by Beth Carswell
Around the 16th century, an Italian artist named Cesare Vecellio (cousin of celebrated Renaissance painter Titian) began to use the fore-edge of books as a canvas, and took the opportunity to make books more beautiful. The first instances of decorative fore-edge paintings were applied outright on the edges of the leaves, easily visible to anyone who cared to look when the book was closed.
In the 17th century, one of the Queen’s Binders (a group of highly skilled English bookbinders during the Restoration period) took the skill one step further by discovering that if one painted on the slight inner edges of the pages, then gilded or marbled the outside page edges, the scene would be undetectable when the book was closed, and only reveal itself when the pages were fanned slightly, creating a disappearing, re-appearing masterpiece.
While it’s amazing enough hiding one painting this way (a single fore-edge painting), some artists created the astonishing technique of the double fore-edge painting, in which a book’s fore-edge shows two different scenes when the pages are fanned back to front or front to back. And some artists forgo the usual gilt or marbling on the very edges of the eaves, opting instead to include a third depiction (triple fore-edge-painting), visible when the book is closed. Most fantastically of all, some painters also embellish the top and bottom edges of the book pages, for an effect known as a panoramic fore-edge painting.
Believed to have originated as long ago as the 10th century, fore-edge paintings first often depicted shields, coats of arms or other insignia. As artists became more interested in beautification, they began to include landscapes, battle scenes, religious iconography, floral designs, and more, sometimes related to the book's subject and sometimes not.
Many of the books sold today with fore-edge paintings are antiquarian volumes to which the edge paintings have been added much later. One of the most widely seen modern-day fore-edge painting artists is Martin Frost, based in the UK, who since 1970 has produced countless fore-edge paintings, including many offered for sale on AbeBooks.
Please see Bromer Booksellers at http://www.bromer.com/books_foreedge.html and The Boston Public Library at http://foreedge.bpl.org/articles
Fore-edge Painted Books
Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson
San cai tu hui
The Pickwick Papers
Lady Chatterley's Lover
Stories for the Household
Hans Christian Andersen
Chefs-d'oeuvres du roman contemporain