Medieval manuscripts showcased in Beinecke Library exhibit

A detail of Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales," with medieval illustrations.
A detail from Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales."

A collection of medieval English manuscripts that had been in private hands is on exhibition for the first time in the United States at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library in a special, building-wide exhibition, “Making the Medieval English Manuscript: The Takamiya Collection in the Beinecke Library,” on view through Dec. 10.

Four Chaucer manuscripts, numerous devotional rolls, and works as varied as Boethius’ “Consolation of Philosophy, Langland’s “Piers the Plowman,” and a Middle English medical manuscript — all from the collection of Japanese scholar and collector Toshiyuki Takamiya — are displayed in the context of the Beinecke’s own prior rich holdings of English and Continental manuscripts.

The exhibition is curated by Raymond Clemens, curator of early books and manuscripts; Diane Ducharme, archivist; and Yale graduate students Eric Ensley, Gina Hurley, Alexandra Reider, Joseph Stadolnik, and Emily Ulrich.

With a rare combination of scholarly and antiquarian expertise, Professor Emeritus Takamiya of Keio University in Tokyo assembled an unrivaled collection of medieval manuscripts over four decades,” Clemens says. “Held privately in Japan, the collection had been relatively unstudied in the West, and Professor Takamiya’s generous deposit of these manuscripts at the Beinecke Library in 2013 made a significant contribution to medieval scholarship at Yale University and internationally.”

The fall 2017 exhibition celebrates and showcases these medieval manuscripts, now permanently part of the Beinecke collections, and demonstrates how they combine with the library’s existing holdings to make the Beinecke Library a vital center for scholars, students, and the public to engage medieval English literature, history, and manuscript culture.

 “Chaucer remains widely read today, and the materials on view to the public illustrate the complexity of the medieval manuscript tradition,” Ducharme says. “The variety and beauty of the materials on display makes this distant period more accessible to us.”

A series of talks, lectures, and conferences complements the Takamiya Collection exhibition during the fall semester. Many of the Beinecke Library’s regular “Mondays at Beinecke” gallery talks and teas, held at 4 p.m. during the academic term, draw on materials on display. Alexandra Gillespie, chair of the Department of English and Drama at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, will deliver a lecture on “The Pardoner and the Printing Press,” on Friday, Oct. 6, at 4 p.m., followed by an opening reception for the exhibition A related conference, “Making the English Book,” will be held on campus Oct. 6-7.

Beinecke Library exhibitions are free and open to all, as are the associated events and the conference. Visit the library’s website for detailed information on hours and special events.

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