November 30, 2013

By the book

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 12:55 am
Tags: , , , ,

Some day we must have a long talk about Italy – something along the lines of is it really fair to expect one little country to fund the preservation and restoration of so many cultural treasures all on its own.

In the meantime, we can be grateful that two whistleblowers at the Girolamini Library in Naples spilled the beans about the library’s director, Marino Massimo de Caro, who has apparently been stealing and selling various of the library’s rare 15th – 17th century volumes since shortly after he assumed his post about two years ago.

The Girolamini monastery in Naples. Photo by IISistemone

The Girolamini monastery in Naples. Photo by IISistemone

He actually reported – last April – that 1,500 books were missing from the library, almost the exact number that were finally found in a storage locker rented in his name. Some experts now estimate that more than 4,000 books may be missing, but no one knows for sure since the Girolamini is not completely  indexed.

De Caro is a story all by himself – pal of Berlusconi, honorary consul for Congo, investor in wind and solar energy and reportedly instigator of several Galileo forgeries so well done that a fake sold at auction was only just discovered.

But the bigger story is not the colorful criminal at the center of the web, his 13 highly placed co-conspirators, or even the very reputable Swiss firm laundering the product onto the world market, but the extent of the corruption in the rare book market as a whole.  This is the conclusion of the New York Times, which seems to be the only US media outlet to thoroughly cover the story.

The Galileo ms. that was forged.

The Galileo ms. that was forged.

(For more outrage, check out Corriere della Sera in English – very nice anecdote about a public prosecutor there. And, for bibliophiles in general, check out From the Vault, a blog from the University of St. Andrews, which is also interested in the larger picture.)

Management of the Girolamini, which is part of a church and monastery complex  often described as ‘exquisite’ and ‘wealthy,’ has been taken over by the Cultural Ministry. Exquisite the library may be, but wealthy it is not.  Unless the money brought by the books is returned, which is unlikely.

De Caro is currently on trial for a second time – he was sentenced to seven years at a trial earlier this year, but is serving it under house arrest, presumably a result of his cooperation.

If all of this seems like small beer, if a few old books don’t seem very important,  recall that the Bay Psalm Book sold for more than $14 million  last week.   It had impeccable provenance, of course.


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