Showing posts with label Illuminated Manuscripts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Illuminated Manuscripts. Show all posts

January 17, 2020

Recovered: Divān Manuscript containing the poetry collection of Hafez - the 14th century Persian poet of Shiraz, Fars Province, Iran

“Ever since happiness heard your name, 
it has been running through the streets trying to find you.”
--Khwāja Šamsu d-Dīn Muḥammad Hāfez-e Šīrāzī 

Thanks to the ongoing work of private investigators and cooperating law enforcement, family heirs will soon have back a rare centuries-old Persian manuscript collected by their relative.  The 14th century text was stolen from the private possessions of Iranian art collector Djafar Ghazy, who had lived in Neuhausen, in the district of Enz in Baden-Württemberg in Germany until his death at 86 in September 2007.  

While settling the estate of the lifetime bachelor, his remaining heirs discovered documentation attesting to the purchase of a valuable literary collection made up of numerous Persian and Islamic manuscripts.  In addition to sales documents, the family found a detailed computerized list of the items the collector had amassed legitimately over 45 years.  The manuscripts and books themselves however, were nowhere to be found, apparently stolen by someone at some point prior to the elderly engineer's death.  

Turning first to a German private investigator, Erhard Reuther who in turn encouraged the family to file their complain with his former employer, the Bavarian State Criminal Police Office (LKA), the investigation focused in on two caregivers who took an interest in the reclusive man prior to his death.  Upon obtaining a court order in December 2011, the LKA searched the apartment and storage area of "Mohamad K." in the neighborhood of Zamdorf near Munich.  Mohamed had befriended the collector and was known to have met him for coffee and to drive him to and from his doctor appointments.  

At the culprit's home, hidden in bags and suitcases in a storage shed in the basement, law enforcement officers discovered a total of 174 books, drawings and manuscripts, some of them finely illustrated by hand with exacting imagery and fine gold leaf.  The nail on the thief's coffin: the seized objects, matched the computer inventory the collector had maintained, creating a smoking book, if not a smoking gun.  In total, the theft appears to have been worth some three million euros in assets. 

Unfortunately, two important items were not among the stash seized by the German police.  One was a missing 14th century manuscript containing the poetry of Hafez and another was an unnamed text the thief apparently sold through a London auction house for a million British pounds.  Elderly himself, Mohamad K's only alibi was to claim that Ghazy saw him as his son and had given him everything.  The prosecution thought otherwise.  At the conclusion of his trial in Munich District Court the thief was found guilty, but given his advancing age, he was only given a two year suspended sentence.  

After the recovery, two magnificent copies of the Koran, willed by the collector in the form of a letter penned by Ghazy and slipped inside the books' cover, were bequeathed to the Bastan Museum in Tehran. These were then turned over to Abdollah Nekounam Ghadiri, Consul General of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Two other items, an astrological manuscript and a collection of poems by Ali Sirâsî, both from the 17th century, were gifted by the family to the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (the Bavarian State Library) for their assistance in identifying and cataloging the objects in their relative's collection.  The rest of the gentlemen's property was eventually returned to the collector's family in 2016, almost ten years after the collector's death, following a lengthy five-year follow-up to determine if any of the objects in Ghazy's literary collection were of licit origin or stolen.  

Yet from there the trail of the still missing Hafez Divān, went cold. 

It has been estimated that there are at least 1,000 originally transcribed manuscripts of Hafez's poetry in Iran and other parts of the world, though not all represent the poet's complete Divān. The earliest known version is held in the al-Beruni Institute for Oriental Studies collection at the Uzbek Academy of Sciences, in Tashkent, of the Republic of Uzbekistan. It is dated 803 (1400-01) and was copied by Borhān b. Ḡiāsò Kermāni.

Known by his pen name Hafez, Khwāja Šamsu d-Dīn Muḥammad Hāfez-e Šīrāzī, (c. 1320-1389), the poet was a Sufi Muslim honored for his mastery of Persian ghazals, which constitute the bulk of his compendium, Divān.  Believed to be the pinnacle of Persian literature, in literary circles his works are considered to be one of the seven literary wonders of the world and as a writer and poet he has achieved iconic status as a symbol of Persian cultural and literary identity.  

Translated into English for the first time by Sir William Jones in 1771, Western writers and philosophers, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and even Arthur Conan Doyle, each in their own way paid homage to the historic Iranian writer's works.  This despite the fact that the poet's controversial verse covers everything from the hypocrisy of holy men and authorities, to love, and even the consumption of alcohol. 

This is because Hafez's words occupy a particularly hallowed space in Iranian culture, and has for centuries.  Faced with a difficult situation or decision, some Iranians are known to turn the Fal-e Hafez, a cultural tradition which roughly translates to divination via Hafez. As part of this tradition, a reader asks Hafiz, the Lisan al-Gaib, as the voice from the outer world, for his advice at an important juncture or perhaps for guidance during a dilemma in their life. 

Poetry engraved on the marble of the tomb of the great Persian writer Hafez,
Shiraz, Fars Province, Iran
To find where this Persianate manuscript had gone, the relatives of Ghazy also tried their luck by posting advertisements in German newspapers.  In them, they listed a reward of 50,000 euros.  But it wasn't until the end of 2018 when Arthur Brand, a Dutch private investigator specializing in art recovery, received a solid tip through a German art dealer of Iranian origin.  From there the trail began to look promising.

