Walters Art Museum receives $265,000 NEH grant to digitize over 100 Flemish manuscripts

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Walters Art Museum receives $265,000 NEH grant to digitize over 100 Flemish manuscripts
Flemish, Beaupre Antiphonal: Musician Angels and the Harrowing of Hell (detail), 1290, ink, paint and gold on parchment, 48.1 x 34.6 cm, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Gift of the William R. Hearst Foundation, 1957 (W.759.2R)

BALTIMORE, MD.- The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has granted the Walters Art Museum $265,000 for a three-year project to digitize, catalog and distribute 113 illuminated medieval manuscripts from Flanders, present-day northeastern France and Belgium. This project, Imaging the Hours: Creating a Digital Resource of Flemish Manuscripts, will digitize 45,000 pages of text with over 3,000 pages of illumination from the 13th through 16th centuries. A highlight will be the digitization of a collection of 80 Books of Hours—prayer books of personal devotion—which were the “bestsellers” of the Middle Ages, often sumptuously illuminated in gold and painted by masters of the time.

“Just as the Walters provides access without admission fee to our permanent collection, we are also making it available as part of our public mission. The museum is grateful to the NEH for its continued generous financial support allowing us to provide a free worldwide online resource of preservation-quality, digital manuscript surrogates to anyone with an Internet connection,” said Walters Director Gary Vikan.

The NEH’s Humanities Collections and Reference Resources Grant allows institutions to preserve and provide access to collections essential to scholarship, education and public programming in the humanities. The Walters' resulting digital catalog and library of images will conform to internationally accepted standards and are distributed to diverse audiences through scholarly and public databases worldwide under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

“It is our intent, over time, to digitize our entire collection of 850 medieval manuscripts in order to share these little-seen, fragile resources with both scholars and the public,” said Curator of Manuscripts and Rare Books William Noel. “Medieval manuscripts are unique historic documents—they are keys to the past for scholars, witnesses to history for students and objects of beauty for those who love art.”

This grant allows the museum to continue its ambitious initiative to create, preserve and make accessible fully cataloged digital surrogates of its manuscripts. This initiative began in 2008 with a $307,500 NEH Preservation and Access Grant to digitize its Islamic manuscripts and continues with a second NEH grant of $315,000 for Parchment to Pixel: Creating a Resource of Medieval Manuscripts, to digitize the museum’s Armenian, Byzantine, Dutch, English, Ethiopian and German manuscripts. To date, the Walters has taken 79,319 images of 112 Islamic manuscripts and 105 Parchment to Pixel manuscripts.

In the western hemisphere, the Walters’ holdings of illuminated manuscripts are second in number only to the Morgan Library and Museum and are of a level of quality matched only by the Morgan and a smaller collection at the J. Paul Getty Museum. At the time of his death in 1931, museum founder Henry Walters left the city of Baltimore his entire collection of art, including a legendary collection of illuminated medieval manuscripts that is a national treasure. Between 1895 and 1931, Walters collected around 730 codices. Today, the collection includes some 850 illuminated and illustrated manuscripts and 150 single leaves, ranging in date from the ninth to the 19th century and constituting one of the most significant collections of its kind in the country.

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