By CRAIG D'OOGE
"World Treasures of the Library of Congress" is a permanent rotating exhibition on view in the Northwest Gallery of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E. Exhibition hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The exhibition is made possible by a grant from the Document Company Xerox. View the exhibition online.
A new permanent exhibition devoted to the Library's foreign collections, "World Treasures of the Library of Congress," is on view in the Northwest Gallery of the Jefferson Building. The rotating exhibition, with individual items changing from time to time, will explore a series of universal themes. Under the first theme, "Beginnings," the exhibition will present a wide variety of rare and unusual items that relate to the origins of civilization and culture. The new exhibition, like the "American Treasures" exhibition across the Great Hall, was made possible by a grant from the Document Company Xerox.
"This exhibition will afford the Library the opportunity to show visitors materials from every corner of the globe," said Dr. Billington. "For 200 years, the Library of Congress has been collecting items in nearly every language and format, a tradition begun by Thomas Jefferson. Now the visitor to Washington and our Web site will be able to enjoy the international collections of the world's largest library."
The exhibition is organized in three parts: "Creating," "Explaining and Ordering" and "Recording the Experience."
"Creating" presents materials under five headings: "Creation Accounts and Depictions," "First Human Beings," "Positing a State of Nature," "Societal Beginnings" and "Rule of the Law."
"Explaining and Ordering" examines how mankind has explained and ordered the universe in attempting to cope with it. This section is divided into two parts: "The Heavens," with items depicting different views of the universe, explanations of the heavens and various ways of ordering time. "Earth" showcases different views of Earth, early maps, the spiritual world, early science and children's stories.
"Recording the Experience," examines the various ways humanity has recorded and preserved the past, in written, printed and oral form.
The exhibition opens with religious texts from the traditions of Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism and Christianity. The first two pages of a 19th century hand-copied Koran are illuminated in gold, green, blue and red. In seven short verses, the "Fatiah" sums up man's relation to God in prayer. A Tibetan "Mandala of Auspicious Beginnings" was created during the same century to serve as a teaching aid for a compilation of Mahayana Buddhist teachings.
A large 12th century Chinese scroll depicts the "eight immortals," one of the most famous folk tales of Chinese Taoism. The Christian and Jewish traditions are represented by an Arts and Crafts-style Bible from the Doves Press (1903-1905); the first volume of an edition of the Hebrew Bible that was not completed because of Hitler's rise to power; an 18th century Dutch Reformation Bible; and woodcut illustrations by El Friede Abbe for lines from the Old Testament and Milton's Paradise Lost in a modern limited edition printed in Vermont.
Various accounts of creation are represented by an illustration depicting the worship of Oxalufan, the god of creation in Candomble, an Afro-Brazilian religion of Yoruba origin that combines African and Catholic elements; the poem "The Creation" by African American poet James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938); a French edition of Ovid's Les Metamorphoses from the 18th century; a creation myth of Japan illustrated by Hosoda Tominobu (1783-1828); a modern lithograph illustration of the Mayan view of creation; a Balinese painting from the Margaret Mead papers showing the "World Serpent Creating the World Turtle"; the 15th century Nuremberg Chronicle, illustrated with more than 1,800 woodcuts; a folk tale from Botswana; the first edition orchestral score of Haydn's "The Creation"; William Blake's etching of the creator at work with a set of huge calipers; and an edition of the Kalevala, Finland's national folk epic from the library of Czar Nicholas II.
Images of Adam and Eve figure prominently in the section devoted to "the first people," in Albrecht Dürer's engraving of 1504, a French book of hours from the 15th century, illustrations commissioned by William Morris from Edward Burne-Jones for an edition of the Bible he planned to publish and an Armenian manuscript from the 17th century.
More exotic versions are referenced in Aristophanes' description of the first man (as cited in Plato's Symposium) with his circular body, who "could walk upright as men now do" or "roll over and over at a great pace, turning on his four hands and four feet," or the story of Pangu, the creator according to Chinese mythology, who created the world from his body, both of which are represented in modern editions.
A facsimile edition of a codex containing the creation myth of the Mixtec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico, shows the primordial twins, Señor and Señora One Deer, at work with copal (a type of incense) and ground tobacco creating the Mother and Father of the Gods, while the chief Norse God, Odin, and his two brothers are seen in a modern Norwegian edition creating the first man and woman from logs found on the seashore.
Influential speculations on early people in an abstract "state of nature" are represented by a first edition of Rousseau's Du Contrat Social; Hobbes's Leviathan (1651); Locke's Essay on Human Understanding (1690) and a manuscript page from Freud's Totem and Taboo. Histories of social beginnings include a volume showing the Armenian hero Hayk entering Armenia, the first history of the Bantu people by a man of Bantu descent, the first Icelandic printing (1688) of the Book of Settlements, originally compiled in the 12th century with biographies that served as the basis of Icelandic sagas; as well as histories relating to the Yoruba, Hungarian and French people.
Epics and myths of beginnings include a modern edition of Metai (The Seasons) by the most important Lithuanian poet of the 18th century, Kristijonas Donelaitis (1714-1780); the Georgian epic Vep'xistqaosani (The Knight in the Panther Skin), composed by Shjota Rustaveli in the 12th-13th centuries; the Codex Mendoza (ca. 1541), a pictorial history of the Aztecs/Mexica that contains the first image of an eagle on a cactus, now the Mexican national emblem; a Romanian national epic ballad; a Balinese creation legend; a Mali epic of "The Lion King"; the Ethiopian story of the Queen of Sheba; and a 16th century manuscript leaf from the Iranian national epic, the Book of Kings, which was composed in the 10th century.
Ways that various countries have looked at their beginnings through the study of history are grouped together, including the first British national atlas (1579), the first Dutch national atlas (1622) and the first map of Mexico City, sent in a letter from Cortes to King Charles V.