Reward Flyer
Image Credit: Arthur Brand  
Working a series of leads that lead him from Europe to the UK, Brand came to learn that the bound manuscript had been purchased in 2011 while the stolen text was still in Germany.  Acquired by a now deceased dealer, who in turn sold the text to an important collector of Persian ancient manuscripts living in England, the manuscript appeared to have travelled from the UK back to Europe briefly, when its last buyer, confronted with the problematic nature of his purchase, wanted to get his money back.  

Through a series of exchanges Brand was able to convince the collector to relinquish the important manuscript which measures 21 x 13 cm and contains 159 handwritten pages. The words of the poet are delicately transcribed by the prominent scribe Shaykh Mahmud in 867 (1462.3), was was possibly commissioned by the Qara Quyunlu ruler, Pir Budaq to write down the author's words shortly after the poet's death. 

Brand will now transport the rare transcription back to the German authorities, there it will then be returned to Ghazy's heirs. Speaking with Arthur Brand this evening about the forthcoming restitution, the art investigator stated "I would like to give special thanks to William Veres who again was crucial to this objects recovery."  The London based, Hungarian-born antiquities dealer has also provided credible assistance to Brand on the recovery of the ring once owned by Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde. 

February 8, 2013

Bosnian Culture Heritage Survived the War but will it Survive the Nation's Peace?

by Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO

Bosnia's shuttered national museum in Sarajevo and the Bosnian Commission for Historic Monuments say they cannot loan The Metropolitan Museum of Art its Sarajevo Haggadah, a rare medieval illuminated manuscript that contains the illustrated traditional text of the Passover Haggadah, read during the Jewish Passover Seder.

They say the manuscript cannot be loaned because of the unresolved status of its home.  The 125-year old institution, The National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Zemaljski Muzej), has been left without funding as a result of the 1995 Bosnian peace agreement.  The signing of the Dayton Accord may have brought an end to the region’s conflict but it also effectively fractured the country into two parts: the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina linked by a weakened central government. 

In the war’s aftermath, the crucial priorities of the country’s postwar leadership were rebuilding the economy, resettling an estimated one million refugees and establishing a working government amongst the ethnically mixed populace.  While the accord heralded a much-needed peace, it also created a constitutional vacuum, open to conflicting interpretations over the maintenance of the country’s cultural legacy. 

Within Bosnia and Herzegovina there are those who insist that the situation should be resolved giving responsibility for key cultural institutions to the state.   Others argue that since nothing is mentioned in the country’s constitution, the administration should remain with lower levels of government and its expenses should not fall on the common budget.
Many in Sarajevo hope that by rejecting the Met’s lending request, the situation will put pressure on the government to try to step in to resolve the issue, saving the museum and other key cultural institutions facing potential closure due to lack of funding and oversight.

Like with the more recently publicized Arabic manuscripts in Mali, this Sarajevo Haggadah’s preservation history is a testament to the lengths citizens from various countries have gone to protect their cultural heritage during times of conflict.

Handwritten on bleached calfskin and illuminated in copper and gold, the manuscript is believed to have originated in Catalonia in the mid 14th century.  Splashed among the pages are droplets of red wine, a testament to its use, most likely by a Sephardic family.  Historians believe that the manuscript was spirited out of Spain after King Ferdinand decreed that Jews should be expelled in 1492.

During this exodus, many Sephardic Jews relocated first to Provence and later to Venice. The Sarajevo Haggadah surfaced in Venice in 1609, during a period when Jews were prohibited from printing books and restricted to the islet of Cannaregio.  Subject to inspection during the inquisition, where texts perceived as dangerous to the Church were burned, the book was ultimately spared, as witnessed by the handwritten notation on its pages which was signed by the Dominican inquisitor of Giovanni Vistorini, censor of Hebrew texts.

The manuscript made its way eventually to Sarajevo, where it was housed but not displayed publically at the Archaeological Museum, now National Museum in Sarajevo.

During the Second World War the manuscript was hidden from Nazi forces through the ingenuity of the museum’s director, Jozo Petrovic, and Dervis Korkut, an ethnic Albanian Muslim who served as the museum’s chief librarian.  With the help of a Muslim imim in Zenica the Sarajevo Haggadah was hidden in a mosque’s library until after the war.

During the 1992-1995 Bosnian war the manuscript was again subject to great risk. Sarajevo was on the front line and constantly under siege by Bosnian Serb forces.  To keep the text safe from harm or potential looting the director of the Museum, Enver Imamovic under armed guardsequestered the manuscript in an underground vault at the National Bank. Despite being safe, several newspaper articles around the world speculated that the Sarajevo Haggadah  had been secretly sold and used to buy arms to support the ongoing conflict.  This rumor was proved false when the newly instated president of Bosnia presented the manuscript publicly at a community Seder in 1995.

In 2001 Jacques Klein, the head of the U.N. mission in Bosnia along with two international experts examined the Haggadah at the invitation of UNESCO. Through the joint efforts of the UN Mission, which donated $50,000,  Klein himself, the German Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the World Bank and Bosnia's Jewish community minor repairs were undertaken on the Haggadah, primarily working to conserve its binding.   A space to permanently exhibit the Haggadah was also established and the manuscript at last went on public display in December 2002.

In the last ten years Sarajevo's National Art Gallery, its National Library and the Historical Museum, have joined the National Museum in slow decline due to lack of funding.  Resourceful staffers first tried to squirrel away resources by cutting their heating, then staff salaries or in some cases, opening their doors to the public only a few days per week.  Eventually, failing to find alternative funding solutions, the National Museum was forced to lock its doors.

