July 1–September 1, 2014

Magna Carta

Cornerstone of Liberty

See a rare copy of England's Magna Carta along with the Sons of Liberty Bowl, drafts of Declaration of Independence, and more symbols of liberty and justice

One of only four surviving copies of the original Magna Carta—a document written in 1215 that is the foundation for many liberties that Americans enjoy—travels to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, this summer for a special exhibition in the Art of the Americas Wing. An inspiration for the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, the exemplar typically housed in the Lincoln Cathedral in Lincolnshire, England, is on view at the MFA this summer in partnership with the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Magna Carta—Latin for “Great Charter”— joins other historical loans as well as portraits and works of art from the Museum’s collection—including the MFA’s Sons of Liberty Bowl (1768) by Paul Revere, which is engraved with the words "Magna/Charta" and "Bill of/Rights"—to tell the story of patriots and revolutionaries who fought for freedom in the face of tyranny. The exhibition also includes portraits, marble busts, and historical documents related to several of the Founding Fathers, presidents, and abolitionists, particularly from Massachusetts, who were inspired by the liberties enshrined in Magna Carta.

A number of items from the Museum’s collection are paired with loans from the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS). Two manuscript copies of the Declaration of Independence, originally penned by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, are accompanied by the MFA’s marble busts of the two Founding Fathers. Other loans from the MHS include a portrait of former Massachusetts Governor and US Vice President Elbridge Gerry and his annotated copy of the US Constitution, as well as two Paul Revere Minuteman Notes (currency)—one of which depicts the words “Magna Carta." State Representative Cory Atkins (D-Concord) worked with the MFA and the Lincoln Cathedral to secure the loan of Magna Carta.

Magna Carta leaves the MFA September 1 and travels to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and the Law Library of Congress in Washington, DC, before returning to London for an exhibition celebrating the charter’s 800th anniversary in 2015.

Above: John Singleton Copley, Samuel Adams (detail), about 1772. Oil on canvas. Deposited by the City of Boston.

  • Edward and Nancy Roberts Family Gallery (Gallery LG26)



This exhibition has been organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in partnership with the Massachusetts Historical Society and Lincoln Cathedral – Bringing Magna Carta to the USA.
Generously supported by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.