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Zur Reproduktionsgeschichte mittelalterlicher Schriftformen und Miniaturen in der Neuzeit

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In 1807, when dealing with an eleventh-century manuscript in the Municipal Library of Leiden, H. van Wijn complained about the poor stock of medieval manuscripts present in Dutch collections which could provide more detailed information for comparison. With some admiration and also with some envy pointing to the much richer endowed libraries in the neighbouring countries, Van Wijn also drew attention to those learned men from abroad who in earlier periods had gained merit in the field of medieval paleography and 'who even have published exempla of medieval writing in copperprints'. Of course Van Wijn mentioned J. Mabillon and G. Bessel, though only en passant. He obviously had many other authorities of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in mind, who had made contributions in the field of medieval paleography. Several of those early protagonists as well as their intentions and achievements deserve more than just mentioning. It was G. Bessel, abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Göttweig in Lower Austria, however, who in his Chronicon Gotwicense (1732) - in contrast to Mabillon in his De re diplomatica (1681)- for the first time paid attention not only to the scripts of the past, but also to medieval miniatures. Indeed, Bessel appreciated them as a possible aid for dating manuscripts and other sources of the Middle Ages in a wider sense and took great care in reproducing these 'picturae' in 'facsimile'. By means of a kind of tracing paper (made transparent by a lotion of oil and honey and meant to be laid on the original for tracing) he achieved supprisingly precise results. Bessel's and his admirers' interest for the art-historical aspects of medieval miniatures, however, can only be called mediocre. Nevertheless, their statements concerning the origin, the age or the quality of relevant manuscripts also show their aquaintance with the miniature painting of the 'Dark Ages'. More interested in history, paleography and even calligraphy they were rather far from the idea of contributing to a comparative history of medieval miniature painting in a modern sense. However, their 'primitive' efforts in this field should not be misjudged, and certainly not those for 'adequate' reproductions of medieval miniatures. [To be continued in the following issue. The second part will deal with reproductions of medieval miniatures made in the first half of the nineteenth century.]


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