169 artists celebrate the 250th anniversary of Sterne’s marbled page.
Following the success of the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne was commissioned to produce more. James Dodsley, the London bookseller who had sold copies of Volumes I and II, published Sterne’s sermons under the title ‘The Sermons of Mr. Yorick’ in 1760. In January 1761, Volumes III and IV of the novel became available to purchase, so 2011 marks not only the publishing of the volumes but also the 250th anniversary of Sterne’s most remarkable literary stroke of genius – the marbled page contained in Volume III.
The marbled page in every copy of Vol. III (in every edition*) is different – each impression being a unique hand-made image. The marbler folded in the edges of the page (thereby creating margins) and rested it on a mixture of inks. When dry, the page was refolded so that the reverse could also be marbled. The page numbers, 169 and 170, were then hand-stamped. If you carefully examine page [169 ] in Vol. III in the original edition, four fold marks define the edges of the marbling and also create the surrounding margins. The central section of p.169 was laid upon the marbled mixture in order that a coloured impression could be taken as cleanly as possible. It was left to dry and then reverse-folded so the other side of the paper could also receive a marbled impression. This side of the paper became page .
To keep costs down, modern editions of the novel do not feature a page marbled in this way. Some do not include one at all.
In the text opposite the marbling (p.168), Sterne tells the reader that the next marbled page is the ‘motly emblem of my work’ – the page displaying a visual confirmation that his work is endlessly variable, endlessly open to chance.
2011 was the 250th anniversary of Sterne’s marbled page. Since the marbled page appears on page 169 of Volume III, 169 artists and writers were invited to design the Emblem of their own work.
Each contributor generously donated the result to raise funds for the Laurence Sterne Trust in an anonymous auction.
In 2009, 73 artists, writers and composers had created a new black page to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the black page in Vol I. The Emblem of My Work continued this tribute to Sterne’s visualisation of ideas by asking 169 artists / writers / composers to create an Emblem of their work for display in the gallery at Shandy Hall. Each of the 73 original contributors were invited to participate again – and to propose a fellow practitioner. An exhibition that celebrates chance – that involves chance. The list of participants appeared on the ‘Emblem of My Work’ blog along with images of the work – but who made which Emblem? This was only revealed with the publication of the catalogue.
Exhibition was in collaboration with ‘Art in Yorkshire’ supported by Tate. Supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Emblem of My Work (Marbled Page) exhibition/auction website