The Bible, The Book of Psalms

The Holy Bible printed by the Company of Stationers
The Book of Psalms printed by Richard Cotes

Not on view

The binding of this 1649 Bible printed by the Company of Stationers and Book of Psalms printed by Richard Cotes is decorated with two scenes from the Old Testament. The front cover shows Elijah and the Widow of Zarapeth (1 Kings 17:8–16), and the back cover shows Elijah Fed by Ravens (1 Kings 17:1–6), two episodes in the life of the prophet when God provided for him by sending sustenance from unlikely sources, ravens and a poor widow. Although not as common as other biblical scenes rendered in needlework, the numerous depictions of the story of Elijah in paintings and engravings show how familiar these stories would have been to their seventeenth-century audience. Yvonne Hackenbroch suggested a likely source for the front of the embroidered cover in Gerard de Jode’s late sixteenth-century Thesaurus Sacrarum Historiarum Veteris Testamentis, although some of the costumes were updated from this source to reflect contemporary fashion. Two factors lead to the conclusion that this decorated binding is the work of an amateur: the level of proficiency of the embroiderer and the presence of initials, presumably those of the maker. The techniques and materials employed are fewer and simpler than are commonly seen on Bible covers of a professional caliber; the two scenes from the life of Elijah are worked in tent stitch on canvas, which would have been made separately and then applied to the satin background of the book binding. The scenes are then framed in a cartouche of silk-wrapped purl thread, which is applied in a couching technique that would be relatively simple to work. A knot stitch is used on the satin background to make the floral border and the maker’s initials M.B., as well as the spine, which is covered in six registers of flora and fauna. Although tedious to work in this quantity, the stitch is not terribly difficult. The fact that this Bible and Book of Psalms were decorated by an amateur embroiderer shows that the skills so important to a young woman’s education were put to use in the making of decorative objects necessary to a properly appointed household.

Like cabinets decorated with raised-worked panels, the finished cover would probably have been delivered, along with the book itself, to a binder who specialized in the application of decorative covers. The same craftsman may have applied the decorative silver metal trim to the edges, as well as the gold metal clasps. The publication date of a book cannot be used as conclusive evidence for the date of any type of cover. However, it is probable that books intended to receive decorative textile covers were intentionally constructed with smooth spines, in order to facilitate the application of the cover and to avoid interrupting the design, unlike the spines with protruding cords, which are commonly found on leather bound books of the period. Nevertheless, the embroidery design on the spine imitates the appearance of leather bindings with the horizontal cords and panels in between.

The Bible, The Book of Psalms, The Holy Bible printed by the Company of Stationers  , London, 1649, Satin worked with silk and metal thread, spangles; knot, tent, and couching stitches; silver metal thread edging, British

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