“The King James Bible: Its History and Influence,” an exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin, demonstrates that four centuries after its first printing, the King James Bible (1611) remains one of the most influential books in the English language.
Running from Feb. 28 to July 29, the exhibition includes other notable Bibles and examples of modern book design featuring biblical texts, resulting in the most comprehensive display of Bibles and related materials in the Ransom Center’s history.
Featuring more than 220 items from the Ransom Center’s collections, the exhibition also includes materials from the Folger Shakespeare Library of Washington, D.C., and Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford that help reveal how the King James Bible translation came into being.
The language and imagery of the King James translation has had an extensive influence on English-speaking cultures and literature, from John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” to the poetry of Phillis Wheatley to Norman Mailer’s novel “The Gospel According to the Son.”
The language of the King James Bible permeated the Civil War-era writings of Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and both pro- and anti-slavery advocates.
It also provided the title for Walker Evans and James Agee’s “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” a landmark work on sharecroppers hit hard by the Depression, and even inspired the tattoos for Robert De Niro’s character, convict Max Cady, in the film “Cape Fear” (1991).
This wide-ranging influence can be seen throughout the Ransom Center’s film, photography, art and literary holdings.
“The language of the King James Bible has become an integral part of our daily speech so much so that we rarely know we’re using it,” said Danielle Sigler, the Ransom Center’s assistant director and curator for academic programs and one of the exhibition co-curators. “Whether encouraging someone to ‘eat, drink and be merry’ or getting through something by ‘the skin of one’s teeth,’ we are echoing the translators of the King James Bible.”
Since the origin of printing, the Bible has been regarded as the ultimate challenge for artists, designers and printers. Perhaps no single object embodies this better than Johannes Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible, which is on permanent display at the Ransom Center.
Many other monuments of classic fine printing, ranging from an early Nicolas Jenson illuminated Bible to the Christopher Plantin Polyglot Bible to an 18th-century folio Bible printed by John Baskerville, will be featured in the exhibition.
The Ransom Center’s modern printing collections provide colorful and original treatments of biblical passages by well-known book designers and artists, including a suite of prints from Marc Chagall’s “Exodus,” the massive Oxford Lectern Bible designed by Bruce Rogers, plates from art deco books by François-Louis Schmied and the entire set of Jacob Lawrence’s large silkscreen prints for “Eight Passages” from the book of Genesis.
This exhibition and related materials were developed by the Harry Ransom Center, Folger Shakespeare Library and Bodleian Library. This exhibition has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the support of Margaret Hight.
“The King James Bible: Its History and Influence” can be seen in the Ransom Center Galleries on Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. The galleries are closed on Mondays.
High-resolution press images from the exhibition are available.