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Holy Hoaxes: A Beautiful Deception

Holy Hoaxes: A Beautiful Deception


This fascinating book tells the story of the building of William M. Voelkle’s collection of fakes and forgeries of manuscript illumination. With thorough essays and beautiful illustrations, Voekle tells the story of nearly seventy fakes and forgeries.

The book takes the reader on a journey that sheds light on the nature and detection of forgery of manuscript illumination. An engaging introduction by Christopher de Hamel raises tantalizing questions that touch on the very meaning of authenticity and our continuing fascination with forgery. Scientific analysis of pigments, the identification of sources, and the scrutiny of the materials all come into play in the unfolding story of the collection.

An illustrated catalogue presents the group of nearly seventy fakes and forgeries that display astonishing breadth.  They include not only the Spanish Forger and other Western European miniatures by Ernesto Sprega, Caleb William Wing, and Germano Prosdocimi, and others, but fascinating examples from the Christian East, from Ethiopia, from Mexico, and from Persia and India.  Published here in its entirety for the first time, the Voelkle Collection is the only comprehensive one of fakes and forgeries of manuscript painting in private hands.

Voelkle’s fifty-year career at the Morgan Library & Museum was inextricably interwoven with the construction of the collection, which is detailed in the foreword. The personal narrative reveals the author as a collector and a scholar.  As an enthusiastic collector, he pursues examples of forgery, marveling at the range of skills of deception.  As a scholar, he disentangles the sources that served forgers and the chains of provenance that sometimes led to their exposure. Included also in the book is a comprehensive list of William M. Voelkle’s publications.

  • By William M. Voelkle

    With an introduction by Christopher de Hamel 

    Spring 2023 

    Published by Les Enluminures

    Distributed by Paul Holberton Publishing 

    Paperback, 228 x 160 mm 

    232 pages, 120 colour illus. 

    ISBN: 978-2-92567024-7-4

  • About the authors

    WILLIAM M. VOELKE is Curator Emeritus of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts at the Morgan Library & Museum, retired in September 2017 after 50 years there. In his position at the Morgan, he organized many exhibitions, for which he published catalogues, and wrote numerous articles, catalogue entries, and facsimile commentaries on a remarkably wide range of Roman-esque, Gothic, Renaissance, and even Islamic, illuminated manuscripts.

    CHRISTOPHER DE HAMEL is one of the best-known names worldwide in the field of medieval manuscripts.  He has written multiple books on manuscripts and book collecting translated into at least seven languages.  Retired as Librarian of the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, he is a Fellow of the College.

  • In the press

    "His contributions to this aspect of manuscript study are celebrated in Holy Hoaxes, a handsome catalogue of sixty-six forgeries from his own collection." —Times Literary Supplement


    "An illustrated catalogue presents the group of nearly seventy fakes and forgeries that displays astonishing breadth." —Manuscripts On My Mind

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