Friday, October 29, 2010


An illustration by Gustave Doré, featuring a figure from behind, pushing past heavy curtains. A banner reading "Nevermore" is draped across the upper left corner of the image and a skeleton can be seen in the upper right corner.  A raven flies across the scene, just under the skeleton.The famous last word and repeating refrain from Edgar Allan Poe's classic poem The Raven is arguably a one word summary of the entire work. First published in 1845, the poem follows an anonymous narrator as he mourns the "lost Lenore" and attempts to divine his own fate by questioning a mysterious raven whose only response is "Nevermore." The supernatural atmosphere and imagery evoked by the story and language of the poem have inspired many artists, including John Tenniel of Alice in Wonderland fame and Édouard Manet.

One of the more famous illustrated editions of the poem was published in 1884 (New York: Harper & Brothers) and features works by Gustave Doré who completed the twenty-six illustrations only a short time before his own death in 1883. Doré's visual interpretation perfectly complements the gothic nature of the poem and certainly adds additional elements of the eerie and haunted to the experience.

An illustration by Gustave Doré, featuring a cloaked skeleton seated on a large sphere with a scythe and hourglass. A raven and clouds drift past. There are stars in the background.
"Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before."
Ask for Illus D73po to see all twenty six illustrations.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Reliquary, the Relic

A photograph of nine miniature books in an open wooden case with a glass top.It is hard to know where to start with this object. It is a set of Shakespeare's plays, in nine miniature volumes. The full text is there, printed by William Pickering in 1825. It is a case where a beloved text was produced to serve as a kind of fetish object--too small to be read comfortably, the set represents the larger whole, the whole of Shakespeare.

But there is an added twist. If we think of the edition as a fetish, we have to pay attention to the way it is housed and revered. The wooden box holding the nine volumes is a relic in and of itself: according to its nineteenth-century collector, the box is constructed from wood that was part of Shakespeare's house. A fragment of the true house, so to speak, creating a reliquary for the precious volumes. Together they create layers of culture encrusting a text.

A view of the closed case from above. The books are visible through the glass top.
Ask for Miniature 122.