One the many good things about Cambridge is that it can cause surprises even after two years. You can almost be addicted to the beauty and charm of this city. No one day is like the other. They are full of surprises: interesting meetings with different people, everyday, little miracles or life-changing events… and plenty of cultural experiences which one can not get enough of. Moreover, this city always exceeds itself. As if it wanted to say: ”I could give you more than you think. Look! I can be more beautiful today than I was yesterday.” It can be a night image behind Magdalene College, near the River Cam, that the full moon painted with silver, claret and green, colouring the slightly wavy water, the bridge, and the old building with its unique shades. Or it can be a message from an old doorway, from an alleyway that opens up unexpectedly from nowhere, or a lonely but proudly rolling boat: “You are lucky to see me.” And I had this feeling when I wandered into the 200-year-old Fitzwilliam Museum with a friend of mine last Sunday. I had been there several times, but that afternoon visit was accidental. And again, Cambridge gave me an “I can be more beautiful today than I was yesterday.” feeling when I entered the exhibition called ”Colour: The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts”.
Especially as a librarian, I was in a flow, and this feeling took me from one book to the other: from a wonderful Bible from 1420-30, open at The Book of Genesis, decorated with a nicely painted initial ”I” that ran on the side of the old, cracked page, to a beautiful book from Boethius (1476), who is my favourite author from that time. Each volume made me feel the passage of time. I saw some Books of Hours (medieval prayer books) as well. The oldest manuscript was from 930-50, which was amazing! Of course, these are just some of the 150 manuscripts that were displayed, and most of them were more than 600-800 years old.
The most interesting show-piece was a scroll by Sir George Ripley, who was an alchemist in the 16th century. It was at least 5 feet long and about 2.5 feet wide. You can read a poem about alchemists’ ”magic” on it. And how does alchemy connect to writing manuscripts? It is said there were six colours that were made by alchemists and used for decorating books at the time. It must be true, because I think the moon used these colours that night when it allowed me to see how it painted that beautiful picture of Cambridge.
Colour: The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts:
Colour: The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts review – a rainbow of agony and ecstasy (The Guardian)
About George Ripley: