I spent all day today at an antique book, manuscript, and autograph show. I didn’t buy anything for myself, though I helped my boss scout items to acquire, but I did manage to come back with some good content for tonight’s post. My boss told me during the car ride to the show about a recent article in The New Yorker. I couldn’t read the article online since I’m not a subscriber, but I found an older New York Times article about the same thing. If you do subscribe to The New Yorker, you can find it in the December 16th, 2013 issue. No matter which source you choose, read it before scrolling past this lovely portrait of Galileo. There are spoilers below!

Galileo Galilei (aka The Victim)
Justus Sustermans, Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636.
[Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Someone forged Galileo’s books! What?

In 2012, when this news first came to light, I do remember hearing about the director of an important Italian library being accused of stealing from its holdings, but I never knew about the forgeries. To be fair, I hadn’t started working in books and manuscripts at the time.

Somehow, this upsets me more than any art forgery I’ve ever read about. Don’t get me wrong, I think that the masters of art history are among the greatest geniuses to ever live, but Galileo rises above even them. Impersonating him – that’s pretty much what it is – feels like a crime against human history and culture at large.

I also think that there is always something frightening about the idea of a library being compromised in some way. We look to libraries and the books within them for truth and understanding, and at least for me, it is very disconcerting to find out that someone has tried to manipulate them for nefarious purposes. If any of my readers are familiar with Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo’s book Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art (New York: The Penguin Press, 2009),* the thing that affected me most about what John Drewe and John Myatt did wasn’t so much the forging of the art or the invention of its documentation as it was the fact that Drewe breached the integrity of multiple important British art archives. He messed them up in permanent ways, and we still have no idea the full extent of the damage, so everything in them that relates to modern art is now suspect. I’m starting to get a little agitated just writing about it.

*If you are not familiar with this book, you really should be. Seriously. It’s on my recommended reading list, so consider this your second notification/warning. 😉

I would love to hear readers’ thoughts on the subject, even if they are simply to berate me for being surprised by news from mid 2012. Has anyone read the New Yorker article or anything else about this issue?

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