Page 6, 11th March 1949

11th March 1949
Page 6
Page 6, 11th March 1949 — Art

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"Of The Making Of Books There Is No End"


THE Victoria and Albert Museum (at South Kensington) are exhibiting the whole story of bookbinding from the first centuries of the Christian era down to

the present day. How many and varied are the materials that periods and peoples have experimented with to cover their hooks! The earliest leather bindings are Coptic, dating from the 7th and 8th centuries. In the 9th century ivory appears and the celebrated Lorsch binding with a carved Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist and St. Zacharias is shown. (The gospels, which it contains, are half in the Vatican and half in Hungary.) The Sion Gospels are even more magnificent. They date from the Ilth century and are decorated with coloured enamels and precious stones on a background of gold. Among the stones are tiny rubies that pick out the eyes of some fabulous monsters. Realistic pictures (almost in the tradition of our paper wrappers) appear as early as 1310 and are exemplified by a Siennese account hook on which a monk is busily counting his coins into neat little piles like a bank clerk.

ARMORIAL BINDINGS The armorial bindings include many erstwhile possessions of Scottish bishops. There is a remarkable Pontificale Romanian (Venice 1582) on which are the arms of James Beaton, Archbishop of Glasgow, showing, beneath the shield, the fish of Glasgow holding the ring in its mouth. There is also the Promptuarii Ironton (Lyons i 553) with the arms of Henry Sinclair, Bishop of Ross. and the Compositio Horologiorum (Basel 1531) with the arms of Robert Reid. Bishop of Orkney. Bishop Reid's motto was " moderate," but I see he gave 8,000 marks to start a college at Edinburgh. And the earliest known armorial bookstamp belonging to a private individual is shown on a copy of Cicero's Orations (Basel 1531) as the arms of William Steward, Bishop of Aberdeen.

Many are the historical missals, breviaries and Bibles, some of the most beautiful bindings having been made by the religious orders, but there are no contemporary prayer books. This is a pity because the tradition. especially abroad, has by no means been lost,

To Catholics, this exhibition has an interest beyond the historical and genealogical and I am *lad to see that part of it, at least, is to travel round the country.

Passing from the old to the new. from the binding to the contents, there are two, quite diverse, but each in its sphere of influence, fascinating. publications of to-day to which I should like to draw readers' attention. One has the best coloured collection of stained glass in reproduction I have yet seen; the other is an intimate record of conversations with that grand old warrior in the field of religious art—Frank Brangwyn.

WINDOWS To begin with glass:

The Gothic age was a stained glass age. As the Romanesque building was dominated by its fresco, so the Gothic was dominated by its windows. " Generation upon generation of architects gave all their ingenuity and genius to eliminating the solid wall." says Louis Grodecki in The Stained Glass of French Churrhest and the artist filled the spaces with a vista of brilliantly rich colour whose effects altered with the changing light outside.

In our age the architect is able to face the same kind of problem without qualms. Whether he builds a public building, like a church, or a private house, he can at will dissolve the solid wall and replace it by glass. He seldom dreams of doing so with stained glass because it is an art that has nearly disappeared, but as one turns the pages of this luxuriant volume one wonders why the architects of to-day have not rushed to found a school of glass Workers with someone like Evie Hone at its head.

Mounted on grey-green paper, the glazed reproductions.of French glass in this book glow with fiery intensity. Here is a monumental art designed for distant viewing, simple and broad in its conception, telling a story with the minimum of detail and the maximum of effect. Salome's dancing figure supported on her hands entwines itself among the leads, aflame against a stormy, violet sky. Mary of Egypt is tenderly buried by a gentle lion and the desert is represented by two formal palms flowering as stiffly as the tudor rose. St. James is visited by an unhappy green devil who is admonished gravely by the imperturbed saint. The three amazed apostles, by their upward pointing gestures, suggest the ascending miracle of Christ entering Heaven—in every picture there is grace and a spiritual quality of integrity which elevates the workman into a creative artist. To-day the lack of that same spiritual integrity is dragging the artist down to the level of the very poor workman.

The process to which the illustrations of this book have been subjected is magnificennt for its purpose, here is the splendour of the Ages of Faith captured between

covers. The. introduction is not equally inspired but at least it is informative.


At one time Bentley. the architect of Westminster Cathedral, wished Frank Brangwyn to do the large mosaic in the tympanums over the main entrance. He made a design to the architect's liking but it *was turned down, Later. after Bentley's death. his assistant asked him to get out a design for the walls and ceilings of the Lady Chapel. He made a scheme for the wall panel showing the life of the Blessed Virgin from her childhood to her assumption. It did not agree with what the cardinal and clergy thought and wanted, so it was turned down. "Like so many artists, it has been my fate to get chucked out," said Brangwyn—and it is true that Brangwyn (who tells this story in a book of conversations recorded by Witham de Belleroche called Brangwyn's Pilgrimage2) is not a prophet in his own country. With the exception of the Stations of the Cross at Campion Hall, Oxford, where can his religious work be seen in England? Belgium has better understood the child that was horn on its soil. and the Benedictine Abbey of St. Andre. designed by Brangwyn's father, will contain not only the son's Stations of the Cross but also a series of windows representing the best of his work.

I The Stained Glass of French Churches, with an essay by Lewis Grodecki. (Lindsay Drummond, 45s.).

2 Rrangwyn's Pilgrimage. by William de Belleroche. (Chapman & Hall, 35s.).

Modern Poetry and tile Tradition by Cleanth. Brooks. (Editions Poetry London. 12s. 6d.). Cleanth Brooks' evaluation of modern poetry is intensely American. An elaborate scaffolding of analysis is erected whereby the reader can climb from fact to fact, but one wanders whether the real way to understand a poet is not to read him—rather than theories about him.

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