Our New Exhibition: Art in the Library

Art in the Library:

Original Artwork in the Collections of the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections

Open now through early January, 2014.

     A special collections library is primarily a repository for printed and manuscript
materials. But collections (and collectors) grow and develop in diverse and occasionally
fascinating ways. As a result, items in our library’s collections include a wide array of
physical objects – or realia, as curators call them – along with a surprising amount of
original artwork. Together with significant collections of art prints and medals, theIrvin
Department of Rare Books and Special Collections also houses numerous paintings,
drawings, art photography, and sculpture.

Much of the artwork on display in this exhibition came to the library through the
collectors and collections of authors who we aim to acquire comprehensively, such as
John Milton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Other pieces were acquired
individually, either to supplement a collection or area of interest, or have come to us
as often unexpectedly generous gifts, such as the Koblenzer portraits of John and Sara
Milton and the O’Bryan Churchill landscape.

The main goal of this exhibition is to showcase the many works of original art in
our collections that are not frequently seen by the casual visitor. Indeed, an exhibition
with this focus has never before been mounted in the libraries. Because of the diversity
of subject matter, as you move through the gallery you may find some interesting
juxtapositions of materials spanning several centuries. We hope it will both surprise and
delight. It might be best to think of this exhibition as a “cabinet of artistic curiosities.” But
just as a rare printed book can be thought of as an object of material culture, something
created out of a very specific combination of historical, economic, and aesthetic forces,
so too can we consider these artworks as contributing to the larger literary and historical
archive that is our collection. The original artwork in this library will never rival that
found in McKissick Museum (nor should it), but it serves instead to add depth and
context to the rare and unique materials available here for study and research in the Irvin

So in this exhibition, you will find: watercolors by an English Poet Laureate; nineteenth-century book illustrations; doodles by famous authors; an early seventeenth-century
English portrait with an interesting provenance; and a landscape by Winston Churchill,
among many other surprises.

— Jeffrey Makala, Curator

Posted in Archival collections, artists books, artwork, book arts, Exhibitions, Medieval manuscripts | Leave a comment

Two New Undergraduate Research Projects on Medieval Manuscripts

This is a guest post from our colleague Professor Scott Gwara.

Undergraduates in Dr. Scott Gwara’s Honors College course Reading the Medieval Book exhibited proposed research projects at the Hollings Library Open House last Saturday.

Undergraduates Aaron Sanders and Carl Garris prepare the Open House exhibition.

For a project entitled “Medieval Identity Theft,” Carl Garris, Kirkland Gray, and Aaron Sanders have been examining an erased ownership inscription in USC’s Breslauer Bible. USC Libraries acquired this thirteenth-century manuscript in 2012. The students are collaborating with Dr. Gwara, Jeffrey Makala, Special Collections Librarian for Outreach and Instruction, and Dr. Alison Marsh, a faculty expert in USC’s History department. Preliminary efforts to read the Breslauer inscription have revealed the name of a donor “Brother Richard,” but the identity of Richard’s church and other places mentioned in the inscription remain a mystery.

An multispectral image of the Breslauer Bible inscription taken with the assistance of Michael B. Toth of the Archimedes Palimpsest imaging team (R. B. Toth Associates), and processed by Dr. Fenella France, Library of Congress.

The group theorizes, however, that a monastery once owned the Breslauer Bible. Books from monastic libraries are rare because the “dissolution” of the monasteries under King Henry VIII destroyed so many ancient manuscripts. For conclusive answers, Carl, Kirkland, and Aaron propose to use Stanford University’s synchrotron to produce an “iron map” of the ink residue left on the scraped parchment. The iron in medieval ink leaves traces readable by sensitive instruments. This same technology was used recently to decipher the Archimedes Palimpsest. Furthermore, by studying the letter-forms of medieval English handwriting and the Latin formulas commonly used for such inscriptions, the students will be equipped to interpret their “iron map.” Once the inscription is deciphered, work will be undertaken on Brother Richard’s historical context and the reason for his generous bequest.

Undergraduate Chemical Engineering major Adam Glenn is developing another scientific approach to medieval manuscripts in USC’s collection.

Chemical Engineering major Adam Glenn (center) with family members at the Open House.

His project, called “The Color of Prayer,” seeks to determine the chemical components of blue pigments in manuscripts from France, Germany, and Italy. If funded, Adam’s research will be carried out in Dr. Steve Morgan’s lab. Morgan is an internationally recognized Analytical Chemist working on dyes and pigments. Adam will also work with Dr. Gwara and Mr. Makala. Two primary sources of blue pigments were available in the late fifteenth-century: azurite, a copper ore, and lapis lazuli, a rare mineral imported from Afghanistan. Using multiple forensic techniques, miniature paintings in three selected manuscripts will be analyzed.

Working in Dr. Steve Morgan’s lab, Adam Glenn proposes to identify the chemical composition of blue pigments in this Italian manuscript and two others from the USC collection.

Adam expects to determine whether paint recipes for the color blue were consistent in the same period across Europe, and, if not, what reasons may have motivated artists to use expensive or economical materials. His work is modeled on research recently undertaken at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England.

Manuscripts analyzed in these two projects were acquired for USC through the generosity of the B. H. Breslauer Foundation, New York.


Posted in manuscripts, Medieval manuscripts, Undergraduate research | Leave a comment