French Decorative Bookbinding - Sixteenth Century

Sotheby's Fanfare

click to enlarge

(click on this image to see an enlargement.)

click to enlarge

The next binding from this atelier is reproduced in a 2007 Sotheby's catalogue entitled LIBRARY OF MARCEL DE MERRE, Paris 05 June 2007 - 06 June 2007. I don't know how it took me so long to find this one which is so obvious, it might have something to do with it being reproduced as a mirror image. Anyway it is a great find that allows us to see the gold tooling very clearly.

budbee 600

Particularly the bud that looks like a bee, I show it here enlarged to 600 dpi and below at 1200 dpi. Notice as well that the strapwork is highly precisioned, many binders who followed in the years to come, trying to copy this technique just never reached this level of craftsmanship, some of the individual fleurons seem rather shabby however the workmanship with these tools puts this binding on another level.

budbee 1200

Almost every fanfare binding from this period make use of a spiral or volute that is centered around a leaf form fleuron. This particular atelier has one of the most beautiful of the collection, peppered with gold dots and a spray of them completing the spiral form. Mace Ruette carried on this tradition 50 years later still using the traditional methods of constructing the spiral with individual bits and pieces, soon after this would give way to ready made one tool spirals. The old way infinitely more laborious and painstaking really can be seen as a kind of tour de force, a sign of a master-craftsman at work.

spiral a

spiral b

Below I show an enlarged collection of trident fleurons, these are not as clear in detail as those seen on the British library example c66a2, one wonders if this is simply a case of a denser application of gold or whether these tools were getting old. The central fruit like fleuron in the center is unique to this binding, but has many look alike competitors among the works of the other fanfare ateliers. This tool may provide an important link in the search for more bindings from this particular workshop.


Sometimes we see things in fleurons that get a hold of our imagination after which there is no shaking the image, this is the case for this bud form shown below in a strapwork box that Boyet really loved to use over a century later. I show this fleuron enlarged to 1200 dpi and to me it looks like a chicken, so its called a chicken bud. I promise I did not alter that image, it really looks like that.



Chicken bud fleuron enlarged to 1200 dpi


Here is another amazing tour de force, all the leaves you see in this oval have been carefully placed one by one and all the branches with leaves distributed throughout the decoration of this binding have leaves that were individually tooled, if you slip up or have an unsteady hand while doing this, the composition is ruined, today we cannot imagine the kind of patience and skill it takes to do this kind of work. Each binding is its own work of art, no two can ever be exactly the same. Each one represents a huge amount of craftsmanship and love of perfection. The fact that bindings such as these sometimes find their way to eBay where they are bartered for a handful of devalued money an enormous injustice. Here is a real treasure worth more than money, someones masterpiece that is still like new, even after 400 hundred years!

click on this link to see the next page: An unnamed fanfare atelier c. 1581

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