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Palazzo Falson participates in International Museum Day 2017: Museums and contested histories - Saying the unspeakable in museums.

A stolen or unwanted book?

Amongst the many books in the Palazzo Falson library - a collection put together by Olof Frederick Gollcher, who lived in the house from 1927 till his death in 1962 - lies a volume with a notorious history stemming from the reorganization of papal libraries and suspicious book sellers from the seventeenth century.

The volume in question, Ivsti LipsI PoliorceticΩn sive de machinis tormentis. Telis. Libri Qvinqve. Ad Historiarum lucem, was written by Justus Lipsius (1547-1606). Printed in Antwerp in the Plantin office by Jan Moretus in 1605, the book investigates engines of war and other aspects of military history. It was originally owned by Pope Alexander VII Chigi (1599-1667), who, incidentally, served as an Inquisitor in Malta from 1634 to 1639. The book formed part of the famous Roman library collected by the pope, the Biblioteca Alesandrina, which can be seen in the nineteenth-century ex libris ink stamp found on the title page. However, a second seventeenth-century hand-written ex libris can also be found on the title page, and shows an earlier provenance that identifies Giovanni Uterlusci as an owner of the book: " Ex Biblio. Iohannes Uterlusci dono data ab Alexandro VII Pontifex Maximo". The third known owner, Olof Frederick Gollcher, acquired the book, whence it passed into the library of the Palazzo Falson.


This history of ownership raises several questions about the history of the book and its provenance.  Did Pope Alexander VII acquire the book either as a gift or purchase as part of his time as Inquisitor in Malta? Such an acquisition would make sense given the island's fortresses and his daily contacts with the Knights of Malta. However, this does not seem to be the case because of the earlier ex libris tied to Uterlusci. Instead, the book entered the Biblioteca Alesandrina through the proceedings of the Roman Inquisition. Giovanni Uterlusci was condemned for heresy in 1666, and as a result his small library located in the Via della Croce entered the papal collection, whence Pope Alexander donated his entire library (Biblioteca Alesandrina) to La Sapienza on 19 March 1667.


Why would the book then leave the collection of the Biblioteca Alesandrina? Was it stolen or was it deaccessioned? Despite the fact that there is no deaccession mark - the presence of such a mark would have meant that the book left the library in a legal manner - it is likely that the book was sold by the Biblioteca in the nineteenth century, since other copies of the same book exist in the library.


How did the book come to form part of the collection at Palazzo Falson? Did Olof Gollcher inherit it? Was it a gift to him? We know he exchanged books with other bibliophiles throughout his life. Did he buy it in Rome - and if so, did he realize it originally belonged to the Biblioteca Alesandrina?


We will continue to dig deeper to uncover the story of this book but at this stage it looks like it may have been stolen or sold by the library as an unwanted book.   




Dr. Daniel K. Gullo, Joseph S. Micallef Curator of the Malta Study Center

Ms. Valeria Vanesio, ABD, Sapienza University of Rome

Staff of the Biblioteca Alesandrina, Rome


The book as displayed at Palazzo Falson until the end of May 2017, and the title page of the book (below)

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