Scripture Transfigured: Visualizing the Christian Bible from the Sixth to the Fifteenth Century
~ By Lynette Korenic, Kohler Art Library
The exhibit in the Art Library runs December 19, 2014 – March 15, 2015.
The Bible is sometimes imagined to be a rigid and unchanging book, but this was not the case in the Middle Ages nor is it today. This exhibition presents ten facsimiles of medieval European manuscripts from the Kohler Art Library containing selections of biblical texts and images. These include individual books of the Bible, such as the Apocalypse and the Gospels, as well as books that present biblical texts in the order of the liturgical year, such as Lectionaries and Benedictionals. Also included are picture Bibles and typological commentaries relating Jewish and Christian scriptures. These illuminated manuscript facsimiles creatively blend text and image, signaling their social, political, and performative contexts. They also exemplify how medieval Bibles are transfigured into modern books, adding further variety and historical evolution to the changing form of the Bible.
This exhibition was curated by five Art History graduate students working with Professor Thomas Dale. They selected and researched facsimiles from the Kohler Art Library, wrote caption labels, and worked collaboratively to install the exhibition.
The student curators are: Ashley Cook, Peter Bovenmyer, Daniel Cochran, Mark Summers, and Matthew Westerby.
This display of facsimiles corresponds with the exhibition at the Chazen Museum of Art: Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible. (To read more on the Chazen’s exhibit, see below.)
Image: Bible Moralisée. Codex Vindobonensis 2554 der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek. Graz: Akademische Druck-und Verlagsanstalt, 1973. fol. 1v: God as Creator.
Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible (Chazen Museum of Art and the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library)
~By Kirstin Pires, Chazen Museum of Art
The exhibit runs December 19, 2014 – March 15, 2015
Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible will present 68 original pages from all seven volumes of The Saint John’s Bible along with tools, sketches, materials, and rare books, which help to tell the story of this monumental creation. The exhibition was realized through the collaborative efforts of the Chazen and the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) at Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota.
The Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions will hold a symposium in conjunction with the exhibition. “Visualizing and Translating Scriptures: Reflections on The Saint John’s Bible,” will include public events on Feb. 26.
The exhibition at the Chazen will include original folios (pages) from all seven of the volumes of The Saint John’s Bible. Sixty-eight pages will be on view including 32 vivid illuminations that share the pages with the graceful script. Highlights include the illuminations for Creation, Adam and Eve, The Ten Commandments, and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Visitors will find themselves being drawn in by the striking illuminations, vibrant colors, and thoughtful treatment of these ancient texts.
Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible presents the story of the book’s creation. Artists’ tools and materials along with preliminary sketches and artists’ drafts give insight into the thinking and processes used in creating the pages. A selection of ancient rare books and manuscripts provide a historical context for the manuscript tradition and serve as a testament to the durability of the traditional methods and materials used in the project.
Beginning in 1996, the community of Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota, began planning and working on The Saint John’s Bible—the ﬁrst handwritten, illuminated Bible to be commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in ﬁve hundred years. The work involved countless hours of meetings, artist studio time and the financial support of almost 1,400 individual donors. On May 9, 2011, the last word of the Bible was penned, bringing the almost 15-year production phase to completion.
This unique undertaking combines a centuries-old tradition of craftsmanship with the latest capabilities of computer technology and electronic communication. The words are handwritten on vellum (calfskin) using hand-cut quills fashioned from turkey, swan or goose feathers, and ancient inks hand-ground from natural minerals and stones such as lapis lazuli, malachite, and vermillion. The pages are illuminated with the brilliance of 24-karat gold leaf, silver leaf, and platinum. The complete work includes 1,127 handwritten pages and over 160 major artworks.
Generous support for this exhibition has been provided by the Chazen Museum of Art Council, the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts, and from the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions.
The Saint John’s Bible – More Detail
Saint John’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery, and Saint John’s University, founded by the Abbey in 1857, officially commissioned Donald Jackson, one of the world’s foremost calligraphers, in 1998 to carry out the creation of The Saint John’s Bible. Mr. Jackson, senior scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Crown Office at the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, led a team of artists who collaborated with a theological team from Saint John’s Abbey and University.
Mr. Jackson created the illustrations using traditional tools, colors, inks, and metals, inviting other scribes from around the world to consult and work with him at the scriptorium. Illustrations were illuminated with gold leaf, silver leaf and platinum. The Saint John’s Bible was written with quills on carefully selected vellum (calfskin) that is prepared for writing on both sides.
