Victorian illuminated manuscripts shine in California State Library exhibit

The California State Library’s new exhibit, "Illumination and Color Printing in the Victorian Era," in the marble foyer of Library and Courts II in Sacramento shows some of the most beautiful books owned by the California State Library (CSL). Gary Kurutz, director of Special Collections, designed and curated the exhibit.

Before the mid-19th century, artists and printers colored book illustrations and plates by hand. As the Victorian Age unfolded, craftsmen turned to chromolithography, a printing technique that uses a stone for each color (the exhibit features Matthew Digby Wyatt's Industrial Arts of the Nineteenth Century [1851-53] which required 1,065 stones and 1,350,500 press pulls for its 160 plates). Chromolithography allowed Victorian artists and printers to promote medievalism, the glorious artistic tradition that inspired them. The stunning gold-leafed manuscripts on display demonstrate the melding of classic gothic richness with meticulous Victorian craftsmanship. The exhibit books’ bindings, pages and spines, also in emulation of the medieval, look like carved oak boards, though they are bound in papier-mâché and molded leather.

All the items in the CSL exhibit take the visitor’s breath away, but some are of particular significance. Grapes and Grape Vines of California (1887), with its ten spectacular chromolithographs of grape clusters, for example, is arguably the most sophisticated book produced in 19th century California. The glorious facsimile of the Book of Hours commissioned by Anne of Brittany is the most elegant of all French color plate books (1861). And several gorgeous examples by the Englishmen, Henry Noels Humphreys and Owen Jones, including The Victoria Psalter (1862) and Sermon of the Mount (1861), rank among the most famous neo-Gothic examples of color printing.

"Illumination and Color Printing in the Victorian Era," will run through April 2006 on the second floor foyer of the California State Library, Library and Courts II, 900 N Street, Sacramento.  Hours are 9 AM to 4 PM. For more information contact Gary Kurutz at (916) 653-0101 or at gkurutz@library.ca.gov.  

 

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