Meadows Museum Presents The Lost Manuscripts from the Sistine Chapel : An Epic Journey from Rome to Toledo

In January 2011, the Meadows Museum welcomes The Lost Manuscripts from the Sistine Chapel: An Epic Journey from Rome to Toledo, an exhibition organized through partnerships with the Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica, the Biblioteca Nacional de España, the Biblioteca de Castilla-La Mancha, the Catedral de Toledo, and the Palacio Arzobispal de Toledo. Curated by two Italian scholars, Dr. Elena De Laurentiis and Emilia Anna Talamo, this exhibition spotlights the Sistine Sacristy Collection by showcasing over 40 of the finest codices purchased by Lorenzana in 1798, most of which have never before been on view.

The books were illustrated using the finest materials available to the papal scriptorium (the manuscript workshop) and range in date from the 11th to the 18th century. Together they encompass a breadth of the standard liturgical writings used by the Catholic Church—including benedictionals, blessings, breviaries, epistolaries, evangelistaries, missals, and preparations for mass—and include both complete and reused codices (manuscripts in which folios from other manuscripts have been inserted). Not surprisingly, the artistic and political considerations in their production are equally compelling.

On the artistic level, a diversity of styles will be displayed in the exhibit. An overall highlight is the Missal with Christmas Mass of Cardinal Antoniotto Pallavicini (Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid). Datable to between 1503 and 1509, and generally regarded as one of the richest codices from the Sistine Sacristy Collection, it is not only exquisitely rendered but has a fascinating history. Several other missals also underscore the presence of complex decorative schemes executed, or at least influenced, by master illuminators of the papal scriptorium, such as Vincent Raymond (French, active c.1535-1557) and Apollonio de’ Bonfratelli (Italian, c.1480/1520-1575). Even the roles of calligraphers and copyists such as Niccolò Raimondi (Italian, active 17th century), primarily concerned with the transcription of the text, are explored within the context of overall production.

A number of the high Catholic Church figures who commissioned these works are of similar interest, albeit on an ecclesiastical level. These dignitaries—including bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and popes alike—are omnipresent on the pages of the codices through the repeated inclusion of their coats-of-arms. The result is an intriguing 200-year record of papal use and ownership stretching from the pontificates of Pope Paul II (r. 1464-1471) and Pope Clement VII (r.1523-1534) through the time of Pope Urban VIII Barberini (r.1623-1644).

A catalogue of the exhibition will provide profiles of these mostly unpublished codices along with scholarly analyses by the curators and details of their epic journey from Rome to Toledo, where they continue to be under the ownership of the Catholic Church. The catalogue is being prepared by the Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica and will be published in English, Spanish and Italian.

This exhibition has been organized by the Biblíoteca Nacional de España, the Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica, in conjunction with the Bilioteca de Castilla La-Mancha, the Catedral de Toledo, and the Meadows Museum. This exhibition has been funded by a generous gift from The Meadows Foundation.

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