From albumen to digital: reproducing the Grimani Breviary over one-and-a-half centuries

September 29, 2014
From albumen to digital: reproducing the Grimani Breviary over one-and-a-half centuries

A rare album from 1862 and a magnificent digital replica from 2009 illustrate the development of photographic reproduction of a celebrated manuscript, the Grimani Breviary, over nearly 150 years.  The breviary, named after the prominent Venetian family that owned it, is considered one of the most complex and magnificent examples of Renaissance Flemish manuscript illumination. Produced around the second decade of the 16th century, it was purchased by Cardinal Domenico Grimani (1461-1523) by 1520 and left in his will to the Republic of Venice. It is now held at the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana of Venice (Breviarium secundum consuetudinem Romanae curiae, cod. Lat., I, 99). 

The album is composed of 112 albumen prints from negatives taken by the Italian photographer Antonio Fortunato Perini (1830-1879), active from the 1850s on in Venice, where he had a studio near S. Marco, and in Verona. Perini's fame was due in part to the views he took of Venice, Padua and Verona, but above all to the reproductions of the Grimani Breviary. He won official praise for this photo campaign at the 1867 Exposition universelle in Paris (1867) and again in Vienna (1873), where his photographs of the Breviary were presented.

The Biblioteca Berenson acquired the photograph album in 2010 through the bequest of Elizabeth MacGillivray Voli. Recently it underwent conservation treatment and is now available for consultation.  (Click here for the HOLLIS record.) 

Apart from its intrinsic value, this album is significant also because the library holds two additional facsimiles of the same codex: Le bréviaire Grimani à la Bibliothèque Marciana de Venise, published in Venice in 1903 by Ferdinando Ongania, which reproduced only the illuminations (HOLLIS record here); and the magnificent color facsimile astoundingly close to the original that Salerno Editrice published in 2009 (HOLLIS record here). The three facsimiles provide important documentation of the development of photographic reproductions of the original held in the Marciana.