A fore-edge painting decorates the outside edge of the pages of a book. There are two forms of fore-edge paintings: directly on the fore-edge, and hidden. The first fore-edge paintings, as early as the tenth century, were painted directly on the front edge of the book. At this time, books were displayed page-side out, with the spines facing into the shelf. Later fore-edge paintings (c. 1650s) were hidden, so that you can only see the image when the pages are fanned. By 1750, fore-edge paintings evolved from small decorative images to detailed scenes.
These are images of an unusual double fore-edge painting. Here, the artist has created an image that is visible on one side and a different image visible on the other side, with gilding visible when the book is closed.
Closed book, displaying the gilded front:
The first fore-edge painting: A view of the Thames with St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London in the distance.
The second fore-edge painting, with a closer view of St. Paul's Cathedral. Sir Christopher Wren was the architect of the Cathedral, so this illustration matches the subject matter of the book.
Clark has a collection of 14 books with fore-edge paintings, donated and collected to the library. The books range in date from 1748-1860, with paintings done at the time of publishing and as recently as 2010. We have three books with double fore-edge paintings, and one split book (where half the pages show one image and half show another when fanned in the opposite direction).
Books were stored spine-in, and were even chained to the shelf at times. Prior to the Printing Press, books were an extremely valuable luxury, so one could not risk the book being stolen. To identify the books, they were labelled or decorated on the fore-edge, as is this copy of Homiliae in Evangelia by Pope Gregory I.