Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Visions of the Jinn: Illustrators of the Arabian Nights by Robert Irwin

Visions of the Jinn: Illustrators of the Arabian Nights (Studies in the Arcadian Library)

Visions of the Jinn: Illustrators of the Arabian Nights (Studies in the Arcadian Library) by Robert Irwin is officially released today. I have not seen a copy of it but it sounds fascinating for any Arabian Nights enthusiast or illustration in general. I will someone would produce a volume like this on fairy tale illustration!

Book description from the publisher:

In this richly-illustrated book, illustrations of various Western editions of The Arabian Nights from the eighteenth to the twentieth century are presented and analysed. Visions of the Jinn is simultaneously a closely-focused study of a special case in the history of book illustration, an account of the evolution of an important strand of visual fantasy and a presentation of a hitherto neglected area of Orientalism. Some of the artists - Dulac, Dore, Brangwyn - are famous. Many others, such as Coster or Letchford, are almost totally unknown. In the course of the book, the discussion also reveals much about the visual discovery of the Near East in modern times. This volume will make an important contribution both to the history of book illustration and, more generally, to the history of the book. His analyses of the individual illustrators, mainly English but also French and German can be regarded as a contribution to art history.
The Guardian also ran a recent article about the book by Irwin at The Arabian Nights: a thousand and one illustrations. Here's an excerpt:

A lady on a divan telling stories to a turbaned sultan; men with scimitars running down a dark and narrow street; a jinni issuing like a vast dark cloud from a flask; a prince in a pavilion guarded by lions; a veiled lady at the entrance to a shop; a young man on a flying carpet circling over a domed palace; a man clinging to driftwood in a stormy sea . . . These days, thanks to illustrated children's books, comics, films and video games, people are much more likely to have a sense of what the world of The Arabian Nights should look like than to have actual knowledge of the stories themselves. It was not always so. The first edition of The Arabian Nights had no pictures, and even when, in the late 18th century, fully illustrated editions began to be published, their illustrations gave little sense of the exotic medieval Arab environment in which the stories were set. Only from the 19th century onwards did some illustrators try to get Arab buildings and costumes right.

In 1701 the orientalist and antiquarian Antoine Galland published a translation from Arabic into French of "The Voyages of Sindbad". The translation was well received and since Galland had been told that "The Voyages of Sindbad" were part of a much larger collection of stories known as Alf Layla wa Layla, or "The Thousand and One Nights", he located a three or four-volume manuscript of this work and set about translating it. His translation, published in 12 volumes in the years 1704-17 was a raging success. His Les mille et une nuit was not received as a collection of children's stories (nor should it be). On the contrary, it was read and enthused over by courtiers and intellectuals in Versailles and Paris, and Versailles and Paris set the fashions for the rest of Europe. So translations of Galland into English, Italian, Russian and other languages soon followed. Montesquieu, Voltaire, Addison, Johnson and Goethe were among the 18th-century writers whose work was heavily influenced by the Nights. The Nights had a crucial role in shaping the origins and evolution not just of fantasy literature, but also of the realistic novel.

Copyright was not policed in the 18th century and books that were successful were almost invariably reissued in pirate editions. Between 1714 and 1730 a series of pirate editions of Galland's translation were printed in the Hague. Each of the 12 volumes had a frontispiece by David Coster, a Dutch artist. Since Coster had no notion of the medieval Islamic world as something alien and strange, his engravings depicted the characters in the stories in European dress. King Shahriyar looks very comfortable in his western-style four-poster bed as he sits up listening to stories told by Sheherazade. The only concession to the exotic is that he has a loosely tied turban as an item of nightwear. The relatives of Gulanar the Mermaid are welcomed into what looks like a French palace and the genie summoned up by Aladdin is merely a very large man in a tattered robe.
The article is quite lengthy and informative, so do click through to read it all if it interests you.

More Arabian Nights from Robert Irwin:

The Arabian Nights: A Companion  The Arabian Nights and Orientalism: Perspectives from East and West
The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights: Volume 1 (Penguin Classics) The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights: Volume 2 (Penguin Classics) The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights: Volume 3 (Penguin Classics)

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