A Jeweled Binding by Sangorski & Sutcliffe
Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809–1892).
The Lady of Shalott.
Manuscript on vellum, illuminated by Alberto Sangorski.
[London: For the Grolier Society, c. 1910]. (BRMS 187)
Sangorski & Sutcliffe was one of England’s foremost luxury binding firms during the early decades of the twentieth century. Founded in London in 1901 by the Polish émigré Francis Longinus Sangorski (1875–1912) and George Sutcliffe (1878–1943), the firm began in 1905 to specialize in magnificent custom-made jeweled leather bindings. Some of their most lavish efforts were reserved for unique literary manuscripts like this one, written in neo-Gothic calligraphy with elaborate Pre-Raphaelite illuminations by the binder's brother, Alberto Sangorski (1862–1932). The firm’s greatest work, a large-format copy of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám that incorporated more than 1,000 jewels, went down with the S.S. Titanic in 1912.
Although Tennyson’s romantic poem The Lady of Shalott is set in the medieval realm of Camelot, the calfskin binding inlaid with colored goatskin evokes the floral opulence of Islamic art. The six-pointed recessed panel on the upper cover, containing eight opals around a single carnelian, serves as a handsome centerpiece, while the contrast between the turquoise arabesque shapes with cream bellflowers and the surrounding black fields of leafy red roses creates the effect of cornerpieces. On the lower cover, this design is echoed by fields of gilt roses on turquoise.