Hidden within the pages . . .

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old booksRecently, a friend of mine forwarded me a link to a fabulous collection of antique books. The books were wonderful in and of themselves, but what made them truly spectacular was the art hidden within the pages. Not illustrations inside the text, but hidden paintings secreted in the fan of page edges.

The art is called fore-edge painting. When the book is closed the art is invisible. It can only be seen when the pages are fanned. While painted edges of books dates as far back as the 10th century for simple symbolic designs, the art of fore-edge painting with disappearing paintings can be traced back to a family’s coat of arms signed and dated in 1653 on a Bible printed in 1651. Edwards of Halifax, and English bindery, advanced the art with many finely executed landscapes and depictions of ancestral homes which were attractive to the British elite. 

Often the artist would paint a picture that matched the text. For example, these double fore-edge paintings (double meaning one picture shows when you fan the pages one way and another appears when you fan the pages in the opposite direction) of the Garden of Eden and the Last Supper were found on a Bible printed in 1803.

Eden Fore Edge Painting

Last Supper Fore Edge


Here are a couple You Tube videos that show how the artwork is hidden.

This one shows a seafaring scene:


This one shows a doule fore-edge painting:


This art form continues today, especially in England, where artists like Martin Frost, help to revitalize the antique book trade by taking lovely old books with gilt edges that constomers have no interest in because of the dry subject matter, and increase their aesthetic appeal by adding fore-edge paintings.

If you could paint a scene from one of your favorite classics, which classic would you select and what scene would you choose to paint?

For the Love of Books

Since I”m a writer, it probably comes to no great shock to any of you that I love to read. I”ve been a dedicated bookworm since I was four years old, always hungry for a new story to get lost in.

Well, this month, in addition to my writing responsibilities, I”m also involved in some serious reading. You see, one of the biggest awards for romance writers, the RITA Award, is in the judging stage, and every author who enters a book is also asked to judge. So I have 8 books to read over the next few weeks. Such a hard job, I know. It breaks my heart to have to hide away and do my “homework.”

All this reading, though, put me in mind of some of the wonderful artwork that depicts women reading. Portraits of men might include horses, hounds, or guns, but women were the ones who chose to be painted with their favorite books. As I browsed through this artwork, I came a cross one painter in particular who had captured several such booklovers on canvas–Charles Edward Perugini.

Perugini was born in Italy and studied art there as a young man, then met up with Lord Frederic Leighton, an Englishman who brought the young artist to England and became his mentor and patron. Leighton provided the social invitations needed for Perugini to meet the priveleged families who would commission portraits from him and help him establish his career. In 1874 Charles Perugini married Kate Dickens. Yes that Dickens. Kate was the youngest daughter of famous author, Charles Dickens, and was herself an artist.

The portrait on the left is of Perugini, painted by none other than Frederic Leighton. The lady, of course, is Kate Dickens.

Perugini specialized not only in portraits, but also in depicting scenes from ancient Greece and Rome.


Some of my favorite portaits of his are below. Notice all the

lovely books!




Portrait of Miss Helen Lindsay









In the Orangery
Girl Reading (Probably Kate Dickens)











So which of these paintings is your favorite? Are they putting you in the mood to pick up a good book? They are me. Think I”ll get back to that novel I was working on.