According to, February 4, 2013 marked the National Museum in Sarajevo’s 125th anniversary.  Wooden planks were nailed over entrance last October despite pleas for civic intervention to save the museum and its collection. At this birthday celebration all well-wishers could do was light 125 candles and lay 125 roses.

The museum's deputy director, Marica Filipovic, said that the institution had survived two world wars and the Bosnian conflict: "But it seems it will not survive the peace.”

Here's a link to a report from Radio Free Europe last April on the Sarajevo Haggadah.

August 14, 2011

Codex Calixtinus is missing (English Translation)

Codex Calixtino
by Juan José Prieto Gutiérrez. Ph.D, Complutense University of Madrid.

[Translated from Spanish to English by Marc Balcells Magrans, ARCA Class 2011

The Codex Calixtinus, dating from the twelfth century, and considered a jewel of the Galician documentary and bibliographical heritage, disappeared mysteriously on the fifth of July from the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. This work, compiling the tradition of the peregrinations and the Jacobean route, was guarded in the Cathedral's archive.

The manuscript was part of a collection of sermons and liturgical texts, and served as a sort of guide for the worldwide famous Camino de Santiago, dating back to the middle ages.

The first inquiries point to the fact that there were no signs of any kind of violence (forced entry, maybe?), despite the Codex was located in a restricted, private area, with access limited both to the public and to researchers (only three persons had acces to the room where the manuscript custodiate: the dean, acting also as an archivist, and his two collaborators, each one working morning and afternoon shifts).

It is worth noting that the book was rarely exhibited. In fact, researchers work with a facsimile edition created years ago. The actual Codex could only be accessed under very punctual circumstances, and always in the presence of an archivist. The Codex had not been exhibited for 18 years.

Initially, one of the possible MO is related to vengeance, or the fact that the theft would reveal the lax security measures in archives and libraries in Spain.

A lack of security measures in Santiago

The first inquiries show big gaps in security: the key was on the lock of the door of the room where the codex was located; and CCTVs are only placed in the Cathedral's cloister, but not where the bibliographical treasures are located.

Facing these facts, the theory that this case should be treated as an insider theft is considered more strongly than others. At the moment, the cathedral has approximatedly a staff of seventy persons working there. The rule of thumb is that between sixty and seventy percent of disappearances of books in libraries and archives are caused by insiders or at least they may be involved.

The return of the stolen material was expected during the first week, all under secret of confession, if taken into account an anonymous phone call promising the devolution of the codex. However, this lead looses its credibility as days go by.

Social alarm usually lasts from ten to twenty days. In this period, security measures are revised, some insurances are bought or revised... After this period, everything goes back to normal, unluckily. Until the next disappearance.

Spanish legislation does not establish the particular security measures that should be in place in order to custody this line of cultural heritage. Taking into account that religious art is in high demand in the market, and that the bibliographical heritage is very easy to smuggle, international police cooperation is usually the preferred method.

Spain is one of the most victimized countries in the last years, when it refers to thefts from libraries. In 2007, the theft of more than 100 historical documents was discovered in the Library of the Foreign Affairs Ministry. One year later, César Gomez Rivero was arrested, as the author of the theft from the National Spanish Library. In summer 2009, Zslot Vamos is arrested, possessing 67 documents, while still 53 are missing.

Hence, and related to this sad incident, one must ask: When will security measures be taken seriously in spaces devoted to the custody of bibliographical and documentary heritage? When will librarians and archivists receive proper training? Will both national and international cooperation amongst different police forces bring any results?

August 11, 2011

Codex Calixtinus is missing

El Códice Calixtino
Editor's note: The ARCA blog received this submitted post in Spanish and decided to publish it as we're an international blog.

by Juan José Prieto Gutiérrez. Ph.D, Complutense University of Madrid.

El Códice Calixtino del siglo XII, considerado una de las joyas del Patrimonio Bibliográfico y Documental gallego, desapareció misteriosamente el pasado 5 de julio de la Catedral de Santiago de Compostela. La obra, que recoge la tradición de las peregrinaciones y la Ruta Jacobea, estaba custodiada en el Archivo catedralicio.

El manuscrito forma parte de una colección de sermones y textos litúrgicos y sirvió como una especie de guía para el mundialmente conocido Camino de Santiago, el cual se remonta a la Edad Media.

Las primeras investigaciones relatan que no existen "signos de violencia", pese a que el Códice se encontraba en unas dependencias privadas de acceso restringido y vetadas tanto a los investigadores como al público general (sólo tres personas tenían acceso directo a la sala donde se custodiaba el manuscrito; el propio deán y archivero y sus dos colaboradores, uno que trabaja por la mañana y otro durante la tarde.

Cabe destacar, que el libro se enseñaba en muy contadas ocasiones, de hecho, los investigadores trabajaban con la edición facsímil que se realizó hace unos años. Solo se podía ver en circunstancias muy concretas, y siempre en presencia de un responsable del archivo. Hace 18 años que no se exhibe fuera del archivo.

Por lo que en un principio se barajado la posibilidad de “venganza” o el hecho de dar a conocer a la sociedad los bajos índices de seguridad que rodean a los archivos y bibliotecas en España.

Falta de seguridad en Santiago: Las primeras investigaciones realizadas generan enormes fallos de seguridad:
1. La llave de la cámara de seguridad donde se custodiaba el libro estaba habitualmente puesta.
2. Las cámaras de seguridad solamente están instaladas en el claustro de la catedral, no en la zona donde se encuentran las joyas bibliográficas.
Ante estos hechos, cada vez se inclina más la balanza de que el robo se haya producido por personal del centro, de la propia Catedral de Santiago, la cual suma cerca de 70 personas. La regla general es que entre el 60% y 70% de las desapariciones en bibliotecas y archivos son producidas por personal de la casa o están involucrados.

