Urgent Need for a Lascaux-Cave-style protection of Cultural Heritage

from aggressive Culture Capitalism

The museum director of the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, Axel Rüger, has achieved something 

Here is a radical example of how to protect cultural heritage:


By PAUL LEWISJAN. 25, 1987


''My overriding duty is to preserve the manuscript. No one will be allowed to see it again,'' says Frederic Vergne, the curator at the Conde Museum housed in the moated Chateau of the Dukes of Aumale in this small town a few miles north of Paris.[...] for last couple of years the roughly 250,000 visitors who make their way to the Conde Museum each year have only been allowed to see a high-quality modern color reproduction of the original ''Tres Riches Heures,'' a book of prayers to be read at certain hours of the day.

The Conde Museum's decision illustrates a general trend by museums and libraries everywhere toward cutting down access to rare manuscripts in order to reduce the damage done by handling and exposure to light. Increasingly, such institutions are offering scholars and the public high-quality and extremely expensive reproductions of the original that can cost up to $10,000 a copy. At the Conde Museum, a second famous illuminated medieval manuscript, known as the Ingeburge Psalter, has also been withdrawn from public display and replaced by a facsimile. Even scholars and art historians are refused access to these manuscripts and given either a facsimile or allowed to consult a laser disk copy of the ''Tres Riches Heures,'' which projects sections of the original manscript onto a television screen. ''It's better than the original in some ways because you can magnify small areas of the text,'' Mr. Vergne points out. Many other manuscript curators feel the Conde Museum's decision to lock away two rare medieval manuscripts forever is an exaggerated response to the difficult choice they all face between preserving fragile, precious documents and satisfying public demands to see them. ''Overly drastic,'' says Francois Avril, manuscript curator at France's National Library in Paris. ''If no one has access to a manuscript there is no reason for it to exist,'' says Dr. Janet Backhouse of the British Library in London.




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