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This article is taken from PN Review 222, Volume 41 Number 4, March - April 2015.

Pictures from a Library 19: Claude Mellan

The Extraordinary Virtuosity of Claude Mellan’s Veil of St Veronica
Stella Halkyard
The Saudarium or The Veil of St Veronica

Claude Mellan, The Sudarium, or The Veil of St Veronica (1649). Reproduced by courtesy of the Director of the John Rylands Library, the University of Manchester


Perusing one of the lesser-fathomed reaches of the Rylands catalogue, the art historian Ed Wouk stumbled upon an enigmatic reference that caught his attention – ‘collection of engravings/by C. Mellan’. Curious, he submitted a request slip to one of the assistants in the Rylands Reading Room and waited for the item to be retrieved. Some time later she returned staggering under the weight of an elephantine volume, bound in red morocco with ‘C. Mellan’ tooled in gold on its spine. Together they heaved it into position on the book rest and Ed opened it carefully and looked inside. Page by page a series of exquisite engravings, executed by the seventeenth-century French artist Claude Mellan, were revealed.

Winded with excitement, Ed realised that he had rediscovered one of the albums that the distinguished publishers, the Mariettes, had compiled for the Spencer family, ‘one of the great monuments to taste in the collecting of old master prints’. The album had found its way to Manchester as part of the Spencer Collection, which was purchased by the founder of the Library, Enriqueta Rylands, in 1892. Hidden it languished, neglected by readers.

As Ed searched through his find he became impatient to know whether the album would contain Mellan’s masterpiece The ...


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