Treasures from the Vault

July 9, 2019 through November 3, 2019

The Morgan is home to some of the world's finest collections of medieval manuscripts, literary and historical manuscripts, printed books and bindings, letters, and autograph music manuscripts. A select group of objects from these departments is always on display in the sumptuous setting of J. Pierpont Morgan's Library.

Featured items in the current rotation represent more than a thousand years of artistic creation, from the 9th-century Lindau Gospels to a hand-written letter by James Baldwin. The Encomium musices, pictured below, is one of the earliest examples of engraved music, and the only source for the motet “Nata, et grata polo” by the Flemish composer André Pevernage (1542/43–1591). Each page illustrates various quotations from the Bible that refer to music. Also on view is Hanns Rüst’s Mappa mundi—the only copy of the earliest woodcut world map printed on a single sheet of paper. This fifteenth-century depiction of the spherical world is based upon earlier medieval traditions that placed Jerusalem at the center, with the Garden of Eden at the top (east) and the Mediterranean Sea to the bottom (west). In addition to recognizable countries are some of the mythic and monstrous races, including dog-headed and two-headed people, that were thought to dwell on the edges of the known world in 1480. An example of lettera mancina, or mirror-writing, is on display in a hand-written gift book by one of the master calligraphers of the Elizabeth and Jacobean eras, Esther Inglis. The daughter of French Huguenots who fled to Scotland, Inglis was most likely trained in the art of calligraphy by her mother, Marie Presot.

In the adjacent Rotunda is a life mask of George Washington, created in 1785 by the French sculptor, Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828). The two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Walt Whitman is commemorated with a celebrated artist’s book, Whitman: A Portrait, by the artist Antonio Frasconi (1919–2013). Also on view is a unique hand-colored relief etching from William Blake’s masterpiece of “illuminated printing,” America, which was inspired by the American and French revolutions.

The items featured in Treasures from the Vault rotate every four months, but there are three permanent objects on display in the three-tiered library: the first printed book, known as The Gutenberg Bible; one of Mr. Morgan’s greatest treasures, the jewel-encrusted binding on the 9th-century Lindau Gospels; and, newly installed, a terra-cotta bust by the artist Jo Davidson of the Morgan’s first librarian and director, Belle da Costa Greene (1879–1950).

 

Treasures from the Vault is funded in perpetuity in memory of Christopher Lightfoot Walker.

Rüst, Hanns (active 1472–1497), Mappa mundi, [Augsburg, ca. 1480]. Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1912.

Galle, Philippe (1537–1612), Encomium musices, Antwerp: Philippum Gallæum, ca. 1590, Mary Flagler Cary Music Collection, 1968.