Painted Books: Morris as Calligrapher
As a young man, William Morris cultivated an appreciation for gothic architecture and medieval texts. At Oxford University he launched his lifelong passion for acquiring and studying manuscripts from the Middle Ages. Morris's love of medieval texts inspired his determination to master the arts of illumination and calligraphy. He taught himself fine handwriting styles from a Renaissance instruction manual for scribes, and learned the art of gilding to add texture and luster to his pages.
For his most ambitious projects Morris ordered vellum from Rome. By 1875 Morris had completed eighteen illuminated manuscripts consisting of more than 1,500 pages, including drafts and fragments. Ever the collaborator, Morris often prevailed on his friends and Morris & Co. associates to provide drawings or ornaments for his manuscripts.
"I have always been a great admirer of the calligraphy of the Middle Ages ... As to the fifteenth-century books, I had noticed that they were always beautiful by force of the mere typography, even without the added ornament..."
William Morris, His Aims in Founding the Kelmscott Press, 1898.