What does the first Thanksgiving have to do with the Bible?

The Bay Psalm Book, printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1640, was the first book published in Anglo-Saxon America. Residents of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, dissatisfied with the translation of the Psalms used by the Church of England, created their own edition, translated by three ministers and printed on their own press.  The Psalms were written in verse so that they could be sung at services, also making the book the first book of poetry printed in North America.

Of the 1,700 copies the Puritans printed, only eleven survive to this day.  A volume was sold in New York in 1947 at $151,000, the highest price ever paid for a book written in the English language, surpassing a copy of the First Folio of Shakespeare, which sold for $77,000.  One copy is currently owned by the New York Public Library, which lists it as one of their most precious editions.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Spotlight: Pharaoh’s Daughter

In Exodus 2:5, an Egyptian princess is bathing in the Nile when she happens upon a crying baby floating in a basket among the reeds.  The princess recognizes that the baby is a Hebrew boy in need of protection.  At this time, the Egyptians having newborn Hebrew boys killed so that the slave population would not outnumber the Egyptian population.  The princess takes pity on the baby and claims him as her own.  Though the boy is nursed by his biological mother, he is raised and named by his royal finder, who declares, “’I pulled him out of the water, and so I name him Moses’” (Exodus 2:10).  Thus the story of the Israelites’ liberation from bondage and the establishment of Jewish law begins, with the figure of Pharaoh’s daughter finding Moses on the banks of the river, one of the most identifiable scenes in the Judeo-Christian art tradition.

Jacopo Tintoretto (1519-1594)
“The Finding of Moses”, n.d.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
(artwork not on display)

How to Know Her and Where to Find Her: Throughout the centuries, this scene has been portrayed in various locales, with the figures dressed in garments often of the time period and region of the artist.  But whether Pharaoh’s daughter is portrayed as an actual Egyptian or she appears more like a Northern European noblewoman, she is discernible by her placement along the river, her proximity to the baby or basket, and the presence of her maidservants, who are sometimes depicted as finding Moses, though it is not noted in the biblical account that anyone other than the princess withdrew the infant from the water.

“Figure of the Finding of Moses”, ca. 1859-64
Modeling attributed to William Beattie
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Nile Scene in NYC: If you walk through The Metropolitan Museum of Art, keep your eyes open for depictions of this Exodus account.  There is a sculptural group in Gallery 737 of Pharaoh’s daughter, her servant, and baby Moses (note the small Sphinx figure on the princess’s left).  The Jewish Museum also has a painting by James Tissot of the finding that draws attention from the baby in the river to the princess waiting on the bank through the succession of maidservants and their expressive gestures as they retrieve him.

James Tissot (1836-1902)
“Pharaoh’s Daughter Has Moses Brought to Her”, ca. 1896-1902
The Jewish Museum (artwork not on display)

Princess in Popular Culture: Rabbinic midrash, commentary on the Hebrew Bible, bestows upon the princess the name Bithiah, and the first century Jewish historian Josephus refers to her as Thermuthis.  Still, in other accounts, she is named Merris or Merrhoe.  Under the name Bithiah, she was portrayed by Nina Foch in the 1956 film The Ten Commandments, wherein she was not the daughter of a pharaoh, but his wife, an interpretation that was repeated in the 1998 Dreamworks animated musical The Prince of Egypt.  In that film, the queen, voiced by Helen Mirren, finds Moses and raises him to have no knowledge of his true heritage.  Called Tuya (who was the historical wife of Pharaoh Seti I), she tells Moses, when he expresses despondency at learning he is not her real son, “When the gods send you a blessing, you don’t ask why it was sent.”

