Saint Paul shipwrecked in the Noel Shaw Gallery

One of the more creative themes in the current exhibition in the Noel Shaw Gallery Plotting the island: dreams, discovery and disaster, relates to St Paul on Malta. When the exhibition was under development, I was interested to include objects which represented both the classical and biblical inspirations for the voyages of exploration which launched through the 15th to 18th centuries.

The Prophet Paul’s story features a shipwreck that occurred in the Mediterranean. Shipwrecks are one of the dramatic subjects in the exhibition, and St Paul is well-represented in the Print Collection, thus the availability of visual documents was one of the several reasons to include it. A snippet of information I read in passing, suggested that the earliest recorded shipwreck is found in the Old Testament. The validity of this idea and its correlating obscure wreck was superseded in the exhibition by the intriguing narrative in the New Testament account by Luke in the Book of Acts.

Approximately 2000 years ago, Paul was being transported as a prisoner to Rome aboard a grain freighter, when the ship was engulfed in a spectacular and violent storm which caused it to run aground and wreck on Malta.

The group of 276 sodden and wretched shipwreck survivors are poignantly depicted with almost individual detail in Jan Luyken’s etching, where they are being helped by islanders to build a fire. This image proved to be the main, and a very powerful visual experience of shipwreck for the exhibition, particularly in lieu of an image for the extraordinary Dutch shipwreck Batavia which is instead expressed through a contemporary handwritten music score from the Rare Music Collection. [1] The etching is seen through a Dutch lens as it was published in a Dutch Bible in 1729 (Historie des Nieuwen Testaments).

After emerging from the sea, Paul gathers firewood, which contains a poisonous viper that, when driven out by the heat, latches onto his hand.  Paul’s unaffectedness to the deadly bite was one of the miracles that led to his apostleship. The scene is dramatically depicted in St Paul (1790). This print is after the original painting by Benjamin West, commissioned by the directors of Greenwich Hospital and is now part of the National Maritime Museum in London.

The biblical describes four anchors that were cast into the sea during the storm. It is hard to imagine how objects designed to be thrown overboard could have survived through time, yet ancient anchors have been found by archaeologists. I am frequently inspired by the objects which may be unearthed from the University’s collections, and am somewhat awed to be able to include an anchor, similar in origin, age and usage to that described in the Bible, in Plotting the island.

Although it has been described as a ‘Maltese anchor’ the anchor is instead Roman in origin and was excavated from a Roman wreck at Xlendi, a bay found on the island Gozo, off Malta. [2.] The anchor provides insight into Roman-occupied Malta and its maritime activity. The anchor is made of lead and very heavy – as the exhibition team was to discover. It is too heavy for one person to lift and required extra help to transport it from the Ian Potter Museum of Art where it resides. [3.] All up, six people were involved to place it on its specially made support and into the showcase during the exhibition installation.

The island Gozo is also the legendary home of the sorceress Calypso (Circe) in Homer’s Odyssey, which is also touched upon in the exhibition. These landmasses may be located in Jacob Sandrart’s map, Nova totius Graeciae, Italiae, Natoliae, Hungariae nec non Danubii fluminis … (New map of the whole of Greece, Italy, Anatolia, Hungary and the Danube River …) (c.1660).

The trials of shipwreck are a fascinating aspect of the exhibition, but just as beguiling is being drawn into mysterious bays and inlets, like those found on Malta, to discover cultural treasures.

Kerrianne Stone (Curator, Prints)

References

[1.] Batavia [music] by Richard Mills; libretto, Peter Goldsworthy
[2.] Claudia Sagona, The archaeology of Malta: from the Neolithic through the Roman period, New York, NY Cambridge University Press, 2015, p. 283
[3.] The Huber Collection of Maltese Antiquities


Assembly, dismemberment, digital reassembly: the fascinating 600 year life story of a medieval book of hours

Fresh contributions to the understanding of objects in the Rare Books Collection are always welcome, especially ones which offer tantalizing new insights and interpretations.  Karen Winslow, a recent Masters graduate from Trinity College, Dublin, shares with us the fascinating story of four important bi-folios from a disassembled book of hours, which were acquired for the Baillieu Library’s Collection in 1974.  Originally manufactured in Paris in 1407-08 during the coldest winter of the 15th century (which saw the Seine freeze and the city’s three main bridges swept away), the manuscript was broken up for sale in the 20th century and its individual pages dispersed to public and private collections around the world.  In the 21st century technology is enabling the digital reassembly of the book, stimulating new discoveries and affording an enriched understanding of its ‘biography’ over time…

