Two ‘Canevari Bindings’ / ‘Apollo and Pegasus Bindings’. True or False? Forgery or Fake?


  Band 1 D 7 and Band 3 C 14

Canevari bindings are 16th century bookbindings with a blind stamped device, sometimes coloured, of Apollo and Pegasus, either vertically or horizontally placed, encircled by a gilt stamped band with Greek motto: ‘Ο Ρ Ο Ω Σ Κ Α Ι Μ Η Α Ο Ξ ΙΩ Σ’ (straight and not crooked).
It is believed that volumes with this device originated from one library, the dispersal of which resulted in the books first coming onto the market in the 17th century (Hobson 1975, p.117-125). Unclear about their origin, booksellers and scholars alike have since then sought to identify the original owner. One of the early attributions which was taken seriously was made by the nineteenth century bookdealer Jacques-Joseph Techener, who proposed as provenance the library of Demetrio Canevari (1559-1625), a Genoese doctor living in Rome, who was physician to Pope Urban VII. This attribution was rectified (Hobson 1975, p.3-7), but the name ‘Canevari’ binding stuck, and even now is often erroneously used. The alternative would be ‘Apollo and Pegasus’ binding; Apollo as leader of the Muses with Pegasus, a symbol of poetic inspiration on Parnassus, the sacred mountain of the Muses (Hobson 1975, p.25) and a fitting symbol to be stamped on the bindings of a Renaissance bibliophile. A.Hobson eventually identified the original owner of these bindings as Giovanni Battista Grimaldi (1524-ca.1612).
A. Hobson located 144 true bindings with this device (Hobson 1975, p.129-188), M. Wittock lists 45 forgeries and fakes, all of which at sometime were part of a bibliophile collection (Wittock 1998. p.356-62).
In spite of the 20th century testimonial on the front pastedown, the binding on Band 1 D 7 is a fake. G.D. Hobson’s research on the Apollo and Pegasus bindings resulted a.o. in a list of characteristics (Hobson 1929, p.137) of the forgeries, most of which are applicable to the binding on Band 1 D 7 and since the University of Amsterdam also owns a true Apollo and Pegasus binding, Band 3 C 14, comparison of the two will make the difference between the two bindings clear beyond any doubt.

Band 1 D 7 and Band 3 C 14, a comparison between fake and genuine

A – Stamping of the binding. Floral tools are clumsy and unsymmetrical, instead of finely cut and symmetric. In this case, the lines on Band 1 D 7 are crooked, the cornerpieces touch or even overlap the gilt border instead of being placed at aesthetic angles within the border lines.

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Band 1 D 7 and Band 3 C 14

B – The inscription. On Band 1 D 7 the Greek inscription is in clumsy letters, but flawless spelling. On genuine bindings handwork resulted in mistakes like the missing iota between the Ξ and Ω in the bottom half of the greek inscription on Band 3 C 14. Another telling indicator: the three legged tools in the border of the genuine medaillon on Band 3 C 14 are have become simple dots in the fake device on Band 1 D 7.


Band 1 D 7


Band 3 C 14

C – Apollo and Pegasus.

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Band 1 D 7

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Band 3 C 14

1. The body of Apollo is partially covered by a cloak (Band 1 D 7). The body should be nude with the cloak flowing behind it (Band 3 C 14).
2. The wheels of the chariot have four spokes (Band 1 D 7). They should have six (Band 3 C 14).
3. Front and back of the charriot are plain (Band 1 D 7). The front of the charriot should curve upward and have a volute behind (Band 3 C 14).
4. The near horse has its head turned right back (Band 1 D 7). The near horse should have its head turned toward the spectator (Band 3 C 14).
5. The front legs of the horses are almost straight (Band 1 D 7), they should be much more curved (Band 3 C 14).
6. The whip does not reach to the near horse (Band 3 C 14), but reaches to the one behind (Band 1 D 7).
7. Pegasus has his wings pointed upwards (Band 1 D 7) instead of laid to the back (Band 3 C 14).
8. Clouds are in reliëf and are heavy and lumpish (Band 1 D 7), in the genuine medaillion they are usually lacking altogether, as in Band 3 C 14.

