The Golden Manuscripts, Between Two Worlds – Book 6, by Evy Journey
ISBN: 9780996247498 (Paperback)
ASIN: B0BWP9B9HC (Kindle edition)
Page Count: 344
Release Date: March 16, 2023
Pubsher: Soujourner Books
Genre: Fiction | Cultural Heritage
In her quest for the provenance of stolen art, she discovers a passion and a home.
Clarissa Martinez, a biracial young woman has lived in seven different countries by the time she turns twenty. She thinks it’s time to settle in a place she could call home. But where?
She joins a quest for the provenance of stolen illuminated manuscripts, a medieval art form that languished with the fifteenth-century invention of the printing press. For her, these ancient manuscripts elicit cherished memories of children’s picture books her mother read to her, nourishing a passion for art.
Though immersed in art, she’s naïve about life. She’s disheartened and disillusioned by the machinations the quest reveals of an esoteric, sometimes unscrupulous art world. What compels individuals to steal artworks, and conquerors to plunder them from the vanquished? Why do collectors buy artworks for hundreds of millions of dollars? Who decides the value of an art piece and how?
And she wonders—will this quest reward her with a sense of belonging, a sense of home?
Read an Excerpt:
I sometimes wish I was your girl next door. The pretty one who listens to you and sympathizes. Doesn’t ask questions you can’t or don’t want to answer. Comes when you need to talk.
She’s sweet, gracious, respectful, and sincere. An open book. Everybody’s ideal American girl.
At other times, I wish I was the beautiful girl with creamy skin, come-hither eyes, and curvy lines every guy drools over. The one you can’t have, unless you’re a hunk of an athlete, or the most popular hunk around. Or you have a hunk of money.
But I’m afraid the image I project is that of a brain with meager social skills. The one you believe can outsmart you in so many ways that you keep out of her way—you know the type. Or at least you think you do. Just as you think you know the other two.
I want to believe I’m smart, though I know I can be dumb. I’m not an expert on anything. So, please wait to pass judgement until you get to know us better—all three of us.
Who am I then?
I’m not quite sure yet. I’m the one who’s still searching for where she belongs.
I’m not a typical American girl. Dad is Asian and Mom is white. I was born into two different cultures, neither of which dug their roots into me. But you’ll see my heritage imprinted all over me—on beige skin with an olive undertone; big grey eyes, double-lidded but not deep-set; a small nose with a pronounced narrow bridge; thick, dark straight hair like Dad’s that glints with bronze under the sun, courtesy of Mom’s genes.I have a family: Mom, Dad, Brother. Sadly, we’re no longer one unit. Mom and Dad are about ten thousand miles apart. And my brother and I are somewhere in between.
I have no one I call friend. Except myself, of course. That part of me who perceives my actions for what they are. My inner voice. My constant companion and occasional nemesis. Moving often and developing friendships lasting three years at most, I’ve learned to turn inward.
And then there’s Arthur, my beautiful brother. Though we were raised apart, we’ve become close. Like me, he was born in the US. But he grew up in my father’s home city where his friends call him Tisoy, a diminutive for Mestizo that sometimes hints at admiration, sometimes at mockery. Locals use the label for anyone with an obvious mix of Asian and Caucasian features. We share a few features, but he’s inherited a little more from Mom. Arthur has brown wavy hair and green eyes that invite remarks from new acquaintances.
Little Arthur, not so little anymore. Taller than me now, in fact, by two inches. We’ve always gotten along quite well. Except the few times we were together when we were children and he’d keep trailing me, like a puppy, mimicking what I did until I got annoyed. I’d scowl at him, run away so fast he couldn’t catch up. Then I’d close my bedroom door on him. Sometimes I wondered if he annoyed me on purpose so that later he could hug me and say, “I love you” to soften me up. It always worked.
I love Arthur not only because we have some genes in common. He has genuinely lovable qualities—and I’m sure people can’t always say that of their siblings. He’s caring and loyal, and I trust him to be there through thick and thin. I also believe he’s better put together than I am, he whom my parents were too busy to raise.
