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Rare and Remarkable: Fore-Edge Paintings on Books


Books are secretive objects, only revealing their true worth when opened, perused and read. In the 16th century, artists began using the outer edge of books, the edge a reader uses to thumb through the pages, as canvas, adding a beautiful painting to the outside of a book. These were called fore-edge paintings.

In the 17th century, others took the practice a step further by discovering that if the painting was added to the slight inner edges of the pages, and the absolute edge was gilded or marbled, the scene would be undetectable when the book was closed, and only reveal itself when the pages were fanned slightly, creating a disappearing, re-appearing masterpiece.

We’ve put together 27 of the most gorgeous examples of books with fore-edge paintings we could find, so have a look. There’s a video, too, showing a fanned fore-edge in action. These are books you definitely can’t judge by their covers – have a look at what lies inside, and marvel at the artistry of these stunning works.

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Beth Carswell

About Beth Carswell

I've been reading, selling, researching, loving and writing about books with AbeBooks since 2000.

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