Exploring the Wilde bequest: offprints and beyond

Wilde offprints

Having this week completed a reorganization of fifteen boxes of offprints from the Johannes Wilde bequest; I thought I would write a few words on the material preserved within these boxes. This fragment of Wilde’s legacy collection, significant in size and content, is yet to be catalogued on the library’s OPAC, but can be searched by card index (see below). The main bequest of books and manuscripts, as well as his archive of teaching materials, is fully catalogued and kept in the library’s special collections – both can be consulted on filling in a CABS request form.

Wilde drawer

What began as a vast swathe of offprints has now been streamlined into a shipshape assemblage of just over 600 texts, most of which have personal inscriptions to Wilde. There is a broad scope of material chiefly published in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, but going as far back as a volume Jahrbuch der Königlich preussischen Kunstsammlungen from 1893. Written in several languages (chiefly German but also English, French, Italian and Hungarian), it contains a lot of Wilde’s own writings, as well as a good amount on Michelangelo – as you might expect – Renaissance art, and architecture.

As well as official offprints from periodicals such as Oud Holland, The Burlington Magazine, the Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, and Athenaeum, the collection also contains some full issues of journals; festschrifts for scholars such as Julius Schlosser, Paul Clemen and Max Friedländer; and ephemeral items including business cards, compliment slips, newspaper and magazine clippings, and proofs.

Gerard Frankl

Most of the items are marked with Wilde’s distinctive handwriting, either denoting the author’s name at the top of the page (as above on a clipping from The Listener entitled ‘How Cézanne saw and used colour’ by Gerard Frankl), or with his notes or corrections alongside the text. There are also a great number of personal inscriptions written from the various authors, such as this affectionate example from Antoine Seilern to Julia and Johannes Wilde, from his piece on ‘An ‘Entombment’ by Rubens’ (The Burlington Magazine Vol. 95, No. 609, December 1953).

Seilern letter

What is interesting is the network of figures that emerges from these inscriptions, giving you a tangible picture of the who’s who of art historians and scholars from the first half of the twentieth century, with a particular emphasis on the ‘Vienna School’ and on émigrés such as Wilde, Seilern, Charles de Tolnay, Erwin Panofsky and many others. It is an interesting piece of Courtauld Institute history in itself, demonstrating how professors, peers and students influenced one another and continued to correspond throughout their careers. Below you can see an envelope addressed to Professor Wilde from Katherine Freemantle, containing a proof copy of some biographical particulars and a bibliography of Professor Jan van Gelder.

Wilde letter

For more information on the Wilde Collection, see the Special Collections page of the book library website. Further archive material on Wilde is held at UCL’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies. If you want to have a look at the offprints collection, we have a holdings list behind the issue desk in the book library.

Harriet Lam

Featured Book: Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene

Choosing a ‘favourite thing’ from the Book Library is very difficult because we have such a wealth of items in our Special Collections and also on our main shelves.  Since I began working here I have come across tiny, fragile exhibition catalogues from 1900 onwards, letters written by Roosevelt, a completely square book in its own box, a scrapbook of fashion plate cuttings and much more.  It’s hard to whittle down these items to just one, but eventually I chose our two volumes of the 1895 edition of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, edited by Thomas J. Wise, with wonderful illustrations by Walter Crane.

Title page

The Title Page

The Faerie Queene (1590-1596) sometimes known as Faery Queen, is the best known work of the poet Edmund Spenser (c. 1552/3 – 1599.) It is an epically long, allegorical poem that, although never actually finished, was intended to span twelve volumes. It contains many allusions to members of the Elizabethan court, and can be seen as a celebration of Elizabeth I’s might and Elizabethan culture. It encompasses knights, damsels, magicians, (even Merlin!) monsters and mythical beings. In the poem, Spenser uses a unique rhyme scheme, now known as a ‘Spenserian stanza,’ which was later adopted by Romantic figureheads such as Byron and Keats.

But what makes these particular volumes stand out for me is the illustrations by Walter Crane, especially as I have been an admirer of his work for some time.  Walter Crane (1845-1915) was an Arts and Crafts engraver and illustrator. He is best known for his whimsical, finely-executed illustrations of children’s books, including Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1873) Baby’s Own Aesop (1887) Arthurian Legends and Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince and Other Stories (1888).

An illustrated page

One of the illustrated pages

Crane’s illustrations for Faerie Queene are stylized, painstakingly detailed and vivid in colour and execution, even after all these years. The cover illustration for both volumes features a graceful woman in a stylized garden, standing next to a lion against a bold red background.  Each blade of grass and each trailing leaf of the foliage behind her can clearly be seen, and the style bears strong echoes of William Morris’s work. This may not be a coincidence, as Crane was involved in the Arts and Crafts movement and was also friends with Morris. (Morris even turned one of Crane’s designs into a tapestry.) His illustrations also appear to be influenced by the style of medieval and illuminated manuscripts, with pensive, chivalrous figures and intertwined flowers decorating their margins.

