Arts and Crafts, Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite, Medieval decorative and reproduction tiles. William Morris, William De Morgan, Morris & Co. designs

William Morris Tile: Volsung Saga, Birds and Betrayal Tile

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Birds and Betrayal: William Morris in Iceland

A tile based on the cover of the Kelmscott Press Story of the Sigurd the Volsungs and and the Fall of the Niblungs, cover design by William Morris and Philip Webb.

William Morris Story of the Volsungs and Nibelungs cover, designed by William Morris and Philip Webb

In 1871, as talk of Jane Morris's affair with Dante Gabriel Rossetti intensified, her reputation in 19th century London grew increasingly at risk. Morris himself was very in love with his wife and to protect her reputation, he invited Rossetti to move into their home. While Rossetti took up residence in their home at Kelmscott Manor, Morris himself traveled to Iceland, leaving in July. His journal entries and letters home during that time are very moving.

While in Iceland, with Eirikr Magnusson, Morris translated the Eddas, writing The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs, an epic poem of over 10,000 lines that deals with love and betrayal. It tells the story from the Volsung Saga and Elder Edda, of the Norse hero Sigmund, and his son Sigurd (Siegfried in Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung).

The bird detail draws on an important passage in the tale. After killing the dragon Fafner with a sword made by his friend Regin, Sigurd takes a taste of Fafner's blood. Having done so, he suddenly understand the birds warning him of the pending betrayal by Regin: There lies Regin, who wants to betray the one who trusts him. Sigurd drew his sword and cut off Regin's head.

The story is not a sad love triangle, but a tragic love quadrangle. Rossetti met Jane first, Morris was the tag-along friend. Morris was an after-the-fact love, but not the long-suffering sort. He was diabetic and his rages were well-known. I find much of his writing sentimental, even by 19th century standards, but his emotions were dialed high for physical as well as emotional reasons. Moreover, his older daughter Jenny had seizures due to epilepsy, and he blamed himself and his bloodline.

Birds and Betrayal based on cover design by William Morris and Philip Webb for The Saga of the Volsungs and Niblungs, dark blue. Birds and Betrayal based on cover design by William Morris and Philip Webb for The Saga of the Volsungs and Niblungs, white on deep wine red. Birds and Betrayal based on cover design by William Morris and Philip Webb for The Saga of the Volsungs and Niblungs, dark blue on white. Birds and Betrayal tiles in green on white colorway. Birds and Betrayal based on cover design by William Morris and Philip Webb for The Saga of the Volsungs and Niblungs, green and gold on white. Birds and Betrayal, William Morris design. Red earth on cream colorway.

Rossetti is not the two-dimensional cad you might think -- in his letters, he confides that he wanted to marry Jane himself but was already in a committed relationship with Elizabeth Siddal who, like Jane, came from working class roots before being identified as a "stunner" by the second wave of Pre-Raphaelites. Rossetti made the "honorable" choice, and did not abandon Lizzie, a gifted writer and artist in her own right; an intelligent equal in the relationship with Rossetti. Yes, there was another more honorable choice, but it's easy to judge from a hundred and fifty years down the road. As Jane and Rossetti's relationship was no secret, Lizzie Siddal also lived with the knowledge that she was a second-choice love. Lizzie had health issues eventually died of an overdose of laudanum. It's hard to blame her.

Rossetti spun crazier and crazier and Jane had concerns about the welfare of her children. She eventually cut him off, but that was several years later. And she was still living with her second-choice love, the genius William Morris, beloved and admired by all the world, but not the fairy tale ending she might have hoped.

Both the background and foreground colors on this tile can be changed easily -- it is available in both 6 and 8 inch ceramic.

Application: These tiles are suitable for interior use and can be installed on walls, backsplashes, showers, and fireplace surrounds.

    Title: William Morris Volsungs Saga: Birds and Betrayal Tiles

    Tile: Ceramic

    Size: 6 inch or 8 inch square tiles

    Thickness: 3/8 inch (1 cm)

    Colors: Both pattern and background can be modified. See How to Order Tile.

    Availability: Can usually be shipped in about a week.


    6 inch square tiles: $55

    8 inch square tiles: $92

    Availability*: Birds and Betrayal tiles without custom work (see How to Order Tile for what that means)ship fairly quickly, within a week or so.