A Touch of Eternity. Exhibition “1514. The Book. 2014”
“Only the “Riga Bourse” had such display cases, and now we have, too – with perfect climate and dust control, special lights, non-reflective glass! All the books you see exhibited here are five hundred years old, and they tell the stories of different people and of Europe of that period.” Astrīda is proud to show us the various books, and the very first one is “Biblia Poliglota” – a Bible in several languages. The small group of visitors, one of which happens to be Rikke Helms, the former Head of the Danish Cultural Institute in Latvia, eagerly listens to what Astrīda Rogule has to say, some also turn to other library employees with their questions.
“By the way, there will be a special display at each showcase, so visitors could electronically acquaint themselves with every exhibit – “flip through the pages”, learn about their history,” the curator says, smiling, adding that she expects visitors to spend several hours at the exhibition, enjoying the art and culture of publishing centuries ago. “Look at the title pages, how the texts are arranged!” she says admiringly, then points at a comment in one of the books, written by Erasmus of Rotterdam.
“We will also have a CD (in English, Latin and Latvian) with his “The Praise of Folly” – an audio book with excerpts narrated by Juris Strenga and music from 1514 played in the background, performed by Guntars Prānis and Ilze Nīmane.”
We arrive at a table in the middle of the exhibition hall, with several museum staff members around it along with their colleagues from Danish and Swedish libraries, preparing the books to be placed in the display cases. The foreign experts supervise the work on the books – each book is placed on a special mount that can be rotated in various angles.
“Let me show you something absolutely unique!” Astrīra Rogule says and takes us to a book written by Avicenna, that has arrived in Latvia from the library of the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland) – a truly impressive folio. Another exhibit, an equally beautiful herbarium book, has arrived in Riga from Denmark, and we see an expert from a Danish library help prepare the book to be placed in a display case. “We also have a book by Erasmus or Rotterdam, and a cookbook from the Netherlands,” she goes on to say. Among the manuscripts showcased at the exhibition is the “Riga Breviary” – although printed in Amsterdam in 1513 for a Riga Town Hall member, it arrived in Riga in 1514. Manchester is also represented by a unique exhibit – a set of English laws dating to the 12th or 13th century, which was printed in 1514.
“I am yet to go to Warsaw to pick up a very rare book, and that will be it,” the curator sighs with relief, reminding us that the idea of the exhibition was proposed by the Latvian National Library Director Andris Vilks who, being an expert on the history of book publishing, also “set the tone” for the exhibition. “We began to develop the idea, and then we were joined by Gustavs Strenga, a young and promising historian and a specialist on book publishing. The exhibition would have never been organised if not for one delicate woman among us – our artist Dace Džeriņa. There is no better exhibition designer in Latvia than her,” Astrīda lauds her team, not forgetting to mention her other colleagues, too, including architect Guna Akona who worked on the design of the showcases. “Everyone deserves words of praise, from those who worked on technical matters to those who wrote for the exhibition catalogue. We have the wonderful librarians Solveiga and Daiga, and the best accountant in the world!”
“Here we have books dedicated to various sciences,” says the exhibition’s curator urging us on. She points at an illuminated manuscript, explaining:
“When the book was printed, they simply left a small letter at the start of every paragraph. Initials were then printed, which were often painted later – that’s why such books are called illuminated manuscripts.
As you can see, at that time books were printed in just two colours – black and read.” The exhibition will also feature a book printed by the Venetian publisher Aldus Manutius, and Astrīda Rogule explains that the publisher is noted for inventing the italic typeface. “That’s why cursive is called italics – it comes from Italy, from Venice to be precise, which many people do not know about. Although the publisher died in 1516 I believe, his publishing firm remained in business for a long time.”
The exhibition’s curator, who seems to love all the exhibits, admits that, while working on the exhibition, she is often swept by a sense of timelessness. “But that’s what we wanted to achieve! When we had our first meeting, we told ourselves, let’s organise the best book publishing exhibition ever, based on just one year. Because in that year, people’s perception of the world changed thanks to books, there was a boom in book printing and reading, which led to the creation of the profession of publisher,” Astrīda tells us. Now there is a new challenge as many people switch to electronic books. “We are lucky to have been named the European Capital of Culture this year, and we wanted to emphasise this correlation,” she says laughingly, and then adds, completely seriously, that the exhibition will give the visitors a chance to see absolutely unique exhibits.
“As I and my colleagues say, there has never been such an exhibition in Europe, which means that there has been no such exhibition in the world too!”
There is pride in Astrīda’s voice. “I hope it will be a success, and that people will be interested,” she adds.