Wednesday, February 22, 2017

291. The 2017 Alphabet: C

The C is for Conquered.

Conquered the flower-maidens, and the wide embrace
Of their round, proffered arms, that tempt the virgin boy;

Charles Ricketts, initial 'C' in John Gray, Silverpoints (1893) (page XXII)
The first book of poetry of John Gray, Silverpoints, appeared in 1893, and although not all idiosyncrasies of its design can be attributed to Charles Ricketts, whose leads were not always followed by the printer, overall, the book displays a novel harmony of 1890s book design. The book contained many poems that were dedicated to friends in England and abroad: Felix Fénéon, Robert Harborough Sherard, Oscar Wilde, Pierre Louÿs. The book also contained some translations after Stéphane Mallarmé, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, and Charles Baudelaire. Each section of these translations starts with a decorated initial, designed by Ricketts; the first one illustrates 'Parsifal imitated from the French of Paul Verlaine'.

The book's concept followed an early Renaissance example that Ricketts saw exhibited in the British Museum, where, according to him, it was on show for eight years. The edition of the texts of Virgil, edited by A.P. Manutius, was printed on vellum in Venice by Aldus Manutius, 'Ex ædibus Aldi Romani', in 1501. Ricketts remembered that this copy came from the library of Isabella D'Este, Duchess of Mantua. The current description (British Library C.19.f.7) does not mention her name:

The first book printed in the Italic types invented by Francesco da Bologna, who is mentioned as the inventor in three Latin lines on the verso of the title. With illuminated initials, and an illuminated border to the first page of text. This copy belonged to the Gonzaga family, and has on the fly leaves the autographs of Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga, and Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua.

It was a famous edition that, as a recent catalogue on Manutius argued, 'introduced the series of enchiridia, books in the small octavo format which could easily be carried about and held in the hand and with their texts in the new italic type cut by Francesco Griffo, who, with his “Daedalus-like hands”, is thanked by Aldus in some short prefatory verses entitled In grammatoglyptae laudem. The choice of Virgil as the pre-eminent Latin poet to open the series was deliberate and symbolic, as was Aldus’ choice to present the text by itself, without commentary or textual apparatus: this kind of edition was aimed at a wider public than trained scholars, as Aldus explicitly states, consisting of all those who “optime scire Latinam linguam desiderant”.' (Entry written by Stephen Parkin)

Virgil, Venice, Aldus Manutius, 1501 (British Library copy)
This vellum copy, as Stephen Parkin, has it, came from the Gonzaga library in Mantua, and had been presented, presumably, to Isabella d’Este Gonzaga 'in the summer of 1501 – just three months after publication'. 

John Gray, Silverpoints
(1893): detail (page VIII)
It is easy to recognize some elements from the book's layout in Ricketts's Silverpoints: the small, elongated format, the verse lines in italics, the initial letter of each line in roman, a large decorative initial at the top. 

But there is more. The remarkable painted border in the 1501 edition of Virgil has an outer lining with small golden dashes pointing outwards. This pattern was copied by Ricketts for the cover of Silverpoints, and can be found at the top and bottom of his now famous design of wavy lines. 

Charles Ricketts, cover (detail) forJohn Gray, Silverpoints (1893)