Small university exhibition spaces, and even small galleries in large museums, can accommodate focused explorations of complex, specialized topics that larger spaces cannot. Without the need to charm broad swaths of the infotainment audience, a scholarly show can delve deep into questions and, as here, open avenues of inquiry. At the heart of this exhibition was the assembling and especially the binding of the codex as it developed during Late Antiquity into the predominant book format that is still in use today. Although a great deal of attention has been devoted to the historical circumstances in which the codex came to supplant the scroll, little attention has been paid to the development of its manufacture.1 This exhibition and its catalogue, based on original research by the curator Georgios Boudalis, Head of the Book and Paper Conservation Laboratory of the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki, reflect current attention to the production of material culture and the burgeoning study of craft.2 The catalogue offers more detailed and fully documented considerations of the categories of evidence presented in the exhibition, an illustrated checklist, a rich bibliography, and an index.

In two display areas (an introduction and the main exhibition space), the exhibition charted the adaptation of traditional techniques primarily from textile- and leather-working (Fig. 1).3 Upon entering the second-floor hallway, the visitor encountered a bright display on the ancient development of the codex through such visually striking artifacts as a Classical red figure kylix depicting a schoolboy with a simple codex of tablets encircled by a strap with another strap for a handle (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund acquisition 17.230.10).4 Overall, the introduction presented variations in formats from paired and stacked tablets to the single gathering of pliable pages in use from antiquity, to the multiple gatherings developed during Late Antiquity. Utilizing the full range of the types of objects (artifacts and reproductions), images (photographs, diagrams, comparisons), and text panels (quotations about the manufacture and use of books presenting distinctive late antique voices), this introductory display established the pre-history of the late antique codex to be explored in the main gallery. The introductory didactic panels made clear that most of the late antique artifactual evidence—in the fragile organic materials of textiles and leather—has been preserved in Egypt from Christian monastic settings.

FIG. 1.

View across the main gallery of “The Codex and Crafts in Late Antiquity” with the introductory case in the background. Photo courtesy of Bard Graduate Center Gallery. Photographer: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.

FIG. 1.

View across the main gallery of “The Codex and Crafts in Late Antiquity” with the introductory case in the background. Photo courtesy of Bard Graduate Center Gallery. Photographer: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.

In the more dramatically lit main gallery, artifacts and reproductions demonstrated innovative uses of the traditional craft techniques developed for constructing the covers, spine, and closures of the multi-gathering codex. Near the entrance, an interactive panel presented an elegantly animated diagram of the techniques explored in artifacts and reproductions throughout the gallery. The artifacts, featuring local-area collections, included rare and rarely seen early books and book covers for monastic codices dating to the eighth and ninth centuries from the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum; these were shown alongside ornate leather shoes and other fancy objects and ornaments of everyday non-monastic life using the same combinations of techniques such as gilding and cut-out openwork sewn to painted leather (Fig. 2). Techniques developed from textile working for book binding such as cross-knit looping, twining, weaving, and sewing were compared to their use for late antique textiles. A fascinating facsimile reconstruction of the binding of the fifth-century Glazier Codex (Morgan Library and Museum, MS G.67) was shown open alongside a photograph of it strapped closed (Fig. 3). Although art museums rarely utilize such reconstructions, they are effective didactive tools, especially for premodern material culture, because of the way they separate technique from the distractions of other artistic features as well as the deterioration of artifacts.

FIG. 2.

In the foreground is a case with the upper and lower covers of a gospel book, ninth to tenth centuries C.E. (Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.569), showing, e.g., techniques of cutout openwork sewn to a gilded background. On the wall behind are cases with comparisons for leatherwork; on the adjacent wall artifacts of book fastenings with replicas and diagrams of their craft techniques. Photo courtesy of Bard Graduate Center Gallery. Photographer: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.

FIG. 2.

In the foreground is a case with the upper and lower covers of a gospel book, ninth to tenth centuries C.E. (Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.569), showing, e.g., techniques of cutout openwork sewn to a gilded background. On the wall behind are cases with comparisons for leatherwork; on the adjacent wall artifacts of book fastenings with replicas and diagrams of their craft techniques. Photo courtesy of Bard Graduate Center Gallery. Photographer: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.

FIG. 3.

A facsimile of the Glazier Codex (ca. 4th to 5th c. C.E.) open to show the book block with strips laced through the spine cover and boards paired with a photograph of the book wrapped in its fastening straps. Photo courtesy of Bard Graduate Center Gallery. Photographer: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.

FIG. 3.

A facsimile of the Glazier Codex (ca. 4th to 5th c. C.E.) open to show the book block with strips laced through the spine cover and boards paired with a photograph of the book wrapped in its fastening straps. Photo courtesy of Bard Graduate Center Gallery. Photographer: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.

