by Inna MOKROVETS, Dr. Sc. (Art Cdticism), State Research Institute of Restoration (NIIR)
Habent sua fata libelli... This antique dictum fully applies to old manuscripts and books, full of dramatic facts and assessments, in the custody of the Moscow Synodal Library.
Patriarch Nikon (1603-1681), Russia's church reformer, decided to replenish the stock of the Synodal Library with Greek books to be used as models for the correction of the Russian prayer-books. Therefore he sent starets (venerable old monk) Arseniy Sukhanov to Mount Athos, the center of Orthodox monasticism in northeastern Greece, supplying him with money from "the state coffers" and sable pelts, all that adding up to three thousand rubles. Despite the ban, St. Athos monks had to part with precious folios. Boris Fonkich, our contemporary historian and paleographer, has published a document dated to the year of grace 1654 in which monks of twenty monasteries confided they had sacrificed the manuscripts "because of their abject poverty". Sukhanov selected 496 MS codes, some of which he brought to Moscow, with others dispatched at a later day. Yet part of this stock stayed in St. Athos (with Sukhanov's name marked up in the margin).
The Moscow Synodal Library published its first catalog in 1723 with 354 book titles listed in it. Decades later, in 1773, Professor Ch. A. Mattel, a German savant lecturing at Moscow University, described the Byzantine manuscripts of the Synodal and Printer's collections. The final version of the catalog was published in Leipzig in 1805.
Now Dr. Mattel was the author of works and readers on Byzantine literature. His chief work was a study in many volumes on texts of the New Testament based on MS books in Moscow collections. This study appeared in separate installments in Riga and Leipzig from 1782 to 1788; it was supplied with copious commentaries and cross- references. The German scholar also turned to the Latin manuscripts-a 13th century bible that belonged to P. Demidov (Codex Demidovianus) and, from the year 1803 on, kept in the custody of the scientific library of Moscow University*; and to a 12th century evangelium (Lat.2).
In 1784 Dr. Mattei retired as Moscow University lecturer "for ill health and family reasons" and returned to his native land. Saxony The smart professor "took along" more than seventy manuscripts from the Synodal Library (perhaps from other collections too), and in 1788 sold them to the Dresden Library for 2,000 thalers. In his covering letter the German professor said he had collected those manuscripts during his eleven years' sojourn in Moscow. The next year the Russian historian and writer Nikolai Karamzin (subsequently elected to the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences) visited the Dresden Library He was puzzled. "I wonder, where did Herr Mattel get these manuscripts from?" he asked, indignant, in his Letters of a Russian Traveler.
* See: M. Vikturina, "Expert Look at Latin Bible", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2000 -Ed.
The liberal ways of Moscow book depositaries might have been conducive to such kind of misappropriation. The German savant had permission to take some of the MS to his place where, in his words, there could be as many as 20 copies at a time. The clerks of the Synodal Library failed to notice that some of the folios were missing and did not demand that the German professor give them back.
Late in the 19th century, while examining MS of the Synodal Collection and corresponding references in catalogs, historian Sergei Belokurov found that some parts of the codes were absent-leaves torn or cut out, margins with signatures snipped off, among other defects. So besides integral codes, the German scholar stole a large number of sundry fragments-in separate sheets and in quaternion* folios. Some of the stolen stuff he had rebound, supplying ornamental illuminations and tail pieces, to make it all look like "complete" editions.
After the October Revolution of 1917 the Greek and part of the old Russian folios in the stock of the Synodal Library were turned over to the State Museum of History in Moscow. The rest was taken to the Central State Archives of Old Acts.
What happened to the medieval manuscripts that Prof.
Mattel had purloined? During the Second World War the Germans took them to basement premises where, in April 1945, a hot water pipe burst and flooded the basement. As a consequence, the folios were ruined beyond repair. Whatever could be salvaged from that collection was recovered for a home journey A Soviet art expert charged with this job selected Greek MS and fragments as well as the Latin Evangelium of the 12th Century that once belonged to the Moscow Synodal Library Of the seventy manuscripts that the German purloiner had sold to the Dresden Library only 20 survived, all of them badly damaged.
Finally, the precious relics were taken to the Central State Archives of Old Acts for subsequent restoration. Obviously, one tried to get them in shape, e.g. by drying and straightening the leaves of the 14th century New Testament; but we cannot tell when and where this was done. The work was not completed anyway.
In the 1960s our experts of the All-Union Research Laboratory involved with the conservation and restoration of art pieces for museums were busy developing restoration methods for parchment MS. And thus the Dresden stuff was a welcome chance of testing our methods.
