Tag Archives: Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies

Manuscript Road Trip: The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

As we head north out of Baltimore on I-95, we’ll cross the Delaware River and head into Wilmington, where there are manuscripts to be found at the University of Delaware.

The pre-1600 manuscripts at the University are part of a collection with the shelfmark “MSS 095.” There’s a list of the relevant records here and some highlights are described here. Of particular interest to me is a relatively recent acquisition, U. Delaware MSS 095 no. 31, a Book of Hours for the use of Noyon. There aren’t any images on the Special Collections website, but there are a few on this blogpost written by a Special Collections staff member, as well as a little information about the manuscript’s history. But I’d like to know more…how did it get to Delaware, and what can be gleaned about its history before that?

To answer that question, I’ll do what I always do when I have a provenance problem to solve: hop on the virtual superhighway and head to Philadelphia to visit the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

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In addition to being an actual institute in an actual library with actual staff organizing actual symposia and caring for actual (beautifully digitized) manuscripts, the Schoenberg Institute is responsible for some significant and important data curation, as it is the home of the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts. This is an extraordinary resource that has changed the field of provenance research, and we have collector and Big Data visionary Lawrence J. Schoenberg (1932-2014) to thank for it.

Barbara Brizdle and Lawrence J. Schoenberg

Barbara Brizdle and Lawrence J. Schoenberg

Larry Schoenberg (pictured here with his wife Barbara Brizdle) was a passionate collector of books and manuscripts, and the greater part of his collection now belongs to the University of Pennsylvania, part of the Institute that bears his name.  I was fortunate enough to work for Larry back in the 1990s, and throughout that period I came to appreciate him as a savvy collector, an appreciative connoisseur, and a kind and generous man whose enthusiasm was contagious and whose energy was boundless. He passed away earlier this year and will be greatly missed.

As a collector and an innovative businessman (he started out at IBM in the late 1950s), Larry understood both the intellectual importance and financial value of provenance, of the history of the books and manuscripts he owned. In the late 1990s, he acquired a spreadsheet-based dataset of manuscript sales to help with his own research into his collection. With the help of his wife Barbara and a group of student assistants, he began to add to the data by manually entering information, first from his personal collection of auction catalogues and later by systematically combing through the catalogue collections at the Grolier Club in New York or dealers such as Bernard Quaritch in London, eventually turning it into an Access database before finding it a permanent home online at the University of Pennsylvania. There, the database has continued to grow under the curatorship of a creative and brilliant staff who are constantly working on improving the data structure and interface.

One of my favorites, a ninth-century manuscript of Boethius (LJS 101, f. 1v)

One of my favorite Schoenberg manuscripts, a ninth-century Boethius (LJS 101, f. 1v)

Today, the Schoenberg Database is a growing dataset of (as of this writing) 221,408 records pertaining to pre-1600 manuscripts. Each record represents an “appearance” of a particular manuscript, by which I mean a transaction, a catalogue description, or an exhibit. This means that a particular manuscript might have multiple Schoenberg Database records associated with it. If it has appeared at auction or sale several times, each of those transactions might have its own record. I say “might” because even though the database is the largest of its kind, it is still growing as new and legacy catalogues are added. As users and staff discover that particular records represent the same manuscript (at two different sales, for example), those records are linked so that users can begin to track manuscript movements through space and time.

I’ll use the Delaware Book of Hours to show how this works.

From the University’s record, we know several things about the manuscript already:

Book of hours : Use of Noyon

Date: circa 1500

Extent: 130 leaves

Dimensions: 175 x 120 (95 x 60) mm

Lines per page: 20

This is a good amount of information to work with. Using the Advanced Search feature in the Schoenberg Database, we can easily search for “Book of Hours” in the title with a limit of 130 leaves. This results in a list of 111 records. Now we have to narrow it down further to see if we can find any records that pertain to the Delaware manuscript. Clicking on “Liturgical Use” in the limiter options along the right side of the page brings up a browse list of identified Use for those 111 records. Two are for the Use of Noyon:

Title: Book Of Hours
Folios: 130
Date: 1500
Place: France, Amiens?
Primary Seller: Sotheby’s
Catalogue: Western manuscripts and miniatures L06241 – 2006/12/05
Lot #: 45
Provenance: Le Camus; Paque

