Illuminated treasures from Switzerland
Getting to know the life of Alexander the Great or how to deliver a public speech, or even the fact of reading one’s morning horoscope… There are so many things that seem a given to us in our daily lives that we often forget that they are, actually, a legacy. The work of the craftsmen calligraphers and illuminators of the Middle Ages, who copied, illustrated and saved crucial texts from antiquity or their time, whether these talk about science, canon law, music or the history of mankind, allowed the transmission of wisdom that would otherwise have escaped us.
But the fruit of these men’s labour goes far beyond the mere content of the documents they worked on: these meticulous and precise illustrations, made with pen or brush, applying colours based on natural pigments or gold leaf, have left us true treasures of an almost indescribable beauty.
On the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the national e-codices digitisation project, the Martin Bodmer Foundation, in partnership with the Library of the Abbey of Saint Gall, pays homage to these artists, virtuosos of the image of which the digitisers of the 21st century are in a way the continuators, through a selection of the most impressive illuminated manuscripts taken from its reserves and those of fifteen Swiss libraries.
Transport yourself to the workshop of a master illuminator of the Middle Ages, where the secrets of this magical and mysterious world, these Illuminated Treasures of Switzerland will be exceptionally unveiled to you…
Giants and Miniatures
5 June 2019 – Summer 2021
The Martin Bodmer Foundation presents its new exhibition, « Giants and Miniatures”, featuring 47 books of striking variation in size. The smallest measures a mere 4.5 mm.
For this newest display, the Foundation has dug deep into its collection of books rarely exhibited on account of their size – either too large or too small to fit classic showcase criteria.
The smallest book contains the Christian prayer Our Father in seven languages and consists of two volumes measuring 4,5 mm in size, each weighing less than one gram. The largest book measures 92 x 61 x 6.5 cm and weighs nearly 30 kgs. It depicts the Pitture a fresco del Campo Santo da Pisa, by Carlo Lasinio (Florence, 1812). The subject range of the books varies as extensively as their physical size: from religious works and literature to travel books, science, politics and art in striking formats: in-plano, in-folio, “minuscule”, “miniature” or “microscopic” items.
The larger publications are often illustrated. In fact, it is frequently the illustrations that determine the size chosen for these books. They are generally about travel, the natural sciences or prestigious political works in which the etchings are the key elements: the larger the book format, the greater the detail and precision of illustration possible.
The smaller formats, in contrast, generally consist of pure text, without illustration. Content is compressed to the very essentials to attain pocket-size, for convenient portability during travel or to avoid scrutiny by political police or customs officials in the case of clandestine publications.
This exceptional “outsized” collection for all ages presents a fascinating array of variety, reminding visitors that books (the “codex”) have adopted an infinite variety of forms throughout their 2,000-year history.
Masks and Theater
16 october 2020 – 11 april 2021
More information soon
All our past exhibitions are accessible from a dedicated page [french].