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Meetings with Remarkable Forgeries (British History)
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Mick Harper
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So the scene is set. There is a supply of antique Bibles ‘out east’ whether extant or made-to-measure. There is a new school of German Biblical exegesists. There is the old school in the Vatican. The political background is complicated

1. The German biblical scholars are Protestant but their motivations are primarily academic. They are German nationalists, with a small ‘n’ i.e. in favour of the modernising tendencies of Prussia up to and including German unification
2. The Vatican are holding out, none too successfully, against Italian unification and the loss of the Papal states (not to mention possibly the Vatican)
3. Its possible saviours are a) France b) Austria c) Prussia and d) Britain
4. France (under the atheistical Napoleon III) is in favour of Italian unification but has domestic Catholic problems, and is foolishly agnostic re German unification; Austria loses out over both unifications; Prussia is pro-Italian unification because it is anti-Austria; Britain is so liberally in favour of Italian unification -- and to a degree German unification -- that it does not recognise all changes to the status quo hurt her

However, I have a feeling all this is irrelevant. I think (I think) it’s all being played out at the museum level (also a cockpit of national rivalries at this time) but I’d like to be wrong – it makes for a racier story.
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Mick Harper
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The German nineteenth century exegesists were definitely putting monkeys into the Biblical wrench. It’s a Dead Sea Scrolls situation ahead of time except the Vatican can’t come to a quiet agreement with the Israelis to keep everything slow and infinitely measured. The Germans were finding out all sorts of stuff, especially about the critical New Testament, that Christians had hitherto not been over-anxious to find out. And they were doing it by textual analysis. God may have written it but the Germans were working out when Mathew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul (not Ringo) wrote it down. Suddenly text was big business.
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Mick Harper
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It would take a more patient, and a more engaged, researcher than me to work out the ins and outs of what happened next but I assume the general position was this

1) We have German and Vatican scholars looking for the oldest texts, which meant the oldest Bibles
2) We have national museums looking for the oldest Bibles for their collections
3) We have Greek (literally) Orthodox monasteries with old Bibles
4) The Bibles are dateable (if at all) only by text
5) The older the Bible, the higher the price
6) A competitive market is established pushing back the age of the Bibles
7) Which eventually reached “the early to mid fourth century”
8) Because the ne plus ultra had already been established -- Bibles only came into existence at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD
9) Everyone ended up with, or a share of, a Bible "from the early to mid fourth century"
10) Until the AEL pointed out ... fat chance.
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Hatty
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Tischendorf has come to the fore again. Not a Bible this time but a hitherto unknown Archimedes manuscript... no, sorry, palimpsest. Perhaps the most expensive palimpsest to date

On October 29, 1998 the Archimedes Palimpsest, a 10th-century copy written in Constantinople of an otherwise unknown work of Archimedes of Syracuse and other authors, palimpsested with Christian religious texts by 13th-century monks, was sold at auction by Christie's in New York for $2,000,000 to antiquarian bookseller Simon Finch acting for an anonymous American private collector.

The most remarkable work in the palimpsest is Archimedes' The Method, of which the palimpsest contains the only known copy.

Provenance begins nine hundred years later in the 1840s when Tischendorf found it in a monastery. He had the uncanny knack of nicking just the relevant page

The palimpsest seems to have first gained the attention of scholars when the Biblical scholar Constantin von Tischendorf visited Constantinople in the 1840s, and took a page of it. This page is preserved in Cambridge University Library.

There was the usual unseemly legal wrangling over ownership. The patriarchs of Jerusalem should have got their story straight because they lost

At some time in the distant past the palimpsest was in the library of the monastery of Mar Saba, near Jerusalem, a monastery acquired by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1625. Before the auction the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem contended that the palimpsest had been stolen from one of its monasteries in Constantinople in the 1920s.


The palimpsest's significance was only recognised in 1906 when it was authenticated by a Danish philologist and historian, Johan Heiberg

He is best known for his discovery of previously unknown texts in the Archimedes Palimpsest, and for his edition of Euclid's Elements that T. L. Heath translated into English. He also published an edition of Ptolemy's Almagest

Heiberg's examination of the manuscript was with the naked eye only, while modern analysis of the texts has employed x-ray and ultraviolet light.
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But then the manuscript, despite authentication by the world's leading authority on Archimedes, publication of the text (1897) and being the only known copy in the world, inexplicably vanished. Thirty or so years pass and it turns up in a Paris auction

The Archimedes Palimpsest had disappeared in the 1910s or 1920s and ended up in a French collection. Its consignor at the auction, Anne Guersan, said that her father, Marie Louis Sirieux, acquired the book from in Constantinople in the 1920s. In 1932, her father-in-law Solomon Guerson, a French Jewish merchant in rare carpets and antique tapestries working in Paris, tried selling the palimpsest, and a manuscript curator identified a leaf as Folio 57 of the Archimedes Manuscript. It seems Guerson used leaves from his manuscripts to make elaborate forgeries.