Duplicates: 29454

Title: Book Of Hours
Folios: 130
Date: 1450
Place: France, northern, Amiens
Primary Seller: Pirages
Catalogue: Catalogue 60 – 2011
Lot #: 444
Provenance: Cinot, Jeanne; Camuce(?), Madelaine; Paque, Jean Marie, of Boulogne
Both of these are sales records, one from Sotheby’s in 2006, the other from an Oregon dealer, Phillip Pirages, in 2011. The Sotheby’s sale includes a link to an earlier sale of the same manuscript, record 29454 (Swann Galleries, 1987). Additional details in the Sotheby’s and Swann records confirm that these were indeed sales of the Delaware manuscript (note the binding signed by Hans Asper, for example, and the early annotations). But what about the Pirages sale? Record 192622 appears to be the same manuscript as well, but it hasn’t been linked to the Sotheby’s and Swann records. In addition, a researcher interested in, say, Books of Hours created for the Use of Noyon would have no way of knowing that these records refer to a manuscript that currently belongs to the University of Delaware. But once I email the Schoenberg Database staff with this discovery, they will link the transactions and add the U. Delaware shelfmark to the Provenance fields of all three linked records.
Annunciation (Amiens, ca. 1500) (U. Delaware, Special Collections, MSS 095 no. 31)

Annunciation (Amiens, ca. 1500) (U. Delaware, Special Collections, MSS 095 no. 31)

Now that we know that the manuscript was sold by Sotheby’s on 5 December 2006 (lot 45), we can go to the Sotheby’s website and retrieve their description, which happily includes a few images. In addition, the Sotheby’s description gives details about the manuscript’s origin and later provenance. If we combine that information with what we’ve learned from the Schoenberg Database, we can now tell a fairly complete story of this manuscript’s journey from Picardy to Delaware. The first few owners were women:

1) Created around 1500 for the Use of Noyon, possibly in Amiens (Sotheby’s attributes the miniatures to Amiens based on the style), with an early inscription in rhymed French naming one Jeanne, daughter of Jean Cinot, as the owner and asking that the book be returned if lost, “Car sans heures ne puys dien prier” (“Without these hours she cannot say her prayers”);
2) Inscriptions of “Madelaine Camuce” dated 1615 and 1657 on the flyleaves;
3) Inscription of “Jean Marie Paque” of Boulogne on a flyleaf, from the 17th or 18th century;
4) Rebound by Hans Asper (Geneva, Switzerland) in the nineteenth century;
4) Sold by Swann Galleries (New York), 2 April 1987 (cat. 1432), no. 112;
5) Sold by Sotheby’s London, 5 December 2006, lot 45;
6) Sold by Phillip Pirages (Oregon), 2011 (cat. 60), no. 444;
7) Currently University of Delaware, Special Collections MSS 095 no. 31.
That’s quite a journey.
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Philadelphia Museum of Art

In addition to the Schoenberg database and manuscript collection at Penn, there are several other collections of note in the Philadelphia area, including The Free Library of Philadelphia, the Glencairn Museum, the Rosenbach Museum and Library, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Free Library’s database is easy to use and intuitive to navigate, filled with lots of gorgeous images. A major 2001 exhibition of manuscripts from Philadelphia collections, Leaves of Gold, lives online here. You’ll find numerous images of Philadelphia’s manuscript treasures in the online exhibit gallery. It’s a legacy site, nearly 15 years old, so the images might not be as accessible or high-resolution as one might hope, but the site includes some of the greatest art to be found in the city and its environs.

Glencairn Museum (Bryn Athyn, PA)

Glencairn Museum (Bryn Athyn, PA)

 Next time, we’ll keep heading north to visit the Jersey Shore.
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Manuscript Road Trip: The Digital Walters

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

For the past year, I’ve been using the image at the left – Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus on their road trip to Egypt – as a metaphoric representation of my virtual road trip. The only reason I can do so is because the image has been made available for downloading and use under a Creative Commons license by the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. It might surprise you to learn that the Walters was an early adapter of open access platforms and continues to lead the way in making free, high quality images available online. But before we get to Walters the Digital, we have to start with Walters the Collector.

