A Very Rare--and Exquisite--Combination of Folio-Size Modern Illuminated Manuscript and Embroidered Binding

RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM.

([England]: 1904). 305 x 230 mm. (12 x 9"). [12] leaves.Translated by Edward Fitzgerald.

BREATHTAKING CONTEMPORARY EMBROIDERED WHITE SILK, covers with leafy blue frame, central panel of upper cover with crewelwork depicting a Pre-Raphaelite-style maiden playing a lute, with swirling, thorny roses in the background and tulips blooming at her feet, lower cover with blue banner bearing the name "Omar Khayyam" on a background of rose branches, smooth spine with 12 lozenges outlined in green thread, each enclosing an ivory or gold lily, all edges gilt. Initials in red, green, or burnished gold, title page with small chalice and grape cluster in burnished gold, first word of text, "AWAKE," in large burnished gold majuscules. A breath of shelfwear to lower edge of boards, otherwise A MAGNIFICENT SPECIMEN IN OUTSTANDING CONDITION, SPARKLING INSIDE AND OUT.

A visual feast in both its text and its covers, this elegant manuscript interpretation of the perennially popular Persian poem in an exquisite embroidered binding is the apotheosis of Arts & Crafts handwork. Relying entirely on lettering rather than on illustration for its beauty, the manuscript is lovely in its purity and simplicity, like the austere Doves Press books of Cobden-Sanderson, rather than the gloriously illustrated Kelmscott Press books of William Morris. By contrast, the embroidery on our binding is full of swirling (pastel) intricacy--though the musician on the front cover plays with a placidity that brings a serenity to the cover as a whole. Calligrapher Percy J. Smith (1882-1948) studied at Camberwell and at the Central schools of art, and became an instructor at Camberwell shortly after this manuscript was produced. After serving in World War I, he pursued a career as an artist, printmaker, book designer, and typographer, most notably designing the letterforms used to engrave the names of the fallen on Great War memorials, and producing a haunting series of engravings, "Dance of Death, 1914-18," based on his battlefield sketches. Our embroidered binding is unsigned, but the detail, the perfect stitching, and the outstanding use of color mark it as the product of an artisan at the highest level of skill, and its overriding feminine stylistic features suggest the work of a woman. Embroidered bindings rose to popularity as part of the Arts & Crafts movement of the late 19th century. William Morris' wife Jane and daughter May were primary players in this needlework renaissance, as was Jane's sister, Elizabeth (Bessie) Burden, who was the chief technical instructor at the Royal School of Art Needlework. In addition to May Morris and Bessie Burden, Tidcombe notes bindings embroidered by Mrs. Harry Brownlow, Edith Bloxham, Miss Rigby, Mrs. Tweedie, and Mrs. Walter Crane at various Arts & Crafts exhibitions in the 1890s. The Pre-Raphaelite design of our binding is remarkably similar to a stained glass window designed by Morris, "The Two Minstrels," now in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. The window depicts two young women said to be modelled on Morris' daughters, one playing a lute, the other a lyre. The lute player there is quite like the one on our cover in pose, garb, and physical features, and she is shown against a background of swirling, leafy vines. We know that this manuscript was once owned by the Australian philanthropists and collectors Robert and Joanna Barr Smith, who were important clients of William Morris' London shop. This patronage of the Morris firm may have grown out of the friendship between the Barr Smiths' daughter Mabel and May Morris, formed when the girls were at school together in England. That association, and the cover's striking resemblance to a Morris design, increase the chances that our embroidered binding was done by someone in the Morris circle, perhaps even by May herself. This item was passed down through the Barr Smiths' descendants in the UK. It is rare to find either a modern illuminated manuscript or an embroidered binding of folio size, and to find them combined is an extraordinary occurrence and opportunity. This wonderful creation has clearly always been treasured as the special work of art that it is, its prior owners carefully preserving it from any traces of use or age.
(ST15043)

Keywords: Women Binders

Add to Cart Price: $45,000.00

PJP Catalog: CA19BF.014

RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM. MODERN ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM, BINDINGS - EMBROIDERED, MORRIS, COMPANY.
RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM.
RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM.
RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM.