Focus on Facsimiles

September 27, 2014
Focus on Facsimiles

The first exhibition of the new academic year and a two-day seminar of University of Florence students highlight the library's growing collection of superb facsimile editions of Italian Renaissance manuscripts.  

In recent years the Berenson Library has acquired numerous facsimiles of manuscripts that were either illuminated by Italian artists or commissioned or owned by Italian patrons. Many of these reproductions involve highly sophisticated digital technologies and achieve stunningly accurate results, replicating not only the text and images but also the colors, size and heft, design, arrangement, and even flaws, damages, and former repairs. Nearly exact clones of the originals in their present state, these facsimiles are important items in a research collection as they allow close examination of codices that are often difficult or impossible to consult in person due to their location, fragile condition, or restrictive access policies.

Our current display in the Berenson Reading Room and the foyer of the Gould Hall draws the attention of Berenson Library patrons to these rare and precious but now accessible treasures. Curated by librarian Jocelyn Karlan, the show is entitled Certified Copies: A Selection of Recent Facsimile Editions. Altogether, twelve items are exhibited, including replicas of two manuscripts of Dante's Divine Commedy, three facsimiles of the Grimani Breviary, two manuscripts illuminated by Giulio Clovio (the Towneley Lectionary and the Farnese Hours), illuminated Missals commissioned by Giorgio of Challant and by Barbara of Brandenburg-Gonzaga, the richly illustrated De Sphaera held by the Biblioteca Estense in Modena, the so-called Sant'Agostino Estense created for Duke Ercole I of Ferrara, and another d'Este commission, the Book of Hours of Alfonso d'Este. (Please note that Berenson Library exhibits are not open to the general public, but only to library patrons.

Some of these facsimiles, and others besides, were the focus of a seminar held on September 17 and 19 that was organized by Professor Sonia Chiodo of the University of Florence for students in her undergraduate course on medieval art history. Some 25 students, divided into small working groups, enjoyed special access to the library to study and prepare presentations on the eight illuminated manuscripts that professor Chiodo chose for the seminar. 

In addition to the Grimani Breviary and the missal of Barbara of Brandenburg mentioned above, other items highlighted included extraordinary reproductions of such celebrated manuscripts as the Squarcialupi Codex, the Visconti Book of Hours, the notebook of the miniaturist Giovannino de' Grassi, and the Bible of Federico da Montefeltro. The seminar, the second in what will probably become an annual occurrence, demonstrated most effectively some of the potential the library's growing collection of facsimiles holds not only for scholarly research but also for educational purposes.