Last updated
Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry, a famous illuminated manuscript, is on view to both the public and to scholars only in the form of a high-quality facsimile Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry decembre.jpg
Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry , a famous illuminated manuscript, is on view to both the public and to scholars only in the form of a high-quality facsimile

A facsimile (from Latin fac simile, "to make alike") is a copy or reproduction of an old book, manuscript, map, art print, or other item of historical value that is as true to the original source as possible. It differs from other forms of reproduction by attempting to replicate the source as accurately as possible in scale, color, condition, and other material qualities. For books and manuscripts, this also entails a complete copy of all pages; hence, an incomplete copy is a "partial facsimile". Facsimiles are sometimes used by scholars to research a source that they do not have access to otherwise, and by museums and archives for media preservation and conservation. Many are sold commercially, often accompanied by a volume of commentary. They may be produced in limited editions, typically of 500–2,000 copies, and cost the equivalent of a few thousand United States dollars.[ citation needed ][ clarification needed ] The term "fax" is a shortened form of "facsimile" though most faxes are not reproductions of the quality expected in a true facsimile.


Facsimiles in the age of mechanical reproduction

Advances in the art of facsimile are closely related to advances in printmaking. Maps, for instance, were the focus of early explorations in making facsimiles, although these examples often lack the rigidity to the original source that is now expected. [1] An early example is the Abraham Ortelius map (1598). [1] Innovations during the 18th century, especially in the realms of lithography and aquatint, facilitated an explosion in the number of facsimiles of old master drawings that could be studied from afar. [2]

Facsimile of Edgar Allan Poe's original manuscript for The Murders in the Rue Morgue RueMorgueManuscript.jpg
Facsimile of Edgar Allan Poe's original manuscript for The Murders in the Rue Morgue

In the past, techniques and devices such as the philograph (tracing an original through a transparent plane), photostat, hectograph, or lithograph were used to create facsimiles. More recently, facsimiles have been made by the use of some form of photographic technique. For documents, a facsimile most often refers to document reproduction by a photocopy machine. In the digital age, an image scanner, a personal computer, and a desktop printer can be used to make a facsimile.

Facsimiles and conservation

Important illuminated manuscripts like Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry are not only on display to the public as facsimiles, but available in high quality to scholars. [3] [4] However, unlike normal book reproductions, facsimiles remain truer to the original colors—which is especially important for illuminated manuscripts—and preserve defects. [5]

Facsimiles are best suited to printed or hand-written documents, and not to items such as three-dimensional objects or oil paintings with unique surface texture. [6] Reproductions of those latter objects are often referred to as replicas.

See also

Related Research Articles

Manuscript Document written by hand

A manuscript was, traditionally, any document written by hand – or, once practical typewriters became available, typewritten – as opposed to mechanically printed or reproduced in some indirect or automated way. More recently, the term has come to be understood to further include any written, typed, or word-processed copy of an author's work, as distinguished from its rendition as a printed version of the same. Before the arrival of printing, all documents and books were manuscripts. Manuscripts are not defined by their contents, which may combine writing with mathematical calculations, maps, music notation, explanatory figures or illustrations.

Vellum Animal skin used as a writing material

Vellum is prepared animal skin or "membrane", typically used as a material for writing on. Parchment is another term for this material, and if vellum is distinguished from this, it is by its being made from calfskin, as opposed to that from other animals, or otherwise being of higher quality. Vellum is prepared for writing or printing on, to produce single pages, scrolls, codices or books. The word is borrowed from Old French vélin 'calfskin', from the Latin word vitulinum 'made from calf'.

Printmaking Process of creating artworks by printing, normally on paper

Printmaking is the process of creating artworks by printing, normally on paper, but also on fabric, wood, metal, and other surfaces. "Traditional printmaking" normally covers only the process of creating prints using a hand processed technique, rather than a photographic reproduction of a visual artwork which would be printed using an electronic machine ; however, there is some cross-over between traditional and digital printmaking, including risograph. Except in the case of monotyping, all printmaking processes have the capacity to produce identical multiples of the same artwork, which is called a print. Each print produced is considered an "original" work of art, and is correctly referred to as an "impression", not a "copy". However, impressions can vary considerably, whether intentionally or not. Master printmakers are technicians who are capable of printing identical "impressions" by hand. Historically, many printed images were created as a preparatory study, such as a drawing. A print that copies another work of art, especially a painting, is known as a "reproductive print".

An urtext edition of a work of classical music is a printed version intended to reproduce the original intention of the composer as exactly as possible, without any added or changed material. Other kinds of editions distinct from urtext are facsimile and interpretive editions, discussed below.

Digitization Process of creating a digital representation of a document or object

Digitization is the process of converting information into a digital format. The result is the representation of an object, image, sound, document or signal by generating a series of numbers that describe a discrete set of points or samples. The result is called digital representation or, more specifically, a digital image, for the object, and digital form, for the signal. In modern practice, the digitized data is in the form of binary numbers, which facilitate processing by digital computers and other operations, but, strictly speaking, digitizing simply means the conversion of analog source material into a numerical format; the decimal or any other number system that can be used instead.

Four Surrealist Manifestos are known to exist. The first two manifestos, published in October 1924, were written by Yvan Goll and André Breton, the leaders of rivaling Surrealist groups. Breton published his second manifesto for the Surrealists in 1929, and wrote his third manifesto that was not issued during his lifetime.

Vergilius Vaticanus

The Vergilius Vaticanus, also known as Vatican Virgil, is a Late Antique illuminated manuscript containing fragments of Virgil's Aeneid and Georgics. It was made in Rome in around 400 C.E., and is one of the oldest surviving sources for the text of the Aeneid. It is the oldest and one of only three ancient illustrated manuscripts of classical literature.

