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A Medieval Psalter 'Perfected': Eighteenth-Century Conservationism and an Early (Female) Restorer of Rare Books and Manuscripts

Sonja Drimmer (notes)

Abstract

Many medieval manuscripts suffered from antiquarian zeal during the eighteenth-century revival of interest in medieval art: enthusiasts often augmented their own albums and private collections by removing attractive illuminations from manuscript pages, leaving wounded books in their wake. Less familiar is the restorative work of their contemporaries, a small number of facsimilists who repaired such damage by providing replacement paintings and text to compensate the manuscripts for their loss. A rediscovered manuscript in the British Library (Additional MS. 6894) contains some of the earliest known evidence of  manuscript restoration, carried out c. 1792 by Eliza Dennis Denyer. A reconstruction of her biography and work as a restorer reveals a considerable portfolio, focused predominantly on the early printed books that made up the majority of her father’s collection. Attention to two of her most extensive campaigns along with accompanying documentation sheds new light on contemporary attitudes to medieval and early modern objects and suggests that there is a history of conservation practices extending back to the eighteenth century which remains to be written.

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