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                                                                                    Nancy Netzer, Director
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Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections
September 12–December 11, 2016

Multi-Venue Display Includes Harvard Library, Gardner Museum;
Largest Exhibition of Medieval Manuscripts in N. America
CHESTNUT HILL, MA (June 2016) — The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College presents a groundbreaking exhibition, Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections—which charts nearly a millennium in the history of European painting—in collaboration with Harvard University’s Houghton Library (HUL) and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (ISGM).

Beyond Words, which comprises a total of 260 bound volumes, single leaves, and cuttings from nineteen Boston-area libraries and museums, is the largest exhibition of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and early printed books ever to take place in North America.

It also is the inaugural exhibition at the McMullen Museum’s new state-of-the-art venue at 2101 Commonwealth Avenue. On display will be 180 European illuminations from sixteen Boston-area collections, dating from the eleventh to sixteenth century.

The multi-venue display opens at Boston College on September 12, and runs through December 11, 2016. (See below for other venue exhibition dates and information.) Beyond its concurrent displays, this collaborative metropolitan project is notable for the size of its curatorial team and number of lending institutions.

Beyond Words is the first exhibition to showcase highlights of medieval and Renaissance illumination in the Boston area—collections that constitute one of the most important ensembles of illuminated manuscripts anywhere in North America. Each venue will feature one of the three principal contexts for the production of books in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and related developments in design, script, and decoration.

 “For the inaugural exhibition in its new museum in Boston, the McMullen is pleased to collaborate with colleagues across the city in organizing and hosting the largest portion of one of the most comprehensive and scholarly-ambitious manuscript exhibitions ever mounted in this country,” said McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer.

“More than 180 works will be on display—many for the first time—in the Museum’s newly dedicated Daley and Monan galleries. Published by the McMullen, the exhibition’s catalogue, a seminal reference work to which eighty-five scholars from around the world have contributed entries and essays, brings together for the first time research on the most splendid medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts preserved in the Boston area.”
“It’s wonderful that Beyond Words will be the first exhibition in Boston College’s impressive new McMullen Museum,” said co-curator Jeffrey F. Hamburger, Kuno Francke Professor of German Art and Culture at Harvard University. “This venue will show off to great advantage the tremendous range of medieval and Renaissance book painting that we have drawn from sixteen different Boston-area collections. I think that visitors will be surprised and delighted by the quality, inventiveness, and sheer variety of the materials on display.”

Opening Celebration and Preview: September 10 and 11

An opening celebration will preview Beyond Words and the new McMullen Museum venue—located at 2101 Commonwealth Avenue. The September 10 and 11 events, which will be held from noon to 5 p.m. each day, will welcome local community members, friends of the Museum, and alumni/ae of Boston College.

Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections

The exhibition showcases some 260 outstanding manuscripts and printed books dating from the eighth to the seventeenth centuries. They constitute one of North America’s most important ensembles of illuminated manuscripts, scarcely seen and virtually unknown prior to this project.

[MEDIA NOTE: A selection of press images is available here: Please email Kate Shugert with questions. Slideshow of images, more exhibition details at Information on all three venues and on manuscripts displayed with additional images will be available at]

The exhibition will be complemented by an extensive catalogue, a three-day international conference, and a slate of public programming. (More below.)

The exhibition is displayed at three leading Boston-area cultural institutions, as no single institution could independently realize the curators’ vision. This unconventional, collaborative approach has many advantages, they say: The multi-venue format reflects the consortial nature of the project, which includes manuscripts and printed books from a total of nineteen libraries and museums, reflecting the richness of resources in the Boston area.

Dividing the books into three groups also allowed for a shifting thematic focus—at the Houghton Library, the monastic library; at the McMullen Museum, the lay library; and at the Gardner Museum, the Italian humanist library—which accommodated the disparate nature of the collections on display and allowed the curators to present in bold strokes the history of the book from the early Middle Ages through to the Renaissance and Reformation.

Each exhibition venue has its own integrity and can be viewed separately, but was conceived as an integrated whole. Most of the manuscripts were conserved and digitized as part of the exhibition; as a result, they are now more accessible—and have been described in greater detail—than ever before.

McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College: Manuscripts for Pleasure & Piety

The McMullen Museum focuses on lay readership and the place of books in medieval society. The High Middle Ages witnessed an affirmation of the visual and, with it, empirical experience; there was an explosion of illumination. Various types of images, whether in prayer or professional books, attest to the newfound importance of visual demonstration in matters of faith and science alike. The manuscripts on display, from sixteen Boston-area collections, date from the eleventh to sixteenth century, from all over Europe.

Concurrent Venues

Houghton Library, Harvard University: Manuscripts from Church & Cloister
September 12–December 10, 2016
The Houghton Library emphasizes the centrality of books to monastic life. Male and female monasticism revolved around religion, but at its heart was a cult of the book: not just the Bible, but all books. Monastic scriptoria guaranteed the survival and transmission of classical literature and learning. Reverence felt for texts and their authors is manifest in the beauty of the books that were crafted in monasteries and convents. The manuscripts on display highlight the scriptorium as both a space for the production of manuscripts and the human collective that produced them.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: Italian Renaissance Books
September 22, 2016–January 16, 2017
The Gardner Museum explores the birth of the modern book in fifteenth-century Italy, which was the genesis of the radical shift from manuscript, to print, to digital culture that evolved over the last 500 years. Against the backdrop of the current Digital Age and debates over the relevance of the book, the exhibition invites visitors to contemplate one era of revolution in the time of another. The humanist book is revealed as an inexhaustible source of inspiration for artists and the nexus of intellectual and visual culture in the Italian Renaissance.

