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  • Lecture

BASIRA (Books as Symbols in Renaissance Art), a New Digital Resource for Book History

Nicholas Herman, Lawrence J. Schoenberg Curator of Manuscripts, Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies

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Friday, March 22, 2024, 12:00 - 1:30 pm EDT
Open to the Public

Hosted by: SIMS and Kislak Center

Medieval book in an ornate binding held by a gloved hand.

This presentation will introduce BASIRA, a powerful web-based open access database of depictions of books and other textual documents in the figurative arts between approximately 1300 to 1600 CE. Redeveloped at SIMS with support from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and a private donor, the database has been evolving privately over nearly a decade. The new, open access search interface was officially unveiled to the public at the 16th annual Schoenberg Symposium for Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age in November 2023. 

The constantly growing dataset allows users to discover, query, and view over 3,000 depictions of late medieval and early modern documents drawn from artworks found across Europe and North America. Many aspects of a depiction can be explored, from details of binding construction, fastenings, and bookmarks, to the iconographic and cultural context of the work of art, to the particular way in which actions are being performed with the book, and by whom. Is a book being read or sung from, displayed, gifted, received, trodden, or something else? Is it open to pages showing text or illustrations, and if so, what is the content? What is the gender of the reader and their social status? Are they perusing with an index finger, or roughly handling with a thumb? Entries in the database are accompanied by detailed imagery, often taken on-site by members of the project team.

As an interdisciplinary resource, BASIRA will be of interest to historians of visual art, music, religion, literature, private life and gender, as well as museum and heritage professionals, book conservators, and members of the general public. 

Event Series

Featured Images: Detail from Enthroned Madonna with Saints Bonaventure, John the Baptist, Louis of Toulouse, and France. Panel painting by Vittorio Crivelli (1481). Philadelphia Museum of Art.