Arts and Crafts Pioneers: Herbert Horne in Italy

Arts and Crafts Pioneers: Herbert Horne in Italy

To mark the publication of Arts and Crafts Pioneers by Stuart Evans and Jean Liddiard today, 15th February, co-author Jean Liddiard provides us with some enticing extracts from the story of the Century Guild.
In this final instalment, Jean discusses the significant impact that Horne's travels in Italy had on his creative output... 


Horne’s cover design for the 1893 Hobby Horse. Image courtesy of William Morris Gallery.


Herbert Horne’s life was transformed by his first significant architectural commission from a wealthy philanthropist, Mrs Emelia Russell Gurney, for him and the artist Frederic Shields to design a chapel of meditation, the Chapel of the Ascension, on a site near the Bayswater Road. Mrs Gurney paid for them both to travel to Italy for five weeks between September and October 1889 to research architecture and mural paintings. It was his first visit to Italy, and the effect was immediate,

‘So soon as we emerged from the St Gothard tunnel I realised for the first time, what Italian light, and air, was; it occurred, at one [once?], to me, how impossible it would be not to preserve breadth of effect, in any piece or painting, or architecture, done under such conditions.’

Horne kept a diary, but what survive are tantalisingly brief lists of what was visited each day, with the occasional technical note on architectural details. In Milan Shields noted that

‘we have been feeding, both of us, on Luini, and Horne particularly on the Santa Maria della Grazia [sic] façade’.


Edmund WilliamElton, Painting of the Church of Sant’Agostino Pietrasanta, which Herbert P Horne studied as a model for the Chapel of the Ascension. Private Collection. Photograph by Paul Tucker. Reproduced in Arts and Crafts Pioneers.


They then travelled on to Pietrasanta, near Carrara. In the same letter of 13 September from Pietrasanta, Shields wrote to Mrs Gurney,

‘We are at this wonderful little place . . . both the churches here are   most choice examples of Lombardic – so simple and pure – and we are making studies of them and of the principles that govern their design. Horne admires them extremely.’

Shields mentions the façade of the Duomo, but Horne does not; however, he took detailed measurements of the church of Sant’Agostino.  Pietrasanta, frequented by Michelangelo for the Carrara marble quarries, seems to have attracted English artists, as in the landscape featuring both churches, by Edmund William Elton. There have been various claims as to the model for his design, both Sant’Agostino, and the Duomo (mistakenly referred to by Fletcher as Santa Maria delle Grazie); probably he drew on several Lombardic models.

After Pietrasanta in September came Pisa, Lucca and Florence. They visited the Uffizi and the Pitti – Horne mentions Giotto and Cimabue. He also paid attention to the work of Michelangelo, noting in the vestibule of the Laurentian library,

‘The transition of the pronounced curves, and shadows, of the staircase, and consoles on side walls, to the comparative quietness of the upper order’.


Double page spread of Arts and Crafts Pioneers showing Chapel of the Ascension, Bayswater, front elevation, 1901 edition of the Architectural Review. Image: British Library.


By late September they were in Rome, making a quick tour of the main monuments, including some from late antiquity and the medieval period, such as S. Clemente. While Shields understandably concentrated on Michelangelo’s frescoes, Horne responded not only to Michelangelo’s architecture but also to his sculpture. In spite of his admiration for Michelangelo, Horne’s concept for Emelia Gurney’s Chapel of the Ascension had been crystallised by the simplicity of the ‘Lombardic’ styles, especially Pietrasanta, recognising that the grandeur of Michelangelo would be impossible and inappropriate on a small scale.


The former CG had ended by 1892 with Horne leaving Fitzroy for the Temple, where he tried to perpetuate the old CGHH with a new independent version, The Hobby Horse, only lasting for three issues. Already in the mid-1890s Horne was readying himself to leave permanently for Italy. After industrial London he was attracted by the fascination of the barely explored Florentine archives, the sunnier climate and the relatively unpolluted atmosphere for his lung affliction. However, equally important was the aesthetic fulfilment it offered,

I will attempt no apology for my over-weening admiration for all things Italian, not for having passed in Italy every day of my existence, that by hook or by crook I could possibly succeed in passing. For I hold that the best English Art (in contradistinction of our native, unsophisticated crafts) is essentially an illusive [sic] art in its nature, and at its most formative moments, has invariably drawn its inspiration from Italy . . . .


Art historian Fritz Saxl, who called Horne ‘the most accomplished historian of art whom this country has ever produced,’ described the transformation Horne effected to achieve his goal,

‘The break which Horne made was complete. He sold his collection of English eighteenth-century watercolours in order to realise capital on which to live in Italy . . . In future he was to live only for the arts of the early Italian Renaissance and to write about them in a new life . . . his energies were to be devoted to the discovery of facts, which he was to state in a severe and unimpeachable language . . . Historical criticism of all available sources, pictorial, literary, and documentary, became his life’s work.’


HP Horne's drawing of capital 'G' for the series he designed for the Century Guild Hobby Horse from 1889. Image courtesy of William Morris Gallery.


Horne’s quest for perfection explains his determination in acquiring in 1912 the former Palazzo Corsi, which fulfilled his exigent requirements; it was attributed to Giuliano da Sangallo, who redesigned it in 1489. Horne aimed to create the unique 15th-century Florentine environment whose beauty and utility were more than the sum of its parts, as the reviewer A.J. Rusconi perceived,

‘they form in this manner a perfect whole . . . In the beautiful and well-lighted rooms on the first floor are now arranged, as in wealthy abodes of the Renaissance, the beautiful works of art which had rejoiced the heart of the fortunate collector. This is not a cold museum, but a historical palace full of precious objects and refined comfort. [Horne] had also the good fortune to discover some rare pictures and pieces of sculpture, worthy of any famous gallery . . . Besides these noble works of art, the Horne Palace contains a splendid collection of objects of domestic and ornamental use . . . Besides these there is a collection of engravings and drawings, among them some very rare’ . . . .


Horne died in his unfinished palazzo in 1916. Today it is open to the public and although many of the drawings and paintings have been removed to the Uffizi, the everyday 15th-century objects are still in place on the lower floors to complement the collection as a whole.

Critic and former Fitzroy frequenter Roger Fry recalled him with respect in his obituary in the Burlington Magazine, which he and Horne had founded together,

‘he had an aesthetic sensibility of the highest order . . . It was the combination of imaginative thought and laborious accuracy which gave to his work something of that quality of perfection for which he always strove.’



-- Jean P Liddiard, February 2021



You can order your copy of Arts and Crafts Pioneers HERE.

It will be released upon publication on 15th February 2021. 


This book by Stuart Evans and Jean Liddiard accompanies a major exhibition at the William Morris Gallery, entitled, Within The Reach of All: The Century Guildwhich will be the first exhibition in 20 years to explore the pioneering aesthetics and lasting legacy of this influential association of artists, designers and craftspeople.

The exhibition is now rescheduled to run from 1 April 2021 - 31 August 2021, but please do check the William Morris Gallery website before planning your visit.