BC’s McMullen Museum has teamed up with Harvard’s Houghton Library and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to create Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections, a multi-venue exhibition, displaying over 250 articles of bound volumes, singles leaves, and cuttings from various manuscripts.
The Beyond Words exhibition has sourced objects from 19 museums and libraries scattered across the Boston-area. With over 250 articles distributed across the three museums, it is “the largest exhibition of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and early printed books ever held in North America,” says Nancy Netzer, Director of The McMullen Museum. Previously, the largest exhibition of such manuscripts was at Syracuse’s Bird Library which held only 10 back in 2012.
Each venue dedicates its focus thematically—the Houghton Library displays the monastic library; the Gardner Museum displays the Italian humanist library; finally, bearing the bulk of the exhibition with over 150 articles, BC’s own McMullen Museum exhibits the lay library. The lay library holds a collection of biblical manuscripts designed to be more accessible to the average visitor.
The idea for the multi-venue exhibition stemmed from wanting to target specific audiences at each museum. According to Netzer, each collection in the exhibition "has its own integrity," but were created to be viewed as "an interlocking integrated whole."
The McMullen Museum’s exhibition of Manuscripts for Pleasure & Piety specifically deals with how the manuscripts were made, the meaning in their creation, and how they ended up in Boston.
It is the Museum’s hope that such a groundbreaking exhibition with so many never-before-seen pieces will stimulate further discovery of and investigation into manuscripts of a similar kind.
Many of the manuscripts have been digitized and are accessible on the Beyond Words website. The aim is to make this catalogue of objects "more than a mere record of the exhibition, but rather a reference work that can supply the foundation for further study for years to come," Netzer explains.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the McMullen Museum will be hosting Roger S. Wieck, Curator and Department Head of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscript at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York. His upcoming lecture on "Medieval Bestseller: The Book of Hours," on Sept. 18 at 2 p.m, will focus on a popular, illustrated prayer book in the late medieval period. The event will also be live streamed for those unable to attend.