According to Otto Wang, author of niche publications in defence of the reputation of Danish ex-libris, and writing in 1927, no one had received more praise for their bookplate artistry than Ebba Holm. A painter, engraver and illustrator, Holm became most famous for 108 linocut illustrations to a 1929 edition of Danteâs Divine Comedy, in Christian Knud Frederik Molbechâs translation. Otto Wang sees Holm as belonging âto the not too many Danish artists who have really been interested in this special little art [of ex libris] and realized that it is necessary to cultivate it and subject it to a special studyâ.
In Wangâs survey of Holmâs ex libris art, he suggests the artist has given us two of the greatest Danish bookplates, one being for Harald and Karen Abrahamsen (answers on a postcard) and the other being Ebba Holmâs own. Recently, the library acquired LâOpinion et lâamour, a 1830 French book belonging to Holm herself, so we are lucky enough to be in the possession of this famed ex libris. Sadly we donât know much about Holmâs personal library, and whether she had chosen the book because it was a historical novel written by a woman, Madame de de SaintâSurin, who had also written about the Middle Ages, or for its pretty binding by Janet, a Parisian bookbinder known for his decorative tastes. In any case, it is exciting to see her choice for this most personal design:
Ebba Holmâs ex libris from Madame de Saint Surin, LâOpinion et lâamour (Paris, 1830), awaiting shelfmark
Holmâs love of medieval imagery, or of all things medieval, is expressed in her own bookplate, which features a knight (or could it be Joan of Arc?) holding a spear from which floats a banner displaying her name.
The library has since also acquired a copy of Johannes JĂžrgensenâs Dantestemninger (âDante moodsâ), a limited edition from 1928, which features a quartet of poems first published in JĂžrgensenâs collection Bag alle de blaa BjĂŠrge (1913) here in large format alongside four striking woodcuts by Ebba Holm. Our copy has a small book label designed by the illustrator and stuck on the inside back cover. It bears her initials and is adorned with what looks like a heraldic eagle.
Ebba Holmâs initials underneath an eagle
JĂžrgensen and Holm were both Italophiles. JĂžrgensen (1866-1956) lived in Siena from 1914 and wrote the lives of St Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena and St Bridget of Sweden after his conversion to Catholicism around 1895.
The Dantestemninger were written at the time he was composing his work on Catherine of Siena and his research into the period allowed JĂžrgensen to explore an interest in Dante. As JĂžrgen Breitenstein has written, the poems often explicitly recall Molbechâs translation of Dante, as we see at the end of JĂžrgensenâs first poemâs reference to Inferno III, 1: âog fĂžrer ind til Staden, fuld af Jammerâ (âPer me si va ne la cittĂ dolenteâ / âThrough me the way into the suffering cityâ). That said, JĂžrgensen portrays a wet, foggy, autumnal forest that has no real parallel to Danteâs Inferno, and Holm depicts a lost forest-bound protagonist in the first woodcut.
JĂžrgensonâs Inferno in a Northern European sylvan mood
Holm might be said to deviate from JĂžrgensenâs second poem as she depicts the protagonistâs encounter with Beatrice. Holmâs scene might be based on Danteâs Florence but the city is also simple and industrial, the encounter itself without any of the symbolism of JĂžrgensenâs (and Danteâs) association of Beatrice with fire and flames.
Dante meets Beatrice
The third poem deals with Danteâs exile from Florence and the fourth with Dante and Beatriceâs ascension in Paradiso.
Dante in exile
Dante in paradise
Holmâs illustrations here are accomplished without being remarkable but they can also be seen as preparatory for the more lavish, impressive and ultimately prize-winning linocuts for the later Divine Comedy edition. Unfortunately, we donât yet have a copy of this but weâll be keeping our eyes peeled for a fine edition!
Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections, and Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
Johannes JĂžrgensen, Dantestemninger (Copenhagen, 1928) LF.31.b.13902
Otto Wang, Ebba Holms Exlibris (Kolding, 1927), 2708.g.23