Beinecke Library exhibition invites bibliomaniacs to go mad for books

The new exhibit “Bibliomania” aims to illuminate the cycle of accumulation, dispersal, and reassembly that lies behind many of the world’s greatest libraries.
A person looking at bookshelves in Beinecke Library

Beinecke Library (Photo credit: Jack Devlin)

At a time when the world seems crazy for lots of wrong reasons, the Beinecke Library is happy to offer active counter-measures for a good cause, as we celebrate all who are mad for books with our new exhibition, ‘Bibliomania; or Book Madness: A Bibliographical Romance,’” says Lucy Mulroney, the library’s associate director for collections, research, and education.

Bibliomania,” on view at the Beinecke Library, 121 Wall St., from Jan. 18 through April 21, takes its name from the history of “arrant book-lovers” written by Thomas Frognall Dibdin.

This ambitious show was developed by six scholars,” Mulroney notes, “an archivist and two curators in the Beinecke Library, a Yale graduate student, a former Beinecke librarian now at the University of Chicago Library, and a colleague at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas-Austin. Each curator’s own bibliomania animates a show comprised of four case studies that offer insights into the powerful and often unexpected relationships of books with their readers, owners, authors, collectors, and creators.”

The four facets of “Bibliomania are:

All the Books in the World!” organized by the Beinecke Library’s Raymond Clemens, curator of early books, and Diane Ducharme, archivist. This section explores the passionate collecting and printing history of the renowned 19th-century bibliomaniac Thomas Phillipps, whose vast collection of manuscripts and early printed books filled an English country house and required more than a century of public auctions and sales to disperse.

Collated & Perfect,” organized by Kathryn James, curator of early modern books at the Beinecke Library, with Aaron T. Pratt, curator of early books and manuscripts at the Ransom Center. This section traces the history of the collation statement and the obsession with finding a more perfect text, from 18th-century book collector Thomas Rawlinson through Charlton Hinman, editor of the first folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays (1968).

Habits Ancient and Modern: Surface and Depth in the Pillone Library Volumes,” organized by Andrew S. Brown, doctoral student in the Yale Department of English. This section tells the history of the library assembled by Antonio and Odorico Pillone in Italy in the 16th century, and Odorico’s decision to have the fore-edges of many of these volumes painted by Cesare Vecellio, a distant cousin of Titian.

Dutch pattern marbled paper by Richard J. Wolfe
Dutch pattern marbled paper by Richard J. Wolfe, for his translation of Franz Weiss’ “The Art of Marbling.”

The Whole Art of Marbling,” organized by Elizabeth Frengel, formerly of the Beinecke Library and now curator of rare books at the University of Chicago. This section explores the many-faceted art of paper marbling, drawing on examples in the Beinecke Library’s collection to illuminate the art’s history, techniques, patterns, and practitioners, from its origins in the East and advancement over the Silk Road to the European continent.

According to Mulroney, “This show draws from both longstanding collections at Yale and more recent acquisitions that taken together illuminate the cycle of accumulation, dispersal, and reassembly that lies behind many of the world’s greatest libraries and most dedicated collectors. There are items to delight just about any visitor, from passionate bibliomaniacs to novice bibliophiles. Whether you are interested in illustrated bindings or marbled endpapers, early editions of Shakespeare or contemporary publishing, individual texts or voluminous libraries, this exhibition has something to catch your eye and inspire your mind. We invite everyone to join us and go positively mad for books.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a series of special events throughout the semester, all free and open to the public, including:

  • Jan. 23, 5 p.m.: a panel discussion on the Pillone Library with exhibition curator Brown and Ann Rosalind Jones, the Esther Cloudman Dunn Professor Emerita and professor emerita of comparative literature at Smith College.
  • Feb. 5, 5 p.m.: a panel discussion, “Perfect: Thinking about the Ideal Copy,” with exhibition curators James and Pratt, with Peter Stallybrass, the Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Humanities and professor of English and of comparative literature and literary theory at the University of Pennsylvania, and David Scott Kastan, the George M. Bodman Professor of English at Yale.
  • Feb. 6, 5 p.m:. a lecture, “The Duc de Berry (1340-1416) and the Origins of Bibliomania,” by Christopher de Hamel, author of “Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts,” followed by the exhibition opening reception at 6 p.m.
  • Feb. 7, 5 p.m.: a lecture, “Sir Thomas and I: A Poor Comparison,” by Toshiyuki Takamiya, professor emeritus, Keio University.
  • March 27, 5 p.m.: a lecture on paper marbling by Sidney Berger, former director of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum and professor at Simmons College.
  • April 10, 5 p.m.: a lecture, “The Painted Book: Cesare Vecellio and the Pillone Library,” by Brown.

In addition, most of this semester's “Mondays at Beinecke” gallery talks and teas, held on Mondays at 4 p.m., will feature discussions related to the exhibition.

Beinecke Library exhibitions are free and open to the public daily. Visit the library’s website for details on daily hours.

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Michael Morand: , 203-432-3056