“The Ten Commandments”, 1956

“The Prince of Egypt”, 1998

Literature – The young adult novel Pharaoh’s Daughter: A Novel of Ancient Egypt by Julius Lester details the lives of the women involved in Moses’s upbringing.  In this imagined retelling of the well-known story, Moses is adopted by the daughter of Pharaoh in defiance of Pharaoh’s wishes, but the main character is not the princess who rescues the baby from the river, but his older sister, who, in Exodus 2, brings her mother to the princess so that she can nurse him.  Tradition has always upheld that this was Moses’s sister Miriam who watched over her brother at this crucial moment, but Lester points out that the text never specifies that it is Miriam, so he invents the character of Almah, who follows her brother into the Egyptian royal house and finds a calling outside of slavery.  Lester cleverly plays with the moniker “Pharaoh’s daughter” through an intriguing what-if scenario that explores the two opposing circumstances of royalty and slavery and switches out usual protagonist and minor characters for narrative focus.

– T.C. for MOBIA

Spotlight: St. Veronica

El Greco
“St. Veronica with the Sudarium”, c. 1579
Oil on canvas, 79 x 70 cm
Santa Cruz Museum, Toledo

St. Veronica is perhaps most famous for her veil.  According to the Passion narrative, Veronica offers her veil to Jesus as he carries his cross to Golgotha. Upon wiping his face, an image of it is miraculous transferred to the now sacred cloth. Though not recorded in Gospel accounts of Jesus’s Passion, this moment has had devotional significance for those who believe. Veronica offering her veil has been since the 6th Station of the Cross since this popular devotion was formalized in the 16th century. The Stations are a devotional cycle comprised of 14 moments, both biblical and extra-biblical, through which a faithful pilgrim can trace and meditate on the final hours of Jesus’s life.  Veronica and her veil  have been the focus of  artistic interpretation since the Middle Ages.

 How to Know Her: Veronica, a Latin name that appropriately means “true image”, can always be identified by her veil, which bears the face of Christ.  This distinguishes her from the other women who approach Jesus on the road to his crucifixion, such as his mother and the weeping women of Jerusalem.

The Legend: Being an extra-biblical figure, that is a person not recorded in the Bible, Veronica is associated with several legends.  One longstanding legend is that after the crucifixion, Veronica fled the Holy Land with her miraculous veil and went to Rome, where

Maxim Kopf
Brooklyn Museum

she used it to cure Emperor Tiberius of an ailment.  A similar story is told about another cloth that bore the likeness of Jesus called the Mandylion of Edessa.  According to legend, the ailing King Abgar of Edessa sent an emissary to Jerusalem to inquire after Jesus.  Jesus sent the king a cloth that had dried his face and now bore his imprint.  Upon seeing the image, the king was miraculously healed and converted immediately.  After being passed along throughout the early centuries of Christianity, it came to be housed in the Imperial Treasury of Constantinople in the 10th century; its presence resulted in an annual feast that developed the its importance among sacred objects.  Both the mandylion and Veronica’s veil established an iconography that was played a key role in the development of religious images for centuries.

“The Way to Calvary, with Saint Veronica Receiving the Veil Imprinted with the Face of Christ”, ca. 1510
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Veronica’s veil is a relic, a holy object that is preserved and venerated by those who believe because of the object’s affiliation with a saint, martyr, or religious leader. Relics come in three classes. A first class relic, and the most highly prized, is an attribute associated with a saint or a part of the saint’s body; a second class relic is something the saint has especial contact with, like his or her garment, a lock of hair, or a fingernail; a third class relic is anything with which a saint came into direct contact, like a piece of cloth.  The relic of  Veronica’s Veil is enshrined in St. Peter’s Basilica, one of four shrines that surround Bernini’s Baldacchino, all of which are devoted to figures and relics significant to the Crucifixion.

 Saint in the City: As is the case with Pontius Pilate, spotlighted in a previous post, St. Veronica’s visual survival is ensured through the Stations of the Cross, on view in every Catholic Church in the city.  She can also be found in church decoration outside of the Stations, like she is in St. Vincent Ferrer Church (highlighted here).  St. Veronica, like St. Monica, also the focus of a post a few weeks ago, has her own church in Manhattan.

Albrecht Dürer
“St. Veronica with the Sudarium, between St. Peter and St. Paul, from The Little Passion”, n.d.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Though not on display, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has in its collection a woodcut by Albrecht Dürer featuring Veronica, her veil, and Sts. Peter and Paul.  On display in Gallery 959 is a High Renaissance tapestry featuring Veronica’s veil curing Emperor Vespasian, an emperor who lived later than Tiberius.  Legend of his having been cured by Veronica and her veil derive from the Golden Legend.