In order to ensure clarity of expression, a small exhibition that tackles a large subject must impose limits on the themes to be explored. Yet silence may suggest a lack of significance: this exhibition's absence of commentary on the dense concentration of auspicious and protective motifs on the late antique book covers and clasps, textiles and leatherwork, might suggest to the uninitiated that these compositions were merely decorative.5 In some ways in this exhibition the book as object stood apart from the book as expressive medium. One introductory wall panel mentioned the use of codex “notepads” for such useful texts as school exercises and household accounts, but the emphasis on form, craft, and the exterior of the codex to the exclusion of interior text and image left room for thinking that content was not a factor in the development of codex formats or their decoration.6 Indeed, legible text and inner decorations were absent from view and the pages of facsimiles and reproductions were blank. Through the deliberate and strategic focus on craft, however, the exhibition both complemented traditional art historical concerns and implicitly demonstrated how much of the social art history of the codex during this formative period remains unexplored, such as, for example, comparisons of the locations and circumstances of the production of luxurious shoes and monastic devotional books.7 The display of these objects and crafts also underscored the potential for inquiry into venerable associations of materials and media like those connecting text and textile, parchment and flesh.8 

An enormous map covered the wall opposite the first display. Fully visible as the viewer entered or exited the main gallery, the map charted the expansion of monasticism from Egypt throughout the wider world of Late Antiquity and seemed to identify monasticism as the main mechanism for the spread of the developing crafts of the book (Fig. 4).9 The map graphically summarized historical context without explaining or complicating the exhibition's very long view of Late Antiquity. Ethiopia, for example, was not marked on the map, although it was represented in the exhibition: an eighteenth-century Ethiopian psalter and its leather satchel (Morgan Library and Museum MS M.911), visible in Fig. 2 and the right edge of Fig. 4, described as illustrating the preservation of “techniques that remained unchanged for centuries,” seemed to suggest a passive conservatism without hinting at the possibility of meaningful archaism. A similar map in the catalogue (figure 3, at pp. 4–5) makes the same suggestion.

FIG. 4.

View across the main gallery toward the wall map in the hallway opposite the introductory case. Photo courtesy of Bard Graduate Center Gallery. Photographer: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.

FIG. 4.

View across the main gallery toward the wall map in the hallway opposite the introductory case. Photo courtesy of Bard Graduate Center Gallery. Photographer: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.

Just past the introductory display and map was a final room with the attraction of a large luminous screen playing a color video of hands at work making a codex (Fig. 5). The video, a terrifically useful teaching tool that effectively underscores the emphasis on craft, is now available through the web page for the exhibition.10 In this room, labeled as the “Haptic Learning Lab” (clearly identifying this as an intellectual venture), samples of wood, papyrus, parchment, and linen cloth invited the viewer to touch and imagine working with these materials. Sharing space in this learning lab were displays relevant to the exhibition on Balinese textiles on the floor below (“Fabricating Power with Balinese Textiles”), linking the two exhibitions through a focus on weaving. A “Reading Room” on the first floor also linked the two exhibitions, inviting viewers to sit, read, and “delve deeper into the work of contemporary textile artists and bookmakers.” And, viewers did. At an event held in that space for textile artists and poets, I overheard and was told of interest in and enthusiasm for the exhibition. On several visits, I found a rapt, if small, audience, despite a lack of reviews in the popular press.

FIG. 5.

View from the hallway of the video screen in the “Haptic Learning Lab.” Photo courtesy of Bard Graduate Center Gallery. Photographer: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.

FIG. 5.

View from the hallway of the video screen in the “Haptic Learning Lab.” Photo courtesy of Bard Graduate Center Gallery. Photographer: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.

