Bodleian’s Winter Exhibition “Crossing Borders”

The Kennicott Bible. MS. Kenn. 1 fol. 352 v.

On Monday 4th May some 600 visitors grasped the last opportunity to see the exhibition, ‘Crossing Borders’, in the Bodleian Library exhibition room.  During the five months of this exhibition, 30 Hebrew manuscripts together with about 30 Arabic and Latin codices were viewed by 30,412 visitors in total. This precious selection of the Bodleian holdings was ‘a feast for the eyes,’ as Bodley’s Librarian Dr. Sarah Thomas  said when she opened the exhibition on 7th December 2009.

Several bibliographic celebrities were present, among them the Kennicott Bible. Thanks to a digital display, users were also able to ‘turn the pages’ of a facsimile of this 15th-century manuscript.  Maimonides’ autograph draft of his legal code, the Mishneh Torah was another outstanding presence.

Maimonides’ autograph draft of his legal code, Mishneh Torah (from the Cairo Genizah), in cursive Sephardic script (Egypt, c. 1180).

Other books, however, were on public display for the first time in their long lives, such as the 13th century illuminated prayer books for the Jewish festivals, Nicholas of Lyra’s commentary on the book of Exodus with gold leaf  images of the Menorah, the selection of Arabic, Hebrew and Latin fables, the oldest extant  13th century Hebrew Encyclopaedia of science and its Arabic and Latin counterparts, some precious Greek papyri and Hebrew fragments from the Cairo Genizah, must have been thrilled by this extraordinary interest in their existence. As these manuscripts sat in the exhibition cases, they might have found the number of admirers visiting them less surprising than their unusual neighbours. Resting on their accustomed shelves in the bookstacks they had always been surrounded by family members: Hebrew by Hebrew, Latin by Latin codices.

Tripartite Mahzor: Initial word of the opening prayer for the Day of Atonement (Kol nidrei; Ashkenaz, fourteenth century).

But in December 2009 they became the centre of a cross-cultural event. In the exhibition the Hebrew manuscripts became a meeting place of cultures. In a direct comparison with Arabic, Greek and Latin manuscripts they showed in unexpected ways the social and cultural interaction between Jews and non-Jews in both the Muslim and Christian world.

Nicholas of Lyra, Commentary on Exodus, with comparative diagrams of the menorah and the table of showbread (France, late fourteenth century).

The interaction  came to light in decorative patterns, writing styles, script types and text genres. By absorbing elements of the host cultures in which the Jews lived, the Hebrew manuscripts became proof of coexistence and cultural affinity, as well as practical cooperation between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbours in the Middle Ages. Back in the stacks they all will miss their new friends.

– from Piet van Boxel, Curator of Hebrew Collections, Bodleian Library.

An online selection of images from the exhibition is available:

William Wake at Christ Church College, Oxford

Know a man by his ancestry, his friends, his enemies… and his books.

William Wake’s ancestry included the quarrelsome and rebellious Hereward the Wake; several members of the clergy; a book thief (who is also to be counted in the previous class of persons in this list); a father who was in prison when he was born; and a mother who by cleverness and hard work managed to restore the family fortunes. Between his friends he could count a wife with Archbishop Chichele’s blood in her veins; several Bishops and Archbishops, and half of the clergy in England; French Huguenots and expatriates; writers and publishers; and the Prince and Princess of Wales (unfortunately, not the King). As for his enemies, the Government and the other half of the clergy are the most conspicuous.

Tracing the character of William Wake (1657-1737, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1716) through the books he collected during his life has been an interesting and rewarding exercise. Wake’s books have stories to tell about the schoolboy, the scholar, and the man of power, but also the father and the husband; they shed light on his habits and reveal him to us as a hoarder; their bindings talk about his travels and his fortunes; and they teach us about his ancestry, friends and enemies.

View of Upper Library, Christ Church College, Oxford

Christ Church Upper Library exhibition WAKE is a celebration of the conclusion of the cataloguing of the over 7000 early printed books in the Wake Collection. Work began in-house in 1995, and after a break between 2003 and 2005, was continued until completion, on Friday 26th February 2010, through participation in the Early Printed Books cataloguing project of the Bodleian Library. The records are accessible via OLIS, the Oxford University integrated online catalogue.

WAKE  – an exhibition open at Christ Church – Upper Library

The exhibition will be open between 28 April-28 May 2010.
Visiting hours
9.00 am – 1.00 pm
2.00 pm – 5.00 pm
12 noon-1 pm

Exit pursued by a Beare

The Globe Theatre Company will be occupying the Bodleian quadrangle in August, with performances of Shakespeare’s “Winter’s Tale” from August 17 to 22. Today our Exhibitions section was preparing a display including this long panorama of London in 1616, made by Claes Jansz Visscher of Amsterdam. It had been stored folded, and removing the heavy creases for display took several hours in a humidification chamber, followed by flattening with three heavy boards, carefully laid on top of thick felt squares.  Even then it is too long, and the ends will have to be rolled to fit into the exhibition case. The 1616 panorama, the First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays (1623) [for the chequered history of this book, see the New York Times article from March 30, 1906, “Bodleian Library Acquires a Shakespeare Folio It Sold in 1664”], and other material will be shown in the Exhibition Room from August 2 – 25.

Announcement of event from Bodleian Library

See performance dates and times from the Globe Theatre website