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The Image of the Book: Representing the Codex from Antiquity to the Present

November 16-18, 2023

A great deal of recent research has focused on the objecthood of the pre-modern book and its associated materiality. But only sporadic attempts have been made to understand the role of visual representations of the book in conveying ideas about knowledge. How can our understanding be transformed when the dictum that “a picture is worth a thousand words” is put into practice, when the how of depiction is accorded as much importance as the what of textual content? This symposium will examine the means by which the book, and in particular the manuscript, is described across a wide variety of media, from painting and sculpture to digital media and film. Topics to be addressed include the book as a symbol of authority, wisdom, or piety; the visual archeology of otherwise vanished bookbinding styles, reading practices, and study spaces; and the re-imagining of the physicality of the codex through digital means. The event will also mark the public launch at Penn Libraries of the Books as Symbols in Renaissance Art (BASIRA) project, an innovative, public-access web database of thousands of depictions of books in artwork produced between about 1300 and 1600 CE. The database, like the symposium itself, aims to engage historians of religion, literacy, art, music, language, and private life, as well as book artists, conservators, and interested members of the public. The symposium is organized in partnership with the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia (view on map).

The program will begin Thursday evening, November 16, 5:00 pm, at the Free Library of Philadelphia in the Rare Book Department, with a reception and keynote address by Jeffrey Hamburger, Kuno Francke Professor of German Art & Culture, Harvard University. The symposium will continue November 17-18 at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. The program schedule is available here.

Registration is required. There are 54 in-person seats available. There are 173 online seats available.

Thursday, November 16, 2023
All Day Event
Kislak Center Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion, 6th Floor
Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center
Symposium > Schoenberg Symposium

Event Organizer

Profile photo of Lynn Ransom
Lynn Ransom