A collection of manuscripts from the Sistine Chapel is on display for the first time in the U.S. at SMU Meadow’s Museum. KERA’s Stephen Becker reports the exhibition provides scholars with important historical perspective:
- KERA Radio report:
- Online version:
The new exhibition is equal parts art show and history lesson. “The Lost Manuscripts from the Sistine Chapel: An Epic Journey from Rome to Toledo” collects 40 illustrated manuscripts that haven’t been seen together in 200 years.
The books were made for the pope and other high ranking officials to use during Church activities. Each book is painstakingly illustrated with colorful depictions of biblical events. The oldest dates to the 11th Century, while the newest is from the 1600s.
Meadows Museum Director Mark Roglán says the fact that the books were made by hand well after the invention of the printing press is a significant discovery.
ROGLÁN: “It’s mostly interesting because the art of the book – this kind of manual elaboration of books, from making the pages, to doing the binding, to illustrating the miniatures to writing the text – was always thought to be something from the Medieval times.”
Artisans continued to pour so much effort into the books as a way of honoring God. And it was also a way for the Church to flaunt its power by putting its riches on display.
The books survive thanks to a Spanish cardinal stationed in Rome during Napoleon’s attack on the city. As the French emperor’s armies looted the Vatican, the cardinal collected the books and sent them to Toledo for safekeeping. And there they sat until the late 1990s, when an Italian scholar rediscovered them while researching illustrated manuscripts.
ROGLÁN: “It’s wonderful to also find these patches of history that are gone. And suddenly, thanks to the research and collaboration of several institutions, things are able to be re-evaluated and completely rediscovered.”