Luxury Exteriors: the Collection of Bookbindings by Alexandre de Riquer

Yolanda Ruiz

Bookbinding workshop. The encyclopaedia of Diderot and of Alambert

There is nothing that dignifies a book, an authentic transmitter of knowledge and culture, more than a good cover.  And the Joaquim Folch i Torres Library conserves a collection of eighty-six beautifully bound books that belonged to the artist Alexandre de Riquer.  We invite you to accompany us on a brief stroll through the collection, which, despite the fact  of not containing the examples of all the styles, periods or countries and not being especially numerous, it has, however, a special value due to the fact of having been collected together by the artist, who kept up a close relation with the book world.

Following a chronological timeline, which begins in the Gothic period, we will present you some of these bookbindings. The oldest ones represent the Gothic style, that dominated in Western Europe between the 13th and the beginning of the 15th century, and the Mudejar style, that was popular in the Christian peninsular kingdoms between the 13th and 16th centuries.

Gothic bookbinding and Mudejar bookbinding

With regard to the Renaissance period, the library conserves copies of Plateresque style bookbindings from Spain, as well as the so-called «popular types» – the letter patents of nobility produced in the chancelleries of Saragossa, Granada and Valladolid. From this period, it is also worth highlighting the Italian plaquette bookbindings, highly representative of the humanist bookbindings, with circular ornamentations, similar to a medal.

Plateresque bookbinding and «popular type» bookbinding

Renaissance bookbinding of Italian plaquette

Already in the middle of the Baroque period, we can find the bookbindings of branches, a Spanish adaptation of the French style called «à la fanfare». And also those of the fan, in which the decoration of the covers contains figures that remind us of the rods deployed in this complement.

Bookbindings of branches

Bookbinding of fans

And we don’t want to forget to mention the bookbinding «of harvests», in which the whole surface of the covers appears decorated with different motifs which are repeated.

Bookbinding of harvests

From the Rococo, which arrived from France in the central decades of the 18th century, the library conserves some very bright and colourful examples. There are also some of the mosaic type, in which, thanks to the use of leather of different colours, a polychrome effect is achieved, and others of lace trimming, that take on the name due to the fact of being inspired by the motifs used in lacework.

Rococo style bookbindings

Bookbinding of mosaic and Bookbinding of lace trimming

With the passing of the years and the succession of fashions and styles, we come to the Neoclassical bookbindings, characterised by their search for harmony, the aesthetic balance and simplicity, in contrast to the excesses of the Rococo, and to those of the empire-style, in which wide borders and intersecting circles on the corners make up the square shape that could contain some decorative motif.

Neoclassical bookbinding and empire-style bookbinding

The expansion of the Romanticism in Europe during the first third of the 19th century as a reaction to the Neoclassicism and a return to medievalism, specifically in the Gothic art, is also reflected in the bookbindings. Of these, we specifically have the examples of the so-called «cathedral-style» and also of plates.

Cathedral-style bookbinding and bookbinding of plates

Getting a little away from the theme that we have been following to present you the major features of the magnificent series of bookbindings, we should also make a mention about the Stranger’s Guides.  This doesn’t refer to a specific style, but these books possess some beautiful bindings that are highly appreciated by collectors.  And neither should we forget the heraldic bookbindings, which reproduce the centre of one or both of the covers a coat of arms, a heraldic emblem or a property mark.

Bookbindings of Stranger’s Guides

Heraldic Bookbindings

The eighty-six bindings from the collection of Alexandre de Riquer will shortly be incorporated into the Memòria Digital de Catalunya (MDC- The Digital Memory of Catalonia) with the aim of increasing their visibility. The total number of bookbindings of the collection of the library exceeds two hundred and fifty copies, and if you feel curious you can consult the list of books that form part.

Related links

Base de datos de encuadernación histórico-artística of the Real Biblioteca
Base des reliures numérisées of the Bibliothèque nationale de France
Database of bookbindings of the British Library

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Yolanda Ruiz

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