Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Other Modern Binding: A 1924 Latin-French Missal for the Laity

In our "Other Modern" series, we've shown you architecture, vestments, stained glass, metal work, even altar cards, but one thing we haven't as yet had the opportunity to show you are book-binding arts of an Other Modern variety. To be honest, this is simply for the reason that I hadn't run into it; that is, until now.

You will recall that one of the features of Other Modern, as we've defined it, is the use of qualitative materials and designs, and a modernity which is counter-balanced with some kind of visible continuity with our patrimony. You will also recall that we've spoken on more than one occasion of the importance of beautiful and qualitative liturgical book binding, inclusive of pew missals and other such books. After all, they should not only stand the test of time by reason of their quality, but their beauty should likewise speak to the dignity of the liturgical rites. Make no mistake, this teaches something.

This particular example was one I recently stumbled upon at a used book shop I frequent. The book itself originated from a wealthy Catholic family in the Montreal area and is a missal for the laity which was produced in 1924, bound in a very soft leather.

When you look at this particular pew missal, it has the qualities of 18th and 19th century binding. For example:

(While difficult to see here, the edges are very finely gilt. Note also the detailing to the edges of the boards.)

(Marbled endpapers and again with the gold gilt detailing)

Of course, seeing these aspects, one could indeed as easily be looking at an 18th or 19th century publication -- which is certainly part of the continuity aspect to be found here -- but so far, there is nothing particularly "Other Modern" about this. Indeed, this point of continuity continues over to the spine with its ribbing and gilt titling, but it is the cover design (which is itself a part of the tradition of liturgical bookbinding) where the Other Modern aspect shines out.

(I would invite you to stop and take a long look at this, taking in this book as a whole)

One can see that the design of the Virgin and Child is quite modern, having a certain Art Nouveauish quality to it. This design, while simple, is dignified, and it could of course be used successfully in other ways as well, but it is particularly in the marriage of some rather modern and rather antique elements that I personally find it striking. Like all the examples of the Other Modern we have tried to show, one is left with a sense of a modernity that hasn't abandoned the tradition, but rather takes inspiration from it and draws from it.

* * *

As a final note on this little find, I feel compelled to also show you a hand drawn and coloured holy card of St. Joan of Arc which I found inside the Missal, drawn by the owner. I think it fits well into the theme of this post -- not to mention the missal itself.

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