March 9, 2023
I chose to explore The Morgan Library & Museum, a museum and an independent research library in New York City. The Morgan Library & Museum began as the personal library of financier, collector, and cultural benefactor Pierpont Morgan who started to assemble a collection of illuminated, literary, and historical manuscripts, early printed books, and old master drawings and prints as early as 1890. The library was built between 1902 and 1906, and the end result was the Italian Renaissance-style palazzo. In 1924, eleven years after Pierpont Morgan’s death, his son J. P. “Jack” Morgan, Jr. transformed the library into a public institution for scholars and the public to access his father’s collections. The collection currently has 6,000 years of the creative process in literature, music, drawing, photography, et. cetera.
This is not the first time I have experienced The Morgan Library & Museum since a while back I attended a conference hosted by the Museum. It is the first time I experienced the Museum in the virtual realm. On their website, they have a page with various virtual options called The Morgan, Connected. There are six categories on the page to pick which virtual experience to choose from: Virtual Talks, Tours, and Concerts, Online Exhibitions, Videos, Digital Facsimiles, Collection Online, and The Morgan Blog. In the Online Exhibitions section, there are at least 79 online exhibits. The Videos section has 216 videos and Digital Facsimiles has 105 facsimiles. I decided that since there was so much to see I narrowed down the virtual experiences I had.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I focused on exploring The Morgan, Connected’s women-focused virtual experiences. I visited the Belle da Costa Greene and the Women of the Morgan and the She Who Wrote: Enheduanna and Women of Mesopotamia, ca. 3400–2000 B.C. exhibit. The Bella de la Costa Greene exhibit focuses on the life of The Morgan’s first director and the work she did throughout her career as first J. Pierpont Morgan’s librarian and then the director of The Morgan Library & Museum. The She Who Wrote exhibit focuses on Mesopotamia’s fundamental developments during the late fourth and third millennia BC, which brought together a wide-ranging selection of artworks that capture deep and changing expressions of women’s lives. Both of the exhibits were in a slideshow format of images of collection items in addition to detailed information on the exhibit content and on the collection.
The North Room of the Pierpont Morgan Library, [1923–ca. 1935] from the Archives of the Morgan Library & Museum
Belle da Costa Greene and the Women of the Morgan discusses and shows the impact Bella da Costa Greene left on the Morgan Library and Museum. What I thought was interesting and impressive was learning about the impact Bella da Costa Greene’s work had on the Morgan. At the start of the exhibit, they pointed out her only recently cataloged professional correspondence offers new insight into how she maneuvered in a world of books and manuscripts dominated by men. The recently compiled correspondence also revealed more stories of other women who worked with Greene including Meta Harrsen, Marguerite Duprez Lahey, Dorothy Miner, Violet Napier (née Burnie), and Ada Thurston. Exhibit labels illustrate the curators’ point of each letter and object in the exhibit document the experiences of these women, who were respected and widely regarded as experts in their field.
For instance, Greene hired Dorothy Miner in 1933 to help catalog the Morgan’s illuminated manuscript collection. Greene’s respect for her mentee can be seen through her recommendation of Miner for a position at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore. Miner would stay at the Walters for thirty years, creating a legacy of her own. She maintained both a professional and personal friendship with Greene, often seeking her former boss’s advice. In 1954 Miner edited a festschrift honoring her mentor. Titled Studies in Art and Literature for Belle da Costa Greene, the book’s essays range in topics from medieval manuscripts to Dutch paintings, covering each of the Morgan’s collection focuses at the time. Under Greene, the Morgan added over seventeen thousand reference works and ten thousand printed books to its collection, presented forty-six exhibitions, issued thirty-five publications, started a lecture series, and provided scholars with access to some of the world’s most incredible cultural artifacts. I would love to see an exhibit like this in person, and since they are planning to share Greene’s story and legacy as the subject of a major exhibit in 2024 to mark The Morgan’s 100th anniversary as a public institution there would be an opportunity to see an exhibit like this online one in person.
She Who Wrote: Enheduanna and Women of Mesopotamia, ca. 3400–2000 B.C. exhibit focuses on the region’s fundamental developments during the late fourth and third millennia BC which brings together a comprehensive selection of artworks that capture rich and shifting expressions of women’s lives at the time. Artworks are also evidence of women’s roles in religious contexts as goddesses, priestesses, and worshippers, as well as in social, economic, and political spheres as mothers, workers, and rulers. One of the examples of women the exhibit discusses was a woman who wielded considerable religious and political power was the high priestess and poet Enheduanna (circa 2300 BC), the first known author in world literature.
While I liked both of the exhibits, I felt that I got more out of the virtual experience viewing the She Who Wrote exhibit. Throughout the exhibit, there were audio clips as well as images of the artwork and objects to help visitors engage with this virtual experience. Visitors could zoom into the images to get a closer look at the objects and artwork by clicking on the zoom button. I also appreciate that there were transcriptions of what was stated in the audio clips since it shows me, they are working on being more inclusive to people visiting the site. There are 24 various objects within the virtual exhibit that support the narrative of the overall exhibit.
One of the objects in the exhibit is known as Cylinder seal with “priest-king” and altar on the back of a bull from the late Uruk–Jemdet Nasr period, ca. 3300–2900 BC in Mesopotamia, and it is made of lapis lazuli and silver. In the boat, there stands a “priest-king”, the highest-ranking ruler in the first cities, represented with a long beard and a netted skirt revealing the rounded forms of his lower body. He faces a bull supporting a two-tiered altar crowned with reed ring bundles with streamers, symbols of Inanna. Behind him is a wattled structure, possibly standing for a temple facade. Two attendants navigate the boat from the bow and stern, which are adorned with buds. This seal, with a silver knob in the form of a recumbent calf, was buried in the sacred precinct of Inanna in Uruk. Its imagery suggests a ritual honoring the goddess that was intended to ensure the well-being of the land, sustained by its two life veins, the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.
Cylinder seal with “priest-king” and altar on the back of a bull in the She Who Wrote exhibit
Another example of an object in the exhibit referred to as Vessel with faces of female deities from the Early Dynastic IIIa period, ca. 2500 BC from the Mesopotamia, Sumerian area. It is made of Gypsum alabaster. In the exhibit, it is described as a single divine female figure, anthropomorphic but with bovine features, embodied in the two identical faces carved on this alabaster vessel. The wide-open eyes and full cheeks resemble those of statues of female worshippers during this period, while the delicately braided hair is reminiscent of contemporary depictions of goddesses—a sign of abundance and tamed wildness also expressed by the stylized cow horns. Each horn extends to circumscribe the rim of the vessel, linking the two faces to each other and to the object itself. This unity, together with the bright translucency of the alabaster, suggests that this vessel served as a divinized cultic object.
Vessel with faces of female deities, front views
Vessel with faces of female deities, back views
To experience The Morgan online, check out the various virtual experiences in the link below. I also included a few links to previous museum visits both in-person and virtual. More can be found on this website.
Virtual Historic Site Impressions: Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire
Museum Impressions and Virtual Revisit: Old Sturbridge Village
Virtual Museum Impressions: Versailles
Museum Impressions: Henry Sheldon Museum