The Baillieu Library at the University of Melbourne holds four bi-folios that were part of a book of hours dated with confidence to 1408 and owned by Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968), an American mining magnate. Prior to Beatty’s ownership, the book was in the collection of John Boykett Jarman (died 1864), a London goldsmith and jeweller. The book suffered considerable water damage while it was in the care of Jarman. Libby Melzer, Senior Paper Conservator at the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne, provided an excellent account of the damage and how it happened in her article ‘Flood, Fire and Water: Fragmentary Manuscripts in the Medieval Imagination Exhibition‘ published in 2008 to coincide with an exhibition at the State Library of Victoria. While the book of hours was in Beatty’s care, he elected to remove some of the miniatures that were in better condition. After Beatty’s death, Alan Thomas purchased the remains of the book and sold the leaves piecemeal. The Melbourne folios were purchased from Thomas in 1974.

Recently, efforts have been made to digitally reassemble the book. As of March 2017, images of fifty of the original 187 leaves, including twenty-five of the original twenty-eight miniatures, have been identified. Twenty-six leaves are housed in various institutions around the world, with the Baillieu Library holding the largest known collection. Reassembly has revealed interesting insights into three of the folios housed in the Baillieu Library:

   

Figures.  Folio 1 recto, the Annunciation miniature compared to folio 48 verso, the Presentation in the Temple miniature 

Folio 1 recto – the Annunciation miniature. The stylistic treatment of the border, the u-shaped staff and major initial in this folio are different from the other folios in the book, raising questions about whether a different artist contributed to folio 1 and perhaps this leaf was originally intended for another book of hours.  All of the leaves have a border of cusped red, blue and gold ivy leaves sprouting in all directions. In addition, most of the borders are also interspersed with spiked berries and shapes resembling little flying comets with squiggly lines. However, folio 1 also contains small blue and mauve petalled flowers and the vines of the ivy leaves seem drawn in a more controlled or flattened manner versus life-like. Leaves with miniatures are surrounded by thick u-shaped foliate staffs (also known as baguettes) framing both the miniature and the text. However, in the case of folio 1, the major decorated initial is anchored at the top and the bottom of the left staff and a gap in the staff exists where the initial resides. This gap in the staff does not occur in the other leaves.

   

Figures.  Folio 1 recto, major initial detail compared to folio 48 verso, major initial detail.

The mise-en-page of this leaf is more consistent with MS 265 at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Perhaps both books were in production at the same time in the same workshop and folio 1 was bound into the wrong book. Interestingly, Walters MS 265 does not contain a miniature of the Annunciation.

    

Figures.  Folio 179 recto, the John on Patmos miniature compared to Walters MS 265,  fol. 105 recto, the John on Patmos miniature

Folio 179  recto – the John on Patmos miniature. John is shown on the Isle of Patmos where he was exiled by the Roman emperor Domitian. The eagle, John’s symbol, is trying to get his attention as he writes on a scroll resting on his knee. John is seated between two umbrella-shaped trees. The compositional convention of this miniature with the figure close to the edge of the frame and an attempt to portray a true landscape is very similar to the John on Patmos miniature included in Walters MS 265. Both miniatures employ a horizon that darkens to a deep blue in an upward direction and a pale green terrain that darkens as it approaches the horizon. In addition, the treatment of John’s bright pink drapery is the same in both miniatures with wave-like folds at the bottom hem. The similarities between the miniatures suggest the same workshop created both leaves. If the same workshop was working on Walters MS 265 and Beatty’s book of hours, this further supports the notion that the wrong Annunciation leaf was tipped into the Beatty book of hours.

Figure.  Folio 186 verso. 

Folio 186 Verso.  Beatty’s book of hours is dated in the colophon on folio 158 verso that is now housed in the Chester Beatty Library (Factum est anno mº ccccº viiiº quo ceciderunt pontes parisiis).  Recently, it was discovered the same date is hand-written on folio 186 versus (anno mº ccccº viiiº) of the Baillieu Library fragment. The leaf is covered in glue residue and may have served as a pastedown for the back cover.  This is an important discovery since no other leaves show signs of use such as thumbprints, added texts, glosses or notes.

