THE VOYNICH'S EXHIBITION IN CHICAGO, OCTOBER 1915
In 1915, from October 7 to November 3 (1), the Art Institute of Chicago placed on view a group of manuscripts and illuminated volumes from Voynich's collection.
Two articles in The Chicago Daily Tribune treated of this exhibition, the first one, on 0ctober 9 (in page 1), the second one, less known, on October 10. Later during the same year, the Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago published a paper(2).
These articles are transcribed in full and the paper is resumed hereunder. Some of the manuscripts are identified.
The Chicago Daily Tribune
Volume LXXIV. - No. 242 C.
Saturday, October 9. 1915, part 1, p.1
Art Works Worth $ 1,500,000 Arrive to Escape War
Hungarian Collector Shows Rare Manuscripts at Institute.
From Royal Houses
The first great art collection to reach Chicago from Europe as a result of
the war was placed on view at the Art Institute yesterday.
It consists of a group of original manuscripts and illuminated volumes, said to be priceless, but whose value is estimated at more than $1,500,000.
Wilfred Voynich, a hungarian collector living in London, acquired them several years ago in a remarkable tour of Europe, in which he spend $8,000,000 in purchasing the most valuable articles in the collection of the royal families and monasteries of half a dozen countries.
Gets Hapsburg Collection
His largest single purchase consisted of the entire manuscript collection of the Hapsburgs, the reigning family of Austria, which had been locked up in the royal castles for centuries.
The most valuable single item is an early fourteenth century volume, "Lives of the Saints", which contains 300 watercolor sketches believed to have been painted by Giotto. This is listed at $160,000, although in ordinary times it would bring a much higher price from collectors.
Portrait of Boccaccio
The only existing portrait of Boccaccio printed during his life is contained in an illuminated fourteenth century of manuscript of his "Genealogy of the Gods" made for the author and presented by him to the Duke of Florence. A large hole, which passes almost entirely through the volume, shows were it was pierced by a projectile in the Medicean wars.
Among the other priceless articles in the collection are a Latin New Testament of the tenth century, a work by Roger Bacon in cypher to which the key has never been discovered, a map used in a Magellan expedition, which was discovered by Mr. Voynich in the binding of a Genovese book three centuries old, and the oldest known set of playing cards, also found in the binding of an old book.
The collection will be on view about three weeks.
The Chicago Daily Tribune
Sunday, October 10. 1915, part 2, p.1
Antique Books Worth $ 500,000
Rare Collection of Londoner on View in Chicago at Art Institute.
Over in the east gallery at the Art institute an elderly man of scholarly bearing
from downstate remained with Dr. Frank W. Gunsaulus(3) until dusk last
evening intent upon the study of half a dozen medium sized books valued at half
a million American dollars.
"Let me hold it in my hands" he requested eagerly, indicating a wonderful French Biblia Pauperum ("Poor Man's Bible") of the twelfth century, comprising fifty-eight rare hand illuminations done in color and gold leaf by a method that no man today understands.
"Sees" Making of Books.
In imagination he saw the making of the book centuries ago in the scriptorium of an ancient abbey, where cowled scribes labored with color and gold leaf, content if the span of their life produced a single volume of religious pictures that might be used to convey the story of the Scriptures to some wealthy prince who never had learn to read.
Similarly in an ancient chant, inscribed and illuminated on vellum, the scholar pictured the pomp of ancient cathedral ritual, where dignitaries of the church intoned the lines and received the far flung responses from mailed knights about to take ship against the Saracens.
His intellectual revel typified the spirit of the majority of men and women who hung over an exhibit which it would not have been their lot to see had not the war resulted in its removal to Chicago by W. M. Voynich of London, England, who culled it from various royal collections in Europe.
Only Kings Owned Books.
Only kings or great nobles could afford books which required fifty or sixty years of unremitting labor to make. In the collection there is a breviary which represents all that remains of the town of Therouanne, which was destroyed in 1554 and again in the present war. The book was made for Henry of Lorraine, and a notation in the back tells of its rescue when Therouanne was destroyed by Charles V.
Another volume of tremendous interest to the student of manuscripts is from the hand of Roger Bacon on rough parchment of the thirteenth century and embellished by the water color drawings done by Bacon's own hand.
Emperor Bough Volume.
The manuscript was bought by Emperor Rudolf for 600 ducats, an enormous sum at that time, and at the end of the sixteen century passed in the hands of King Ferdinand of Bohemia.
Only two other early cypher manuscripts have survived the ravages of time - the famous treatise on navigation by Leonardo da Vinci, already translated and published, and a small pamphlet on magic written in the fifteen century and preserved in the national library of Paris.
Then there is the famous "Heretic" bible in Hebrew, so-called because the artist who embellished it used the pictures of rabbits (biblically unclean animals).
Part of Magellan's Map
A portion of the identical map of Magellan carried by the circumnavigator on his famous cruises and bearing an inscription in Magellan's own hand is one of the curiosities of the collection. The portion of the map was used as part of the binding of a book. Libraries have been ransacked the world over in an effort - thus far in vain - to discover the remaining pieces.
Anonymous, The Voynich Collection
in Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, vol IX, 1915, pp. 97-100, 3 fig.
