Masterpieces from the Bodleian Libraries on display in spectacular Marks of Genius exhibition

27 February 2015

For over four centuries the Bodleian Libraries has assembled an unparalleled collection of books, manuscripts and documents that can be called works of genius.

Marks of Genius branding

From the creative brilliance of Shakespeare or Mendelssohn, to the scientific innovation of Isaac Newton or Dorothy Hodgkin, the spectacular exhibition Marks of Genius: Masterpieces from the Collections of the Bodleian Libraries brings together works which show how ideas of genius, people of genius, and moments of genius have left their mark on papyrus, parchment and paper. Marks of Genius will be the first exhibition held in the Bodleian's newly renovated Weston Library, opening 21 March 2015.

Marks of Genius explores how genius is fostered and asks whether it can be fostered through patronage. It considers the relationship between genius and learning, revealing how people of genius have been received by Oxford University. And it explores the way in which the works of genius found in a university library the books, manuscripts, objects and portraits can be acquired, collected and consulted according to the constantly changing ideas of what genius is and how it should be represented in a library's collections.Codex Mendoza

Marks of Genius features works by some of the giants of science, music, literature, philosophy, theology, art and politics. The exhibition of 130 objects includes intricate medieval manuscripts, ancient texts, original music scores, some examples from the dawn of photography and a wide selection of extraordinary and unique survivals, from locks of the hair of Shelley to the first printed advertisement for a book in England. This exhibition brings together works created in 17th century Japan and in 11th century France, together with papyri from the 2nd century and 20th century political speeches. It presents a rare opportunity to see some of the most important objects in the Bodleian's rich collections, some of which have not been on public display before. Highlights include:

  • A 1217 Magna Carta, one of four engrossments held by the Bodleian Libraries.
  • The Gutenberg Bible, considered one of the most valuable books in the world Shakespeare's First Folio
  • Shakespeare's First Folio, a rare compendium of 36 plays published in 1623 
  • Relics owned by Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, including his watch and hair locket
  • Flora Graeca, Oxford's most exquisite botanical treasure from the 19th century
  • Codex Mendoza, the rare and beautiful Aztec illustrated codex dating to the 16th century, sent back to Spain but captured by French pirates
  • Mendelssohn's musical score of Schilflied (Reed Song) complete with watercolour illustration by the composer
  • One of the earliest printed atlases, the Geographia (Geography) by Ptolemy dated 1486, owned by the Spanish Emperor Ferdinand.

Richard Ovenden, Bodley's Librarian said 'Marks of Genius brings together some of the University's greatest treasures to explore the elusive quality of genius. Through the show we are encouraging people to think about the great ideas, people, and moments that have helped shape our world and to reflect on what are our contemporary ideas of genius. Most of all we hope that people will enjoy these masterpieces in the wonderful setting of the new Weston Library the latest chapter in that enduring idea of genius the Bodleian.'

Marks of Genius previously ran at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York between June and September 2014. It was extremely well received, described by The New York Times as 'the  history of awesome in one room' with 'the overriding emotion elicited by the works in Marks of Genius being unfeigned awe.'

Geographia (Geography)Marks of Genius: Masterpieces from the Collections of the Bodleian Libraries will  be  the  first exhibition shown in the two new exhibition galleries in the refurbished Weston Library opening to the public on 21 March 2015. The exhibition runs until Sunday 20 September 2015 and a programme of talks and events will be held over the course of the exhibition. Admission to the exhibition is free and booking is not required. Visitors can access the exhibition through Weston's Blackwell Hall, the first public entrance to the building since its original opening in 1946.

A 360 page catalogue, Marks of Genius: Masterpieces from the Collections of the Bodleian Libraries by the exhibition's curator Stephen Hebron is available from 6 March 2015 and can be purchased via the Bodleian Libraries' Shop website. Blackwell's Bookshop on Broad Street will be supporting the exhibition with complementary selections of books located in its world-famous Norrington Room, a programme of events running throughout the length of the exhibition, and various Marks of Genius themed book displays on all four floors of its iconic building.

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