The Lost Library
Loss and destruction, but also the recovery and assembly of books and libraries are the issues which are being addressed in my project “The Lost Library”. Many historic libraries have lived through a checkered fate made up of construction and collection, bestowal and robberies, collapse and destruction.
It was the end of the library when the cistercian monastery Eberbach, located in the Rheingau, was abolished as part of the secularization in 1803. At this point it comprised some 8.000 volumes. Most of the inventory was auctioned off, whilst the rest was sold as scrap paper. However, only two hundred years before the library had been scavenged during the thirty years’ war. Between 1632 and 1635 Hessian and Swedish soldiers took circa 600 to 700 manuscripts, incunabulum and prints. Many are likely to have been destroyed – some are forever lost in the depths of unknown archives.
During the 1990’s while conducting research Nigel F. Palmer, Professor of Medieval German from Oxford, discovered whereabouts of a couple hundred manuscripts and incunabulum. The results of his work are thoroughly documented in his book “Cistercians and Their Books”.
His index is the stepping-stone for “The Lost Library”. The biggest part of the manuscripts obtained by the looters had already been auctioned off a few years after the robbery and found their way to England. Today those scripts are in the possession of the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the British Library in London; however the archives of different German libraries are also home to the antiques from the Eberbach collection.
One hundred of those books were congregated in an imaginary library, representing my artistic concept “The Lost Library”.. At the beginning of my work there were trips to be taken to the current locations of the papers to examine and capture the volumes photographically. This way, over the course of roughly a year, I have been able to arrange a selection of over two hundred backbones and book cuts as photographs. They are the foundation to my painting. During the preparations and travelling Beate Wilms has offered me a great deal of support has until day been a great adviser, a relentless assistant and a constructive critic.
In the process of selecting materials I have gone with the obvious option: One hundred book pictures on paper – because of its affinity to the frequently used material of the tangible paragons. And in the same way every accessible library is made up of singular books, my imaginary library was to show each single painted book.
The image carrier is a three hundred gram handmade paper. It’s moistened and stretched onto a wooden plate with wet adhesive tape. After drying the backbone or book cut it is outlined and then worked out detail for detail in many differently glazed water colour dye layers. Scraped off spots, marks, scratches, cuts or breaks in the material are imitated precisely; they hint at frequent usage and most of the time an eventful history. Reinforcement of the lights by partial ?whitening? or the setting of shade with few dark accents increase the contrast, and emphasize the object’s plasticity. But despite this realistic representation not every backbone is to be seen as one right away. As for instance the blue-black formation with some bright spots that nearly disappears in its own background surface. Or the hardly structured, orange column that steps out of it surroundings in a glowing manner. Both revealed themselves only at the interaction with the other books as paintings.
A few incunabula have kept their original covers over the centuries. Particularly eager librarians pasted some folios with up to four signature labels. Others again did completely without it. The book’s colour palette ranges from white over orange, dark red, dark blue, green-grey, brown up to black.
The binding materials are paper, pigskin, calf or goat parchment, but in addition velvet, silk and other materials were utilized. Only a single handwriting in the large collection of books possesses a soft, rather than a hard lard leather binding, so called ?Kopertbinding?.
Due to its high value it was customary in earlier times to bleach, no longer needed previously written on, parchment and then write on it again or use it for binding books. Removal was not always successful and therefore the palimpsest appeared as a hazy half transparent book cover. By multiple alternating glazed colour layering I attempt to recreate this impression. A different aspect of the object, the book cut, develops its very own charm. Thus several copies are found within the cycle of the hundred. There are those red dyed intersections, still recognizable as a book due to the suggested book covers. Repeated overlays of crimson red and madder lake allow the colour surface to shine; light perpendicular running brushstrokes produce the structure of the pages. One can find books, where the pages are protected from dust, insects or damage by the means of decorated closings or cords that lock and are hitched onto the book cover. To the spectator they appear hermetic and repelling. However, if the cords are open, one can approach the content more closely and suddenly the cubic object receives a playful ease.
I have worked out such nuances graphically, before finally each of the paintings is equipped with a matt black background from gouache colours. This creates a contrast, by which the book-object appears to be floating.
Still, my books cannot be grasped, be isolated from a group, opened and more they cannot be read. Thus, they preserve their mystery. However, one can turn to them and look at them. They reciprocate the spectators view like a portrait and trail its observer.
My paintings are portraits of books. Just like every human face, every book carries its own distinctive traits, formed by its content, character and history. In this way an artistic attention can be aroused and the books in their multiform manifestations almost challenge to an artistic occupation with this alive object, just like their human counterparts.
Lying in front of us there is a single, bound book. Let’s open it, and we come to discover in between its covers, page by page and side by side, paintings of books – although the portrayed ones are scattered across all cardinal points. It is a book that assembles different books within itself similar to a library: a new, painted library, which selects its inventory only according to aesthetic criteria. The historic library of Eberbach remains lost, because it will never exist again in its original composition. It is representative for all the other lost libraries from Alexandria to Bagdad. “The Lost Library” serves as a reminder of this.
Every painting has a cryptic signature that corresponds with the present location. Without wanting to identify the books this solely indicates a status quo: A reference to the fact that the current location might only be a short stop on the long journey of the books.