Height: 160.000 mm (open)
Width: 314.000 mm (open)
ME OA 1992.4-31.01
Leather bookbinding with stamped and gilded decoration
Possibly from Shiraz, Iran
15th century AD
The earliest Islamic bookbindings are made of leather. As the court art of the luxury book developed, so too did the art of bookbinding, both in technique and range of decoration. At first, leatherworkers used mainly blind tooling, in which a single decorative element such as an s-shape, or a single dot, was stamped in a repeating pattern onto the damp leather with a steel punch. The imprinted patterns were then gilded to add to the luxurious effect.
The front and back cover of this binding feature the same design stamped into the leather: a central oval medallion with a pendant at each tip, and four identical corner-pieces, within a simple frame. The curved profiles of the medallion and the corner-pieces are gilded. Each corner-piece contains a monkey sitting against a floral background, while the central medallions feature a more formal decoration of intertwining palmette scrolls and a gilt cruciform (the shape of a cross). This distinctive cruciform appears on other fifteenth-century bindings from Shiraz. The envelope flap is designed to be tucked under the opposite cover of the binding, protecting the book's pages. It is stamped with a hunting scene of a lion killing a deer in a flowery landscape, while another deer and two rabbits flee. This is a popular theme for decorative scenes and occurs frequently.
D. Haldane, Islamic bookbindings in the Vi (London, The World of Islam Festival Trust, 1983)