Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Rare books 24: The Hebrew Bible in Full Colour

Sixty pages of colour-tinted scenes from the pre- and early history of the House of Israel. (Paris, circa 1913). Notes: This ‘Grand Album d’Histoire Sainte: Ancien Testament’ was too large to fit in the donation of 95 boxes sent this month from the Carmelite nuns in Varroville, New South Wales. This spacious volume was posted separately in bubble plastic. The book must have a companion Nouveau Testament, but we are only working with the Ancien. There is no record for the work at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). Nor the Library of Congress, WorldCat, or elsewhere. Everything is aggravating, if you are a cataloguer. Aggravating that we don’t have an engraver. Aggravating, no date or author. A work with this title dated 1913 is found at BnF under the name Xavier de Préville, also published by Tolra, but ours has no text. Aggravating that the BnF work is actually Tolra et Simonet, one of the many permutations of Tolra coming up to this day. Aggravating. But the tinted images seem to come almost naturally from the Belle Epoche. It is like viewing stills from a lost film by Georges Méliès. The human figure is all, living in dramatic situations at the foreground of the scene. Their actions are silent depictions, silent reminders of the spoken stories heard over again in churches and synagogues all over France. Yet, no engraver. Aggravating. The cataloguer with magnifier scans corners and running headers for an initial, a hieroglyph, anything that may hint at the tinter of these famous legends. Legends memorial and immemorial, greater than the sum of their parts. Even naming Xavier de Préville in the record is a risk, given he is nowhere named in the book itself.  

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