Scholarship on this book of hours has waned since it was unstitched and the leaves were dispersed across the globe. However, digital reassembly allows scholarly research to continue and new discoveries involving the individual leaves housed in various institutions to be made.

Karen Winslow,  MPhil graduate 2016, Trinity College Dublin

References and further reading:

Primary sources

Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, Walters MS 265

Dublin, Chester Beatty Library, WMS 103

Melbourne, Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne, UniM Bail SpC/RB61AA/3

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 144

Secondary sources

Backhouse, Janet. ‘A Victorian Connoisseur and His Manuscripts: The Tale of Mr. Jarman and Mr. Wing’, The British Museum Quarterly, 32 (3/4), (1968): 76-92.

Byrne, Donal. ‘Manuscript Ruling and Pictorial Design in the Work of the Limbourgs, the Bedford Master, and the Boucicaut Master’, The Art Bulletin, 66 (1), (1984): 118-36.

Farber, Allen S. ‘Considering a Marginal Master: The Work of an Early fifteenth-Century, Parisian Manuscript Decorator’, Gesta, 32 (1), (1993): 21-39.

Manion, Margaret M. and Vines, Vera F. Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts in Australian Collections, Foreword by K.V. Sinclair. (Melbourne ; London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 1984) 240.

Melzer, Libby. ‘Flood, Fire and War: Fragmentary Manuscripts in The Medieval Imagination Exhibition’, The LaTrobe Journal, No 81 Autumn, (2008): 70-81.

Middleton, John Henry. Illuminated Manuscripts in Classical and Mediaeval Times; Their Art and Their Technique (Cambridge,: University Press, 1892) 270.

Thomas, Alan G. Catalogue Twenty-Three, Alan G. Thomas, Bookseller, (London: Alan G. Thomas, Bookseller).

Winslow, Karen D.  The Life, Death and Rebirth of a Book of Hours once owned by Chester Beatty.  MPhil in Art History, Art + Ireland thesis, 2 volumes. Trinity College, Dublin (2016).

A young Chester Beatty


Staten Landt: where the Americas meet the Antipodes

Even the most adventurous of traveller would struggle at dead reckoning Staten Landt, despite it being clearly marked on some maps, such as Polus Antarctius (South Pole), one of the featured maps in the Noel Shaw’s current exhibition Plotting the island: dreams, discovery and disaster.  Staten Landt is a rather complicated place: changing in size and location on the globe. It appears sometimes as a continent near the Americas, and at others as an island attached to Australia or New Zealand. It is a newly depicted land which seems to have both emerged and became extinct in the course of the 17th century.

Polus Antarcticus was first issued in 1637 by Dutch cartographer and engraver Henricus Hondius. At a time when Europeans had not seen the underside of the globe, this circular projection proved to be so innovative and appealing that it was revised and reprinted over a period of more than 60 years. On display is the original version of the Hondius, published by Jan Jansson. Jansson would later update the coastlines on this map in 1650, after the voyages of Abel Tasman in 1642 and 1644. Tasman’s voyages revealed additions to the coast of New Holland as well as parts of the coasts of both Tasmania and New Zealand, which had to be added to Dutch maps; and the title cartouche on Polus Antarcticus had to be replaced by New Zealand, for example, as the picture of the Antipodes took shape.

Yet there is another coastline on this map: an indistinct line which begins at South America and is hand-coloured green in the University’s map, petering out in the South Seas. This vague and, by the length of it, massive geographical area is Staten Landt.

In the 15th and 16th centuries it was believed that the Great South Land or Terra Australis was joined to the Americas at Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). Francis Drake disproved this theory during his circumnavigation between 1577 and 1580. In his wake, the Dutch mariners Jacob Le Maire and Willem Schouten formed the Australische Compagnie (Australian Company), an expedition which sailed in the vessels Eendracht and Hoorn between 1615 and 1617 in search of another route to the lucrative Spice Islands and also the mythical South Land. Both of the expedition’s missions were achieved: a new trade route was indeed found around the Cape of Good Hope, and the Eendracht, captained by Dirk Hartog, landed on Western Australia in 1616, as marked on this and other maps in the exhibition (t’Landt van d’Eendracht). However, en route the expedition paused on the Patagonian coast of South America. This was where the Hoorn was lost to a fire and where Le Maire and Schouten saw a land to their east which they conjectured was part of the South Land; this they named Staten Landt (Country of the Lords of the State).

