Frontispiece and title-page Guide to the Art of Illuminating and Missal Painting by William James Audsley (b. 1833) and George Ashdown Audsley (1838-1925). 1861. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Commentary by Alice H. R. H. Beckwith

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ike Humphreys's The Art of Illumination (cat. 52), the Audsleys' guide begins with a historical introduction followed by chapters in materials, principles of art, and colored and monochrome illustrations for students' practice. In an advisory conclusion the Audsleys tell their readers that they have tried to be clear in their explanations not wishing to induce despairing students to seek expensive personal instruction.

In prose as luxuriant as their illuminations the Audsleys proclaimed the nineteenth century an age of pnogress and renewal in the arts. They were particularly pleased with the revival of Gothic Architecture and its "attendant train of decorative arts," and they had high hopes for the "great handmaid of architecture . . . illumination." Revealing their characteristically Victorian concern with religion, they regarded illumination as "glorious" because in the Middle Ages it was primarily used in the decoration of religious texts. Other authors besides the Audsleys, including John Ruskin and Henry Noel Humphreys, encouraged the impression that manuscript illuminators were spiritually enriched through their work.

Yale's copy of the Audsleys' Guide is bound with four other works under the general title Treatises on the Arts. Three of them are for illuminators: V. Touche, Handbook of Initial Letters and Borders; F. G. Wood, Alphabets and Designs a/Different Periods/or the Use of Illiiminators and Decorative Artists, 1863; and W. Randle Harrison, The Handbook of Alphabets and Ornaments. All three works are of much lesser quality than the Audsleys' book, and were published by J. Barnard and Son, who manufactured illuminators' color boxes in competition with George Rowney. The remaining work is a booklet by William Ackland titled How to Take Stereoscopic Pictures (1857). The red half morocco and blue marbled paper bespoke binding was added at a later date. During the 1870s the quality and number of manuals and handbooks for illuminators declined. However, the Audsleys' Guide went through at least twenty editions, and in 1911 George Audsley rewrote it with new illustrations for George Rowney and Company.

The Beatitude page illustrated here is a typical example of the Audsleys' eclectic style, combining floral ornament, pen flourishes, geometric simplification, and bright colors. According to Douglas Ball in his catalogue of the Appleton Collection, Tony Appleton suggested that Day and Son printed the chromolithographs in the first edition of the Guide (Ball, Appleton Catalogue, no. 6ic). This is a logical idea, since the Audsleys probably used photographic reduction to produce their 1861 royal quarto version of The Sermon on the Mount (cat. 9), and it and the folio version were put on the lithographic stone by William Robert Tymms and printed in colors by Day and Son. However, Day and Son were liquidated and the photolithographic division was taken over by Vincent Brooks in 1867 (Wakeman 18). George Rowney may have worked out an accommodation with Brooks, because Rowney signed several of the chromolithographs as publisher and printer in Yale's 1868 edition of the Audsleys' Guide.

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Audsley, William James, and George Ashdown Audsley. ;Guide to the Art of Illuminating and Missal Painting.. Letterpress printers: Henderson, Rait, and Fenton. London: George Rowney & Co., 1861.

Beckwith, Alice H. R. H. Victorian Bibliomania: The Illuminated Book in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Exhibition catalogue. Providence. Rhode Island: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1987.

Wakeman, Geoffrey, and Gavin D. R. Bridson. A Guide to Nineteenth-Century Colour Printers. Loughborough: The Plow Press, 1975.

Last modified 22 December 2013