Fowler 2017

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Fowler, Alastair. The Mind of the Book: Pictorial Title Pages. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2017.

"the front matter of books -- what is sometimes called paratext -- has undergone so many metamorphoses in response to technological change (script to print to mass production), let alone changes of taste and fashion, that it can be hard to recognize the continuities." (vii)

Historical Setting

"In the ancient world texts had no titles in the modern sense, and therefore no title pages." (3)

"Early titles were like incipits, running to length and cumbrousness" (6) -- poems, prologues

"This development went beyond conventions of presentation. The very concept of titling was itself in process of change. By the 17c, many poets regarded titles as opportunities for a new sort of wit." (6-7)


first show up in ms religious books -- bibles, book of hours

Architectural Structures

Corbett believes such structures were introduced in 15c illuminated mss, about the same time scribes were beginning to study the inscriptions of monumnets, epigraphs

other title pages have festive decoration -- garlands, ribbons, streamers

"The frontispiece is like architecture, yet unlike it. This apparent paradox lies at the heart of frontispiece design. Many frontispieces -- perhaps the majority -- present an architecture far from that of real buildings." (16) -- more like stone facades, stage sets; pegma/pegme, movable stage or scaffold in a theater

inscribed cloths -- also found in mss

"Generally, a frontispiece portal took he form of a triumphal arch. Whereas with real architecture it is imaginable to pass through such an arch, this is not so in a frontispiece. There, entry is blocked by the title inscription and by the unbroken plinth. Readers inescapably come up against the figurative character of the arch. To proceed, they must enter into the book by reading it -- by imagining the contents beyond the frontispiece." (22)


long tradition of author portraits -- linked to depictions of evangelists

metallists producing Renaissance as well as Classical authors; extended to page -- "From medals, portraiture carried over to frontispieces, where the image was often now printed within a circular frame." (28)

strapwork, extension of metalwork

Printers' Devices

"Printers' devices could be seen as laying claim to superior social status. They closely resembled chivalric imprese, which also relied on the art of the rebus and similarly incorporated allusive mottos." (34)

sometimes connected to place, other times rebus for a name, other times emblem "full of allusive implications" (36)


some title pages are emblematic; in Renaissance, many had accompanying verse that explained the image (49)


Herbert and Crashaw's books have chronograms

poem, "On the Frontispiece of Isaacsons Chronologie explained"


"Many early title pages have two distinct aims: to advertise the contents that follow, and to facilitate memorizing them. The two combine in the memorial title pages of the 17c. These summarize the contents, sometimes explicitly analysing them, sometimes supplying memorable images or vignetts." (54)

1620s, 1630s, compartmented titles pages became fashionable

tables of bible put in arcades in mss -- for memorization, linked to memory palaces

Later History