Ars Antiqua: Treasures from the Ancient Mediterranean World at Bowdoin College showcases the Bowdoin College Museum of Art's significant collection of art and artifacts from Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, and Cyprus. The exhibition will continue through July 22, 2007.
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The Susan Dwight Bliss Collection, donated anonymously to the College by Miss Bliss between the early 1950s and 1965 and administered by the Library, contains about 1,200 volumes relating primarily to the fine arts, French and English history and literature, and European and Asian travel. The collection was begun by Miss Bliss's father, George T. Bliss; she shared his passion for books and continued to expand the collection after his death in 1901.
The book collection is particularly noted for its many examples of fine and elaborate European bindings by such masters as Riviere and Son, Chambolle-Duru, Zaehnsdorf, Marius-Michel, Gruel, Bradstreet, Taffin, Meunier, and others. Many of these fine-bound volumes were acquired from the renowned Hoe sales of the late nineteenth century.
The room itself was presented to the College by Miss Bliss in 1945, replacing a seminar room and office in what was then the College library. The room contains the original ceiling and woodwork of the library in Miss Bliss's Manhattan residence, which was designed by C. Grant LaFarge. McKim, Mead & White, the College architects at the time of the gift, designed the installation of LaFarge's components in this Hubbard Hall space.
Among the interesting features of the room are the antique ceiling and the mantelpiece, which are both fine examples of sixteenth century Italian Renaissance art. The ceiling, originally in a Neapolitan palazzo, is executed in carved and gilded wood and gesso, with five contemporary paintings of religious and allegorical subjects in the panels. Other carved statues decorate the book cases. The mantelpiece is of Istrian stone.
The woodwork of the room is French walnut, having a satin finish of rubbed wax and decorated with gilded ornamentation. Most of the furnishings, including two handsome Italian Renaissance tables, were included in the gift.
Although the Bliss family was well known for its benefactions (Miss Bliss made major gifts to Harvard, Princeton, Yale and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, among others), Miss Bliss's motives for donating to Bowdoin College are unknown. She also presented nearly 1,000 fine prints now held by the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, a smaller music room (installed in Gibson Hall), as well as numerous other books and fine furnishings. But aside from regular visits to Bowdoin and its art museum as she traveled through Brunswick to her Bar Harbor summer home, she had no immediate connections to either the College or the region.
Books from the Susan Dwight Bliss Collection are available for research use by inquiring at Special Collections, on the third floor of the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library.
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