A fore-edge painting is a scene painted on the edges of the pages of a book such that the painting is not visible when the book is closed. In order to view the painting, the leaves of the book must be fanned, exposing the edges of the pages and thereby the painting.
The earliest fore-edge paintings date possibly as far back as the 10th century; these earliest paintings were symbolic designs. Early English fore-edge paintings, believed to date to the 14th century, presented heraldic designs in gold and other colors.
The first known example of a disappearing fore-edge painting (where the painting is not visible when the book is closed) dates from 1649. The earliest signed and dated fore-edge painting dates to 1653: a family coat of arms painted on a 1651 Bible.
Around 1750, the subject matter of fore-edge paintings changed from simply decorative or heraldic designs to landscapes, portraits, pornographic, and religious scenes, first in monochrome, and then later in full color. In many cases, the chosen depiction related to the subject of the book, but in other cases it did not. In one instance, the same New Brunswick landscape was applied to both a Bible and to a collection of poetry and plays.
The majority of extant examples of fore-edge painting date to the late 19th and early 20th century on reproductions of books originally published in the early 19th century.