“Emperor Vespasian Cured by Veronica’s Veil”, ca. 1510
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Brooklyn Museum’s collection features a modern rendering of Veronica and Christ by Maxim Kopf, though the work is not currently on display.

Barnett Newman, whose works are on display at the Museum of Modern Art, created a contemporary installation of the Stations of the Cross, which is currently on view at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.  Below is his interpretation of the interaction between Jesus and Veronica.

Barnett Newman
“The Sixth Station”, 1962
The National Gallery of Art

- T.C. and T. P. for MOBIA

MOBIA Reacts to Sandy

The week of October 29 saw MOBIA closed and our staff hunkered down during what became Super Storm Sandy. We live in four of New York’s five boroughs, on Long Island, and across the Hudson in New Jersey.  We all weathered the storm, some relatively unscathed and others with property damage and no electricity for days. Our landscapes were forever altered and the storm felt very personal to us all. Here are some reflections:

“Hurricane Sandy was something I’ll remember for a long, long time, an event that will act as a marker in my life.  Hurricane Sandy, that shut down the city – remember how bad that was?  I’m one of the very fortunate ones, but I’ll never forget how New York City and the surrounding area became this strange bubble of destruction and relief, with everyone learning how to get on with life under such uncomfortable, extraordinary circumstances.”

“I was very fortunate that I did not lose power or have any property damage.   However, at one point during the peak of the storm, I thought my windows were going to blow out from the strong force of the winds.  Since I live on Roosevelt Island, I witnessed for the first time in my 25 years of living in New York, the East River breaching its banks and flooding the island to where I could not see the tops of the river walk benches.  In addition, I could not recognize the FDR Highway, as it was completely submerged under water.”

“Here is a video I took from my window: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vguzRBdJwM

There was flooding all over the city. I was able to capture what was going on in my neighborhood. The World Trade Tower lights go out at the end of the video and the lights in Gantry State Park went out just as I was finished filming.”

“I feel almost guilty that my apartment sustained no damage during the hurricane. To compensate, I dug out my Greek dictionary and read through the Gospels of John and Luke.”

“After the storm, when I stepped outside, I found my neighborhood untouched. That afternoon I went to Calvary Cemetery, only a ten-minute walk from my apartment building, and saw trees ripped out of the ground and torn into crude pieces and tombstones shattered by the storm.”

“First and foremost, I’m grateful that my loved ones are safe and unharmed.  It’s certainly been a surreal past week, though. Seeing a tree divide one of the houses in my neighborhood in two is an image I will not soon forget.  The spirit of community that has pervaded is heartwarming and something I will also not soon forget.”

“Upon watching news reports during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and how the storm impacted families and their communities, I found myself being more grateful for the things I have in my life.  My family and I did not lose power during the storm, while many people have been left without electricity, clean water, warmth, or even a place to go home to.  It is so easy to take things for granted when you are so focused on day to day tasks.  Events such as this truly make people stop and appreciate all of the blessings we do have in our lives.  We should all consciously practice this type of awareness even when natural disasters don’t strike.  That would truly help contribute to a more peaceful society.” 

“After a week without power, you obviously appreciate it a lot more when it returns. I have learned just how far and wide the Hudson River truly is, and how if you like waiting, Port Authority Bus Terminal is the place for you.”

“I will never forget the sound of the wind on the evening the storm hit. Wind is so often described as ‘howling’ that it’s cliché, yet Sandy’s wind howled. Each gust that hit our house reinforced our smallness and vulnerability. An 80-foot oak crashed into our yard, thankfully missing our house. We were without power for 8 days. Sandy left us whole, but humble. And very grateful.

The kids in our neighborhood call this downed pine the ‘Twizzler tree.’ The wind was such that the tree twisted and fell, but the bark never broke.”

