At a glance

Special Collections & University Archives


On view February 3 — June 15, 2014

 Image from the Dragmaticon, Italy, c. 1450-1499. Stanford University Libraries MSS Codex M0412

The Circle of the Sun: Secular Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts

The Circle of the Sun, the second of a pair of exhibitions of Western European manuscripts and fragments, will open in the Peterson Gallery, Green Library, Stanford University on Feb. 3. The exhibition draws on Stanford's medieval and early modern manuscript holdings, including a number of recent acquisitions, to show how secular learning was recorded and transmitted in complex networks and communities of textual production and interpretation.
From antiquity, scholars divided knowledge into res divinae (sacred) and res humanae (secular). The 2012 exhibit Scripting the Sacred featured religious writings, many of which were splendidly illuminated. The Circle of the Sun examines the seven liberal arts in cathedral schools and universities; the rise of professions in law, medicine, and commerce; and the emergence of Scholastic philosophy, history, vernacular literature, and Renaissance humanism.
Today, manuscript studies is a highly interdisciplinary and increasingly digital field for which paleography, the study of old writing, remains a fundamental tool. Paleography was first used scientifically to detect forgeries in diplomatic documents; its principles were later applied to related academic disciplines such as epigraphy, textual criticism, and codicology, which are also discussed in the exhibition.
Highlights of manuscripts on display, dating from the ninth through seventeenth centuries, include complete codices of ancient works by Ovid, Vergil, and Cicero; illustrated astronomical and legal texts; a portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer; medieval poetry; and fragments of rarely seen treatises on Latin lexicography, etymology, and allegory. Visitors will also see a selection of Roman writing implements, coins and inscriptions as well as goatskins prepared as parchment by a modern artisan.
The Circle of the Sun is co-curated by Sarah Temmer Weston, Class of 2014, English and Art History and David A. Jordan, assistant director for library development and associate curator for paleographical materials. Curated tours lasting approximately 45 minutes are available to classes and community groups (suggested maximum of 12-15) by appointment with David Jordan at 650-723-3866 or
Exhibit cases are illuminated Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m. The gallery is accessible whenever Green Library is open; hours vary with the academic schedule. To confirm library hours, call 650-723-0931 or go to

For a map of campus and transportation information, go to

NOTE: The exhibition is free and open to the public; first-time visitors and those without Stanford ID must register at the entrance to Green Library before entering the building.