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From the Library: The Transformation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses

August 10, 2013 – February 9, 2014
West Building, Ground Floor, Gallery 21

Probably Salomon Savery (1594–1665) after Francis Clein (c.1590–1658), detail of frontispiece, engraving in Ovid, Pub. Ovidii Nasonis Metamorphoseon, Libri XV…, Paris, Ægidii Morelli, 1637, David K.E. Bruce Fund (PA6519 .M2 1637)

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.

By the sixteenth century, Ovid’s Metamorphoses had become the most important single source for mythological lore from the ancient world. It was read in many different languages, from the original Latin to vernacular translations in German, Italian, French, English, and Dutch, to name but a few. In addition, it was edited, adapted, reworked, and rewritten in various styles according to the changing tastes and needs of the time. From scholarly versions with dense Latin text and scholarly commentaries and notes to picture books with abbreviated text in rhymes and large illustrations, from tiny pocket-sized books to lavishly bound multi-volume tomes, there was an edition of the Metamorphoses to suit everyone.

Through selections from the Library’s rare book collection, supplemented with prints, drawings, medals, and decorative arts objects, this exhibition illustrates the history and enduring popularity of Ovid’s Metamorphoses with readers, scholars, artists, and poets into the twentieth century. Addressing the question of how the text was used, delineating the kinds of books that were produced and their intended audiences, and exploring the various types of images that accompanied the text in this diverse range of editions, the exhibition explores some of the ways the text itself, and images derived from it, were transformed and consumed over time.

Brochure: From the Library: The Transformation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, by Sarah Schell. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2013.