart layer by layer, which may be because he was a teacher, and that is how he did dissections in lectures.

Book Set No. 1

I was fascinated by Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica librorum epitome made in 1565. Although, all of the books in this first set were interesting in their materials, covers, letterform and imagery this book stood out as unique in many ways.

The images of the bodies were extremely detailed, much more so than the other humans featured in books like the Liber Chronicum. Due to this detail it seems that Versalius must have observed actual bodies instead of just drawing from other’s drawings as seen in Herbarius Latinus. The detail in the illustrations suggest that they were made from engravings rather than the formerly used woodcuts. Allowing for so much detail shows how education was effected by the emerging technologies in print. The book was set up in the traditional way with a separation between bodies of text and the images. However, all the muscles and organs were labeled which created a blend between the visual letterform and art.

Before developing these technologies only a few people who were trained or worked on bodies would have known what muscles and organs looked like. This book creatively shows the detail of a body without having to learn from a lifeless illustration of a corpse.  Instead it is enriched with the lively illustrations, which make the science of the human body more accessible to people who aren’t used to seeing such typical anatomy pictures. The images show the various muscle groups on graphically posed bodies, the skin hangs off the exposed muscle like a layer of clothing. Seeing the bodies exposed in such a way is unlike any other anatomy book I have seen and offers a more abstract approach to understanding the human body.

Blog Post 1: William Blake’s Night Thoughts Illustrations

Illustration; Page 23

Illustration; Page 23

I was instantly drawn to The complaint and the consolation, or Night Thoughts by Edward Young.  While Night Thoughts was not the only book from the set to have accompanying imagery, or even color, there was something bizarre about William Blake’s illustrations that I found off-putting and hypnotizing.  The combination of the heavy subject matter of Young’s poem (Night Thoughts is about death and the fragility of human life) and the soft, almost translucent, color palette of Blake’s prints was unexpected but quite powerful.  I suppose that I would expect a text about death to be illustrated with rich, imposing colors.  Yet, Blake’s use of traditionally soothing tones for illustrations that are peculiar and disturbing resulted in a viewing experience that I found to be unsettling – far more so than if the illustrations had been rendered in dark, dramatic colors.  I have always loved art that can make me feel uncomfortable –an artist must have an understanding of human tolerance for unpleasant experiences; they need to intuitively sense how much is almost too much. Blake most definitely understood, whether cognitively or innately, this balance.


Blake rendered his figures in such a way that, while I knew I was looking at visual representations of ‘other’ humans, I felt that they were somehow different, almost alien.  After spending time with the book, I have decided that this foreignness comes from Night Thought’s characters being incredibly expressive and emotive while also looking almost dead.  The figures seem languid with their fleshy pallor – they heighten the fragile state of human existence that concerns Young’s poem.  Being relatively unfamiliar with William Blake illustrations, I had thought that maybe these sickly figures could just be inline with Blake’s esthetic but upon doing a bit of research on his artistic style I found his Night Thoughts prints to be slightly less epic in their drama than was typical of his other drawings. Blake took time to tailor his illustrations to the needs of the poem – something I appreciated as a viewer.


In my research, I came across this interesting fact: “while Blake based his designs closely on the text, many of the images are based on personifications or metaphors in the poem.  This approach tends to literalize what is only a figure of speech in the text, thereby confounding conventional distinctions between the literal and the metaphoric.”[1] I had noticed this while reading the poem, but I am not sure if I fully grasped the exact relationship between word and image until coming across the above quote.  Out of Blake’s literal interpretation of Young’s poetic metaphors comes the fanciful, otherworldly quality of Night Thoughts that makes the book so intriguing.  I think it is what makes me feel like I am looking into some type of parallel world that is familiar but, in some indescribable way (and I mean this beyond the obvious of floating people, human-like creatures, imaginary landscape etc), different from anything I know.

Illustration; Page 7

Illustration; Page 7

[1] The William Blake Archive.

Book Set #1: New Kreüterbuch

I have selected New Kreuterbuch (1543) or The New Herbal by Leonard Fuchs. I was most intrigued by its detail, content, and influence on later botanical literature. Its shift in approach, influenced by the scientific revolution, is intriguing.

