Illuminating the Bible

I came across a Library of Congress digital exhibit on a very lovely piece of literary art. A few years ago, a group of scribes and calligraphers based in Wales started on a piece commissioned by St. John’s University and Abbey in Minnesota that has since become known as the St. John’s Bible. It is a handwritten, illuminated Bible and the Library of Congress created a digital showcase of the artwork, calligraphy and history of it.

The welcome page of the exhibit allows the viewer to choose to view the Online Exhibition, The Process, the Checklist of Objects, Acknowledgments, or a News Release about the Bible. The News Release is out of date, but it was about the opening of the St. John’s Bible traveling exhibit at the Library. The acknowledgments page credits the exhibition staff and curators. The checklist credits each of the pictures shown to the artists who created them for the Bible. The Online Exhibit itself has a very simple design, but the navigation is somewhat lacking.

Thomas Ingmire, The Ten Commandments. (Exodus 20:1-21). Image from the Library of Congress.

Throughout the page of the online exhibit there are lovely photos of the images from the actual Bible, starting from the Creation and moving forward through the books. The entire project, especially the art, is a combination of old and new techniques which are illustrated in specific pieces of artwork included in this exhibit, like the Ten Commandments.

The exhibit progresses linearly and moves to discuss not only the artistry of the illustrations, but also the artistry of the calligraphy as well. This is described in detail under the Process heading, which explains how everything that went into the physical production of the Bible was prepared and how the calligraphy was created, from the paper to the quills and the methods the scribes used.

Brian Simpson, scribe. Psalm 23. Image from the Library of Congress.

Although the exhibit could use more navigational headings and direction for the viewers, as the Online Exhibition section is quite long without any form of direction, the information is quite detailed and encourages the viewer to keep reading. Because there are no clickable headings, the average viewer may continue on and view the entirety of the exhibit instead of going directly to the familiar stories like Adam and Eve and the Crucifixion. This caused me, at least, to continue through the perhaps lesser known portions that are beautifully written, if not specifically illustrated, like the portion on the Psalms.

This exhibit is chock full of information, though the headings are somewhat lacking, and the images are gorgeous and clickable, bringing up full size versions of the pages. The organization almost forces the viewer to look at the entirety of the exhibit instead of the bits and pieces they think they will be most familiar with, which is a lovely idea, but not the most practical for the casual viewer or someone looking for a specific piece of information.

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