Durante las primeras semanas se esperaba la devolución del material bajo secreto de confesión. Teniendo en cuenta una llamada anónima que habló expresamente de devolver el manuscrito. Pero este hecho pierde credibilidad día a día.

Realidad: La alarma social suele durar de 10 a 20 días. Se revisan las medidas de seguridad, se hacen algunos seguros, o se revisan las pólizas... y después, todo vuelve a ser como antes, por desgracia, hasta el siguiente suceso.

Las legislaciones españolas no inciden en los planes de seguridad concretos que se deben poner en marcha con el fin de custodiar Patrimonio de estas características.
Teniendo en cuenta que el arte religioso es "muy demandado en el mercado mundial de coleccionistas" y que el patrimonio bibliográfico es fácil transportarlo sin levantar sospechas, se confía a la colaboración policial internacional para localizar el manuscrito.

España es de los países mas azotados por los robos en bibliotecas en los últimos años, en el año 2007 se descubrió la desaparición de más de 100 documentos históricos en la Biblioteca del Ministerio de Exteriores, en 2008 se detiene a Cesar Gómez Rivero, autor del robo de la Biblioteca Nacional Española, en verano de 2009 se detiene Zslot Vamos con 67 documentos, faltando por recuperar 53.

Y ante este desgraciado hecho, volvemos a preguntarnos:
1. ¿Cuando se van a tomar en serio las medidas de seguridad en los espacios donde se custodia Patrimonio bibliográfico y documental?
2. ¿Cuando se va a instruir adecuadamente a bibliotecarios y archiveros?
3. ¿La cooperación nacional e internacional dará sus frutos?, etc.

July 12, 2011

Judge Arthur Tompkins on The Codex Aureus of Lorsch and the De Arte Venandi in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Part III)

by Judge Arthur Tompkins, ARCA Lecturer and blog contributor

It turned out to be a much smaller, slimmer volume that the Codex Aureus. But it too is missing the coat of arms and the inscription! Instead, there appears on the opening leaf the commonly encountered oval and/or circular "Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana" stamps, and the handwritten pencil inscription “Facs Bav Pal. Lat. 1071 [1969.2] Concs."

This version is a copy of the original manuscript by Frederick II, which was lost in 1248 during a siege of Parma. Copies of the original exist in two-volume and six-volume versions – the Vatican’s copy is in the former category.

The facsimiles of the opening leaves show clearly been reasonable extensive damage around the edges. All the pages are written in dense, small, text, in two columns ending about two thirds down each page, and each block of text on each page is surrounded by a profusion of pictures of birds of all kinds, flying, walking, wading, and occasionally swimming. Every now and then a human falconer or a hunter appears, but infrequently in the first section of the volume. A few of the illustrations of birds have handwritten labels appended to them (by son Manfred?). There are is one picture of two dogs, which look like greyhounds, savaging a fallen deer .

Towards the back of the volume, more numerous falconers appear, one with a startlingly red hat on, and others with similarly coloured red tunics, showing the correct way to carry birds, to hold them in preparation for flight, to secure them to their perches or on transportable field stands.

In one memorable picture, a falconer is shown having discarded his clothes in a heap, and is taking a naked dip in a pond (retaining his hat, presumably for modesty’s sake) as he is watched by two bemused ducks.

There are a few uncoloured line drawings, some showing how to bath a falcon in a small basin.

The back inside cover of the volume bears the printed inscription (in German as well as English):

First edition 1000 copies.
Binding: Graphic K.G. – Graz – Printed n Austria
Text and plates: Akademische Druck – u. Verlagsanstalt – Graz
And on a separate sticker at the top of the inside cover, the information:
Facs.Bav. Pal.lat1071[1969:1-2]. Cons. (1969:2)
Friedrich II imperatore del Sacro romano impero e re di Sicilia, 1194-1250
De arte venandi cum avibus, ms, pal, lat 1071
Bibkioteca apostolica vaticana.
Pubblicazione: 1969
After completing my inspection of my second volume, but before I returned it and perforce ended my visit, I went on a slightly nervous wander. I was interested to see if anyone would accost me, arrest me, and forcibly remove me from the premises and the City State. It turns out that I had been working in one of two connected rooms, labelled Sala Manoscritti 1 and 2, and I was able, without being apprehended or stopped, to walk elsewhere in the complex of interlinked reading rooms. The Manuscripts Reading Room was by far the most fully occupied. For most of the time I was there, there were only a handful of spare seats.

Next to this, is a Room referred to in the Rules as the Inventory room. The Rules told me that it was forbidden to take manuscripts out of my room into this adjacent, much less stylish and indeed almost blandly functional, and in it the tables were mostly unoccupied.

The Sale Leonine
Adjacent to these two rooms, and connected to it by the entrance foyer containing a large rococo gilded table with a marble top, was a far longer and grander reading room, about three or four times the length of the one I had been in, containing many more multiple-seat reading tables, with around its walls tall shelves of printed books and, in a neighbouring narrow area running the length of the main room, banks of card catalogues. This room overlooked the Cortile de Belvedere, through which I had walked to gain my initial entry. This room is called the Sale Leonine, and features a significantly frescoed ceiling, with many Popes’ names featuring.

