Friday, December 31, 2010

The starless, bible-black and cobblestone patterned.

Bible-black is a term that is loaded with emotion. It evokes something deeply religious, maybe sometimes in a negative way but also an honest piety.
It is a term that, perhaps only in my mind, must almost stand for one definite colour. There can be none, however. I remember an issue of the fashion magazine View on Colour (now merged in Provider) that was devoted to black, and had a small sample card of blacks that were deemed fashionable in the coming years. All blacks, but oh so different in hues, shinyness, and depth.
But it is probably just a perception of blackness. As Dali once proposed that he thought that the centre of the world was the earring in Vermeer's picture (as the light in the picture seems to come from the earring, instead of direct sunlight), I would propose another counterpart.

The way the simple stone casts a shadow on a child's grave in Walker Evans' Let us now praise famous men, that could well be bible-black.

The strange thing is that those black bibles, supposedly so basic and stark, in fact, have traits of fashion. While Dutch black bibles tend to be matte, in discreet sharkskin clad. German black bibles are made from bovine leather, polished with arabic gum. English-made bibles tend to be made from longer-grained morocco. It is not only by country that black bibles are divided, also preferences in taste over time are visible when carefully comparing.

The exact numbers are unknown to me, but certainly worth exploring. I owe it to my fascination with a word.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The joyful side of strict christianity

Combinations of religion and art forms have always fascinated me, and its more abstract components are even more interesting. To paint Biblical scenes is rather straightforward, but the clearly religious feeling in modern art (think Mark Rothko or Bill Viola) is more complex.
But also 'merely' decorative art sometimes has unusual roots. This interesting article show the link between Herrnhutter protestantism and brocade paper industry.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Job Baster and Philip Miller. The Dutch-English madder connection.

English horticulturist Philip Miller travelled to the Netherlands in the mid-18th century and is known to have met Dutch physician and scientist Job Baster at Middelburg. Shortly after, Miller published a book on the cultivation of madder in the Dutch Zeeland province (1758), probably helped in his desciption by Baster (who, in his turn, translated several of Miller's works on garden culture).
He advocates the culture of madder in England, but warns against a simple matter of planting and growing. He notices the details of soil selection for madder, and distinguishes three kinds of madder, all cultivated and traded as roots and shoots. A first without mention of origin, but supposedly the Dutch mother plants, are preferable as planting material. A second (aspera), imported from France and Spain, is decidedly inferior. A third, native to the English coast, is described as still botanically the same species, but clearly unsuitable for culture.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Painted vellum bindings: German Pietism

A few days after writing on painted vellum and with the subject still kind of murmuring in my head, I came across this beautiful, almost modern art, vellum binding on a typically Pietist German book, the Güldene Rose by Christoph Schütz.
Not unlike Jansenist bookbindings, Pietism seems to have developed an aesthetical standard of its own.

Mostly clad in solemn black on the outside (remniscent of the Dutch sharkskin tradition in Bibles), they often have fine brocade endpapers, - and even more baroque illustrations. This booklet, however, seems to imitate tortoise bindings in an abstract way. The technique is probably a simple bleach-out (unfortunately also often heavily deteriorating the leather, as are the diverse way of bleaching, staining and marbling with vitriol that were popular in the 18th century).