Medieval Resources in Philadelphia


Philadelphia Museum of Art

Perched at the tip of Fairmount Park, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) is among the most important art museums in the United States. The museum’s impressive selection of paintings (anchored by the renowned John G. Johnson collection) boasts masterpieces from northern and southern Europe. It includes works by Giovanni da Paolo, Fra Angelico, Jan van Eyck, Joos van Cleve, Rogier van der Weyden and Gerard David.

The medieval division of the European Decorative Arts Department constitutes one of the largest and oldest collections in the country, with especially fine examples of French Romanesque capitals, Gothic sculpture, and late medieval panel painting from Spain, along with over one hundred illuminated manuscripts. Among the collection’s prized works are 13th-century glass roundels from the Ste-Chapelle, a Romanesque portal from central France, and a lavishly illustrated deluxe manuscript of the Cité de Dieu (c.1410). In addition, the PMA boasts important collections of Islamic art, including manuscripts, sculptures, and ceramics, and the world-class Department of Prints and Drawings is an invaluable resource for the study of 15th-and 16th-century print culture.

Free Library of Philadelphia

One of the oldest public libraries in the nation, the Free Library’s central building contains over one million volumes. It ranks as one of the most comprehensive collections in the country, with particularly extensive holdings of early printed books, incunabula (1,100) and medieval manuscripts.

The primary manuscript holdings are grouped in John Frederick Lewis Collection, consisting of more than 200 codices and 2,000 detached leaves spanning the 9th to 18th centuries. Virtually all types of medieval book are represented—Bibles, Psalters, antiphonaries, missals, patristic and philosophical texts, devotional works, and over fifty Books of Hours. Some of the most famous illuminated works include the Lewis Bible, related to the Paris Bibles moralisées (c.1225); calendar pages from the Hours of Henry VII, painted by Jean Bourdichon (c.1500); a Book of Hours decorated by Jean Colombe (c.1475); and a genealogical roll of Edward IV illustrated in England (c.1480). Another 200 works form the core of the Lewis oriental collection, comprising one of the country’s premier collections of Mughal illuminated manuscripts.

For a selection of the Library’s medieval manuscripts, see the website related to the recent exhibition Leaves of Gold. This site also includes manuscripts from nearly one dozen Philadelphia-area collections.

Rosenbach Museum & Library

The Rosenbach Museum & Library occupies the beautiful 19th-century townhouse of two brothers, Dr. A.S.W. and Philip Rosenbach, renowned dealers and collectors of books, manuscripts, and fine arts. The museum’s holdings represent one of the country’s great collections of rare books, incunabula, and manuscripts (western and oriental), in addition to antiques, furniture, and paintings. The six dozen illuminated manuscripts include illustrated fragments of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a marvelous codex of Guillaume de Deguileville’s Pèlerinage de vie humaine, and the unusual Regnars traversant les perilleuses voyes (c.1500). The Museum’s nearly one hundred incunabula boast several exceedingly rare imprints, including works from Venice, Barcelona, and Nuremberg, as well as some two dozen Judaica rarities.

Glencairn Museum

Glencairn was the home of Raymond and Mildred Pitcairn, built in the Romanesque style between 1928 and 1939 to house his outstanding collection of medieval objects. The spectacular Great Hall seven stories high, the soaring Lombard-style tower, and peaceful cloister—all decorated with many original works built into the fabric itself—make Glencairn one of the country’s most remarkable repositories of medieval art.

The collection consists primarily of Romanesque and Early Gothic sculpture (c. 300 works) and the collection of 12th-13th stained glass (c. 300 works) constitutes the finest such group in the United States. Most prized are a number of panels from Abbot Suger’s church at St-Denis (1144) and a king from a Jesse Tree window (Soissons, c.1200). In addition, the collection boasts rare Carolingian ivories, approximately one hundred tapestries, 13th-century frescoes from Spoleto, and over fifty manuscript leaves, among many other treasures.

Delaware Valley Medieval Association

The DVMA is a unique Philadelphia-area resource devoted to scholarly exchange and dialogue among academic institutions. Its interdisciplinary purview attracts members from all departments and from more than two dozen colleges and universities—Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore, Haverford, Temple, Drexel, Villanova, St. Joseph’s, Rutgers, Princeton, Delaware, Johns Hopkins, among others. The organization sponsors several lectures and day-long symposia each semester.

Also Nearby

Index of Christian Art
(Princeton University, New Jersey)

Walters Art Museum
(Baltimore, Maryland)

Cloisters Museum
(Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City)

Medieval Art at the Met
(Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City)

Pierpont Morgan Museum & Research Library
(New York City)

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