“We came back from upstate, not knowing the subway would be shutting down at 7. We caught the last G home to Greenpoint, and panic turned to excitement when I found out I had the next day (or two) off. Excitement turned back into panic when the wind really started picking up and we thought for a little while that we might have to leave. I spent the days with my eyes on Facebook watching friends’ updates of what was happening nearby, and my ears on WNYC listening to the Mayor’s and Governors’ updates. When the wind died down, relief set in, until all the pictures of the flooded LES, Redhook, and the Rockaways started being posted. So many people lost so much, and the whole city lost its trees and beaches. Life for me turned back to normal quickly, but I keep thinking of all of those whose lives aren’t, and won’t be, normal for some time.”

- The MOBIA Staff

Spotlight: Angels

Tomasso Masaccio
“Adam and Eve Banished from Paradise”, c. 1427

The appearance of an angel in the Bible can signal peace or destruction.  For example, in Exodus 12: 23, the Angel of Death is sent by the Lord to kill the firstborn sons of Egypt; in Luke 1: 32, an angel tells the Virgin Mary  that she shall bear the Son of God.  The winged, robed figure, often sporting a halo, was an effective way for artists to embody an abstract spiritual concept. Angels  are among the most frequently rendered figures in art for both their theological and aesthetic significance.

How To Know Them:Today, we think of angels as human figures with wings.  But interestingly enough, early Christian visual interpretations of angels did not feature wings.  Deriving from artistic traditions from Greece and Mesopotamia, early Christians depicted the angels of Scripture without wings, making them almost indistinguishable from regular mortals.

Once the visual tradition of wings had been established by the sixth century, angels became further defined in Western art.  Angels are often depicted as sexless, an attribute of which the execution can vary depending on the era, artist, and audience.  In the Renaissance and Baroque periods, for example, an

Henry Ossawa Tanner
“The Annunciation”, 1896
Oil on canvas
The Philadelphia Museum of Art

angel’s androgyny  often resulted in an appearance that mirrored a prepubescent male.

Some artists have taken a less figurative approach to depicting angels.  Qualities had by angels, such as radiance, are embodied visually, such as in Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Annunciation, where the archangel Gabriel is portrayed as a beam of light.

Where to Find Them: Angels as they are known in the Judeo-Christian sense appear in Scripture as early as Genesis.  Their designation as a separate species lower than God but higher than humans afford them myriad roles.  Cherubim, for example, were winged sphinxes or lions with human heads.  They were commonly portrayed in artwork in present-day Syria and Israel during the Biblical period, often with deities or royalty enthroned upon them.  In Genesis 3: 24, cherubim with flaming swords are placed by God in the Garden of Eden to guard the Tree of Life.  Cherubim were also depicted in the tabernacle, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept (Exodus 25), and inside the Temple.

Bartolo di Fredi
“The Adoration of the Shepherds”, c. 1374
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cloisters Collection

Another prominent angelic role is that of messenger.  This is an especially important motif in the New Testament – an angel repeatedly speaks to Joseph and, most notably in the history of art, to Jesus’s mother Mary.  The Annunciationis one of the most highly rendered and stylistically recognizable scenes in Christian art.  Angels also figure heavily

Édouard Manet
“The Dead Christ with Angels”. 1864
Oil on canvas
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

in scenes marking the beginning and end of Jesus’s life, with angels appearing to shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem to announce his birth and bring peace and goodwill to all, as well as in scenes of the Resurrection, as robed figures bathed in light were the deliverers of the message to Jesus’s distraught mourners that he had risen.

Angels also embody conflict.  In Genesis 32: 24, patriarch Jacob wrestles with an angel, and after his struggle, he earns the name Israel.  The archangel Michael, who is mentioned in Daniel 12:1, leads God’s charge against Satan in Revelation 12: 7.  Angels are sometimes depicted in battle against forces of evil, and at other times as guardians of the innocent, good, and righteous.

