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Medieval Treasures from the Cleveland Museum of Art
At the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, October 30, 2007 - January 20, 2008

August 16, 2007

LOS ANGELES—Rare examples of decorative works of gold and silver, armor, carved ivories, enamels, sculpture, paintings and illuminated manuscripts from the 3rd through the 16th centuries will be on view in Medieval Treasures from the Cleveland Museum of Art at the
J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, October 30, 2007 - January 20, 2008, providing an unprecedented opportunity for West Coast audiences to view these extraordinary objects outside of Cleveland.

The Cleveland Museum of Art houses one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of Early Christian, Byzantine and European Medieval art in the world. This remarkable collection was largely acquired over a period of 90 years and formed by two of America’s most distinguished medievalists, the museum’s second director, William Milliken, and the collection’s former curator, William Wixom.  The Cleveland Museum of Art’s $258 million renovation and expansion project created the opportunity for the first traveling exhibition to showcase more than 120 masterpieces in a variety of media from its medieval collection.  Some of these objects will travel for the first time since they were acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art.

“This exhibition offers a unique opportunity to bring some of the world’s finest medieval treasures to Los Angeles,” says Michael Brand, director, the J. Paul Getty Museum. ”It will present highlights from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection chronologically according to their place of origin, allowing visitors to appreciate the aesthetics of a particular time and place, as well as understand the general artistic progression during this significant period in European art.”

Early Christian and Byzantine Art:  The earliest works in the exhibition date to the Late Antique and Early Christian Period. One of the highlights from this period is a grouping of Late Roman statuettes known as the Jonah Marbles (c. 270–280). Four small-scale sculptures depict the Old Testament story of the prophet Jonah who was swallowed by a sea monster and spent three days praying in the beast’s stomach before being cast ashore—believed to be a symbolic foreshadowing of the death, three-day entombment, and resurrection of Christ. These statuettes combine the cultural traditions of the ancient Roman world with the religious imagery of the new Christian faith.  Also included are important examples of Byzantine art particularly the Icon of the Virgin and Child (500s-600s), a rare surviving example of a tapestry from the early Byzantine period.

Early Medieval Art, the Guelph Treasure:  The Cleveland Museum of Art is renowned for its collection of objects from the Guelph Treasure, one of the most important church treasuries to have survived from medieval Germany.  In the 20th century, family descendants sold much of the treasure and the Cleveland Museum of Art was fortunate to be able to acquire nine of the earliest and most important objects, five of which are on display in the exhibition.  Included is the Portable Altar of Countess Gertrude (c. 1045), one of the earliest and most sumptuous objects in the Guelph Treasure. The rare and intricate goldsmith’s work, the white-speckled porphyry, and the composition—historical figures of royal and imperial rank accompanied by Christ, the Virgin, apostles, and archangels—symbolize Gertrude’s worldly aspirations and claim of imperial lineage for her dynasty.

Late Medieval Art:  The art of late medieval Italy is represented in the exhibition by panel paintings including Virgin and Child with Saints (before 1317), a remarkably complete altarpiece by the Sienese artist Ugolino di Nerio, and a number of richly decorated illuminated manuscripts.  Significant examples of manuscript illumination are included in each section of the exhibition, including one of the finest late 14th century Florentine illuminations, Miniature from a Gradual: Initial G (about 1371-77), a page from a choral book whose illustrations are attributed to Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci, a monk in the monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence. 

In France, from 1364 until 1477, four successive dukes of Burgundy presided over one of Europe’s most sophisticated courts. The Cleveland Museum of Art is rich in works from this period.  Included in the exhibition are three alabaster sculptures of mourners that were made between 1406 and 1410 for the tomb of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.  This tomb was one of the most celebrated funerary monuments of the Middle Ages, and the mourner figures that decorated the base of the tomb are extraordinary for their striking realism in representing different states of contemplation and grief. Also on view from this period, a magnificent Table Fountain (c. 1320–40) represents an important tradition of royalty and aristocracy of collecting beautiful secular objects. The most complete example to have survived the period, the fountain is admired for its extraordinary craftsmanship and technical ingenuity, which will be demonstrated in a video animation of it in operation.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is notable for its impressive collection of sculpture from late medieval Germany—a time when German artists began to adopt French Gothic aesthetic ideals and fused them with local traditions and a heightened sense of emotion. Tilman Riemenschneider mastered this style in his Saint Lawrence (c. 1502), a sculptural rendering of the deacon and martyr of the early Christian period expressing profound melancholy in his expression.

A quintessential symbol of medieval life to the modern world is the knight encased in armor. Armor and arms protected the wearer or bearer on the field of battle, as well as during tournaments, jousts, hunting, and parades where they were symbols of the wearer’s social status, wealth, and taste. This exhibition presents a small selection of armor from pinnacle moments of the 16th century, the height of the tradition before it came to an end.

Exhibition at the Getty Center:  Medieval Treasures from the Cleveland Museum of Art at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center has been organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art.  The Getty is the second and final venue for this rare exhibition of medieval masterpieces following its debut at the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich, Germany (May 11 – September 16, 2007). Organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art and curated by Holger Klein, the Robert P. Bergman Curator of Medieval Art, the exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with full-color reproductions of each work in the exhibition.  The Getty’s 
presentation is curated by Antonia Boström, curator, and Jeffrey Weaver, assistant curator of sculpture and decorative arts.

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Rebecca Taylor
Getty Communications

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