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Beyond Words

Beyond Words: Book Illustration
in the Age of Shakespeare
guided by Caroline Duroselle-Melish
Thursday, May 31st

On May 31st about a dozen chapter members had the pleasure of touring the Folger Shakespeare Library exhibit Beyond Words: Book Illustration in the Age of Shakespeare  (Folger Website) led by chapter member Caroline Duroselle-Melish, who is the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Early Modern Books and Prints at the Folger, and curated the exhibit. About 80 items were on display, with most books being from the 16th and 17th centuries, and fewer from the 15th and 18th centuries.

Caroline said that when she was selecting items from the Library’s collection to include in the exhibit, she sought artifacts that would surprise the viewer. She was quite successful in achieving this objective with many of the pieces being unexpected. One of the most unusual was a how-to book on the sport of fencing. Space was left for 30 some illustrations which were referenced in the text and quite important to understanding the subject. However, none of the illustrations were printed, leaving large blocks of white space. One can only guess why the illustrations are missing and why the book was distributed in that condition. This book was in the section of the exhibit titled “When Things Go Wrong,” which also included books where illustrations were printed upside down, illustrations were printed over the text, and the wrong illustration was printed and was corrected by simply pasting the correct illustration over it. Also in the exhibit were two works by the Flemish engraver Martin Droeshout, including his portrait of Shakespeare in the 1623 First Folio — one of the best-known book illustrations of the early modern age.

We are fortunate that the Folger Library web site has a number of links to articles and videos related to this exhibit:

• An article of some of Caroline’s insights entitled “Looking at Images in a Different Way.”

• A video of Caroline commenting on an elaborate woodcut title page.

• A video of Caroline commenting on a best selling book and a 16th century woodblock.

• And, a video of Caroline commenting on a 1712 how-to book about wrestling.

At the end of the tour Caroline tipped us of to the Folger’s next exhibit Form and Function: The Genius of the Book, which will be of interest to APHA members as it deals with the structure, craftsmanship, and beauty of the book, and is curated by Renate Mesmer, the Folger’s head of conservation.

We wish to thank Caroline for her work curating the exhibit, and for sharing her lively insights with us. Afterwards, most attendees enjoyed lunch together at the nearby Hunan Dynasty restaurant.

The Folger Shakespeare Library is a fabulous space for exhibition historically-important work.

Caroline Duroselle-Melish (right) starting the tour.

Had to grab a photo of Caroline standing over one of the 82 copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio.

Review by Chris Sweterlitsch. Photography by Ray Nichols.