Friday, March 29, 2013

A TARDIS Friday Five

Day Two of my Artist Retreat last week was spent at The Boston Public Library. This was an old haunt of mine when I was a student at Boston University when Adam was still in short leaves. Five things I did while at the BPL

1. I greeted the lions that are in the foyer of the old library (McKim building).The two lions that stand guard over the foyer were carved to honor Massachusetts Civil War dead. The lion to the right of the staircase, is called the Harvard lion as the Massachusetts regiment was mostly made up of young men who attended Harvard. The lion to the left of the staircase with one of his paws curved in, was dedicated to a Massachusetts regiment made up mostly of working class men from Irish descent. My family lore states that my great-uncle Manny, a stonecutter, worked on the lions. The lions look like they are carved from concrete, but they are carved from unfinished Sienna marble. Charles McKim, the architect, was heavy into symbolism. Since the young men who died left unfinished lives, the lions were not polished. Over the years, people have rubbed the tails of the lions for good luck and the oils from human hands has polished the marble.

2. At 11 am, I went on the free Art and Architecture tour of the old library (the new library was built during the 1970s). This was my third or fourth time on the tour, but by far the best. The docent, Miles, had a million back stories which I had never heard. Before the tour, I asked him if he knew where I could find info about Uncle Manny and he suggested the Louis Saint-Gaudens (sculptor of the lions) Museum in NH. He said they might have records of the sub-contractors Saint-Gaudens used. A good lead.
Don't Blink!

Enlightenment stands over the doorway to the main reading room.

Besides the lions, my favorite room on the tour contains the mural paintings of The Quest of the Holy Grail by Edwin Austin Abbey.

The masterpiece of this tour is the Triumph of Religion murals on the third floor painted by John Singer Sargent. I was so busy looking at the stunning murals I forgot to photograph them. (What a maroon!) You'll just have to be content with seeing  them at the link above.

3. The third floor also houses the Rare Books and Manuscripts room. Any library patron with a valid BPL card can visit the room and request to view the rare books and manuscripts during library hours. You don't need special academic credentials in order to see the books. The receptionist had me fill out a card, and then directed me to a coat room where I could hang my coat and put my bag in a locker. No bags, books, or pens are allowed. I was allowed to bring a pencil, a loose sheet of paper, and I was told I could photograph (without flash) the books to my heart's content. I was then directed to the Rare Books room. The librarian asked what book I wanted to look at, but since I had no clue what was in the collection, I asked him to pick something for me. Truthfully, I was going to be happy with anything he chose. It's not often that one gets a chance to view a manuscript up close and personal. He got me a wedge to support the book and a pair of white, cotton gloves.

Then he brought out a 15th. century (circa 1420, 30 years before Gutenberg invented the printing press) missal, a book that is used during the Catholic service and ritual.  According to some notes, the book was thought to have been made for a lady. The book had 150 pages done on vellum (calf skin) with 13 miniatures and heavily illuminated borders. Whoever commissioned the book had beaucoup de bucks as each page was lavishly decorated with real gold leaf.

The book was so beautiful, I almost cried. Each page was ornately painted in brilliant colors. Red and blue acanthus leaves, fruits like strawberries and pears, small blue flowers which I thought might be forget-me-nots, holly

As I was looking through the book, it occurred to me that I was looking at a medieval graphic novel. I was amused with the miniature of someone being laid to rest in a grave. I love the little Alas, poor Yorrick skull in the lower right corner at the feet of the mourners. Sometimes the artists painted the patron in the book as an homage. I thought perhaps the lady owner of the book might have been a widow. This miniature dedicated to the memory of a loved one. I only speculate this because the decorations in the illuminated "D" are heraldic in design.

Before I left the Rare Books room, the librarian emailed me a draft copy of the library's Medieval and Renaissance Manuscript collection. He said on my next visit, I can just ask for whatever call number I would like to see.

4. I traded in my electronic library card for an old-fashioned library card. I can still access the library from the comfort of my home, and will be able to use it on my next trip to the library.

5. After feasting my eyes, it was time to feast my stomach and rest my hurting feet. Though I had test driven my new girlie shoes before the trip, they caused problems with walking city blocks. Tea is served Wednesday through Friday from 2pm to 4pm at the Courtyard Restaurant in the library. So I treated myself.

All I had to do was order the kind of tea I wanted (Earl Grey, hot) and then the waitress brought an entire selection of tea sandwiches, assorted desserts, and a currant scone with fruit marmalade and Devonshire Double Cream.  The tea fare was absolutely delicious especially the Devonshire Cream, but I wish the waitress had let the tea steep a bit longer before pouring my first cup.  The first cup was tea colored, hot water and not Early Grey tea.

Tea would have been a lot more fun if there was someone to share it with. The ritual of tea isn't so much about the beverage or goodies, but is also about the company. Who wants to come to tea with me next time?


  1. To be able to actually TOUCH a book made circa 1420! What an honor! You are so lucky. Thank you for sharing!

  2. It was awe-inspiring to see the book, Robin, to think of the different people that had a hand in its creation: the designer, the scribe(s), the illuminator, the gilder, the book binder, those who prepared the skins, made the ink, the tempera, the goldsmiths who beat the gold into fine sheets, the person who slaked the plaster to make the gesso...

  3. Mee! Meeeee! I want to come!

    What a treasure that book is! I think I would've just stood in the rare manuscript collection room and B.r.e.a.t.h.e.d.