I am certain of only one thing about myself: I occupy time and space like everyone. My tiny space no one else can claim on this planet, in this new century. But I still do not have a place where I would choose to spend and end my days. I’m a citizen of a country, though. The country where I was born. And yet I can’t call that country home. I don’t know it much. But worse than that, I do not have much of a history there.
Before today, I trudged around the globe for two decades. Cursed and blessed by having been born to a father who was a career diplomat sent on assignments to different countries, I’ve lived in different cities since I was born, usually for three to four years at a time.
Those years of inhabiting different cities in Europe and Asia whizzed by. You could say I hardly noticed them because it was the way of life I was born into. But each of those cities must have left some lasting mark on me that goes into the sum of who I am. And yet, I’m still struggling to form a clear idea of the person that is Me. This Me can’t be whole until I single out a place to call home.
Everyone has a home they’ve set roots in. We may not be aware of it, but a significant part of who we think we are—who others think we are—depends on where we’ve lived. The place we call home. A place I don’t have. Not yet. But I will.
I was three when I left this city. Having recently come back as an adult, I can’t tell whether, or for how long, I’m going to stay. You may wonder why, having lived in different places, I would choose to seek a home in this city—this country as alien to me as any other town or city I’ve passed through.
By the end of my last school year at the Sorbonne, I was convinced that if I were to find a home, my birthplace might be my best choice. I was born here. In a country where I can claim citizenship. Where the primary language is English. My choice avoids language problems and pesky legal residency issues. Practical and logical reasons, I think.
Three years ago, my father announced our wandering days were over and we had to settle on a permanent home. After twenty-five years of service, he was exhausted and wanted to retire while he was still relatively young. Used to having his way, he decreed that home would be the Philippines where he was born, and where he has an extended family of near and far relatives. He would request to be posted there for his last assignment. I’d known for a while that Mom’s desire and beliefs would not carry any weight in Dad’s decision.
Living with my paternal grandparents much of the time, Arthur could call Dad’s birthplace home.
Unlike the rest of my family, I had no place I felt I belonged. I was rootless. No deep loyalty to any place I’ve lived in. I was born in California and though I spent the first three years of my life there, I grew up in at least six other cities. None of which became home to me.
Rambling around new places and plunging into new cultures—sometimes fascinating, sometimes strange in their novelty—was exciting for a while. It didn’t bother me that I was always leaving new friends behind. Mom had always been there. Dad, too. They were the constants in my life I was led to believe were all I needed. So, at eighteen, I had no firm ideas of home. But certain that my father’s stint in Paris would last for at least another year, I told myself, I still had time to decide.
For now, I occupy space in the art staff office of the university I attend. At the noon hour on a breezy, clear November day, in a city across the bay from San Francisco. Deep in the season when, east of us, rainstorms are pounding towns and cities, we’re still hoping for much-needed rain.
Autumn is not how I expected it to be, moving to this area as an adult. I miss the colors fall brings everywhere east of us. Here, Japanese maples, oaks, and gingkoes also shed leaves in shades of yellow, red, and brown. But they are mere accents to the more abundant eternal greens clinging to pine, citrus, and bamboo trees scattered all over the region. Some nights could be foggy or overcast until early morning, leaving damp sidewalks and dewy trees. By midday, the fog usually gives way to sunny and windy afternoons.
Right now, I’m alone, eating leftover pad thai from the takeout dinner I shared with my brother last night. Sitting at a desk at the back of an open area with two rows of desks where graduate assistants park their belongings. Four feet separate the two rows, each desk in a row set apart by enough room to push a chair back and sit.
The professors we work for occupy small offices bathed in eastern sun, their own little havens outfitted with bigger desks, built-in bookshelves, glass windows and glass-topped walls and doors that give them some privacy.
I’ve closed the door to the whole office. I relish this tranquil hour of solitude when I can chill out as I listen to easy music and eat lunch. Everyone else has left for the mid-day break and won’t be back for at least an hour.
