Rare Fore-Edge Paintings

Fore-edge paintings adorn the edges of books’ pages. The fore-edge of a book is the outside edge of a book used for thumbing over the pages and is considered the fourth edge, after the spine, the top, or the bottom edge. Initially this edge was only used primarily for identification, to make it easier to find the right book when the edges faced outward.

Around the 16th century, Cesare Vecellio, an Italian artist and cousin of the famous Renaissance painter Titian, introduced the practice of painting the fore-edge of books in the effort to make them more beautiful. The original decorative fore-edge paintings were applied right on the page edges and were easily visible when the book was closed.

In the 17th century, one of the professional Queen’s Binders discovered the method of painting on the slight inner edges of the pages, with the outside page edges gilded or marbled. This technique would make the scene undetectable when the book was closed, and it could only be seen when the pages were fanned.

Such disappearing, re-appearing masterpieces only visible when the pages are fanned in a certain way were created using a special stand or press. In addition to single fore-edge paintings, skillful artists mastered the refined technique of the double fore-edge painting, when a book’s fore-edge depicts two different scenes when the pages are fanned backwards or forwards. And some artists even included a third scene to make a triple fore-edge-painting, visible when the book is closed. The most prominent painters also decorated the top and bottom edges of the book pages to create a fascinating panoramic fore-edge painting.

Dating back to the 10th century, fore-edge paintings originally depicted shields, coats of arms and other heraldic designs. Later artists started using fore-edge paintings for embellishment and switched to landscapes, battle scenes, religious iconography, floral designs, etc., that would often relate to the subject of the book.

These days books with fore-edge paintings as well as miniature books are sold as antiquarian volumes and in most cases the edge paintings have been added much later to them. The prominent contemporary fore-edge painting artists is Martin Frost, based in the UK, who has created a great number beautiful fore-edge paintings. Many of them are offered for sale on AbeBooks, the best online destination featuring the biggest collection of both rare and contemporary books. Building your own collection of books with fore-edge paintings won’t be expensive if you use AbeBooks.com Coupon Codes to save on your online purchase of the books you select.