Intricate scenes painted on book edges depicting landscapes, flowers and buildings are the subject of a new exhibition in the Library of Trinity College Dublin.
The exhibition features highlights from the Library’s Bollmann Collection which includes fore-edge paintings executed over 250 years. They were painted on books printed between 1639 and 1895, with a wide variety of subjects – landscapes, mansions, religious buildings, boats, coats of arms, and flowers. Many of the books in the collection are in decorative bindings and the most beautiful of these will be on view in the exhibition alongside the fore-edge paintings.
Entitled “Bound to please: the Elsbeth and Bettina Bollmann Collection of fore-edge paintings and bindings”, the exhibition in the Long Room of the Old Library will run until the end of November and forms part of the Book Of Kells exhibition.
The unusual art of painting on the flat fore-edges of books goes back many centuries but the more subtle art of creating a hidden picture which is only visible when the leaves of the book are fanned appeared in England in the middle of the 17th century. There are three 17th-century fore-edge paintings in the Bollmann Collection, one of them probably executed in 1652 and the other two dated 1685 and 1688.
The art of fore-edge painting was taken up by the firm of Edwards of Halifax in the late 18th century and is often associated with that family. Founded by William Edwards in Halifax, Yorkshire, William was joined in his business by his sons, two of whom opened their own premises in London.
Apart from fore-edge paintings, the Edwards are known for their Etruscan-style bindings, described as such because motifs typical of Etruscan vases were used to decorate them, and for illustrated vellum bindings, on which a drawing on the cover is covered with a thin layer of transparent vellum to protect it. Both of these designs by the Edwards family are represented by several books in the Bollmann Collection. These stunning bindings are among those forming part of this exhibition.
Most fore-edge paintings are not dated and some of them were added to books many years after the books were published. Double fore-edge paintings and triple edge paintings, which are not commonly found, are believed to date from the early 20th century. Books with these paintings are among the highlights of this exhibition.
Helen Shenton, Librarian and College Archivist, commented:
“The Bollmann Collection of fore-edge paintings and bindings is the largest collection of fine bindings acquired by the Library of Trinity College Dublin since the early 19th century. Most of the volumes are decorated with fore-edge paintings and many of them are in fine bindings, making this the most important collection of bindings to be acquired by the Library in over 200 years, since the Quin Collection was received in 1805.
“We are most grateful to Bettina Bollmann for making this donation of exquisite fore-edge paintings and bindings to the Library’s precious Research Collections. We are delighted to showcase highlights in this physical exhibition as well as an online exhibition and videos.”
The books on display in the Trinity exhibition form part of a collection of 52 books which was donated to the Library in 2022 by Bettina Bollmann, who had joined her mother Elsbeth over several decades in assembling the collection.
Most of the volumes are decorated with fore-edge paintings and many of them are in fine bindings, making this the most important collection of bindings to be acquired by the Library in over 200 years, since the Quin Collection was received in 1805.
Pictured in the main image are Principal Librarian, Early Printed Books & Special Collections, Dr Lydia Ferguson and exhibition curator, donor, Bettina Bollmann.
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