Blurring the Lines Between Book and Art

Daniel Crouch had been dreaming of his own stand at The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) ever since he first attended the annual event ten years ago, as an employee of Shapero Rare Books in London. And so when he received the coveted invitation for his own Daniel Crouch Rare Books, barely a year old at the time, to exhibit in spring 2011, he knew exactly what to bring to the table.

“I took my whole inventory!” he said. “I pretty much knew what to expect. It is fair to say, however, that it is somewhat more nerve-wracking to have one’s name above the door,” he said.

Often called the “museum in which everything is for sale”, TEFAF is held each March in Maastricht, The Netherlands. Last year the fair celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, reaching its “silver jubilee.” From March 16-25, more than 72,000 guests browsed the booths at the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, where artwork spanned some 7,000 years of history.

Last year, Crouch again proudly walked the purple-carpeted corridors. Besides getting a surprise greeting by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, he had a treasure to show off: a Rudimentum Novitorum folio (1475), featuring the first printed maps of the world created in Lübeck for prospective members of the Catholic church.

Meanwhile in the manuscripts section, longtime TEFAF participants, Les Enluminures of Paris, featured the Triumph of Dabid (c.1480s), a miniature by the Berlin Master of Mary of Burgundy that had not been on the market since the Firmin-Didot sale of 1884. One element that still springs to mind in this miniatures manuscript priced just under €230,000 (around $295,000) in the border surrounding the image of David with Goliath’s head on a stick. Geometric gold lines, partitioned sections of green, vermilion, and trompe l’oeil flowers swim against ultramarine backgrounds.

Not far from Les Enluminures was the booth of London’s Sam Fogg, where excitement surrounded early sis-teenth-century Imhof Prayer Book. This 4” x 5” illuminated manuscript on vellum, which manages to hold thirty miniatures, twelve calendar pages, and eleven paintings despite its size, is the earliest dated work of Simon Bening of Bruges (1483-1561). The manuscript, which Fogg sold for €3.5 million ($4.5 million), was created as a personal prayer book for the wealthy Imhof family of Nuremberg.

Upstairs in TEFAF’s paper section, Ursus book from New York City bridged the gap between art and book with its collection of illustrated artists’ books by Rembrandt, Picasso, and others.

“Picasso made over 150 books,” said Ursus owner Peter Kraus. “You would not believe how many people do not know this, even if they collect Picasso.” He said.

And avid David Hockney collector discovered Hockney’s books at Kraus’ stand and consequently bought the entire collection. Kraus participates in three or four fairs a year but said that TEFAF remains unmatched. “It’s like night and day,” he said, comparing it to the other major fairs.

One thing that’s worth noting, while other fairs like London’s Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair offer vetting systems, few come in the form of TEFAF’s 29 committees composed of 175 art experts (not to mention their Art Loss Register database of stole works). This paves the way for serious collectors and institutions to buy with confidence – it’s no accident that 225 museums showed up last year.

The next TEFAF takes place from March 15-34, 2013. What books and manuscripts will find themselves nestled among Greek marble statues, Japanese porcelain, and pre-Columbian art?

Crouch Rare Books will bring a collection of Leo Belgicus maps, in three styles, including the first one created by Austrian cartographer Michael Aitzinger in 1583 at the dawn of the Eighty Years’ War and the famous “Peaceful Lion,” engraved by Claes Janszoon Visscher in 1609 at the end of the Twelve Years’ Truce. Collectors will be able to buy the whole group of €350,000 ($450,000) of individual maps from €20,000-75,000 (25,000-100,000).

Dr. Jörn Günther Rare Books of Switzerland will be back for its eighteenth year at TEFAF 2013 with a recently acquired Flemish Book of Hours (c. 1475-1485), which Günther called “our highlight of the year.”

In discussing changes over the last two decades at TEFAF, Günther noted, “ We have seen more contemporary art arriving, and from this sector we also attracted new clients.” He added that many modern collectors are also attracted to medieval images, specifically with naturalistic details, so the Book of Hours makes a perfect choice.

Shapero Rare Books of London – regulars at TEFAF for over a decade – will be presenting Boccaccio’s De Claris mulieribus, an Italian, nineteenth-century, hand-colored copy of the first edition of the first encyclopaedia of women, priced at €200,000 ($320,000), with woodcut portraits of Eve, Joan of Arc, and mythical figures like Juno and Isis.

So what happens when antiquarian books and manuscripts are places amongst two hundred-plus booths devoted entirely to art? Because the art in Maastricht goes back many centuries, the books can be viewed in the proper context. Just a short walk across the corridor from an illuminated miniature, you might find a fifteenth-century pair of colourful Italian majolica albarelli or a medieval Spanish pendant or a knight’s armor. It fells like a museum, but, in the end, any of it can be yours.