During my walks, executed with pencil in hand, and with a studious expression on my face, I spotted on a wall a floor plan which revealed that manuscripts with the shelf mark "Palatinato" (referring to the books taken from the Bibliotheca Palatina) were only available in the main Manuscript Reading Room, on request. The same floor plan also revealed that, down some stairs and off somewhere else there existed a space invitingly labelled with the word, “Bar”. More of that in a moment. But, also on the same floor plan, there appears, in the bottom right corner in an otherwise blank area, the words "Archivo Segreto” – much like old maps used to have the words, “There be dragons…”. Equally if not more inviting, but my Rules told me that “in order to access the Secret Archives from the Library, or visa versa, the main entrance of each of the two Institutions must be used.” So I guess that I best not try to go there ….

And indeed it turns out that the Vatican Library has a Bar. Who would have thought? After checking with the same helpful librarian who had, upon my arrival steered me safely in the direction of the Manuscript Reading Room, that I would not set off any alarms or be locked forever on the outside, I discovered that one exits into a large internal Courtyard (Cortile della Biblioteca), crosses this, (in the by no fiercely hot sun), and ascends a narrow, almost hidden staircase, into a small room which seems to have been created out of a ruined apse of a Romanesque church, with the ruined walls and partially broken semi-circular apse, with rough niches, still very much in evidence. Opposite the broken apse was a small counter, an automated coffee machine, and a couple of hot plates for heating pre-prepared paninis. Here, I had my lunch – a tepid coffee served in a flimsy plastic cup, and a dry, reheated ham and cheese Panini. But hey, it was my Vatican Library lunch …!

And so my visit to the Vatican library drew to a close. I returned my second volume, gathered my belongings and, reversing the process I had followed upon arrival and with a backward glance of regret and longing, I quit the Vatican Library. Happily, I get to keep my magnetised swipe card.

A most memorable occasion in pretty much every respect. Perhaps on a return visit I will get to see the original manuscripts, presumably under even stricter supervision, and solve the mystery of the missing coat of arms and inscription.

July 11, 2011

Judge Arthur Tompkins on The Codex Aureus of Lorsch and the De Arte Venandi in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Part II)

by Judge Arthur Tompkins, ARCA Instructor and blog contributor

The Manuscripts Reading Room
The Vatican Library’s main Manuscripts Reading Room is a light and airy room about 8 metres wide, by about 22 metres long, with beige coloured, plastered walls, a high, vaulted ceiling complete with frescoed oval medallion in its centre, three large windows set into slightly recessed arches on one wall, (looking out
onto a grassed garden area, the Cortile della Bibliotheca), and four more or less corresponding niches on the opposite wall. One of the niches has a bust of Father Ehrle, who seemingly lived from 1845 – 1934 (a past and revered Librarian, perhaps?), and three full-length, female statues. Opposite the entrance door, at one end, is a high desk running most of the width of the room, in front of two large wooden cabinets fitted with interior metal shelves, for returned volumes. Librarians hover, ready to assist, in hushed tones.

On the wall above the entrance door hang portraits of Cardinal Scipionne Cobelluzzi (1618-1626) and Francesco Barberini (1626-1633). Above the main desk there is a bronze bust of “PIO XI PONT MAX”, surmounted by a large crucifix with Christ that looks somewhat similar to the one that hangs in Santa Maria Della Croce in Florence. Above a desk to the left of the entrance door, which remained unoccupied during my stay, hangs a large portrait of an unnamed, seated cardinal.

The Reading Room’s procedure requires initial registration at the desk, which electronically reveals the number of the locker you have been allocated downstairs. Readers are required to write (in pencil, of course, and in block capital letters only) their surname next to the locker number on a pre-printed sheet, and then also to enter the number of the seat they have chosen for the day – in my case #52, at the back right corner of the room, so as to afford me the good view of my fellow readers. An informal head count reveals that the room can accommodate 57 readers – 30 seated at tables of three each, on the right side, and 27 at nine corresponding tables on the left, below the windows.

Each reading space is equipped with a small lectern-like stand for the manuscript being study, with elongated wooden pegs to hold the pages of the manuscript open, and a printed card reminding one, in case you have forgotten, that, among other prohibitions, it is forbidden to use an ink pen of any type, and that only an erasable lead pencil or a personal computer may be used.

I was told that both my requested manuscripts were available to me only in facsimile (I knew that from an earlier email from Dr. Ciminella) but one, it seems was not within easy reach. So I first received the facsimile of the Codex Aureus. A facsimile of the Codex, incidentally, was given by Pope Benedict to Queen Elizabeth of England on 16 September 2010 (although the facsimile he gifted was of the whole work, and included copies of the famous front and back covers, torn off in Heidelberg and still separated from the body of the manuscript), in return for which the Queen gave His Holiness a series of Hans Holbein prints from her collection.

Surprisingly, the facsimile is incomplete. In particular, it omits from the front leaf of the volume is the Coat of Arms of the Bavarian House of Wittelbach, and the Latin inscription:
"Sum de bibliotheca quam Heidelberga capta Spolium fecit et papae GREGORIO XV trophaeum misit Maximiliianus utriusque bauariae Dux &c S
R I Achidapifer et Princeps Elector."
Which translates, more or less, to:

"I am from the Library which, after the capture of Heidelberg, Maximilian, Duke of Bavaria … took as spoil and sent as a trophy to Pope Gregory XV."

The Wittelbach coat of arms, and the inscription, were precisely what I had come to see. Perhaps, in preparing the facsimile, a choice had been made not to include a record, plain to anyone with eyes to see and read, of the taking of the Codex by the army of the Catholic League following the fall of Heidelberg in 1621, during the opening years of the Thirty Years’ War?