As a matter of fact, all the folios dated from the 10th to
* Quaternion, a set of four double pages; a quarto.- Ed.
14th centuries were recorded on parchment. Unlike leather that ages too fast and decays, parchment-if treated properly-excels in its endurance. But even this material was unable to endure the ravages of the Dresden Library. Soaked all through, it became a good breeding medium for voracious microorganisms. Some of the leaves coalesced into solid blocks teeming with the vermin; ink vanished in many places; the paint of the miniatures and tail pieces peeled off or else impressed itself on the opposite sheets.
Now art restoration involves certain skills and experience. To begin with, we had to undo the leaves from the coalesced blocks. We succeeded in that by using what we call a method of "remote moistening", a rather simple technique that calls for a bit of experience and patience. Then we had to mend and patch up the separate sheets. What we needed was more parchment, a material not produced in the Soviet Union.
So we asked the All-Union Research Institute working for the footwear and leather industry to help us out. It had one of Moscow's tanneries make experimental specimens of parchment much different as to their texture and properties. We used them for the mending and patching-up job. Proceeding from medieval techniques, we sliced those bits and pieces to cook a glue from-something we likewise needed for pasting up.
Besides, we made use of home-made synthetic materials that proved much more effective than the conventional "natural" glues like gum or protein for the fixation of the ink and paint. The deformed sheets of parchment were straightened by means of our "remote moistening" technique. The pasting-up work over, we had the leaves stitched and bound. The old covers were restored, where possible; but where the covers were absent, we manufactured new ones in proper style. Only a few folios retained their original bindings like, for one, the Byzantine Evangelium of the late 13th and early 14th century Several codes and fragments were bound at the end of the 18th century; but the Latin Evangelium had never had a cover.
The first thing we were to get in trim was what looked like a hopelessly ruined Latin MS illuminated with magnificent miniatures. That was a 12th century Evangelium of German origin. The Dresden Library catalog of 1906 carried its description and reproduced some of its miniatures. This folio belonged to another German professor, F. Bause, Corresponding Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences and Doctor of Law. He lectured at Moscow University at the same time as Dr. Mattel did. In one of his publications Dr. Mattel supplied a description of this evangelium and designated it "Lat. 2". Dr. Bause gathered a rich collection of old Russian manuscripts and other relics most of which perished in the great Moscow fire of 1812, when Napoleon's army captured the Russian capital. But the Lat. 2 code, though badly damaged at Dresden, survived. Its leaves coalesced into one solid lump. Our experts managed to take the parchment leaves apart, straighten them, and fix the paint layer of the miniatures. Where possible, we pasted up the lacunae and supplied the folios with a binding. However, we were unable to restore the parchment leaves in their original texture and color, that was just impossible. Numerous commentaries in the margins and parts of the main text on many leaves were gone. Thereupon, using special techniques, we restored Byzantine MS fragments and two codes-that of St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Gregory the Theologian), and the New Testament of the 13th- 14th centuries.
Art restoration techniques are upgraded thanks to new technologies, materials and exchange of know-how on an international level too. Lately what is called a "vacuum table" has come into use in Western Europe and the United States. Here manuscripts are restored by means of "fillers" obtained from mixtures prepared for the purpose. At the request of our American colleague Professor Marrow, an authority on the history of the arts, the Swiss Facsimile Lucerne Publishers made a gift to our restoration department-they presented a "table" manufactured by the British firm Conservation by Design.
It enabled us to use the filling techniques on several parchment codes, including fragments of a 10th century Byzantine manuscript. This manuscript book, bound toward the end of the 18th century is composed of single and double sheets (folios) that Herr Mattel stole from Moscow's Synodal Library He added an ornamental illumination and tail piece to make it look like a whole code. Today the basic part of this monument (under the title "A Collection of Polemic Content") is in the stock of the State Museum of History in Moscow.
Today we are working on the second part of a big-format edition of the four gospels supplied with commentaries. This is a lump of parchment leaves, black and frayed with time, and having all too many blanks and lacunae. Two miniatures with images of the Evangelists St. Luke and St. John have imprinted themselves on the opposite pages. The first part of this code, written in excellent hand with black and red ink, and showing a well- preserved image of the Evangelist St. Mark, is in the custody of the MS Department, the State Museum of History. Restored to proper trim, it gives you an idea of the original magnificence of the manuscript purloined by Herr Mattel.
Habent sua fata manuscripta... There is a slim chance of integral restitution for disparate volumes or MS fragments. What is gone is gone. So we have to make do with the existence of such precious relics apart, on their own merit. The main thing is to ensure their conservation in physical terms. I think we can tackle this job.