A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Jan 5, 2011
It sounds simplistic, but isn’t it thrilling to see something truly old? Whenever I’m in Europe, I marvel at the buildings, objects and art created hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years ago. These relics provide a compelling jumping-off point for exploring and understanding what life was like in ages past.
And there’s something special about seeing smaller, more personal items from different points in history. That’s part of the appeal behind Hidden Treasures: Illuminated Manuscripts from Midwestern Collections, an exhibition at the Chazen Museum of Art running through February 27.
The exhibition features approximately forty pages and books, including bibles, psalters, liturgical manuscripts, devotional books, and literary, historical and legal texts. They date back to the ninth to the sixteenth centuries, and come from university libraries, museums and private collections from seven states.
It’s a quiet show, with primarily small works displayed on walls and in glass cases that draw you in to examine their details: careful script, miniature painted scenes, intricate designs, shimmering gold leaf. These finer points belie the size of the books and leaves—they’re rich, vibrant, instructive and narrative, dazzling worlds contained on a sheet of parchment.
In Western Europe in the Middle Ages before, and even a bit after, the invention of the printing press, books were handwritten on parchment and embellished with bright pigments and gold leaf. Because of the use of gold, the small paintings were known as illuminations. As the Chazen puts it, illuminated manuscripts “exemplify the convergence of medieval bookmaking, written text and art.”
It’s a rare gift to be able to see so many historic manuscripts and pages in one setting, and fascinating to think about how these books were used in daily life by people so long ago. Pay a visit to the Chazen and see what sparks your curiosity.
Hidden Treasures runs through February 27 at the Chazen Museum of Art. For more information, visit chazen.wisc.edu.
Photo courtesy of the Chazen Museum of Art.