Handwritten Bible and Computer Technology – More Detail
This handwritten Bible was created using state-of-the-art technology; one unique application is in the Book of Psalms. Mr. Jackson and his staff elected to illuminate Psalms in a very different way—taking musical recordings of the Psalms, including Gregorian Chants by the monks of Saint John’s, as well as recordings from other sacred texts, and converting them into a digital format with colorful patterns and wave formations displayed on a computer monitor called digital voice prints. The digital voice prints were photographed and captured by Mr. Jackson. He then created artistic renderings of these color patterns and incorporated them into choir books that appear at the beginning of the five books of Psalms. He also scattered these “virtual voice prints” throughout the Book of Psalms.
A Monastic Tradition – More Detail
Since its formation in the sixth century, Benedictine monasticism has been an important source for the production and the preservation of books. It was through the Benedictines’ painstaking efforts during the Middle Ages that great manuscripts, not only Bibles and prayer books, but also great works of philosophy and science, were preserved for future generations.
“What is most remarkable is 500 years after the invention of printing, a Benedictine community is commissioning a Bible on the scale and size that it would have been 800 years ago,” said Dr. Christopher de Hamel, a manuscript historian and director of The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, England. “This is an artistic project that has taken the scribe and his collaborators over a dozen years, but I think we should look upon it as something on the scale of a huge building project as it would have been in the Middle Ages. It’s rare now to get any artistic endeavor that extends over a period as long as that.”
Saint John’s University is connected to this tradition through the various book arts programs they sponsor, including the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML), its art collection known as Arca Artium, and Special Rare Book Collections at Saint John’s. Saint John’s is a national and international center for the book, art, and religious culture whose mission is to search out and preserve manuscripts, rare books and works of art of religious and cultural importance, and to promote the study of these materials and the scholarship related to them.
Since its founding in 1965, HMML has sent teams of researchers and technicians to film more than 31 million pages from nearly 130,000 volumes in libraries and archives throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Today, HMML represents one of the largest and most comprehensive archives of medieval and Renaissance sources in the world. More than a repository of manuscripts, HMML is one of the most highly regarded research libraries in medieval studies in the country.
EVENTS (for more information contact the Chazen Museum of Art)
Thursday, December 18, 6–8 p.m.: Reception for Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible. Refreshments, live music, cash bar.
Thursday, January 22, 5:30–8:30 p.m.: “From Inspiration to Illumination: An Introduction to The Saint John’s Bible.” Tim Ternes, Director, The Saint John’s Bible. 5:30 p.m., illustrated presentation. 7 p.m., group discussion. 8 p.m., exhibition walk through with question-and-answer. Room L160, Elvehjem Building
Thursday, February 5, 5:30 p.m.: “The Splendor of the Illuminated Book,” public lecture by Chazen curator Maria Saffiotti Dale.
Saturday, February 21, ART•SPIN Afternoon featuring music and performances along with hands-on activities for all ages. Check our website for a complete schedule in the coming weeks. Mead Witter Lobby
Thursday, February 26, Starting at 1 p.m.: “Visualizing and Translating Scriptures: Reflections on The Saint John’s Bible” A symposium presented by the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions. For complete information and to register for public sessions visit the Lubar Institute site here.
Thursday, February 26, 7:30 p.m.: “The Saint John’s Bible and Making Bibles in the Middle Ages,”symposium plenary lecture by Dr. Christopher de Hamel, Donnelly Fellow Librarian of Corpus Christi College (Parker Library), Cambridge University. For more information and sponsors visit the Lubar Institute site here. No registration is necessary for this lecture. Room L160
Calligraphy Demonstrations in March: The Saint John’s Bible celebrates the traditions, methods, and materials of handwritten sacred texts. Calligraphers of Arabic, English, and Hebrew will demonstrate and discuss their work at selected times (see below) in the Mead Witter lobby.
Saturday, March 7 and Sunday, March 8, 12–3 p.m.: Linda P. Hancock, a calligrapher and designer highly respected in the lettering world, from Madison, Wisconsin, will demonstrate and discuss her work.
Wednesday, March 11, 9:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 1:30–4:30 p.m.: Rabbi Kevin Hale, a Torah scribe from Northampton, Massachusetts, will demonstrate and discuss Hebrew calligraphy as sacred text.
Thursday, March 12, 1–5 p.m.: Mohamed Zakariya, a master of the classical Arabic scripts, from Washington, D.C., and Rabbi Kevin Hale, a Torah scribe from Northampton, Massachusetts, will demonstrate their work.
Thursday, March 12, 6–8 p.m.: Linda P. Hancock, calligrapher in English and designer from Madison, Wisconsin, will join Mohamed Zakariya and Rabbi Kevin Hale in a calligraphy demonstration.