15th Century Marquetry Depicting Wooden Boarded Bindings

wood marketry

Marquetry is cool. 15th century representations of books are very cool. Wooden boarded bindings are very, very cool. But marquetry from the 15th century , depicting wooden boarded books?  Very, very, very  cool.

There are from the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Pisa, Italy, and date between 1485-1493. The reader seems to be smiling and intently engaged with the book, which is echoed  visually in the folds of his cloth shirt radiating, indeed engulfing, the width of the open pages. The amount of throwup on the text seems extreme to me; perhaps it was artistic convention, or perhaps I’m used to handling books from this time period that the spine linings have deteriorated. I almost think there are other, chained books, hanging under the lectern.

The page edges on the volume below, on the right, are lovely, although the craftsman seemed to reverse the curve of the textblock.  The intentional wedge shape to the book (in order to make the clasps function, and depicted with the clasps unfastened) is clearly visible.  It almost looks like the endband in laced into the board.  The book under it  might be unfinished– the page edges seem cruder, and don’t depict one of the clasp catch plates. But is does seem to show a quarter leather covering- notice how the grain of the wood changes at the join.

Historic representations of books are a valuable source of information about how books were made, read and stored.

And they are very cool.

wood marketry2

6 thoughts on “15th Century Marquetry Depicting Wooden Boarded Bindings

  1. Jeff Peachey

    Thanks Peter. I tend to be a bit anglocentric in my knowledge of book history, so appreciate the foreign language references. The ,Kettenbibliothek’ is a very fine illustration.

  2. Justin

    Hey Jeff,

    Very Interesting. Question? Is there some literature that supports the idea that wedge-shaped books of this period were intentionally bound that way?

    We have a little bet going here, and I cant seem to remember or find where I had read about this… Im sure it wasn’t just on this blog, because I remember it being taught in school…

  3. Jeff Peachey Post author

    Good question. My first thought was Dirk de Bray, which is later (1658). I remember when Pickwoad taught the structure de Bray described, he talked about beating the spine thinner. But when I look at de Bray, the only difference in spine preparation for books that are to have clasps he mentions is “If the book is to have clasps, however, you do not put strips [transverse vellum spine linings] at the ends [top and bottom spine panel].” This is a little strange, also. Humm, more things to look into- thanks!

    I think one way forward would be to start looking at other representations of books.

  4. Jeff Peachey Post author

    I was wrong, de Bray does talk about it. Page LXIII of de Bray and he makes a pretty big deal about it. “But I would point out that a book which is to be given clasps must be beaten thinner at the spine than at the fore-edge; to this you must pay particular attention”. The translator added an explanation “so that when the book is closed there is tension on the clasps”

    Now I need to work on translating my French version of Anshelmus Faust, (1612)…

  5. peter

    hi, searching the mentioned books nearby & avaliable I found that University of Cologne Library bought this summer (!) de Bray’s ‚A short instruction …’; dutch & engl. version. How nice. Anselm Faust nope.

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