For hundreds of years, medieval manuscripts have been bought and sold, gifted and stolen, preserved and rearranged, loved and forgotten, hidden and displayed. They were cut into pieces, hung on walls, and glued into albums. They have survived wars, fires, floods, religious conflict, political tumult, the invention of printing, and changes in taste.
At times valued for their beauty, for their spiritual significance, or simply for the strength of their parchment pages, the books, leaves, and cuttings in this exhibition have been transformed again and again to suit the changing expectations of their various audiences and owners. By revealing the ways in which manuscripts have been repurposed both conceptually and physically, this exhibition explores their long and eventful history since the Middle Ages.
In this image, a male figure forms the letter I. His exact identity is unknown, but the presence of multiple instruments of torture identify him as a martyr. Notice the two large stones on his head, a sword through his neck, and a grill and fire at his feet. It was a common practice in the 19th century for collectors to trim away all traces of surrounding text in illuminated manuscripts, as here. Collectors mounted such cuttings into albums, allowing the viewer to concentrate solely on the imagery.