A delightfully attractive book presenting the bookplate – a neglected art form that has nevertheless been practised by leading artists of their generation, from Albrecht Dürer to Edward Burne-Jones.
A bookplate, or Ex Libris, is a small print for pasting inside the cover of a book to express ownership. The first books were highly valuable and prestigious objects to own, hence the first bookplates usually incorporated the decorative coats of arms of the fabulously wealthy. By the late nineteenth century, bookplates had developed into a highly imaginative form of the engraver’s and printmaker’s art in miniature.
This delightful book showcases bookplates drawn from the rich collections of the British Museum, including works created by some of the most talented artists of their day, such as Albrecht Dürer, Edward Burne-Jones, Aubrey Beardsley and Eric Gill. Equally it shows how the content of bookplates has evolved over the years to feature a vast range of allegory and symbolism – often incorporating a pun on the owner’s name – uniquely relevant to that individual. For example, the bookplate for a professor of Sanskrit features Hindu imagery, while a Venetian publisher is associated with a lion, the symbol of his city.
Endlessly diverse, surprising and touching, this is a book that will be treasured by art-lovers and book-lovers alike.
The author Martin Hopkinson was curator of prints at the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, from 1977 to 1997. He is now a freelance art critic and writer; his publications include Italian Prints 1875–1975 (BMP, 2007).