Treasures from Oxford College Libraries go on display

23 May 2008

‘…the accumulation of a library of books is obviously beyond the work of any one, and yet it is a work in which all may unite. This is the way our libraries have grown up, by separate individual gifts, some greater indeed, some less…’ 
Dr Edward King, 1879

Inspired by Dr King’s words, the Bodleian Library summer exhibition ‘Beyond the work of one’ opens tomorrow to the general public. It celebrates the successive generations of benefactors who by their generosity have enriched the Oxford College libraries’ holdings for a period of over 700 years. During a sermon delivered on St Mark’s Day 1879 in Keble Chapel, on the first anniversary of the opening of the Library, Dr Edward King, Regius Professor of Pastoral Theology, commended the Colleges’ rich inheritance of benefactions.

Rarely displayed manuscripts, books, documents and artefacts from around the world belonging to twenty-seven College collections, a Private Hall, the Oxford Union and the Bodleian Library will be brought together in a special display for the first time. The exhibition features different types of gifts and donors—from personal diaries recording collegiate life to stunning collectors’ treasures from around the world. Highlights include:

  • A 14th-century bishop’s mitre made of silk with pearls and semi-precious stones belonging to William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England, founder of New College 
  • An illuminated Psalter  that belonged to Elizabeth, wife of Henry VII and Katherine of Aragon, wife of Henry VIII
  • Boccaccio’s De claris mulieribus illustrated with hand-coloured woodcuts
  • Samuel Johnson’s gruel mug, used on his regular visits to his friend Thomas Warton in Oxford
  • Codex Laud, the pre-Colombian screenfold manuscript from southern Mexico which now bears William Laud’s name
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins’ autograph manuscript, The Dublin Notebook

A final section will honour a few of the most outstanding benefactors, such as William Gray (c.1414-78), Thomas Allen (1540-1632), Archbishops Laud (1573-1645) and Wake (1657-1737), and Lord Nuffield (1877-1963). Highlights include:

  • The Key to the Sciences, a 14th-century Arabic manuscript compendium of linguistic sciences donated by Archbishop Laud to St John’s College
  • A 15th-century humanist manuscript, Quintilian's Declamationes, given to Balliol College by William Gray

Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s Librarian and Director of Oxford University Library Services, said: ‘This exhibition is a marvellous example of Oxford at its best: hidden gems brought to light, collaboration across the many Oxford University libraries and a celebration of benefaction over centuries.’

The exhibition is one of the two major exhibitions that the Bodleian Library organizes annually featuring distinctive items from its world-renowned collections.

Opening hours

24 May - 1 November 2008

Monday to Friday:
9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.

9.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.

Exhibition Room
Old Schools Quadrangle
Catte Street

Admission free.

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