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Original Art Experiences with Facsimiles

The Tailor's Book, 28v-29r.jpg

The Tailor's Book

Escorial Beatus, 1v-2r.JPG

Escorial Beatus

The facsimile as a modern book type, much like manuscript originals and contemporary book art, finds artistic avenues through not only imagery and materiality but also continuous, active engagement to expose its completeness. This artistic function is realized in its role as the site of performance enacted by readers and viewers. Unlike other works of art, to access the full extent of a book someone must physically manipulate it. For the facsimile specifically, its replicative nature for today’s viewer both reenacts the book’s performance in its original age while also creating a new, distinct experience in the present. The performance thus fuses the past with the present, providing the facsimile with opportunities to also become a part of the contemporary fabric of today’s performative society.

      The Tailor's Book, a facsimile now out of print, was made by craftsmen for their customers. Showcasing clothing, furniture, outdoor festival settings, and coats of arms, this facsimile provides the reader with a glimpse into the fashionable world of the Renaissance. Like original manuscripts, the facsimile mimics the way by which one comes to engage with the object. The book must be unbuckled to be read; the performance begins even before the content is available. Users of the facsimile can even hear the pages crinkle when turned and feel the thickness of the paper.  

      When opening the Escorial Beatus facsimile, the reader-viewer engages in an entirely different experience. Clasps, stamped leather, cut and worn pages carefully preserved evoke the sanctity of its sacred text, the Book of Revelation, and its boldly colored rendering of the End of Days. In essence, the very format of a facsimile—that is the degree to which it replicates the original—dictates how it can be used. Whether an exact replica or a newly created special edition, the materiality and content of each facsimile sets the stage for the final, culminating act. 

[RH & SS]


Lowden, John. “Illuminated Books and the Liturgy: Some Observations.” In Objects, Images and the Word, edited by Colum Hourihane, 17-53. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.

The Practice of the Bible in the Middle Ages: Production, Reception & Performance in Western Christianity. Edited by Susan Boynton and Diane J. Reilly. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.

Zchomelidse, Nino M. Art, Ritual, and Civic Identity in Medieval Southern Italy. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014. 

Original Art Experiences with Facsimiles