The painting is there, but you might not see it… hidden along the edges of pages. “It’s a discreet painting. It’s only there if you know how to unlock it.” In this Great Big Story video, artist Martin Frost shows how to unlock his work: by fanning the pages out just so. Unfan them and you’ll only see the book’s gilded edges. Via Atlas Obscura:

Fore-edge paintings can be found on books dating back to the 11th century, with early examples being decorated with symbolism and heraldry. Disappearing fore-edge paintings began to appear around the 17th century, as the paintings began to become more elaborate, consisting of fully illustrated scenes, portraits, and composed artworks.

It wasn’t until many centuries later that the art form had a Renaissance, and become more common. “Fore-edge paintings peaked in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in England,” says [Director of Special Collections at the Earl Gregg Swem Library Jay] Gaidmore. “Edwards of Halifax, part of the Yorkshire family of bookbinders and booksellers, has been credited with establishing the custom.”

According to the Boston Public Library’s website for their 250+ collection of fore-edge books, for the most part the paintings were made using watercolors, and went unsigned, often being commissioned by a book-binding firm.


There are few known modern artists painting these hidden treats, but Frost and artist Clare Brooksbank are two who are cited regularly online.

Next: The art of making a book, Wet Book Rescue: How to repair a wet, damaged book, and This Book is a Planetarium.

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