Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Six Sacred Books In Spectacular Bindings

By Stephen J. Gertz

Dario Ecclesiatico Para o Reino de Portugal,
Principalmente Para A Guide de Lisboa, Para o Anno de 1822.
Lisboa [Lisbon]: Imprensa Nacional, n.d. [c.1821].

A small cache of Bibles, prayer books, and an octavarium, each in a stunning binding, has recently come to market. Dating from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, the bindings represent some of the finest work performed in Europe, in various styles and using distinctive materials.

Though they tend to be a bit on the precious side, I'm a sucker for a great embroidered binding. The above Portuguese almanac for 1822 is graced with a contemporary armorial design in full white satin, embroidered with silver and gold thread and multi-colored silks in an elaborate scroll pattern, and embellished with small gold spangles and silver leaves. A central Portuguese royal coat of arms with surrounding embroidered laurel leaves catches the eye and holds it. All edges are gilt and gauffered.

The Holy Bible [bound with] The Book of Common Prayer [bound with]
The Genealogies [bound with] The Whole Book of Psalms.
London: Bonham Norton and John Bill, 1619.

The above early sixteenth century British binding is in contemporary full red satin embroidered with silver thread and colored silks in a floral motif. The central oval sprouts a carnation of embroidered red, green, and yellow silk. The spine compartments feature floral sprays.

Biblia Sacra...Lugduni [Lyon]: Johann Toournes, 1554.

By the time the above Biblia Sacra was published in the mid-16th century, enameled bindings, which appeared from the 11th through the 15th centuries, had become rare as the technique fell into disuse. This example, in contemporary enamelled polychrome calf, with gilt rolled border enclosing red, green, gray, and gilt interlocking strapwork, is remarkable and includes. chased brass corners, and all edges gilt,  gauffered, and painted with floral design.

The Book of Common Prayer.
Cambridge: Printed for John Baskerville for B. Dod, 1762.

The above Book of Common Prayer, printed by the great John Baskerville, hounds the eyes in a rococo design of full contemporary green morocco with a gilt-tooled frame  featuring gilt-stamped snail, insect, and dragon emblems enclosing a central Christogram of onlaid green, red, and citron morocco. Silver clasps close the book on this binding.

The Holy Bible, Containing the Old Testament and the New...
[bound with] The Whole Book of Psalmes.
London: Henry Hills [and John Field]: Companie of Stationers, 1660-1661.

Holy Bible binding, Batman! Near contemporary black morocco with a divided panel of four corner-pieces and a central pointed oval of onlaid red and citron morocco graces the above English bible from the mid-17th century. The whole is gloriously festooned with gilt tulips, leaves, onlaid flowers, and small massed volutes, and small bird-heads at top and bottom.

It's from the Restoration workshop known as the Naval Binder for its work done for the Navy Office in the 1670s - 1680s. Samuel Pepys, Chief Secretary to the Admiralty, commissioned some of the bindery's best work when he wasn't scribbling in his diary.

Octavarium Romanum, sive Octavae Festorum.
Venice: Nicolaum Pezzana, 1755.

This finely bound Venetian octavarium (a religious office-book containing lections, etc., for use within the octaves of festivals.) with its wide outer border and tooling, is suggestive of Neapolitan binding and was possibly wrought by the Salvioni workshop,

It features contemporary full marbled brown calf over pasteboard, elaborately gilt-tooled with gilt-tooled border enclosing a frame of gilt tools painted in silver, black and azure that presents an inner panel with central painted cross-hatched diamond surrounded by small massed gilt tools and ribbons. All edges are gilt and gauffered.

The supernal bindings to these sacred books are enough to bring the faithless to their knees.

All images courtesy of James Cummins, Bookseller, currently offering these items, with our thanks.

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