Treasures of the Bodleian exhibition opens today

The Bodleian Libraries’ autumn exhibition ‘Treasures of the Bodleian’ opens to the public today (Friday 30 September). The exhibition will feature a selection of the Bodleian’s rarest, most important and most evocative items – from ancient papyri to medieval oriental manuscripts to twentieth-century printed books and ephemera.

The exhibits are arranged into broad themes: the classical heritage; mapping the world; the sacred word; the animal and plant kingdoms; works of the imagination; the sciences of observation and calculation; historical moments in time.

The ‘Treasures of the Bodleian’ exhibition looks towards the new permanent exhibitions gallery in the Weston Library which will open in 2015. Members of the public can give their thoughts on which of the library’s treasures should be put on permanent display in the new building. Visitors to the exhibitions are also invited to take part in the debate on what makes a particular book, manuscript or relic – out of a collection of nine million – a treasure? They can offer their own views when visiting the exhibition, or via the website.

Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s Librarian, said: ‘We are delighted to be able to put on public display a selection of the Bodleian’s greatest treasures. This is just a preview of what the Weston Library will offer the public when it opens in 2015. We want our collections to be accessible to the public, for people to come and see them, admire, inspect and get close to them. We want our treasures to become part of the public vocabulary.’

The website and a free mobile app (to be launched in the second half of October) will accompany the exhibition. Several items are accompanied by video presentations made by experts from University of Oxford. Podcasts of music and readings from a number of manuscripts in both the original language and English will bring the ancient items to life.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • The Laxton Map, 1635, depicting England’s sole surviving open-field system.
  • The Elements of Euclid, AD 888, the oldest surviving manuscript of what would become the standard version of Euclid’s Elements, as re-edited in the 4th century AD by Theon of Alexandria.
  • Marco Polo’s Travels, manuscript, 14th century, ‘one of the great picture books of the Middle Ages’.
  • Telegrams from the Titanic, 1912. The distress message from the Titanic to the Celtic. From the recently acquired the vast archive of Marconi plc.
  • Codex Mendoza, 16th century, an account of Aztec life with pictographs by an Aztec artist and annotated in Spanish.
  • Wilfred Owen, ‘Anthem for Dead Youth’, 1917, handwritten draft.
  • The Kennicott Bible, illuminated Hebrew Bible, 1476. Made at Corunna in north-west Spain, it is bound in a contemporary goatskin box-binding, of which only five other examples are extant. Its fine parchment pages contain exceptionally beautiful combinations of calligraphy by the scribe Moses Ibn Zabara, and illuminations and decorative penmanship by the artist Joseph Ibn Hayyim.
  • Magna Carta, 1217. The Bodleian has four of the seventeen surviving pre-1300 ‘engrossments’ of Magna Carta, three of which date from 1217 and one from 1225.
  • The Ashmole Bestiary, 13th century. Produced in England, this superbly illustrated manuscript is one of the finest of the early Gothic illuminated Bestiaries (Christianized versions of ancient animal lore) which were especially popular in this country in the first half of the thirteenth century.
  • Letter from an Egyptian boy to his father, 2nd or 3rd century AD. Many of the 500,000 or so papyrus fragments discovered at the end of the nineteenth century contain passages of literary or philosophical works, but most are the stuff of everyday life: shopping lists, tax returns, legal documents, private letters and memoranda. Tattered and fragile, they are clearly of great age, but the concerns they express are immediately recognisable. Occasionally, amongst the mass of business papers, they reveal personal emotions: here, a petulant schoolboy called Theon complains to his father for leaving him behind.
  • William Shakespeare, First Folio, 1623. This is the firstcollected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, published seven years after his death by two of his fellow actors. The first collected edition of any English playwright, it prints a total of thirty-six plays, many of which would otherwise have been lost to future generations.
  • Bakhshali manuscript – first evidence of the concept of zero, represented by a round dot. A leaf from a remarkable birch bark manuscript, that provides unique evidence for how the earliest Indian mathematics was written. The text is a collection of algorithms and sample problems in verse, with a commentary explaining them in a combination of prose and numerical notation.

The exhibition will remain open until 23 December 2011.

Videos produced for the exhibition:

Source: University of Oxford

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

Smartphone and Tablet users click here to sign up for
our weekly email

Malcare WordPress Security