Sunday, 13 March 2011

Visions of the Jinn: Illustrators of the Arabian Nights

Robert Irwin has written a history of the various Western editions of The Arabian Nights from the eighteenth to the twentieth century.

Edward Lane's 'The Thousand and One Nights' of 1839-41 featured illustrations by William Harvey. Harvey (1796-1866) was one of Bewick's favourite apprentices and had worked on blocks for Aesops Fable (1818).

Irwin writes that Lane:

"thought that the stories of the Nights could serve as an introduction to everyday life in the Middle East. (Never mind about the flying horse, the jinn, the Roc, the magic lamp and the Old Man of the Sea.) His copious endnotes furthered his didactic aim and so did the illustrations. William Harvey, a pupil of Thomas Bewick and one of Britain's leading engravers, did the boxwood engravings, but Lane stood at his shoulder, checking the look of things and providing previously published engravings of Egyptian and Moorish architecture for him to copy. In general, the purpose of the pictures was not to stimulate the imagination or supplement the storyline, but to introduce the British reader to the authentic look of the Arab world. Just occasionally Harvey was licensed to use his imagination, as with his marvellous depiction of the giant jinni in "The Story of the City of Brass", or the battle of magical transformations in "The Story of the Second Dervish"."

Read Irwin's account of his research here.

His book Irwin, R., 2011. Visions of the Jinn: Illustrators of the Arabian Nights, The Arcadian Library can be found here.

Illustration: Lane in Turkish Costume, found here.

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