Opening in November 2014

The Renaissance was the first great age of mass communication, but it was also the period when the art of secret writing came into its own. The new science of codes and ciphers produced some of the period's most brilliant inventions, most beautiful books, and most enduring legacies. It left its mark on virtually every aspect of Renaissance culture, from the development of diplomacy and the waging of war through the creation of the postal system and the invention of sign language to the search for hidden meanings in literature and the visual arts. And it provided the inspiration for the most celebrated code-breaker in history, William F. Friedman—Capitol Hill resident, Folger reader, and chief cryptanalyst for the US government from the 1920s to the 1950s. Friedman's introduction to ciphers (as well as to his wife Elizebeth, a distinguished code-breaker in her own right) came through his work on Sir Francis Bacon; and he drew directly on Renaissance texts and technologies throughout his cryptographic career.

In Decoding the Renaissance, the Friedmans will take us on a guided tour of some six hundred years of secret communication, introducing the tricks of their trade and revealing the surprising links between Shakespeare's First Folio and Edward Snowden's hard-drive. The exhibition brings together the first comprehensive collection of early books on cryptography, many of Friedman's most influential works, and the most mysterious of all unbroken codes, the so-called Voynich Manuscript, on loan for the first time from the Beinecke Library at Yale.