Album Amicorum, or Friendship Books


I was delighted to read about VPIG in the article in the blog by Kat Powell and was reminded how, by Kat and friends sharing their sketch books, that they are carrying on a centuries old tradition of Album Amicorum, or Friendship Books, which were the precursor to today’s autograph book.


The original books started in Germany in the 16th century and friends would paint or draw in a book, sometimes around someone else’s signature. The books were also carried by people when they traveled and they would have the hosts or other guests add to the contents. There are about 14,000 known books in various museum and private collections.


One recent contemporary such book was put together by one hundred and fifty Los Angeles graffiti artists. It was sponsored by The Getty Research Institute and there was a webinar in May, 2021, where David Brafman, Associate Rare Book Curator at The Getty Research Institute interviewed five of the artists. Fascinating.


About five or so years ago, David contacted several artists and had them meet him at The Getty where he showed them a Getty-owned Album Amicorum. The artists were intrigued and agreed that in many ways this is what they did. They put on an exhibition in El Segundo at EsMOA. Each artist was given a space and could paint what they liked. They started on the walls and as they waited for a ladder, they started to paint the floors. By the time they had finished, they had also painted the ceiling. It was an amazing experience to walk in and be encompassed by the art.


The artists are employed as graphic designers and in other artistic positions and are all fine artists. The book, L.A. Graffiti Black Book, by David Brafman, is available at The Getty Book Shop and is quite an eye opener. There are several well-known women graffiti artists. Graffiti artists must not be confused with taggers.


So I suggest that BAGSC members get together and create our own Album Amicorum and sometime perhaps we can have an exhibition of our Friendship Books.

Thank you to David Brafman, Associate Rare Book Curator at The Getty, Research Institute for the images for this article and the following information:


A link to the full digitized manuscript of the liber amicorum of Johann Heinrich Gruber can be found by clicking here, or by clicking on any of the thumbnails below to view the full page. The website shows leaf numbers labeled in a column to the left and bibliographic info in a column to the right. Each page can be enlarged for viewing details.


Gruber was a merchant in Nuremberg who owned a factory in Lyon. His liber amicorum contains entries from 1602 – 1612, including inscriptions and watercolor and gold paintings of allegories, genre scenes, buildings and landscapes. Some of the paintings are attributed to the miniature painter Tobias Bernhard (Bernhart), who was active in Munich and Augsburg at the time. Also included in the digitized book are ten leaves of Turkish marbled paper.


Another digitized liber amicorum that is available was compiled from 1587 – 1612 and belonged to Johann Joachim Prack von Asch, a diplomat stationed in Istanbul. Click here to view; click on any of the thumbnails below to see a slideshow of the full page. The Getty digital file is set up like a book, so you can flip pages as though you are looking at the book in person. Each page can be enlarged in this volume too.


Johann Joachim Prack von Asch was originally from Lüttach in Tyrol, and was most likely a diplomatic attaché from Vienna assigned to the Ottoman court in Constantinople. Although most of the entries were penned in Istanbul, the volume contains entries from other areas Prack visited during his diplomatic career, including Prague, Vienna, Würzburg, Cologne, Jülich, Düsseldorf, Scutari near Constantinople and Adrianople, (called Edirne today). This volume has a floral and garden decorative motif tinted by Islamic papermakers into some of the pages, Turkish silhouette and marbled papers, some sheets sprinkled with gold and silver, and other sheets which are glazed or burnished. It is illustrated with 140 hand-painted miniatures, including 110 coats-of-arms, many of which are painted in gold and silver, and painted miniatures of Istanbul, Venice, allegories, standard bearers, landscapes and more.