Sadly, another aspect of rare books which made them attractive to looters was the fact that they could be torn apart and trafficked page by page. This was especially true of illuminated manuscripts, which were often sold as single leaves, containing beautiful miniature paintings and elaborate historiated initials. Fortunately, there is sometimes a historical figure who safeguards such treasures before they can be destroyed by mercenary soldiers. Such a man was the Spanish Archbishop of Toledo Cardinal Francisco Antonio de Lorenzana y Buitron (1722- 1804). A magnificent collection of works which he salvaged from the looted Sacristy of the Sistine Chapel are now on display in the United States for the first, and quite probably, only time.
Folio of the Pontifical of Cardinal Pietro Barbo.
Frontispiece of the Pope Urban VIII, c. 1634.
Folio of the Missal of Pope Urban VIII
with the Mass of Easter Sunday.
Thus far, the Vatican has shown no interest in recovering these magnificent volumes that, while saved from certain destruction by Lorenzana, are clearly the rightful property of the Holy See. The exhibit continues through April 23, 2010, at which time the codices will be returned to the three archives in Spain where they are held away from public view.