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Kelmscott Press and Victorian Medievalism

An Online Exhibit of the Kelmscott Press

Kelmscott Press and Victorian Medievalism

kelmscott printer's device

 

As industrialization swept through England beginning in the 18th century, it touched every part of life. Mechanization replaced hand production allowing products to be manufactured quickly and in large quantities in comparison to their handmade counterparts. One of the many handicrafts affected was papermaking. At the beginning of the 19th century in England, the two brothers, Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier, put the Fourdrinier paper machine into operation. This was the beginning of mass-produced, cheap, low-quality paper, and it provides context for William Morris' lament about the modern age.

William Morris (1834-96), best known as designer and one of the leaders of the Arts and Crafts Movement, responded to industrialization by founding his own private press, the Kelmscott Press. He explains in his Note that the aim of the Press is to print beautiful books on high-quality, handmade paper using a type that is pure in form, easy to read, and free of superfluous embellishments.

In the showcases that follow, three ASU students and the Design Library's Learning Services manager present some of their favorites to highlight how Kelmscott Press publications represent a rejection of the Victorian era's industrialization and its turn toward a romanticized understanding of the Middle Ages. These selections tap into social issues, art, literature, and design practices that characterize Victorian Medievalism. 

Some Useful Terminology

Victorian Medievalism

In general, medievalism is a framework that draws inspiration from the European Middle Ages. It was employed in art and architecture, literature, reenactments and performances, and political and social movements. In England during the Victorian period, medievalism acquired its own distinctiveness. It drew specifically on Saxon, Norman, and Viking culture as well as from the Italian Middle Ages and medieval Iceland. These influences are represented in the Kelmscott Press' publications of translated sagas, pseudo-medieval devotional verses, and interest in the Gothic over Classical models. These romanticized and idyllic notions of the Middle Ages were, for some in Victorian England, ways to cope with the many uncertainties of day to day life, from religion and faith­­ to industrialization, modernity, and globalization. 

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in 1848 by a group of seven English artists, poets and art critics: William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner. These men sought to return to the era of Quattrocento (15th-century) Italian art. They disliked the mechanical art style they observed in the Mannerists. Pre-Raphaelite art is characterized, in contrast to the Mannerists, by its rich details, complex and interesting compositions, and intense and varied use of color.

Content is another essential aspect of Pre-Raphaelite art. It uses the natural world and Biblical and medieval characters to create emotional and dramatic scenes. The Brotherhood would go on to influence a second generation of artists in the latter half of the 19th century: Evelyn de Morgan, John William Waterhouse, John Collier, and Marie Spartalia Stillman, among many others. 

Indigenous Land Acknowledgement

The ASU Library acknowledges the twenty-two Native Nations that have inhabited this land for centuries. Arizona State University's four campuses are located in the Salt River Valley on ancestral territories of Indigenous peoples, including the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) Indian Communities, whose care and keeping of these lands allows us to be here today. ASU Library acknowledges the sovereignty of these nations and seeks to foster an environment of success and possibility for Native American students and patrons. We are advocates for the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge systems and research methodologies within contemporary library practice. ASU Library welcomes members of the Akimel O’odham and Pee Posh, and all Native nations to the Library.

The ASU Library acknowledges the twenty-two Native Nations that have inhabited this land for centuries. Arizona State University's four campuses are located in the Salt River Valley on ancestral territories of Indigenous peoples, including the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) Indian Communities, whose care and keeping of these lands allows us to be here today. ASU Library acknowledges the sovereignty of these nations and seeks to foster an environment of success and possibility for Native American students and patrons. We are advocates for the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge systems and research methodologies within contemporary library practice. ASU Library welcomes members of the Akimel O’odham and Pee Posh, and all Native nations to the Library.