Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections


CHURCH & CLOISTER (Houghton Library, Harvard University: September 12–December 10, 2016)
PLEASURE & PIETY (McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College: September 12–December 11, 2016)
ITALIAN RENAISSANCE BOOKS (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: September 22, 2016–January 16, 2017)

The collections in the Boston area constitute one of the most important ensembles of medieval and Renaissance illuminated material anywhere in North America, yet they remain, in large measure, unknown to scholars and the wider public alike. Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections will be the first exhibition to showcase the extraordinary highlights of these collections. It follows in the footsteps of other exhibitions that have drawn attention to the contents of public collections in American and British cities, such as Leaves of Gold: Treasures of Manuscript Illumination from Philadelphia Collections (2001-2002) and Cambridge Illuminations (2005). 

260 outstanding manuscripts and printed books dating from the ninth to seventeenth centuries have been carefully selected from local repositories. These include numerous masterpieces by well-known artists such as Lippo Vanni, Jean Poyer, Jean Bourdichon, Benedetto Bordon, Simon Bening, as well as many others such as the Boucicaut and Rohan masters, no less notable for being anonymous. Identifiable patrons and owners include renowned figures like Charles V of France, Jean de Berry, Borso d’Este, Pope Sixtus IV, and Isabella d’Este—to name just a few. These precious volumes will be loaned by eighteen local institutions: the Armenian Museum and Library of America; the Boston Athenaeum; John J. Burns Library, Boston College; McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College; School of Theology Library, Boston University; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Boston Public Library; Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections, Brandeis University; Historical & Special Collections, Harvard University Law School; Center for the History of Medicine, Countway Library, Harvard University Medical School; Houghton Library, Harvard University; Andover-Harvard Theological Library of the Harvard University Divinity School; Baker Library, Harvard University Business School; the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; Institute Archives & Special Collections, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Snell Library, Northeastern University; Tisch Library Special Collections, Tufts University; and Archives & Special Collections, Wellesley College. In addition to lending manuscripts, these institutions are also contributing the time and skills of their in-house conservators and photographers, who are working hard to prepare for display and to digitize manuscripts, many of which have never been exhibited to the public or reproduced. 

Conceived by Jeffrey F. Hamburger, Kuno Francke Professor of German Art & Culture at Harvard University, in 2000, the exhibition is curated by five scholars with complementary expertise in the holdings and history of Boston-area collections of manuscripts and early printed books. Hamburger is joined by Harvard colleague Dr. William P. Stoneman, Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts of the University’s Houghton Library; Dr. Nancy Netzer, Professor of Art History and Director of the McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College; Dr. Lisa Fagin Davis, Executive Director of the Medieval Academy of America and co-author of the Directory of Collections in the United States and Canada with Pre-1600 Manuscript Holdings, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America (2015); and Dr. Anne-Marie Eze, formerly Associate Curator of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the first scholar to undertake a comprehensive study the museum’s rare-books collection since the 1930s.