Review of Celebrating Word and Image 1200-1600 Manuscript Exhibition


new Norcia

Celebrating Word and Image: 1200-1600
Kerry Stokes’ Medieval Manuscript collection
New Norcia, 4th October 2013- 17th March 2014

Recently I attended the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition at Durham, and I wondered at the ability to provide such a striking historical and archaeological context to a single manuscript only open to one page spread. Several weeks later, I visited Magical Books: From the Middle Ages to Middle-Earth, at the Bodleian, which was a small, thematic display based on the extensive collection of British children’s fantasy authors. Both of these exhibitions highlighted the diverse curatorial practices in the ways manuscripts are collated and displayed for exhibition.

The Kerry Stokes collection at New Norcia attempts the best of both worlds, with a small, but impressive and carefully selected range of manuscripts. The exhibition comprises an area upstairs in the New Norcia museum, featuring manuscripts from 1250 to the sixteenth century from the private collection of media magnate, Kerry Stokes. Each manuscript has an accompanying short description, and if known, a small amount of historical context.

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The exhibition occupies two large cases in the upper area of the New Norcia museum.

The academic foci of Margaret Manion and Charles Zika means that the exhibition will be a delight to art historians and artists alike, and the exhibition takes particular care to explain the skills and materials involved in medieval book production. The exhibition also makes several interesting observations about the provenance of each text. Considering the wide geographical origins of the manuscripts, this is an interesting and worthwhile exercise.

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Manion and Zika identify this fifteenth-century Missal as hailing from a Cistercian
monastery in Catalan due to the ‘spikyness’ of its foliate decoration and the presence of
St Bernard in the calendar.

The main problem I had with the Celebrating Word and Image was that some of the larger text boards were not arranged in a cohesive manner, and for a layperson visiting the exhibition, I may have found the disparate focus of these larger displays confusing. I also felt that the language of the manuscript descriptions was slightly inaccessible for a public audience (for example, the displays assume that the audience know the difference between missals, antiphonals, graduals and breviaries, which was not made entirely clear). However, I suspect that the target audience for those visiting New Norcia may be familiar with these terms, and the displays are informative for those with experience in liturgical texts, palaeography and codicology.

The apparent highlight of Celebrating Word and Image is the sixteenth century Schembart Book, a lavish civic text designed to commemorate a traditional Nuremburg Shrovetide festival. Two giant nume-marked breviary pages were also impressive, but I enjoyed the leaves of a small twelfth-century Marian Vita most of all. The exhibition features a range of books for formal worship, as well as smaller personal books of hours. I did not purchase the glossy, detailed companion book to the exhibition, but I could tell that my desire for more information could be found in this volume.

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The accompanying volume to the exhibition is published by Fremantle Press, and is available for 45.00 AUD

I always enjoy visiting New Norcia, and this time I had the pleasure of attending the noonday monastic service and a leisurely ploughman’s lunch in the New Norcia Hotel. If you have an interest in Australia’s only monastic town, its past inhabitants and continuing Benedictine traditions, then making a visit to the town to see the Celebrating Word and Image exhibition is highly recommended.

For more information:

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The striking architecture of New Norcia in rural Western Australian makes the perfect setting for
Celebrating Text and Image: 1200-1600

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