Joseph Swain, Amor Mundi, a wood-engraving after Frederick Sandys

London, England, AD 1865

A mid-Victorian illustration commenting on the transitory nature of joy

Joseph Swain (1820-1909) was one of the most prolific wood-engravers of the period. He had a workshop where engravings were executed by a large team under his name.

Amor Mundi was published in Shilling Magazine in 1865, opposite a poem of the same title by Christina Rossetti (1830-94). In the magazine two lines from the poem are printed beneath the illustration: 'Oh, what's that in the hollow, so pale I quake to follow? / Oh, that's a thin dead body which waits th'eternal term.' Both the poem and the illustration offer a macabre comment on the transitory nature of joy, as two lovers stroll towards a corpse in the undergrowth, ignoring the snakes that writhe in their path.

Christina Rossetti was the sister of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Her poems were regularly published in anthologies and periodicals. They include poems of fantasy, love lyrics and religious poetry, and tend to have a melancholy or morbid character.

When Frederick Sandys (1832-1904) executed his design for this print, he was a member of the intimate circle of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He was a painter as well as a draughtsman, but he excelled at drawing and making designs for wood-engraved illustrations. In them he expressed mid-Victorian obsessions: sex, death, despair and yearning passion.

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More information


P. Goldman, Victorian Illustrated Books 18 (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

P. Goldman, Looking at prints, drawings an (London, The British Museum Press / Getty, 1988)


Height: 175.000 mm
Width: 99.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1912-12-27-182

not found on MERLIN


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