In 1643 Hendrik Brouwer identified the landmass seen by Le Maire and Schouten as an uninhabited island. Abel Tasman further complicated the matter by declaring the south island of New Zealand as Staten Landt, which he believed to be part of the unknown South Land or Antarctica. So it is not so surprising then, to find Staten Landt tentatively placed on the map between Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica. Polus Antarcticus has the curious effect of showing simultaneously both the landmasses in the Antipodes that the Dutch had mapped in the 17th century, and also a mythical one that they had invented.

When thinking about new lands, thoughts soon turn to the people who might inhabit them. The people depicted on the attractive hand-coloured border are not Antipodean as might be expected of the South Pole. Rather, they are people of the Americas.

In an earlier Flemish engraving titled America (c.1588), also in the exhibition, a European view of Native American people is seen. An allegorical representation of America is depicted as a woman holding bow, arrow and axe, and riding an armadillo. In the background, at right, the Spanish are at war with the inhabitants, while at left, cannibals prepare a leg on a spit. This disturbing scene of cannibals roasting human limbs lurks frequently enough in the background of New World images to become something of a pictorial trope. The motif is repeated at the top left of Polus Antarcticus, although just what is being cooked over the fire is not apparent. In this document, European printers seem to have let the Americans put aside their gnawed arms and legs to instead hunt penguins, which are depicted in the right margin.

A figure at left is made rather dramatic by the colourist who has chosen to interpret the atmosphere behind him as fire, perhaps a reference to perceived fiery lands like Tierra del Fuego, where these lines could just as likely be wind or sky. As each map was individually coloured, no two are the same, and Polus Antarcticus has been coloured by many different points of view since its publication in 1637.

Polus Antarcticus is an important early record of the mapping of the southern lands. Equally, through Staten Landt and its depiction of people, it is a document representing the meeting of the Americas and the Antipodes.

Kerrianne Stone (Curator, Prints)

Further reading

For explanations of Staten Landt see Robert Clancy, The mapping of Terra Australis, Macquarie Park, N.S.W.: Universal Press, 1995, especially pages 108, 111, 112 and 115.


A lost eighteenth-century harp method rediscovered, Michel Corrette’s Nouvelle méthode pour apprendre à jouer de la harpe (1774): A new acquisition for Rare Music

Published in Paris in 1774, Michel Corrette’s Nouvelle méthode pour apprendre à jouer de la harpe [New method for learning to play the harp] is an exciting new addition to the Rare Music collection. Until recently it was considered to be a ‘lost’ eighteenth-century harp method since scholars were unable to locate any reference to this rare edition in the major European bibliographies or at auction.Michel Corrette (b Rouen, 1707; d Paris, 1795) is well known among musicians and scholars of eighteenth-century French music for his work as an organist, teacher, prolific composer-arranger with works spanning 75 years, and as an author of pedagogical methods for various instruments and voice. These methods are clearly written and well-structured, offering valuable insight into aspects of eighteenth-century French performance practice. For example, the pieces included in his violin method L’école d’Orphée (1738), which illustrate the French and Italian styles, help us to further understand the complex discourse of national styles in this period and its musical application.

The subtitle of Corrette’s harp method, Avec des leçons faciles pour les commençans, des menuets allemands et italiens et autres jolis airs; et la partition pour l’accorder avec les pédales et sans les pédales [with easy lessons for beginners, German and Italian minuets and other pretty airs; and a section for tuning pedal and non-pedal harps] indicates a similar clarity of structure to his other pedagogical works. The work begins with a brief history of the harp. This is followed by fourteen chapters on chords, fingering on the harp, arpeggios, and the use of the pedals. Other eighteenth-century French harp methods from 1763 onwards address similar aspects of history, technique and musical execution for the instrument and most are aimed at beginners, demonstrating that Corrette’s method could be considered representative of the approach to pedagogy for the harp in this period.

