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The Secret World of Fore-Edge Book Paintings

There’s nothing we love more than an old, handsomely bound book. Much to our delight, the University of Iowa recently published a series of photographs detailing a four-volume set of scientific books from 1837. They contain secret artworks, known as fore-edge paintings, hidden along the edges of the pages. It’s a whimsical art form that dates back to the 16th century, when Italian artist Cesare Vecellio (cousin of Renaissance painter Titian) started using his books as a canvas in order to beautify them. As the artistry of edge paintings developed, they became more complex and fanciful, the painted scenes visible only when the pages were fanned. In some cases, a different image would appear when fanned back to front and front to back. We went searching for other examples of this beautiful art form, which is being kept alive by a select few today.

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Each book in this four-volume series (1837) by Robert Mudie revealed a painting of the seasons.

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