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April 6 Art Minute: William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, "The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (“The Kelmscott Chaucer”)"

A brown sheet of paper with words and two individuals looking at starts printed on it in black ink
William Morris (British, 1834–1896), designer; Edward Burne-Jones (British, 1838–1898), artist, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (“The Kelmscott Chaucer”). Book with 87 wood-engraved illustrations, 1896. Page: 16 5/8 x 11 3/8 in. (42.2 x 28.9 cm). Museum Purchase, 1960.26

Long considered one of the world’s great examples of book design, this edition of the "The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer" was a collaborative effort between the pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones and the multitalented artist, designer, and poet William Morris. Burne-Jones designed the 87 wood-engraved illustrations and their frames, while Morris designed the typeface and oversaw the production for his Kelmscott Press. The paper for the Kelmscott Chaucer was handmade in the manner of the 15th century, and even the ink was made out of the traditional materials of linseed oil and lamp black.

Burne-Jones wrote of the book, “If we live to finish it, it will be like a pocket cathedral—so full of design...” In the end it took almost four years to complete, and Morris nearly did not live to see its publication, dying a few months later.