I’ve been working in this office for three months, but I still don’t feel I’m in my element. I’m learning it isn’t enough to be part of a group with common interests, working in one place. Maybe, I need more time. I’m the newest graduate assistant, and though we’re all art practice majors, I want to specialize in what the art world today might consider an obscure or ancient art form—illuminated manuscripts. An art form which flourished in the medieval period, the printing press pushed it into near extinction.
In between slurping long rice noodles pinched between wooden chopsticks, I scan the news on artnews.com on my laptop—the usual way I pass this hour.
A headline catches my attention:
Long Lost Fifteenth-Century Illuminated Manuscript Found?
I put noodles and chopsticks down across the top of the plastic bowl of half-eaten pad thai and lean my body a little closer to the screen.
Art goes missing, too. Like people. Sometimes for a long time. Every piece of art also needs a home, not necessarily its place of origin. Take the famous Mona Lisa. Except for the two years a thief kept it in a suitcase, depriving the public a quick or long view of it, the painting has resided in the Louvre since the early sixteenth century. The king of France had bought it from Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci.
Most readers would be indifferent to this news of a newly recovered illuminated manuscript if it had been reported by general news sources. They may never have heard of medieval manuscripts, nor cared about them if they knew what they were. A few may wonder why or how manuscripts could be illuminated.
Artists might know a thing or two about them from art history classes, but most artists attend college to sharpen their skills and become better painters, sculptors, conceptual artists, performance artists.
But I’m neither one of those artists, nor a reader with a passing interest in art. To me, this is big news.
Among the four of us who work for Professor Adam Fischl, I’m something of an odd fish, not only because I’m rootless. As far as I can tell, no other graduate student in the art department gets excited about medieval illuminated manuscripts. The creation of illuminated manuscripts is a minor genre compared to canvas or panel painting, or sculpture, or conceptual art. You could even argue it’s a dead art. But it was a major and thriving genre during medieval times.
I learned about illuminated manuscripts in an art history class, for which I later wrote a paper on the blossoming of this art form under the reign of Charlemagne. In writing my paper, I realized my interest in illustrated manuscripts has been nurtured from the time my mother read to me. No, she didn’t read me illuminated manuscripts. She read picture books.What, after all, are illuminated manuscripts, but picture books? Granted, of a very special kind. How special? They’re handwritten, not printed. On parchment—scraped, stretched, and dried animal skin—capable of lasting centuries. An “illumination” is, in fact, a picture or illustration that conveys the meaning of a piece of text. Adorned with gold or silver leaf, these illustrations radiate light. The first letters of accompanying texts, and other decorations on a page, usually also glow with gold or silver. Sometimes, texts are inscribed in gold or silver ink.
I believe illustrated books have been essential to my awakening as a thinking, feeling being. Aren’t they, though, for every child whose parents read them stories?
Children’s picture books make it easier to understand the meanings of images through the stories that accompany them. The images can tell you more about a story than words alone can. And quite often, we have happy memories of having picture books read to us.
Tap into your memory bank, as I often have of some of my warmest memories of childhood—cradled on my mother’s lap, safe between her arms, while she’s holding a large book in front of me. Beautiful, colorful pictures adorn each page. A magical story unfolds below those pictures as she’s reading it to me. She’s drawing me into the story as she adapts her voice to every character. I always imagine myself as one of the characters. The little heroine, of course.
She reads me one book. But it only whets my appetite. So, she reads me another. And another, if she has time. Some books I like more than others—between their pages live the stories I ask her to read to me over and over.
When I turn five, she teaches me how those stories are built up: First, the letters, the basic elements needed to make up, as well as read, a story. Each letter is presented with a picture on a page—an apple with “A,” “B” and a ball, “C” and a cat … Such is how I began my adventure into reading.
The letters grow into words, their meanings illustrated by more images. The words are strung together to form single ideas. Ideas grow into scenarios. Scenarios grow into stories. And stories come alive with narrative images. All absorbed within the warmth of my mother’s love. Typical upbringing, wouldn’t you say? A lot like yours.
