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See Waste Not: The Art of Medieval Recycling at the Walters This Summer

Baltimore, MD—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.

“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.”

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.  

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.

All of the works of art in Waste Not: The Art of Medieval Recycling, are part of the Walters’ collection.

About the Walters Art Museum
The Walters Art Museum, located in downtown Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon Cultural District at North Charles and Centre Streets, is free and open to the public. At the time of his death in 1931, museum founder Henry Walters left his entire collection of art to the city of Baltimore. Its collection includes ancient art, medieval art and manuscripts, decorative objects, Asian art, and Old Master and 19th-century paintings. The Museum Store offers distinctive gifts, jewelry and books based on the museum’s collections.

Free admission to the Walters Art Museum is made possible by the combined generosity of individual members, friends and benefactors, foundations, corporations, and grants from the City of Baltimore, Maryland State Arts Council, Citizens of Baltimore County, and Howard County Government and Howard County Arts Council.

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