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Amy Page

Collaborative ekphrastic publishing: from the Rossettis to Jerome’s Study

 

In a letter to her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti in April 1865, Christina Rossetti wrote: ‘Your woodcuts are so essential to my contentment that I will wait a year for them if need is – though (in a whisper) six months would better please me.’ At the time Gabriel was working on woodcut illustrations for her poem The Prince’s Progress, which was published in a collection by Macmillan & Co. in 1866, bound in a cover that was also designed by him. What makes the Rossettis’ collaboration so compelling and distinct is the evidence left behind of their communication and the many preparatory sketches by Gabriel in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery archive.

This is arguably an early example of collaborative ekphrastic publishing - where artist and writer have worked together to create a cohesive or total work of art - and I have identified a successor in Jerome’s Study by Max Porter and Catrin Morgan. Porter worked with Morgan to create an unconventional book that references then transforms images of St. Jerome in his study and imagines what could have been on the papers pinned to his wall. 

Although different in appearance and materiality, it is the collaborative element that links these two projects. In addition, both are aware of and reference art history, locating themselves within the context of their medium’s tradition. In my paper I will compare the two books as objects as well as the publishing and creative process for each. I will seek to highlight what has (or hasn’t) changed in the intervening 150 years and look at why these ekphrastic collaborations are so rich and interesting.

 

Amy Page is a graduate trainee arts librarian at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. She has studied History of Art at the University of Glasgow and McGill University, and undertook an MA in architectural history at the Courtauld. Before moving into libraries she worked in at the British Museum, the Art Newspaper and BBC Arts.