Illuminating the Dark Ages: NEH grant will help display and digitize Boston-area medieval manuscripts

2 min read

If a single illuminated manuscript can give a glimpse of the art, literature, religion and history of Western culture during the Middle Ages, imagine what nearly 4,000 – the number of such manuscripts held in the Boston area – might do.

Those 4,000 manuscripts are the focus of an exhibit being prepared by Kuno Francke Professor of German Art & Culture Jeffrey Hamburger and Houghton Library Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts William Stoneman. Hamburger and Stoneman are the recipients of a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to fund planning for an exhibition, catalog, website, international conference and special collections consortium of schools, museums and libraries on illuminated manuscripts dating from the 9th to the 16th century.

“The motivation for doing this exhibition is the very simple fact that there’s a larger concentration of medieval and renaissance painting tucked away at libraries and other collections in the Boston area that remains little known or entirely unknown than anywhere in North America,” said Hamburger.

The exhibit, “Pages from the Past: Illuminated Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in Boston-area Collections,” will open in the fall of 2016 in three Boston venues: Harvard’s Houghton Library, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art. In the upcoming months, Hamburger and Stoneman will work with partners at those institutions and at the Boston Athenaeum, the Boston Public Library, the Museum of Fine Arts, Brandeis, MIT, Tufts, Northeastern and Wellesley to finalize a list of ca. 200 manuscripts to display.