Crude book cut causes medieval mystery
Wednesday 31 May 1995
Four weeks ago Anthony Melnikas, art history professor at Ohio State University, brought a plastic envelope to Bruce Ferrini, a rare book dealer in Akron, Ohio. Inside were two illuminated parchment pages, one of them depicting a man threshing grain which Mr Ferrini described as among the very finest specimens in existence - so fine indeed that he was instantly suspicious of their origin.
A check with an art historian friend at Princeton University provided Mr Ferrini his answer. The pages belonged to a book compiled by scribes around 1300, containing texts about farm and monastic life and military theory in the early Roman Empire. The volume had been owned and personally annotated by the great 14th-century Italian poet Petrarch, before passing to the Vatican. Their estimated value is $500,000.
Mr Ferrini notified the United States Customs, and US Customs the library in Rome, where a check on the manuscript, catalogued simply as Vaticani Latini 2913, confirmed every fear. Three pages, including the two offered by Professor Melnikas, had been chopped out of the thick leather bound volume, apparently with a penknife. Records showed that the professor had studied the manuscript on 27 July, 1987. Since then 10 other scholars had access to it, but either did not notice, or gave no attention to, any missing pages.
So precious was the manuscript that it was available to only a handful of the most eminent researchers - among them the 68-year-old, Lithuanian- born professor, author of what many say is a definitive study of 12th to 14th-century manuscripts, and who discovered in 1990 an unpublished map of the New World by Leonardo da Vinci, dating to the 16th century.
Now disgrace threatens to overtake his long-planned retirement after 35 years on the Ohio faculty. Professor Melnikas has been questioned by US investigators, but has thus far not been charged with any offence, either in the US where smuggling can be punished by up to five years imprisonment, or by the Vatican.
The professor admits the manuscript pages were in his possession. But he denies having stolen them, or that he planned to sell them.
But Mr Ferrini claims to have proof that at their 4 May meeting, Professor Melnikas asked him to try and complete the sale by 30 June, the day before his retirement, telling him he wished to use the proceeds to fund scholarships for the study of medieval manuscripts.
Whatever the truth, the affair is a scandal American scholarship, jarred by several lesser such incidents in recent years, would far rather be without.
elephant appealPrince William signs up for our charity appeal
arts + entsThere were towering ideas, some scintillating performances and revelatory grooves... our writers pick out their personal highlights
peoplePrepare to be entranced by worms as the molecular biologist gets ready to give the Royal Institution science lectures
elephant appealSo says man jailed for cutting off dead elephant's tusks
booksWe examine the best titles for teens
voicesPeople moan that Christmas is too commercial, the spirit lost. But it is a time to over-indulge, and always has been, says DJ Taylor
scienceResearchers teach border collie to understand sentences using more than 1,000 words
booksA Christmas story in six parts
travelWill high-value tourism help the workshops of this Renaissance city?
food + drinkA trifle without custard? Surely not! Nonsense – and here’s three to finish your festive meal that prove it
Geoffrey Macnab does not like the comedian's big screen debut
French pub fined €9,000 after customers returned empties to bar - because it's 'undeclared labour'
Ten best places to live in the UK: Hart in Hampshire takes top spot
Winter Solstice marks shortest day of the year
Burglar steals video tapes of child abuse, hands them into police
Paul Walker's daughter Meadow attends Justin Bieber Believe premiere
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
David Cameron takes his biggest gamble yet as he gets tough on Europe over immigration
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
Scientists ‘incredibly concerned’ for fate of banana as plagues and fungus infections spread across world’s supplies
- 1 Tim Sherwood challenges Daniel Levy to set out vision for Tottenham Hotspur’s future
- 2 French pub fined €9,000 after customers returned empties to bar - because it's 'undeclared labour'
- 3 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 4 #Teamnigella: It’s the only side to be on
- 5 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- < Previous
- Next >
£40000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits : Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer (WPF...
£45000 - £65000 per annum + London: Harrington Starr: Senior Automation QA Eng...
Negotiable: Capita Education Resourcing Permanent Team: Year 6 Teacher - Gilli...
Negotiable: Capita Education Resourcing Permanent Team: Teacher of English - S...