Frontispiece, “O Crux Ave”
Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52)
31.1 x 27.3 cm.
Beckwith, Victorian Bibliomania catalogue no. 43
Source: Floriated Ornament
Collection of Clark Art Institute.
See commentary below.
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Commentary by Alice H. R. H. Beckwith
Pugin intended his Floriated Ornament primarily as a design source for stenciling, but architects, wallpaper makers, and silversmiths could and did find advice here. The main thrust of Pugin's introduction was that medieval artists turned to nature for all of their forms and design ideas. This he believed should be the first principle of design in any age. However, what distinguished medieval art from that of other times was the way in which those designers adapted and arranged their forms. Pugin described how geometry provided a means of flattening and simplifying natural forms and unifying the overall design. He thus qualified his argument for imitating nature, adamantly rejecting the use of shadow and foreshortening in designs intended for flat surfaces such as walls or the pages of books.
In his architectural practice Pugin gathered around him a corps of artisans and designers whom he trained to paint, paper, stencil, and drape his interiors. He was interested in metalwork objects for liturgical use in his churches, and read illuminated manuscripts and the books of Henry Shaw (cats. 39-40), searching for medieval inspiration and records of accurate usage. Wishing to pass his knowledge along to a wider audience of artists. Pugin published the thirty-one designs in Floriated Ornament three years before he died, when he was already infirm with his final illness. The patterns he gave to posterity in this book were the flat geometric forms recommended in his introduction. A hint of the magnificence of his own library can be found in his statement that the botanical nomenclature employed in Floriated Ornament came from his copvy of the Tabernae monatus eicones Plantarum, printed at Frankfurt in 1590.
In the frontispiece to Floriated Ornament, illustrated here, individual elements such as the grapevine are stylized, as are all the other shapes. The composition, or as Pugin would call it, the disposition, is organized in a series of concentric arches around a central cross. Swirls of overlapping grapevines link each bordering band of ornament to the center. Warm colors and a Latin text in a Gothic-influenced printed script evoke a mood of triumphant praise, allowing the frontispiece to function as a visual dedication to the Cross. Ornament, lettering and the arched shape of the frontispiece are influenced by medieval illuminated books. The cross rests on a base crenellated like a Gothic castle, and the legend "O Crux Ave" (O Hail the Cross) is placed between paired rose windows. This image is not limited by its historical roots, because Pugin went far beyond his sources to create a truly remarkable example of the possibilities of chromolithography in book ornamentation.
This copy of Floriated Ornament shown in the original exhibition belongs to the art library at Gorham Silver Company, indicating the interdisciplinary use it received in the nineteenth century. Gorham Silver Company, founded in Providence, Rhode Island in 1831, dominated the production of sterling silver wares in nineteenth-century America (Carpenter, passim). Their art library, established in the last century, is a working designer's reference center. Gorham's designers drew upon a great variety of sources for creating their silver patterns, including printed illuminated works and pattern books which took inspiration from early manuscripts such as Owen Jones's Grammar of Ornament and One Thousand and One Initial Letters (cats. 47, 48), as well as Pugin's Floriated Ornament.
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.
Pugin, Augustus Welby Northmore. Floriated Ornament: A Series of Thirty-One Designs Designer-Illuminator: Augustus W. N. Pugin. Letterpress and Chromolithography: M. & N. Hanhart and H. C. Maguire. London: Henry G. Bonn, 1849. Internet Archive version of a copy in the Library of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Web. 21 December 2013.
A. W. N.
Last modified 21 December 2013