William Handle Harrison, active 1850s and 1860s
20.2 x 24.5 cm.
Beckwith, Victorian Bibliomania catalogue no. 54
Source: Suggestions for Illuminating
Collection: Center for British Art, Yale University
Harrison's Suggestions for Illuminating probably appeared between 1855, when Vincent Brooks began chromolithographic printing, and 1869, when the book was inscribed. [continued below]
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Commentary by Alice H. R. H. Beckwith
Mention of the architect Matthew Digby Wyatt's proposal that illuminators should use only one historical style at a time suggests that the text, at least, was printed after Wyatt's Art of Illuminating of 1861 (see cat. 49). However, since Harrison does not mention the title of Wyatt's work, it is possible that he was aware of Wyatt's ideas from a lecture or essay published before 1861. In any case, Harrison expanded the scope of illumination from book ornamentation to architectural inscriptions and calligraphic decorations of furniture. He supported this suggestion by referring the reader to medieval buildings.
The approach to the design of illuminated ornament put forward in Suggestions relies upon the writings of yet another architect, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Harrison cited Pugin's Floriated Ornament (cat. 43) in his introduction and endorsed two of his principles. First, he said that the ornamental artist should adapt nature to the purposes of art by means of geometric stylization, and secondly, he supported Pugin's concept of meaningful ornament, particularly with respect to ecclesiastical commissions. To familiarize artists with Christian iconography, Harrison added an appendix on ecclesiastical symbols to his manual. Using Harrison's Suggestions, an artist illuminating a text about a saint might include the symbolic attributes of that individual as part of the decoration of the text. For instance, white lilies, representing purity, might be used to decorate a text about Mary.
Harrison's book reveals his interest in the Gothic Revival as a means of elevating public taste. Such an attitude suffuses the chromolithographed illuminated title page with its historiated initial I, which shows a monk illuminating. Furthermore, Harrison identified himself with two artists, Pugin and John R. Herbert, R.A. (1810-1880), who saw a return to the Church of Rome as the way to improve art and life in nineteenth-century England. In his dedication Harrison praised Herbert for explaining principles of design and advancing knowledge of medieval art while showing others the "path to promote purer taste and higher art in Illuminated Work." After his conversion to Roman Catholicism, Herbert specialized in religious subjects. His diploma piece at the Royal Academy was St. Gregory the Great Teaching Roman Boys to Sing. Herbert painted frescoes in the Houses of Parliament, of which Pugin as one of the architects. One wonders if it was Herbert who introduced Harrison to Pugin's Floriated Ornament (cat. 43).
Anxious to establish illumination as a fine art, Harrison instructed his readers that it was not a mere mechanical performance. He was critical of and at the same time grateful for chromolithography, praising it for increasing public awareness of illumination while apologizing for its limited range of colors. Harrison claimed that illumination would encourage people to create revered family heirlooms, and went on to suggest that it might provide an "occupation for many of the more delicate of our Englishwomen which would be lucrative and at the same time ennobling in its tendency." Harrison's appeal to the unemployed women of the day was more indirect than Laurent de Lara's (cat. 53), but he did enclose an addenda slip at the end of his book stating that his terms for personal instruction could be gotten from the publishers of the manual, J. Barnard and Son. Other pages at the conclusion of the illustrative plates advertise Barnard's artists' supplies.
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.
Harrison, William Randle. Suggestions for Illuminating. London: J. Barnard and Son, n.d. Printer: Adams and Gee. Chromolithography: Vincent Brooks. Binder: Bone and Son.
Last modified 25 December 2013