Joseph Lindon Smith - Design for Isabella Stewart Gardner's Bookplate, 1893

Joseph Lindon Smith (Pawtucket, Rhode Island, 1863 - 1950, Dublin, New Hampshire)

Design for Isabella Stewart Gardner's Bookplate, 1893

Woodcut, 7.6 cm (3 in.) diameter

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Object details

Accession number

P11s20

Creators

  • Joseph Lindon Smith (Pawtucket, Rhode Island, 1863 - 1950, Dublin, New Hampshire) - primary
  • Augustus Saint-Gaudens (Dublin, 1848 - 1907, Cornish, New Hampshire) - after

Provenance

Probably commissioned by Isabella Stewart Gardner from Joseph Lindon Smith in 1893.

Marks

Inscribed in Greek (on drawing for the obverse): messenger (probably a reference to the Greek god Hermes)
Inscribed (on drawing for the reverse): EX LIBRIS ISABELLA


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Commentary

Before she acquired masterpieces and built a museum of art, Isabella Stewart Gardner collected books and manuscripts. She amassed a collection of over two thousand books—from paperbacks to volumes bound in vellum—and installed them in bookcases throughout her museum.

Following the tradition of other great book collectors, Isabella created her own bookplate. In 1890, Isabella commissioned the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) to make a sculpture of the winged foot of Hermes, the Greek messenger god. Isabella was reportedly so fond of the foot that she asked the painter Joseph Lindon Smith (1863-1950) to draw it for her bookplate. The resulting design depicts two sides of a coin. One side has the winged foot of Hermes inscribed ‘messenger’ in Greek, and the other is inscribed EX LIBRIS ISABELLA ("From the Books of Isabella") with a crown over the letter ‘Y,’ the initial Isabella often used as shorthand to refer to herself.