skip to content

William Morris (1834-1896) Icelandic sagas 1873-1874Cockerell met William Morris in 1886 and became his librarian and private secretary in 1892. Morris shaped the young man's taste and opinions by introducing him to leading writers, artists, musicians, architects, designers, collectors and dealers, many of whom would soon be at the heart of Cockerell's private and professional life. Morris encouraged Cockerell to visit galleries and museums, and to analyse the exhibits, their arrangement and interpretation, provoking perceptive, if often uncharitable comments on the clutter typical of late Victorian displays. He also suggested a different setting for works of art. Cockerell noted their impact when combined with exotic rugs and tapestries, period furniture, and the colours and scent of fresh flowers. Domestic arrangements, such as Morris's Red House or 'the enchanted interior of Kelmscott House', encapsulated the 'country house' style that would become the hallmark of the Fitzwilliam Museum under Cockerell.

Morris widened Cockerell's horizons by exposing him to the vast range of media which he practised himself, from panel painting, frescoes, stained glass, furniture, tiles, wallpaper, textiles and interior design to typography, calligraphy, and illumination. Since his first attempt at calligraphy in 1856, Morris had designed, penned and partly illuminated over twenty manuscripts, creating his most glorious pieces between 1869 and 1875, but completing very few of them. He wrote and illuminated this manuscript of the Icelandic sagas for Lady Burne-Jones who presented it to the Fitzwilliam Museum within a year of Cockerell's arrival. It was an acquisition particularly close to the Director's heart.