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William T. Walters in his "Picture Gallery," 1884

William T. Walters in his “Picture Gallery,” 1884

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, railway tycoon William Thompson Walters (1819 – 1894) and his son Henry (1848 – 1931) amassed a collection of more than 20,000 art objects from around the world, eventually founding the museum that bears their family name. This from the Walters Art Museum website: “When William died in 1894, he bequeathed his collection to his son. Henry Walters would not only follow in his father’s footsteps in business—investing and managing railroads—but would carry on the family interest in art as well. He greatly expanded the scope of acquisitions, including his astounding purchase of the contents of a palace in Rome that contained over 1,700 pieces. This acquisition added Roman and Etruscan antiquities, early Italian paintings, and Renaissance and Baroque works of art to his holdings. Although he spent little time in his native city, Henry continued the work his father had begun by opening his collection to the public. In 1900, he bought three houses on Charles Street adjoining a property he already owned. Henry had the site transformed into a palazzo-like building, which opened to the public in 1909. He died in 1931, bequeathing the building and its contents to the mayor and city council of Baltimore ‘for the benefit of the public.’ The Walters Art Gallery, now the Walters Art Museum, opened its doors for the first time as a public institution on November 3, 1934.”

Along the way, the Walters men acquired a nearly-unparalleled collection of several hundred illuminated manuscripts, a collection that has grown through strategic acquisitions over the years, each one a masterpiece of its kind. Like his contemporary Pierpont Morgan, whose collection in New York is equally legendary, Walters had a taste for the finer things. The manuscript collection is full of extraordinary art. In looking through the digitized images, I found it nearly impossible to choose which examples to share with you, so I am including just a few of my personal favorites, one per century.

St. Matthew writing his Gospel (WAG W.17, ff. 8v/9) (ca. 1100)

St. Matthew writing his Gospel (WAM W.17, ff. 8v/9) (ca. 1100)

First up, a late eleventh/early twelfth-century Gospel book (W.17), possibly from northern Spain or France. St. Matthew is hard at work writing his Gospel, as an angel (his attribute) descends from the heavenly aperture above with a modelbook for him to copy. On the right, the rubric and first verse of the Gospel of St. Matthew, with the letters [Li] in “Liber” formed by the interlaced initials at the left. Two soldiers in armor inhabit the initial [L], one standing on the shoulders of the other to watch the Evangelist at work.

The Daughter of Babylon (WAG W.29, f. 43v) (Lambach, Austria, s. XII 3/4)

The Daughter of Babylon (WAM W.29, f. 43v) (Lambach, Austria, s. XII 3/4)

Here’s one I simply couldn’t let pass by. Manuscript W.29 records three treatises by Honorius of Autun and was illustrated by Gottschalk of Lambach, the scribe/artist who was the subject of my first book. Gottschalk didn’t write this one, but his illustrative work in W.29 is remarkable. Above, illustrating Honorius’ Commentary on the Song of Songs, the Daughter of Babylon rides beneath a blazing sun, escorted by Martyrs, Apostles, and Philosophers, her steeds helpfully identified below her footrest as “cameli.” The Daughter of Babylon represents the second of Honorius’ Four Epochs of the allegorical marriage described in the Song of Songs, the epoch “sub lege,” or “beneath the law.” The style is typical of Gottschalk, with his red and black penwork, distinctive long graceful fingers, and carefully articulated facial features.

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Christ and King David within the letter [B] (WAM W.151, f. 250v) (Bologna, early 13th c.)

 This initial comes from the early thirteenth-century Bolognese glory known as the Bentivoglio Bible, also known as manuscript W.151. Within the initial [B] of “Beatus vir” (the beginning of Psalm 1) we find Christ in the upper compartment holding an open book in his left hand, his right raised in blessing. King David – the supposed author of the Psalms – inhabits the lower compartment, strumming his harp.

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St. Peter enthroned (WAM W.153, f. 5v)

As we make our way through the fourteenth century, things really start to get lush and golden. Here’s St. Peter enthroned (holding the key to Heaven in his left hand, blessing with his right) within the letter [N], in a late fourteenth-century antiphonal. In the lower register, an angel leads him from a Roman prison. The antiphonal was made for the use of the Chapel of Saint Nicholas of Bari in the church of St. Peter Major in Florence; hence, it is illustrated with eight scenes from the life of St. Peter, including his inverted crucifixion, below, within the letter [H].