The story has become more complicated. It's no longer just about a straightforward forged manuscript

Not recognizing or appreciating the significance of the Archimedes undertext, sometime after 1938 Guerson possibly attempted to enhance the religious value of the palimpsest by painting on four of its leaves forgeries of portraits of the Four Evangelists that resembled images he had seen in Greek manuscripts at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The paintings were forged after 1938 as they contain a synthetic pigment called phlalocyanine green, which was only available after that date.

Scientists at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore carried out in-depth analyses from 2006 to 2007 and eventually reimaged the entire palimpsest

A team of imaging scientists including Dr. Roger L. Easton, Jr. from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Dr. William A. Christens-Barry from Equipoise Imaging, and Dr. Keith Knox (then with Boeing LTS, now with USAF Research Laboratory) used computer processing of digital images from various spectral bands, including ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelengths to reveal most of the underlying text, including of Archimedes.

And they found another palimpsest!

In April 2007, it was announced that a new text had been found in the palimpsest, which was a commentary on the work of Aristotle attributed to Alexander of Aphrodisias.

Dr. Will Noel said in an interview: "You start thinking striking one palimpsest is gold, and striking two is utterly astonishing. But then something even more extraordinary happened." This referred to the previous discovery of a text by Hypereides, an Athenian politician from the fourth century BC, which has also been found within the palimpsest. It is from his speech Against Diondas, and was published in 2008 in the German scholarly magazine Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, vol. 165, becoming the first new text from the palimpsest to be published in a scholarly journal

Not too happy about "attributed to" but one mustn't quibble. Presumably the scramble to find the oldest bible had thrown up as yet unverified marvels.
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Mick Harper
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That's right, Hatty, blame the Jews. All this talk of Equipoise Imaging and Boeing labs is going to let them off the hook. "No forger would be able to reproduce a text he couldn't have known was there etc etc." But in all this high level waffle you can't help noticing that nobody thought to do the one thing that would have established everything without any need for waffling: a carbon date test. I suppose there was nothing left in the kitty once two million dollars had gone out the door. Especially if two million...
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Hatty
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In a 'Holy Wells' thread on Facebook one of the posters wrote that Coptic Christianity is the oldest church. It's no use pointing out the flow of bibles purporting to be fourth century o.n.o. (not to mention Archimedes' third-century manuscript) began in the nineteenth century. And (thanks to Casanova's biography) I only found out the Egyptian Rite in Freemasonry was also introduced in nineteenth century Naples.
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Mick Harper
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Please don't bring the Masons in to it. It's hard enough explaining why thousands of museum curators and medievalists refuse to spare a single full stop from just one of their precious manuscripts thereby bringing the whole edifice crashing down. Though obviously refusing to use a non-destructive procedure is fair enough. You'd be talking four figures.
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Mick Harper
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He is best known for his discovery of previously unknown texts in the Archimedes Palimpsest, and for his edition of Euclid's Elements

If Euclid turns out to be a forgery that would mean the angles of a triangle would no longer add up to a hundred and eighty degrees. On mature reflection I think it's better to leave well alone.
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Hatty
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This business of palimpsests and the criticism of Mabillon's use of gall tincture to read the underlying text reminds me... iron gall ink, made from oak galls, is highly corrosive due to the gallic acid produced and in time eats through parchment as well as paper. How could it be possible for texts written with iron gall ink of, say, the fifth or even the tenth century to have survived?
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Mick Harper
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Ooh, she's sharp that one. Plus, if we can get chemists interested (not to mention, botanists) we could be on to something really significant. It was a joint discovery, right?
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Hatty
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Scholars like Christopher de Hamel say iron gall inks were "certainly in use by the third century" and De Hamel states "iron gall ink was used for well over a thousand years and Anglo-Saxon specimens have survived as admirably from the beginning of the period as Victorian inks from the end" though he does add a small note of caution

there is no literary tradition of explaining them [iron gall inks] until Theophilus in the earlier twelfth century

He is referring to a Benedictine monk who wrote a book on the art techniques of the day

Theophilus Presbyter (fl. c. 1070–1125) is the pseudonymous author or compiler of a Latin text containing detailed descriptions of various medieval arts, a text commonly known as the Schedula diversarum artium ("List of various arts") or De diversis artibus ("On various arts"), probably first compiled between 1100 and 1120. The oldest manuscript copies of the work are found in Vienna (Austrian National Library, Codex 2527) and in Wolfenbüttel (Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. Gud. Lat. 69 2°).

