Browse Exhibits (1 total)

Heavy Metal: Decorative Evolution of Prayer Books


Drew University Special Collections Prayer Book collection is full of beautifully decorated prayer books. When looking specifically at the Prinster collection it is easy to gravitate to the metalwork seen throughout the collection. Glistening gold, shining silver, and earthy copper catches a viewer's eyes and draws them into the intensely decorated books. Not only is metal used, but rich fabrics like velvet are used to bind some of the books and complement the metal present. This exhibit will focus on a chronological evolution of the use of metalwork in prayer books starting in the 1700’s, ending in the early 1900’s. 

We start this journey through time in the 1700’s with two books. One book from 1703, and the other from 1757. These two books are about 50 years apart, but are very similar. A common theme of black leather, silver bosses, and an emblem in the centers of each book are quite apparent. There is a focus on leatherworking with illumination, as well as mimicking the style and design from the emblem to the bosses. 

Moving 100 years forward into the 1800’s the focus shifts to gold metalwork and the incorporation of rich fabrics. This section has three books, one from 1840, one from 1842, and one from 1855. The 1800’s. Though they are close in time, they depict a transitional period in exterior bookbinding decoration. The early part of the 1800’s had a focus on different kinds of fabrics binding books, with bosses being the main protection and preservation of those fabrics. They then started to turn towards metal work being the main decorative feature with the velvet being in the background. In the second half of the 1800’s there was a shift to completely metal covers and an emphasis on botanical motifs.

Moving to the end of the 1800’s and early 1900’s there was the focus on iconography and metal being the main decoration. This exhibit contains two miniature common prayer books from 1903. One has the botanical motif, but is unique in metal; the other has a very common iconography seen on prayer books from the early 1900’s, with symbols associated in Christianity. Though not all prayer books from the early 1900’s had this kind of metal work, these are interesting examples of small yet elaborate decoration.

Exploring the use of metal work through the 1700’s to the early 1900’s in prayer books exemplifies the intricate details and evolution of exterior decoration. The evolution of book binding in prayer books is one based in aesthetics and luxury materials. Going through this exhibit chronologically characterizes the zeitgeist of each century and their stylistic evolution through metal work. The Prinster collection exemplifies these ideas and these books present one of the many stylistic features seen in this collection.


, , , , , , , , , , , ,