A.S. Byatt hadn’t heard of Mariano Fortuny until she went to Venice, but once she experienced his home (now a museum), his dresses, and his designs, she found herself thinking about—William Morris. Yet back home in England, on Morris territory, she was haunted by Fortuny. From this strange crossing of artistic wires, Byatt has produced Peacock & Vine (Knopf, $26.95), a sumptuous objet d’art of a book. At once an investigation of how and why these particular creators so captivated her, a celebration of their achievements, and a tribute to design itself, the essay traces “the coming together of life, work and art” of both men. As distinct as they were similar, both Morris (1834-1896) and Fortuny (1871-1949) were passionate about myths and nature; both worked with a range of materials including dyes and textiles. But where Fortuny revered Wagner, Morris found him “’anti-artistic,’” and where Morris drew on birds and plants for their structure, Fortuny was especially sensitive to their symbolism. As Byatt lovingly describes theses lives, works, and arts, she reaffirms Morris’s faith in “beauty, imagination and order” as the touchstones of all good things.
Peacock & Vine: On William Morris and Mariano Fortuny - A. S. Byatt