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The Morgan celebrates the completion of monumental Saint John's Bible with display
The Saint John’s Bible. Apostles Edition, Collegeville, Minn: Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, 2007–2011. 5 vols. (Pentateuch, Historical Books, Wisdom Books, Psalms, Prophets) The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Gift of Dr. William F. Hueg and Hella Mears Hueg, 2011. Photo: Graham S. Haber.

NEW YORK, NY.- In 1998 Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, commissioned calligrapher Donald Jackson to produce a fully illuminated luxury manuscript of the Bible. Working out of his scriptorium in Monmouth, Wales, Jackson and a team of calligraphers and artists used traditional techniques and modern technology to create a spectacular illuminated text of over 1,100 pages. Completed in May 2011, The Saint John’s Bible ensures that the ancient art of illumination—so richly represented in the Morgan Library & Museum’s collections of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts—lives on into the twenty-first century.

To document Jackson’s monumental achievement, Saint John’s University has published several facsimiles of the manuscript, including the lavish seven-volume Apostles Edition, issued in only twelve copies. In 2011, Dr. William F. Hueg and Mrs. Hella Mears Hueg presented to the Morgan a set of the Apostles Edition, five volumes of which have appeared to date.

From May 7–August 25, 2013, the Morgan celebrates this generous gift with the display of the Prophets volume from the Apostles Edition, as well as one of Jackson’s preliminary studies for the Gospel of John frontispiece, on loan from the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library. The Prophets volume, containing 232 pages and twenty illuminations, will be opened to reveal an illuminated depiction of the prophet Isaiah.

The presentation is being displayed in the Marble Hall of the Morgan’s 1928 Annex building. Visitors have the opportunity to compare these modern illuminated works with their medieval origins when, beginning today, Illuminating Faith: The Eucharist in Medieval Life and Art, goes on view in an adjacent gallery.

“We are deeply grateful to William Hueg and Hella Mears Hueg for the generous gift of this extraordinary volume to the Morgan,” said William M. Griswold, the museum’s director. “Our collection of medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts ranks among the best in the world, and the Apostles Edition helps to bring the collection up to date. The intricate design and exquisite hand-painting in The Saint John’s Bible demonstrate the continuing vitality of script and scripture in the modern age.”

In 1995 Donald Jackson expressed his lifelong dream of creating a hand-written, illuminated Bible to Eric Hollas, OSB, a monk at Saint John’s Abbey and then-director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library. Between 1996 and 1997, Saint John’s University explored the feasibility of the Bible project, Jackson created preliminary samples, and theologians developed the illumination schema. The Saint John’s Bible was officially commissioned in 1998.

Jackson and his team relied on computers to size the Bible’s text and define line breaks, allowing the calligraphers to work on pages simultaneously. The manuscript’s pages are made of calfskin vellum, and soaked in lime, dried, scraped, and sanded smooth, in the traditional manner.

The script—designed by Jackson—was written in lamp black ink from nineteenth-century Chinese ink sticks. It was applied using quills hand-cut by the scribes; goose quills were used for the main body of text, and turkey and swan quills for heavier letterforms. The manuscript’s vibrant colors were derived from vermillion, lapis lazuli, and other pigments. These materials were mixed with egg yolk and water to create a thick paint, which was then loaded onto the quills using brushes. Artists applied gold leaf by blowing through bamboo tubes, activating the binding agent in gesso until it bonded with the leaf. Burnishing tools and brushes were then used to finish the gilded images.

The Saint John's Bible uses the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation of the Bible, the version officially authorized for use by most Christian Churches. In addition to traditional biblical imagery, the Bible also features depictions of modern events and scientific discoveries: strands of DNA are woven into the illumination of the “Genealogy of Christ;” the Twin Towers appear in the illumination of Luke’s parables; and photos from the Hubble telescope were used to depict Creation.

In 2011 Dr. William F. Hueg and Mrs. Hella Mears Hueg presented to the Morgan the first five volumes of the Apostles Edition of the Bible (Pentateuch, Historical Books, Wisdom Books, Psalms, and Prophets). When completed, the Apostles Edition will comprise seven folio volumes containing more than one thousand pages and 160 illuminations. Each page measures 15 ¾ x 23 ½ inches, extending to 2 x 3 feet when opened.

Jackson is one of the world’s foremost Western calligraphers. As a scribe to Queen Elizabeth II, he was responsible for the creation of official state documents. Jackson is an elected Fellow and past Chairman of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators and, in 1997, was named Master of the 600-year-old Guild of Scriveners of the city of London. He and his wife, Mabel, live and work in Monmouth, Wales.

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