Let me tell you a chilling story of daring escapes and political corruption. Of spies and police chases. But most importantly, of forgeries and medieval manuscripts. A story worthy of a film. Meet Guglielmo Libri, mathematician and book thief extraordinaire. #medievaltwitter 🧵/1
The story starts in Florence, where Libri was born in 1803. He then went on to study mathematics and law at the University of Pisa. He started publishing early and was soon praised by the greatest scientific minds of his era. Already at 20 he was appointed professor in Pisa. /2
But Libri was a really bad teacher and after just one year managed to obtain an indefinite leave. Apparently he retained his position and salary for the rest of his life, even though he taught for only two semesters, the first of his feats in the world of crime. /3
Soon he moved to France where he enjoyed a rather prolific scientific career and even managed to get elected to Académie Française, even though his work has been criticised as derivative. In France he wrote his history of mathematics in Italy. /4
With a name like this he obviously soon started collecting books and manuscripts. His collection grew very rapidly and by the end of 1840s he supposedly owned over 1800 manuscripts and 40 000 rare books. All that obtained in a relatively short period of time. /5
Rumours started that not all of Libri’s collection has been obtained legally. That manuscripts were stolen, books gone missing. But he had friends in high places, most importantly François Guizot, foreign minister of France, a rather unsavory character. /6
Thanks to Guizot, despite rumours of theft, Libri was appointed the secretary of the Commission for the General Catalogue of the Manuscripts in Public Libraries. Effectively he became the Chief Inspector of manuscripts in France! Now there was nothing to stop him. /7
Libri started to use his new position immediately. He visited French libraries and archives in search of rare finds for his collection. His crime Tour de France soon yielded great boons. In 1843 he stole the Codex Turonensis from Tours: a 6th/7th C. copy of the Pentateuch. 8/
Being a smart thief (or rather: thinking he is one) Libri wanted to cover his tracks so he erased the exlibris of Tours and forged a different one: a Greek inscription on f116v of the manuscript maintaining that it came from the Monastery of Grottaferrata in Italy. /9
His operation was conducted on such a huge scale that soon police started investigating his doings. Maybe under pressure from those investigations he sold some of his manuscripts, including Codex Turonensis, to Rodd bookshop in London. Libri started to feel the secret is out. /10
(The Codex Libri sold in London was later bought by Lord Ashburnham and hence is now known as Ashburnham Pentateuch. It was restituted to the French National Library in 1888 and you can see it here: gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv…) /11
Libri started not only to collect rare books and manuscripts but also sell them on a massive scale. In 1847 alone he sold books and manuscripts for a massive sum of 300 000 francs. A fortune at the time. /12
Libri had nothing to fear as long as his friend Guizot (by now the prime minister) was in power. But in 1848 there was a revolution in France and time has come to flee. Police was after him. But he managed to escape to England in 24 hours taking with him 30 000 of his books! /13
In England he maintained his innocence but in 1850 French court sentenced him in absentia for 10 years of prison on the charge of stealing books and manuscripts. He thought nothing of it and became a minor celebrity in London. /14
To support himself he sold a large portion of his collection, even publishing a detailed catalogue compiled at his request, containing over 7000 items. He made selling stolen manuscripts and incunabula a quotidian thing! /15
The introduction to this list of historical and scientific treasures shows Libri’s rather unconventional views on history of science… He might have been a cunning thief but he did not know much about the past. /16
Libri returned to Italy shortly before his death in 1868. He was never punished for his crimes. Large portion of his collection has been restituted to French libraries, but thousands of fragments are still presumed lost (he mutilated manuscripts, cutting initials etc.) /17
As recently as 2010 a letter by Descartes from his collection has been restituted from a library near Philadelphia to France. The results of Libri’s crimes are felt to this day. He “normalized” selling manuscript leaves and objects of fishy provenance. 18/ theguardian.com/world/2010/jun…
He had friends in high places, in politics but also in the museum world. He was aided for example by Anthony Panizzi, the director of the British Museum. His escape from France and later impunity could not have happened without a great deal of support. It was a manuscript mob 19/
While lamenting the state of the French libraries as an "inspector" Libri used his position to steal and mutilate manuscripts and books. His story also shows how rare books and manuscripts were an important part of 19th C. politics. And is a warning for the future. /FIN

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More from @Calthalas

18 Oct
Brexit is not like the reformation. Dissolution of the monasteries wasn’t “nationalization” and the author is up for a nasty surprise when he is gonna hear about the Fuggers and their analysis and involvement in the international politics of the time. 1/

theguardian.com/business/2020/…
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And there is just a few steps from this to “oh hey, about the Empire...” and all that crap. And if someone is gonna bring The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism into this... 3/
Read 7 tweets
17 Oct
Is somebody writing a piece on the sale of artworks and manuscripts by heritage institutions right now? And how the „past for survival“ is a reflection not only of this crisis but also of the deeper and longer underfunding and neglect of museums, libraries and learned societies?
Hope someone is doing this. With interviews highlighting how those institutions have to take heartbreaking decisions in the first place because they were left starved for resources. And how there is no alternative not only because personnel cuts are inhumane in a pandemic...
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Unbelievable. Absolute disregard of qualitative methods of analysis, historical and art historical expertise. This is peddling bad science.

This is dangerously bad. Others have commented on the art history failings but we also need to flag other errors here. Hop on. 1/
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Read 23 tweets
24 Sep
Some early medieval love for books and writing (and libraries of course):

Sweet friend, heed the grave labour of writing,
Take it up, open it, recite, don’t harm, close it and return it.

Karlsruhe, Aug. perg. 109, 9th century 🧵1/ #medievalmanuscripts bit.ly/32XtZjO Image
Those words were copied by Reginbert, the librarian of Reichenau, who also identified himself at the beginning of the page:

I, Reginbert, scribe, servant of the servants of God, have made this book [...] through my own eagerness and labour. 2/ Image
Reginbert went on to sign even more of the books he worked on. Here Karlsruhe Aug. perg. 136 containing lives of saints 3/ Image
Read 5 tweets
23 Sep
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Read 4 tweets
20 Sep
A tiny golden bee with a cloisonné inlay (just 1,6 cm long) from the tomb of Childeric I, who was buried in Tournai c. 481. Hundreds of those bees could have been fastened to king‘s cloak, making the Merovingians masters of haute couture 1/ #medievaltwitter #fashion Image
The tomb was discovered in 1653 and there were many more bees in it, but the treasure was stolen in 1831 and mostly melted down. 2/ Image
Childeric’s bees have little hooks underneath which allows them to be fastened to e.g. fabric. 3/ ImageImage
Read 8 tweets

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