Venice, by John Craig, Whittington Press (2016)

Long time Books and Vines readers know I can be effusive in my praise for private and fine press books which, over time, makes it hard for a reader to differentiate between what I consider a nicely done work versus a spectacularly done work. So let me say up front that John Craig’s Venice, published by the Whittington Press, definitely falls into the spectacular category. The 80 wood-engravings, plus some linocuts, are amongst the best I have seen from an artistic and reproduction standpoint in many years (they remind me in many ways of the remarkable Pericles of Barbarian Press).

It is not just that the engravings are brilliant; the overall page design and placement of the images and text is excellent. John Randle says:

John Craig’s use of white space has, as with Britten’s Aldeburgh (2000) and The Locks of the Oxford Canal (1985), been critical, and the asymmetric imposition of type and images is based upon his precise layouts. The resulting double-page spreads can be seen almost as a series of stage sets, introducing us to the often undiscovered delights of a city which he has visited regularly for the past twenty years.

It is not a lengthy book. Yet, one can spend hours in this book allowing themselves to get lost, immersed in the labyrinth that is Venice — a labyrinth here so expertly conveyed in Craig’s work. This is the Venice that all who have been and wandered beyond the beaten path have fallen in love with. The nooks and crannies of a city like no other, a city that poets have sung praises of more than any other, are brought to life by engravings that somehow convey not only the physical nature of the water, stone and rock which are the basic elements of Venice, but the passion that seems to exude from these very elements in this seemingly magical place.

Mr. Craig says of Venice that:

….there is some impulse that drives people to express, explain, pin down something that no other city possesses.

To me, it is the passion of Venice’s innate physical state that drives this impulse. Mr. Craig’s engravings show how deeply that passion has soaked into his consciousness.

Of the engravings, four are printed in color on lightweight Korean and Japanese hand-made papers, and tipped in (which you will see below). Centaur and Aright types are used, with printing is done on Zerkall Mould-made paper, which we are told was “specially hot-pressed to give an extra sheen for the engravings.” The pages are bound in a French-fold manner, left folded at top edge, printed throughout on the smooth side. The work was bound by the Fine Book Bindery in three editions:

  • An ‘A’ edition that is full bound in black Oasis leather inlaid to a design by John Craig, colored endpapers, and a set of signed prints of most of the engravings, on proofing paper. This edition is already sold out.
  • A ‘B’ edition that is half-bound in Oasis leather and printed paper sides, colored endpapers, and a set of proofs of many of the engravings, on proofing paper, in a slipcase
  • A ‘C’ edition that is quarter bound in dark brown Pirate leather, with printed paper sides, lightweight boards, and colored endpapers in a slipcase

The text of the work is appropriately concise, letting Venice speak for itself through the illustrations. The words are seeds, providing the basis for reflections on the elements that make up Venice as we see it. For instance:

On Water:

In Venice water is the ruler. It holds everything to ransom. Nothing is exempt. It inhabits and inhibits every action, every decision, every journey. It seasons every view. Smell and sound in Venice are water borne. Water beautifies, threatens, engulfs. It surrounds…Water has sculpted Venice.

On the Canals:

The canals are the veins and arteries of Venice. Everything is transported on them, restricted and surrounded by them. The canal defeats you at every turn…the canals both connect and divide…

On Colour:

Venice is a city of varied grey interrupted by colour…for me the overriding impression of the ordinary canal side building is a beautiful varied grey — grey warm — grey cold– grey rough and smooth fading to searing white in the sun down to green and black toward weed and water.

On the Physical:

There is no plan other than that determined in the distant past by mud and water.

And:

Contrast and depth is the visual theme. Continual changes of shape, texture. Materials: brick, render, stone, all these weathered by centuries of rain and neglect. Venice is a warren of passages. A small gap between buildings leads to a dark corridor with an overhanging tree that leads to another…and so on…to a hundred more.

On those who built Venice over the centuries:

I am convinced that the craftsman who made these simpler buildings hardly needed to be told what to do– the skills, the very hands of earlier masters reaching –as it were –deep into the sleeves of their descendants. In this way they had many lifetimes of practice and design behind and in them.

And:

…how ‘work’ men untrained in design, built in such a way that back streets, alleys and simple dwellings sit harmoniously with each other and their grander neighbors. The answer must be that they were trained — not in college or school – but in true tradition of hand and mind — they knew the customs — the rules of proportion, of the hierarchy of joints, of materials responding to the needs and wants of people….All this added up (adds up) to an age-old urban layered patina which is entirely satisfying.

Mr. Craig also discusses gondolas and other boats that are the transportation of Venice (outside of walking, which is the main transport!), as well as the sounds, the weather, the food, and the greenery of Venice. It alls adds up to a picture of Venice that is at once enticing and thoughtful, reverent but real. As Mr. Craig says:

The sights to discover in Venice are never-ending. Perhaps this is why one constantly returns to this particular mixture of the picturesque, the sublime, the vulgar.

If you do return, or visit for the first time, remember:

…as one steps off the familiar ‘route’ and into a tiny sunlit courtyard, well there is Venice again as its always was, and one hopes, will be.

