Themes in Ornaments 1: Books

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This is the first of a series of short blog posts on the images depicted in printers’ ornaments. Each post will explore a different theme found in printers’ ornaments of the eighteenth century (and beyond).

Here are six ornaments that all depict books.

Ornaments depicting books are satisfyingly self-referential. These two headpieces feature open books, creating miniature images of the real open book that is in front of the viewer as they are reading. These ornaments use tiny dots and lines to indicate the presence of text on the page. (Click on any ornament in this post to see it in Compositor)

The ornament below depicts a book and a face. Perhaps both the book containing the ornament, and the face of its reader, are being reflected back at us.

The book as a physical object is being celebrated in these headpieces. Here, books are flanked by lions and birds:

These ornaments not only depict books, they depict books featuring printers’ ornaments. The craftsperson has depicted the product of their own labour within the design. Each open book clearly features a headpiece and a tailpiece. They are indistinct in the two images above, though in the second one we can make out the large initial letters T and O.

Here we can clearly see that the tailpiece on the recto depicts an angel:

So this is a book, containing an ornament, which depicts angels, holding a book, containing an ornament, which depicts an angel…

The engraver was certainly having fun.


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