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Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense: The creative act. ~Kenneth Rexroth
Welcome to Victorian Medievalism: An overview of Medieval decorative and wall tile, medieval maps and bestiaries. And unicorns. Ssh about the Dragons. Tile for kitchen backsplashes, and fireplace surrounds.
Middle Ages are the middle of what? Antiquity before and the Modern History after. The earliest agreed-upon beginning is the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in 312 A.D. and its latest point, being the beginning of the Reformation on October 31, 1517 -- So medieval-ish, since no announcement of a new era went out in all places at those particular moments.
How do medieval tiles fit in with Victorian tiles in general and William Morris in particular? Well, a medieval revival is central to the artistic philosophy of William Morris, influenced by Ruskin, and central to the thinking of the second-wave Pre-Raphaelites led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Here's how it went:
Early Victorians also had a strong interest in Medieval art and culture, myths and legends - Chaucer, Camelot and the search for the Holy Grail. This infatuation predates Morris, and even Ruskin and Rossetti who so strongly influenced William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. Keats, Tennyson, the Romantic poets, often fancied medieval themes, courtly love, and Camelot. John Ruskin loudly voiced his dissatisfaction with the mass-produced decorative arts of the decorative arts, but not on purely aesthetic grounds. The chivalry of the middle ages was central to his social philosophy.
August Welby Pugin, best known for "injecting morality into architecture" but whose interests leaned more toward the decorative arts, advocated reverting to medievalism during the years that William Morris was still a boy riding his pony about in Epping Forest. Pugin held there was a "moral superiority" in the Gothic taste, in a reactionary stance to Victorian industrialism and secular culture. That longing for a pre-industrialized and personal England found a foothold in Rossetti, Morris, and Edward Burne-Jones.
William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones met at Oxford, beginning a friendship that would last a lifetime. They traveled through Belgium and northern France, where the Gothic churches left a lasting impression. Upon returning to England, Morris would serve briefly as an apprentice to the architect, G.E. Street. Street had co-written a book on Ecclesiastical Embroidery in 1848, and it is likely that Morris's interests in medieval textiles and methods took hold there.
Morris's love of things medieval spanned literature, architecture, painting, bringing the mythic medieval worldview into reality in Red House. Yet not slavishly so: Medieval ships took their place in renditions of Greek myths as if their rightful place. The garden of Red House was arranged in a medieval fashion. Morris and his friend, the architect Philip Webb, researched and selected the plants he would put there. The house itself, was built along the path that Chaucer's pilgrims would have traveled on their way to Canterbury. Furniture, walls, embroidery was designed and executed by Jane, William and their friends, all in a medieval context.