The Morgan Library is one of my favorite museums in the city, though I don't get there nearly often enough. Right now, it's got a couple of cool things going on, one virtual, one a realspace exhibit. The virtual exhibit is of a prayer book once belonging to Queen Claude of France in the early 1500s. Curator Roger Wieck flips through the book and explains the iconography of several of the scenes depicted in the prayer book. It's a tiny little thing, palm-sized, and the paintings and illumination and calligraphy are really exquisite. It's books like this that got me interested in Medieval history and in bookmaking. This one appears to be covered in red velvet, and has gorgeous little fleur-de-lis clasps on it, in addition to the lovely decorations of the text.
You'll notice that even though the scenes depicted are Biblical, the characters' dress is Renaissance-style. That's typical for the time when this book was created, and theater "costumes" would have been the same: no attempt at historical authenticity. It's fun to hear the little tidbits of completely useless but amusing knowledge that Wieck drops along the way, too, such as the fact that executioners, assassins and such are generally the best-dressed people in pictures like this. The well-dressed are depicted as evil because of their concern with appearances (vanity) and wealth (greed). I wonder, too, if it wasn't a snarky comment against the hypocrisy of sumptuary laws that forbade lower classes of people from wearing certain types of fabric, decorative accessories, and jewelry. The artist, like most illuminated manuscript artists, is anonymous, but was probably a cleric of some sort, who might have made just this sort of snarky comment.
It's an 8-part lecture, but make sure you stick with it to the end, where Wieck describes the background to depiction of a little miracle of St. Nicholas, in which an innkeeper who's run out of bacon chops up three little boys to use instead. *boggles* And you thought Jeffrey Dahmer was bad.
The other exhibit is only on until March 29th, so get there soon, if you're interested. It's "Protecting the Word: Bindings at the Morgan," an exhibit of fine bookbindings from the Morgan. "Highlights include a bejeweled eighth-century binding used on the famous Lindau Gospels, a magnificent seventh-to-eighth–century Coptic work, and a seventeenth-century English Bible and prayer book in stump work embroidery." So if you're interested in beautiful historic bindings, this is the show for you.