This short article is firstly about Museum acquisitions (4). It mentions :
- a Description of the World, anonymous work "written and illuminated in Paris in the second half of the fourteen century, very likely for the Sorbonne", presented by Mrs Frank G. Logan (5),
- a North Italian Book of Hours, " written and illuminated in the fourteenth century", and a Florentine manuscript of Horace's Art of Poetry and Letters, "written and illuminated on fine Roman vellum about 1360", given by Mrs. John J. Borland(6) .
- a thirteenth century Latin Bible, acquired from Voynich, previous to the exhibition ( 2 columns and 3 figures in the article) (7).
Then, the article mentions the Voynich's exhibition :
" The manuscripts are English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Spanish, of the tenth to the fifteenth century. Among the most important is an unpublished and unsolved cipher manuscript by Roger bacon, thirteenth century. The profuse illustrations give sufficient clue to establish the importance of the cypher content."
The end of the article is about four books and manuscripts owned and exhibited by Voynich :
- "a teenth century Spanish codex", "with ornaments showing strong Irish and Moorish characteristics";
- "an Archaeology of Rome and Italy compiled by G. Marcanova", "finished in 1645 for Novello Malatesta", "illustrated with drawings by Maso Finiguerra",
- "a treatise on military and naval matters by Pandolfo Malatesta, Duke of Rimini, and Roberto Volturio, his minister of war", with a " delightful full page painting attributed to Andrea Mantegna inserted in the middle of the volume"(8).
- "a fourteenth century Lives of Martyrs, containing three hundred watercolor
sketches" ; "many authorities have attributed them to Giotto".
Some remarks :
· The collection of the Art Institute of Chicago begun with this Voynich's
exhibition(9).Actually, in 1935, on the 26 manuscripts recorded by de
Ricci in this body, 14 have been purchased to Voynich : nine in 1915 (before
or after the exhibition), one in 1917, one in 1922, two in 1923 and one before
1920 (probably in 1915)(10).
· These articles are said to be the first public mention of our manuscript.
· The Voynich's story, as described by the Chicago Tribune papers, seems legendary: an hungarian collector who wish to protect his treasures from the war, a journey across royal families and monasteries, some incredible discoveries (map of Magellan in the binding of a book…), $8,000,000 of purchases…
· The informations on MS 408 give the best market value to the manuscript : thirteenth century, text and water color by the own hand of Roger Bacon, in the hands of one Emperor and one King, only two other early cypher manuscripts remaining in the world, one by Leonardo da Vinci himself, the other one preserved in Paris. These informations on Voynich and MS 408 originated probably from Voynich himself, even if some overstatement by the reporter is possible.
1- Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, vol IX, 1915, p. 97. This exhibition of books and manuscripts was one of the first, (if not the first one) of the Institute since 1910. It follows an exhibition of the manuscripts owned by Dr. B. L. Riese (July to October 1915). In December 1918, Voynich participated in another one : " Caxton Club: Incunabula, Collections of the John Crerar and Newberry Libraries, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and Wilfred M. Voynich " (see Exhibition History of The Art Institute of Chicago, 1910-1919, at: http://www.artic.edu/aic/libraries/musarchives/archhist1910-1919.html) .
2- Anonymous, The Voynich Collection, in Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, vol IX, 1915, pp. 97-100, 3 fig.
3- Dr. or Rev. Frank W. Gunsaulus was one of the trustees of the Institute and one of the clients of Voynich.
4- " The several manuscripts purchased by the Art Institute will be reported in a subsequent number of the BULLETIN " p.97.(On the acquisitions of the Art Institute, see Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, vol. X, 1916, p. 246; vol. XI, 1917, p.249; vol. XII, 1918, p. 42; vol XIV, 1920, p.105; vol. XVI, 1922, p.75; vol. XVII, 1923, p.106).
5- Ms. 15.334 in De Ricci, p.514.
6- Ms. 15.534 in De Ricci, p.514.
7- Ms. 15.524 in De Ricci, p. 514.
8- It is one of the two manuscripts recorded by De Ricci in the W.M. Voynich Estate (Mss. 13 and 14, p.1848) and identified by Ruysschaert as belonging to the Collegio Romano. Probably Ms. 14, (dedicated to Sigismondo Malatesta), which became Ms. 7 in the Rosenwald collection of the Library of Congress, acquired by L.J.Rosenwald to H.P. Kraus, who bough it from Voynich. As far as the painting in the middle of the volume is concerned (a peasant, which has no connection with the subject), see the interesting analysis by Jonathan J.G. Alexander, in Vision of a Collector, The Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection in the Library of Congress, Library of Congress, Washington, 1991. On the attribution to Mantegna, Alexander says : " A considerable correspondance dating from the period when the manuscript was in the possession of M.W. Voynich and his widow concerns a possible attribution of the drawing to Mantegna himself. All opinions… proved negative ". note 4, p.10. (With Bacon, another overstatement from Voynich).
9- De Ricci, Census…, vol. 1, 1935, p. 513 : " The collection was started when the late W.M.Voynich exhibited in the Museum (7 October to 3 November 1915) a selection from his extensive stock; from the manuscripts then shown, several were acquired either by the Institute or by friends of that body (See The Voynich collection, in Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, IX, 1915, pp.96-100, with 5 figs.)".
10 - This last manuscript has been purchased to Voynich by Rev. Frank W. Gunsaulus who gave it to the Museum in 1920. It is MS 20.97 : Origenes, Periarchon, who belonged to the Collegio Romano (source : Ruysschaert).
May 24, 2003