Icones Librorum Artifices
Icones Librorum Artifices, being actual, putative, fugitive & fantastical portraits of engravers, illustrators & binders.
Leeds Massachusetts: The Gehenna Press, 1988. (19845)
Signed by the artist below the colophon. Numbered 18 in an edition of forty. Bound by Gray Parrot. With an extra suite of plates and the copper etching plate for the portrait of Charles Condor.
Icones Librorum Artifices, being actual, putative, fugitive & fantastical portraits of engravers, illustrators & binders. Second Series.
Leeds Massachusetts: The Gehenna Press, 2000. (BRA0376)
Signed by the artist below the colophon. Numbered 8 in an edition of forty. Bound by Gray Parrot.
As an art student at Yale, Leonard Baskin (1922–2000) discovered the work of William Blake and proceeded to print a book of his own poetry on a friend’s press in 1942, On a Pyre of Withered Roses, the first imprint of his celebrated Gehenna Press. Forty-six years and eighty-five books later, the press issued Icones Librorum Artifices which has been proclaimed a masterwork. Baskin set each of the thirty-two biographies of historical book workers as a calligram (a shaped text) below a portrait as accurate in many instances as Baskin’s imagination. In the year of his death Baskin issued a second series of biographies with portraits of twenty-four additional women and men who contributed to the art of the book.
Broader in range than the engravers, illustrators, and binders listed in the title, Baskin’s subjective accounts also include the work and lives of printers, papermakers, woodcut artists, designers, printmakers, publishers, and typographers. Names more familiar to bibliophiles such as Aubrey Beardsley, Dard Hunter, Erhard Ratdolt, William Blake, Jane Aitken, Charles Ricketts, Emery Walker, and Katherine Adams are the exceptions among the artists and craftspeople featured in the two books. Less frequently celebrated figures portrayed include engraver and goldsmith Étienne Delaune (1518–1595), Anne Allen (fl. 1780) who prepared botanical designs on copper plates à la poupée, and the miniaturist and illustrator Joris Hoefnagel whose visage Baskin renders as his own.
As striking as the portraits, texts, and shaped typography are, so, too, is the complexity of color and its application. Baskin noted it as a triumph in the catalog of the 1992 retrospective exhibition at Bridwell Library, The Gehenna Press: The Work of Fifty Years: “The book is a flowering & a fulfilling resolution of elements but tentatively used in precedent books. Color emblazons the pages of Icones; in printing etchings the press was becoming very proficient . . . in the uses of color.”