Celebrating the Immortality of Beauty with Keats' Poetic Text, Alberto Sangorski's Illuminations, and a Magnificent Jewelled Binding by Riviere


([London]: 1928). 313 x 248 mm. (12 1/2 x 9 7/8"). 21 pp., [1] leaf (colophon).

SUPERB TERRA COTTA-COLORED CRUSHED MOROCCO, LAVISHLY GILT, INLAID, AND BEJEWELLED, BY RIVIERE & SONS (stamp-signed on front turn-in), upper cover with border of inlaid turquoise morocco, inlaid green morocco frame tooled with gilt rose leaves and inlaid with 22 ivory morocco blossoms, each with a dark blue cabochon stone at center, a border of terra cotta morocco lettered in gilt with first lines of "Endymion" by Keats ("A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases / It will never pass into nothingness: But still will keep a bower quiet for us, and a sleep / Full of sweet dreams and health and quiet breathing"), a thinner band of turquoise morocco enclosing a large central panel of green morocco richly tooled with curling fronds of foliage emanating from turquoise morocco hearts at corners and bearing numerous inlaid ivory morocco blossoms, central recessed medallion of turquoise morocco with gold metal "J K" monogram set with 79 seed pearls, this enclosed by an oval of gilt-tooled green morocco and a frame of terra cotta morocco inlaid with rose branches of brown and green morocco blossoming with six ivory morocco roses, each set with five red stones (garnets?) at its center, this outlined with turquoise morocco strapwork intertwined with a purple morocco heart at head and foot, lower cover with inlaid frame of turquoise morocco tooled with gilt Greek key pattern and set with 14 gilt-tooled tan palm leaves, center panel with large Greek vase inlaid in dark blue and tan morocco tooled in gilt, raised bands, spine compartments framed in turquoise morocco and with inlaid leaf design, gilt titling, PALE GRAY MOROCCO DOUBLURES elaborately tooled in gilt into a checkerboard of 12 compartments, each containing a lyre or a spray of flowers, the doublures surrounded by a frame of terra cotta and turquoise morocco set with 36 small circles of tan morocco, ivory watered silk end leaves, all edges gilt (newly inserted matching silk guards). In the original padded, silk-lined black straight-grain morocco box. Title page with illuminated border in colors and gold, burnished gold lettering, inset miniatures of Keats (with tiny inscription of "A S" and the date 1928 written in white paint) and "La Belle Dame," each page of text with intricate three-quarter illuminated borders in rich hues of blue, purple, green, and pink, with much gold, 14 illuminated initials, FIVE VIGNETTE MINIATURES, AND FOUR FULL-PAGE MINIATURES. Ratcliffe, "Jewelled Bookbindings and Illuminated Manscripts, A Checklist." No. 230. Spine just slightly darkened, otherwise A SPARKLING COPY INSIDE AND OUT.

This is a spectacular example of early 20th century handcrafted book art: a splendidly bound, exceptionally attractive modern illuminated manuscript dating from the period after its scribe and illuminator Alberto Sangorski (1862-1932) began to work for Riviere. A Polish émigré, Alberto started his professional life as secretary to a goldsmith's firm, became attracted to the book arts at the age of 43, and began doing illuminated manuscripts that were then bound by his brother Francis' firm, Sangorski & Sutcliffe. Sometime around 1910, Alberto and Francis had a falling out, and the artist went to work for the chief competitor to his brother's firm. In the early part of the 20th century, an intense rivalry between Riviere and Sangorski developed, and the two workshops began putting out intricately decorated bindings described by Nixon as having as their main aim the putting of "so much gold and color on the cover that the hue of the original leather could no longer be determined." The upper cover of the present binding beautifully demonstrates the truth of Nixon's characterization, boasting 137 jewels in addition to rich gilt tooling and morocco inlays in five colors, but the more restrained lower cover also makes an impact with the relative simplicity of its Grecian urn. Ratcliffe estimates that of these special bindings "no more than 300 were ever produced," and given the labor-intensive process required, this small number is not surprising. Three works by one of the greatest Romantic poets are written out in Alberto's elegant script: "La Belle Dame sans Merci," "Ode on a Grecian Urn," and "Ode to Psyche." The smaller miniatures here depict a knight leading La Belle Dame on horseback, the Acropolis, a woodland path, Psyche lying naked on her bed, and Cupid with Psyche. The full-page miniatures show us a knight in full armor, the Porch of the Caryatids at the Greek temple of Erechtheion, a Greek urn, and Psyche with peacocks. The present manuscript is not only dazzling in its beauty, but also memorable in the degree of decoration; there are other lovely Sangorski illuminated books, but ours has significantly more miniatures than the majority of the rest. Alberto tended to favor jewel tones of purple and deep blues for his illuminated initials and borders, and those colors appear here, but in more vibrant hues than usual--lapis and azure instead of navy, lilac and lavender in addition to violet--and this aesthetic choice brings considerable vitality to the manuscript, celebrating the immortality of beauty rather than mourning its evanescence.

Price: $125,000.00