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing rediscovered the document when he worked as librarian in Wolfenbüttel, and published excerpts in 1774. These aroused great interest as they disproved Vasari's myth of Jan van Eyck developing the technique of oil painting in the early 15th century, about which antiquaries had already become suspicious.

Theophilus contains perhaps the earliest reference to oil paint.

If oil painting was first used in Van Eyck's lifetime whether or not invented by him, how was Theophilus able to refer to it three hundred years earlier?
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Mick Harper
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Same way the Lindisfarne Gospels used light boxes and leadpoint, several hundred years ahead of time, I guess. Plus of course subtitles though the Lindisfarne Lumière Brothers wrote the translation above each line, not at the bottom of the screen.
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Mick Harper
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I lifted this from a quote in Forgeries so I thought, unusually for me, that I’d better run down the source. This led me to the reigning authority on the Lindisfarne Gospels

Michelle P. Brown is Professor Emerita of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She was previously (1986–2004) Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library. Author of The Lindisfarne Gospels and the Early Medieval World

but, since I am not given to reading actual books by actual people, to this in the Medieval Review

Brown suggests that Eadfrith perhaps laid the sheet of parchment on a glass or horn writing-slope mounted on a frame, in a manner akin to a modern light-box. This would indeed be a stunning innovation; not until Cennino Cennini in the fifteenth century was a similar technique described in writing.
https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/tmr/article/view/17498/23616

but the leadpoint is weirder still....
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Mick Harper
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Previous scholars have seen the leadpoint designs as later tracings, but Brown's observation that the painted versions sometimes depart from the designs does indeed suggest that the latter are preliminary drafts that the artist might then modify as he took up his paints.

I feel a but coming on

While future scholars will most likely accept Brown's interpretation on this issue, paleographers may question her account of how Eadfrith entered the text on the leaves, "imposing" it by proceeding one bifolium at a time, so that he would begin by writing the sixteenth and first pages of an eight-leaf quire, then continue with the second and fifteenth, and so on, calculating in advance the exact amount of text that would appear on each page.

Was that a but? I couldn't tell

Although textual imposition was undoubtedly a technique employed in some late medieval manuscripts--and then in printing--its use at such an early date seems improbable

You should perhaps know that 'late medieval' is a fairly moveable term, but it basically means Cennino Cennini's time not Eadfrith's time. "Seems improbable" is academese for "Pull the other one"

and would surely reveal itself by the scribe's occasional miscalculations, leading to disruptions in the spacing of the text as he had to squeeze it in or space it out at the end of one page in order to coordinate with the top of a page already written.

I think I followed that.

It seems more likely that Eadfrith would have adopted the standard procedure of entering the text

I don't think I followed that.
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Hatty
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Another use of iron gall was in dyeing.

For millennia, iron-tannate dyes have been used to colour ceremonial and domestic objects shades of black, grey, or brown. Surviving iron-tannate dyed objects are part of our cultural heritage but their existence is threatened by the dye itself which can accelerate oxidation and acid hydrolysis of the substrate. This causes many iron-tannate dyed textiles to discolour and decrease in tensile strength and flexibility at a faster rate than equivalent undyed textiles. The current lack of suitable stabilisation treatments means that many historic iron-tannate dyed objects are rapidly crumbling to dust with the knowledge and value they hold being lost forever.

The corrosive effects of iron gall on wool appears to be just as damaging as on parchment and paper so what would that do to, say, woollen embroidery? Some of the priceless tapestries owned by kings and nobles have just about survived. It would be useful to know if the dyes in the Bayeux Tapestry are tannin-free.

Iron gall corrosion has not been a problem limited to paper. During the Middle Ages, iron gall dyes were known to degrade silk and other fibers. In fact, in the late 15th century, the Doge of Venice prohibited dyers of woolen cloth from using all tannins and iron mordants (iron gall black dyes) in the dyeing of textiles. However, across Europe, iron gall dyes were tolerated on the condition that they were applied on a ground of woad of the appropriate intensity. By applying the dye to a blue ground instead of a white ground, the amount of iron sulfate needed to achieve a good color and the potential for corrosion were decreased.

The use of alum as a mordant in dyeing may have counteracted the effects, or at least slowed down the rate of corrosion. Alum from alum shale is said to have been used 'since antiquity' but its use to fix dyes seems to be considerably later, believed to have been imported from the Middle East perhaps via Venice, in the 15th century. Industrial processes don't generally get quite as much attention from historians as they deserve. Written sources are understandably hard to come by.
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