Paul Gauguin
“Jacob Wrestling with the Angel”, 1888

Big Apple Angels: Angels are decorative staples in many houses of worship, so in New York City, a portrayal of one is only as far away as the nearest church.  But you can also find angels in any collection of Western art in the city.  A few highlights include Manet’s The Dead Christ with Angels, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bartolo di Fredi’s Adoration of the Shepherds at the Cloisters, and two stained-glass windows created by Tiffany Studios, currently on view at MOBIA in Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion.

Tiffany Studios, New York
I am the Resurrection and the Life, 1902
Leaded glass
50 1/4 x 29 1/8 inches
The Richard H. Driehaus Museum, Chicago, Illinois (40058)

In both The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory and I am the Resurrection and the Life, the wings of the angels are given greater depth and detail through the use of feather glass, a type of stained-glass Tiffany developed to effectively convey the soft, layered feathers of wings.

Tiffany Studios, New York
Frederick Wilson, designer
The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory, Brainard Memorial Window for Methodist Church, Waterville, New York, ca. 1901
Leaded glass
Marked “Tiffany Studios/New York”
Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York
Photo Courtesy of Richard Goodbody, Inc.

The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory — the title of which is derived from 1 Peter 5: 4 — depicts an allegory of a righteous person being led up the stairs of heaven by two angels.  Both bear standards — one with a cross and one with possibly a Sacred Heart of Jesus — and one carries a palm frond, which is symbolic of martyrdom and eternal life.  Three angels await the figure ascending the stairs; one holds a crown over a resplendent cross.  The window extolls the virtues of living a Christian life by depicting the illustrious reward that awaits the faithful.

- T.C. for MOBIA

Advice from our Conservator

Usually after a storm like Sandy, conservators get a lot of calls regarding how to dry out or care for damp, wet, or waterlogged books. In this post, MOBIA’s rare book conservator, Clare Manias, offers a few suggestions to recover your documents, photographs, and books safely. If you can’t dry them out yourself, or if there are too many and you are considering getting some outside assistance, at the end of this post there are some suggestions to help you find a recovery service.

The most urgent issue when dealing with wet books and paper, or anything else damaged by flooding, is mold. Mold can be toxic, and can seriously irritate and enflame a person’s lungs. Avoid mold outbreaks especially if you are allergic to mold, have chronic respiratory problems, have diabetes, are taking steroids, or are pregnant. Never handle moldy items without gloves and wear a respirator or mask marked N95. Regular dust masks don’t filter small enough particles to protect you against mold outbreaks.

The most effective way to avoid mold is not to clean it, but to dry the materials and the space. Mold is everywhere and will take advantage of warm and humid environments. An ideal environment is humidity over 50% and temperatures over 70 degrees. Get out the summer fans to circulate the air if you can, but don’t aim them directly at documents or photographs that will blow around the room. Use a dehumidifier if you have one. Keep the lights on if possible and the temperature low (below 70 degrees). Segregate moldy items from ones that are not moldy, to keep mold from spreading.

The next thing to do is prepare a drying surface to accommodate all the photographs, documents, and books you would like to dry. The surface should be rigid like a table and be able to hold the wet materials. Stiff cardboard or window screens will work for photos or documents; wood or Plexiglas would be better for books. They should be up off the floor if possible. Cover the surface with blotting paper, unprinted newsprint, or towels. The room should be well ventilated, cool, and dry to prevent mold growth.

Large amounts of saturated paper, photos, or books might be better sent to be frozen rather than trying to do it yourself all at once. Documents and books can be freeze-dried and photographs can be frozen for later treatment in small batches.

Other supplies you will need are rolls of wax paper to wrap items for freezing, strong cardboard boxes or plastic milk crates (don’t use sealed plastic storage containers or bags, as the sealed environment will promote mold growth), and markers and tape to mark the boxes.

Documents: To air-dry small amounts of damp, unbound paper documents, spread out the papers in a single layer on your prepared surfaces. If the paper cannot be spread in a single layer (because it is stapled together or folded, for example), regularly turn over the documents to ensure even drying. Don’t try to unfold wet paper.

If your documents are in boxes or folders, the box or folder will absorb a lot of the water; remove damp documents from boxes to air dry and discard and replace the boxes and folders.