NOTES

NOTES
1.
E.g., John Lowden, “Book Production,” in Elizabeth Jeffreys, ed., with John Haldon and Robin Cormack, The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 462–472. On the historical context for the development of the codex, see, e.g., Anthony Grafton and Megan Williams, Christianity and the Transformation of the Book: Origen, Eusebius, and the Library of Caesarea (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); Larry W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2006); and William E. Klingshirn and Linda Safran, eds., The Early Christian Book (Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2007).
2.
This project participates in the longstanding practice of experimental archaeology that is especially prominent in the study of archaeological textiles: e.g., Elizabeth E. Peacock, “The Contribution of Experimental Archaeology to the Research of Ancient Textiles,” in Penelope Walton Rogers, Lise Bender Jørgensen, L., and Antoinette Rast-Eicher, eds., The Roman Textile Industry and Its Influence. A Birthday Tribute to John Peter Wild (Exeter: Oxbow Books, 2001), 181–192. And, this project lays the groundwork for introducing late antique book crafts to important current discussion of theoretical and curatorial concerns that typically take up a modernist perspective: e.g., Glenn Adamson, ed., The Craft Reader (Oxford and New York: Berg Publishers, 2010), and the The Journal of Modern Craft (from 2008). On the inextricability of modernist discourse on craft from the study of historical and archaeological textiles, see also T'ai Smith's critical reflection, “The Problem with Craft,” Art Journal 75:1 (2016): 80–84, esp. 83. The “Foreward” for the exhibition catalogue by Ivan Gaskell (xii-xv) rightly points to Boudalios' interdisciplinary study as a rich consideration of multiple adaptations of existing craft techniques. Gaskell's “Foreward” also points to the book as the material thing that embodies the text—although the latter is not a concern of the exhibition or the publication. See below notes 4, 5, and 7.
3.
A wall label in the exhibition and various promotional materials identified the exhibition as “A Focus Project,” conceived and organized by Boudalis beginning when he was a Research Fellow at the Bard Graduate Center in Spring 2015, then continued in Fall 2016 when he returned as a Visiting Professor. “Focus Projects are small-scale academically rigorous exhibitions and publications that are developed and executed by Bard Graduate Center faculty and postdoctoral fellows in collaboration with students in our MA and PhD programs.”
5.
Henry Maguire, Eunice Maguire, and Maggie Duncan-Flowers, Art and Holy Powers in the Early Christian House (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989); Jennifer L. Ball, “Charms: Protective and Auspicious Motifs,” in Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity, ed. Thelma K. Thomas (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 54–64; and John Lowden, “The Word Made Visible: The Exterior of the Early Christian Book as Visual Argument,” in The Early Christian Book, eds. Klingshirn and Safran, 13–44.
6.
On the affinity for tablet codices for various lists, see Kim Bowes, “Ivory Lists: Consular Diptychs, Christian Appropriation and Polemics of Time in Late Antiquity,” Art History 24 (2001): 338–357. Exhibition labels did not mention contemporaneous developments in types of texts (such as novels or collections of saints' lives and sayings) and text apparatus (biblical canon tables). On the latter, see Michelle P. Brown, ed., In the Beginning: Bibles before the Year 1000 (Washington DC: Smithsonian, 2006), with its own excellent web site archiving the exhibition: http://archive.asia.si.edu/exhibitions/online/ITB/html/introduction.htm (accessed 29 Oct. 2018).
7.
Art historical study retains the emphasis on painting in only these two forms of the book as developed by Kurt Weitzmann in his Illustrations in Roll and Codex: A Study of the Origin and Method of Text Illustration (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947) then Ancient Book Illumination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959). For examples of painting on single sheets that may have been collected in albums for the use of artisans and those commissioning artworks, see Ulrike Horak, Illuminierte Papyri, Pergamente, und Papiere, 2 vols (Vienna: Holzhausen, 1992) and Annemarie Stauffer, Antike Musterblätter: Wirkkartons aus dem spätantiken und frühbyzantinischen Ägypten (Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2008).
8.
As noted in such foundational studies as John Scheid and Jesper Svenbro, The Craft of Zeus: Myths of Weaving and Fabric (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996) and Michael Camille, “The Book as Flesh and Fetish in Richard de Bury's Philobiblon” in The Book and the Body, eds. Dolores Warwick Frese and Katherine O'Brien O'Keefe (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997), 34–77.
9.
On contemporaneous ascetic experiments, as opposed to the diffusion of coenobitic monastic practice from Egypt, see e.g. Columba Stewart, OSB, “Monasticism,” in Early Christian World, 2 vols., ed. Philip Francis Esler (London: Routledge, 2000), 344–366. Certainly, monasticism was a critically important context: see, e.g., Stephen Emmel, “The Christian Book in Egypt: Innovation and the Coptic Tradition,” in The Bible as Book: The Manuscript Tradition, eds. John L. Sharpe III and Kimberly van Kampen (London: The British Library, 1998), 35–43 and Megan Hale Williams, The Monk and the Book: Jerome and the Making of Christian Scholarship (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006). On the social and economic circumstances of production of the later monastic codices from Hamouli in the Morgan Library, see Andrea Achi, “Illuminating the Scriptorium: The St. Michael Collection and Monastic Book Production in Egypt during the Ninth and Tenth Century” (PhD dissertation, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 2018). On the production of books as an aspect of ascetic practice: Derek Krueger, “Hagiography as an Ascetic Practice in the Early Christian East,” Journal of Religion 79 (1999): 26–32 and Claudia Rapp, “Holy Texts, Holy Men and Scribes: Aspects of Scriptural Holiness in Late Antiquity,” in The Early Christian Book, eds. Klingshirn and Safran, 194–222; see also Kim Haines-Eitzen, “Textual Communities in Late-Antique Christianity, ” in A Companion to Late Antiquity, ed. Philip Rousseau (London: Basil Blackwell, 2009), 146–257. In the exhibition catalogue, Boudalis considers briefly in the introduction, 9, and more fully in the conclusion, 154–156, the importance of monasteries for early book production without mentioning the possible role of archives, archival practice, and earlier scriptoria in private domestic settings, such as villas, or in other institutional religious contexts, such as the Christian church or Jewish, Roman, and Roman-period Egyptian temples.
10.
The video, views of the exhibition, and photographs of a selection of objects are archived online at: https://www.bgc.bard.edu/gallery/exhibitions/80/the-codex-and-crafts-in (accessed 29 October, 2018).