Another, less sinister, explanation is perhaps that, given that the original codex was torn in two, and its front and back covers removed, in Heidelberg (for ease of transportation) then the coat of arms and inscription might appear in the missing bits. But that is unlikely, as the desecrating of the manuscript happened, as I understand it, in Heidelberg prior to transportation over the Alps to the Vatican, so that the inscriptions, which were most likely inserted into all the Palatinato volumes, happened after their arrival in Rome.

So where are they? And was there anything else to see which might assist?

Instead of the Coat of Arms and the inscription, the front leaves of the volume are suspiciously blank, except for the pencilled notation “Facs. Bav Pal. Lat 50 [2000] [1B) Cms.” Following these blank opening pages, the first page is resplendent with gloriously golden text, set out in two columns on each page, and bordered with both a plain outer gold border and a broader (about 1cm wide) inner coloured border, which varies in colour and patterning from page to page.

Several pages in, there appears a comparative table, with four decorated columns headed MATTHEVS, MARCUS, LUCAS, and JOHANNIS - which are a bit of a giveaway, although the following pages sometimes omit one or other of the names. Then there begins what the gospel of Matthew – given both that the figure depicted in glorious colour on the opening page is strikingly similar to the three St. Matthew Caravaggios I saw a few days ago in. And then there is the word MATHEUM appearing at the top of the following pages, which fairly compelling, I think. The Christ in Majesty illumination appears a dozen or so leaves after that.

The next major illumination is of an apostle surmounted by a horned bull, so I am guessing this is Luke (again, assisted in my scholarly deductive reasoning by the word LUCAM that appears every regularly at the top of the following pages…).

Further on through the volume is an apostle pictured with a large bird above him, and given the helpful word JOHANNON in the now familiar position on the following pages, this is John.

The last 16 pages of the volume, after a page which ends with the words "Explicit Evangelium Secondum Jonhannem", are still in gold lettering, but now in lowercase, rather than capitals, with interspersed red sub headings, red capital letters at the beginning of most paragraphs, and no borders. I have no idea what they are. I am sure others know full well.

The last page is a half page of modern printed German text, very obviously not written in the 8th century, and containing at its base the notation: ISBN 3-85672-066-9.

Thus ends my examination of the Codes Aureus of Lorsch. Returning it to the care of the librarian, I went now in search of the De Arte Venandi…

Judge Tompkin's adventures in the Vatican Library to be continued tomorrow.

July 10, 2011

Judge Arthur Tompkins on The Codex Aureus of Lorsch and the De Arte Venandi in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Part I)

The Sistine Hall of the Vatican Library
by Judge Arthur Tompkins

The Pope's personal library - Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana – was founded, in accordance with the direction of Pope Nicholas V, by Pope Sixtus IV in 1475. For the first little while (a few centuries) it was accessible only to His Holiness, and "eminent scholars". But in 1883 it was opened to all "qualified readers", by Pope Leo XIII, who made the admissions process less taxing, and also opened the Secret Archives to appropriately qualified readers.

The Library is not formally part of the Church, but stands alongside the Roman Curia, and "provides useful and necessary services to the Supreme Pontiff, to the Curia and to the Universal Church, in association with the Holy See." It is the personal and inalienable property of the Pontiff and, as such, it is not a public institution.

Admission is by advance approval only (unless, presumably, you are the Pope), and is available to "qualified researchers and scholars, and learned persons known for their writing and scholarly publications”, who must provide a letter of introduction from their home institution, certified proof of their home address, and a formal identification document (e.g. passport).

All of this is by way of preamble, to explain why, at 8.30 a.m. on a very sunny Thursday in early July, I was having coffee and breakfast in a small cafe close by Ponte d'Angelo, resplendent in the early morning sun with Bernini's towering sculptures standing resolute under the stern gaze of the hulking pile that is Castel Sant’Angelo. I was waiting until the Library's admissions office opened, and I had my documents ready to flourish at (I was secretly hoping) a resplendently uniformed Swiss Guard, thus to gain admission to the Vatican City through Porta Santa Anna, and from there on into the Library.

I had come to inspect two manuscripts, both originally part of the Bibliotheca Palatina, the Library of the Princes of the Palatine founded in the 1430s by the Elector Louis III, both of which had been taken from Heidelberg after the city fell to the army of the Catholic League in 1622, (along with much else from the library), transported across the Alps and given as a gift to the Pope by the Maximilian of Bavaria. In particular, I wanted to see, on the frontispiece of each volume, the Wittelsbach Coat of Arms, and an inscription recording the making of the “gift”.

Having finished breakfast, I crossed the Tiber in the shadow of Castel Sant Angelo, and walked up Mussolini’s ill-fitting Via della Conciliazone into St. Peter’s Square. The queues to enter the basilica were already slow moving, and lengthening., just through Bernini’s colonnade and to the right.

Cortile del Belvedere
Inside Porta Santa Anna, on Via di Porta Angelica, the gate a young Swiss guard in (sadly) a plain blue-uniformed was politely but firmly turning away an enquiring family, but then, when I flourished a printout of the email I had received a few months earlier from the Library’s Admissions Director, Dr. Giuseppe Ciminello (who I was later to meet in person), and asked in my best Latin, “Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticano?”, he politely directed me to a small, glass-sided office. My passport was photocopied and retained, and I received back the photocopied page and a ”Visitatore Biblioteca No. 153” lapel badge. I was directed onwards into the heart of the Vatican, through a distant archway and into the Cortile del Belvedere.

