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Now on display: The art of writing

25 January 2023
Explore the history of writing and discover how information was transmitted through time. The new exhibition 'The art of writing' in the University Library uses extraordinary exhibits to show how writing was invented and developed over time.

The exhibition takes you to the birthplace of writing: Mesopotamia around 3200 B.C. Back then, nail-shaped impressions were made on clay tablets with a rectangular stilus that was made of reed. This type of writing mostly had an administrative function. For instance, it was used to count grain, animals or plots of land. As writing developed, it no longer only served an administrative purpose. Over time, it was also used for personal messages and even hymns to gods.

That writing came to play an increasingly important role in religious ceremonies can be seen in the Middle Ages. In homilies, which are displayed in the exhibition, important Bible passages were explained. Although the importance of writing continued to increase, producing manuscripts remained extremely costly and labour-intensive. This can be seen in books that were decorated with beautiful illustrations and were often written by several 'hands'.

With the invention of printing, book production became more economical and efficient. This also led to the creation of unique documents. For instance, medieval manuscripts were taken apart and used to strengthen printed books. In the exhibition, you can see the results of this.

Even in recent decades, the role of writing has always been subject to change. Thus, even after the invention of printing, a lot of time was still spent transcribing books, creative solutions were found for distributing texts, and a large number of people still collaborated in creating a handwritten book in 2020. The beautiful results of this can be admired in the exhibition.

Curious? You can find the exhibition until 24 March in the Heritage Display Case at the entrance to the University Library. Unable to visit the exhibition? View the online exhibition in Dutch or English.

The following persons contributed to this exhibition:

  • Willemien van Dijk, Curator of Manuscripts and Old Prints
  • Annet Doves, Paper restorer
  • Dagmare Houniet, Archivist | Protestant Heritage
  • Michèle Meijer, Information Specialist for Religion, Theology and Philosophy
  • Anouk Nuijten, Project Manager Special Collections
  • Rebecca Silva dos Santos, Editor

Questions about the collection Manuscripts & early printed books?

Please contact Willemien van Dijk, curator at the University Library

t.w.f.van.dijk@vu.nl