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?