A Modified "Cortina," or "Curtain," Binding


(London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1817). 343 x 267 mm. (13 1/2 x 10 1/2"). [26] leaves of text, including 3 pp. of ads. FIRST EDITION.

STRIKING CONTEMPORARY RED STRAIGHT-GRAIN MOROCCO, GILT IN AN UNUSUAL DESIGN, covers framed by decorative gilt rules and cresting roll, large central lozenge formed by two very elaborately gilt- and blind-tooled triangular "curtains," the wide bases of which meet at the center of each board, a large gilt butterfly at the peak of each triangle (seeming to pull the curtains upward and downward toward the top and bottom edge of the covers), flat spine gilt in densely tooled panels, gilt titling, gilt chain roll on turn-ins, all edges gilt. With 11 (of 12) excellent engravings of flowers in two states, colored and uncolored. (Without the color plate of the Moss Rose.) For the binding: Nixon "Broxbourne Library," pp. 210-11. Joints and extremities a little rubbed, two small abrasions to boards, spine uniformly darkened, a touch of faint yellowing to uncolored plates, a couple of marginal smudges, but still a very appealing example in mostly excellent condition, the binding with lustrous covers, and the text fresh and smooth.

This unusual binding would appear to be a rare example of an English design based on a Spanish style called "cortina," or "curtain." According to Nixon, cortina bindings were popular in Spain during the reign of Ferdinand VII (1784-1833), between about 1810 and 1830. This design was "probably the invention of Antonio Suàrez, the most brilliant Spanish binder of the period, who worked successively in Barcelona, Valencia, and Madrid." The key feature of the style was a fan-like "curtain" which emanates from a corner or side. While Nixon considered it an exclusively Spanish motif, the British Library Database of Bookbindings notes that some English binders took up the style. Our unknown binder chose the unconventional approach of attaching the "curtains" to butterfly ornaments, rather than to a corner or side. The two triangles meet at the base, mirroring each other in a most pleasing effect. The last cortina binding we know of to appear on the market (and the only one we found using "cortina" as the keyword) was a Spanish binding of early 19th century goatskin covering the Johannes de Reno "Mirabilia Romae" of 1475, offered at the 30 November 2011 Sotheby's sale with an estimate of £15,000-20,000 (though unsold). In an earlier career, Brookshaw (ca. 1751-1823) was a successful London cabinet-maker whose painted Neoclassical furniture attracted such titled enthusiasts as the Duke of Devonshire and the Prince of Wales, but he suddenly abandoned this livelihood in the 1790s. Art historian Lucy Wood speculates that the sudden change was prompted by involvement in a financial or sexual scandal, as he also parted company with his (wealthy) wife around this time. He spent a decade living under the name "G. Brown," teaching flower painting to refined young ladies before producing his first manual, "A New Treatise of Flower Painting," which was finally issued under his real name in 1816.