At the end of the courtyard, to the right, were two doors, and upon entering the grander of the two a porter talking on a telephone waved me along a short corridor to the "Segretaria" office. There was a little waiting area, with six straight backed chairs, outside a firmly closed door, and a marble plaque detailing, in Italian and in English, crucial dates in the history of the Library on the wall. The recorded timeline ranged from the first mention of the Library, in a written document in 1451 by Nicholas V, though various relocations, reorganizations, relocations, building projects, and the like, down to 20 September 2010, when the Library reopened after “an extraordinary closure” lasting fully three years.

The plaque included reference to the recent provision of “new technologies, new elevators, and a remodeled entrance hall” - presumably the one through which I had just passed. Sadly, I thought, the remodeling had not extended to “New and helpful instructions posted in numerous strategic locations”, as I had time enough to read the marble plaque from top to bottom, thoroughly and twice, given that there was nothing else to do but sit and wait and wonder what was going to happen next. I was, perhaps fortunate, that I had, quite by accident, chosen a seat with a view of the marble plaque on the opposite wall – my companions, who arrived in dribs and drabs as I sat and read, and were seated opposite, were not nearly so lucky. They had to make do with staring at a blank wall.

There was no indication as to how long I, and the four others who had silently joined me as I sat there, were expected to wait. Eventually, however, after about a ten minute wait, a bespectacled gentleman (who turned out to be my email correspondent Dr. Ciminello) opened the door a little, and beckoned to the applicant to my left (who, to be fair, had been sitting there quietly and patiently, when I had arrived, so was in front of me in our little queue) into the inner sanctum. About 10 minutes later she emerged, and it was my turn.

Dr. Ciminello spoke English well, which was a relief to me as my Italian is rudimentary at best. My letter of introduction was scrutinized, and I completed a form with the required details on it, supplemented immediately thereafter by the taking of a digital photograph, and was given a photo ID card complete with magnetic strip.

I had earlier provided the call numbers of the two manuscripts I had come to consult - Pal. Lat. 50, for the Codex Aureus of Lorsch, created around the end of the 8th century at Lorsch Abbey in Germany, and written almost entirely in gold lettering, and with numerous full page illuminations including a famous one of Christ in Majesty; and MS Pal. Lat. 1071, for "De Arte Venandi Cum Avibus", literally “The Hunting of Birds”, a Latin treatise on ornithology and falconry written in the mid thirteenth century by Emperor Frederick II, and dedicated to his son Manfred, in two volumes and containing handwritten annotations by Manfred.
Christ in Majesty, from
 the Codex Aureus of Lorsch

Along with a few others, both of these volumes had originally, in 1622, been in the Library of the Palatinate located in the University Cathedral in Heidelberg, and both were looted following the taking of the city by the army of the Catholic League, led by the Emperor Maximilian, carried over the Alps aboard a 200 strong mule convoy, led by one Leo Allitius, a Greek-born scholar sent expressly for the purpose by the Pope.

I received a somewhat hurried and complex set of verbal instructions, which had me lost after the first couple of sentences, as to the procedure now to be followed. I left the Segretaria, and the next applicant was admitted and the door closed behind them.

I had understood enough to know that the next step in the process was a visit to the locker room. The online instructions I had read, (and which had also been given to me in the Segretaria, in printed form) directed me that in no circumstances were pens, ink, scissors, knives, razor blades, food, drink (although the rules did refer, somewhat cryptically, to a Library’s Bar) or anything of a like kind were to be taken into the reading Rooms, and no photographs, reproductions, film or sound recordings of any kind were to be made. I found the locker room, but then struggled unsuccessfully with the electronically secured lockers, there being no instructions posted, until another reader, obviously a veteran of the process, took mercy on me and told me that I had first to go and register my swipe card back with the porter talking on the telephone by the front door. When I retraced my steps to the front door, he was indeed still talking on his phone, and but duly waved a scanner handset at my card. I then returned and place the card on a small, relatively inconspicuous magnetic reader box on the wall of the locker room, at which point my allocated locker, number 41, obediently opened.

I deposited my belongings, and clutching my laptop (without case, as per the instructions), pencils, a sharpener and eraser, and some paper, I went in search of the lift that I had understood would take to the Manuscript Reading Room.

There was, again, no apparent sign to guide me, so after wandering a little in some confusion I returned to Monsieur la Telephonique by the front door, who, thankfully, was now between calls. He pointed down a corridor across the entrance lobby, flanked by two curving staircases, and my by now trusty swipe card duly opened the glass barrier midway down this corridor. After passing several glass display cases, I entered the lift and ascending to the Third floor. I took an initial wrong turning, into the Printed Books Room, at first, but a stern-looking but friendly and quietly spoken librarian redirected me into the Manuscripts Room.

My copy of the Rules had informed me that “The Reading Rooms are equipped with surveillance cameras and with tracking devices which will identify any irregular passage (e.g. into the stacks) by readers, as well as volumes which are moved from one reading room to another or illegally removed from the Library.” I had been warned.

This adventure will be continued tomorrow.

February 16, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime: Essayist Patrick Hunt on Missing Miniatures from Priceless Illuminated Manuscripts

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

In the fourth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, essayist Patrick Hunt writes about theft to medieval vellum pages in “Missing Miniatures from Priceless Illuminated Manuscripts” even at monasteries situated in the Swiss Alps and in cave sanctuaries in Nepal.

