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Something about palimpsests teases the imagination, with artists and observers discovering and creating them in different media. Following are palimpsests created by artists and by time itself.

Traditionally, palimpsests are defined as manuscripts erased and written over. The purpose was to conserve materials, not to censor. The original words, and sometimes images, were physically scraped from the surface of parchment or vellum. Later, chemical erasure was used. Nova/PBS gives a quick introduction here.

My review of The Lost Diary of Venice, by Margaux DeRoux, is posted at Historical Novel Society. The novel’s dual plot revolves around a palimpsest from Renaissance Venice.

Palimpsest (Old Gods) art by Julie Meheretu
Artist Julie Meheretu created the work Palimpsest (Old Gods) “based on an assemblage of architectural forms drawn from an encyclopaedia of twentieth-century architecture. Fragments of emblematic buildings are superimposed onto others, some parts erased to provide pictorial space for others. This accumulation of architecture is akin to the one found in any urban setting, as a testimony of a historical continuum, but also the evolution of the use of space and related social habits…” This description leads well into the next image here, an “architectural palimpest.” source
old building
An “architectural palimpest” reveals the traces of former structures, window and door openings, trim, repairs and so on. A palimpsest of several levels, with varying brickwork, discolorations, and uneven surfaces, is observed in this photo by Steve Middlehurst in England. source
exposed building in NYC
And this one, observed in New York City by Jaime Derringer source
ghost sign on wall
Sam Roberts photographed this “ghost sign” palimpsest in Haringey, England. source
Edinburgh then and now
A street in Edinburgh, with past layered over present—or vice versa—to form the palimpsest. From the Palimpsest Project
urban art made of flyers
A public bulletin board, whether on a telephone pole, the side of a building or a designated notice board, becomes a palimpsest as new notices are stapled and pasted over old, and then melt away in the elements. source
Composer Christos Hatzis created several palimpsestic works based on J.S. Bach pieces. He calls his method “a juxtaposition of various layers of information whose composite meaning is radically different than the original meaning of each separate layer. source

Maybe recycling creates palimpsests, as new uses layer over old. Nineteenth-century recycling here.

And what are we, after all, but palimpsests, the raw material of our psyches as an enduring parchment, with the past faded and written over, but never entirely erased? Sculpture “Palimpsest 2/7” by Dale Dunning source

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