Except, my picture books are different in one way. The picture books Mom reads to me include many about the life and culture of every new city we land in. Picture books that—I realize later—she chose to help alleviate the problems of transitioning from one city and culture to another. Somehow, Mom always seems to find English versions of those books. One such book is The Little Prince.
When as an adult, I returned to Paris, I bought Le Petit Prince, the French original, illustrated and written by its author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It has remained one of my most-loved books. I read it at least once a year, often at Christmas. It keeps me in touch with the child that’s in all of us. It reminds me of the unalloyed wisdom in childhood that growing up often buries in the pursuit of reality and knowledge.
My picture books pile up as we move from one place to another. Sometimes, Mom and I visit museums, often city museums exhibiting local artworks. I became aware at age nine that we’re both stockpiling experiences and memories of our short lives in a place we may be leaving forever.
After such an introduction, how can I not believe there’s magic in pictures? They contain more than what you see, maybe disguise or hide some deeper meaning than what’s obvious. You must look longer, probe deeper to see beyond the images your eyes pick up. Maybe that’s why, as a child, I loved games instructing you to find a miniscule or camouflaged image or object in a larger picture.
Artists put details in a painting you may see only as part of the background or landscape. But such details may be symbols or icons for the society, time, and culture the artist lived in. Jan van Eyck’s famous Arnolfini Portrait is frequently cited as full of symbolism, although art historians have not always agreed on the meanings of specific details. The dog at their feet, for instance, has been thought to symbolize loyalty and devotion. But another historian has proposed it portends the death of the woman in the portrait: Dogs have been found on female tombs in ancient Rome.
Apart from my parents’ caring, picture books—the artistry they demand and exhibit—may be the only constant in my past gypsy-like existence. Children’s picture books planted a seed in me that blossomed into a love of art.
The artnews.com article is brief. An art dealer is selling a medieval manuscript: handwritten on vellum, the finest parchment made from calf skin; gold leaf and tempera; intact and in good condition. It’s a fifteenth-century adaptation of The Utrecht Psalter.
No images accompany the article. No manuscript cover. No sample page or two from within the manuscript. Odd that those are missing in a news item for an artwork uploaded to an online marketplace for art. No information is given, either, on who owns it, but that’s not unusual. And none on how the manuscript was lost—also odd since this fact is emphasized by its inclusion in the headline. And why the question mark?
The article does say the manuscript is a colorful adaptation of The Utrecht Psalter, often cited as possibly the best-known, and in some scholars’ opinions, the best manuscript illumination produced during Charlemagne’s reign in the ninth century. It captivated many medieval artists who copied its lively and expressive figures sketched in brown ink, running across every page.
Faithful reproductions of this psalter still exist, like The Harley Psalter, which anyone can access online in the British Library. Other artists infused their adaptation of The Utrecht Psalter with their own style, decorating texts, and using color or painted figures rather than sketches. But until this newly discovered manuscript, I wasn’t aware The Utrecht Psalter‘s influence on later manuscripts reached well into the fifteenth century, at least five hundred years from its creation.
The question mark baffles me. What can it mean? Uncertainty about the manuscript’s authenticity? Was it produced in the 15th century as claimed?
The art world has had its problems with artists who can create copies of masterpieces good enough to pass off and sell as originals. Forgers, we call them, though they’re usually highly skilled artists. And the copies they produce, we call fakes instead of the more neutral term ‘reproduction.’ Fakes are usually passed off as originals of well-known masterpieces or as previously unknown artworks by old masters like Rembrandt, DaVinci, Michelangelo, Vermeer, and by later ones like Cezanne, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Gauguin, and Manet—artists whose works are guaranteed to attract big money.
I have no idea how much this particular manuscript would fetch in the art market. Who collects them? Only libraries and museums and rich collectors of rare books? I know an artwork’s provenance can make a difference in its sale. Is it in question? Who owns it now? How was it lost? How was it recovered and by whom? Who did it belong to before the current owners? If somewhere in its journey to the present, evidence surfaces of this manuscript having been stolen, then the art dealer and its owner may find it impossible to sell.
