In addition to our many private press books and fine bindings, the Cardiff Rare Books Collection also holds a few modern illuminated manuscripts. This beautiful copy of Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard was written out and hand-illuminated by a man named Sidney Farnsworth in 1910. Mr Farnsworth was a painter, sculptor and illuminator, and also the author of a how-to guide for people wishing to learn the craft, Illumination and its Development in the Present Day (New York: George H. Doran, 1922).
One of my favourite discoveries so far from the Cardiff Rare Books Collection is this lovely little illuminated manuscript of The Lady of Shalott, the famous ballad by the Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, loosely based on the Arthurian legend of Elaine of Astolat.
Probably created in the 1910s, the book is written on vellum and signed simply “Gilbert Pownall me fecit” (“Gilbert Pownall made me”). Pownall was an artist who exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and also designed the mosaics for the Lady Chapel in Westminster Cathedral.
We have yet to learn how this unique manuscript came to Cardiff – it was perhaps purchased new at the same time as our private press books – but it is a treasure we are delighted to have.
The Lady of Shalott was one of many items from our rare books collections selected by Dr Juliette Wood for her recent lecture, “Illustrating the Arthurian Legend”, part of the Cardiff Rare Books and Music Lecture Series hosted here in Special Collections and Archives.