An area of art I haven’t discussed, but which has often been a primary reason why I buy books, is the illustrations. The artwork that went into many books in the 19th and early 20th centuries was sometimes exquisite. Yet, these illustrators remained unknown for the most part and unsung. Today’s image is from Wikimedia Commons and is by a German artist, Adolf Schrödter.
Little is known about Schrödter other than he was born on June 28, 1805, and died Dec. 9, 1875, and was a genre painter of the Düsseldorf school of painting. According to Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge:
The Düsseldorf School had a significant influence on the Hudson River School in the United States, and many prominent Americans trained at the Düsseldorf Academy and show the influence of the Düsseldorf School, including George Caleb Bingham, David Edward Cronin, Eastman Johnson, Worthington Whittredge, Richard Caton Woodville, William Stanley Haseltine, James McDougal Hart, Helen Searle, and William Morris Hunt, as well as German émigré Emanuel Leutze. Albert Bierstadt applied but was not accepted. His American friend Worthington Whittredge became his teacher while attending Düsseldorf.
However, some of Schrödter’s art survives in the form of illustrations and a few prints have been sold at auctions.
In today’s image what impresses me is the level of detail. Here we see Alonso Quixano reading, lounging in a room that is clearly a book lover’s sanctuary. He is a descendant of the family of “Gutierre Quijada” by direct lineage and is proud to be part of a long and noble tradition of knights. In the first part of the book, Alonso, later Don Quixote de la Mancha, is a dreamer, preferring to imagine himself as a superhero, living out a knightly story.
Books are strewn everywhere, beautiful, heavy leather-bound tomes. Schrödter shows him in a relaxed pose, deep into a book. The light of the room comes from a large window. He is a very human, ordinary middle-aged man, relaxing in the most cherished place in his universe: his library.
Alonso Quixano, the protagonist of the novel (though he is not named until much later in the book), is a retired country gentleman nearing fifty years of age, living in La Mancha with his niece and housekeeper. Although he is mostly a rational man, his excessive reading of books of chivalry has produced a skewed view of reality and what we might consider dementia. In keeping with the theories of the time, not sleeping adequately—because he was reading—has caused his brain to dry.
I love that notion.
As a result, Alonso is easily given to anger and believes every word of these fictional books of chivalry to be true. Don Quixote’s niece commits, what is to me, the most heinous crime–she and the Parrish curate burn his library, and lie to him, telling him it was the work of an evil magician.
He descends completely into his fantasy world and decides to become a knight-errant in search of adventure. Schrödter has captured the essence of the making of Don Quixote in this painting—the man who loves books is in his element, the one place where he fits. When that is taken from him, the story begins.
Credits and Attributions:
Don Quixote in the Library, by Adolf Schrödter, 1834 PD|100, via Wikimedia Commons.
Wikipedia contributors, “Düsseldorf school of painting,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=D%C3%BCsseldorf_school_of_painting&oldid=822264175 (accessed August 3, 2018).