Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) was instrumental in transforming nineteenth-century attitudes towards book design and marketing. Perceiving Victorian books as gaudy, over-decorated, and cheaply made, Rossetti focused on refining cover designs, referencing the principles of the Aesthetic Movement with which his fine art aligned. He created elegant, sophisticated, minimalist binding designs while using commercial, machine-manufactured materials and techniques, such as book cloth and gold stamping. By working closely with commercial publishers he ensured his books a wide audience, while retaining control over the final publication.

His interest in Japanese art in the 1860s is evident in the simplicity of his binding designs, which suggest the tone of the book’s contents without explicitly revealing the topic of the text. His work paved the way for developments in book design and is remarkable for expressing ideas which would not be fully integrated into the publishing industry for more than 20 years.

 

 

The Prince's Progress and other Poems

The Prince’s Progress and other Poems, by Christina Rossetti (London: Macmillan and Co., 1866)
Binding designed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

Rossetti’s design for his sister’s second volume of poetry continues the aesthetic he used for her first book, Goblin Market. The decoration, which resembles both the hinges and nail heads of a medieval book and the wrought-iron hinges of a medieval door, stretches over the entire binding and centers not on the front but rather on the spine. The spiral, bud-like designs and the rich green color of the cloth may allude to the poem’s theme of growth and change.

 

 

<p>Atalanta in Calydon</p>

Atalanta in Calydon, by Algernon Charles Swinburne (London: Edward Moxon, 1865)
Binding designed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

Rossetti designed this binding for his friend, poet Algernon Charles Swinburne. It combines abstracted Greek motifs, which subtly reference the classical spirit of the text, with a spare aesthetic influenced by his interest in Japanese art.  The asymmetrical placement of the roundels highlights the form of the book and is an element that Rossetti employs in later designs.  The ivory buckram cloth, chosen by Rossetti, was stretched over whitened boards in an effort to make the finished product as white as possible.  The impracticality of a book covered in white cloth was of no concern to Rossetti—referring to its use he said, “People must keep it clean or not as they like.”

 

 

Verses

Verses, by Susan Coolidge (Boston: Roberts, 1880)
Binding designed by Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842-1904)
Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842-1904), an active member of the American Arts and Crafts scene in Boston, was greatly influenced by Rossetti’s binding designs. Whitman’s first ever book work was for her friend Sarah Chauncey Woolsey’s Verses (published under the pen name Susan Coolidge). Whitman modeled the cover on Rossetti’s design for Atalanta in Calydon, adapting and rearranging the roundels and moving the author’s name and title to the front.  In an era when elaborately ornamented book covers were the norm, Whitman’s spare, restrained design was considered revolutionary and has been identified as the first American “Aesthetic” binding.

 

 

 

Parables and tales

Parables and Tales, by Thomas Gordon Hake (London: Chapman and Hall, 1872)
Binding designed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

Rossetti initially created a simple floral design for this book but changed it, at Hake’s request, to this more elaborate one. Each image represents a theme in Hake’s poems. In his typical manner, Rossetti fretted over the color of the cloth and the gold leaf, telling the binder that “the colour used for the binding should be the precise deep greenish blue which Ellis uses for his publications.” When sent a sample of the binding, he was even more exacting: “The cloth is an approach to the right colour, but not the right one, and the gilding is not nearly deep and coppery enough in tone. This point should really be set exactly right as everything depends on it and it is just as easy to be right as wrong.”

 

 

 

Poems Poems

Poems, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (London: F. S. Ellis, 1870)
Binding designed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

Rossetti was in constant contact with the publisher and editor F.S. Ellis about his binding for Poems, expressing concerns that the spine block was too wide, that the colors were incorrect, and that his designs had been clipped.  “Now don’t be in a rage,” he wrote to Ellis in April 1870, as he made another series of requests. The asymmetrical arrangement of the grill-work trellises on Poems would be influential for designers including Charles Ricketts and Sarah Wyman Whitman. The flowers repeat inside on the endpapers, visually tying the cover and contents together. The first printing was released with white endpapers, and Rossetti requested a change to light green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Scarlet Letter The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1892)
Binding designed by Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842-1904)
M. G. Sawyer Collection of Decorative Bindings, Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

The Scarlet Letter, shown here in both the regular (top) and large paper (bottom) formats, demonstrates the American renewal of Rossetti’s grillwork and floral designs.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti