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Victorian Illustrations by Leslie

Charles H. Bennett

Charles Henry Bennett was an illustrator’s illustrator; a modest — and un-schooled but very talented — artist born in 1828 in London and working in that period of the Victorian era that was the “Golden Age of Caricaturists,” a contemporary of Thomas Nast and Honoré Daumier. His life was tragically short, only 38 years, yet his output was prolific. His work frequently appeared in Punch as well as newspapers. His style was as biting, satiric, and moral as his peers who exaggerated the features of public officials and public fools. Bennett preferred beguiling the viewer by dressing animals up as people. At first glance the effect is cute but closer examination reveals a depth of characterization that is unexpected.

Illustrations by Bennett are on our Animal ABCs and Aesop's Fables collage sheets.

Chambers' Almanac, The Book of Days

In sharp contrast to today’s tendency to use calendars solely for the purpose of cataloging tasks and noting events of the present and near future, our predecessors often created beautifully annotated calendars that served to inform readers of significant events of the past. In fact, until the advent of modern timekeeping, calendars frequently took the form of informational almanacs.

Beginning in the time of Ptolemy (100-150 A.D.), rudimentary calendars included agricultural, astronomical and religious information.  With each new century more data was added to the Western calendar, as evident in the elaborate and detailed almanacs seen in 14th century illuminated manuscripts, which included a wealth of information on subjects ranging from bloodletting to prime numbers.

This trend arguably reached its zenith in the 19th century in the form of Robert Chambers’ (1802-1871) final work, The Book of Days, a compendium of historical fact, legend, lore, and literature for each day of the year.  It's a fascinating glimpse of what was probably common knowledge in the Victorian age. More info:
http://www.thebookofdays.com/index.html

In keeping with Chamber’s obsession with knowledge and deep desire to make information available to as many people as possible, we’ve used excerpts from his work to create our Victorian Almanac collage sheets.

Read the full text of the Edmund Spenser poem describing every month on these collage sheets.

Punch

Although originally conceived as a less satirical version of the French paper Charivari, Britain’s Punch — first published in July 1841— soon became the definitive, acerbic bell weather for the Victorian Era. Once a success, Punch remained so until its final edition in 1992 by publishing articles and cartoons that cunningly called into question prevailing social mores and the Establishment as a whole.

Illustrated by the likes of Leech, Keene, du Maurier, Bennett and Tenniel, the artful presentation of satire in Punch was enhanced by the beautifully crafted lettering for which the publication has become known to typophiles throughout the world. Although caricatures of public and political figures were frequently woven into fanciful initials, lettering in Punch also reflected Britain’s enthusiastic interest in topics ranging from the military to fashion, from sports to the animal world.

(The hunchbacked Punch is based on Punch and Judy, and from the earlier stock character Punchinello from the Italian Commedia dell'Arte. More info on Commedia will be forthcoming.)

Illustrations from Punch are on our Punch ABCs collage sheets and Punch/clown rubber stamps.

Santa Claus and Thomas Nast

Thomas Nast “invented” the image popularly recognized as Santa Claus. Nast first drew Santa Claus for the 1862 Christmas season Harper’s Weekly cover and center-fold illustration to memorialize the family sacrifices of the Union during the early and darkest days of the Civil War. When Nast created his image of Santa Claus he was drawing on his native German tradition of Saint Nicholas, a fourth century bishop known for his kindness and generosity. In the German Christian tradition December 6 was (and is) Saint Nicholas day, a festival day honoring Saint Nicholas and a day of gift giving. Nast combined this tradition of Saint Nicholas with other German folk traditions of elves to draw his Santa in 1862. Santa Claus thrived thereafter in American culture both Christian and secular.

Based on a traditional rhyme, we’ve created our own Christmas ABCs collage sheets from Victorian sources including many Thomas Nast illustrations.

Shakespeare’s Heroines

Throughout the ages, the concept of ideal female beauty in western art has run the gamut from starkly formal Classical Greek statuary to the alarmingly corseted waist of the once ubiquitous Gibson Girl. In Victorian England, this concept was evident in charming “keepsake” portraits, named after The Keepsake, a series of annual volumes published between the 1820s and 1840s.

Mary Cowden Clarke's 3-volume The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines (1851) created the early biographies of the women before we meet them in the plays. Many of the illustrations in our Shakespeare's Heroines ABCs collage sheets are from the Clarke books, showing the young women in contemporary Victorian clothing and hair styles.

This article was published on Monday 29 September, 2008.
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