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French Manuscript Illumination of the Middle Ages
At the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, January 23-April 15, 2007

January 23, 2007

LOS ANGELES—Throughout the Middle Ages, manuscript illumination was a major art form in France, a favorite of French kings and high-ranking nobles. This exhibition of 25 manuscripts and leaves from the J. Paul Getty Museum's collection, including recent acquisitions, highlights the achievement of French painting in books from the 800s to the 1500s. French Manuscript Illumination of the Middle Ages, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, January 23-April 15, 2007, traces manuscript production from its origins in early monastic centers, through its expansion into cities (with the advent of universities), and finally explores the relationship between painting on panel and manuscript painting in the later Middle Ages and Renaissance.

This display of manuscripts from the Getty Museum’s collection presents some of the most beautiful and important French manuscripts preserved from a period that spans almost 700 years. The exhibition also includes one of the rare French panel paintings to survive from the 1400s, as well as two pieces of stained glass to illustrate the close ties between different media of the period. Together they help us to understand the history and development of French painting in the Middle Ages.

During the early Middle Ages illuminated manuscripts were produced in monasteries by monks who would both write the text and paint the illustrations. Most books were religious in nature and were used in church services. However, monasteries were not only centers of religious activity but also of scholarly efforts, housing impressive libraries of books on wide-ranging subjects.

The production of illuminated manuscripts changed during the course of the 1200s. Centers of production shifted gradually from monasteries to towns, where professional artists unconnected to religious orders began to emerge. The foundation of universities in these towns called for new and more books to be created for the use of scholars and students. The aristocracy and wealthy merchants also began to commission manuscripts in large numbers, including romances, histories, and scientific books. The book of hours was introduced as a private, devotional prayer book in the late 1200s and became the most popular book of the late Middle Ages.

Illuminated manuscripts occupy a privileged place in the history of French art. Because of the importance of books to the intellectual, artistic, and political life of the country, they have always been found at the center of those activities that shaped the destiny of France. Lavish liturgical books were the chief luxury product of monasteries in the time of Charlemagne, King of the Franks. Under the Capetian kings of France during the High Middle Ages, Paris became a bustling university town renowned for its illuminated manuscripts, drawing artists from all over Europe. During the Renaissance, illuminators such as Jean Fouquet and Jean Bourdichon, who were also painters, served as court artists to the kings of France and enjoyed tremendous renown and influence.  The prestige of the tradition of manuscript illumination in France was so great that it remained popular at the royal court as late as the 18th century.

French Manuscript Illumination of the Middle Ages is curated by Robert Schindler, a former graduate intern in the Department of Manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum.  In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum is publishing French Illuminated Manuscripts in the J. Paul Getty Museum by Thomas Kren, a pictorial survey of the Museum’s holdings of French manuscript illumination.

All events are free unless otherwise noted.  For reservations and information, please call 310-440-7300 or visit

Thomas Kren, Curator, Department of Manuscripts, the J. Paul Getty Museum, leads a one-hour gallery talk on the exhibition.
Meet under the stairs in the Museum Entrance Hall.
Wednesday, January 31, 2:30 p.m.
Museum Galleries, Getty Center
Elizabeth Morrison, Associate Curator, Department of Manuscripts, the J. Paul Getty Museum, leads a one-hour gallery talk on the exhibition.
Meet under the stairs in the Museum Entrance Hall.
Wednesday, March 7, 1:30 p.m.
Museum Galleries, Getty Center

Publications are available in the Getty Museum Store, by calling (800) 223-3431 or (310) 440-7059, or on the website at

French Illuminated Manuscripts in the J. Paul Getty Museum
By Thomas Kren
This volume illustrates selections from the Getty Museum’s rich holdings of French manuscripts from the ninth to the 18th centuries.
(Paperback, $19.95)

A Treasury of Hours
Selections from Illuminated Prayer Books

Introduction and commentaries by Fanny Faÿ-Sallois
Foreword by Dominique Ponnau
Illuminations from personal prayer books commissioned by the nobility in the 14th and 15th centuries are reproduced in this lovely gift book.
(Hardcover, $19.95)

Visit to explore highlights of this exhibition and the Museum’s collection on our Web site.

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Note to editors: Images available on request

Julie Jaskol
Getty Communications

Taras Matla
Getty Communications

Michelle Romo
Getty Communications

About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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