Walters Art Museum Opens Archimedes Exhibition

. October 17, 2011 . 0 Comments

The Walters Art Museum presents Lost and Found: The Secrets of Archimedes an exhibition on view from Oct. 16, 2011.

In 1999, the Walters Art Museum and a team of researchers began a project to read the erased texts of The Archimedes Palimpsest—the oldest surviving copy of works by the greatest mathematical genius of antiquity. Over 12 years, many techniques were employed by over 80 scientists and scholars in the fields of conservation, imaging and classical studies. The exhibition Lost and Found: The Secrets of Archimedes will tell the story of The Archimedes Palimpsest’s journey and the discovery of new scientific, philosophical and political texts from the ancient world. This medieval manuscript demonstrates that Archimedes discovered the mathematics of infinity, mathematical physics and combinatorics—a branch of mathematics used in modern computing. This exhibition will be on view at the Walters from Oct. 16, 2011-Jan. 1, 2012.


The Archimedes Palimpsest in 1999 bound and open to fols. 103v-105r copyright the owner of The Archimedes Palimpsest (John Dean Photography)

Archimedes lived in the Greek city of Syracuse in the third century B.C. He was a brilliant mathematician, physicist, inventor, engineer and astronomer. In 10th-century Constantinople (present day Istanbul), an anonymous scribe copied the Archimedes treatise in the original Greek onto parchment. In the 13th century, a monk erased the Archimedes text, cut the pages along the center fold, rotated the leaves 90 degrees and folded them in half. The parchment was then recycled, together with the parchment of other books, to create a Greek Orthodox prayer book. This process is called palimpsesting; the result of the process is a palimpsest.

On Oct. 28, 1998, The Archimedes Palimpsest was purchased at Christie’s by an anonymous collector for two million dollars. It is considered by many to be the most important scientific manuscript ever sold at auction because it contains Archimedes’ erased texts.

“The collector deposited the Palimpsest at the Walters for conservation, imaging, study and exhibition in 1999, but many thought that nothing more could be recovered from this book. It was in horrible condition, having suffered a thousand years of weather, travel and abuse,” said Archimedes Project Director and Walters Curator of Manuscripts and Rare Books Will Noel. “Detailed detective work and the serendipitous discovery of important documents and photographs allowed us to reconstruct what happened to the Palimpsest in the 20th century, when it was subject to appalling treatment and overpainted with forgeries. A team of devoted scholars using the latest imaging technology was able to reveal and decipher the original text.”

For more information, call 410-547-9000 or go to the website at www.thewalters.org

Category: Exhibition News