Mirror of the world: books and ideas

Delight in the Mirror of the world: books and ideas exhibition, and discover the many rare and beautiful books held in our collections.

01 January 201731 December 2017
Bookings not required. Tel 03 8664 7099 for more information.
LocationDome Galleries, Level 4
Accessibility Has wheelchair access

Discover stunning artwork alongside powerful words in this visual feast for book-lovers.

Recent acquisitions and new stories are featured each year in this special exhibition, revealing different aspects of the Library’s Rare Books collection, and showcasing rare and significant works that trace the history of book design from medieval manuscripts to comics.

From 7 October 2016, the exhibition features 281 new items on display, dating from 2050 BC to the present day. Highlights include:

Great artists in Verve magazine

We celebrate the work of Henri Matisse (1869–1954), Georges Braque (1882–1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), through Verve, an art journal published between 1937 and 1960.

Prince Rupert and his pet poodle, Boy

This selection from the Emmerson collection focuses on the dashing Prince Rupert of Bohemia (Charles I’s nephew) and his pet poodle, Boy. Prince Rupert was a native of Bohemia who went to England to support his uncle in 1642 – the year that longstanding clashes between Charles I and his parliament erupted into what became the English Civil War. Rupert won several key battles for Charles, drawing admiration from the Royalists while raising the ire of Parliamentarians. This display includes:

  • pamphlets about Rupert’s poodle Boy written by both the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. These satirical pamphlets reached a comic highpoint in A Dialogue, or, Rather a Parley Betweene Prince Ruperts Dogge Whose Name Is Puddle and Tobies Dog Whose Name Is Pepper, in which Boy and the Parliament’s dog Pepper argue about the politics of their masters. 
  • A copy of Cicero’s De officiis owned by Prince Rupert and bearing his signature
  • a letter from Charles I to his nephew, written in the king’s own hand.

Edward Lear, nonsense extraordinaire

Following on from our popular Lewis Carroll display, we have a feature on Carroll’s near contemporary Edward Lear (1812–1888). Although famous only for his nonsense verse today, this display explores the full depth of this multi-talented man, including:

  • His work as a natural history artist, specialising in birds
  • His fame as a lithographer (he taught John and Elizabeth Gould the techncique, and worked for Gould on his Birds of… books.
  • A selection of his most-loved nonsense books, from The Book of Nonsense to Laughable Lyrics.

'Discovering' Egypt

This display focuses on the 'discovery' of Egypt by Western Europeans in the 19th century.

After periods of Greek and Roman rule (which introduced Christianity to Egypt), Arabic Muslim forces conquered Egypt in 639AD. During the medieval and early modern period, Islamic dynasties ruled the region and contact with Europe was almost non-existent. The Ottomon Empire reigned in Egypt from 1532 to 1867, with a brief interruption by Emperor Napoleon I of France between 1798 and 1801. In those three short years, Europe 'discovered' the cultural and natural world of Egypt and prompted a new field of scholarship: Egyptology.

This display includes many never-before-exhibited items from our collection, including:

  • books by Athanasius Kircher, the 17th-century Jesuit priest and polymath who was the first to attempt to decode Egyptian hieroglyphs
  • books on the 19th-century race between England and France to decode the hieroglyphs, with Frenchman Jean-Francois Champollion triumphing over Englishman Thomas Young after Napoleon’s forces discovered the Rosetta Stone
  • photography of Egypt in the 19th century by Francis Frith and Maxime du Camp.

Opening hours

This free exhibition is open 10am–6pm daily except Thursdays, when it is open until 9pm.

More to explore