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Secret fore-edge paintings discovered in a 19th century book set
Colleen Theisen, a Special Collections librarian at the University of Iowa has recently shared photographs and gifs of hidden fore-edge paintings in an online post called “It’s a secret to everybody…”. The 19th century book set comprising of four scientific volumes named Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter by Robert Mudie (1837) were donated to the University of Iowa by Charlotte Smith.
The volumes hide painted landscapes depicting the respective season on each book, undetectable when the books are closed. The fore-edge painting reveals itself only when the pages are fanned out, otherwise hidden under the edges of the books painted in gilt. In an interview with MailOnline, Colleen Theisen explained that the paintings were executed by using a clamp to help fixate the book in a fanned position, which creates a flat surface ready to be embellished.
Fore-edge paintings date back to the 10th century and initially depicted heraldic images. The first “disappearing” fore-edge painting, similar to the landscapes illustrated in Mudie’s books however, is believed to date from 1649. The artist who painted the hidden landscapes on Mudie’s books is unknown. If this technique has caught your attention, you can watch more examples of fore-edge paintings The video below illustrates other fore-edge books at the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library.
Photo credit: Thisiscollosal.com and Special Collections & Archives, University of Iowa.