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Magnificence on Parchment

Dr. Roger Diederen, curator of the exhibition "Magnificence on Parchment" (left) and Georg Ziereis (right) before the Uta Codex created around 1020 in Regensburg

Christian Ziereis (left) and Georg Ziereis (right) are comparing the original manuscript of the Pericopes of Henry II (created in 1020) with its facsimile edition

"Something like this will not take place again within the next 100 years" - this remarkable quote is said during our interview with Dr. Roger Diederen, curator of the Kunsthalle of the Hypo-Kulturstiftung in Munich. We are standing in the exhibition "Magnificence on Parchment" and Dr. Diederen takes a lot of time for our conversation. While we are talking, we are wandering around the shaded and elegent rooms: Tidy and clear, on the purple coloured walls there is the one or other explanation worth reading - nothing is to distract from the magnificent exhibits.

In the exhibition there are no less than 75 codices from the time from 780-1180 on display. A purple evangeliary from the 9th century, the Evangeliary of Otto III., the Salzburg Book of Pericopes, the Book of Pericopes of Henry II and his Sacramentary, the Bamberg Apocalypse and the Uta-Codex, the Prayer Book of Hildegard of Bingen - this list is only a short exerpt from the display but does already show the uniqueness of this opportunity. You get overwhelmed by the Glory and History!

The works are arranged chronologically and are put in specially manufactured showcases made of bulletproof glass. "For each work an individual bookend has been manufactured" explains Dr. Diederen and rightfully refers to a specialty of the exhibition: the reflecting showcase floors. With their help you can study the goldgleaming, with gems and ivory decorated covers, without having to forego a look inside the book.

Interview With Curator Dr. Diederen

Read now the interview with the curator of the exhibition and the head of the Kunsthalle of the Hypo-Kultustiftung, Dr. Diederen:

Christian Ziereis: What lead to this unique exhibition?

Dr. Diederen: We would have never dared to request the greatest treasures of the National Library for an exhibition ourselves! But when the head of the manuscript department, Dr. Claudia Fabian, came to us and asked if we could imagine such an exhibition in our rooms, we immediately realised that this was a unique chance and we jumped at the opportunity. Of course there were a lot of practical details to be worked out, but it was a very constructive and pleasant coorperation between the two institutions from the start.

Christian Ziereis: What is the special characteristics of an exhibition of medieval codices compared to your usual art exhibitions?

Dr. Diederen: In more than 25 years of the Kunsthalle, this is the first exhibition on manuscripts only. For us, this was new territory. Of course the employees of the National Library have the necessary expertise in abundance. For this exhibition, Dr. Claudia Fabian and Dr. Béatrice Hernad were mainly responsible. To make such an exhibition accessibble for the general public is no easy task. The pictures have been created for a close look and contemplation and thus it was very hard for example to choose a good motive for the exhibition poster, which also had to look good from afar. Also the wide art audience has not as much optic experience with these objects as with the usual paintings and sculptures.

Christian Ziereis: Why should you not miss your exhibition under any circumstances?

Dr. Diederen: To be able to view these extraordinary exhibits in the original is simply unique! I know that this term is used inflationary by exhibitors, but it is really true in this case: An exhibition like this will not come again for the next 50 or even 100 years! After the 13th of January these works will vanish again for many decates into the safe of the BSB - that's a fact. Even if I do a PhD on the subject I will "only" get to see a facsimile of these manuscripts. If you miss to come to Munich now, it is your own fault. From this period there are only a few objects of art preserved today. The medieval panel painting we know from museums, is considerably younger. Even then these manuscripts were the absolute peak of human artistry. To be eye to eye with these proofs of our collective european culture, which started with Charles the Great, is unique!

Christian Ziereis: Which requirements did you have to take into account and which effort did you have to make for it?

Dr. Diederen: The conservational requirements were - as for any other exhibition - an important factor. This of course leads to very high costs for us, also with this project: bulletproof showcases were newly manufactured for each exhibit, each book lies in a specially measured book stand which is formed as to not strain the binding too much. This leads of course to very high costs of material and wages. Though we know that the normal admission fee of 12 Euro can be a big amount for many interested visitors, the admission fees do not cover our real costs by far. Also there are many reductions which you can find on our website. The Kulturstiftung and the HypoVereinsbank additionally support the exhibition with big amounts, ohterwise such a thing would not be possible

Christian Ziereis: Which day and which time of day are best for a visit?

Dr. Diederen: The monday is generally the most visited, since the admission fee is reduced by half. But then the manuscripts are the most crowded. Concerning the time of day I would advise the evening hours, maybe from 6 o'clock. Then there is possibly a special quite and an almost festive atmosphere.

Christian Ziereis: Personally, what is your most favourite exhibit?

Dr. Diederen: The many magnificent manuscripts - on which there is of course the main focus - are all fantastic. Especially since we work with mirrors, so you can also study the wonderful book cases. But in all this magnificence you notice the few simpler works, for example the depictions of the months in the "Collection of Astronomic-Computistic and Scientific Texts". Those remind you that the assembled magnificence is not an everyday occurance but that it really belongs to the most beautiful art ever made by man.

We thank you very much for the nice conversation!