Peacock & Vine: On William Morris and Mariano Fortuny

A.S. Byatt. Knopf, $26.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-101-94747-0
In this persuasively argued essay, Booker Prize–winning novelist Byatt (Possession) makes a case for viewing the achievements of two seemingly dissimilar designers—William Morris (1834–1896) and Mariano Fortuny (1871–1949)—in the same light. The English-born Morris came from a bourgeois background and, like his associates Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones (both of who were members of the group of artists known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), looked to the medieval Christian tradition as inspiration for his fabric and textile designs. Fortuny, who was descended from an aristocratic Spanish family and designed fabrics in his Venice studio, had an imagination steeped in Mediterranean culture and informed by his fascination with ancient Cretan civilization in Knossos. Looking beyond the superficialities of both mens’ lives and work, Byatt finds kinship in their indebtedness to classic traditions, several shared motifs in their art (notably peacocks and pomegranates), and the balance of beauty and utility that they strove for in their productions. Byatt is an unabashed enthusiast of both her subjects, and her passion for their work enlivens every sentence of her text. Abundant illustrations bear out her contention that both men “created their own surroundings, changed the visual world around them, studied the forms of the past, and made them parts of new forms.” Color illus. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/23/2016
Release date: 08/02/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 978-1-101-94748-7
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