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Coptic binding

Coptic Binding, 7th or 8th Century
Detached from: The Gospels, in Coptic
Illuminated manuscript on vellum
Egypt: Monastery of Holy Mary Mother of God, Perkethoout near Hamuli, the Fayum, 7th or 8th century
Goatskin over papyrus boards; decorated with onlaid panels of red leather tracery sewn to a gilded leather ground, with plain edges
MS M.569. Purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan, 1911
See CORSAIR catalog record for this item »

This is the finest surviving Coptic bookbinding. Its decorative scheme is both elaborate and complicated. To a background panel of gilded leather was applied a tracery pattern cut from a single piece of red-dyed sheepskin or goatskin; the border bands contain strips of white vellum laced through parallel slits. This openwork pattern was then sewn to the gilded background, shining through the cutouts; to it were added colored circles, along with concentric circles of dark and light brown with a red leather central dot. It is possible that the decorative panels are considerably older than the binding itself, having been transferred from an earlier binding.

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Background images: Photography by Todd Eberle unless otherwise noted. © 2006 Todd Eberle.