Wednesday, 2 March 2016

A cheeky little French number

Phi. 02325  - François René Turpin - La France illustre : ou le Plutarque françois, contenant l'histoire ou éloge historique des ministres, des généraux, & des magistrats. -  Paris : chez Lacombe 1775-86 

This book is one volume of a four volume set of Francois Turpin’s popular ‘French Plutarch’.  This is an eighteenth century work emulating Plutarch’s Lives and contains the biographies of famous Frenchmen, including generals, statesmen and lawyers.  The four volumes were issued between 1775 and 1786.  At they are bound as a uniform set, probably in the last decade of the eighteenth century. 

The binding, which is almost certainly French too, and is very fine indeed and given its rather lavish decoration was probably undertaken for a rich client   The decorative treatment of the leather is visually harmonious.  The binding material is Calf, which has been marbled on the front and back boards.  Gilt tooling has been used in a typical late eighteenth century manner. It is restrained on front and back boards - the only decoration with a narrow roll applied around the edges and corner and a foliate centre tool applied.  The spine on the other hand has received heavy gold tooling, with the centre tool used on the boards also used at the centre of each compartment.   Red and green patch labels have been applied for the titles, the green of the leather labels echoing the green tones within the marbling of the Calf.  The decoration is harmonious and very, very elegant.

However, all this sense of harmony and elegance vanishes when you look at the edge treatment of the book.  It is quite common to find book edges decorated, either with marbling, a sprinkled pigment finish, or with solid gilding.   

On the edges of this book, the binder has decided to use two treatments in combination, paste painted decoration and gilding and the resulting effect is opulent.  On both ends of each edge the binder has created panels of gilding with convex sides and the space in between has been decorated with swirly patterns created in wet Cobalt blue paste.  The gilding is decorated with a line of gauffering. At some point the fore edge and top edge have been exposed to the sun, but the bottom edge has been spared; so you get the original richness of the blue colour full throttle when you look at the bottom of the book.  This edge treating is very striking indeed, an ostentatious and rather cheeky bit of decoration, which of course would only be seen when the book was taken from the shelf.  When looking at the leather decoration and edge decoration together, you are left wondering whether it makes for a coherent and visually united whole.  Though I'm sure that didn't concern the original client one bit. 



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