Fore-edge Painting: Hidden Artistic Messages in Old Books!

Books have a magical and historical way of holding secrets to a world of mystery, knowledge, intrigue, customs, art, literature, music, genealogy, food, fables and creeds. Sometimes they even hold secrets that we probably never knew they had. I know I certainly didn’t. One of those embedded secrets is “fore-edge painting.” Fore-edge painting is a scene that is painted on the edges of the pages in a book. When the book is closed, the edges look normal, but when the pages are fanned, the painted scenes tell a story of their own. Check out this video:

Here are some educational findings about fore-edge painting, according to –

  • A single fore-edge painting includes a painting on only one side of the book page edges. Generally, gilt or marbling is applied by the bookbinder after the painting has dried, so as to make the painting completely invisible when the book is closed.
  • A double fore-edge painting has paintings on both sides of the page margin so that one painting is visible when the leaves are fanned one way, and the other is visible when the leaves are fanned the other way.
  • A triple fore-edge painting has, in addition to paintings on the edges, a third painting applied directly to the edges (in lieu of gilt or marbling). Edge paintings that are continuous scenes wrapped around more than one edge are called panoramic fore-edge painting. These are sometimes called a ‘triple edge painting’.

I love hard copy books and there is something so intimate about reading from one. Although e-readers and computer tablets make the portability of traveling with a book much easier, I still like to hold and read from an actual book, while sipping on a cup of hot tea. One thing for sure, from now on, I will refrain from judging a book by its pages.


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