Bodies, Botanicals & Bindings: Reimagining Rare Books’ – new exhibition at University of Dundee


11 February 2019
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A selection of rare books dating back to the early 16th century has gone on display at the University of Dundee, alongside work by artists, designers and writers inspired by them.

A selection of rare books dating back to the early 16th century has gone on display at the University of Dundee, alongside work by artists, designers and writers inspired by them.

Exhibits at Bodies, Botanicals & Bindings: Reimagining Rare Books in the Lamb Gallery, Tower Building, include jewellery, etchings, drawings, textiles and ceramics as well as a range of anatomical, medical, literary and religious texts held by the University Archives' rare book collections. The exhibition draws on the collections to explore both the history and materiality of rare books and the creativity they can inspire.

“From bindings to bookplates and endpieces to annotations, books tell stories, reminding us of the lives of their owners as much as changes in communication and technology,” said University archivist Caroline Brown, one of the curators of the exhibition.

“A selection of remarkable books from our collection are on display. Taking inspiration from the wonderful illustrations and content within the books, or simply by the way they are put together, artists and writers have created their own pieces of work which are exhibited for the first time here.”

What is a rare book?

A rare book is broadly defined as one printed between the invention of moveable type in the mid-15th century and the mechanisation of print more than 300 years later. Before the industrialisation of printing, every aspect of creating a book was a manual process, from making the paper it is printed on by hand to the binding, which is individual to every book in both material and decoration.

As such, rare books are both unique objects and historical artefacts. Each has an individual history, having been passed through different owners, often in multiple countries, and being read and kept for different purposes.

Many of the books in the Rare Books collections were gifted by the University’s earliest professors, with subject matter often reflecting their area of academic expertise.

The core of the University collections is the library of the Episcopal Diocese of Brechin, which was established in 1792, but whose books have individual histories spanning from the 15th to the 20th century. The exhibition stems in part from the work of Mhairi Rutherford, who has been researching the library as part of her PhD studies.

Bodies, Botanicals & Bindings: Reimagining Rare Books will run until late April. Admission is free and the exhibition is open from 9.30am to 7pm on weekdays and 1-5pm each Saturday.

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(report and image courtesy University of Dundee)