Diaz de Miranda

Restoration of the Generalitat of Catalonia Palace Prayer Book: Why the previous minimal intervention strategy failed


This unique codex stands out among the historical bibliographic treasures in Catalonia and also represents an opportunity to debate on the failure of minimum intervention strategies when the latter are not preceded by an appropriate analysis of a book’s structural elements.

The prayer book was originally kept in the Sant Jordi Chapel within the Palau de la Generalitat, the Government of Catalonia’s seat in Barcelona. Today, it is kept in the National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC).

The book was printed in Paris in 1521 on parchment, using two inks and featuring beautiful illustrations by the Florentine artist, Giacomo Smeraldo Dotavante. It is one of the remarkable number of post-incunable liturgical books that satisfied the need for works of this type among different Catalonian dioceses for their religious services. It is a comprehensive prayer book that contains services pertaining to the entire Church and others specific to the Barcelona diocese. This specificity and the later Council of Trent explain why there is just one parchment text and three paper versions.

Its features a lavish heraldic binding in Spanish Mudéjar Renaissance style. It also includes five double leather raised bands, wooden covers wrapped in cordovan leather  with embossing and gold, ribbons, knots, ties… It also includes a mosaic representing the Government of Catalonia shield.

The codex was subject to an intervention 50-60 years ago. Its body (parchment, ink and pigments) was in acceptable condition. The main problem was that the front cover and first chapter had detached. In that intervention the loose leaves were re-sewn, and some leather pieces were added to re-attach the cover to the spine. That intervention was carried out in keeping with a minimum intervention strategy. However, several decades after its intervention, the book’s condition today suffers from the same problems for which it was originally restored.

The intervention we proposed was based on an analysis of: the binding’s constructive elements, the elements introduced in the previous intervention and the current problems. The restoration carried out several decades ago, though applying guidelines to respect the original work, did not fully comprehend the binding’s structural elements. This led us to question what to do with the elements from the previous intervention that did not successfully achieve the original aim of reattaching the front cover and the first chapter to the spine.

In conclusion, the goal of this study is to show how the intervention we undertook, based on analyzing and correctly comprehending the function of the binding’s structural elements, remediated the errors of the last intervention while also reinforcing and consolidating the binding’s damaged parts so that they could provide their original function. In addition, this also justifies why we decided to maintain the elements introduced in the previous restoration as testament to the codex’ own history.