The Walters Art Museum holds a world-renowned collection of more than 900 illuminated manuscripts from around the world that spans 1,000 years. This extraordinary collection chronicles the art of the book, and includes more than 900 illuminated manuscripts, 1,250 of the first printed books (ca. 1455-1500), and a collection of deluxe editions (post-1500) from all over the world, and from ancient to modern times.
Highlights of the collection include Ethiopian and Byzantine Gospel books, French and Flemish books of hours, and masterpieces from the Safavid, Mughal, and Ottoman Empires. Additionally, intricate bindings crafted by Tiffany, a diary of Napoleon, and first printed editions of ancient texts by Aristotle and Euclid can be found within the collection. Because digitization is an ongoing process, some of these exceptional works have yet to be captured and published on this site.
The Walters Ex Libris website currently displays 424 Manuscripts, 8618 Illuminated Folios, and 133323 Folios.
Because of their sensitivity to light and humidity, the Walters Art Museum’s manuscripts can be exhibited no more than once a year and for no longer than three months; individual pages can be exhibited only once every five years. Because of the fragility of the paper or parchment and the delicacy of the bindings, moreover, we try to ensure that the manuscripts are handled as little as possible. Exhibition cases protect the manuscripts, but they also make it impossible to study them closely or to see them in their entirety.
Digitization provides an alternative to these limitations, enabling anyone from any location to view and study the collection. The Walters Art Museum has made a commitment to digitizing its collection in order to share them with as wide an audience as possible. To date, more than 300 manuscripts have been fully digitized and released, along with complete cataloging information.
The digitization of such a rich collection is part of the Walters Art Museum's mission to bring art and people together for enjoyment, discovery, and learning. We hope that this project will encourage you to enjoy and study the collection.
How do we do it?
The Walters was awarded three matching grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, in addition to a generous gift from an anonymous donor, to begin digitizing the collection. The first grant, "The Islamic Digital Resource Project,” focused on the museum's collection of 128 illuminated Islamic manuscripts and single leaves. This was followed by "Parchment to Pixel,” which funded the digitization of 105 German, Russian, Armenian, Byzantine, Ethiopian, Dutch, English, and Spanish manuscripts. The third grant, "Imaging the Hours,” included the digitization of 112 Flemish manuscripts that date from 1200 to 1600. Most of these manuscripts are Books of Hours—elaborately decorated books of devotion that were custom-made for wealthy patrons. These books contain lavishly detailed miniatures painted in jewel tones and embellished with gold. Other important works included in this grant are a variety of Psalters (volumes containing the Old Testament Book of Psalms) and the lavishly illustrated Beaupré Antiphonary, the earliest extant large-format choir book from Northern Europe. Following completion of "Imaging the Hours," the Digitization Initiative was brought into the Walters' everyday operating budget to allow the remainder of the manuscript collection to be digitized.
Once a manuscript has been fully digitized, it is published to the data repository at thedigitalwalters.org. High-resolution images of each piece of the manuscript (for example, all pages, bindings, or bookmarks) and extensive cataloging information are made freely available for download, thus opening the digital collection to unrestricted access. Additionally, the Walters uses the XML format TEI to make its cataloguing information machine-readable.
While thedigitalwalters.org will continue to function as the project's official raw data repository, this site allows users to perform dynamic searches, enabling them to explore the digital collection in a more active and engaging way. A page-turning application for each fully digitized manuscript is included, along with important cataloging information displayed in a user-friendly interface. Additionally, plans have been made to include virtual exhibitions of archived manuscript focus shows from the Walters.
The Walters Digitization Initiative can be contacted at [email protected] High-resolution images and extensive cataloging in both TEI and human-readable formats are available at thedigitalwalters.org. Additional images and updates from the project are shared via Flickr (Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts) and Twitter (@MedievalMss).