This piece of news wouldn’t cause a blip in the public radar. But the discovery of original manuscripts as old as the fifteenth century gets art historians and certain art dealers excited. If for no other reason than that an old unique artwork can fetch a lot of money.
What a privilege and an experience it would be not only to see this once lost manuscript underneath its protective glass case. But also, to leaf through its pages. Feast my eyes on its illustrations. It’s a psalter so it contains psalms. But who created it and where (that is, which scriptorium)? Was its scribe also the illustrator? Does it have a traceable history from its creation and initial ownership to whoever claims to own it now? Could it be a quest that I can plunge into? That can consume me? Define me?
I sit back on my chair. Pick up my chopsticks. Slurp noodles back into my mouth. Too distracted to taste them. Wondering how I could see this fifteenth-century manuscript for myself. A facsimile, if there is one, might suffice. Given the fragility of these books, only properly credentialed experts could have access to them. And I’m not yet one of those.
How about doing an illuminated manuscript about medieval illuminated manuscripts for my master’s thesis? I could analyze this resurrected adaptation of The Utrecht Psalter. In choosing to do so, I would be both scribe and illustrator, treading in the footsteps of many medieval artists who copied extant manuscripts or created new ones.
The immediate gut appeal of the idea turns into a frisson of apprehension as I imagine what such a project would entail. It’s an exciting prospect, but would I be up to it? Painting small colorful pictures in egg tempera, a medium I haven’t used? Applying gold leaf on pictures and letters, a skill that seems easy enough to learn? Handwriting content on parchment, a material I’m unfamiliar with? Writing with some fancy medieval script I would have to practice? Sewing the pages together to bind the manuscript? Fashioning a wood, leather, metal, or ivory cover, to me the most intimidating task in the whole process?
I would have wanted to spend more time indulging my fantasies and confronting my trepidation, but my reverie is abruptly cut short by someone opening the door to the office from the outside.
Lena, the office secretary, strides in, glancing at me as she passes by on her way to her office. I acknowledge her with a nod. She waves to me in response. She’s on her way to her office at the southern end of the row of professors’ offices, one larger than those of faculty. But it has neither windows nor a door. Its space accommodates the office machines by her desk and the deep filing cabinets lining her walls.
Don, the assistant to the professors of color, composition, and painting classes, saunters in a minute later. Two other assistants trickle back from lunch.
It’s time to leave. I have a painting class the rest of the afternoon. I pick up my backpack off the floor, gather my empty lunch box and chopsticks, shove both into my backpack, and rush out of the office, backpack slung on my shoulder.
Three and a half hours later, I leave the painting class a little early and hurry back to the office to catch Professor Fischl, hoping this isn’t one of those infrequent days when he doesn’t return to his office after his afternoon classes, and wondering if it might be premature to talk to him about my thesis. I’m only in the first semester of graduate school.
But I’m too fired up to control my impulse.
How often does a medieval illuminated manuscript resurface after it has been missing—maybe for a long time? It should draw even more attention if the art world had not known of its existence. Am I not being thrown an unexpected opportunity? A rare challenge staring me in the face that I have no choice but to seize? A foray into a form of art meaningful to me, helping sustain me through the many transitions I’ve had to endure?
Excerpt from The Golden Manuscripts by Evy Journey.
Copyright © 2023 by Evy Journey.
Published with permission. All rights reserved.
Meet the Author
Evy Journey writes. Stories and blog posts. Novels that tend to cross genres. She’s also a wannabe artist, and a flâneuse.
Evy studied psychology (M.A., University of Hawaii; Ph.D. University of Illinois). So her fiction spins tales about nuanced characters dealing with contemporary life issues and problems. She believes in love and its many faces.
Her one ungranted wish: To live in Paris where art is everywhere and people have honed aimless roaming to an art form. She has visited and stayed a few months at a time.
Connect with the author via Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Website
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