Bronx Doctor Donates Medieval Manuscript Facsimiles to Fordham

This post is cross-blogged from Fordham News.

The Très riches heures, a book of prayers commissioned for a French prince, is one of the most famous illuminated manuscripts of the 15th century. It contains dozens of images painted with rich pigments and embellished with gold. The original sits in the Musée Condé in Chantilly, France.

But thanks to a fine art facsimile of the historic tome in Fordham’s Walsh Library, students can flip through the lush pages and absorb a visual representation of medieval art and religion.

The Très riches heures facsimile is one of 300 books and objects donated to Fordham by Dr. James Leach, a New York physician who’s been curious about medieval manuscripts and liturgical books since he was young.

“When I was growing up, I had an interest in Latin and in the church,” said Leach, who heads the dermatology department at Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx. “The prayer books I was familiar with were a springboard to begin looking at the older manuscripts.”

He began amassing a collection of fine art facsimiles of medieval manuscripts, which have been produced since around 1990, typically in limited-edition runs of 300 to 900 copies. He thought that Fordham, as a Catholic university with an established medieval studies program, would be the perfect repository for these works. Leach also donated a sizable collection of original Catholic prayer missals from the late-19th to early-20th centuries.

Nina Rowe, PhD, chair and associate professor of art history at Fordham, said the University is lucky to have such high-quality reproductions available for students.

“One can certainly lecture in the classroom about the technical aspects of luxury handmade books from the eighth to the 15th centuries in Europe,” Rowe said. “But with high-quality facsimiles, students can get a sense of the ways in which illuminated manuscripts were functional objects, designed to be viewed up close, leafed through, and carried.”

Rowe said the Très riches heures is one of the “greatest hits” of medieval art history. She also has a few other favorites among the collection.

“I’m delighted to be able to teach students from the facsimiles of the Lindisfarne Gospels, an English monastic manuscript made around the year 700 and renowned for its so-called Carpet Pages, full-page designs with intricate interlace, often in the form of the cross,” she said.

“Another favorite facsimile of mine reproduces a Moralized Bible (sometimes called the Saint Louis Bible) from Paris, 1226 to 1236. Every page features eight circles arranged in four pairs, each with little scenes linking a vignette from the Hebrew Bible to a Christian or contemporary commentary. The images are especially fun when they depict the perceived vices of early 13th-century Parisian life, evoking the real world of the street in a remote period.”

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Pages from the collection’s facsimile of a Moralized Bible (sometimes called the Saint Louis Bible)

Linda LoSchiavo, TMC ’72, director of the University libraries, said Leach’s contributions are an important addition to Fordham’s Special Collections.

“The facsimiles are an extraordinary example of medieval artistry,” she said. “They’re done with highly specialized devices, and the bindings are reproductions as well.”

The cover of a facsimile of the Sacramentary of Henry II, a liturgical manuscript from the late-10th to early-11th century, includes an intricate copy of the original’s ivory relief. Other facsimiles Leach has donated include theEton Choirbook and the Lorsch Gospels.

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The cover of a facsimile of the Sacramentary of Henry II, which features an intricate plastic copy of the original’s ivory relief

The recent establishment of Fordham’s Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies, and the collection of Judaica being assembled by Magda Teter, PhD, the chair’s inaugural holder, prompted LoSchiavo to ask Leach if he would consider donating a a Haggadah, a book used during Passover seders. He was happy to oblige, and earlier this year donated a facsimile of the Barcelona Haggadah. The original dates to the middle of the 14th century.

Leach hopes his gifts will help Fordham students learn that art and illuminated manuscripts flourished during the medieval period, even though the era sometimes gets a bad rap.

“Most important is that they realize that ‘medieval’ is not purely a derogatory term,” he said. “It was an age of faith and artistic productivity that contributed to Western civilization.”

 

By Nicole Larosa

Peter A. Vergara (FCRH ’18) Shares his Experiences as an Intern at the Cloisters

 

“In mid March 2015 – toward the end of New York’s perpetual winter – I took the subway up to Dykman Street and trekked up the snowy hills of Fort Tyron Park to reach The Cloisters Museum and interview for their summer internship program. To my amazement, I did receive the offer to become one of eight summer interns working for the Education Department at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters Museum and Gardens. June 1st was the beginning of the most fascinating, exhausting, and rewarding summer I have had so far. The internship at The Cloisters was two-fold: Day-Camp tours and a Gallery Talk.

 

For the day-camp tours, we, the interns, had two lists of twelve works of art. One was titled People in the Middle Ages and the other Medieval Treasure Hunt. We spent time researching and learning about these twenty-four works of art and how they fit Vergara during Gallery Talkinto their theme. Our research prepared us to be tour-guides in preparation for groups of summer camps and schools – the average group was twenty-something kids, of any age between four and twelve. Our job was to take the facts and history of Medieval Art and bring to life the Middle Ages for these kids. Of course, we would avoid the gruesome stories of plague and torture; however, we highlighted the level or skill and patience that went into creating tapestries and stained glass without modern tools. The children loved identifying the figures of the king’s court in the Nine Heroes Tapestries and exploring the shining works of gold, ivory, or rock crystal. At the end of each tour, we spent 10-15 minutes with a craft project that related to the theme of the tour.

 

The second part of the internship was the Gallery Talk. Over the course of the nine-week program, each intern came up with a theme of their choice and developed a one-hour lecture around 6-8 works of art that related to the topic. We had access to the Met’s extensive library and were expected to research our objects in great detail. The topic I chose was Art Across Medieval Spain. Growing up in Madrid and being exposed to medieval ruins at a young age, I was eager to explore the history behind the art of medieval Iberia. I specifically focused on the religious conflicts between Christians and Muslims, and on the pilgrimage culture of traveling to and from Santiago de Compostela. The most fascinating information I came across in my extensive research was that these two themes are intrinsically related; each of the seven works of art I included in my lecture directly related to both the Christian Reconquista and the pilgrimage to Santiago. The work I had the most fun studying and presenting was an alabaster statue of Saint James the Greater – on this stop of my Gallery Talk I touched on the historical enigma behind this disciple of Jesus, his significance to Spanish culture during the Middle Ages and the transformation of his meaning today as pilgrims flock to his remains from all over the world for religious and secular reasons.

 

As you might know from visiting the museum yourselves, The Cloisters provide a sliver of medieval Europe on the northernmost tip of hectic Manhattan; not only is this a space for academia and truism, but also a refuge from the speeding yellow cabs and loud street vendors downtown. I was honored and privileged to help this unique museum over the summer – plus, I learnt a great deal about Medieval Art in the process.”

 

Peter Vergara is a freshman at Fordham College Rose Hill. He is double majoring in Political Science and Art History, with a minor in Philosophy.