Artist, architect, textile designer, poet, historian, illustrator, writer, business man, social reformer, political agitator. Such was the resumé of Victorian English Renaissance Man, William Morris.
At Oxford, Morris studied theology with the intention of joining the clergy. He was fascinated with religion, Medieval literature, and the art and architecture of the Middle Ages. He visited churches throughout England and continental Europe. His fascination with the period informed his taste and design work, though he decided he could accomplish more as a lay social reformer rather than take holy orders.
In partnership with artists Edward Burne-Jones (with whom he went to school) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Morris founded a design firm which decorated homes and churches in the Gothic Revival and Arts & Crafts styles. He also designed and produced decorative furnishings including printed textiles, tapestries, wallpaper, carpeting, ceramics, furniture, stained glass, metalwork, and jewelry. His design work had a tremendous influence on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Arts & Crafts movements.
Much influenced by the writer John Ruskin, Morris rejected the industrial manufacturing of home furnishings and decorative objects—which was flooding the market with cheap imitations of earlier, grand designs. Instead, Morris encouraged hand-craft and strove to produce such items affordably.
As a writer, publisher, and printer, William Morris also had a tremendous influence. He designed and created printed “Illuminated Manuscripts” through the Kelmscott Press and translated ancient texts for publication. His work as a “Medievalist”—both intellectual and aesthetic—influenced the work and careers of other British writers to follow, J. R. R. Tolkien, amongst them.
Today one can visit his country home, Kelmscott, in Oxfordshire. While the carved photo frame, shown above, is not attributed to Morris, it would be much at home in his home. Please click on the photo to learn more about it.
William Morris died on this day in 1896.
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