Co-curators and catalogue editors

In addition to Netzer and Hamburger, exhibition curators are William P. Stoneman, curator of early books and manuscripts at HUL; Anne-Marie Eze, former associate curator of the collection, ISGM; Lisa Fagin Davis, professor of practice in manuscript studies, Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science and executive director, Medieval Academy of America. Major catalogue supporters:
Daniel and Joanna S. Rose; additional support from the Rose Marrow Fund.

Published by the McMullen Museum, the catalogue includes color images of each illuminated manuscript in the exhibition, accompanied by entries by eighty-five world renowned scholars. It provides an overview of the history of the book in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and a guide to its production, illumination, functions, and readership. The essayists—specialists from North America and Europe—document and discuss the works, many of which were little known prior to this exhibition. The catalogue also explores the history of collecting such books in Boston—an uncharted chapter in the history of American taste. The editors’ goal is to make the catalogue more than a record of the exhibition, but also a reference work for the foundation of further study.

Exhibition Lenders and Sponsors

Major exhibition supporters include the National Endowment for the Humanities and, at the McMullen Museum, Leslie and Peter Ciampi and the Patrons of the McMullen Museum.

Boston-area lenders:
Armenian Museum of America, Mesrob G. Boyajian Library
Boston Athenæum
Boston College, John J. Burns Library
Boston College, McMullen Museum of Art
Boston Public Library
Boston University, School of Theology Library
Brandeis University, Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum
Harvard Business School, Baker Library
Harvard Divinity School, Andover-Harvard Theological Library
Harvard Law School, Historical & Special Collections
Harvard Medical School, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston Medical Library
Harvard University, Houghton Library
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Institute Archives & Special Collections
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Northeastern University, Snell Library, Archives & Special Collections
Tufts University, Tisch Library
Wellesley College, Margaret Clapp Library

Accompanying Public Events

Lecture by Beyond Words curator Jeffrey F. Hamburger, “Devotion and Invention in a Mass of St. Gregory by the Master of the Houghton Miniatures (a.k.a. Hugo van der Goes?)”; Sunday, September 11, 2016, 2–3:30 p.m.

Lecture by manuscripts expert Roger Wieck, curator of manuscripts at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York; Sunday, September 18, 2016, 2–3 p.m.
Sponsor: Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Boston Camerata Performance, “Sounds of Silence”; Thursday, October 27, 2016, 7–8:30 p.m. Sponsors: Lia and William Poorvu.

A three-day international conference—open to the public, free of charge—will begin at the McMullen Museum on Thursday, November 3, 2016. It will feature talks by six European and American catalogue contributors. It continues on November 4 at ISGM and on November 5 at HUL. Major support for the conference at its three venues: Medieval Studies Committee of Harvard University; Boston College Institute for the Liberal Arts; additional support from Christie’s, and the International Center of Medieval Art.  

Lecture by Beyond Words curator Lisa Fagin Davis, “Scattered Leaves: Digitally Reconstructing the Beauvais Missal”; Thursday, November 17, 2016, 5–6:30 p.m.

Additional public programming is planned for families and the general public. Details TBA; visit

McMullen Museum: New Venue

The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College—which has offered world-class, critically acclaimed exhibitions on campus for more than two decades—now occupies a Roman Renaissance Revival palazzo at 2101 Commonwealth Avenue. Funded in part by a gift to the University from the McMullen Family Foundation, the new state-of-the-art venue includes 30,000 gross-square feet of space.

The building, designed by Boston architects Maginnis and Walsh and built in 1927, now features main galleries that triple the McMullen’s previous exhibition space. They include the second-floor Daley Family Gallery, named through a gift from 1958 BC alumnus C. Michael Daley, chair of the Patrons’ Committee of the McMullen Museum of Art and his wife, Janet (parents of 1980 and 1988 BC alumni). The third-floor Monan Gallery was named through a gift from 1978 BC alumnus Christopher Toomey in honor of BC Chancellor and former President J. Donald Monan, SJ. Other building features include a large rooftop deck and a 7,000-square-foot glass atrium which showcases a 127-year-old stained-glass triptych by American stained glass artist John La Farge (1835–1910).

The McMullen is renowned for organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions that ask new questions and break new ground in the display and scholarship of the works on view. It serves as a dynamic educational resource for all of New England as well as the national and international community. The Museum mounts exhibitions of international scholarly importance from all periods and cultures of the history of art. In keeping with the University’s central teaching mission, exhibitions are accompanied by scholarly catalogues and related public programs. The McMullen Museum of Art was named in 1996 for the late BC benefactor, trustee, and art collector John J. McMullen and his wife Jacqueline McMullen.

McMullen Museum Hours and Tours

Admission is free; handicapped accessible, open to the public. Located at 2101 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02135 on BC’s 65-acre Brighton Campus. Expanded hours during this opening exhibition: Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. The Museum will be closed on Monday, October 10, 2016 (Columbus Day), and Thursday and Friday, November 24–25, 2016 (Thanksgiving holiday). Contact:, 617.552.8587. All events are free and open to the public. Docent tours on Sundays at 2 p.m., and arranged upon request by calling 617.552.8587. For directions, parking, and program information, visit


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