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This article is taken from PN Review 216, Volume 40 Number 4, March - April 2014.

Pictures from a Library 13: John Henning
John Henning's Miniature Parthenon Frieze
Stella Halkyard
John Henning Parthenon Frieze
John Henning, Parthenon Frieze [c.1820s]
Reproduced by courtesy of the University Librarian and the Director of The John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester

The metaphors of the book are, according to Susan Stewart, 'the metaphors of containment, of exteriority and interiority, of surface and depth, of covering and exposure, of taking apart and putting together'. Stewart's observation aptly applies to a set of seemingly unremarkable early-nineteenth-century volumes, leather-bound in blue and bearing the title 'Parthenon Frieze' on their spine, which are held in the John Rylands Library in Manchester.

Behind glass, they purport to be books but, should you unlock the case, take one out and try to open it, a fiction is revealed. Instead of containing a text block divided up into pages that are sewn on the left, in the Western tradition, these 'books' are in fact boxes. Made of wood and divided into compartments, they house a series of miniature sculptures (just 2 x 6 inches each). This 'box where sweets compacted lie' unexpectedly renders Stewart's metaphors concrete, as their tiny story unfolds in the shape of a plastic art rather than the form of a written or printed literary work.

They were made by the sculptor John Henning, who had built up a successful artist's studio in his native Paisley, then in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Henning produced portraits from life in wax, plaster, bronze and vitreous enamel. His arrival in London in 1811 coincided with that of the Elgin marbles, which ...


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