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Illuminated: The Art of Sacred Books

Illuminated: The Art of Sacred Books

This exhibition explores the aesthetic and technological approaches used in creating and adorning sacred books from a variety of cultures to display Tibetan sacred books in a broad cross-cultural context. Organized by the Rubin Museum of Art, and cocurated by Elena Pakhoutova (associate curator, Rubin Museum) and Agnieszka Helman-Wazny (a former visiting scholar at Cornell), the exhibition includes nineteen works from the Johnson Museum and the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University.

Among the featured objects are illuminated Tibetan manuscript pages and complete books written in gold and silver on dark blue and black paper of various sizes in the traditional Tibetan book format. Other highlights from the exhibition include a bifolio of the famous “Blue Qur’an,” written in gold on indigo colored velum in Tunisia between the ninth and tenth centuries, Japanese Buddhist Sutra scrolls, medieval Gospels, illuminated pages of Jain Sutras, and illustrated Indian Hindu classics. Gold, silver, and other precious materials were often used to adorn objects of religious devotion, especially the sacred books of the living traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Christianity, and Islam. Through an in-depth examination of the comparable approaches found in the objects on view, the exhibition provides new insights into the culture of the book.

The presentation of this exhibition at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art was made possible through the generosity of Younghee Kim-Wait and Jarett F. Wait ’80. Additional support has been provided by Eleanor M. and Peter Ian Kuniholm.