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Protecting the Word: Bookbindings of the Morgan
December 5, 2008, through March 29, 2009

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Gilt silver, enamel, and jeweled bookcover
[Probably Salzburg, ca. 760–90]
Earlier binding used as lower cover on Lindau Gospels, Abbey of St. Gall, Switzerland, late ninth century
350 x 275 mm
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1901; MS M. 1

This is the oldest jeweled binding in the Morgan. Although the precise date and origin of the cover remain mysterious, it has been suggested that it was made around Salzburg during the time of Bishop Virgilius (d. 784). The main decorative motif is a cross, the arms of which broaden at their ends. In the central square are a topaz and four abbreviations: IHS XPS DNS NOS (Iesus Christus Dominus Noster—Jesus Christ Our Lord). Four champlevé busts of Christ framed by garnets extend from the square. Between the arms of the cross are four silver gilt panels with animal interlace. The four medallions with the Evangelists were added in 1594.

Jeweled upper cover of the Lindau Gospels, ca. 880
Court School of Charles the Bald
Lindau Gospels, in Latin
Switzerland, Abbey of St. Gall, late ninth century
350 x 275 mm
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1901; MS M. 1

A large gold repoussé Crucifixion dominates this jeweled cover. Surrounding Christ are ten mourning figures: below the arms of the cross are the Virgin and John and probably Mary Magdalene and Mary, the wife of Cleopas. The cover's architectural features allude to the jeweled Heavenly Jerusalem, the city made possible by Christ's sacrifice. This cover and that of the Codex Aureus from St. Emmeram in Regensburg, now in Munich, are the two finest Carolingian jeweled bindings. Charles the Bald was the grandson of Charlemagne; the cover may have been made at the Royal Abbey of St. Denis, where Charles was secular abbot from 867 until his death in 877.

Roger Bartlett Mosaic Binding
Oxford, 1678. On: The Holy Bible
London J. Bill, C. Barker, R.T. Newcomb, & H. Hills, 1678.
Purchased as the gift of Julia P. Wightman, 1969; PML 59412

Bartlett is among the best-documented binders of the Restoration era. He originally worked in London but migrated to Oxford after the Great Fire of 1666. He worked at Oxford until his retirement, ca. 1690, and died in his native Watlington in 1712.

One of Bartlett's finest works is this Bible, bound using many of his documented tools in his characteristic cottage-roof pattern. The interesting fore edge painting, visible when the leaves are fanned, is a flower-wreathed portrait of a young woman. She is very likely the book's first owner, who signed her name on the title page as Mary Alston and as Mary Clayton, with the date 1678. The change in name in the inscription makes one suspect that this binding was a marriage present.

Binding by Paul Bonet, 1959
On: André Suarès, Cirque (illustrated by Georges Rouault)
Paris: Ambroise Vollard, 1939 [not published]
Purchased as the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Hans P. Kraus, 1979
PML 76385

Bonet, innovator in luxury bindings and among the best known of twentieth-century French art binders, executed a number of bindings for Cirque. All variants on a single decorative theme, a style Bonet called à decor rayonnant, they evoke the blaze of radiating circus lights.

The book and binding make this the most splendid livre d'artiste in the Morgan's collections, in its enormous scale, original artwork, and quality of its paper and presswork.

Rouault worked on the series of illustrations over many years. The resultant book, however, was never formally published. It is likely that most of the few surviving sets of pages of text and illustrations vary in makeup. The present copy contains a large number of proofs of the illustrations.

Cobden-Sanderson Binding
On: Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Poems. London: F. S. Ellis, 1870
Deep blue goatskin, richly gilt to a floral mandorla pattern, with gilt and goffered edges, and with endleaves of Morris silk brocade; signed and dated 1891. The delicate floral patterns, here using roses and tulips, are inspired by Morris designs but do not slavishly copy or follow them.
PML 7242. Purchased with the De Forest collection, 1899

Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, a lawyer by profession, took up binding in 1883 at the urging of Jane Burden Morris, Pre-Raphaelite muse and William Morris's wife. Janey's instincts were on the mark: Cobden-Sanderson proved to be not just a talented amateur but a highly skilled designer and gilder. His bindings set the mark for designer bookbinders for decades, his tools and layouts revolutionizing the aesthetic of fine bookbinding. This is one of his most attractive, balanced, and accomplished bindings.

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

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.