Figge Art Museum unveils centuries-old manuscripts

This is an example of some of the work the Figge Art Museum will have on display in “Illumination: Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts,” which includes handwritten and meticulously painted book pages. The exhibit will be at the Davenport museum through mid-August.  CREDIT FIGGE ART MUSEUM

Some of the oldest works in the Figge Art Museum’s collection are now on view for the first time in decades. The collection exhibit started Saturday, May 18. 

The Figge has a small, but impressive, collection of medieval and early Renaissance manuscripts from Europe, the Middle East and India that date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. A selection of 12 of these works will be on view in the second-floor Lewis Gallery.

“Illumination: Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts” includes handwritten and meticulously painted book pages created with pigments sourced from semi-precious materials such as lapis lazuli and malachite, and highlighted with gold leaf and silverpoint. The decorations in the margins of these books include beautifully intricate paintings that illustrate the typography written on the page. 

“In today’s terms, these manuscripts are the Ferrari of the Medieval world,” said Senior Co-Curator Joshua Johnson. “They were crafted by hand and were very expensive to produce since it was before the creation of the printing press.”

Some of the works on view include musical notations for Gregorian chants, a page from a Benedictine Psalter, and several examples of pages from different books of hours as well as illustrations of Indian battle scenes. The text on these pages includes inscriptions in Latin, Devanagari script and Arabic. 

Translations for the pages will accompany the label information. Additionally, guests can enrich their visit with an audio tour featuring recordings of the songs depicted in the musical notations.

“Illumination: Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts” will be on view through Sunday, Aug. 11.

In addition, the museum’s Sculpture Garden exhibit remains on display through late June. 

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