We are calling the design that is the subject of this blog post “Fleur et Coeur,” or Flower and Heart, after the flower and leaf/heart design on an 18th Century French patterned paper, or domino paper. Domino papers were single sheets of hand printed decorated paper which often featured a simple repeating pattern. I first saw an example of the Fleur et Coeur design in The Papered Wall, edited by Leslie Hoskins. According to Hoskins, this paper was used as wallpaper, and is the only existing patterned domino paper still intact on a wall, in the Hôtel de Groesbeeck-de Croix at Namur, Belgium. Even though the use of these decorated papers was quite common in the 18th Century, most of them have been removed or covered up.
The papers in the Hôtel de Groesbeeck-de Croix, from The Papered Wall, edited by Lesley Hoskins.
I filed the photo of this wallpaper in my memory and continued on my way, wondering if this specific design ever appeared on or in a book. Bindings, especially in France, were often covered in simple decorated paper at the print house, and the purchaser would then bring the book to a binder to have “properly bound”. This practice wasn’t always followed, and many books still exist with their patterned paper covers.
A variety of domino papers used as book covering from the library of Lunéville. Photo courtesy of suive_le_fil via Instagram.
Some months passed, and I continued my search for a pattern like the one in the Hotel in Belgium. Happily, we are not alone in our hunt for new and compelling historical designs in books and elsewhere. Many others—librarians, collectors, and enthusiasts—are also interested in "design archaeology”. One fellow enthusiast posted a picture on Instagram of a book in the collection of the Bibliothèque Francophone Multimédia, and the design is much like the paper used on the wall in the Hôtel de Groesbeeck-de Croix. I felt I was getting closer, but the paper isn’t an exact match: they are similar in that they both present a simple leaf and flower/bud design, both have a dotted picotage pattern in the spaces between the flowers and leaves to add texture, both are printed in monochrome, both are 18th Century, and both were block-printed. But the paper on the wall is more primitive than the pattern used on the book, which is more finely executed and more detailed. Possibly one influenced the other; it is difficult to imagine that this wouldn't be the case since the designs are strikingly similar, yet so unusual. I would guess the more simple wallpaper design is the copy.
And then I saw another Instagram post by suivez-le-fil, who found a third paper in this style. I thought at first it was the same as the wallpaper example, but upon inspection I realized they are not the same: this third example is a little finer than the wallpaper example, yet similar in that it features berries, not flowers. So I’m getting closer to finding the same paper used on both a wall and a book, but I’m not there yet. The search continues.
When we choose a design to replicate or use as inspiration for a reinterpretation, we sometimes like to dig deep into the history of how the original was produced and try to make our own block by hand, using the same techniques as the eighteenth-century artisans. In this case, the main pattern would have been carved from a block, and then small pins driven in to create the repeating textured dot pattern, or picotage.
The first step was to redraw the design and reinterpret the elements. Then we transferred the design to wood and carved. Some of the more simple designs had a lot of open space, so texture was added in the spaces, usually by means of dots.
Carving the block (carving)
Once we carved that design, we marked little dots where we would drive the pins. A small punch put an indentation at these points, and then we drove small nails, with their heads clipped off, into the wood just above the wood printing surface. After about 900 nails and hours of work, we placed the pins and sanded them down to make the tops round and level with the printing surface.
As interesting as that was to do, we wanted to create a larger die that would be a little more even to facilitate the printing on a press. So we drew the design digitally. Though less time consuming than hand carving the block and driving pins into the wood, it was still a time-consuming process because the final design needed to carry some of the life and variation that a handmade block shows. Thus not all the leaves and flowers are the same, and the dots are not perfectly round or the same size. We also placed the dots to follow the contours of the shapes.
“Papier dominoté couvrant "Pensées sur la philosophie de l'incrédulité ou réflexions sur l'esprit et le dessein des philosophes irréligieux de ce siècle" [respiration] - 1786 - Fonds du séminaire.”
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