With more than 350 items, the Carrino Collection includes one of the world’s largest collections of Beethoven-themed bookplates

The use of bookplates, also called ex libris, is a custom that has almost disappeared. Initially they were labels bearing the name of the owner of a library. They were pasted to the inside front cover to indicate who owned the volume. Until the 19th century, they were almost exclusively the preserve of noble, monastic or university libraries. With the advent of a new middle class, the importance of their label function faded and they became objects of art and of great interest to collectors. The spread of this fashion during the twentieth century coincided with the pinnacle of graphic art, which led to the creation of genuine masterpieces by emulation. It is precisely because they are small that bookplates are often crammed with artistic skill and complex, highly symbolic scenes can be portrayed in a tiny space with a exquisite technique. 

One example is the Art Nouveau bookplate of Baroness Caroline von Dalberg, perhaps the finest ever to be made on Beethoven. The workmanship is extraordinary and it reproduces the original plaster cast life mask of the composer by Franz Klein in 1812. The superb black veil has several folds, which are masterfully conveyed through variations in colour intensity, and appears to float across Beethoven’s face. The veil belongs to the owner of the work, contrasting with the frailty conveyed by the floral ornaments and reveals Caroline’s noble feelings for Beethoven, destined to last for eternity.