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Major International Exhibition of Renaissance Manuscript Painting Debuts at the Getty Center

Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish
Manuscript Painting in Europe
June 17 - September 7, 2003

April 16, 2003

Los Angeles--Some of the most stunning works of art of the Renaissance are among the least well known. They can be found within the pages of illuminated manuscripts, books that were both written and painted by hand. Flemish illuminators transformed the appearance of the illustrated page with a new naturalism and scintillating illusionistic details that captured the imaginations of art collectors across Europe. The international exhibition Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe is the first comprehensive look at the greatest epoch in Flemish illumination. It will debut at the Getty Center from June 17 through September 7, 2003, in its only U.S. appearance before traveling to the Royal Academy of Arts, London.

Illuminating the Renaissance features some of the finest and most ambitiously illuminated manuscripts produced between 1470 and 1560 in the region of modern-day Belgium and northern France. The exhibition brings together more than 130 objects from a total of 49 lenders from 14 countries worldwide. This international effort assembles a large body of masterworks that have never been seen together, including dazzling manuscripts, drawings, and paintings from the Getty's collection and the collections of the British Museum and the British Library, London; the Louvre and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.  Most of the manuscripts are rarely exhibited due to their fragile nature.

"Flemish Renaissance illumination is so refined in style and so sumptuous in color that it can take one's breath away," says Deborah Gribbon, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. "The Getty's collection of Flemish manuscripts is among the best in the world; and now, after years of work by curators at the Getty and at the British Library, we are able to assemble the most beautiful and important Flemish objects produced over a period of nearly 100 years. Visitors will find this exhibition a revelation. It opens up a new perspective on the Renaissance."

The remarkable period of Flemish illumination covered in the exhibition marked the last great phase of the art form, before the rise of the illustrated printed book made books produced by hand obsolete. Flemish illuminators introduced into their works a painterly mastery of light, texture, and space, and displayed an unsurpassed naturalism in their miniatures. Flowers, jewels, and other objects cast their own shadows, creating the illusion that they were laid directly onto the page. This sense of naturalism is one of the greatest artistic achievements of its time. 

"Poised on the cusp between the medieval and modern worlds, Flemish illuminators bridged both eras, playing a pivotal role in an interchange between manuscript illumination and other visual art forms, particularly painting,"  says Thomas Kren, curator of manuscripts at the Getty Museum. "In the process, they left an indelible mark on art history. This exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see the works of great illuminators and painters side-by-side, including masterpieces by such celebrated figures as Rogier Van der Weyden and Pieter Bruegel the Elder."

Innovators of this new style, including artists such as Simon Marmion, the Vienna Master of Mary of Burgundy, and Simon Bening, worked under the patronage of the most powerful ruling families of Europe. The pages of their manuscripts captured the glamour of court ceremony with sumptuous colors and depictions of finely woven brocades and extravagant jewels. A luxurious Flemish manuscript was a vehicle of politics, social status, and piety. In Alexander Takes the Hand of Roxanne, an image from a history of Alexander the Great that was made for the Duke of Burgundy, the artist pays great attention to the details of the magnificent court costumes, and to the exquisite features of the noblewomen portrayed in this scene of an historic royal banquet. Simon Bening's Genealogical Tree of the Kings of Aragon reflects an ambitious attempt to trace the royal lineage of a Portuguese prince, the artist's patron, from the time of Noah.

The Getty will publish a comprehensive and richly illustrated catalog, Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe, to accompany the exhibition. Written and edited by Thomas Kren, curator of manuscripts at the Getty Museum, and Scot McKendrick, curator of manuscripts at the British Library, London, the 600-page book with 232 color and 153 black-and-white illustrations will be the first monographic treatment of the subject. Contributors include Maryan W. Ainsworth, curator of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; independent scholar Catherine Reynolds; and Elizabeth Morrison, assistant curator of manuscripts at the Getty Museum. It will be available in June 2003 in hardcover for $125.00 and in paperback for $55.00 in the Getty Museum Bookstore, online at, or by calling 800-223-3431 or 310-440-7059.

The Making of a Medieval Book
May 20, 2003 – September 28, 2003
Part of the popular "Making of" series, which explores the historical techniques behind various art forms, this installation examines the materials and methods used to create the lavishly illuminated manuscripts produced in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Examples from the Getty’s collection of medieval manuscripts are used to illustrate the process, which begins with the preparation of animal skin to make parchment (or vellum), continues through the writing and often elaborate painting stages, and ends with the binding of the volume.

Picturing the Natural World
June 17, 2003 – September 7, 2003
The 16th-century manuscript Mira calligraphiae monumenta (Model Book of Calligraphy) is a brilliant and inventive example of the period’s interest in representing every detail of the natural world.  This exhibition focuses on the manuscript and places it in the context of a number of other nature studies, both artistic and scientific. Featured are works that cover an extensive period of examination from 1450 to 1800. Included are paintings and drawings from the Museum’s collections and printed books from the Getty Research Institute. One of the most popular manuscripts at the Getty, the Mira calligraphiae monumenta was written by Georg Bocskay and later illuminated by Joris Hoefnagel in the 16th century.

The J. Paul Getty Museum's collection of illuminated manuscripts is among the strongest in the world. The collection began with an emphasis on German, Central European, and Flemish manuscripts, but was later expanded to represent a broad range of the tradition across the European continent.

The J. Paul Getty Museum collects in seven distinct areas: Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture, decorative arts, and European and American photographs. The Museum's goal is to make the collection meaningful and attractive to a broad audience by presenting and interpreting the collection through educational programs, special exhibitions, publications, conservation, and research.

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Supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities, this exhibition has been organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and The British Library.

Note to Editors: Images available upon request

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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