Sixteenth Century Finishing Tools - France

Aristophanes Binder

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Parisian binding c. 1543 by the Aristophanes Binder

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After searching high and low for weeks, I finally found decorative imprints that matched those on the Aristophanes binding shown on the previous page, the key imprint that really narrowed down the search is the one shown below in Comparative Diagram 1, the imprints in the middle of the diagram are from the binding shown above.

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Comparative Diagram 1 -Aristophanes Binder- imprints vs Reliures Royales No. 20 and Davis367 imprints.

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Comparative Diagram 2 imprints 8a - 8b assorted examples c 1540 - 1547

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In Comparative Diagram 2, I show H. M. Nixon's 1965 rubbings of similar imprints that he catalogued as P. 8a and 8b, the imprints actually derived from the tools of Jean Picard. These tools were very popular around 1540 almost every well known Parisian binder probably had a pair of tools that looked something like this. A close study of these tools alone can will enable one to identify the major binders from this period. Some however, such as those of the Pecking Crow binder are so similar to those of Picard, that you will need to look at the other accompanying tools to be sure of the identity of the binder. The Aristophanes example is however much easier to identify, it has an additional small leaf as well as elaborate spiral termination to the lower branch. Perhaps it is no coincidence that one of the closest comparable imprints of this type is that of Étienne Roffet. I was sure that I would be able to identify this variety if I could only find one. I was puzzled that it took me so long to find, then finally on the binding shown above, that is reproduced in Reliures Royales I spotted the tell-tail spirals on the imprints of binding No. 20 (see below catalogue description of No. 20). It was a great relief to finally find these tools however it turns out that not even the experts from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France have been able to identify this binder. Which is very surprising as he obviously had royal connections, in fact, must have been employed by King's official binder, Étienne Roffet who otherwise would have been the only person to be in possession of the plaque used on this binding to create the arms of François Ier.

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Comparative Diagram 3 - corner fleuron assemblages c 1540 assorted Parisian binders.

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In Comparative Diagram 3, we see that there is some sort of conspiracy involved in these corner assemblages, why is everyone using these near to identical tools in exactly the same way? The Aristophanes binder is obviously part of the club. Certainly Picard was one of the founder members and one wonders if Grolier might have had something to do with this. In his 1965 catalogue of Grolier bindings, H. M. Nixon presents the Fleur-de-lis binder as pre Picard. We can easily imagine Grolier asking Picard to copy the tools and designs of his previous binder, and perhaps this spilled over as a kind of fad among the other Parisian binders.

Our research of the past few months has reaffirmed some of Nixon's work that followed his 1965 catalogue. Mainly that Pierre Roffet was one of the first binders to work for Grolier after he left italy, these bindings appear to span the period from 1521 up to the year that Roffet died 1533. Perhaps his son Étienne Roffet who later became the first official King's binder, may have continued the work of his father, in which case he would be considered as candidate for the bindings of Grolier from 1533 to 1538. These have been attributed previously to the Fleur-de-lis Binder. I am not convinced that Étienne Roffet accomplished all the bindings attributed to the Fleur-de-lis Binder as he appears to have a different set of similar tools. In any case Picard soon took over the job at least by 1540 if not earlier. Most of this is well known with the exception of Pierre Roffet's work, this will be the subject of a new section that is now under construction. This work has brought me back to my atelier of Louis XII pages. And the realization that this work will never be complete without a firm grasp of the Renaissance bookbindings of the 15th century. At present I am grappling with Anthony Hobson's 1989 work Humanists and Bookbinders. Hobson's mind was able to absorb millions of details to produce this book, however for the average man, it will seem a rather chaotic collage. An ambitious young researcher would take all the bindings he has presented in this work and arrange them in chronologic order clearly stating first, the place of their origin and estimated date of manufacture. All to be presented with accurate scaling and above all in high resolution color. Just presenting faded low resolution black and white illustrations is not very useful. In fact this is the biggest problem with books today, it is virtually impossible to print a book like Humanists and Bookbinders with good color photos just due to the cost and even then the results would be mediocre due to the degraded state of modern publishing methods. What am I getting at? It is the fact that books are obsolete when it comes to reproducing what you will find in these pages here at Virtual Bookbinding, high resolution enlargements in color. The internet has opened a new way of presenting information in detail, that printed books can never hope to emulate, let alone the huge advantage of hypelinks that can take you instantaneously to references. In fact instantaneously to billions of research documents.

Still the internet is often perverted by narrow minded thinking, it is far from perfect, for example yesterday while searching for images of manuscripts by Bartolomeo Sanvito Italian scribe and illuminator (b. ca. 1435, Padova, d. ca. 1518, Padova) I visited this page, the title of the page is: Digital Medieval Manuscripts - Collections - Houghton Library - Harvard College Library.
The Houghton Library's distinguished collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts represents a significant resource for the study of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Western Europe. Assembled through gifts and purchase over the past two centuries, this collection includes works in Latin, Greek, and most of the vernacular languages of Europe that are the primary sources for the study of the literature, art, history, music, philosophy, and theology of the periods.
With funding from the Harvard University, this material is only accessible to people with a Harvard ID and PIN. Fortunately at Virtual Bookbinding we have a more humanistic approach. Information should not be bottled up for an elite few. Ancient renaissance manuscripts are part of the human cultural heritage, they belong to and should be shared by the entire world.

Future Research

1200 dpi

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Comparative Diagram 4 - Nixon 1965 EF. 9 - similar imprints from various binders c 1540 - 1547

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I have not yet prepared a catalogue of the Aristophanes Binder tools, we need to find a few more examples and in the search for them we have yet another powerful imprint that may help us. It is shown above enlarged to 1200 dpi. We can see that it has a flaw in the center that can be seen even at 300 dpi. In Comparative Diagram 4, I show some similar imprints from other binders in this period, we can see that their imprints are without a similar flaw, and all are slightly different, but so similar that you will not be able to distinguish one from another with the naked eye.

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