The harp which is the focus of this method, is known today as the ‘single-action harp’ and in late-eighteenth century Paris as ‘harpe organisée’ or ‘harpe à pédales’. This instrument was revolutionary at the time in being the first harp with a mechanism that allowed the player to alter the pitch of the strings by pressing pedals with their feet. The seven pedals attached to rods in the harp’s column, which in turn engaged a mechanism in the instrument’s neck, could raise the pitch of each string by one semitone (hence the term ‘single-action), thus leaving both hands free for playing continuous scales and arpeggio figures whilst modulating to various keys. For harps of earlier periods, chromaticism was achieved by various means such as shortening the pitch of the string with a finger whilst playing with the opposing hand, adjusting the pitch of individual strings with a tuning key, increasing the single row of strings to two or three ranks which included a chromatic row, and hooks attached to the neck of the harp which could be turned with one hand to shorten the string. The first harp with pedals is attributed to a German luthier Jacob Hochbrucker as early as 1697 but it was not until 1749 that there is the first documented performance on this instrument in France at the ‘Concert Spirituel’ season in Paris. By the time the first pedal harps by Parisian maker Salomon were available for sale in 1760 the single-action harp had become a wildly popular commodity as described in an oft-quoted letter from Charles-Simon Favart to the Count Durazzo on May 1, 1761.

“La harpe est aujourd’hui l’instrument à la mode; toutes nos dames on la fureur d’en jouer.”1

[Today the harp is the instrument à la mode; all our ladies are mad to play it.]

Attuned to the musical and social zeitgeist, Corrette’s method reflects this trend for learning the harp as a popular accomplishment among young aristocratic women, one which would undoubtedly render them more marriageable as it was both beautiful to play and to look at and could only serve to highlight the beauty and charm of the player! The frontispiece of the method features an engraving of a young woman playing a harp accompanied by the following suitably amourous quatrain:

“La Harpe entre vos mains Silvie,
Ne laisse rien à désirer.
De vos beaux yeux l’ame est ravie,
Peut-on vous voir sans vous aimer!”2

[The harp in your hands Silvie,
Leaves nothing to be desired.
A glance at your eyes thrills me
How could you not be admired!]

Corrette neatly sets the text of this poem to music at the end of his harp method in a section containing settings of various popular airs with harp accompaniment. The single-action harp along with the harpsichord and later the fortepiano became one of the most popular instruments to accompany the voice in France in the second half of the eighteenth-century.

The acquisition of this fascinating harp method is directly linked to an Australian Research Council Discovery Project initiated by University of Melbourne Senior Lecturer in Music Dr Erin Helyard, musicologist, historical keyboard specialist and acclaimed performer and conductor. Titled ‘Performing Transdisciplinarity’, this research project is a cross-institutional and interdisciplinary collaboration between ANU (Glenn Roe and Robert Wellington), The University of Melbourne (Erin Helyard), The University of Sydney (Mark Ledbury), and Oxford University (Nicholas Cronk).

This team will undertake a groundbreaking study of the eighteenth-century songbook by Jean-Benjamin de Laborde, Choix de Chansons (1773). Using a research methodology drawn from art history, French literature, musicology and the digital humanities, this study will engage with and enact the complex transdisciplinary and transmedial nature of this text and of eighteenth-century print culture in general whilst also mirroring the multimedia experience of the eighteenth-century consumer with the creation of a digital edition, which weaves together image, text and music. The music in Laborde’s Choix de Chansons features harp and harpsichord accompaniment and Corrette’s harp method, also published in Paris only one year later, will provide important musicological insight into performance practice for the harp at this time and a deeper understanding of how Laborde’s chansons can be meaningfully interpreted.

Hannah Lane, Research Assistant to Dr Erin Helyard

1 Charles-Simon Favart, Mémoires et correspondance littéraires: dramatiques et anecdotiques, de C. S. Favart, ed. Henri Françoi Dumolard, vol. 1 (L. Collin, Paris, 1808), 147.
2 Michel Corrette, Nouvelle méthode pour apprendre à jouer de la harpe, (s.n., Paris, 1774).


Wyverns, gryphons and acorns amidst the foliage: two rare early 16th century bindings by Nicholas Spierinck uncovered in the Rare Books Collection

What makes working with rare books so intriguing is the opportunity it delivers to follow a trail of clues – Sherlock Holmes-like – to trace an object’s origin and story through time.  Two excised bindings recently located in the Rare Book Room, have inspired one such stimulating pursuit…

An intact Spierinck binding

In 2008 the Baillieu Library was excited to purchase a rare original intact binding by the early Cambridge stationer Nicholas Spierinck, generously funded by the Ivy May Pendlebury Bequest.  The beautifully tanned calfskin cover encases a 1512 Paris edition of the works of 3rd-century Christian theologian, Origen Adamantius (b.184/185 – d.253/254), entitled Origenis Adamantii Operum tomi duo priores… .  At the time of the book’s acquisition, it was (and remains) the only known example of a complete Spierinck binding held in an Australian institution, bearing his personal binder’s mark, and incorporating his signature decorative schema of wyverns, gryphons and acorns.  A former Baillieu Library Rare Books Curator, Pam Pryde, described this unique acquisition and binding in her December 2008 Collections magazine article.  An animated 3D view of the binding, providing close inspection of Spierinck’s monogram and decorative devices is available here.