St. Peter crucified (WAM W.153, f. 19v)

St. Peter crucified (WAM W.153, f. 19v)

The images above were all taken from manuscripts designed to be used by monks or in a church setting. Beginning in the late fourteenth century, the rise of private devotion necessitated the creation of private prayerbooks, resulting in a proliferation of Books of Hours in the fifteenth century such as the manuscript illustrated below. This Book of Hours was written for the use of Troyes around the year 1470 and has the distinction of having once been owned by Wilfred Voynich, for whom the infamous Voynich Manuscript was named (Google it and you will quickly enter a dark and scary corner of the internet…but it’s worth the trip!). At left, an illustration of the  Annunciation accompanies Matins for the Hours of the Virgin, the central text of a Book of Hours. The marginal miniatures illustrate other scenes from the life of the Virgin (clockwise from the upper right): being taught to read by her mother, St. Anne; being presented in the Temple; playing a stringed instrument; at prayer in a church; greeting the also-pregnant St. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist. At right, St. Luke writes his Gospel, a quill in his right hand and a scraping implement in his left, copying from a model on a bookstand before him. His attribute, a bull, crouches at his feet, and a number of completed manuscripts are visible in the storage compartment below his writing desk. The two statues in the niches above, a man and a woman, may represent the initial commissioners of the manuscript.

The Annunciation with Scenes from the Life of the Virgin (WAM W.249, f. 37) (Troyes, ca. 1470)

The Annunciation with Scenes from the Life of the Virgin (WAM W.249, f. 37) (Troyes, ca. 1470)

St. Luke writing his Gospel (WAM W.249, f. 19) (Troyes, ca. 1470)

St. Luke writing his Gospel (WAM W.249, f. 19) (Troyes, ca. 1470)

Finally, we reach the apex of manuscript illumination in the early sixteenth century. Although I am somewhat partial to the penwork and charm of twelfth-century monastic manuscripts, these noble commissions of the early 1500s really take my breath away:

The Annunciation (WAM W.449, f. 32v) (Tours?, ca. 1524, attr. Jean de Mauléon)

The Annunciation (WAM W.449, f. 32v) (Tours?, ca. 1524, attr. Jean de Mauléon)

The Flight into Egypt (WAM W.452, f. 79v) (Tours?, ca. 1520, attr. Jean Pichore)

The Flight into Egypt (WAM W.452, f. 79v) (Tours?, ca. 1520, attr. Jean Pichore)

 

As users and admirers of medieval manuscripts, we have to step back and appreciate how extraordinary the digital collection at the Walters truly is. The Walters has always been a leader in cataloguing and access to medieval manuscripts: the multi-volume Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Walters Art Gallery authored by former curator Lilian M. C. Randall remains the gold standard in its breadth, depth, and attention to detail. Her successor, former curator William Noel, is perhaps best known for his work with the Archimedes Palimpsest (if you want a great introduction to the project and the importance of Open Access data, check out Will’s 2012 TED Talk). He applied the Open Access model used in that project to the Walters collection to establish a digital presence that includes not only the Walters website but a Flickr site as well, and, although he has since left to become the founding Director of the Kislak Center for Special Collections at the University of Pennsylvania, the Walters Art Museum remains committed to that model.

True Open Access is about a lot more than simply being able to freely download high-resolution un-watermarked JPGs, TIFFs, or PDFs. The Digital Walters provides several tiers of access points to these manuscripts: you can download the entire manuscript as a PDF; you can page through it online using a page-turner interface; you can download individual images; and, for those of you who really love your data raw, you can get behind the scenes at the Digital Walters, strip away the pretty interface, and interact with the data in a folder-file structure, pure and simple. Here, in this “behind-the-scenes” space, you can access the multiple layers that make up each image and dataset, see the data in its purist form, and download the raw data to do with as you please. This is the real thing. You might never have a good reason to interact with data this raw, but the fact that it’s there for the taking is unique and extraordinary.

