[JONI, Icilio Frederico] Two decorated wooden panels, painted ‘tavolette’ book covers in Biccherna style.
gold gilt, and gesso, with a leather spine. 267 x 366mm. Two bevelled wooden book covers joined by a leather
spine. Elaborately decorated, the upper tablet depicting the Virgin and the company of Heaven above a town
inscribed ‘Altenpo Detremuoti’, with ten coats-of-arms surrounded by gilt floral sprays on a blue field, and nine
lines of text, presumably naming the tax officials and dated 1466; characteristic gilt decorated borders. The lower
tablet with eight coats-of-arms surmounted by a large armorial shield and three lines of text: ‘Tavola di Biccherna …
Francesco di Giorgio’. Converse sides painted red-brown as usual. Minor crack to upper cover. In very good
condition. Very rare.
Twice a year in medieval Siena the city tax officials or ‘Biccherna’ presented their accounts in wooden
tablets. They were painted by important Sienese artists between 1257 and 1659 and constitute a veritable
gallery of painting in a splendid series of beautiful wooden bookbindings. Genuine examples are extremely
rare, a later Sienese artist named Joni, reproduced some fakes in the latter part of the nineteenth-century.
Most forgers tend to be secretive about their activities, but Joni was the exception to the rule and wrote an
Catalogue: 140 4/23/2020
autobiography openly describing his forgeries: ‘Le Memorie di un pittore di Quadri Antichi’ 1932, English
translation 1936. Joni bindings – undetected – have graced some of the greatest book collections, including
those of Hoe and Wilmerding. It is estimated that only twenty of his ‘Bicchernas’ are recorded. A fine
example by the self-professed forger.
It is quite clear from his autobiography that he was proud of his skill and his brilliant imitations of the
ancient art of Siena. He considered them original art rather than ‘forgeries’. Without ever seeing a real
Biccherna, he established a lucrative business of faking Biccherna covers. Joni later boasted of incidents in
which the local police were alerted to books purportedly stolen from Siena Cathedral or the state archives,
only to discover that they were by Joni. A number of book collectors were deceived by Joni’s creations, and
several of his works were published as Gothic originals.
Today, Joni’s forgeries are highly valued in their own right. In his autobiography Joni discussed his
methods for antiquing the covers by mixing soot, turmeric, chrome yellow, and gilding gesso with gum
arabic to produce the patina on the gold.
The Biccherna was the magistrate or chancellery of Finance from the 13th to the 18th century for the
republic, and then city, of Siena. The early wooden boards for the account volumes were simple and had no
intention of being masterpieces. Subsequently, however, the paintings became more elaborate and rich.
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