Black goatskin over wooden boards, late fifteenth century

Cornelius Nepos
Vitae excellentium imperatorum
Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 8 Mar. 1471

This sombre but beautiful example of a humanist knot work binding was executed in Italy, probably Florence. The style originated in the decorative traditions of the Islamic world, where as early as the tenth century manuscripts were bound using small tools which created repeating impressions resembling lengths of twisted rope, massed in geometric patterns. The round centrepiece is suggestive of Florentine bindings of the 1450s. This example has lost its characteristic trefoil silver catch-plates, but their impressions can still be seen.


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