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The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Unveils Boston’s Rarely-Seen Renaissance Books

History buffs, art enthusiasts, and avid readers are setting down their Kindles and exploring what’s one of the most ambitious collections of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts ever assembled.

From September 22 through January 16, 2017, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is showcasing some of the city’s most stunning, oldest printed books originally created by master artists for scholars, princes, and popes with their exhibition entitled Beyond Words: Italian Renaissance Books.

Beyond Words: Italian Renaissance Books displays over 65 centuries-old Italian paintings once hidden between pages in collector’s homes and prestigious libraries.

In collaboration with Harvard University’s Houghton Library and Boston College’s McMullen Museum, The Gardner’s collection of exquisite Renaissance-era book art is part of a larger, city-wide exhibition entitled Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections and celebrates 260 outstanding paintings—many never seen even by scholars.

No longer tucked away on shelves and confined to private collections, the exhibition is an ode to the groundbreaking advances made in book printing through the advent of new technology between the 14th and 15th century in Europe.

Lenders to the show include the Boston Public Library, Museum of Fine Arts, and Wellesley College among many others.

Gardner’s own rare book editions (among them historically significant 15th century copies of Dante’s The Divine Comedy) illustrate firsts in Italian Renaissance publishing, with her editions featuring the work’s original illustrations—paintings by Boticelli—which Gardner was first to bring to North America.

Beyond Words: Italian Renaissance Books invites audiences to revisit an era when—much like today—the ways people consumed literature were changing, with pages being made from paper rather than animal skins, script becoming font, and vivid, jewel-toned manuscript illustrations shifting to black and white prints.

Explore Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Private Collection Through Gardner’s Literary World

To complement this broader exhibition taking place at Harvard, Boston College, and The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, The Museum’s Vatachino gallery will feature Beyond Words: Gardner’s Literary World, a small selection of books, letters, and manuscripts related to Isabella Stewart Gardner’s contemporary reading habits.

The personal collection showcases objects and private letters to and from famous writers Gardner admired, including T.S. Eliot. The intimate exhibit also displays her personal copy of The Scarlet Letter autographed by Nathaniel Hawthorne, as well as a photograph of George Sand by Nadar.

Participate in related programs and lectures.

In tandem with Beyond Words: Italian Renaissance Books, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum will offer a host of special events and lectures to coincide with the themes explored throughout the exhibition.

Saturday, October 29, 11:30 am – 4 pm
Dante Festival

An Italian poet who lived in the late Middle Ages, Dante Alighieri is considered one of the most important and influential writers in the Western World. Isabella Gardner’s interest in the art and culture of Italy began with Dante, and her collection includes rare editions of his work. Join us for a day of creative exploration featuring art-making, music, readings, and participatory gallery experiences that will bring Dante’s words to life.

Friday, November 4, 8:30 am
Beyond Words Symposium
Part of a three day symposium in collaboration with Harvard University’s Houghton Library and Boston College’s McMullen Museum, the other two venues for the collaborative exhibition Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections. Speakers include: Lillian Armstrong, Wellesley College, Wellesley; Ada Labriola, Independent Scholar, Florence; Francesca Manzari, “Sapienza,” Università di Roma; Christine Sciacca, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Helena Szépe, University of South Florida, Tampa; and Frederico Toniolo, Università degli Studi di Padova. Registration required. RSVP by October 28 by visiting here.

Saturday, December 3, 3:30 pm
Lecture: A History of the Renaissance in Six Books
Stephen Greenblatt, John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University; and Ramie Targoff, Professor of English, Jehuda Reinharz Director of the Mandel Center for the Humanities, and Co-Chair of Italian Studies at Brandeis University
Enter the rich world of the Renaissance through six books in Beyond Words: Italian Renaissance Books that capture different aspects of this extraordinary period. The speakers will discuss, among other things, political life, religion, literature, humanism, exploration, and travel.

Thursday, January 12, 7 pm
Lecture: Beyond Gutenberg: Access in the 21st Century
Anthony W. Marx, President of the New York Public Library
Digital technology now enables us to imagine providing the full content of any book to anyone, anytime. Libraries can and should ensure that this becomes a reality, with the goal to unleash an explosion of learning and creativity.

Go between the covers: discover Boston’s hidden Renaissance art with Beyond Words: Italian Renaissance Books, on view now through January 16, 2017 at The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.