October 25, 2010 / 3:26 PM / 8 years ago

Morgan Library facelift brings treasures to light

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A $4.5 million facelift of New York’s Morgan Library and Museum has brought out of the shadows and drawn from storage rare Near Eastern, Biblical and early Americana items, some exhibited for the first time.

A view of the East Room at New York's Morgan Library and Museum is seen in this 2010 handout photo. REUTERS/Graham Haber/Handout

Based on a collection amassed by Pierpont Morgan, America’s top financier of a century ago. the Morgan now houses over 500,000 objects. The core of the museum, the Madison Avenue library, reopens on Saturday after extensive renovation.

“This project is the first comprehensive restoration of the building since its construction at the beginning of the last century,” said Morgan director William Griswold. “And it has transformed every room.”-

Modeled on Italian Renaissance villa architecture, the historic library was hamstrung, museum officials say, by too little space, uneven lighting and century-old grime.

Comparing before and after renovation photographs, the most stunning transformation is the three-tier East Room library.

Newly illuminated, gold-tooled bindings gleam from book spines. A 9th-century metal binding of the Gospels is encrusted with jewels like sapphires and emeralds.

In the vaulted ceiling, a mural pictures historical figures, framed in semicircular lunettes, interspersed with hexagonal panels, which display signs of the Zodiac.

A new exhibition room, once the librarian’s office, showcases 82 Ancient Near East cylinder stone seals spanning 3,000 years of Mesopotamian history.

Engraved in miniature, the spool-sized cylinders functioned as the first “identity cards” carried by citizens, said Sidney Babcock, the Morgan’s curator of seals and tablets.

More than 20 seals are on display for the first time.

Inscribed on a 17th century B.C. Babylonian tablet, Babcock said, is “a myth about the Great Flood that becomes the story of Noah in the Old Testament.”

Restored to prominence are charcoal-gray stone Egyptian statues, relocated after languishing in obscurity in an unlit recess.

At the Rotunda, scrubbing erased the brownish pea-soup pallor of the marble walls, now creamy in appearance.

“The marble has regained its luminosity,” said curator Jennifer Tonkovich, the restoration coordinator. “It’s of a translucent quality; you can see about a half-inch into the marble, which has wine-red veins that are again visible.”

Slideshow (3 Images)

The Rotunda displays a rare, crisp copy of the Declaration of Independence, printed on July 4, 1776. The indentations of black type are visible as are creases where it was folded.

Nearby is a 1785 life mask of George Washington, molded by a French sculptor, and a 1663 copy of the first Bible printed in America.

The 1906 building’s restoration follows a 2006 expansion of the museum designed by prize-winning architect Renzo Piano.

Editing by Patricia Reaney

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