Medieval Studies students visit “Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections”

From the Magdeburg Missal, 1486
Harvard University, Houghton Library, Typ Inc 2756

On December 4th, students in Fordham’s Center for Medieval Studies visited Boston’s Beyond Words illuminated manuscript exhibit.  Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections features manuscripts from 19 different libraries and museums in the city.  Co-curated by Jeffrey Hamburger (Harvard University), William P. Stoneman (Houghton Library), Anne-Marie Eze (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), Lisa Fagin Davis (Medieval Academy of America), and Nancy Netzer (McMullen Museum of Art), the exhibit takes place at three different venues: Harvard University’s Houghton Library, Boston College’s McMullen Museum, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  Visiting the exhibit gave the Medieval Studies MA students the unparalleled opportunity to view over 200 illuminated manuscripts in one day, supplementing their coursework in manuscript studies, medieval literature, and medieval art history.

The Fordham medievalists viewed the McMullen Museum first.  Titled Pleasure and Piety, the McMullen exhibit shed light on lay readership in the High Middle Ages.  We were lucky to receive a tour by Lisa Fagin Davis, one of the co-curators of Beyond Words and the Executive Director of the Medieval Academy of America.  The McMullen was packed with books of hours, antiphonals, breviaries, saints’ lives, Marian devotions, psalters, and the writings of medieval theologians, with items ranging from enormous folio-sized codices to minuscule prayer books meant to be carried on belts.  While showing us the manuscript fragments in the exhibit, Dr. Fagin Davis told us about her fascinating digital reconstruction of the dismembered Beauvais Missal.  She also introduced us to the Chronique Anonyme Universelle (Boston Public Library MS pb Med. 32), a 34-foot-long genealogical roll that recounts biblical events, the mythological history of Europe, and the succession of English and French kings.

After the McMullen tour, the group traveled to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which featured Italian Renaissance books.  The incunables in their exhibit allowed us to think closely about the ways in which visual culture and book culture changed in the wake of humanism and the invention of the printing press.

Items in Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections can be viewed in the exhibit’s digital catalogue and in a richly-illustrated print catalogue.  Many of the books are fully digitized.

The Center would like to thank the Graduate Student Association for their generous support, Dr. Fagin-Davis for the insightful tour, and Dr. Kowaleski and Dr. Stoneman for their help in planning the trip.