French Decorative Bookbinding - Sixteenth Century

l'atelier des reliures LOUIS XII et FRANÇOIS Ie
the decorative bookbindings from the workshops of Louis XII and Francis I

'two dolphins diving on either side of a fountain'

click to enlarge

Comparative Diagram 1 - Dacier 1933 imprint 'N' examples from binding No. 3 Pl. V
Andrelini manuscript c. 1509

(click on the image to see a 1000 dpi enlargement)

In Comparative Diagram I show four imprint N examples taken from binding No. 4 in our inventory (F. Andrelini, Ad invictissimum Ludovicum XII, Manuscrit, c. 1509). I have not tried to remove encroaching imprint fragments, or attempted to show a complete reconstructed example of this imprint, instead I show a number of examples from which we can get a better composite idea of the various details of this very important tool. In his 1989 book entitled Humanists and Bookbinders Anthony Hobson has taken the time to tell us some important facts concerning the origins of this tool: Always repeated to form a frame, it is characteristic of the Venito, where it was first used in the last third of the fifteenth century. In a foot note he points out a 1476 example bound in Venice. On page 68 he proposes that the motif derives from a 1464 architectural illustration of a Roman capital by Felice Feliciano.

click to enlarge

On the same page he further states that this motif first appeared on bindings in the Venito and that he imagines that the Roman Capital from which the illustration was made, stood in a courtyard in Padua . These details add up to the motif being found on Venito bindings before 1476, however in a previous statement he states...the Venetian (or Paduan) version was used by Jean Grolier's Milanese binder of c. 1510 -16 and by the the first French shop regularly to practisw gold-tooling, with a foot note (See p. 173), here he is refering to the shop of Simon Vostre. The first question we might ask is, whether the Venetian (or Paduan) version remained unchanged from pre 1476 up to 1510. However we are anyway lucky that H.M.Nixon has reproduced one of these Grolier bindings in his 1965 catalogue as well as an excellent rubbing of this motif.


Comparative Diagram 2 - Nixon 1965 rubbing It. 12 vs Dacier 1933 imprint 'N' example from binding No. 3 Pl. V
Andrelini manuscript c. 1509

In Comparative Diagram 2, I have reproduced these supposed Venetian (Paduan) examples, we can see that Nixons rubbing of an imprint found on a Milanese binding for Jean Grolier c. 1510, derives from a similar but different tool from that which was employed on the c. 1509 atelier Louis XII binding (Dacier 1933 fer N). The major differences are seen at points (a) longer ribs, (b) inverted jaw bone, (c) reversed gil incisions, (d) off center skirt leaf at the base of the fountain. (to name just a few). Below I have reproduced the Milanese binding with the dolphin frame from Nixon's 1965 Plate III. Here we see the standard way in which the dolphin tool was employed to create a framework by placing the imprints side by side, as noted ny Hobson.

click to enlarge

Now we must turn to his description of the atelier Louis XII binding found on the 1509 Andrelini manuscript. Here he makes a very important observation although it was so badly stated that it is only when when see these bindings together that we begin to understand what he was getting at.

It is the most Italianate of the shop's early bindings - indeed some of the tools were almost certainly imported from Italy. They include one of two dolphins diving on either side of a fountain, indistinguishable from stamps found in Rome, Venice and milan, a foliate border tool and a lozenge-shaped ornament which in Italy would have been used as a centerpiece. To this core of imported tools were later added others engraved in Paris, including blocks of the royal arms and emblems. But though the binder was supplied with Italianate tools, he was evidently not given an Italian model to copy. he arranged them - the dolphins upside down - in the French manner in vertical strips, side by side that would have looked very foreign to Venetian or Milanese eyes.

click to enlarge

(click on the image to see an enlargement)

What he is saying is that the dolphins have been placed upside down, one on top of the other, instead of side by side as was the Italian way of arranging them, yes this would have seemed odd to an Italian binder. It means that the binder who decorated this binding was probably French and unfamiliar with this tool, and that he was most certainly not Italian. This would seem to cast doubt on theories that suggested that the gold tooling found in the decoration the Louis XII bindings was in fact the work of Italians specifically imported by Louis XII, to do the work... an idea suggested by Dacier, 1933 p. 35

Now let us think about this... this motif, according to Hobson was wide spread: The dolphin frame was not confined to north-eastern Italy. In a slightly different form it was known in Florence. It appears in Rome in the 1490's. Thus for more than 2 decades it was popular Italy before it appears upside down in France. I think this could be very significant, it suggests that the decorator of the Louis XII bindings was not connected to the modes of Italy, that he never saw Italian bindings. I submit that that Simon Vostre would have never made this mistake... or was it a mistake? A number of Louis XII and Francois Ier bindings made by this same binder more than 5 years later are decorated with this same dolphin motif tool, in an identical manner, with the exception that some of the imprints are the right way up, never are they placed side by side to make a framework in the Italian fashion. Coincidentally one of these bindings is on yet another manuscript by Fausto Andrelini. The binding was made almost certainly in the early part of 1515. (Note that the crown is still intact with no signs of damage or missing lobe).

Sometimes when we make a huge mistake the best way to cover it up is to make the same mistake again but make it appear as though it was no mistake at all. Here it is accomplished by making one column of imprints in the correct orientation and then one in the reverse.

click to enlarge

(No. 27) Fausto Andrelini, De pacifica Francorum successione. Manuscrit (Paris?) 1515,
Reliure aux armes de France, Examplaire de dédicace à François Ier.

(click on the image to see a 300 dpi enlargement)

Click here to see the next page 1486 Dolphins.

Click on this link to return to the Renaissance Icons PAGE INDEX

about the author VIRTUAL BOOKBINDING