EXHIBITION: 500 Years of Treasures from Oxford, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC, 4 February – 30 April 2017; and Center for Jewish History, New York, 14 May – 6 August 2017. Curatorial Advisor: Caroline Duroselle-Melish (Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Early Modern Books and Prints, Folger Shakespeare Library); Guest Curator: Peter Kid (Corpus Christi College, Oxford).
Founded 500 years ago in 1517, Corpus Christi College, one of the oldest of the 38 self-governing colleges at the modern University of Oxford, is a repository of extraordinary treasures, few of which have ever been seen by the public. To mark its 500th anniversary, a selection of fifty manuscripts and early printed books from its celebrated Library, ranging in date from the 10th to the 17th centuries, is being brought to America for the first time.
Focusing on the first hundred years of the College’s existence, the exhibition introduces its Founder, Richard Fox, powerful Bishop of Winchester and adviser to Henry VII and Henry VIII, and its first President, John Claymond, who laid the foundations of the Library’s great collection. From the start, Corpus—the first Renaissance college at Oxford—was to pursue Humanist ideals of scholarship in three languages: not just Latin, but also Greek and Hebrew, the original languages of the Bible, along with such other subjects as Astronomy, Mathematics, Medicine, and Philosophy.
A series of display-cases present books in each of these languages, including a number that are bilingual and even trilingual. Most notable among them are a group that has been called “the most important collection of Anglo-Jewish manuscripts in the world”; these works of the 12th and 13th centuries include a series of volumes apparently commissioned by Christians from Jews, from which to learn Hebrew and study biblical texts in their original language, as well as the commentaries of Rashi and what is thought to be the oldest surviving Ashkenazi prayer book.
Highlighting Corpus’ role in the development of science and medicine at Oxford, the exhibition finishes with a series of ground-breaking works, from Galileo’s first observation of the moon using a telescope and Sir Isaac Newton’s autograph observations of Halley’s comet to Hooke’s observations of insects using a microscope and Vesalius’ studies of the human body.