Will Noel was honored last year by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for his work in advocating for open data, work he continues to pursue at what will be our next stop, the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

 

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Manuscript Road Trip: The Gulf Coast

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

I apologize for my prolonged absence! I’ve been in the UK (saw some of you at Leeds), but I’m back home now, ready to pick up where I left off. I was going to head up to Birmingham, Alabama this week, but my itinerary will actually take us through the Florida panhandle and down the West coast of the Sunshine State instead. We’ll get to Alabama in a few weeks.

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The University of Florida in Gainesville has two interesting codices, leaves from both of which can be seen on this site, the results of a independent study in paleography and codicology at U. Florida. The first manuscript is a heavily-annotated thirteenth-century Bible from Italy (shown at right).

University of Florida, Special Collections, 225.52 B5822n

University of Florida, Special Collections, 225.52 B5822n

The second manuscript (below), a late fifteenth-century Cicero, is also Italian.

University of Florida, Special Collections, 871 C7i.X

University of Florida, Special Collections, 871 C7i.X

The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania was not the only collection to benefit from the generosity of patron and collector Lawrence J. Schoenberg during his lifetime. Before his death last May, Larry lived with his wife Barbara Brizdle on the Gulf Coast of Florida, near Sarasota.  Several years ago, they donated ten leaves and a codex to Sarasota’s New College, including a very nice S. German/Austrian Romanesque gradual leaf (formerly LJS 117). I worked for Larry in the 1990s, before he donated these manuscripts to the College, so I actually catalogued and studied them some twenty years ago.

New College, formerly LJS 106 ("Copyright New College of Florida. This image may not be used for commercial purposes or altered in any way.")

New College, formerly LJS 106 (“Copyright New College of Florida. This image may not be used for commercial purposes or altered in any way.”)

The College very kindly sent me the image at right, formerly LJS 106, a leaf from a late fifteenth-century Book of Hours (I recognize my handwriting in the lower margin, where I wrote the Schoenberg shelfmark in pencil).

In nearby St. Petersburg, the Museum of Fine Arts has several fine leaves. See anything familiar?

Antiphonal, Italy, s. XV (Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, Gift of Lothar and Mildred Uhl, Acq. 2007.12.4 recto)

Antiphonal, Italy, s. XV (Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, Gift of Lothar and Mildred Uhl, Acq. 2007.12.4 recto)

David at Prayer (Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, Gift of Lothar and Mildred Uhl, Acq. 2002.20 recto)

David at Prayer, opening of the Penitential Psalms (Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, Gift of Lothar and Mildred Uhl, Acq. 2002.20 recto)

Museum of Fine Arts, 1979-11-1 recto

Beauvais Missal (Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, Gift of David S. Hendrick III, Acq. 1979-11-1 recto)

 

Book of Hours (Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, Gift of David S. Hendrick III, acq. 1979-11-1-5)

Book of Hours (Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, Gift of David S. Hendrick III, acq. 1979-11-5)

Several features of the leaf at right, from a ca. 1430 French Book of Hours, immediately struck me as familiar: the red fillet border, the unusual form of the [g], and the pointed-oval leaves in the margin. A search through my computer for leaves from Books of Hours with 16 lines per page led me to a leaf I catalogued for Smith College earlier this year, MS 42.5.

Smith College, Northampton, Mass., MS 42-5 recto

Smith College, Northampton, Mass., MS 42-5 recto

Like the Beauvais Missal, these leaves come from a manuscript dismembered by Otto Ege, although they were not used in any of his portfolio collections. A third leaf from this manuscript is in Providence, RI, at the Rhode Island School of Design (MS 43.444) [n.b. the leaves at Smith and RISD had previously been identified as part of Ege’s FOL 46, but they are in fact from a different manuscript (see S. Gwara, Otto Ege’s Manuscripts, Handlist 46)]. The Museum’s Beauvais Missal leaf and this Book of Hours leaf were given by David S. Hendrick III in 1979 along with three others; some of these may turn out to have an Ege provenance as well. For example, I haven’t seen an image of manuscript 1979-11-2, a ca. 1470 Aquinas, but I suspect it might have come from Ege’s FOL 40 (see Gwara, Handlist 40).

