Dark greyish-blue morocco, with onlays in many shades of red, brown, yellow and green, blind-tooled. Both covers have a bunch of six tulips, all in onlaid leather.
Western travellers visiting Turkey in the middle of the sixteenth century were struck by the sight of a curious kind of lily: the tulip. Soon its bulb was exported to Western Europe, including Holland, where it became exceedingly popular. Special species were bred, which sold for high prices. This gave rise to a veritable ‘tulipomania’, which culminated in one rare bulb being sold for the formidable amount of 5,000 guilders. But the end was bound to come: in 1637 the market collapsed and from that moment on the tulip remained a favourite, but no longer financially overrated flower. The tulip is found on Dutch paintings of the seventeenth century, especially still lifes, not only because it was a popular flower, but also because of its symbolic meaning: the fast wilting flower stood for ‘vanitas vanitatum’, or vanity of vanities, in the words of the Preacher (1:2).
Jean Gunner knew about all this when she was commissioned by the Koninklijke Bibliotheek to make a bookbinding and chose this book. It deals with tulipomania and has reproductions of delicate paintings of different kinds of tulips, made by Rory McEwen. At first sight it would seem as if Gunner follows these illustrations in her design, but a closer look reveals significant differences. The details in her tulips have not been accomplished by lines, but by planes of differently coloured leather. Unlike the painter she gives arrangements of flowers that are still closed on the lower cover and already past their prime on the front cover: a straightforward reference to vanity.
Jean Gunner was born in England in 1947 and trained in bookbinding between 1962 and 1967 in her native country. She emigrated to the United States in 1969, where she was taught book restoration by Carolyn Horton. From 1972 to 1985 she was working as a book restorer and an art bookbinder for the Hunt Botanical Library in Pittsburgh. An exhibition in that city in 1979, to which the Koninklijke Bibliotheek had lent a few of its historical bookbindings, was partly devoted to her work. Contacts with her, established at the time, have eventually resulted in this beautiful binding.
Bookbinding, made by Jean Gunner. Pittsburgh (USA), 1982. Contents: Wilfrid Blunt. Tulips and Tulipomania. London, The Basilisk Press, 1977. Edition of 515 copies. This is no. 309. - 1770 C 25