 

Two dis-bound Spierinck cover panels

In a recent intriguing twist to the tale, an uncatalogued box of bindings in the Rare Books Collection has been found to contain a pair of rare dis-bound Spierinck covers, together with 13 binding fragments from other provenances and time periods.  It appears that the samples were amassed by an unidentified donor, as a study collection for research and teaching.  The envelopes containing the two Spierinck bindings are clearly marked with his name in a 20th century hand; this attribution is conclusively confirmed by the presence of Spierinck’s distinctive stamp on both panels, which match exactly with those on the intact Origenis binding.

At first inspection, it is unclear whether the two dis-bound panels came from the same or different books, as one has been cut down in size and is 15mm smaller on each side than the other.  A shared provenance, however, seems very likely as both specimens bear pin holes at the same points, where the clasp and straps used to latch the panels would have once been attached to the covers, front and back.

16th century Cambridge book trade

In the early 16th century, the inland port of Cambridge was well placed to service its university’s growing appetite for books, being situated on an established river trading route, 40 miles from the Channel.  At this time, the majority of foreign language books (including the bulk of scholarly works which were written in Latin) were printed on the continent, and imported into England in loose form for binding and sale.  The burgeoning print market attracted foreign traders who set up mixed commercial enterprises as stationers, variously dealing in the importation, sale and binding of books.[i]  Many of these European artisans had migrated from the major book production centres of Paris, Basel and the lower Rhine, bringing their craft skills and ornamental influences with them.[ii] The first University of Cambridge printer, John Siberch (c1476–1554), was an established member of the German book trade before settling in the English town, where he operated from 1520-1522.[iii]

Nicholas Spierinck, fl. 1505-d.1545-6

With the passing of the centuries the names of most early English binders have passed into obscurity.  These anonymous ghosts are known today by their evocative decorative devices, such as ‘the fruit and flower binder’, ‘the fishtail binder’, ‘the half stamp binder’, ‘the huntsman binder’, ‘the octagonal rose binder’,  ‘the blank book binder’, and – my favourite – ‘the bat binder’.[iv] The historical record is much clearer for Nicholas Spierinck, as his appointment on 20th July 1534, as one of three official stationers (with Garrett Godfrey and Segar Nicholson) to the University of Cambridge, ensured that his name was inscribed in the official registers for posterity.[v]

Nicholas Spierinck, a member of a Netherlandish family of stationers, arrived in Cambridge sometime between 1503 and 1506, a binder of the same name having worked for Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy between 1469 and 1475.  By 1516 Spierinck held the office of warden at St Mary’s Church in the centre of Cambridge, and his will (dated 20th August 1545) confirms that he became a successful merchant and a citizen of some standing.  He bequeathed a brewery at Cross Keys to his grandson Nycholas (which was still in operation in 1915), silver and coral beads to his wife Agnes and  ‘Kateryn’ (probably his daughter) and the residue of his estate to his son, ‘William Spyrynke’, who had by that time taken charge of the family book binding operations.[vi]

Blind stamped binding

An expanding English book trade, injected with an influx of skilled foreign labour, could not help but be influenced by continental fashions in binding and manufacture.  The outmoded medieval technique of decorating covers with hand-tooled patterns, gave way to the more efficient ‘blind stamping’ method (blind referring to the absence of gold).  This system used heated metal block plates, commonly bearing pictorial designs, to impress decorations on the moistened leather panels.[vii]

The commercial potential of binding books in a ‘house style’ was exploited by binders and booksellers as an early form of corporate branding and advertising.  Hence the practice adopted by different stationers to apply their trade mark panel to books sold from their premises.  Blind stamped panel bindings were typically employed as pairs, with the same coupling used by binders on many books in their ‘stable’.[viii]  There were an estimated 200 such panels in use in various combinations between 1485 and 1555.[ix]

