Writer's Flow

Just another writer going with the flow

Posts tagged drawing

1,075 notes &



Art on the edge

As a book historian I love edges: it is in these confined spaces that we encounter great doodles (like these). The images above are from a different edge: the fore-edge, the long side of the book where the pages are huddled together. I recently encountered the 19th-century fore-edge painting at the top, showing the faces of composers (Pic 1). I was curious and started to dig: it turns out the fore-edge was a very popular location for decoration, from the medieval age right up to our own time.

The oldest examples I found were from the 14th century (Pic 2), although in this time they are mostly still plain drawings, such as the coat of arms of Duc du Berry, a bibliophile from the early 14th century (Pic 3). The fore-edge was also used to hold the title of the book. “Quaestiones morales” (moral questions), a 15th-century hand wrote on the fore-edge in Pic 4. Handy, since you knew what was in the book without getting it off the shelf. This trick worked because books were shelved with their fore-edges facing the reader, as shown in the early-17th-century private library in Pic 5.

In the 16th and 17th centuries fore-edges became canvasses holding spectacular paintings. Especially famous is the collection of books owned by Odorico Pillone (d. 1533), who commissioned no fewer than 172 drawings for his library (some are seen in Pic. 6, more info here). They cost a fortune: when Christie’s offered 18 of them for sale, they estimated their value at $1.7-2.4 million (more here). In our modern day the edge of the book is still a place for drawing pictures. Johns Hopkins owns a copy of A.A. Milne’s Now we are six that has been decorated by its owner (Pic 9). Drawing on the edge is clearly something that unites book owners from all ages. What are you waiting for?

Pics: Books and Bromer booksellers (Pic 1, see here); London, British Library, MSS Egerton 2610 (Pic 2) and Burney 275 (Pic 3); Special Collections Amherst, MA (Pic 4, taken from this blog); Christie’s auction website (Pic 5); Indiana University, Lilly Library (Pic 6); Washington, Folger Shakespeare Library, 267-907.1q (Pic 7) and PR 2752 1849c copy 1 Sh. Col. (Pic 8). More information: Check out blogs here and here; as well as this exhibition of 19th-century fore-edge drawings. Here is a large collection from different centuries. Also check out this collection of GIFs from the University of Iowa.

It’s pretty incredible to be part of this list. 

Filed under books art book art special collections doodling drawing