John and Rose Randle of the Whittington Press, along with their small staff, continue to produce some of the most finely done books in the world today, as they have done since 1971. While I hope to personally collect more and more of their works, the few I have are among the absolute highlights of my collection. A number of years back, prior to having any Whittington Books in my  collection, I read the following from John Neilson’s interview with John Randle in Forum, the journal of the Letter Exchange, from which I knew I must start collecting Mr. Randle’s works:

The whole magic of letterpress printing is that is has that third dimension, rather like lettercarving. I have absolutely no time at all for this rubbish that comes out on an Apple Mac. There are typefaces that claim to be Caslon, put out by people like Adobe, which have no more to do with Caslon than the man in the moon.  It makes me very cross. Caslon to me is type impressed into a piece of beautifully handmade paper. It’s not something tapped out on a bloody keyboard.

Indeed. The Randle’s and John Craig certainly deserve a big ‘Bravo’ for this edition! If you have not claimed one, my guess is time is running short, as the limitation is small and judging by how quickly the ‘A’ sold out, this will go quickly.

About the Edition

  • Centaur and Arrighi types
  • Zerkall Mould-made paper, specially hot-pressed to give an extra sheen for the engravings
  • French fold binding, left folded at top edge, printed throughout on the smooth side
  • 80 wood-engravings plus some linocuts by John Craig
  • Four of the engravings are printed in color on lightweight Korean and Japanese hand-made papers, and tipped in
  • Bound at the Fine Book Bindery
  • 175 copies (‘C’ edition) quarter bound in dark brown Pirate leather, with printed paper sides, lightweight boards, and colored endpapers in a slipcase, £235 (£195 before publication)
  • 60 copies (‘B’ edition) are half-bound in Oasis leather and printed paper sides, colored endpapers, and a set of proofs of many of the engravings, on proofing paper, in a slipcase £395 (£365 before publication)
  • 40 copies (‘A’ edition) are full bound in black Oasis leather inlaid to a design by John Craig, colored endpapers, and a set of signed prints of most of the engravings, on proofing paper, in a solander box £1100 (£950 before publication). This edition is sold out.
  • Signed by John Craig

Pictures of the Edition

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{Ed. Note: Thank you to Books and Vines contributor DLPHORACL for pictures of the ‘A’ and ‘C’ editions.}

Venice, Whittington Press, 'A' Edition Gray Leather Backed Clamshell Box
Venice, Whittington Press, ‘A’ Edition Gray Leather Backed Clamshell Box
Venice, Whittington Press, 'A' Edition Spine and Covers
Venice, Whittington Press, ‘A’ Edition Spine and Covers
Venice, Whittington Press, 'A' Edition Chemise with extra suite of wood engravings on left, Book on right -- all in open clamshell
Venice, Whittington Press, ‘A’ Edition Chemise with extra suite of wood engravings on left, Book on right — all in open clamshell
Venice, Whittington Press, 'B' Edition Book and Extra Suite of Prints in Slipcase
Venice, Whittington Press, ‘B’ Edition Book and Extra Suite of Prints in Slipcase
Venice, Whittington Press, 'B' Edition Spine and Sides
Venice, Whittington Press, ‘B’ Edition Spine and Sides
Venice, Whittington Press, 'B' Edition Spine Macro
Venice, Whittington Press, ‘B’ Edition Spine Macro
Venice, Whittington Press, 'B' Edition Front Cover
Venice, Whittington Press, ‘B’ Edition Front Cover
Venice, Whittington Press, 'B' Edition Back Cover
Venice, Whittington Press, ‘B’ Edition Back Cover
Venice, Whittington Press, 'C' Edition Book in Slipcase
Venice, Whittington Press, ‘C’ Edition Book in Slipcase
Venice, Whittington Press, 'C' Edition Spine and Cover
Venice, Whittington Press, ‘C’ Edition Spine and Cover
Venice, Whittington Press, Title Page
Venice, Whittington Press, Title Page
Venice, Whittington Press, Sample Illustrations #1 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Sample Illustrations #1 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Macro of Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Macro of Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Macro of Sample Illustrations #1
Venice, Whittington Press, Macro of Sample Illustrations #1
Venice, Whittington Press, Macro of Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Macro of Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Sample Illustrations #2 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Sample Illustrations #2 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Macro of Sample Illustrations #3 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Macro of Sample Illustrations #2 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Sample Illustrations #3 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Sample Illustrations #3 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Sample Illustrations #1 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Macro of Sample Illustration #3
Venice, Whittington Press, Sample Illustrations #5 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Sample Illustrations #4 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Sample Illustrations #8 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Sample Illustrations #5 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Sample Illustrations #10 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Sample Illustrations #6 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Sample Illustrations #11 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Sample Illustrations #7 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Sample Illustrations #14 with Text
Venice, Whittington Press, Engraver’s Note and Colophon
Venice, Whittington Press, 'B' edition - Suite of Prints
Venice, Whittington Press, ‘B’ edition – Suite of Prints
Venice, Whittington Press, 'B' edition - Samples from Suite of Prints
Venice, Whittington Press, ‘B’ edition – Samples from Suite of Prints
Venice, Whittington Press, 'A' edition - Samples from Suite of Prints
Venice, Whittington Press, ‘A’ edition – Samples from Suite of Prints (signed)

3 thoughts on “Venice, by John Craig, Whittington Press (2016)

  1. An instant Whittington Press classic and a must-have for anyone who has visited Venice and fallen in love with the city.

  2. Wonderful.
    The powerful simplicity of the title page spread reminds me of Merle Armitage. (Although, of course, if he had designed the book his name would have also appeared there – in much larger letters than the title.)

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