French Decorative Bookbinding - Sixteenth Century

A study of

l'atelier des reliures LOUIS XII et FRANÇOIS Ie
the decorative bookbindings from the workshops of Louis XII and Francis I

The arms of Louis XII

With our inventory now in place we can start to look at the various imprints, in an attempt to identify those which derive from the same tool and atelier. There is perhaps no better place to start than with the arms of Louis XII. Properly speaking the "armes" may be considered the conglomerate of the crown, shield bearing three fleur de lys and the Porcupine. Denise Gid has lumped the crown and shield into one item which she has classified as "her 1" as well as illustrating a second type "her 2"

click on this image to see an enlargement

Fig. 1 - Illustrated rubbings from: Denise Gid, Catalogue des Reliures Françaises estampées à froid dans la bibliothèque Mazarine,
Paris, 1984, Pl. 12

When I first started researching the Louis XII bindings via the internet, I quickly found that one had been sold at an Alde auction in Paris in November of 2007. In the Alde catalogue we find an excellent description of this binding which I have placed in the inventory as item No. 35, in that description we find a mention of Gid's catalogue and 'her 1'. I was quick to order a copy of this catalogue as I wanted to compare my example with Gid's rubbing. Gid had only one binding with a 'her 1' imprint and it was very fortunate that this particular example shared some characteristic flaws. These flaws are not evident in the earlier imprints.

crown flaw

Fig. 2 - Denise Gid's "her 1" compared with my imprint (item No. 37).

Even more startling was the fact that the upper right lobe of the crown was missing, and must have broken off, after years of use. The reproduction of the Alde binding is not high res but anyway allows us to confirm this same flaw. Gid has cleverly avoided the issue by ending her rubbing at this critical point, however in the larger 618 rubbing we see that the lobe is in fact, missing.

click on this image to see an enlargement

crown 600dpi

Fig. 3 - Crown flaw - missing lobe on the right side.

In his follow up paper of 1968 Guignard reproduced a binding nearly identical to the Alde example (see item No. 34) This binding contained material published in 1520, demonstrating the use of this tool and possibly this atelier right up to the time of Simon Vostres death. This seems to me a very important issue, why would this damaged tool still be in use in the workshop of Simon Vostre, where luxury gold tooled bindings were a specialty?
click on this image to see an enlargement

Fig. 4 - (No. 14) Guillaume de la Mare, Sylvarium libri IV, Paris, J. Bade, 1511-1513 upper cover.

Dacier and Guignard both designated the 'her 1' imprint as a single item ("fer G"). However a review of a selection of these imprints soon reveals that the crown and the shield are separate units. In the diagram above I have extracted all the crowns and enlarged them. Even though we can observe that this binding has been decorated with different, crowned shields, they are all capped with the same crown. This binding may be as late as 1515, and yet we see that the crown lobes are still intact.

No. 17 crown

Fig. 5 - Detail from No. 17, reliure aux armes de François Ier

In Fig. 5 we see that the crown is still intact, this binding is post 1515. On the next page we will look at the shield or "écu"

Click on this link to go to the next page - L'écu aux armes de France - shield with three lis (fleur de lis)

Click on this link to return to the home page of L'ATELIER DES RELIURES LOUIS XII et FRANÇOIS Ier

Click on this link to visit Virtual Bookbinding

Click on the link below to search for bookbindings in

The British Library Database of Bookbindings

Go to Digital Alchemy return to the home page of