A facsimile 14th century scroll map of the Yellow River is an essential source of information on the history, geography, culture, economics and military affairs of this "cradle of Chinese culture," while another scroll, from 17th century Japan, depicts an aerial view of the mainland route from Edo to Osaka, now the route of highways and express trains in Japan. A manuscript map commissioned by Emperor Haile Selassie (1892-1975), complete with hand-illuminated photographs of himself, is also on display.
Items relating to the creation of the rule of law include the Multaka Al Abhur, a 16th century compilation of Islamic rules; the illuminated manuscript "Coutumes de Normandie" (1483); the "Huejotzingo Codex"(1531), a pictorial record of tribute paid by the Indians of central Mexico to Spain; a miniature manuscript of the Magna Carta from the 14th century; and a contemporary printing of the Russian "Magna Carta" that outlines rights granted to nobles by Empress Catherine II in 1785.
Explaining and Ordering
How mankind explains and orders the universe is the theme of the next major section of the exhibition. On a star-lit night, a lone figure sits in a boat with his head thrown back, gazing in awe at the heavens (see cover) in a woodcut by the American artist Rockwell Kent (1882-1971). This illustration can be viewed as an emblem for this section of the exhibition. Works from many cultures that attempt to answer fundamental cosmological questions are displayed, beginning with the astronomical theories of Levi ben Gersom written in the 14th century. A 13th century French version of the influential De proprietatibus rerum by Bartholomaeus is found here as well. This work preserved both medieval and classical learning for more than two centuries, including Ptolemy's scheme of the planets and Aristotle's scheme of the four elements of fire, ether, water and earth.
Descartes' Principia philosophiae of 1644 shows the planets carried by vortices around the sun, while another edition of Bartholomaeus shows his conception of the planets contained in horizontal bands.
The first telescopic drawings of the moon, by Galileo, are contained in a book of his published in 1655, while Petrus Apianus (1495-1552) published his version of the Ptolemaic system in a lavishly illustrated volume dedicated to Charles V in 1540. Three years later, Copernicus displaced the Earth, and man, from the center of the cosmos with the publication of De Revolutionbus Orbium Coelestium, which also is on view. An early armilliary sphere is contained in a Chinese book originally printed in 1461, displayed here in an 18th century edition. A woodcut of God resting on the seventh day after creating heaven and Earth, from the 15th century, was copied and reinterpreted for the next two centuries.
Other writings and illustrations that attempt to explain the heavens include a modern Tibetan astrological "thangka" that depicts the Bodhisattva of Knowledge as a giant tortoise, an ancient Egyptian zodiac reproduced in a Napoleonic atlas of Egypt that established the modern science of Egyptology, a 17th century Persian celestial globe, a Japanese book of observations of lunar eclipses published in 1697, a Dutch celestial atlas of 1708 and star charts from 1729 and some whimsical astronomy cards created by a British designer in 1825.
Various ways of ordering time on display include a 19th century manuscript facsimile of an Aztec calendar wheel, the 15th century Calendarium that began civilization's transition to the Gregorian calendar and ancient calendars from the Japanese, Balinese, Jewish and Tibetan cultures.
A selection of different views of the Earth begins with a 15th century "T-O" map that shows the upper part of the world devoted to Asia, with Europe and Africa on each side of the "T" and all three continents encircled by an ocean. A snake keeps the Earth in place by biting its tail in a Dogon map, while the Lord of Death holds the six realms of existence in a Tibetan "Wheel of Life." A modern illustration by the Chicana Ester Hernandez depicts the Earth Mother. Other maps on display include a portolan chart of 1559, the first city atlas (the Civitates orbis terrarum of 1572-1618) and a 1482 edition of Ptolemy's Cosmographia.
The spirit world is represented by 17th century illustration of an alchemist; an amulet to protect women in childbirth from Sefer Raziel (The Book of Raziel) (1793), a popular book of practical kabbalah; an Akuaba doll carried by pregnant women in Ghana; a magic bowl from seventh century Mesopotamia that was buried in the foundation of a building to trap evil powers; and oracle bones from the Shang Dynasty (1766-1123 B.C.) that are engraved with the earliest forms of Chinese handwriting.
Great scientific treasures include Newton's Principia Mathematica (1687), Hooke's Micrographia (1665), Darwin's Origin of Species (1859), a 17th century copy of an Arab work on science and alchemy by Al-Tughra'i, Vesalius's De humani corporis (1543), a manuscript page from 1410 showing the astrological symbols linked to parts of the body, a survey of Chinese herbal medicine, a popular book on science (The Work of Tobias) by the physician Tobias Cohen (1652-1729), the first illustrated medical text and an English edition of the work of the Swedish botanist Linnaeus.
"Why?" is one of the most frequently asked questions by children, and a collection of books known as "pourquoi tales" from the Library's collection of children's literature answer such questions as "Why mosquitoes buzz," "How the giraffe got such a long neck" and "How the spirit of the sun came to man."
Recording the Experience
The final section of "World Treasures" presents a sampling of rare artifacts, writings and printings relating to the way man has captured his "beginnings," from the earliest example of writing housed in the Library of Congress (a cuneiform tablet from 2039 B.C.); one of the earliest examples of musical notation in the world, on a Tibetan manuscript; the Library's oldest example of Chinese printing, a Buddhist sutra dated A.D. 975.; the earliest known movable type, Korean metal type cast in the 1230s; and the first book printed in the Western Hemisphere, a Mexican catechism from 1543.
The exhibition will be on view indefinitely, with objects rotating throughout the year. An sampling of the exhibition may be viewed online at www.loc.gov/exhibits.
Mr. D'Ooge is a public affairs specialist in the Public Affairs Office.