Escape into online treasures #1

Without a doubt, among the great wonders of digitisation are the treasures it’s opened to the world.

In December last year, the Vatican Library and Oxford University’s Bodleian Library launched a project to make freely available online ancient texts from their incredible collections.

Both institutions have been digitising their collections prior to this. But the present project allows them to increase digital access on a much larger scale.

The Bodleian trove disseminated online last month includes no less than its Gutenberg Bible (1455).

The project’s been supported by a ₤2 million award from the Polonsky Foundation. You can read more about the foundation here, and about one of the trustees driving the project, Dr Leonard Polonsky and the foundation’s reasons for supporting the project.

Over the next four years, the two venerable libraries will be digitising a total of 1.5 million pages between them.

Their focus will be on religious and secular Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts and incunabula (15th-century printed books). Both libraries’ collections are particularly strong in those groups, which have also been chosen for their scholarly importance.

The end point? All those texts will be freely available online to us all.

Researchers worldwide will be able to study them in depth. And others – who, like me, might not be fluent in Latin and other ancient languages! – will be able to appreciate them in different ways.

From: Rosenborg. Mindeblade fra de danske Kongers kronologiske Samling. Ved Carl Andersen. [With illustrations.] A monograph by Rosenborg Slot, published in Kjøbenhavn, 1867, p. 70. Shelfmark: British Library HMNTS 10280.f.16.
A nice place to blog, perhaps?
(Page from the British Library’s Flickr Commons: Rosenborg … Ved Carl Andersen. [With illustrations.] A monograph by Rosenborg Slot, published in Kjøbenhavn, 1867, p. 70. Shelfmark: British Library HMNTS 10280.f.16.)
Also just before Christmas, the British Library ushered one million images from its collection into the public domain, announcing that:

We have released over a million images onto Flickr Commons for anyone to use, remix and repurpose. These images were taken from the pages of 17th, 18th and 19th century books digitised by Microsoft, who then generously gifted the scanned images to us, allowing us to release them back into the Public Domain.

‘The images themselves cover a startling mix of subjects: … maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colourful illustrations, landscapes, wall-paintings and so much more that even we are not aware of.’

Can anyone resist the intrigue of that final phrase: ‘so much more that even we are not aware of’? There’s more info here on the library’s plans for identifying the images further.

Recently, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art tweeted about two different online sites where you can enjoy portions of its medieval art collections.

The beautiful works – hearts beating with the patience of centuries – are just waiting to enchant you. They seem as alive online as the day their makers completed them.

Many of these tapestries, shrines and other objects can be found at the Met’s Pinterest site for the Cloisters. Set off on that exquisite journey into the Middle Ages here.

The other online site shares anilluminated medieval treasure: The Limbourg Brothers’ Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry.

Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, 1405–1408/9. Herman, Paul, and Jean de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. Ink, tempera, and gold leaf on vellum; 9 3/8 x 6 5/8 in. (23.8 x 16.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1).
Saint Catherine Cycle: Saint Catherine Confounds the Learned, Folio 16r. From the Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry. Several episodes in the story are depicted in this complex and iconographically unique scene. Sages look up to the enthroned Catherine, whose eloquence in defense of Christianity converts them. Emperor Maxentius condemns the converted scholars to flames, and their martyrdom is acknowledged by God, breaking through the background. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection. See:

This Book of Hours was exhibited by the Met in 2010. If you missed that show, you can spend some time in the book’s wondrous, richly decorated world here.

The museum describes a Book of Hours as:

‘ … a prayer book made for private use in the intimate devotion to the Virgin Mary that grew popular toward the end of the Middle Ages.’

Whether you see Books of Hours as religious and devotional texts or simply as historical artefacts, they remain incredibly special and magical objects.

I’ll update you on other online treasures as I come across them. And please, let me know about your finds as well! Let’s share great resources from around Oz and the world.

Daisies. Photo: Theresa Willsteed, copyright 2013


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