I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Medievalist Commodities

At the State Library of Victoria, there is currently a wonderful exhibition of medieval manuscripts, mostly from Cambridge, but with a goodly selection of local treasures, from the State Library, the National Gallery and the Baillieu Library in Melbourne, from Ballarat and Canberra, and also from New Zealand. It's not brilliantly laid out, unfortunately: some of the cases cast a shadow on the information cards, and half the time you have to look from an angle so as not to cast your own shadow on the cases. It's tricky with illuminated mss., though, as you can't have much direct light on them.

It's lovely to see the Library's own ms. of Deguileville's Pèlerinage de la Vie Humaine against Cambridge's Roman de la Rose, though, and the giant antiphonals with their heavily embossed and gold plated illuminations. Or clever comparisons of different pictures of elephants from bestiaries.

The Library's website has some great features: an online image collection, and a soundless video presentation about the re-binding of the Pèlerinage for the exhibition (there is an article about this process forthcoming in the Library's LaTrobe Journal, too), which chimes beautifully with Ampersand Duck's recent post about bookbinding.

The exhibition seems to be attracting substantial crowds, and has been heavily advertised: here's the promo that's been playing in some cinemas, for example.

It's on my tram ticket, too.

And in addition to the glossy catalogue, and other books on sale, I can buy some more affordable postcards and bookmarks, or a poster; and if I can't afford any books, I can at least pick up the brochure of the books on sale:

This is not just clever marketing and promotional work: I reckon it also taps into the heart of much medievalism and typifies it: the desire to possess the medieval in some way, to take home or domesticate a little of its beauty. Of course it's incredibly selective: the manuscripts that go on tour like this (and it's rare to see them making such a voyage) are not the medieval workaday books of devotion or history; but rather the top-end products for a wealthy readership. We can't read more than a page at a time when they are displayed like this, either, but thousands of Melbournians are peering into the glass cases and glimpsing those worlds. And by taking home a poster or a postcard or a bookmark, and indeed by hosting this free and public exhibition in the heart of the city we can purchase a great deal of very attractive symbolic capital at very little cost.

Truly, if you get a chance to visit, it's worth it.

And more is yet to come: this Sunday, April 20, there is a "medieval fayre" from 10.00 - 4.00. I'll be there, for research and teaching reasons, you understand...


Alexandra P said...

The shadows from the lights truly were annoying! I had forgotten that the Baillieu had such a collection - although a friend reminded me that, many moons ago, we were fortunate to go with you, as a class, to see some of them (Medievalism in Contemporary Culture, I think).

The number of people at the exhibition last weekend was impressive, given it's been open for quite a while; I hadn't expected it to be quite so popular. It was good to see the books on sale outside - would be interesting to know how many sell, of what level of difficulty, and then stick a tracker inside to see which ones get opened more than the afternoon of purchase...

cerebralmum said...

I noticed the ad on my own tram ticket yesterday. I'll definitely be taking a look. The State Library is never out of the way anyway.