Lost Vatican treasures make their first U.S. appearance at SMU’s Meadows Museum

Image from the Votive Missal of Urban VIII, 1635The only remaining set of codices from the Sacristy of the Sistine Chapel will make their first visit to the United States for an exhibition in SMU’s Meadows Museum. The Lost Manuscripts from the Sistine Chapel: An Epic Journey from Rome to Toledo opened Jan. 23 and continues through April 23.

Meadows Museum will host a faculty/staff reception celebrating the exhibition in early February. Watch your campus e-mail for a date and time.

Featuring 40 codices ranging in date from the 11th to the 18th centuries, the collection represents some of the finest illuminations ever discovered, and follows the trajectory of an exciting and significant time at the Vatican and Sistine Chapel.

The codices were looted from the Vatican by Napoleon’s armies and then rescued by the dynamic Archbishop of Toledo, Cardinal Francesco Antonio José de Lorenzana y Buitrón, who gave them to the Biblioteca Capitular de Toledo for safekeeping.

For 200 years the codices all but disappeared from history, until the late 1990s when scholar Elena DeLaurentiis saw a photograph of the codices with the Barberini seal and traced their location to the Cathedral of Toledo. Since their discovery scholars have been cataloguing and studying the manuscripts, piecing together one of the most valuable collections of liturgical manuscripts in the world.

frieze with Cardinalitial Coat of Arms of Cardinal Antoniotto Pallavicini“Many of the codices are in perfect condition, and they have provided unprecedented insight into one of the most vibrant historical time periods at the Vatican,” says Meadows Museum Director Mark Roglán. “This is a very exciting discovery, and allows us to reconstruct one of the most important and valued pieces of papal heritage.”

The exhibition marks the first time that these ancient manuscripts will be on display in the United States. Curated by Dr. De Laurentiis and fellow Italian scholar Emilia Anna Talamo, the exhibition will feature a broad range of liturgical writings used by the Catholic Church, including benedictionals, blessings, breviaries, epistolaries, evangelistaries, missals and preparations for mass.

Though the manuscripts were undiscovered for years, the illustrations remain in pristine condition. They demonstrate some of the best preserved examples of the complex decorative schemes executed and influenced by master illuminators of the papal scriptorium, such as the French illuminator Vincent Raymond and the Italian illuminator Apollonio de’ Bonfratelli.

Notable among the rediscovered manuscripts is the “Missal with Christmas Mass of Cardinal Antoniotto Pallavicini,” which dates to between 1503 and 1509 and is regarded as one of the richest and most exquisite codices from the Sistine Sacristy Collection.

An exhibition catalogue will provide profiles of the codices, as well as scholarly essays by the curators. The catalogue is being prepared by the Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica and will be published in English, Spanish and Italian.

The exhibition, which first opened at the National Library in Madrid in October 2010, is organized through partnerships with the Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica, the Biblioteca Nacional de España, the Biblioteca de Castilla-La Mancha, the Catedral de Toledo, and the Palacio Arzobispal de Toledo. It has been funded by a gift from The Meadows Foundation.

Above right, an image from the Votive Missal of Urban VIII, 1635. Toledo, Biblioteca Pública of Estando de Toledo – Biblioteca Capitular de Toledo.

Above left, frieze with Cardinalitial Coat of Arms of Cardinal Antoniotto Pallavicini and Initial T (Te igitur) with the Pietá, 1503-07. Folio 66r of the “Missal with the Mass of Christmas of Cardinal Antoniotto Pallavicini.”

> Read more and see a WFAA video on the exhibition at SMU News video