A Small Deluxe Casket covered in Tooled and Gilt Leather, mid-17th century

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Item ref: 5013

  • France
  • Wood, leather, iron, gold, textile
  • 14.5 x 14 x 10 cm


Private collection, USA
Private collection, United Kingdom

The highly decorative tooled and gilt treatment of the leather exterior of this small casket is linked directly to a luxuriously ornamented style of book binding which had developed in France, Italy and Spain by the mid- 17th century. The relationship between these two seemingly diverse subjects was in fact entirely natural, requiring identical skills. Between lucrative book commissions a master bookbinder might easily turn his hand to the leather covering and tooling of a range of deluxe articles. In addition to table caskets, examples of this type of work produced in 17th century France include travelling writing cases and the cases of prized timepieces, compasses and scientific instruments.

The initial blind tooling of the calf or fine goat leather was achieved by means of a wide-ranging variety of design stamps, punches and other implements, each with the purpose of impressing a different motif, be it an individual fleur-de-lys or fleuron, a linear fillet or a larger segment of arabesque scrollwork. Complex symmetrical designs would be built up through the repeated application of these punched motifs. Following the blind tooling of the design the gilding was then applied in minute detail by the use of numerous finishing tools.


French examples of bindings decorated in this manner exist onwards from about 1635-40. Parallel work also exists in Italian binding of the period, of which a good example is in the Princeton University Library. Published in Bologna in 1672, the designs covering the full surfaces of the boards display principles closely related to the work on the present casket: see Zani, Valerio, conte: Memorie, imprese e ritratti de'Signori Accademici Gelati di Bologna (Rare Books, ex, Call Number N7710. Z29).