Mayuri lute


Mayuri means “peacock” and although this splendid instrument doesn’t look like a European lute, a lute it is, albeit styled for Indian court performances. Via Wunderkammer.

Popular at nineteenth-century Indian courts, this bowed lute borrows features of other Indian stringed instruments, such as the body shape of the sarangi and the frets and neck of the sitar. There are four melody strings and fifteen sympathetic strings, which sound when the instrument is played to accompany popular religious song. The peacock is the vehicle of Sarasvati, the goddess of music, and it appears in Indian poetry as a metaphor for courtship. (More.)


As a complement, here’s something I’m still hoping to find in a good colour reproduction, all one usually sees are details. The Peacock Garden (1889) was one of a number of wallpaper designs created for William Morris by Walter Crane. This copy showing the full pattern is from an 1897 issue of the German arts periodical Pan, part of a section highlighting arts and crafts in England. Walter liked his peacocks, here’s Juno and her birds from The Baby’s Own Aesop (1887).

Previously on { feuilleton }
Jaipur peacocks
Maruyama Okyo’s peacocks
Louis Rhead’s peacocks
The White Peacock
Whistler’s Peacock Room
Beardsley’s Salomé

Charles Ricketts’ Hero and Leander


Enthusiasts of Charles Ricketts’ illustrations can find book collections of his drawings and paintings but the artist (with partner Charles Shannon) was also a printer, typographer and book designer who would no doubt have preferred his illustrations to be seen in their intended setting. The Internet Archive has a few choice examples of Rickett’s books, of which the most profusely illustrated is Hero and Leander (1894), Christopher Marlowe’s poem (completed by George Chapman).


Also of interest is Danaë (1903) by Thomas Sturge Moore with its black and red type, A Bibliography of the Books Issued by Hacon & Ricketts (1904), and A Defence of the Revival of Printing (1899). The latter is of interest to book designers and typographers for its presentation of Ricketts’ aesthetic philosophy. Ricketts’ and Shannon’s books made continual use of a small leaf motif as a pilcrow to mark a fresh paragraph. In A Defence of the Revival of Printing Ricketts discusses his replacement for the ampersand (&), which he disliked, preferring instead a new character combining the letters E and T, ampersands being a contraction of the Latin word “et”. There’s also some discussion of his unique type designs which he charmingly refers to as “founts”, preferring, like contemporary William Morris, the antique terminology.


Colophon from Hero and Leander. A rose forms the monogram of Ricketts’ and Shannon’s Vale Press.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Art Nouveau illustration
Dorian Gray revisited

Designing Booklife


I created a cover design recently for Jeff VanderMeer‘s new novel, Finch, and shortly after completing that Jeff asked if I could put together some cover ideas for his forthcoming writer’s guide, Booklife, which Tachyon will be publishing later this year. Jeff is known as a fantasy writer but this book was intended to have a general appeal for any would-be or working writer. It also needed to look suitably contemporary and (possibly) reflect the discussion within which concerns the modern writer’s use of computers, the internet and social networks. Lastly, several lines of text needed to be placed on the cover without it looking confused or messy.

I agreed to this whilst busy with several other projects so the initial drafts were rather haphazard. (That’s my excuse, anyway.) The first version (above) came out of an idea to apply a kind of trompe l’oeil effect to the cover with a torn dustjacket and handwritten amendments. The red call-out/roundel highlights an important sub-section of the book. This was knocked up very quickly and, as well as not looking very contemporary, the title doesn’t look enough like gold blocking to be convincing. Jeff requested something more up-to-date.

Continue reading “Designing Booklife”

Whistler’s Peacock Room


Random browsing this week turned up some nice high-res photos of Harmony in Blue and Gold, as James Abbott McNeill Whistler named the room he decorated for Frederick R. Leyland in 1878. Leyland had bought one of Whistler’s paintings, La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine (1864), and architect Thomas Jeckyll was concerned that the painting and furnishings would clash, hence the invitation for Whistler to help with the colour scheme.

I’ve always preferred this luscious, gold-leafed design to the worthy medievalism of contemporary William Morris. Even though Whistler completed the work prior to the 1890s, the combination of Orientalism and peacocks (the signature bird of the Decadence) seems very much tied to the fin de siècle not least because of Aubrey and Mabel Beardsley’s visit to the room in 1891. Beardsley was very impressed with the painting and with the golden birds, the style of which later formed the inspiration for his famous Peacock Skirt illustration in Salomé (1894).


There’s a good overview here of the history of the room, including details of the falling out between the combative artist and his client, and the story of the room’s removal to America and subsequent restoration.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Beardsley’s Salomé
Alla Nazimova’s Salomé

The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones

Owen Jones’ landmark study of the world’s decorative history was published in 1856. I have a facsimile edition from the 1980s and it’s a beautiful volume even besides its value as a reference work. Now has made high-res scans of the pages available for free. They do the same for a number of other books, including other titles by Owen Jones and his contemporaries William Morris and Walter Crane. Crane’s Decorative Illustration is recommended for anyone interested in the history of book design.