Don’t try to remove saturated documents from saturated boxes; wrap the box with wax paper and freeze the entire box. If you cannot separate a saturated stack of documents, wrap the entire stack and pack for freeze-drying.

Important documents with soluble media (such as ink jet printed) should be frozen as soon as possible to arrest the loss of information. Always place the item face up; do not blot.

To pack documents for freezing, wrap each stuck-together stack with wax paper, and place in strong cardboard boxes or plastic milk crates and mark boxes with their contents.

Books: Damp (not saturated) books can be air-dried.Smaller ones can be stood up, open, with their pages fanned out, on your prepared surface.Interleave larger books with unprinted paper towels about every 20-30 pages. Change the interleaving when it becomes saturated and flip the book over to promote even drying.

If your books are wet, but you only have a small amount, they can be air dried as well.  Wet paper tears easily, so don’t pick them up by the corner or the cover only. Drain out as much water as you can and stand soft cover books up with cardboard to separate them from each other. Fan hardcover books out slightly. Don’t insert interleaving until they are less wet.

But, if you have a large amount of valuable books, they should be packed for freezing as soon as possible.

Books printed on glossy or coated paper will stick together very quickly.  If they can’t be replaced, pack for freezing as quickly as possible.

To pack books for freezing, wrap individual books in wax paper and pack in cardboard boxes, spine edge down, in one layer. Don’t forget that wet books are much heavier. Pack books in their present condition. Do not close open books, or open closed books. Wrap books that are stuck together as one item; don’t try to separate them.

Photographs: When prints get wet they tend to stick together because the emulsion layer that contains the image swells and gets sticky. You might be able to separate photos if they are still wet or damp, unless the image sides are stuck together or the photograph is stuck to the glass of a frame or the plastic sheet in an album. If they are, don’t try to pull them apart.

If you have 19th century family photographs printed on metal or glass, or early 20th century albumen prints mounted on thick cardboard, consult with a conservator and don’t try to separate these prints if they are stuck together.

Color or black and white prints and negatives can be rinsed to remove mud and debris and help separate some of the ones that are stuck together. Color prints and negatives can be immersed safely for 30 minutes; black and white prints and negatives can be immersed for 48 hours. Immerse wet photographs (and slides and negatives) in large plastic clean garbage bins or pails filled with clean, cold water. Do not use metal containers as they may react with chemicals in the photographs. Keep the water cold and clean – warm or hot water will permanently damage the emulsion – and periodically agitate the water in the container.  Very gently try to pull apart photos that are stuck front to back.

Remove each photograph from the bath by holding the tip of one corner and allowing water to run off. Place the photographs on your prepared surface IMAGE SIDE UP. Some photographs will curl when drying. Consult a photograph conservator to flatten them after they are dry.

Large amounts of wet photographs or photographs (or albums) that are stuck together should be flash frozen. The photographs must be wet to be frozen. To pack photographs for freezing, wrap or interleave stuck-together bundles with wax paper and place into sturdy cardboard boxes. Do not pack the boxes tightly. Contact a freeze-drying service, which will freeze them for you for transport to a conservator.

Do not freeze 19th century prints on metal or glass or cased images – consult a conservator.

For more information, contact a regional conservation center such as:


Northeast Document Conservation Center

100 Brickstone Square

Andover, MA  01810-1494

Disaster Assistance Hotline 978-470-1010


Their website has tons of information on disaster recovery.

To find a Conservator in your area, try the website of the American Institute of Conservation (AIC) and look in the Resource Center. They maintain a database of conservators for books, paper and photographs as well as textiles, paintings and objects. There is lots of good advice about caring for your treasures.


Check the website of your state archives for lists of companies that may be able to help you with your recovery efforts. Any major museum or university library in your area will also likely be able to recommend conservators in your area.

Freeze drying services: There are many companies that offer freeze-drying services. Make sure you are talking to a company that offers recovery services for books, documents and photographs.

For more information regarding treatment of other art collectables, please visit MoMA’s guidelines on immediate response for collections.

- C.M. for MOBIA