A Nostalgic Filter: A University of Pittsburgh Exhibition

Making Copies

The books below were chosen to reflect on the process of copying itself, an act that is essential to the making of medieval books as well as their modern facsimile avatars. Contemporary viewers are often struck by the fact that each medieval book is unique, produced individually by hand. For medieval users, however, it was their faithfulness as copies after authoritative sources that mattered most. Whether made in monasteries for clerical use or in professional scriptoria for commercial sale, manuscripts imitated their models in both image and text. Their contemporary analogues are likewise defined by the work of replication, using technologies that create an almost uncannily close relationship to the real thing.
Avidly collected by university libraries, museums, and private collectors around the world, high-quality manuscript facsimiles may reproduce some or all aspects of the medieval originals, such as text, illustration, gold leaf, parchment irregularities, and bindings. The verisimilitude of the facsimile can vary widely; some seek to reconstruct aspects of the books that are now lost while others adhere closely to their present states. Above all, the careful replication of the scale and format of medieval manuscripts allows the turning of pages with an ease and speed that would be unthinkable for the originals, many of which are national treasures in their respective countries of origin. Made to be held and handled by scholars and students alike, facsimiles can offer forms of experience that are absent in digitization projects that rely on flat scans and screens. In this way they present an indispensable third mode of seeing medieval manuscripts, at once more accessible than the original and yet more tactile than the virtual.

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