The two newly-located Spierinck covers are examples of the two most commonly used panels associated with his workshop, which is known to have produced as many as 35 pressings of the upper panel (depicting The Annunciation).[x]   As evidenced by all extant examples, it was always used by Spierinck in combination with the lower panel (depicting the legend of St Nicholas), illustrating the three boys who were cut up and pickled by an innkeeper and then restored to life by the passing saint.   A black and white image of an intact Spierinck binding using this pairing of panels is reproduced in Gray’s The earlier Cambridge stationers & bookbinders and the first Cambridge printer.[xi]

In tandem with blind stamping, cylindrical hand rolls were used as labour-saving devices, to imprint decorative bands across the leather, often incorporating a binder’s or bookseller’s distinctive ornamental motif or signature.[xii]  We are very fortunate to have a splendid example of Spierinck’s principal hand roll (he had six) in the decoration of the Origenis binding, which can be compared with the border patterns used on the blind cover panels.

Further investigation and analysis

As with many historical conundrums, some questions about the panels remain unanswered, and the fragments recently uncovered in the Rare Books Collection will benefit from further conservation and investigation.  Both pieces of leather binding were removed from their original boards and pasted onto parchment mountings, sometime in the early 20th century.  This has obscured the reverse of each panel and evidence of how the leather was cut and placed over the boards.  Middleton notes in his history of English bookbinding techniques that Spierinck was one of the last binders to use corner-mitring to achieve a precise meeting of the turned leather edges at the inside corners.  This technique involved the cutting of a ‘tongue’ which was incised after the leather had been turned over from the front of the board.  The outstanding finish achieved using the method is evident in the Origenis binding, and it would be interesting to find evidence about how the corners of the dis-bound panel fragments were treated. [xiii]

Until this research can be undertaken, how curious it is to ponder that these three Spierinck examples, which emanated from the same workshop in 16th century Cambridge, should be reunited after travelling separate paths, and be housed several shelves away from each other at the University of Melbourne, some 500 years later.

Susan Thomas, Rare Books Curator

Endnotes

[i] Weale, p. xxix

[ii] McKitterick, p. x

[iii] Venn, p. 73.  Incidentally, Siberch was a great friend of Erasmus, to whom he introduced Spierinck.

[iv] Oldham, 1952, p. x

[v] Weale, p. xxvii

[vi] Gray & Palmer, pp. 31-32

[vii] Middleton, pp. 168-9

[viii] Pearson, p. 50

[ix] Hobson, pp. [89]-90

[x] Oldham, pp. 19, 42

[xi] Gray, Plate XVI – Evangelia, 1508.

[xii] Harthan, p. 11

[xiii] Middleton, p. 151

Bibliography & further reading

British Library. Database of bookbindings. Accessed 10 March 2017 http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/bookbindings/

Gray, George & William Palmer.  Abstracts from the wills and testamentary documents of printers, binders and stationers of Cambridge, from 1504-1699. London: Bibliographical Society, 1915.

Gray, George. The earlier Cambridge stationers & bookbinders and the first Cambridge printer.  Oxford: Bibliographical Society, 1904.

Hobson, G.D. Blind-stamped panels in the English book-trade, c. 1485-1555. London; Bibliographical Society, 1944

McKitterick, David. A history of the Cambridge University Press. Volume 1. Printing and the book trade in Cambridge, 1534-1698. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, c1992.

Oldham, J. Basil. Blind panels of English binders.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958.

Oldham, J. Basil. English blind-stamped bindings.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952.

Pearson, David. English bookbinding styles 1450-1800: a handbook. London: The British Library & Oak Knoll Press, 2005.

Pryde, Pam.  ‘A recent purchase for Special Collections in the Baillieu Library’, University of Melbourne Collections, Issue 3, December 2008. Accessed 10 March 2017 http://museumsandcollections.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/1378827/pryde.pdf

Sims, Liam. ‘An early Cambridge binding by Nicholas Spierinck’.  Cambridge University Library Special Collections blog post, 3 April 2015. Accessed 10 March 2017 https://specialcollections.blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=7461

Venn, John & J.A. Venn.  Alumni Cantabridgienses: a biographical list of all known students, graduates and holders of officeat the University of Cambridge, from the earliest times to 1900.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1927.

Weale, W.H. James.  Bookbindings and rubbings of bindings in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: The Holland Press, 1962.

 


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