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'Waste Not: The Art of Medieval Recycling' at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

The concepts of recycling and reuse are often viewed as a modern, even trendy approach to dealing with the overwhelming volume of material culture created by mankind. In the Walters’ new exhibition, Waste Not: The Art of Medieval Recycling, hidden stories behind more than 20 of the museum’s medieval art treasures are revealed through exciting discoveries about their pasts as recycled objects. It will be on view June 25 through September 18, 2016, and admission to the exhibition is free for everyone.

'Waste Not: The Art of Medieval Recycling' at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
Two leaves from "The Mirror of Human Salvation," used as a jacket for a much smaller volume 
[Credit: Ariel Tabritha Diane Bockrath/Walters Art Museum]
“I hope visitors will have a new appreciation for the rich histories behind medieval objects, and the cleverness of the craftsmen who made and transformed them,” said Lynley Anne Herbert, the Robert and Nancy Hall assistant curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts.

“I think everyone can relate to the concepts of reuse and recycling, so key in our modern world, and through this, exhibition visitors will discover how equally prevalent and important this was in the medieval era.”

'Waste Not: The Art of Medieval Recycling' at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
Belt fragment with medallions of Roman Emperor Constantius II and Empress Faustina
[Credit: Susan Tobin/Walters Art Museum]
The exhibition, presented in the intimate setting of the Walters’ Manuscripts Gallery, explores various approaches to medieval recycling, such as how a lack of raw materials sometimes forced scribes to erase older manuscript pages so their parchment could be reused.

Roman gold and mosaic glass became resources for medieval artisans to melt down for use in their jewelry and enamels.  An appreciation of earlier works of art also often led to their reuse, be it the re-carving of a beautiful Roman sculpture to fit a Christian context, or the careful removal of portraits of earlier patrons from a prayer book when it was acquired by a new family.

'Waste Not: The Art of Medieval Recycling' at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
This marble head of Hercules, originally carved in the second century, was recarved 12 centuries 
later to appear like a prophet or saint [Credit: Susan Tobin/Walters Art Museum]
Key works of art in the exhibition include a colossal ancient stone head of Hercules that was re-carved into that of a saint (27.533), an exquisite Limoges enamel cross fragment that incorporates melted Roman glass (44.22), and a pair of manuscript leaves that were reused as a book cover, and still retain the cuts, folds, and ghosted image of the book they once encased (W.149).

“Stunning and important in their own right, these works of art have unseen layers of history that can now be newly understood through modern research,” said Herbert.

Source: The Walters Art Museum [June 18, 2016]

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