The art of the lithographer

Having spent a lot of time lately thinking about reading about writing, it made a pleasant change to get ‘hands on’ with Special Collections at the Leeds University Library and follow up some potentially relevant primary sources. The archives of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society are deposited in Special Collections, along with the Society’s library of printed books and pamphlets dating back to its foundation in the early 19th century. The library includes an offprint of T.B. Sandwith’s paper on ancient Cypriot pottery for the Society of Antiquaries, bound with several other archaeological papers. I’ll admit that I had hopes of an autograph dedication, or perhaps some helpful marginal notes by one of the LP&LS’s members – hopes which were not fulfilled. But it was nevertheless good to see the text in the original hard copy, in particular the amazing illustrations.

Amphora s

White Painted amphora, Archaeologia XLV Pl.XII

Stamnos s

Bichrome stamnos, Archaeologia XLV Pl.XII

It’s probably safe to assume that this copy of the Archaeologia paper was not thumbed over extensively by LP&LS members, since the pages are fresh and the illustrations clear and bright. The skill that has gone into representing the ancient Cypriot artefacts is remarkable, and puts the standard of illustration in some modern archaeological publications to shame.

WP jug s

White Painted jug, Archaeologia XLV Pl.X

BoR jug s

Black on Red jug, Archaeologia XLV Pl.IX

The drawings are particularly effective at capturing the geometric patterns on amphorae and jugs; you can tell that the artist has studied the objects closely and has taken great pains to convey their decoration accurately. Arguably these drawings are less successful at capturing objects whose shapes do not lend themselves to two-dimensional reproduction, but even so, it’s easy to recognise individual pieces from their portraits.

Triple juglet s

Triple juglet, Archaeologia XLV Pl.IX 

1964.0305a

Triple juglet (c) Leeds Museums and Galleries

From my limited understanding of the lithographic process, it appears that an artist would have made careful drawings of the objects, which would then have been engraved onto plates, and coloured as part of the printing process. This is where a potential Leeds link comes in. As previously noted, most of the drawings were made from objects included in the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures in Leeds. The plates are labelled ‘del. C.H.R.’, an abbreviation for ‘delineauit’, i.e. ‘drawn by’ – so ‘C.H.R.’ made the drawings from which the engraver, named as C.F. Kell, worked. Kell appears to have been part of the firm of ‘Kell Bros.’, prolific ‘chromolithographers’ who did quite a bit of work for the Society of Antiquaries.

So, did the Society of Antiquaries take the trouble and expense to send a skilled draughtsman from London to Leeds to make drawings of the objects on display at the Yorkshire Exhibition? Or was it the work of a local professional? Efforts to discover the answer have not been successful as yet; it’s one of those intriguing footnotes to a research project that will probably remain unresolved.

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