A pair of "tavolette" wooden book covers, 380 x 280 mm each, tempera and gilt on carved wood, with remnants of calf binding. Both covers gilt with framed panels carved and set with gilt floral and foliate decoration over painted black and red backgrounds, gilt wooden bosses carved in relief at each corner, and with brass clasps partially present. The upper cover with a painting depicting a male saint holding a flag and quill standing on a chequered floor, the lower cover emblazoned with seven painted armorial shields and the inscription: "Inventario de le cose de la sacrestia del duomo e del altre cose mobili rifatto la sico[n]da volta al tempo uomo Bartolo Vannutelli camarlencho dellopara disiena anno domini 1465". The covers are in very good condition, with apparent wear - each cover slightly bowed, a couple of faint minor cracks, a little chipping to the paint, and 'worming' to the edges and rear - largely being the work of Joni himself. The gilt and paintwork remains vibrant and bright.

'Tavolette di Biccherna' were the book covers used by the Biccherna (Public Treasury) of Siena from the thirteenth to the mid-fifteenth centuries on their bi-annual account-books; these were often decorated by the leading artists of the day, including Sano di Pietro, Giovanni di Paolo, Lorenzo Vecchietta and others. Icilio Federico Joni (1866-1946), a painter, gilder, and restorer, sometimes called the "prince" of Siennese forgers, had read of the covers but, interestingly, never actually visited the city archives to see them in the flesh before commencing his imitations. Immensely proud of his work, he viewed them as original creations (they were certainly anachronistic, as the Biccherna had switched to leather bindings in 1459, with many of Joni's covers dated after this), and never sought to pass his painted covers off as originals. Some unscrupulous dealers, however, were not so circumspect, and they were occasionally offered as Renaissance originals during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Joni's creations were undoubtedly ingenious, as he described in his autobiography "Le Memorie di un pittore di Quadri Antichi" (1932, English trans. 1936), he employed various techniques for antiquating his covers, using soot, turmeric, and chrome yellow, and treating metal fittings with ammonia or iodine to produce the right kind of rusting. His bindings - undetected - came to grace some of the greatest book collections, including those of Hoe and Wilmerding. Even recognised as imitations, they had great cachet, as the commission by Lady Wantage, the noted art collector and benefactor, for a binding in 1904 demonstrates. The present pair forms a typical example of Joni's work, incorporating an especially attractive figural portrait, and stands as a beautiful, highly accomplished binding forgery by one of the leading masters of the art.

Stock code: 18590


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