White silk, embroidered with silk in many colours and metal thread, mostly in relief, with pearls, over wooden boards, silver-gilt corner pieces and fastenings. Gold rays from the four corners surround an undulating frame of leaves and flowers, made of silver thread and pearls, with a cartouche of mostly silver thread scrollwork in the centre. Between frame and cartouche birds and flowers have been embroidered in delicate long stitches; inside the cartouche is a carnation with a snail on one of its leaves. The spine is divided into different fields, each with a design of silver leaves and coloured flowers and fruit. The corner pieces consist of small rosettes and little pearls matching the cover design. The clasps are decorated with interlacing scrollwork.
The embroidery is exceptionally beautiful and the whole binding is in excellent condition. It was one of the bookbindings purchased in 1909 with the splendid collection of the Amsterdam auctioneer Anton W.M. Mensing, which also included the Plantin binding (no. 33), the basis of the collection of bookbindings in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek.
In the Middle Ages textile was already a welcome addition to the materials available to bookbinders. It was especially used for books in royal collections and books for women. The few medieval textile bookbindings that have survived do, on the whole, not have any embroidery. This changed, however, halfway through the sixteenth century under the influence of Queen Elizabeth I of England, who was very fond of materials with embroidery and pearls. The early seventeenth century also saw beautifully embroidered bookbindings, made for special occasions, and sometimes made to match embroidered gloves and other accessories. Embroidery was not the work of the bookbinder himself. Very sophisticated items, like the one depicted here, were made by professional embroiderers, who even had their own guilds in some towns.
It is not known for whom, or for what occasion this book was given such rich attire. Besides a complete edition of the Bible, including the Psalms set to music and the Catechism, it also contains a book of nearly 450 pages with instructions on how to live a true Christian life.
Textile bookbinding. The Netherlands, 1615-1620. Contents: Biblia. Leyden, Udrich Cornelijs, voor Jan Everss Cloppenburch en Isack Ianss Canin, 1615; Arthurus Dentus. Voet-pat der eenvoudigher menschen. Utrecht, Abraham van Herwijck, voor Hendrick Laurensz tot Amsterdam, 1614. 8º. - 345 G 17