Homer and the Arts of the Book
The Iliad and the Odyssey have inspired artists in all periods and mediums. The dramatic scenes and detailed descriptions invite visual representation and stimulate creative interpretation. Ancient artists depicted scenes from the Homeric epics on vases, wall paintings at Pompeii, and miniature marble Roman tablets. A handful of surviving illustrated manuscripts suggest the possibilities for illustrating and decorating the texts.
Since the sixteenth century, artists and sculptors have portrayed many scenes and characters from the Iliad and the Odyssey as both narrative and allegory. Giulio Romano, Peter Paul Rubens, Angelica Kauffmann, Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain, Eugène Delacroix, Auguste Rodin, Georgio de Chirico, Henri Matisse, and Andy Warhol (after de Chirico) are just a few examples.
Early printers of Homer focused on making the texts of the epics available for study rather than producing expensive illustrated editions. It didn't take long, however, for printers to discover that illustrations could expand their audience and potential profits. Woodcuts adorned the 1526 Venice printing of the Iliad translated into modern Greek by Nicolaos Loukanēs, which is also the first translation into any vernacular language. By the mid-sixteenth century engravings – more expensive to produce but capable of far greater detail – were the graphic medium of choice for large-format, luxury editions such as those by John Ogilby, Alexander Pope, and William Melmoth. The Iliad and the Odyssey also attracted printers who were interested in creating beautiful books or testing the limits of their craft. The miniature type in William Pickering's edition and the stark contrasts between thick and thin of the letterforms in Giambattista Bodoni's may not be attractive or readable, but they are amazing feats of typography.
With the late-nineteenth-century revival of fine printing and the emergence of books illustrated by artists, the Homeric texts became frequent source materials for limited editions and artists' books. Examples in this case and elsewhere in the exhibition confirm that Homer is an inexhaustible source for printers and artists.