Le Morte d’Arthur – Illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley
The Knights of the Round Table
author : Sir Thomas Malory
Illustrator: Aubrey Beardsley
first published in 1485 by William Caxton
Sir Malory is what!?
A reworking of existing tales about King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table. Today is considered one of the best-known works of Arthurian literature. Many modern writers have used Malory’s work as source, including T. H. White in The Once and Future King and Tennyson in The Idylls of the King.
The exact identity of Sir Thomas Malory is rather lost, because there were more than one (in fact more than six) persons named “Sir Thomas Malory” in the late 15th century.
Scholars have concluded that the real author is the Thomas Malory born in the year 1416. Not quite the person you’ll expect. He had been accused of theft, rape at least twice, the attempted murder of the Duke of Buckingham, and a variety of similar acts.
Maybe they have found the wrong Malory.
A young boy named Beardsley
William Morris’s Kelmscott Press produced exquisite limited editions, with elaborate woodcut ornamentation and vellum bindings.
J. M. Dent, a London publisher wished to print a book as beautiful as the Kelmscott’s publications but more affordable, targeting the middle class. He achieved this by using a new printing procedure with half-tone reproductions. But mostly he achieved his goal because he had the luck to meet a nineteen year old artist : Aubrey Beardsley.
The publisher recognized the unique powerful talent of Beardsley who was perfect in many ways including his eagerness to produce a huge amount of quality work for a small profit since he was working at the time as a clerk at an insurance agency.
That is how a wonderful book with 360 full and double-page drawings, borders, chapter headings, and ornaments of detailed illustrations, a total of over 1,000 decorations, arrived at bookshops in an affordable price.
And arrived to us today. Beardsley’s work for Le Morte d’Arthur is often displayed in various exhibitions around the world, and many of his illustrations are part of important museum collections including the Metropolitan’s museum of art.