40 Hidden Paintings on the Edges of Vintage Books

fore-edge painting is a technique of painting on the edges of the pages of a book. The artwork can only be seen when the pages are fanned, as seen in the animation below. When the book is closed, you don’t see the image because it is hidden by the gilding (i.e., the gold leaf applied to the edges of the page).

fore-edge painting fanning animated gif

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, fore-edge paintings first arose during the European Middle Ages but came to prominence during the mid-17th century to the late 19th century. Anne C. Bromer for the Boston Public Library writes, “Most fore-edge painters working for binding firms did not sign their work, which explains why it is difficult to pinpoint and date the hidden paintings.”

Thanks to the generous gifts from Anne and David Bromer and Albert H. Wiggin, the Boston Public Library holds one of the finest collections of fore-edge paintings in the United States. Most of the collection has been put online for the world to enjoy and features more than 200 high-resolution images; complete with additional videos, articles and information.

The University of Iowa and Colossal recently featured a few fore-edge paintings with animated gifs that can also be seen below.


1. The causes, appearances, and effects of the
seasonal decay and decomposition of nature, 1837 by Robert Mudie

fore-edge paintings gif

fore-edge paintings gif

2. The Holy Bible
Split fore-edge painting

fore edge painting

3. Letters of Lady Rachel Russell, 1801
by J. Mawman


4. Analysis of the Game of Chess, 1790
by François-André Danican Philidor


5. Characteristics of women, moral, political, and historical, v.2 1833
by Anna Jameson
Painting of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage


6. Speeches of Henry Lord Brougham, v.1 1838
by Henry Lord Brougham
A view of Philadelphia showing the Delaware


7. Jeanne d’Arc
Author Unknown
The People Of Orleans Greet Joan Of Arc


8. The rod and the gun, 1841
by James Wilson


9. Poems by the late William Cowper, Esq., v.2 1820
by William Cowper


10. The speeches of the right honorable William Pitt, v.2 1808
by William Pitt
George Washington and Benjamin Franklin


11. The causes, appearances, and effects of the
seasonal decay and decomposition of nature
, 1837 by Robert Mudie

hidden artworks on edges of books

hidden artworks on edges of books

12. The poetical works of Thomas Moore, 1865
by Thomas Moore
View Of Enniscorthy, England


13. The lord of the isles, 1815
by Walter Scott
Carrick Castle In Argyll, Scotland


14. The world before the flood, 1819
by James Montgomery


15. The rambler, v.1 1825
by Samuel Johnson
Old Wych Street, London


16. The complete angler of Isaak Walton and Charles Cotton, 1835
by Izaak Walton


17. The Education of Henry Adams, 1918
by Henry Adams


18. Jerusalem delivered (Torquato Tasso), v.1 1797
by John Hoole


19. Oberon, 1798
by William Sotheby


20. The Holy Bible, 1811
St Paul’s Cathedral


21. The lay of the last minstrel, 1823
by Sir Walter Bart Scott
View of Kelso, Scotland


22. Paradise Lost, 1876
by John Milton
Milton Triptych


23. Latin and Italian poems of Milton, 1808
by John Milton
The Inn at Edmonton


24. Marmion, 1811
by Sir Walter Scott
Lindesfarne Abbey


25. The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope, 1863
by Alexander Pope


26. Poems by William Cowper, Esq., v.1 1808
by William Cowper


27. Select British poets, v.3 1824
Various Authors
Wimborne Minster


28. Rokeby, 1813
by Walter Scott
View of Barnard Castle


29. The causes, appearances, and effects of the
seasonal decay and decomposition of nature
, 1837 by Robert Mudie

hidden artworks on the edges of books gif

hidden artworks on the edges of books gif

30. The curse of Kehama, 1812
by Robert Southey
Indian River Scene with Hindu Temple


31. Lalla Rookh, 1818
by Thomas Moore
Tyburn Turnpike, London


32. The lives of Dr. John Donne, Sir Henry Wotton, [etc.] 1824
by Izaak Walton


33. Poems by the late William Cowper, Esq., v.1 1820
by William Cowper
A View of Olney


34. The red true story book
by Andrew Lang and H. J. Ford
The Capture Of Joan Of Arc


35. The causes, appearances, and effects of the
seasonal decay and decomposition of nature
, 1837 by Robert Mudie

fore-edge paintings on books

fore-edge paintings on books

36. Poems by the late William Cowper, Esq., v.2 1820
by William Cowper


37. Poems on several occasions, 1813
by Lord Edward Thurlow
A View of Dublin


38. The Holy Bible, v.2 1803
‘The Last Supper’


39. The Holy Bible, v.2 1795
The Mount Of Olives From The Slopes Of Zion


40. The anthologies, an extensive collection
of all compositions subsequent to the Liang dynasty


For more visit foreedge.bpl.org
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