TAPESTRY-BOUND DEVOTIONAL BOOK WITH PLAITED BOOKMARK
English, mid-17th century
SPEED, John. The Genealogies Recorded in the Sacred Scriptvres, According To Every Family and Tribe. With the line of our Saviour Iesvs Christ, obserued from Adam to the Blessed Virgin Mary. [London?: F. Kingston, 1632].
The Holy Bible, containing the Olde Testament and the New. Newly Translated Out of
the Originall Tongues: and with the former translations diligently compared and revised: By his Majesties speciall commandment. London: Robert Barker, 1617
STERNHOLD, Thomas. The Whole Book of Psalmes, Collected into English Meeter by Thomas Sternhold, Iohn Hopkins, and others, conferred with the Hebrew… London: Printed for the Company of Stationers, 1617.
Private devotional books made in seventeenth-century England were often decorated with lavish covers befitting their contents. Though embossed leather was a handsome choice for book bindings, fine textiles were used since the eleventh century; during the Tudor and Stuart reigns, bibles and prayer books of the well-to-do were often bound in velvet or silk with sumptuous embroidery. Ornate textile bindings enclosing the Word of God emphasized the importance of the text within and their production and acquisition could be seen as acts of piety in themselves. This collection of religious works—a sacred genealogy, the Holy Bible and a book of Psalms—is resplendent in tapestry-woven covers. An extensive list of the Caygill family, hand-written in the endpapers, brings the provenance of this book to light, as does the plaited bookmark—signed and dated by Anne Hopkins, John Caygill senior’s first wife—which has descended with it.
Woven as a single piece using silver-wrapped and silk threads in a selective palette, the tapestry binding reflects the nature of the subject matter within. A climbing floral vine on the spine separates front and back panels, each showing Adam and Eve at the moment when she succumbed to the serpent and ate from the Tree of Knowledge (Genesis 3:6). Eve, with striated flowing hair, grasps the fateful apple in one hand and gestures to Adam, who raises his hand in return; each holds a large fig leaf to conceal their indecency. The tapestry was produced in one of many English workshops; its refined quality suggests that it was possibly made at the Sheldon manufactory, in Barcheston, Warwickshire. Because textile covers were not structurally integral, they were made separately for purchase and then fitted over books which had previously been sewn and laced into boards. Here, rich finishing details, including silver tape trim, match the elegance of the binding. Pairs of salmon-pink silk ribbons, now missing, were threaded through holes along the fore edges; ties were common on luxury books of the period 1530–1640 and persisted on religious books into the eighteenth century. Gilding and gauffering—a punched pattern technique which fell out of fashion in the 1650s and was usually coupled with embroidered bindings—impart an opulent veneer to the trimmed page edges. A comparable tapestry-bound early-seventeenth-century bible is found in the Victoria and Albert Museum (T.45-1954).