A facsimile is a copy or reproduction of an old book, manuscript, map, art print, or other item of historical value that is as true to the original source as possible.

Leiden Aratea

Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, VLQ 79, also called the Leiden Aratea, is an illuminated copy of an astronomical treatise by Germanicus, based on the Phaenomena of Aratus. The manuscript was created in the region of Lorraine and has been dated to around 816. It was produced at the court of Louis the Pious, who ruled from 814–840. It is one of the four Carolingian codices that were produced in his court. There are many translations and copies of this text, so it is very well known throughout the Middle East and Europe.

Sonnet 127 poem by William Shakespeare

Sonnet 127 of Shakespeare's sonnets (1609) is the first of the Dark Lady sequence, called so because the poems make it clear that the speaker's mistress has black hair and eyes and dark skin. In this poem the speaker finds himself attracted to a woman who is not beautiful in the conventional sense, and explains it by declaring that because of cosmetics one can no longer discern between true and false beauties, so that the true beauties have been denigrated and out of favour.

<i>Commentary on the Apocalypse</i>

Commentary on the Apocalypse is a book written in the eighth century by the Spanish monk and theologian Beatus of Liébana (730–785) and copied and illustrated in manuscript in works called "Beati" during the 10th and 11th centuries AD. It is a commentary on the New Testament Apocalypse of John or Book of Revelation. It also refers to any manuscript copy of this work, especially any of the 27 illuminated copies that have survived. It is often referred to simply as the Beatus. The historical significance of the Commentary is made even more pronounced since it included a world map, which offers a rare insight into the geographical understanding of the post-Roman world. Well-known copies include the Morgan, the Saint-Sever, the Gerona, the Osma and the Madrid Beatus codices.

The text of Domesday Book, the record of the great survey of England completed in 1086 executed for William I of England, was first edited by Abraham Farley in the 1770s. The first facsimile edition of the manuscripts was made in a project led by the cartographer Henry James in the 1860s. An English translation of the Latin text for most counties was published by Victoria County History (VCH) during much of the 20th century.

British Library National library of the United Kingdom

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and is one of the largest libraries in the world. It is estimated to contain between 170 and 200 million items from many countries. As a legal deposit library, the British Library receives copies of all books produced in the United Kingdom and Ireland, including a significant proportion of overseas titles distributed in the UK. The Library is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Michelle P. Brown is Professor Emerita of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She was previously (1986–2004) Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library. She has been a historical consultant and on-screen expert on several radio and television programmes. She has published books on the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Luttrell Psalter and the Holkham Bible.

M. Moleiro Editor is a publishing house specialising in high-quality facsimile reproductions of codices, maps and illuminated manuscripts. Founded in Barcelona in 1991, the firm has reproduced many masterpieces from the history of illumination.

Taddeo Crivelli

Taddeo Crivelli, also known as Taddeo da Ferrara, was an Italian painter of illuminated manuscripts. He is considered one of the foremost 15th-century illuminators of the Ferrara school, and also has the distinction of being the probable engraver of the first book illustrated with maps, which was also the first book using engraving.

<i>Adoration of the Shepherds</i> (Domenichino) Painting by Domenichino

The Adoration of the Shepherds is an oil on canvas painting by the Italian master Domenichino, executed c. 1607–1610. It has been in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh since 1971, and was previously in the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.

William Blake Archive Digital Humanities project first created in 1994

The William Blake Archive is a digital humanities project started in 1994, a first version of the website was launched in 1996. The project is sponsored by the Library of Congress and supported by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Rochester. Inspired by the Rossetti Archive, the archive provides digital reproductions of the various works of William Blake, a prominent Romantic-period poet, artist, and engraver, alongside annotation, commentary and scholarly materials related to Blake.

<i>Divine Comedy Illustrated by Botticelli</i>

The Divine Comedy Illustrated by Botticelli is a manuscript of the Divine Comedy by Dante, illustrated by 92 full-page pictures by Sandro Botticelli that are considered masterpieces and amongst the best works of the Renaissance painter. The images are mostly not taken beyond silverpoint drawings, many worked over in ink, but four pages are fully coloured. The manuscript eventually disappeared and most of it was rediscovered in the late nineteenth century, having been detected in the collection of the Duke of Hamilton by Gustav Friedrich Waagen, with a few other pages being found in the Vatican Library. Botticelli had earlier produced drawings, now lost, to be turned into engravings for a printed edition, although only the first nineteen of the hundred cantos were illustrated.

Autograph (manuscript) Manuscript or document written in the authors handwriting

An autograph or holograph is a manuscript or document written in its author's or composer's hand. The meaning of autograph as a document penned entirely by the author of its content, as opposed to a typeset document or one written by a copyist or scribe other than the author, overlaps with that of holograph.


  1. 1 2 C. Koeman, "An Increase in Facsimile Reprints," Imago Mundi, vol. 18 (1964), pp. 87-88.
  2. Craig Hartley, "Aquatint," The Oxford Companion to Western Art, ed. Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford University Press, 2001; Grove Art Online, Oxford University Press, 2005. [accessed 20 April 2008].
  3. "Facsimile Editions - Our Books in Public Institutions". www.facsimile-editions.com.
  4. Paul Lewis, "Preservation takes rare manuscripts from the public," New York Times - 25 January 1987 [accessed 19 April 2008].
  5. Bronwyn Stocks, "The Facsimile and the Manuscript," - an exhibition in the Leigh Scott Gallery, University of Melbourne (on-line catalogue with additional images).
  6. Richard Godfrey, "Reproduction reproductive prints," The Oxford Companion to Western Art, ed. Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford University Press, 2001; Grove Art Online, Oxford University Press, 2005. [accessed 20 April 2008].