Library of Congress mines collection for new World Treasures exhibition


WASHINGTON – The Library of Congress will open a new gallery this summer, permanently dedicated to its international collections.

The rotating exhibition, “World Treasures of the Library of Congress,” will draw upon the Library’s foreign collections to explore a series of universal themes. The first exhibit, “Beginnings,” will present a broad range of materials relating to the origins of civilizations and cultures.

“World Treasurers of the Library of Congress” will open June 7, and will be on view indefinitely in the northwest gallery of the Thomas Jefferson Building.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said the exhibition will afford the Library an opportunity to display materials collected over the last 200 years from every corner of the globe.

Four general areas will be explored in the initial exhibit: accounts and depictions of the creation or beginning of the world; explanations of the earth and the heavens; fundamental myths, legends, and stories concerning the founding of civilizations, societies, and cities; and examples of early writing and written documents.

Materials will be drawn from the full array of Library materials, including books, manuscripts, prints, photographs, music, film, audio recordings, and some artifacts.

Specific examples already chosen for “Beginnings” include:

Sacred images and writings: “The Three-Deity Mandala of Auspicious Beginnings,” Tibet (1983). This mandala (a symbol of the universe in the Hindu and Buddhist religions) depicts three Bodhisattvas, enlightened beings who are revered in Mahayana Buddhism. These particular Bodhisattvas are especially important in the Tibetan tradition and are often shown together to represent the power, wisdom, and compassion of the Buddhas.

Musical compositions: A rare piano-vocal version of Franz Josef Hayden’s “Die Schoepfung” (The Creation), a work composed in 1799 that the composer regarded as his masterpiece.

Other musical works include Duke Ellington’s “In the Beginning, God,” 1965.

Artistic depictions: An etching by Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) depicting Adam and Eve, one of the best-known images of the biblical first humans, and the Hans Holbein painting The Images of the Old Testament (1549).

Folk-lore: Ronald King and Roy Fisher’s Anansi Company, a Collection of 13 Hand-made Wire and Card Rod-puppets Animated in Colour and Verse (1992), book art from Africa that incorporates text with a three-dimensional puppet figure of Anansi the Spider, a popular character in Ghanaian folk literature, to tell tales that incorporate key beliefs of the culture. Anansi is the source of Brer Rabbit in African-American folklore.

Maps of the Earth: The first printed geography book, Ptolemy’s Geographica (1480s); a “T & O” circular representation map with Jerusalem in the center; and “Nansenbushu Bankoku Shoka no Zu” (Map of the Universe), a world map by Japanese Buddhist scholar-priest Hotan (1710).

Maps of the heavens: Petrus Apianus’s Astronomicum caesareum from 1540 (The “Emperor’s Astronomy”), dedicated to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. This volume elegantly depicts the cosmos and heavens according to the then 1400-year-old Ptolemaic system, which maintained that the sun revolved around the earth.

By means of hand-colored maps and movable paper parts (volvelles), Apianus laid out the mechanics of a universe that was earth- and human-centered.

Additional maps of the heavens include a Sanskrit Pur_na, or Hindu mythological text, the N_radapur_na (1923), showing Vishnu, god of preservation, resting between world cycles; a Persian celestial globe, ca. 1650; al-Sufi’s “Suwar al-Kawakib” (Treatise on the Fixed Stars); and a Burmese cosmology from the 19th century.

Laws: The Magna charta cum statutis angliae, a 14th century miniature illuminated manuscript of the Magna Carta, the basis of English common law.

Also in this section: “Der Sachenspeigel “(1500), a German illuminated manuscript of the oldest law codes of the Holy Roman Empire; Jonsbok, an Icelandic law book; and the “Huejotzingo Codex” of 1531.

Written in the pictorial language of the Nuhua, a native people, the Huejotzingo Codex is the Nuhuas’ legal testimony against representatives of the Spanish colonial government in Mexico, just 10 years after the Spanish conquest.

Early writing: A cuneiform tablet from 2400 B.C., the oldest writing at the Library of Congress. Other items include Dharani prayer charms from eighth century Japan, considered to be the world’s second oldest example of printing; “oracle bones,” from 1500 to 1027 B.C. containing inscriptions recording important events of Chinese culture; and examples of the beginnings of Ottoman calligraphy in Koran pages by S. Hamdulh.


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