Nature-printed ferns were created in Victorian England by pressing actual specimens in lead, transferring the image by electrotype to a copper plate and printing and hand-coloring each one. The process allowed the reproduction of the finest details down to the veins of the fronds. In a sense, nature itself provides the artistic detail as revealed through the nature printing medium. The original collection contained a scientific text, written by Thomas Moore, and 51 plates executed by Henry Bradbury, depicting the native ferns of Great Britain and Ireland . According to the noted botanical scholar Wilfred Blunt, this series is the crowning achievement of nature printing in terms of science and aesthetics.More on Victorian pteridomania here.
A superlative example of English Gothic Revival manuscript illumination... A gift to Lady Henrietta Frances, Baroness Grantham, circa 1834 (possibly on the occasion of her 50th birthday). The book was the work of her daughters, Lady Anne Weddell Florence who executed the illumination and calligraphy, and Lady Mary Gertrude Weddell who crafted the embroidered binding. According to a contemporary note tipped to the back endleaf: on the Baroness' meeting with Queen Victoria and the Queen's son, the Duke of Kent in 1839, Victoria herself prayed from the Psalter, and remarked upon the book's surpassing beauty.I saw this book in person, for sale, at the Merchandise Mart International Antiques Fair earlier this year.
The Abingdon Labyrinth is found in an early 11th century copy of Boëthius, produced at Abingdon Abbey. The Illustration of a six-path, seven-wall labyrinth, contains a poem, Assumpta est Maria ad Caelestia, Alleluia! (Mary is assumed into Heaven, Alleluia!), which can be read in either of two ways: by following the path of the labyrinth, which gives one arrangement of lines, or according to the circles, which gives a different combination.
This tapestry may be interpreted as a commentary on the Christ Child’s predestined fate to shed his blood to redeem mankind. It depicts the Holy Family, with Christ in the center, flanked by the Virgin Mary on the right and Joseph on the left. Christ squeezes a bunch of grapes above a chalicelike vessel and holds another sprig of grapes in his left hand, which is reflected on a rock crystal globe, where it appears to point toward the cross surmounting the orb... Behind the figures, three golden cloths of honor hang from irregularly spaced coiled columns. The outermost column bears a parchment notice that references scripture. The columns, which are meant to resemble the screws of a wine press, allude to the crushed grapes that produce the wine that is transubstantiated into Christ’s blood during the Eucharist.
The term Gothic was first used during the later Renaissance, and as a term of contempt. Says Vasari: Then arose new architects who after the manner of their barbarous nations erected buildings in that style which we call Gothic, while Evelyn but expresses the mental attitude of his own time when he writes: The ancient Greek and Roman architecture answered all the perfections required in a faultless and accomplished building -- but the Goths and Vandals destroyed these and introduced in their stead a certain fantastical and licentious manner of building: congestions of heavy, dark, melancholy, monkish piles, without any just proportion, use or beauty. For the first time, an attempt was made to destroy an instinctive and, so far as Europe was concerned, an almost universal form of art, and to substitute in its place another built up by artificial rules and premeditated theories; it was necessary, therefore, that the ground should be cleared of a once luxuriant growth that still showed signs of vitality, and to effect this the schools of Vignola, Palladio, and Wren were compelled to throw scorn on the art they were determined to discredit. As ignorant of the true habitat of the style as they were of its nature, the Italians of the Renaissance called it the maniera Tedesca, and since to them the word Goth implied the perfection of barbarism, it is but natural that they should have applied it to a style they desired to destroy. The style ceased, for the particular type of civilization it expressed had come to an end; but the name remained, and when, early in the nineteenth century, the beginnings of a new epoch brought new apologists, the old title was taken over as the only one available, and since then constant efforts have been made to define it more exactly, to give it a new significance, or to substitute in its place a term more expressive of the idea to be conveyed....
Gothic architecture and Gothic art are the aesthetic expression of that epoch of European history when paganism had been extinguished, the traditions of classical civilization destroyed, the hordes of barbarian invaders beaten back, or Christianized and assimilated; and when the Catholic Church had established itself not only as the sole spiritual power, supreme and almost unquestioned in authority, but also as the arbiter of the destinies of sovereigns and of peoples. During the first five centuries of the Christian Era the Church had been fighting for life, first against a dying imperialism, then against barbarian invasions. The removal of the temporal authority to Constantinople had continued the traditions of civilization where Greek, Roman, and Asiatic elements were fused in a curious alembic one result of which was an architectural style that later, and modified by many peoples, was to serve as the foundation-stone of the Catholic architecture of the West. Here, in the meantime, the condition had become one of complete chaos, but the end of the Dark Ages was at hand, and during the entire period of the sixth century events were occurring which could only have issue in the redemption of the West. The part played in the development of this new civilization by the Order of St. Benedict and by Pope St. Gregory the Great cannot be over estimated: through the former the Catholic Faith became a more living and personal attribute of the people, and began as well to force its way across the frontiers of barbarism, while by its means the long-lost ideals of law and order were in a measure re-established. As for St. Gregory the Great, he may almost be considered the foundation-stone of the new epoch. The redemption of Europe was completed during the four centuries following his death, and largely at the hands of the monks of Cluny and Pope St. Gregory VII, who freed the Church from secular dominion. With the twelfth century were to come the Cistercian reformation, the revivifying and purification of the episcopate and the secular clergy by the canons regular, the development of the great schools founded in the preceding century, the communes, the military orders, and the Crusades; while the thirteenth century, with the aid of Pope Innocent III, Philip Augustus, St. Louis, and the Franciscans and Dominicans, was to raise to the highest point of achievement the spiritual and material potentialities developed in the immediate past.
This is the epoch of Gothic architecture. As we analyse the agencies that together were to make possible a civilization that could blossom only in some pre-eminent art, we find that they fall into certain definite categories. Ethnically the northern blood of the Lombards, Franks, and Norsemen was to furnish the physical vitality of the new epoch. Politically the Holy Roman Empire, the Capetian sovereigns of the Franks, and the Dukes of Normandy were to restore that sense of nationality without which creative civilization is impossible, while the papacy, working through the irresistible influence of the monastic orders gave the underlying impulse. Normandy in the eleventh century was simply Cluny in action, and during this period the structural elements in Gothic architecture were brought into being. The twelfth century was that of the Cistercians, Carthusians, and Augustinians, the former infusing into all Europe a religious enthusiasm that clamoured for artistic expression, while by their antagonism to the over-rich art of the elder Benedictines, they turned attention from decoration to plan and form, and construction. The Cluniac and the Cistercian reforms through their own members and the other orders which they brought into being were the mobile and efficient arm of a reforming papacy, and from the day on which St. Benedict promulgated his rule, they became a visible manifestation of law and order. With the thirteenth century, the episcopate and the secular clergy joined in the labour of adequately expressing a united and unquestioned religious faith, and we may say, therefore, that the civilization of the Middle Ages was what the Catholic Faith organized and invincible had made it. We may, therefore, with good reason, substitute for the undescriptive title Gothic the name the Catholic Style as being exact and reasonably inclusive.
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