The Spanish Forger

Ready for a little more on biblioclasm? Of course you are. OK, let’s go.

Once a book has been dismembered, it’s pretty difficult to establish provenance for each leaf.  For a long time, expert forgers were able to reap profits by insinuating their work into otherwise legitimate sales and auctions.

In at least one case, the forgeries were so beautiful and well executed that they retained a lot of value on their own, even after the forgery is revealed. This is what happened for the “Spanish Forger”. No one knows who he was, and he almost certainly wasn’t Spanish. He was probably French and he produced a large number of works around the turn of the 20th century.

Wikipedia says,

The Spanish Forger’s works were painted on vellum or parchment leaves of genuine medieval books, using either blank margins or scraping off the original writing. He also “completed” unfinished miniatures or added missing miniatures in medieval choir books. His works fooled many experts and collectors and appear today in the collections of many museums and libraries. Over 200 forgeries have been identified

Some examples of his work:

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The Forger didn’t simply copy genuine works. He developed his own style, a romanticized vision of the middle ages, and ultimately this led to his being “outed” by experts, which finally happened in 1930. They noted that the Forger’s work often contained themes inappropriate for the works they were to have been taken from. For instance, one of his trademarks was showing a woman’s “cleavage”, as in the second example above. This wouldn’t have appeared in a genuine bible.

But his works still have a place in museums and private collections. Here’s one owned by Harvard, which contains many of the hallmarks of the Forger’s style: courtly scenes, sweet facial expressions and decolletage for the ladies, swirling water, fairy-tale castles, and tapestry-like trees:

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Here’s a Christie’s auction where a few pieces fetched about $28,000 in 1998. The Morgan Library in New York had a one-man show of about 75 of the Forger’s works in 1978. It was the Morgan that first figured out what the Forger was up to.

Want more about The Spanish Forger? Tons of detail and history here.

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