Screen shot 2014-06-25 at 12.23.23 PMAs we head east across the Florida peninsula, we’ll pass “The Happiest place on Earth.” There are no manuscripts that I know of in Disneyworld, but if you do go to Orlando to visit Disney or The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and you want to see some medieval manuscripts, make time for the faith-based theme park, The Holy Land Experience. This is where you will find a very impressive collection of early biblical manuscripts known as The Scriptorium, formerly the Van Kempen Collection. Some images are online here, although they are not very high resolution. Manuscript VK 783 is a 4th century Coptic manuscript known as Mississippi Coptic Codex II, and is the companion to Papyrus Bodmer XXII in Geneva; both have been studied here. The collection also contains very fine examples of Carolingian, Romanesque and Gothic manuscripts. You can download a nice image of their Wyclif Bible here.

Several other Florida collections are worth noting, although they have no digital presence as yet: Florida State Universiy in Tallahassee, St. Leo Abbey in St. Leo, and the Ringling Museum in Sarasota.

Now we’ll turn northward and start making our way up the Atlantic coast.

 

 

 

 

 

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Manuscript Road Trip: The Spanish Forger

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

One of the most rewarding things about this virtual road trip I’m on is learning about collections that are new to me. A comment on last week’s post pointed me towards the manuscripts owned by Reed College in Portland, Oregon, among which is a leaf illuminated by the Spanish Forger. This reminded me that I promised several months ago to devote a post to the Forger, and before I delve into the riches of California’s manuscript collections, I thought now would be a good time to get off the proverbial highway and follow through.

I first encountered the Spanish Forger in 1997 while working for private collector Lawrence J. Schoenberg, whose collection is now part of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. At that time, he owned the piece shown below, a framed miniature of a group of young nobles playing chess.

Univ. of Pennsylvania, LJS MS 33

Univ. of Pennsylvania, LJS MS 33

I was immediately enchanted and amazed, both by the delightfully saccharine setting and by the Forger’s sheer nerve in attempting, and for some time pulling off, such a massive deception. I’ve been a fan ever since.

The Spanish Forger painted numerous miniatures and panels in a late-medieval style at the end of the 19th and into the 20th century. No one knows who he was, but given the number of leaves and panels attributed to him, he must have made a significant amount of money selling his forgeries to an unsuspecting audience.

The Betrothal of St. Ursula (The Morgan Library and Museum, New York)

The Betrothal of St. Ursula (The Morgan Library and Museum, New York)

The story of the Spanish Forger begins with this panel painting of “The Betrothal of St. Ursula,” a painting that had been ascribed to fifteenth-century Spain on stylistic grounds. In 1930, Belle da Costa Greene (a prominent art historian who had been J. P. Morgan’s private librarian and who was one of the first women to be elected a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America) refused to support its purchase for New York’s Metropolitan Museum because she suspected it was a forgery. Greene’s life story, by the way, is pretty extraordinary. Her father, Richard Theodore Greener, was the first African-American to graduate from Harvard, and Belle lived her life as a bi-racial woman “passing” and moving easily among the New York elite in the early twentieth century.

It was Greene – at that time curator of the Pierpont Morgan Library – who first identified the Spanish Forger’s distinctive characteristics and gave him his name. After the St. Ursula panel  was later tested using neutron activation analysis, it was discovered that the green pigment in the painting was copper arsenite a.k.a. Paris Green, which was not available before 1814, confirming Greene’s suspicions.  Because French newsprint has been found behind some of his panels, it is suspected that he actually worked in Paris, but the name Greene gave him has stuck. In 1988, the painting that gave the Spanish Forger his name was given to the Morgan Library and Museum.

To his credit, the Forger always worked on medieval parchment or panels. He scraped paint from wood or text from parchment, painting forged miniatures on authentic supports, knowing full well that – in the case of manuscripts – illustrated leaves were much more valuable than unillustrated. While preparing a major exhibit of the Forger’s work for the Morgan Library in 1978, curator William Voelkle discovered that the Forger had based much of his work on illustrations found in five volumes on medieval and Renaissance life and culture by Paul Lacroix (published between 1869-1882); Morgan and Lacroixmany of his paintings are clear copies of Lacroix illustrations, as shown here.

The Forger’s style is easy to recognize. His faces often have a pronounced tilt, certainly, but one feature is particularly distinctive; the ladies in his noble settings display a prominent décolletage that would never have been found in an authentic medieval painting. Technical features of his work also give him away.

