05 May, 2008

Medieval imagination

I had a spare hour between meetings last week at the State Library, providing the opportunity to visit the absolutely wonderful Medieval Imagination exhibition, which is on until 15 June. The beauty of these manuscripts, their freshness, their colour and the story they tell about life and beliefs from the 8th to the 16th centuries is just magic. This is the first time that such a display has been shown in Australia, and it has material from Cambridge, New Zealand and Australia. A real sense of humanity shines through, as well as the labour of love that the manuscripts convey.

My favourite is the one that highlights a miscommunication between the scribe and the illustrator, they both thought the other one was doing the capital "E" to start the sentence...so of course, neither of them incorporated it, and it has been included afterwards as a small E in a box. We all mess up sometimes!

On a similar theme, I was listening to the radio over the weekend and there was a program about the Nelson Moore Richardson and Helen Morewood Richardson collection. The Collection of 289 volumes consists mainly of texts of the English Bible and related material, together with some early printed books, herbals and medieval manuscripts. The radio program described how this collection was bequeathed to the Library, mainly due it seems to the agreeable Australians Mr Richardson met on his visit to NSW in the early 1920s. He was so taken with the people he met, he wanted to leave his collection for their benefit. The Chief Librarian of the Public Library of NSW steered the political process and ensured that the collection did indeed end up at the Library, organising for Mr Richardson to meet with the Premier of NSW who was visiting "the old country." One of the most significant manuscripts isthe score of a Gregorian chant which has now been performed for the first time at the State Library of NSW. The whole story can be read on the ABC website, on the Religion Report. Its fascinating!

So, all this is very different from the daily work of the public library, but it highlights how important libraries are in preserving material and making it accessible to people.

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