We Praise Thee O God
Ester Faithfull Fleet, illuminator
23.8 x 18.8 cm.
Beckwith, Victorian Bibliomania catalogue no. 10
See commentary below.
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Courtesy of Robert F. Metzdorf Collection, Firestone Library, Princeton University
Commentary by Alice H. R. H. Beckwith
The Te Deum Laudamus is a Latin hymn once attributed to St. Ambrose (ca. 340-397), Bishop of Milan. Early in the history of the Latin Church this hymn was incorporated into the Mass, and later the same work was often set by composers as a prayer of thanksgiving. Using the Latin title in this illuminated book, Emily Faithfull (1835-1895) transcended the strictures against "Romanism" which book designers such as Henry Noel Humphreys felt compelled to defend themselves against in the late 1840s (cat. 8). But anti-Catholic attitudes had softened in the intervening twenty years, and Faithfull herself was accustomed to controversy since her founding of the Victoria Press in 1860 to provide employment for women. She did include the English translation of the hymn text, incorporating the title into the first page as "We Praise Thee O God."
Three of the most visually significant books published by Faithfull contain illuminated ornament: the Te Deum of 1868, the Victoria Regia of 1861, and 38 Texts of 1872. All three books were illuminated by women. The Te Deum and 38 Texts were done by Emily's sister Ester Faithfull Fleet, and are chromolithographed. The engraved initial letters and tailpieces in the Victoria Regia were "designed by a lady intimately connected with our work and engraved by women some of whom are pupils in the Female School of Art in Queen Street," according to Adelaide Ann Proctor's introduction. The three books are from the three phases of Faithfull's career: between 1860 and 1867 she was involved in both printing and publishing, from 1867 to 1871 she was simply a publisher, and in 1871 she apparently resumed printing (Fredeman, 157-159).
We know that the Victoria Regia and the 38 Texts marked special occasions, the first the opening of the Victoria Press and its dedication to Queen Victoria, and the second commemorating the death of Emily's father (Fredeman, 159). Faithfull may have chosen to publish the Te Deum to celebrate Queen Victoria's step toward a more public social life after the death of her husband, Prince Albert. The Prince Consort died in 1862 and Victoria went into deep mourning, broken only by the marriage of the Prince of Wales in 1863, but on March 12, 1868 she held a "Drawing Room," a levée at which ladies were received (Haydn, 247).
Although the printer is not given in the text of the Te Deum, M. & N. Hanhart are a likely possibility, as they printed the 38 Texts and were known early on for their chromolithography, having done the plates in Pugin's Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament of 1844 (cat. 42). Each of the twenty-one plates in the Te Deum is printed on only one side of gilt-edged heavy card pages. The concept of the double-page opening as the design unit of the book, developed in the chromolithographed productions of Owen Jones and Henry Noel Humphreys, is demonstrated here in the placement of the text block.
The Te Deum concludes with nine pages of description of the plates, explaining the symbolism of some works and citing Egyptian, Celtic, Flemish, and Spanish sources from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries. Plate 1, illustrated here, is said to be "a complete border of the fourteenth century style showing a terminal rod bursting into a corner ornament of spray work." However, it is little more than the use of sprouting border rods around the text, which is fourteenth century in origin.
All the arts of ages past became a visual encyclopedia from which artists chose their ornament in the mid-nineteenth century, producing a creative mélange. It is important to keep this in mind when looking at a page like Plate 1, with its vigorous and startling combination of color and shapes. The celebratory theme of the Te Deum is reinforced by the swaying colorful leaf tendrils and the repeated rhythm of the criblé pattern in the background.
Te Deum Laudamus. London: Emily Faithfull, Printer and Publisher in Ordinary to Her Majesty—Victoria Press, 1868. Plate 1.
Beckwith, Alice H. R. H. Victorian Bibliomania: The Illuminated Book in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Exhibition catalogue. Providence. Rhode Island: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1987.
Fredeman, William E. “Emily Faithfull and the Victoria Press: an Experiment in Sociological Biography.” The Library 5th series 29.2 (June 1974): 139-64.
Haydn, Joseph. Haydn's Dictionary of Dates and Universal Information Relating to All Ages and Nation. Eds. Benjamin Vincent and George Eccleston. 5th edition. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1884. First edition 1841.
Last modified 19 December 2013