Global Blake: Silvia Riccardi

Silvia Riccardi explores the links between William Blake and Stile Liberty, With its name inspired after the London shop Liberty’s, the Italian counterpart of the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain.

With its name inspired after the London shop Liberty’s, stile Liberty is the Italian counterpart of  the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain which contributed to the development of Art Nouveau  at the turn of the twentieth century. The intersection of stile Liberty with artists such as the Pre Raphaelites and William Morris, whose work reveals an important influence of William Blake, is  noteworthy, especially in the conception of space as composed of multiple, all-over morphing  patterns, in the dominance of interlacing elements, and most forcefully in the aesthetics of the  sinuous line – a line which blends organic forms and blurs the boundaries between the human and  the nonhuman. As architectural historian Giulia Veronesi acutely observes, Blake’s forms take on  “a pure linear undulation which gives the Pre-Raphaelites a first hint for their inauguration of Art  Nouveau” (1947). In the façade of Casa Galimberti in Milan (1902-05) by architect Giovanni  Battista Bossi, for instance, decorative sculptures and murals frame the windows of the building  the way marginal ornaments enrich the engraved surfaces of Blake’s work. While in the illuminated  books the text is a means of prophetic message, the windows of Casa Galimberti become “doors  of perception” at the boundary between the private and the public dimension. The line here is turned into an expressive element which has an energy of its own, carrying on the spirit of Blake’s  dictum: “Leave out this line and you leave out life itself” (E540). Blake considers movement an  essential part of the line – “How do we distinguish one face or countenance from another, but by  the bounding line and its infinite inflexions and movements?” – and stile Liberty embodies this  sentiment fully.

Although largely overlooked, Blakean inflections in stile Liberty are significant in the reception of  the London engraver as an exponent of British art: they prompt questions about the Italian market  in the arts at the turn of the century, the entanglement of human and nonhuman life forms beyond  materialism, and the appreciation of Blake from a European point of view. This paper revolves  around the exploration of these concerns, contextualizing Liberty as a style which, besides its  important connection to Art Nouveau, crucially contributed to aesthetic negotiations across  borders.

Silvia Riccardi is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Uppsala. She has written on the reception of Dante in England, most recently on Blake’s illustrations to the Commedia in Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly. She is currently working on Blake’s graphic and textual forms of biomorphism as well as on a book project on the aesthetics of Dark Romanticism.