Flames Descending Into Darkness: Richard-Paul Lohse and Rosa Luxemburg

This dust jacket, designed by Richard Paul Lohse, is probably my favorite example of book design from the 1930’s – a remarkable example of storytelling through form.

It was created for the first German translation of a work which had originally appeared in Dutch two years prior. The poet and socialist Roland-Holst was a close friend of Luxemburg. Following the ascent of the Nazi party, it was almost impossible to publish books with a socialist or pacifist attitude in Germany, and many such German language books were published in Switzerland, as with this title. Jean-Christophe Verlag was a publishing house closely allied with the Buchergilde Gutenberg, famous for publishing B. Traven. (See here for an earlier post on the flight of that press from Germany).



This shift allowed the Swiss designer Richard Paul Lohse to work on a variety of socialist books, including this title, which features one of the most striking and enduring dust jackets of the 1930’s. The front is graced with a photograph of Luxemburg; the rear panel reproduces a letter from Luxemburg to the author. The two panels are linked by a photomontage of marching socialists which begins on the back panel and marches downward to disappear into darkness on the spine, but not before coloring the word “Rosa” rose – a striking link between meaning and form. The procession ascends again at the front panel to burst into stark relief against Luxemburg’s blouse, the flags seeming to burst into flames.


We’re grateful for Felix Wiedler’s excellent book design blog, where we first learned about this work.

Roland-Holst, Henriette [Lohse, Richard Paul]. Rosa Luxemburg: Ihre Leben und Wirken. Zurich: Jean-Christophe Verlag, 1937. First edition. 8vo, 223 pp, bound in dove grey cloth printed in blue; illustrated dust jacket. Inquire. 

Fado, Saudade, and the Destruction of Borders and Property

Pinto de Carvalho’s Historia Do Fado is the first published book length study of the musical genre, and according to João Silva, “Still a valuable source for fado historiography, especially when addressing the relationship between popular music and national character and how the vernacular is appropriated.” [Silva, p. 166). The book is of particular value in that Carvalho explored the relationship of the music to the culture of the fadista, to the Lisbon underworld of taverns and prostitution which nurtured the music, to fashion, and to the Mouraria district, using the figure of Maria Severa as a key. A striking reproduction of a drawing of her graces the front wrap, beautifully printed in slightly metallic blue ink which seems to float off of the page.




For those of us without a great grasp of the Portuguese language, the book is also rewarding for the thirteen additional striking illustrations, mostly drawings and photographs of people associated with Fado, including Conde de Vimioso, D. José de Almada e Lencastre, Conde de Anadia, Marquez de Castello Melhor, Manoel Gonçalves Tormenta, Ambrosio Fernandes Maia, Antonio Euzebio O Calafate, O Ribeirinho, João Maria Dos Anjos, José Joaquim Emygdio Maior, and A. Albertina.





















Finally, the book is valuable for the many complete fado lyrics included in the book, including an untitled socialist fado on page 262.


“Um de Maio, álerta! álerta!

Soldados de liberdade!

Eia ávante, é destruir

Fronteiras e propriedade.”


Carvalho describes this as a new genre, and in a tantalizing footnote says that there are many such songs, which, if there are a number of them extant, would make a great anthology. I’d be grateful to anyone who can point me in the direction of others.




Carvalho, Pinto de. Historia do Fado. Lisboa: Livraria Guimaraes, 1903. First edition. 8vo, 270 pp, rebound at a contemporary or early date in marbled paper overboards backed in green buckram titled in gilt at the spine, with the original pictorial wraps bound in. Previous owner’s private, small ex libris bookplate tipped onto ffep. Illustrated with 13 photographs and drawings. Text in Portuguese.

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