The Morgan Library and Museum, MS M. 786c

The Morgan Library and Museum, MS M. 786c

In a genuine medieval manuscript, the gold leaf would have been applied before the colors. The Forger tended to apply his gold as a final step; a close examination of his work often finds gold overlapping the color rather than the (correct) other way around.

Columbia University, Special Collections, Plimpton Add. MS 18

NY, Columbia Univ., Plimpton Add. MS 18

All of these features – head tilt, cleavage, and gold-overlap – are evident in the miniature at left, a cutting in the collection at Columbia University. At first glance, this miniature appears to be an authentic medieval scene of three nobles playing chess in a courtly setting. But if you turn the piece over, the Forger’s cleverness in using medieval parchment betrays him.

Columbia University, Special Collections, Plimpton Add. MS 18 (dorse)

NY, Columbia Univ., Plimpton Add. MS 18 (dorse)

The dorse (shown below) is a snippet of liturgy from the celebration of Pentecost, a text that most certainly would never have been illustrated by a courtly scene of lords and ladies playing chess. This disconnect is typical of the Forger’s work, as the subjects of his miniatures rarely relate to the text they accompany. In addition, the vertical text in the lower right corner is a catchword, indicating that, if the leaf were whole, the miniature would have been found in the extreme lower left-hand corner of the other side, a placement totally at odds with medieval page-layout practices.

Voelkle’s catalogue of the 1978 exhibit includes a handlist of more than one hundred works attributed to the Forger (see W. Voelkle, The Spanish Forger). He has recently updated this catalogue raisonné to include well over two hundred identified works (see “The Spanish Forger: Master of Manuscript Chicanery” in Thomas Coomans & Jan De Maeyer, eds., The Revival of Medieval Illumination: Nineteenth-Century Belgium Manuscripts and Illuminations from a European Perspective (Leuven, 2007, pp. 207-227)). The Forger essentially flooded the market with leaves and miniatures at a time when collectors were clamoring for such things. He must have made a fortune.

Spanish Forger Road Trip

Spanish Forger Road Trip

In addition to Columbia University, the Morgan Library and Reed College, the Forger’s work can be found in many other public U. S. collections. In fact, you could make your way from East Coast to West on a Spanish Forger road trip alone, visiting New Hampshire (Dartmouth College),  Massachusetts (Harvard University, the Boston Athenaeum, Wellesley College and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Connecticut ( Yale University), New York (Columbia University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Morgan Library and Museum), Pennsylvania (the University of Pennsylvania and the Free Library of Philadelphia), Maryland ( the Walters Art Museum), Ohio (the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College and the Cincinnati Art Museum), Michigan (Michigan State University), Texas (the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin), Colorado (the University of Colorado, Boulder), and Oregon (Reed College). I’m sure I’ve missed a few. Ironically, the Forger’s works are now collectibles in their own right and sell for thousands of dollars; recent sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s attest to the Forger’s popularity, and there are many U. S. collectors and dealers who own examples of his work. I’d love to own one of his paintings myself.

Last week, we explored manuscripts in Washington and Oregon. Let’s get back on I-5 now and make a quick stop at Reed College in Portland before we turn south to California. The cuttings at Harvard and Columbia as well as the leaf recently sold at Sotheby’s are all closely related to the Spanish Forger miniature owned by Reed  (shown below). The Forger made use of several dozen leaves from this large early-fifteenth-century Italian antiphonal, retaining the original borders but replacing the top few lines of music on each leaf with a secular scene (see Voelkle p. 75, “choirbook stock A”).  The Reed leaf was L18 in the Voelkle catalogue (fig. 234), at which time it belonged to Harry A. Levinson of Beverly Hills, California. Reed acquired the leaf from Bloomsbury Auction House in 2008.

Reed College Special Collections, BX875.A2 S63

Reed College Special Collections, BX875.A2 S63

The Reed College leaf preserves the antiphon “Quidcumque ligaveris,” a piece sung during the celebration of feasts of St. Peter. The illustration is completely at odds with the text, showing instead the triumphant entry of Crusaders into Jerusalem. The Spanish Forger was marketing to an early twentieth-century audience that was more interested in Gothic illustration than Latin text. His commercial success depended on buyers who wouldn’t notice the text/image disconnect or the stylistic inconsistencies.

He didn’t count on Belle da Costa Greene.

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