The Book of Ruth: Medieval to Modern

February 14 through October 4, 2020

Famine and flight, emigration and immigration, foreignness: these are some of the societal issues touched upon by the anonymous author of the Bible’s Book of Ruth, whose titular character was a great-grandmother of King David and, in the Christian tradition, an ancestor of Jesus Christ. This exhibition celebrates the 2018 gift by Joanna S. Rose of the Joanna S. Rose Illuminated Book of Ruth to the Morgan. The accordion-fold vellum manuscript, measuring nine inches tall and an amazing eighteen feet long, was designed and illuminated by New York artist Barbara Wolff, who worked on the project for two years (2015–17). The complete biblical text of the Book of Ruth is written in Hebrew on one side and in English on the other, the work of calligrapher Izzy Pludwinski. The Hebrew side features twenty colored illustrations and a continuous landscape, with accents and lettering in silver, gold, and platinum; the English side has forty images executed in black ink.

The Rose Book of Ruth is presented in conversation with twelve manuscripts, drawn from the Morgan’s holdings, that unfold the Christian traditions for illustrating the story of Ruth during the Middle Ages. Through the juxtaposition of the modern manuscript with these ancient works, which date from the twelfth to the fifteenth century and include three leaves from the Morgan’s famed Crusader Bible, the exhibition brings into focus the techniques of medieval illumination that inspired Wolff, as well as her inventive approach to iconography.

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Join Roger Wieck, Melvin R. Seiden Curator and Department Head of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, and artist and illuminator Barbara Wolff as they discuss both Wolff's contemporary work and the ancient historic traditions. Held Tuesday, March 10, 2020.

Your People Shall Be My People: Illuminating the Book of Ruth
Director: Rudi Wolff
(2018, 43 minutes)

This documentary tells the story of the biblical character of Ruth by weaving together the artist Barbara Wolff painting and illuminating the book of Ruth with discussion by experts in the fields of Near Eastern archaeology, history, and biblical exegesis leading to the genealogy of King David. The Hebrew text, fully illuminated, takes its inspiration from biblical responsa, commentary, and folklore. The English text's pen drawings depict objects, plants and animals that the book of Ruth's early Iron Age people would have known. Both manuscript and film conclude with the final verses of Proverbs (31:10-31 Women of Valor), an acknowledgement of biblical woman celebrated for wisdom and righteousness.

The Book of Ruth: Medieval to Modern is organized by the Morgan Library & Museum and curated by Roger S. Wieck, Melvin R. Seiden Curator and Department Head of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscript.

The Book of Ruth: Medieval to Modern is made possible by Joanna S. Rose, the David Berg Foundation, Joshua W. Sommer, and the David Klein, Jr. Foundation.

Ruth Threshing and Bringing Grain to Naomi; Naomi Counseling Ruth, Crusader Bible, Paris, France, ca. 1250. The Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.638, fol. 18r (detail), purchased by J. P. Morgan, 1916.

Selected images