Forgeries

For Coffee With A Codex on Wednesday, January 26, Schoenberg Curator of Manuscripts Nick Herman showed us several forgeries and reproductions from Kislak collections.

The first manuscript is LJS 102, an Ethiopian manuscript written in Ge’ez. The text is religious, Account of Creation by the Trinity (Zena nagaromu, f. 1r), followed by hymns. The manuscript was written between 1900 and 1925, but that’s not what makes this a forgery; the scribal culture in Ethiopia is unbroken, and manuscripts have remained an important aspect of religious life since the earliest days of the Ethiopian church. The illuminations, however, such as this one on of Mary and the Baby Jesus on f. 2r, have been added at some later point. It has been painted over top of the text, perhaps to make the book more attractive for the tourist trade, that is, made to be sold to Westerners visiting Ethiopia as tourists.

Another example of illustrations painted over text, likely made for the tourist trade, is LJS 196, two leaves. Both of the leaves have uncertain date and origin, and each has an illumination overpainted in the 20th century to mimic Mughal style, likely in India. The one on the left is from a Persian manuscript and the other is from an Arabic lithograph. The illustrations bear no relation to the content of the text; although the illustration on the Arabic leaf presents a scene that might be described as romantic, a man and woman on a throne on a veranda, surrounded by nine musicians, the other side reveals that the text is a grammatical work with commentary. Whether these are actually forgeries, created in order to deceive, is not clear.

Next we looked at LJS 103, a 19th-century reproduction of the wooden covers used in the 15th century on the tavolette della biccerna (tax account books) in the Archivio di Stato of Siena, comprising two painted wooden panels joined by a leather spine. How do we know this is a reproduction and not from the Renaissance? There are several clues. First, the central illustration on the front cover is not artistically impressive. Second, the five coats of arms on the back cover are not recognizable as being associated with families. And third, the pattern of the bookworm channels inside the covers indicate that the wood was split after the worms burrowed through it, not that worms channeled through the cover.

LJS 33

During the event Nick wasn’t able to show LJS 33, which was painted by a notorious late 19th-century to early 20th-century forger in France who even has his or her own nom de plume: The Spanish Forger. The Schoenberg Spanish Forger illumination depicts a chess scene painted on a parchment leaf scraped of its original text and musical notation. The illumination was probably painted in France circa 1900; the verso preserves 4 lines of text and musical notation with two small decorated initials from a late 14th or early 15th-century Italian liturgical manuscript.

The last item we looked at is Ms. Codex 2030, a book of hours on parchment with incomplete miniatures, written and illuminated in France, possibly Paris, circa 1500. Four of the miniatures that occur in the manuscript are original, but five spaces for miniatures have been used for outline drawings of the traditional iconography cycle for the Hours of the Cross. These drawings were already present in the early 19th century, as they were mentioned in the sale description of 1819, but they were likely drawn in not much earlier than that. The later drawings also lack the foliated borders that the original miniatures have.

Find out more about these manuscripts by watching the recording of Coffee With A Codex from January 26 on YouTube, and you can view the digitized version and reading the full catalog records:

LJS 102

LJS 196

LJS 103

LJS 33

Ms. Codex 2030

We host Coffee With A Codex every Wednesday at 12pm ET / 5pm GMT on Zoom. For a schedule three weeks ahead, visit our main page here.

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