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Magnificent Gems: Medieval Treasure Bindings

Manhattan , New York City | Arts & Culture

The Morgan Library will present several rare examples of medieval treasure bindings—gold-, silver- and jewel-encrusted book covers created for important manuscripts. Both the ninth-century Lindau Gospels, which features a hammered-gold crucifixion scene offset by intricate gemstone motifs, and the 13th-century Berthold Sacramentary, considered by many to be the most luxurious German manuscript of its time, are included in the exhibition.

Treasure bindings—book covers encrusted with gold, silver, and gemstones—were a luxury in the Middle Ages. Few survive, and some of the finest examples are in the Morgan’s distinguished collection. Magnificent Gems: Medieval Treasure Bindings presents these masterpieces in context for the first time. The treasure bindings on view include star sapphires, diamonds, emeralds, pearls, and garnets, alongside illuminated manuscripts and printed books that depict two-dimensional representations of these precious materials.

Among the exhibition highlights will be the ninth-century Lindau Gospels, one of the two finest Carolingian jeweled bindings in the world, and the thirteenth-century Berthold Sacramentary, the most luxurious German manuscript of its time. In these and other examples, we learn that the application of gemstones and precious metals served to venerate the texts inside and embellish church services, as well as reflect the status and wealth of the patrons who commissioned them.

Images of “imagined” gems are also featured on the pages of manuscripts and printed books presented, including three examples of Venetian books, hand-painted by Girolamo da Cremona.  The artist’s frontispieces to Augustine’s City of God (1475), Plutarch’s Parallel Lives (1478), and Aristotle’s Opera (1483) are masterpieces of trompe-l’oeil. The last has been called the "most magnificent printed book in the world."

Cover of the Lindau Gospels (detail). Court School of Charles the Bald Lindau Gospels, in Latin, Switzerland, Abbey of St. Gall, late ninth century ca. 880, 350 x 275 mm. Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1901, MS M.1. The Morgan Library & Museum.

Event Details

    Sept. 8, 2017 - Jan. 7, 2018
    12:00 AM - 11:59 PM