Penn Library

The Illustrated Book, 1780-1830: selected from the collection of Harris N. Hollin


Costume and Portraits

The waning years of the 18th century brought with them the rise of English Romanticism, which had a direct and lasting impact on illustrated books. The ahistorical tendencies of Classicism gave way to the historical sensitivity and picturesque sensibility of Romanticism. The Romantic concern with historical accuracy and historical discovery is clearly evidenced in three important works. In his masterwork, Selections of the Ancient Costume of Great Britain and Ireland (1814), Charles Hamilton Smith sought to show that adherence "to the costume of the times represented [would] augment the illusion and assist to explain the meaning." His contemporary, the noted scholar and collector of armor Samuel Rush Meyrick, did for armor what Smith and others had done for ancient and traditional costume. In Critical Enquiry into Antient Armour (1824) he sought to provide a "chronology of Costume with respect to antient arms and armour which has hitherto been so imperfectly regarded alike by writers, painters, and dramatists of modern times." In The Costume of Great Britain (1808) W. H. Pyne combined costume painting with the tradition of narrative painting, providing scenes of everyday life, which, like "The Lamp Lighter," were washed in realistic hues.

The spirit of discovery extended beyond the past. Indeed a cosmopolitan thirst for the exotic in other cultures produced an extraordinary flowering of illustrated costume books. Costume of the Russian Empire (1804), one of seven in a series issued by the publisher William Miller, is an excellent example of the effort to introduce foreign cultures to an English audience.

Artistic and cultural trends in France moved in a different direction. The French Revolution brought with it the dawn of a new age of Classicism and heroic imagery to France. Guerin and Fiesinger's Portraits de deputes (1791) one of the more important French portraiture books and an excellent exemplar of this new age. The visage of Luckner seems a remarkable signpost for the tortuous path that lay ahead for France and Europe.

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