Monday, September 6, 2010
About embroidered books (Acerca de los libros bordados)
Christopherson, Historia Ecclesiastica. Lovanii, 1569
¨The application of needlework to the embellishment of the bindings of books has hitherto almost escaped special notice. In most of the works on the subject of English Bookbinding, considered from the decorative point of view in distinction from the technical, a few examples of embroidered covers have indeed received some share of attention. Thus in both Mr. H. B. Wheatley's and Mr. W. Y. Fletcher's works on the bindings in the British Museum, in Mr. Salt Brassington's Historic Bindings in the Bodleian Library and History of the Art of Bookbinding, and in my own Portfolio monograph on 'Royal English Bookbindings,' some of the finer specimens of embroidered books still existing are illustrated and described. But up to the present no attempt has been made to deal with them as a separate subject. In the course, however, of the many lectures on Decorative Bookbinding which it has been my pleasure and honour to deliver during 2the past few years, I have invariably noticed that the pictures and descriptions of embroidered specimens have been the most keenly appreciated, and this favourable sign has led me to examine and consider such examples as have come in my way more carefully than I might otherwise have done. Very little study sufficed to show that in England alone there was for a considerable period a regular and large production of embroidered books, and further, that the different styles of these embroideries are clearly defined, equally from the chronological and artistic points of view. A peculiarly English art which thus lends itself to orderly treatment may fairly be made the subject of a brief monograph.
The Felbrigge Psalter. 13th-century MS.
With the exception of point-lace, which is sometimes made in small pieces for such purposes as ladies' cuffs or collars, decorative work produced by the aid of the needle is generally large. Certainly this is so in its finest forms, which are probably to be found in the ecclesiastical vestments and in the altar frontals of the Renaissance period, or even earlier. On the other hand, such work as exists on books is always of small size, and, unlike the point-lace, it almost invariably has more than one kind of 'stitchery' upon it—chain, split, tapestry, satin, or what not.
Thus it can be claimed as a distinction for embroidered book-covers that as a class they are the smallest complete embroideries existing, 3ranging upwards from about 6 inches by 3½ inches—the size of the smallest specimen known to me, when opened out to its fullest extent, sides and back in one. This covers a copy of the Psalms, printed in London in 1635, and is of white satin, with a small tulip worked in coloured silk on each side.
An 'Embroidered Book,' it should be said, means for my purpose a book which is covered, sides and back, by a piece of material ornamented with needlework, following a design made for the purpose of adorning that particular book. A cover consisting of merely a piece of woven stuff, or even a piece of true embroidery cut from a larger piece, is not, from my point of view, properly to be considered an 'embroidered book,' it being essential that the design as well as the workmanship should have been specially made for the book on which they are found; and this, in the large majority of instances, is certainly the case.
Christian Prayers. London, 1581.
With regard to the transference of bindings to books other than those for which they were originally made, such a transference has often taken place in the case of mediæval books bound in ornamental metal, but even in these instances it must be recognised that such a change can seldom be made without serious detriment. It is chiefly indeed from some incongruity of style or technical mistake in the re-putting together that we are led to guess that the covers have been 4thus tampered with. Now and then such a transference occurs in the case of leather-bound books, and in such instances is usually easy for a trained binder to detect. Embroidered covers, on the other hand, have rarely been changed, the motive for such a proceeding never having been strong, and the risk attending it being obvious enough. We may, in fact, feel tolerably sure that the large majority of embroidered covers still remain on the boards of the books they were originally made for.
Bible. London, 1583.
All the embroidered books now extant dating from before the reign of Queen Elizabeth have gone through the very unfortunate operation of 're-backing,' in the course of which the old embroidered work is replaced by new leather. The old head and tail bands, technically very interesting, have been replaced by modern imitations, and considerable damage has been done in distorting the work left on the sides of the book. It would seem obvious that a canvas, velvet, or satin embroidered binding, if it really must be re-backed or repaired at all, should be mended with a material as nearly as possible of the same make and colour as that of the original covering; but this has rarely been done, the large majority of such repairs being executed in leather. But in the case of such old bindings we must be grateful for small mercies, and feel thankful that even the sides are left in so many cases. It is indeed surprising that we still possess as much as we do. If all our great collectors had been of the same mind as Henry Prince of Wales, the Right Hon. Thomas Grenville, or even King George iii., we should have been far worse off, as although several fine old bindings exist in their libraries, many which would now be priceless have been destroyed, only to be replaced by comparatively modern bindings, sometimes the best of their kind, but often in bad taste.¨
English Embroidered Bookbindings. By Cyril James Humphries Davenport. Chapter 1. London, 1899
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