A book binding

Anonymus silversmith, Amsterdam, circa 1600

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A book binding

The cover lined with gold leaf below pierced and engraved silver mounts to obverse and reverse, decorated with a double-handled campana vase, issuing scrollwork around a circular medallion containing a (later engraved) gothic E, a central herm above, to either side flanked by a horn-blowing male nude, further surrounded by mythological animals, flowers and C-scrolls, the spandrels engraved with squirrels, the spine divided by eight ribs into seven panels engraved with stylised scrolls and band work, the clasps hinged to the reverse cover that is pierced and engraved conformingly, the medallion with a ( later engraved) gothic S, the front leaf in silver engraved with a scroll work cartouche surrounding the Madonna carrying Child Jesus, the upper spandrels with angles flying over her head holding a laurel wreath, the lower spandrels with angels’ heads, in the back leaf in silver engraved with crucified Christ flanked by Mary Magdalene, set against a landscape background, the four spandrels engraved with angel’s heads.

The contents: a 1661 edition of Philippus Servius’ Amicus Fidelis Usque Ad Mortem […] apud Henricum Aertssens, Antwerp, 1661. A rare ascetic work by the Belgian Roman catholic theologist Philippus Servius (1576 – 1657), a practical pastoral work to equip believers and provide spiritual support in difficult life situations such as illness and death.

The design of the cover is after Adriaen Collaert’s series of ornament prints showing the individual Gods involved in the mythological story of The Judgement of Paris; they include roundels which are framed by intricate grotesque patterns, i.e. Mercury (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Print room, inv. n° RPP-1892-A-17392).

Adriaen Collaert was an engraver born in Antwerp and belonging to a family of Flemish engravers. There is little biographical information about this artist, though many of his prints are known. Adriaen was the son of Hans (or Jan) Collaert I, was married to Justa, daughter of the well-known engraver and printer of Antwerp Philips Galle, and became a skilled and assiduous collaborator of his father-in-law.

In 1580 he became member of the Guild of St. Luke. In 1596 and in 1597 he was assistant-dean and dean. Adriaen Collaert made about 600 engravings, including a series inspired by his own animal designs and also the series of Four Elements. All of these series are characterised by a realistic representation of nature. Collaert’s compositions often include decorative borders made up of flowers, animals and grotesque that emphasise his importance as an ornamental draftsman.

He was the author of many reproductions derived mainly from subjects by Giovanni Stradano, Hendrik Goltzius, Martin de Vos and Pieter de Jode. After acquiring the techniques of engraving he moved to Italy where he stayed for a few years to expand his artistic models. After his return to Antwerp, he and his father-in-law made the most important and remarkable series of prints that Galle’s workshop has produced and probably Adriaen Collaert succeeded him in managing the company after his death.

Small silver book bindings from the Dutch Republic’s province of Holland, dating from the first quarter of the 17th century are extremely rare. The main characteristics of such bindings are that they all have a relatively small size and appear to be unmarked; their decoration seems to be inspired by the ornament prints produced and distributed by a.o. Theodor de Bry and his son Johann Theodor de Bry. These binding’s elaborate decoration with scrollwork, floral and animal motifs such as monkeys, butterflies, birds, dogs and snails, was undoubtedly inspired by the ornamental print designs produced by the aforementioned and other contemporaries such as Adriaen Collaert and Philip Galle.

The technique of cutting away precious metal by sawing probably was not extant during earlier periods. However, other techniques such as drilling, chiselling and polishing were applied more and more during the course of the 17th century.

On all comparable bindings the hallmarks are absent. It is not quite clear why. According to the guilds’ statutory regulations and decrees of the period, a silversmith had to strike his mark on each work before delivering it to the Assay Office, where, after acceptance, the town mark and year mark were struck. Prof. Dr Johan ter Molen gives a plausible hypothesis for the absence of the marks. He argues that there was very little enthusiasm with both patron and silversmith to take such a vulnerable object to the Assay Office. In order to be able to capitalise on heavy objects by getting at least the value of the investment in silver in return, such pieces, naturally, needed a guarantee of quality given by the Assay Office. However, for lighter objects, such as these bindings, with their relatively low weight and with their often religious function, the wealthy owner(s) would rarely have considered melting the piece down to regain the value of the silver invested. For this reason the interest for hallmarking such pieces may have been absent.

Private collection, The Netherlands

Associated Literature
Cf. J.W. Frederiks, Dutch Silver, vol. II, Wrought Plate of North and South Holland, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1958, n°s 181-185, 189, 194 and 195, p. 64-65, ill. pl. 54-55 and n°s 194 and 195, p. 69, ill. pl. 58, and n° 244, p. 85, ill. pl. 78.;
Cf. Bernie Vervoort, An Early Seventeenth-Century Silver Binding Manufactured in the Province of Holland, the Decoration Influenced by De Bry, in Quærendo, 2015, p. 144-156

Anonymus silversmith, Amsterdam, circa 1600

height 9,5 cm width 6 cm, depth 2,5 cm

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