D – The spine of the book should have numerous raised bands, alternately large and small. As a genuine 16th century binding Band 1 D 7 indeed does have these, but since Band 3 C 14 has been rebacked, no comparison is possible.

In addition to the evidence presented above, where the characteristics of fake Apollo and Pegasus bindings have been found applicable to Band 1 D 7, it also appears (Wittock 1998. p.338) that true Apollo and Pegasus bindings were bound in morocco. However Band 1 D 7 is bound in dark brown calf, another reason to suspect its genuineness. Band 3 C 14 is in red morocco, in accordance with Hobson’s observation that this was prevalent for Italian works (Hobson 1975, p.10). Both the work originally bound in Band 3 C 14 as well as the remboîted one are Italian. Futhermore, with one exception, Apollo and Pegasus bindings had no ties (Hobson 1975. p.9). The binding on Band 1 D 7 has holes with remains of ties.
It is evident that Band 1 D 7 is a fake Apollo and Pegasus binding and Band 3 C 14 is a genuine one, but which of the two bindings gets the prize for creativeness?
Band 1 D 7 is a genuine 16th century binding, but has been spruced up with 19th century, fake 16th century, decoration and has been restored sometime during the last century. On the other hand, Band 3 C 14 does not contain the book it was bound for and the original spine and pastedowns have been replaced with (again) 19th century specimens. Whereas the front and back covers of Band 3 C 14 are a product of undoubted craftsmanship, and it is therefore a binding with a certain value, the fake Band 1 D 7 intrigues because of the questions it evokes. The device on Band 1 D 7 is a 19th century artifact, probably made by a binder/forger named Vittorio Villa (d.1892) of Milan, who worked for Guglielmo Libri, mastermind behind a series of bibliophile forgeries. Although there were several craftsmen forgers involved, Band 1 D 7 fits Villa’s pattern of using genuine 16th century, sparsely decorated bindings, to which he added the fake device and gilt decoration. For this reason a fake and not a forgery. Who bought this faked binding from Libri. Was it the Marchese Cesare Campori, whose ownership label we find on the verso title page? Bragaglia places his ex libris ca. 1850 and as Campori died 1880, the time span could fit. What is the further provenance of this fake binding that convinced covetous bibliophiles and book dealers alike, even though, as we have seen, it is not of highstanding bookbinding craftsmanship? What path did Band 1 D 7 follow before ending up in the library of Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. In this light Band 1 D 7 is at least as interesting as the genuine Band 3 C 14. One of a series of fakes that deserve a place beside other special bindings, and that, as good hoaxes go, merits saving for posterity.

Primary works

Paolo Giovio, Vite brevemente scritte d’huomini illustri di guerra antichi, et moderni. In Venetia: Apresso Francesco Bindoni, 1558. small 8vo. UvA OTM: Band 3 C 14.

IV. Iuvenalis una cum Au. Persio nuper recogniti. [Florentiae: Philippus de Giunta, 1513. Impressum on b 4]. small 8-vo. UvA OTM: Band 1 D 7.

Secondary works

E. Bragaglia et al, Gli ex libris italiani: dalle origini alla fine del’Ottocento. Milano: Editrice Bibliografica, 1993. Vol. III, no.1935.

A. Hobson, Apollo and Pegasus. An enquiry into the formation and dispersal of a Renaissance library. Amsterdam: G.Th. van Heusden, 1975.

G.D. Hobson, Maioli, Canevari and Others. London: Ernest Benn Limited, 1926. p.136-37.

F.&L. Macchi, Atlante della legatura italiana: il Rinascimento. Milano: Sylvestre Bonnard, 2007. p.260-62.

P. Alessandra Maccioni Ruju, The Life and Times of Guglielmo Libri (1802-1869) scientist, patriot, scholar, journalist and thief. A nineteenth-century story. Hilversum: Verloren Publishers, 1995.

M. Wittock, ‘À propos des reliures, vraies ou frelatées, au médaillon d’Apollon et Pégase. Une enquete à travers les sources bibliographiques.’ In: Bulletin du bibliophile. Paris: 1998. No. 1. p.330-366.


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