Morgan’s Bibles: Splendor in Scripture


The Bible has been a driving force of religion, art, and literature in the Western world. Few books have demonstrated the power of the printed word as vividly as scripture—a mark of faith, an object of veneration, a formative influence on language and culture. For J. Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913), collecting Bibles was a way to express his religious convictions and to explore his interests in archaeological artifacts, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, drawings, and early printed books. He acquired every object displayed here except a few ancillary documents that belonged to members of his family. Morgan appreciated magnificence in all forms of artistic expression. This exhibition includes masterpieces in mediums as diverse as clay, papyrus, parchment, embroidery, champlevé enamel, repoussé gold, carved ivory, and maiolica. Through his collection we can see how biblical texts have been enshrined in luxury articles for the greater glory of liturgy and ritual—and how they have been disseminated in subversive translations cheaply produced for popular consumption. Morgan’s holdings show the interpretative agendas of church and state, often matters of life and death during debates about the primacy of Holy Writ. Whether intended for public display or private devotion, his books and artworks are treasures of the human spirit attesting to its power of imagination, strength of convictions, quest for meaning, and capacity for wonder.

Morgan’s Bibles: Splendor in Scripture is made possible by the Johansson Family Foundation, the Lucy Ricciardi Family Exhibition Fund, the B. H. Breslauer Foundation, and Mr. G. Scott Clemons and Ms. Karyn Joaquino, with support from T. Kimball Brooker, the Achelis & Bodman Foundation, Martha J. Fleischman, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Themis Anastasia Brown Fund, Roland and Mary Ann Folter, Susan and Eugene Flamm, and Jonathan and Megumi Hill.