Emory Report
June 22, 2009
Volume 61, Number 33

Conserving rare volumes takes patience, time

Emory University Libraries conservation technician Julie Newton worked on the five volumes of the Antwerp Polyglot Bible, which presented special challenges.

“They were extremely large and heavy, and their covers were detached,” she says.

The leather bindings were “in terrible condition,” but the interior text pages were “in excellent condition,” she says, though the pages showed signs of heavy usage.

“There was a lot of evidence of use, fingerprints that we worked on that are permanent,” says Newton. “We removed most of the surface soil, but the fingerprints are there forever.”

Kirsten Wehner, also a conservation technician, worked on the two books loaned by MARBL, which she says were in good condition compared with the Polyglot Bible volumes.

“Both of them were starting to split where the covers were attached to the spine,” says Wehner. In addition, the books could be opened at about only a 90-degree angle. “That was a challenge – you need to open the book to work on it,” she says.

The books from MARBL took about three or four hours of preservation work, but the five volumes of the Polyglot Bible required at least 40 hours of work spread out over a few weeks’ time, says Newton.


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June 22, 2009
Rare Emory books debut in New York

By Maureen McGavin

Two of Emory’s libraries are contributing items to a New York City exhibition showcasing 16th century Biblical illustrations this summer, and the exhibition will come to Carlos Museum in the fall.

“Scripture for the Eyes: Bible Illustration in Netherlandish Prints of the Sixteenth Century” is the first major exhibition to explore the form, function and meaning of printed Biblical images produced in the 16th-century Low Countries.

The exhibition runs through Sept. 27 at the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) in New York, before coming to Emory Oct. 17–Jan. 24, 2010, at the Carlos Museum.

Emory’s Pitts Theology Library contributed five of the eight volumes comprising the Antwerp Polyglot Bible, published in the 16th century by Christopher Plantin, one of the greatest early printers, says Pat Graham, director of Pitts.

“In addition to its scholarly value for Biblical studies, this particular copy with its richly colored woodcuts is a stunning work of art and a suitable tribute to this pioneer of 16th-century book illustration,” says Graham.

The Antwerp Polyglot Bible is perhaps the most significant item loaned by Emory, says Walter Melion, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Art History and co-curator of the exhibit. Polyglot means it was published in several different languages, such as Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Syriac and Aramaic, side-by-side in the same Bible.

“We have one of the most beautiful copies,” says Melion. “It’s a grand folio book, so it’s very large. And several of the volumes have exquisite pictorial title pages. Ours is really extraordinary because they have several pages that are hand-colored.”
Two other books are from Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library: “Humanae Salutis Monumenta” (“Monuments of Human Salvation”), published in 1571, and “Septem Psalmi Davidici,” a bound series of prints depicting the seven penitential psalms, published prior to 1604. The libraries are also contributing digital images of a few pages from the books for a catalog to accompany the items on display.

Melion says “Humanae Salutis Monumenta” by Benito Arias Montano is the first Catholic scriptural emblem book — a collection of images and descriptive text.

“Emblems were a way of thinking through topics by meditating on the complex dynamics of a mutually interactive image and text,” he says. “This is one of the very earliest emblem books. It’s a very rare thing indeed, and it’s in beautiful condition.”

“Septem Psalmi Davidici” features prints created by Hieronymus Wierix, considered among the greatest engravers of the time. Each scene is surrounded by an elaborate border composed of the entire text of the penitential psalms, says Melion.

“They are seven of the finest engravings produced in Antwerp in the 16th century in terms of technique and skillful execution,” says Melion. “They’re also very inventive in the way they explain the penitential psalms and relate them to the Passion of Christ.”