52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings: Week 17

Three 16th century portrait bindings

This week’s post highlights the bindings of three 16th century books, two printed in Basel and the other printed in Leipzig. All three of these books share similar features of a popular continental binding style of the mid-16th century: bound in pigskin over wooden boards, fixed with two metal clasps, and featuring the portraits of important members of the Protestant Reformation blind stamped on the front and back boards. These books were all printed, and probably bound, within 3 years of each other.

The Leipzig item, a 1569 printing of Philipp Melanchthon’s works, features a portrait of Melanchthon on the front board and of Lucretia on the back board. The portrait of Lucretia is surrounded by blind stamped medallions depicting the busts of Melanchthon, Erasmus, Hus and Luther. The first of the two Basel printing is a 1567 edition of the poems of Georg Fabricius, a German Protestant poet ironically educated in Leipzig. The binding of this work, the dirtiest (and therefore easiest to read) of the three, features the two most famous of Protestant reformers, Luther on the front board and Melanchthon on the back, and is dated “1568”. These blind-stamp portraits are identical to another contemporary German binding of Luther’s works found at St. John’s College, Cambridge (L.4.8-11).

The third item, also printed in Basel, is somewhat different. This book, a 1568 printing of Celio Augustino Curione’s history of the Saracens, is also bound in blind tooled pigskin and features a dated portrait (1570) of an armoured man holding a sword.


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