Essick and La Belle, eds. Flaxman’s Illustrations to Homer. Dover, 1977.
This edition of Flaxman’s designs to Homer was published five years ago and has become a most useful reference book for anyone interested in sources of English neo-classical design. Robert Essick and Jenijoy LaBelle provide a scholarly and pertinent introduction, a useful annotated bibliography chronologically arranged, and just enough commentary on each design to identify it and suggest its relation to Blake’s and other artists’ treatments of similar subjects.
The reproductions of the outline designs are very clear, even perhaps a little more highly contrasted than the originals I have been able to compare them with. The editors note the favorable reception of the designs from their first appearance in 1793, and their undeniable influence on motif and style in nineteenth-century Europe. Irreverently, I was reminded of the twentieth-century comic strip (see Scylla, Odyssey, plate 20): should we blame Flaxman for this? The flattened plane and economy of line of the illustrations appeal to the taste of the modern viewer more than does the classical subject begin page 25 | matter. One can see the genesis of the relief decoration of so many 1930s buildings, and many of the lines of Art Deco furniture in these illustrations.