Jarring discovery of the day

I just discovered that Eric Gill, creator of the reasonably popular typeface Gill Sans, was one weird dude.

Arthur Eric Rowton Gill ARA (/ɡɪl/;[1] 22 February 1882 – 17 November 1940) was an English sculptor, typeface designer, and printmaker, who was associated with the Arts and Crafts movement. His religious views and subject matter are generally viewed as being at odds with his sexual behaviour, including his erotic art and alleged sexual abuse of his daughters, sisters, and dog.

I think we need a stronger word than “alleged” there. He wrote about it in his personal diaries, and further, his daughter discussed it frankly.

I don’t know that his behavior was at odds with his religious views, either. He was Catholic, but Catholicism covers a broad range, and he favored a socialist flavor of the faith, which has modern conservative Catholics angry, and his incestuous and bestial behavior are good reasons to flog him. Well, and also for good Catholics to “analyze” his erotic art.

Before pointing out a webpage with his works, I feel it necessary to give a prudent warning. Gill’s drawings are extremely indecent. I don’t recommend that anyone look at them. But since I was making a serious investigation into exactly who Eric Gill really was, I went to a site and analyzed some of his prints. I can assure you that the critics were not exaggerating. The prints contain many nudes, including pornographic and blasphemous ones. For instance, some depict male and female nude saints with their respective halos performing the sexual act; another entitled God Sending shows a naked and sexually aroused Christ descending to earth; yet another entitled Earth Receiving shows what appears to be the same Christ fornicating with a woman, possibly representing the earth.

All that sounds just lovely to me, while the bit about having sex with is close relatives creeps me out. Ick. What a mess of a man.

I haven’t been tangling with Catholics very much lately, but if I do, I guess I’ll have to quote them in Gill Sans from now on.


  1. Artor says

    Considering the behavior of countless priests, cardinals and popes, that doesn’t sound out of line with Catholicism at all.

  2. latsot says

    I think we need a stronger word than “alleged” there

    I think you need a stronger word than “weird”.

  3. Becca Stareyes says

    “For instance, some depict male and female nude saints with their respective halos performing the sexual act;”

    Wait, are the saints’ haloes having the sex, or the saints are having sex, but they have halos to show ‘yep, these are saints all right’? I assume the latter, but the former would be more weird. And I care enough to ask the question, but not enough to go looking for Catholic erotica.

  4. says

    Eric Gill was a piece of work all right. Learning about what he did put me right off Gill Sans which had been one of my favorite typefaces prior to that.

    Regarding sexual themes on religious art, I have a book on the topic of sexuality in Western art generally, which touches on the frankly sado-masochistic representations of martyrdom in allegedly devotional images. The author cites a particular image by a minor artist, Guido Cagnacci, titled The Young Martyr (NSFW image here). As the author points out, there is nothing in this image to suggest who this alleged martyr is supposed to be: it is just a gratuitous and voyeuristic rendering of a half-naked young woman surrounded by instruments of torture masquerading as a religious image. The air of hypocrisy and delight in cruelty on display in it is pretty disgusting IMO.

  5. says

    Just an aside, but I recently learned that Gill Sans Condensed was adopted by East Germany as the official font for all street and road signs. Maybe they had their reasons.

  6. PaulBC says

    This post was worth it just for the sentence “But since I was making a serious investigation into exactly who Eric Gill really was, I went to a site and analyzed some of his prints.” I too have many ongoing investigations.

    It’s nice font, but it’s not hard to find a substitute.

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  8. PaulBC says

    female nude saints with their respective halos performing the sexual act

    It wasn’t until I reread this today that I realized it was probably the saints and not their halos engaged in coitus. It was a lot more interesting trying to imagine what their halos were doing. It all feels a little more pedestrian now that I have managed to parse this sentence as intended.