Empires of Faith

Installing ‘Imagining the Divine’ #10: 16th October

The final installment of Jaś Elsner and Stefanie Lenk’s blog posts from behind the scenes during the installation of the Ashmolean Museum’s exhibition Imagining the Divine: Art and the Rise of World Religions, open October 19th 2017 – February 18th 2018.

Manuscripts are funny old things – textiles really, stitched together from leather. Not easy to keep open (especially when bound tight), fragile, susceptible to losing their pigment in too much light. But amazing! The true entrancement of a book.

The conservators unwrap the great St Chad gospels from Lichfield Cathedral. A closed, wooden boarded codex is revealed – a 1960s rebind (who said ancient manuscripts weren’t also modern?) for a 750s masterpiece. We open to that amazing carpet page with the great Insular Cross, which will be displayed. They place it on the stand and examine with immense care to be sure they agree on its condition and state.

St Chad Gospels, Lichfield Cathedral. Photo: Jaś Elsner

Sometimes books reveal what you didn’t expect: the wonderful repair stitched into the early text pages of the huge ninth-century Royal Bible from Canterbury, now in the British Library (it requires two to shift it gingerly into its case…); the little red rosettes in the great eighth-century Hijazi Qu’ran from the British Library, among the oldest Qu’ranic manuscripts in the world, which mark the breaks between the verses; the lovely ninth-century ivory carving of Jesus set as the cover of a manuscript in the Bodleian Library (MS. Douce 176)

Ma’il Quran, British Library. Photo: Jaś Elsner
MS Douce 176, Bodleian Libraries. Photo: Jaś Elsner, courtesy of the Bodleian Libraries

 

They need to put strips of plastic to hold the pages down and in place for display — not too tight, not too lose…

Immersion in an enchanting world.