A Nostalgic Filter: A University of Pittsburgh Exhibition

Golden Books

The medieval manuscript is by its very nature a medium of reproduction. From the earliest book-making workshops (or scriptoria) of the Middle Ages to the specialty publishers that produce luxury replicas today, the process of copying has defined the art of the book. Whether painted by hand, printed from a press, or captured in photography, facsimiles bring manuscripts to wide audiences even when the originals are too fragile for regular handling. The relationship between copies and originals has taken on heightened importance in the contemporary moment, when travel to distant collections is often impossible and access to manuscripts restricted for all but the most highly trained professionals. Without reproductions, the books would be no more visible now than they were in the medieval world, reserved only for the most special occasions.

Among the most stunning visual qualities of modern facsimiles is their ability to approximate the appearance of gold, a favored material for artists and patrons alike that enlivened the most prized manuscripts with glittering, sparkling surfaces. The use of gold to articulate sacred themes was a favored strategy among Christian, Jewish, and Muslim illuminators alike; indeed, the term illumination most properly refers to the presence of gold in the medieval book. This show thus opens with books from three monotheistic medieval religions in one space, each one outstanding in its use of the sparkling surface effects that allow modern facsimiles to convey some of the thrill of turning the sumptuous original pages.

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