“Chapter and Verse” ~ UW–Madison Libraries Department of Special Collections
~ By Robin Rider
“Chapter and Verse” explores the close association of the Bible and other texts from various religious traditions with print culture (and, more broadly, book culture). This exhibit, drawing upon the holdings of Special Collections, complements a touring exhibition, “Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible,” at the Chazen Museum of Art.
On display in Special Collections are examples from the late medieval period through the 20th century showing the organization of religious texts and their ornamentation. Some of these books were intended for an elite readership; others, for a much larger audience. Small volumes or large, well equipped with erudition or simplified for beginning readers, in a variety of languages, typeset or rendered in manuscript, handsome or otherwise — the array invites re-examination of the familiar and canonical.
See Calendar of Events in this issue for more information
The Kohler Art Library is also hosting an exhibit from its extensive collection of facsimiles of illuminated manuscripts curated by Art History graduate students.
By ~ Maria Saffiotti Dale / Curator of Paintings, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts
Chazen Museum of Art / President of the Friends of the UW Libraries
In 1995, conversations began between the British calligraphy artist and scribe to Queen Elizabeth I, Donald Jackson, and the Benedictine Abbey of St. John’s in Collegeville, Minnesota, about embarking on the production of a handwritten and hand illuminated Bible. More than fifteen years later, The Saint John’s Bible was completed by Jackson and a team of scribes and illuminators working under his direction. According to medieval practice, the Bible is written with quills and reeds using 19th-century Chinese black ink and illuminated with natural pigments and gold and silver leaf on calfskin. The complex layout of the text and images, however, was accomplished with the help of the computer.
The creation of this mammoth project necessitated the creation of both an artistic community as well as a monastic, scholarly one. Donald Jackson assembled a team of scribes and artists based primarily in his scriptorium in Wales, and Saint John’s convened the Committee on Illumination and Text to guide the theological interpretation of the text, to give expression to the monastic intentions undergirding the commission, and to represent a diversity of spiritual and artistic views. In the spirit of the monastic practice of lectio divina—holy reading, which is a meditative, prayerful reading of Scripture, a creative collaboration arose in the development of the imagery that accompanies the text. As such, the final result is a dynamic whole that reverberates with the movement of the hands and breath, that calligraphed the text, and put form and color to the artists’ visions. The rich compendium of images refers to medieval biblical illustration, to diverse cultural and religious traditions, both Western and Eastern, to scientific innovations, to contemporary history and to the natural world, particularly that of the Upper Midwest. In the Benedictine tradition, it is a project of vast scope, great expense, and powerful impact.
The exhibition hosted by the Chazen Museum of Art, “Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible,” will be on view from December 19, 2014 to March 15, 2015 in the Pleasant T. Rowland Galleries. The exhibition comprises thirty-four cases in which seventy individual folios of The Saint John’s Bible will be visible in pairs as full openings. Although the folios are not yet bound into book form, their presentation will, in all cases except one, reflect how they will look in book form. If you would like to virtually turn the pages of The Saint John’s Bible, an interactive virtual book is available on The Saint John’s Bible website at the following link: http://www.saintjohnsbible.org/Explore.aspx?VID=7&ID=11. Original folios from each of the seven volumes of the Bible will be included in the exhibition—Pentateuch, Historical Books, Wisdom Books, Psalms, Prophets, Gospels and Acts, and Letters and Revelation. The inclusion of one first volume of the full-scale fine art printed edition illuminated with hand-applied gold and silver treatments (the Heritage Edition) will allow visitors to see how the original folios of the Bible will look in codex form once the Bible is bound. Docents will be available to turn the pages at scheduled times throughout the run of the exhibition.
Some of the highlights of the original folios that will be on view in the Chazen Museum of Art exhibition are the Creation and Genesis Incipit (written and illuminated by Donald Jackson), Butterflies and Thistle and Adam and Eve (written by Donald Jackson, illuminated by Donald Jackson and Chris Tomlin), The Ten Commandments (written by Donald Jackson, illuminated by Thomas Ingmire), Wisdom Woman (written by Brian Simpson, illuminated by Donald Jackson), Listen (written by Sally Mae Joseph, illuminated by Diane von Arx), Psalms Frontispiece (illuminated by Donald Jackson), Valley of Dry Bones (written by Susan Leiper, illuminated by Donald Jackson), Genealogy of Christ and Matthew Incipit (written and illuminated by Donald Jackson), Parable of the Sower and the Seed (illuminated by Aidan Hart with contributions by Donald Jackson and Sally Mae Joseph, written by Sally Mae Joseph), and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (written and illuminated by Donald Jackson).
Although the original folios have not yet been bound, they have already begun to be used, along with the bound volumes of the Heritage Edition, in the St. John’s liturgies that take place in the Abbey Church designed by modernist architect Marcel Breuer. In the stark concrete structure warmed by wooden choir stalls and pews hewn from the trees of the surrounding woods and illuminated by brightly colored stained glass windows, The Saint John’s Bible ignites the imagination of the monastic community, which, in turn, is sending this monumental creation out into the world to inspire all of us, too!
Support for the 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 the Lubar Institute for the Study of Abrahamic Religions.
The Friends are cosponsors of the symposium plenary lecture by the distinguished manuscript scholar Dr. Christopher de Hamel. De Hamel will examine The Saint John’s Bible to gain a greater understanding of the production of deluxe illuminated Bibles in the Middle Ages. The Friends annual Douglas Schewe Lecture is thanks to a bequest made by Douglas Schewe to the Friends in support of lectures that celebrate the print book, lecturers that encourage a diversity of study, and to programs that further the “sifting and winnowing” principal of the University of Wisconsin.