Our volumes are from the library of the fashion designer Stella Mary Newton, and this fashion angle can arguably be seen in Crane’s cover depiction of the intricate folds of the woman’s gown, corresponding with the thick drapery of the lion’s mane, and the fish-scale or amour-like embellishments on her sleeves. Crane himself was also interested in fashion, and designed dresses, costumes and even sandals. You can really see the imaginative quality to Crane’s work, especially in the whimsical expressions and gestures of his figures and their stylized androgyny. The frontispiece for Part VIII even depicts a rather forlorn-looking unicorn!

George Allen Publisher's bookplate

The bookplate of George Allen Publisher

The rarity of these volumes is suggested in its limited run of just 1000 copies, and in the use of unbleached, handmade and rather delicate paper. I think it is amazing that this work has remained in such good condition, and I hope that it will be continue to be used and appreciated by Courtauldians for many years to come.

Bibliographic Info

Spenser’s Faerie Queene edited by Thomas J. Wise ; illustrations by Walter Crane. Part VII and Part XIV. Published by George Allen, 1895-97.

Classmark: CABS Z7483 SPE OVERSIZE. (Reference Only.)

Related items from our collections

  • The Allegory of The Faerie Queene by M. Pauline Parker, 1960. (Z7483.SPE PAR: criticism and interpretation)
  • Walter Crane: the arts and crafts, painting, and politics, 1875-1890 by Morna O’Neill, 2010. (D497 CRA SPE.)
  • Edmund Spenser’s ‘The Faerie Queene’ -an exhibition on the occasion of the four-hundredth anniversary of its publication (Z5020 PRI UNI: exhibition catalogue)
  • Walter Crane by Isobel Spencer, 1975.

Related Websites

Spenser Online: Cambridge University’s Edmund Spenser Webpage:


Spenser’s The Faerie Queene on Project Guttenberg:


Edmund Spencer biography at The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/26145?docPos=1 (Athens login details needed)

The Walter Crane Archive Project at the University of Manchester:


Walter Crane Biography and Image Gallery:


Walter Crane biography at Grove Art Online:

http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T020135?q=walter+crane (Athens login details needed)

Good news for Raphael lovers…


Le pitture delle Stanze Vaticane di di Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, 1838, plate 1

Le pitture delle Stanze Vaticane di di Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, 1838, plate 1

The cataloguing of the John Shearman library is proceeding apace and a jewel of the library is his Raphael collection. The Raphael books number just over 250 volumes and are, except for the occasional stray volume, fully catalogued. The collection encompasses second copies of many of the books we already have but, more importantly, there are a lot of titles for which I was unable to find other copies in the UK and, in very rare cases, was not able to find other copies anywhere.


There are multiple editions in English, French, Italian and German of staple 19th-century Raphael biographies by Quatremère de Quincy, Passavant, Müntz, and Crowe & Cavalcaselle. There are early copies of Carl Ruland’s catalogue of Raphael works in the Royal Collection, as well as an 18th-century catalogue of engravings after the Raphael cartoons also in the Royal Collection.


Bellori’s 1695 Descrizzione delle imagini dipinte da Rafaelle d’Urbino nelle camere del Palazzo Apostolico Vaticano has an interesting provenance, having been part of the libraries of two reknowned 19th-century bibliophiles, Gustavo Galletti and Baron Horace de Landau at Villa-Landau-Finaly, both in Florence.

Le pitture delle Stanze Vaticane di Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, 1838 title page

Le pitture delle Stanze Vaticane di Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, 1838 title page

And the Le pitture delle Stanze Vaticane di Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, published in 1838 in Rome, bears the evidence of provenance by at least 4 art historians – A.E. Popham, Jim Byam Shaw, John Gere and, of course, John Shearman. What a pedigree!

Shearman Raffaello Sanzio 1838 provenance markings

Shearman Raffaello Sanzio 1838 provenance markings

About 20% of the Raphael books were published before 1900, including my favourite paper binding, on the Elogio storico di Raffaello Santi, 1829, which complement our later editions and reprints. We are able to see how the views of scholars have changed and how earlier scholars’ own works have been reinterpreted in the 20th-century, gaining a fuller picture of Raphael scholarship almost right up to the present.


Elogio storico di Raffaello Santi, 1829 binding

Elogio storico di Raffaello Santi, 1829 binding

Where a Shearman book is a duplicate of reference books we have on the open shelves, we are making the open shelves copies available for loan, so some important texts can be taken home now, but we still have a reference copy in the Special Collections.

This collection is already being used, judging from the number of slips for books waiting to be reshelved and we hope it complements all our material on the artist and for the broader study of Renaissance art. If you are interested in viewing the records for the John Shearman’s Raphael collection on the library catalogue, you need to select the multi-field search option and use the drop-down menus to isolate search words such as Collection code – SPECL and Former owner, provenance – Shearman, and combine them with Raphael in the Any words field (see search below). Once you know the books you would like to see, you can complete request forms at the issue desk.

Searching the catalogue

Erica Foden-Lenahan
Special Collections Librarian
Shearman Project cataloguer