Leaves from a Psalter – William De Brailes

A patented new printing process has made it possible to reproduce these seven illuminations on real vellum

Never before reproduced in facsimile, the individual leaves are treasures of The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.

Restored to their original glory, the facsimile leaves gleam with tooled gold.

Separated centuries ago, seven surviving illuminated leaves from a 13th century psalter have been reproduced in facsimile for the first time. These are no ordinary reproductions: they have been printed on real vellum, thanks to the dedication and expertise of Italian printer Grafiche Damiani. This is the first time this has ever been done. Now it is possible for collectors to appreciate the glory of these fine illuminations as they must have originally
appeared – from the delicately textured vellum itself to the
raised gold leaf and intricate tooling.

A unique new technical process
In the Middle Ages the finest manuscripts were hand-written and illuminated on vellum – silvery-yellow animal skins, scraped and rolled to an exceptional thinness. The invention of the printing press changed the way books were made for ever. Paper eventually replaced vellum, except for the most important documents such as Acts of Parliament. Until now, no one has been able to print accurately in colour on vellum. Through a complex series of experiments and trials, it has been possible to reproduce the deep, subtly shaded colours and fine line on vellum. This result surpasses anything which experts believed possible. The new processes developed by specialist Italian printer Grafiche Damiani have been patented.

The rare opportunity to meet a medieval artist face to face
William de Brailes (documented c.1230–60) was an exceptionally talented illuminator, the only artist from this period to sign his work, paint his self-portrait and leave a trail of documentary evidence about his life. Others works survive, but these leaves are amongst his finest: six are held by The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, the seventh by the Pierpont Morgan Museum, New York. Now they have been reunited for the first time since the original Psalter was cut up, in this uniquely faithful facsimile.

‘My verdict is that they are absolutely superb and cannot be bettered’
Professor Nigel J. Morgan, author of the accompanying commentary volume

A newly commissioned, ground-breaking piece of scholarship
Professor Nigel J. Morgan has studied the de Brailes leaves for many years, and when we commissioned him to write a commentary volume to accompany this facsimile, he relished the opportunity to work more extensively on de Brailes. As well as examining the leaves themselves, he considers de Brailes’ other work and provides a full history of medieval manuscripts in general – it is a fascinating work.

Restoring a masterpiece
In one respect the reproductions do differ from the originals. In the distant past, some of the gold on the originals was scraped from the surface of the leaves, probably for recycling into another manuscript. In this facsimile, the gold has been painstakingly restored to its original condition – a process that took months of preparatory work as well as the actual application and patterning of the gold.

‘This is much more than a facsimile – it brings the original back to life’

Dr Stella Panayotova, The Fitzwilliam Museum

The Folio Society is delighted with the results, while experts from The Fitzwilliam Museum are amazed by the quality and fidelity of the reproduction. Only 480 copies are available worldwide. For collectors, owning a facsimile printed on real vellum is a unique opportunity. Edition limited to 480 copies worldwide
Published by The Folio Society: Thursday 2 August 2012

 

 

Folio Society limited editions are outstanding works of literary or historical significance reproduced as works of art in their own right. Many of our editions are facsimiles of treasures held in some of the world’s greatest libraries and museums. For others, we commission leading artists and craftsmen to create editions that represent the pinnacle of book publishing. All are designed to become keepsakes for future generations.