At first glance, this copy of “Stalky & Co,” by Rudyard Kipling might look like any other normal book. But when you look at it from the right point of view, something marvelous appears: a beautiful painting on the edge of the book pages!
The process is called Fore-edge Painting. A fore-edge painting is a scene painted on the edges of the pages of a book. There are two basic forms, including paintings on edges that have been fanned and edges that are closed; thus with the first instance a book edge must be fanned to see the painting and in the second the painting is on the closed edge itself and thus should not be fanned. A fanned painting is one that is not visible when the book is closed.
The majority of examples date back to the late 19th, early 20th century.
The earliest fore-edge paintings date possibly as far back as the 10th century; these earliest paintings were symbolic designs. Early English fore-edge paintings, believed to date to the 14th century, presented heraldic designs in gold and other colors.
Around 1750, the subject matter of fore-edge paintings changed from simply decorative or heraldic designs to landscapes, portraits and religious scenes, usually painted in full color. In many cases, the chosen scene will depict a subject related to the book, but in other cases it did not.
See an example of this magnificent artwork in the clip from Cornell University Library.
What do you think of the fore-edge paintings that used to appear on the edges of the pages to create a design? Should they be brought back? Use the comments section below and share your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!
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