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COLOUR: The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts

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This online exhibition presents a selection of the manuscripts displayed in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s bicentenary exhibition COLOUR: The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts (30 July – 30 December 2016). An exhibition of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts is a fitting celebration of the Museum’s bicentenary. The Fitzwilliam preserves the finest and largest museum collection of illuminated manuscripts in existence, and manuscripts were at the heart of the Founder’s collection with which the Museum was established in 1816. Among the treasures which Richard, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion (1745-1816), bequeathed to the University of Cambridge were 130 illuminated manuscripts.

In his 1895 catalogue of the Founder’s collection, the Fitzwilliam Director Montague Rhodes James appealed to potential benefactors to think of the Museum as a place where their ‘manuscripts would be choicely valued, religiously preserved, and minutely investigated.’ Among the bequests and donations which flowed into the Museum over the next two decades was one of the largest and finest private collections of medieval manuscripts. In 1904, the astronomer and inventor Frank McClean bequeathed over 200 volumes and some 130 illuminated fragments. The 1912 bequest of Charles Brinsley Marlay’s eclectic collection included one of the largest groups of illuminated fragments ever amassed – well over 250. These bequests quadrupled and diversified the Museum’s holdings.

The collection grew further under James’ successor, Sydney Cockerell, the longest serving and most acquisitive Fitzwilliam Director (1908-1937) to date. His vision, scholarship and passion for manuscripts have inspired more recent acquisitions, notably the Macclesfield Psalter, purchased in 2005 with overwhelming public support. This exhibition marks the Museum’s gratitude to all those whose generosity has created one of the world’s finest collections of illuminated manuscripts over the last 200 years.

COLOUR also celebrates the world-class expertise of the Museum’s curators, conservators and scientists. Two Fitzwilliam projects underpin COLOUR’s research platform: the Cambridge Illuminations and MINIARE. The exhibition showcases their cross-disciplinary research and collaborations with experts in Cambridge, across the UK, and overseas.

Some of the manuscripts, with further information on their artists, patrons, painting materials and techniques, can be explored on the Fitzwilliam Museum’s digital research and teaching resource, ILLUMINATED: manuscripts in the making.

More extensive discussions of the fourteen exhibition themes and all manuscripts can be found in the exhibition catalogue. The number of the catalogue entry for each manuscript is indicated below (‘Cat. 1’, ‘Cat. 3’ and so on). The exhibition catalogue is available from the Fitzwilliam Museum’s shop and can also be ordered online.

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