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Bodleian Library Marks of Genius

Home > Oxford > Exhibitions | Galleries | Libraries | Literary | Rainy Day
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Event: -
What is genius? How would you recognise it? How would you capture its signs and present them for the world?

The Bodleian Library has launched its new Weston Gallery with a fantastic exhibition asking just these questions. The collection is drawn from the library's own masterpieces. Items need not be famous, old, rare, or even books to be included, but what they all have in common is that they are products of extraordinary minds, minds touched by sublime flashes of genius, or lifelong streams of amazing productivity alike.

bodleian library, marks of genius, oxford
A selection of beautiful, notable books


Even queuing to go in gives you a chance to marvel at the place, with a projection on the wall charting the Bodleian's history. Queues have not been excessive, and you're unlikely to need to wait more than 10 minutes, if at all.

Name an important work in the history of ideas and it may well be here. The first room is dark, for the sake of preserving the items, but full of absolutely amazing pieces. Exhibits include a first folio of Shakespeare from 1623. This exhibition is a true bibliophile's paradise. There is also an unfinished 1874 manuscript of the works of Horace, the Roman satiric poet, written by William Morris, with delicate penstrokes and ornate illustrations.

horace, bodleian library, oxford, marks of genius
Works of Horace, 1874


Items don't have to be just books as we know them. Mendelssohn's manuscript for Schilflied (Reed song, 1845) features in this room. In a nearby case is the delicate, jade-bound edition of twenty poems by the eighteenth-century emperor Gaozong.

gaozong, marks of genius, bodleian library, oxford
20 poems by the emperor Gaozong


Some exhibits tell of authority challenged, and major developments in knowledge. The portrait of Galileo Galilei alongside some of his works is one such case. This exhibition honours those whose genius has furthered human discovery, at all kinds of cost.

galileo galilei, marks of genius, bodleian library, oxford
1661 portrait of Galileo by Vincenzo Viviani


Once you have finished in the first room, you move past Basil Blackwell's book collection into a second, larger room. One of the first exhibits is a Gutenberg Bible, the first printed book (c.1455). There are also particularly find exhibits of illustrations, and other notable works. There is a whole section on Tolkien and Middle Earth, for example, including the dustjacket for the first edition of The Hobbit.

hobbit, tolkien, marks of genius, bodleian, library, oxford
The Hobbit


In a central case are some absolutely stunning bird illustrations; Audubon's 1828 Birds of America may be less famous than Tolkien's work, but they are amazing.

audubon, birds of america, bodleian library, oxford, marks of genius
Audubon's 1828 Birds of America


Again the exhibits go beyond just the printed text. Pages from Mary Shelly's Frankenstein appear in room 1, but in room 2 we also find locks of her hair along with portraits of her and her husband.

mary shelley, bodleian, marks of genius, oxford
Portraits and Shelley memorabilia


A 1217 Magna Carta, brought out just two years after the famous (but short-lived) 1215 edition sits proudly in one case, demonstrating justice at work, and the longlasting effect of ancient texts. Even books on books feature, with Pope's Essay on Criticism also on display. The text is the manuscript sent to his published in 1711, with even the page breaks marked.

alexander pope, essay on criticism, bodleian library, marks of genius
Manuscript for Pope's Essay on Criticism


The website will help you plan your visit, with a list of all the exhibits and a helpful floorplan outlining where they are and giving further information.

marks of genius, bodleian library, oxford
Marks of Genius sign


Photography is allowed, as long as you don't use a flash. The exhibition runs until 20th September 2015. Interest in the exhibition has spread beyond the library itself. A limited edition (350 copies) book is available, charting the treasures. Blackwells Bookshop has had a separate display of books relevant to the exhibition, so you can chase up your interests afterwards. This inaugural exhibition in the new library is truly magnificent.

marks of genius, bodleian library, oxford
Marks of Genius exhibits
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Why? International literary treasures on show
When: daily 10-5, Sundays 11-5
Where: Bodleian Weston Library
Cost: free
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