Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, and spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating. 

Peacock & Vine: On William Morris and Mariano Fortuny Hardcover – August 2, 2016 by A. S. Byatt

This ravishing book opens a window into the lives, designs, and passions of Mariano Fortuny and William Morris, two remarkable artists who themselves are passions of the writer A. S. Byatt.

Born a generation apart in the mid-1800s, Fortuny and Morris were seeming opposites: Fortuny a Spanish aristocrat thrilled by the sun-baked cultures of Crete and Knossos; Morris a member of the British bourgeoisie, enthralled by Nordic myths. Through their revolutionary inventions and textiles, both men inspired a new variety of art that is as striking today as when it was first conceived. In this elegant meditation, Byatt traces their genius right to the source.

Fortuny’s Palazzo Pesaro Orfei in Venice is a warren of dark spaces imbued with the rich hues of Asia. In his attic workshop, Fortuny created intricate designs from glowing silks and velvets; in the palazzo he found “happiness in a glittering cavern” alongside the French model who became his wife and collaborator, including on the famous “Delphos” dress—a flowing, pleated gown that evoked the era of classical Greece.

Morris’s Red House outside London, with its Gothic turrets and secret gardens, helped inspire his stunning floral and geometric patterns; it likewise represented a coming together of life and art. But it was a “sweet simple old place” called Kelmscott Manor in the countryside that he loved best—even when it became the setting for his wife’s love affair with the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Generously illustrated with the artists’ beautiful designs—pomegranates and acanthus, peacock and vine—among other aspects of their worlds, this marvel-filled book brings the visions and ideas of Fortuny and Morris to vivid life.

Editorial Reviews


“An impassioned dual appreciation of two 19th century creators who turned their lives into art: William Morris, known for his own writings and his association with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, [and] Mariano Fortuny, an Italian fashion designer whose brilliant dresses and gowns earned him a lasting name in high art circles. In Remembrance of Things Past, Proust dressed his character Albertine in a Fortuny gown; Isadora Duncan danced in them, and decades later, Susan Sontag chose to be buried in on. . . . Although the two men were born generations and worlds apart and did not intersect, for Byatt, both embody the idea of constant creativity and workmanship. They were artists and artisans; the world was their studio; and neither was ever restricted to a single means of expression. Morris was a devotee of nature while Fortuny was devoted to the female form, but both had rigorous and highly ordered imaginations. They challenge Byatt to look deeper and express more . . . An amply illustrated, inspiring homage that forges illuminating connections between two dynamos.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Booker Prize-winning novelist Byatt persuasively makes the case for viewing the achievements of two seemingly dissimilar designers in the same light. The English-born William Morris came from a bourgeois background, and looked to the medieval Christian tradition for inspiration for his fabric and textile designs. Mariano Fortuny, who was descended from an aristocratic Spanish family and designed fabrics in his Venice studio, had an imagination steeped in Mediterranean culture. Byatt finds kinship in their indebtedness to classic traditions, and the balance of beauty and utility that they strove for in their productions. Byatt is an unabashed enthusiast of both her subjects, and her passion for their work enlivens every sentence of her text. Abundant color illustrations bear out her contention that both men ‘changed the visual world around them.’” —Publishers Weekly 

About the Author

A. S. BYATT is the author of numerous novels, including The Children’s Book, The Biographer’s Tale, and Possession, which was awarded the Booker Prize. She has also written two novellas, published together asAngels & Insects, five collections of short stories, and several works of nonfiction. A distinguished critic and author, and the recipient of the 2016 Erasmus Prize for her “inspiring contribution to ‘life writing,’” she lives in London.
Why I’m Waiting. Byatt is a favorite writer and her passion for art on the page is unbridled as indicated in The Matisse Stories. The art and design of Morris and Fortuny are well known and held in high esteem. Overall, the combination is a win-win that is eagerly and impatiently anticipated.