Patrick Hunt has followed “several of his life-long dreams” – archaeologist, art historian and author – “for the last 20 years at Stanford University”, starting as a Visiting Scholar in 1992 and teaching regularly since 1994. He has directed Stanford’s Alpine Archaeology Project since 1994 and publishes on a wide variety of subjects, from archaeology to art history and related humanities topics.
ARCA blog: Dr. Hunt, you write in your essay that in Bangkok a publisher of a book recording Nepalese religious art thefts was robbed in 1986 of 80 original photographic slides that evidenced the destruction of art. Can you guess as to the motivation of the thieves? Do you often think that they have no shame? Or can you imagine that the sale of stolen art is so great that no wonder these items are stolen?

Dr. Hunt: I wish an appreciation for beauty motivated such wanton destruction in the case of Nepalese religious art, but as usual in art theft, greed for highest profit margin seems unmitigated by respect for cultural treasures in their rightful contexts, however remote. In Bangkok, it was likely the associates of the thieves who wanted to remove any evidence of a crime having been committed so authorities would have a tougher time proving provenance as well as to facilitate sale to unsuspecting buyers for a “clean bill of health”. Organized crime – hidden behind “professional” moles - may often be involved, but the trite adage still applies: if no demand existed, supply would shrink accordingly. In some cases, the desire to collect something exotic that may even remind one of a wonderful trip may generate a legitimate desire to purchase a sentimental keepsake of distant travel, but these are not applicable motivations when thieves shamelessly rip religious art out of shrines solely for resale several continents away. For me, the clue that organized crime was involved in Svayambhunath was the murder of the priest trying to protect the site. Collecting is full of such shoals, so caveat emptor. If most collectors, usually decent people, only knew the trail of blood, they would generally shy away, and criminals know this. Plus, unfortunately provenance is simple to fake unless would-be collectors spend a lot of money to verify their sources.

ARCA blog: You cite one of the most “egregious gangster-like robberies” as the 2004 assault with a stun gun on a rare books librarian at Transylvania University Library that ended with the theft of rare books valued between $500,000 and $750,000 and the arrest of four college students who were apprehended when they tried to sell the material to Christie’s auction house in New York. This case, you say, was “ludicrously amateur” – what motivated these college students to do something like this? Were they prosecuted and jailed? What are the consequences for book theft?

Dr. Hunt: These four college kids – all of 20 years old - were just plain stupid. I don’t want to systematically categorize such acts as frathouse follies although it’s tempting in this caper. This kind of brazenness can at times be pinpointed to alcohol-emboldened macho dares, and such perpetrators are commonly puerile males who were either never caught or substantively punished for lesser pranks. But it’s still an amoral response to cultural relativism to think a rare library collection is fair game. In this case, they were unlikely to be intellectuals who knew the books well; they were not young academics who normally fully respect public opportunity to use resources within a library, where special collections are also conserved and cared for rightly. But they did get caught, thanks to their inability to foresee that reference librarians are well-educated people who know how to do their research. Plus, having assaulted the librarian with a stun gun added incentives to catch them when they rashly impersonated known book dealers in communications with Christie’s. After pleading guilty, they were ultimately each sentenced to 87 months in December, 2005.

ARCA blog: You write that in 1995 an honored medieval professor researching at the Vatican Library cut out several illuminated 14th century leaves with fine miniature paintings from a Vatican codex that had been commissioned and annotated by Petrarch. Is it only about the money?

Dr. Hunt: Unlike the college students, this 1995 theft is probably more complicated. Here, a true bibliophile, a respected medieval studies professor who knew the material better than nearly anyone in the world, lapsed into a form of early dementia at age 68. It reminds me of a fascinating book by an author acquaintance, Allison Hoover Bartlett's The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession (Riverhead Books, New York, 2009). Obsession and even emotional hardship can drive otherwise moral people to do horrible things that would normally be unthinkable to them. Here in the case of Professor Anthony Melnikas, motivation is still largely a mystery, but it doesn’t seem to be entirely about money even though the priceless Petrarch leaves ended up with a book dealer before being spotted and returned to the Vatican. His likely dementia does not in any way excuse the crime, and we should hold such scholars who have almost unlimited access to an even higher responsibility.

ARCA blog: You tell of $750,000 book theft from Harvard, $1 million stolen from books at University of California at Los Angeles, and that many more books have probably been mutilated but are still unaccounted. Recovery is dependent upon perusing likely dealers and even antiquarian book fairs where such missing medieval art may turn up. If one of our readers sees something suspicious, what steps should be taken?

Dr. Hunt: The first step I recommend is to contact the parent body of this blog, ARCA (Association for Research into Crimes Against Art), as well as the ALA (American Library Association) because they regularly report library thefts once recognized. The second step might be to contact the FBI if it involves any possible element of organized crime, which sadly is already deeply involved, especially in art theft for money laundering. But I urge anyone in the latter instance to be very careful because crime cartels show little value for human life and snoopy people can disappear. Alert the right authorities and then get out of the way. The major auction houses are doing more due diligence these days, so less visible places might be venues where stolen rare books turn up more readily. The old canard about suspiciously low prices for rare books or possibly purloined medieval illuminations cut out from their pages, like anything else, is apropos: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. In my Stanford courses like “Plundered Art” and in my books and articles, I find the forensic side fascinating but as always, truth about human behavior is ever more strange than fiction. Even if it’s less than 0.1% of the population who perpetrate brazen art crimes, one of my great mystery crime author friends, Ridley Pearson, reminds that you just can’t as easily make this stuff up. Justice may be slow, but unlike melted-down gold and silver, if the work is not destroyed – which would be totally counter-productive - the book trail can usually be followed.
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