Classic readers are a lucky bunch when it comes to book covers. Almost universally, classic books are covered in great artworks or designs, that add an extra special treat to having a great book on the bookshelf. This blog post is going to be light on words but big on pictures, so enjoy the following classic book covers from my own bookcase. These are my favourite covers that I have identified, but having just got into the habit of photographing book covers, I want to add a lot more in future!
- Moliére – The Misanthrope and Other Plays
A wonderfully colourful and playful scene to this book cover, this piece of artwork is called Jourdain Fencing his Maid by Charles Leslie. Penguin Classics as we shall see, often have very colourful and striking artwork to their numerous classic book collection, and what a great service they do for us all!
2. Dante Alighieri – The Divine Comedy
I really should have plenty more Everyman’s Library books in my collection, but as it stands this is the only one I currently have. This is a portrait of Dante himself by Sandro Botticelli.
3. Henrik Ibsen – Four Major Plays
Oxford World’s Classics can match any publisher for inspired artworks. The books are almost pieces of art themselves. For the cover of this Henrik Ibsen collection of plays, the painting is called A Woman at a Window by Vilhelm Hammershoi.
4. Aristotle – The Politics
I think this is pre-renaissance artwork because the perspective is kind of like a bit crazy, but I love these medieval artworks that have so much character to them. This is actually taken from a french manuscript of Aristotle’s works from the 15th Century.
5. David Hume – An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding
This book is worth buying for the cover itself, I don’t care what people say. I’m not sure what a pool/snooker table has to do with Hume’s philosophy but The billiard room of Menil Hubert by Edgar Degas is a stunning piece of art to have as a front cover.
6. Honoré de Balzac – Old Goriot
Now this is definitely one cover that is done no justice by the photo. In the flesh, this waxy kind of artwork gleams beautifully off the page. This is one of 2 translations of Pere/Old Goriot by Balzac I have, and it was the Oxford Classics version that I read recently. This is a Portrait of Felix Lopez by Vincente Lopez.
7. Othello – William Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Penguin Classic series has many great pieces of art for its covers (just look at the range on Amazon) and most of them have a connection with the play in question. This was taken from an advertising poster for a production of Othello in the 1950’s by Waldemar Swierzy.
8. Ward Number Six and Other Stories – Anton Chekhov
A picturesque landscape picture from rural Russia provides a stunning cover for one of the many books of Anton Chekhov short stories that Oxford and Penguin produce. This piece is called The Rooks are Back Again by Alexei Savrasov.
9. Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Freidrich Nietzsche
This is one of the books I simply couldn’t stop staring at after I bought it. I mean, what a stunner! This artwork is Sunset, Mont Blanc by Wenzel Hablik. Penguin also used Hablik’s artwork for the cover of Beyond Good and Evil by Nietzsche, but I’ll have to show that one off another time, because it’s also magnificent.
But the best of the best of the best is… 10. The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola
Whoever at Oxford University Press came up with the idea to use this piece of artwork is a genius. It honestly looks like you get a free painting with your copy of the book. Truly spectacular! Wonderfully detailed and very appropriate to the theme of the novel, this is The Square in Front of Les Halles by Victor Gabriel-Gilbert. I love busy and scene paintings such as this one, and this would be eye-catching on anyone’s bookshelf.
So there are 10 of my favourite book covers from my own collection. Having done this blog post now, there are plenty more book covers I want to post, so maybe I will do that sporadically as time goes on.
I would love to know and see (by link if necessary) what book covers you believe are truly gorgeous. I’m especially keen to see and learn of some of the American Penguin Classic front covers, as I believe these are different in many cases to the cover used for the British versions? Whatever you think makes a great cover though, let me know in the comments!