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Are Rubaiyat illustrations largely a matter of visual kitsch?

March 2, 2017

aokcover17In an article recently posted on his website, Bob Forrest has gone back to an interesting question raised by Robert Irwin in his review of our book The Art of Omar Khayyam published by I B Taurus in 2007.  The review, in the Times Literary Supplement of 13.07.07, suggested that the book was ‘mostly an encyclopedia of visual kitsch’.  Irwin also drew attention to the limited number of well-known book illustrators who had illustrated the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Bob Forrest discusses the issue of ‘visual kitsch’ in the context both of the wider phenomenon of the Omar Cult and the parallel illustration of other key books particularly The Arabian Nights about which Irwin has written.  Bob also considers in some detail the ‘roll-call of artists who never illustrated the Rubaiyat’ and he provides much information about them and their involvement with the poem that is certainly new to these readers.  His article is a valuable contribution to the study of the influence of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat on artistic work and in other fields, and its relationship to wider artistic developments.  The full analysis together with illustrations can be found on

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Martin Kimeldorf permalink
    March 2, 2017 11:07 pm

    Sorry I nodded off…remind me again why Robert Irwin’s personal opinion of art should matter to me at all….(I don’t recall seeing him in anything but Club of Snobs…which I don’t belong to anyway)

  2. Hazhir Teimourian permalink
    March 3, 2017 7:39 am

    Unfortunately, as a severely colour-blind man, I’m no judge of the visual arts, but for anyone interested in both the life and times of Omar himself and also the story of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat, a new impression of my Omar Khayyam: Poet, Rebel, Astronomer has just come out in a soft-back academic format at only £11. But take a look first at . Recently at a bookshop in my Sussex village where I spoke about it, all the 20 copies on offer were sold, leaving half the queue without. (We also raised £400 in tickets for the ailing bookshop.) Anyway, greetings Bill and Sandra. Good to hear from you, as always Hazhir Teimourian.

  3. Garry Garrard permalink
    March 3, 2017 4:01 pm

    I agree with Martin Kimeldorf on the subject of Robert Irwin.
    More positively, it would seem fair, in an item of illustrated editions, to give a prominent mention to the few books hand-produced by William Morris, with illustrations by Morris himself, Edward Burne Jones and Charles Fairfax Murray. I’m not sure how many there are – I believe no more than three, of which I have seen two in Museums. Every aspect of the books is itself a work of art, from the calligraphy and illumination to the figures by Burne Jones and Murray.
    These must be the most elusive item for collectors ever, although the lovely facsimlile by Phaidon is a tolerable substitute – when you can find one of the 849 . I got mine from a New York bookseller about 10 years ago.
    Garry Garrard

    • March 6, 2017 12:44 pm

      Responding to Garry’s comment on William Morris and the Rubaiyat, according to the article by M Braesel in Apollo Feb 2004, Morris ‘prepared four copies of [the poem], three of them illuminated.’ Two of them were illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones, one of which is in the British Library and the other is privately owned. The other two manuscripts with which Morris was involved are apparently in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. To date, we have only ever seen the British Library copy. Which other one did you see Garry?

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