Penn Library Exhibitions

Bibliotheca Schoenbergensis:
An Exhibition from the Collection of Lawrence J. Schoenberg


We curators envy collectors. Unconstrained by the policies and institutional priorities that circumscribe our view of the marketplace, collectors are free to follow their vision and imagination as far as their wallets allow them. The collector's collection becomes a personal expression, a statement of values, a witness to a vision. For three decades, Lawrence Schoenberg has been collecting in an area reserved for the few: illustrated manuscripts from the medieval and early modern periods. This is not a niche for the timid or the occasional collector. The market for these manuscripts is highly competitive and extraordinarily demanding, requiring a kind of knowledge and discernment singular in the trade. Manuscripts from this period regularly attract an international clientele of elite institutions and serious collectors. Mr. Schoenberg's collection represents a studied appreciation of the artifacts and their history, as well as a careful evaluation of the market for them.

What is most striking about the collection is its breadth. Stretching from the eleventh to the eighteenth century, it includes monastic, university, and lay texts. There are manuscripts not only in Latin and western European vernaculars, but also in Hebrew, Persian, and Arabic. Texts in the collection deal with everything from prayer and liturgy to mathematics and horse breeding. Its codices contain spectacular illuminations as well as utilitarian illustrations. For the scholar, Mr. Schoenberg's collection is a rich banquet at which to dine. Here one can study the contrasts between public and private devotion, the evolution of the school curriculum, the practices of history, and some chapters in a yet-to-be written history of science and technology. The connoisseur can take special delight in notable provenances (Phillips, Ruskin, Libri, and Abbey); exquisite miniatures; an elegant portolan atlas; an early illustrated medical miscellany; and a fine sampling of Books of Hours. In short, the collection offers a grand tour of the traditions of illumination and illustration as they evolved in the codex manuscript.

The Penn Library is grateful to Mr. Schoenberg, a member of the Library's Board of Overseers, for allowing us to show a selection from his collection and to introduce the community of scholars at Penn to manuscript traditions they might not otherwise have seen. While Penn possesses a large and important collection of codices, the emphasis of the collection is exclusively on texts and the transmission of knowledge, rather than on the image. Thus, Mr. Schoenberg's library provides a signal opportunity for all of us to consider, reflect on, and appreciate the remarkable harvest of images that represent one of the major iconographic traditions in European history.

Several people have played important roles in realizing this exhibit, none more important than that of its curator, Dr. Lisa F. Davis. A skilled paleographer and codicologist, Dr. Davis brought a scholar's eye and a connoisseur's sensitivity to the task of organizing and describing this complex body of material. In this she was assisted by Roberta Dougherty, the Library's Middle Eastern Bibliographer, who described and transcribed the Arabic and Persian texts; Joseph Holub, the Library's Bibliographer for Iberia and Latin America and Gabriela Ramos, a noted Peruvian scholar and doctoral candidate in the History Department, who patiently read through and wrote up the Spanish cartas ejecutorias; and Adam Shear, a doctoral candidate in the History Department, who applied his impressive skills to the Hebrew manuscripts. Greg Bear of Special Collections designed and installed the exhibit. Dr. Paul H. Mosher, Vice Provost and Director of Libraries, has been unfailing in his support for this project. And, of course, nothing would have been possible without the generous cooperation of Mr. Schoenberg, who has been encouraging from start to finish. To him and to Mrs. Schoenberg we are particularly thankful.

Michael Ryan
Director of Special Collections

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