All exhibitions of illuminated manuscripts are a good thing, for the obvious and yet important reason that there are virtually no permanent displays of them: their owners keep them in protective darkness ninety-nine percent of the time, like prints and drawings. One spectacular exception is the British Museum. For fifty years or more, its visitors have been able to look at a full collection of great works, including such masterpieces as the Register of New Minister, the greatest of Anglo-Saxon pictures. Why this openness has not been the subject of conservators’ complaints (and what it says about the validity of their complaints elsewhere) is a mystery. One explanation might be that, alone of the world’s great art institutions, the British Museum has been a library as much as a museum and that, as a result, a feeling arose that the library’s books should blend into the museum’s visual display.

The...

 
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