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

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English embroidered binding, 1640s
On: The Bible. London: Deputies of Christopher Barker, 1599
[but actually Amsterdam: J. F. Stam, 1639]
English stump work polychrome embroidery on white silk, over boards
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1910
PML 17197

The present example seems to have been worked by a very talented and inspired amateur, who identified herself with a rhyming couplet:
  Anne Cornwaleys Wrought me
  now shee is called Anne Leigh.

There was a considerable fashion in England for covers worked in embroidery on Bibles and small prayer books during the first half of the seventeenth century.

Anne Cornwallis Leigh (1612–1684) was the daughter of Thomas Cornwallis and his wife, Anne, the daughter of Samuel Bevercotes of Ordsall. She married Samuel Leigh of Rushall, Staffordshire ca. 1650, and the binding is attributed to this period.

It is a particularly superb example of the genre, in an excellent state of preservation—the colors still bright and fresh, the figures rendered in very high relief.

Florentine Portfolio Binding
Florence, 1516
On: Lanfredino Lanfredini. Libro segreto biancho. Manuscript on paper. [Florence, 1516].
230 x 305 mm
PML 78802. Purchased as the gift of Julia P. Wightman, 1986.

Light brown goatskin, with overlapping edges in a wallet style, blind-tooled using a variety of knotwork and arabesque tools, with goatskin appliqués employing blue and pink stitching and silk ribbon interlace. As is customary with such bindings, an extended fore edge flap wraps around from the lower cover and closes over the upper. The two grommets in the flap served to channel fabric or leather ties that secured the flap.

Account books, customarily bound in this fashion for centuries to permit their use in the open air and in any weather, were subjected to very hard use. Consequently their survival rate is poor. Sumptuous examples such as the present one, however, constituted luxury versions used by the wealthiest merchants and bankers of Renaissance Florence, and the fresh state of its preservation is nothing short of extraordinary. The manuscript of Lanfredino's "White Confidential Book" is highly important to accounting historians.

Parisian Greek-Style Binding for Marcus Fugger, ca. 1555
On: Plato. Opera (Greek). Basel: Johann Walder, 1534
Black goatskin over wooden boards, bound à la grecque with lavishly dotted gilt backgrounds, exuberant gilt interlaces, and varicolored goatskin onlays; painted armorials on center; edges gilt and goffered in an arabesque pattern with red and green paint
PML 42590. Purchased with the assistance of the Fellows, 1951

This exceptionally elaborate and splendid binding was created for Marcus, or Marx, Fugger (1529–1597), a member of the Augsburg banking family, who shared the family’s passion for learning, the arts, and elegance. It is abundant in its luxury, especially considering that the ensemble has been made up entirely of very small tools, repeated endlessly. Gommar Estienne, the royal binder at Paris, 1555–59, is probably responsible for this tour de force.

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