Alberto Sangorski is an artist who should be of special interest to all who appreciate great picture-making. Little is known about this artist or his works by illustration enthusiasts, because he specialized in illuminated manuscripts. Very little of his work ever made it into print, and most of his books were hand-crafted wonders for wealthy collectors. Some editions of his work were available in elaborately reproduced volumes with gilt edges. Others were not so carefully manufactured.

Here’s a shot of a page from “La Morte D’Arthur”.

Here is the same page from a print copy.

The Internet Archive has a scan of this book from a finer print edition by the Graphic Engraving Co. for Chatto & Windus, which you can see HERE.

Here is a scan of a 1937 edition
of Prayers by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Sangorski (1862-1932) created his work during the Golden Age of Illustration, starting his trade as a secretary to a goldsmith, then, at the age of 43, moving on to work for his brother’s bookbinding company, Sangorski and Sutcliffe. This bindery is still considered one of the finest in the world.

It’s extraordinary that a man in his forties was able to develop such amazing skills as an illustrator and calligrapher. I hope that bit of news is an inspiration for many of you who think you dream too late.

Cartoonists are the direct heirs of the dying art of illuminated manuscripts. I’ve been studying Sangorski for some time now in hopes of getting a Lord of the Rings commission to do a series of poems as illuminated manuscripts. Or, more precisely, to do an illustrated book of them. But with my schedule so full over the coming months, much of it being devoted to finishing off the Neil Gaiman graphic novel I am working on, that’s a dream I’ll have to push back further.

The bindings by Sangorski and Sutcliffe were as elaborate and gorgeous as the interior illustrations, as you can see.

The firm is perhaps best remembered for the book known as “The Great Omar“, a copy of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám incorporating 150 individual jewels in its covers, which sank with the Titanic in 1912 only weeks before Sangorski himself died in a drowning accident.

Here is one of my favorite images from a book by Keats.

And a fantastic two page spread of “The Lady of Shalott”.

The glorious binding of an edition of Kipling.

And some stunning images from an edition of the works of Poe.

Sangorski and Sutcliffe was taken over by Shepherds Bookbinding in 1998. You can read more about them HERE. The company maintains an archive of over 15,000 items from their history.

I’ve always felt closer to an illustrator, or, perhaps, a monkish illuminator than most cartoonists, I am sure, with the current emphasis on simple drawings, and production speed. There’s a great deal to recommend that approach, but I’m looking more and more to the craftsmanship of the past for my work of the future. And studying Mr Sangorski’s work has been a great education for me.

I hope you’ve found something interesting and inspiring in his work as well.