The author, Fuchs, was a German physician, humanist and botanist. The first edition of New Kreuterbuch was first published in Latin, in 1542, and has approximately 500 plant-portraits drawn from observation in Fuchs’s garden at Tübingen by Albert Meyer.  These drawings were advancements in the realm of botanical literature. Although drawings had been used before (i.e. Herbarius Latinus), Fuch’s book transformed the page with carved relief woodblock carvings. The visual collaboration we see in New Kreuterbuch shows added technical delicacy and complexity alongside text. These medicinal plants come to life in the woodblock drawings, and the in-depth descriptions of the 400 German and 100 foreign plants is impressive. From the thin lines, to the figures’ three-dimensional nature, they certainly have a more scientific quality, more so than we see in the more stylized, thickly drawn plants in Herbarius Latinus. 

The detailed drawings were transferred to woodblocks by Heinrich Füllmaurer, and cut into wood by Viet Rudolph Speckle. Portraits of all three artists are included in the work. This was groundbreaking. Typically, the author would feature himself, but not other contributors. New Kreuterbuch does not include biographical information about the illustrators and carver, but it does give faces to the hands behind the imagery.


Like many books of its kind, New Kreuterbuch was used for medicinal purposes. Each page lists which ailments the plant cures. This was medicine. Herbal remedies. In our current scientific world, how would we portray our remedies in book form? Can you imagine, woodblocks of mass-produced pills? It’s interesting to look at the context of this literature, and how it is represented in book form, especially in a society that does not value medicinal herbal remedies as highly esteemed as it did centuries before.

Book Set 1 Response

For this first book set, the book that I like the most is Encyclopedie, ou Dictionaire Raisonne des Sciences, des Arts et des Metiers, by Denis Diderot. While we only got to view one of the many volumes, it’s quickly apparent that this book reflects the era’s desire to fully record human history: here, there is a rich collection of definitions of each of the contemporary disciplines, from chemistry to civil engineering to music. The book alternates between many, many pages of words and definitions, followed by many, many pages of diagrams and images. The book is stuffed to the brim; it’s unbelievable.

The book’s relationship between the text and images is fascinating, and very different from what I’m used to. Normally, I’d expect a textbook or encyclopedia to keep its figures close to their respective text, or at least keep its images in the middle of the book, to make reference easier. Instead, this dictionary works by separating the words and images, so that all of the pictures come in this long stream. For me, at least, the text became almost irrelevant because I was overwhelmed by the vastness of the images in number and content. Sometimes there would be pages of day-to-day life, with figures elaborating on the mechanics or technology present in those ordinary images. In this sense, it’s more powerful than an ordinary dictionary, which relies on text with few images. Here, the images really provide depth and understanding to the basic definitions by demonstrating different principles and concepts.

And I think the book becomes stronger when put in context with its history. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it faced a lot of criticism, and censorship by the printers, but managed to be successful and helped to pave the way for the French Revolution. So, I guess the volumes and the flourishing amounts of text and images sparked other people’s imagination and intellect.

Book Set #1 – Liber Chronicum/The Nuremberg Chronicle

The book which peaked my interest the most was Liber Chronicum. While I had viewed it previously, my viewing of it in class really gave me some valuable one-on-one time to closely examine both text and image in the book.

One thing I noted was the repeating of various images throughout the Chronicle. Cities that were supposed to be represented by the images, often were produced using the same woodcutting; an image of Florence might match Geneva. For me this realization drove home how time consuming the crafting of the woodcuttings must have been. And how much time it would have taken to craft individual cuttings for each city. I also imagine, there was a limit on how much the Chronicle’s author had seen of the world. This reminded me of how printing would bring about so many opportunities to transmit ideas, and share images of various parts of the world.

Another facet of the book which stood out to me was the coloring of the images. The images were originally made from cuttings without any colored ink. So, people who purchased the book would take it upon themselves to have it colored. A specific cutting that demonstrates a fun example of this is the one with knights, and (originally) blank family shields. In the Mortimer copy the shields are colored in, most likely with the owner’s family crest, which presents another interesting way of thinking about how images (not only text) function in the book as representations of history.

Within the Chornicle text and image are supposed to tell the story of all history. However, it is the pages that are left blank and the images that are made uncolored, where the books potential is fully realized. In giving the owner of the book the ability to add themselves in, to color the book themselves, make the Liber Chronicum a living text; completely original in all that it can tell us.