Monthly Archives: September 2016

Manuscript Road Trip: Boston Manuscripts are Beyond Words

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

For the last five years, I have had the great pleasure of collaborating with four extraordinary and generous colleagues – Jeffrey Hamburger (Harvard Univ.), William P. Stoneman (Houghton Library, Harvard Univ.), Anne-Marie Eze (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), and Nancy Netzer (McMullen Museum, Boston College) – on a massive and unprecedented multi-venue and multi-media project that has at last come to fruition: Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections.


Beyond Words showcases 250 manuscripts and incunables from nineteen Boston-area lenders in three venues. At Harvard’s Houghton Library, Beyond Words: Church and Cloister explores books made by and for monks in the 7th through 13th centuries; at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College, Beyond Words: Pleasure and Piety showcases books for nobles from the Gothic period (including six, count’em, SIX leaves of the Beauvais Missal!), and at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Beyond Words: Italian Renaissance Books presents masterpieces of Renaissance book illumination, including incunabula.


Six Beauvais Missal leaves in one place! That’s more than have ever been seen together since it was cut up in 1942. (photo by Jay Moschella)

But Beyond Words is much more than a showcase of Boston’s hidden treasures. As you make your way through the three venues, you will follow the development of The Book, of literacy and literate culture, and, of course, medieval and Renaissance art over the course of a thousand years. In addition, you will meet many of characters who interacted with these books or actually brought them to Boston, such as Isabella Stewart Gardner herself.


Leaf from the glorious Noyon Missal, on display at the Houghton Library, Harvard University (Noyon, France, 1225–50) (Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Typ 120, f. 4r)


Isabella Stewart Gardner reading, photograph by Otto Rosenheim, London, 14 December 1906. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Archive.

The three venues are enhanced by an audioguide and digital interactives – videos, digital facsimiles, and annotated images – that supplement the labels and walltext. A catalogue with hundreds of color images and detailed entries on each book (beautifully designed and published by the McMullen Museum and available here) includes hundreds of full-color images, contributions by more than 80 scholars, and many previously-unpublished discoveries. A three-day symposium is planned for November 3-5. Finally, the project website includes detailed information about visiting each venue, a calendar of public programming, a link to the audioguide, and a searchable database of objects in the show, many of which include links to online images. The website will be updated regularly, so check back often to see what’s new! Follow us on Twitter @BeyondWords2016 for regular updates.

If you’re going to be in Boston between now and the end of the year, please take advantage of this opportunity to meet some of Boston’s greatest treasures. While each venue can stand on its own, I encourage you to visit the sites in chronological order if possible – Houghton, McMullen, Gardner – so you can experience the scope and narrative of the show the way we intended.


A Renaissance scholar’s studiolo at the Gardner Museum

We hope to see you in Boston!


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