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Getty Museum Acquires a Masterpiece of French Gothic Illumination

Manuscript is rare example of the work of the anonymous Master of the Ingeborg Psalter

July 7, 1999

Los Angeles, Calif.--The Getty Museum announced today the purchase of an illuminated psalter, an exceptional example of French Gothic manuscript painting. Its nine large illuminations include scenes inspired by the biblical Book of Psalms, many involving King David, who is considered its author. Known as the Avranches Psalter, it was made northeast of Paris, probably in the region of Noyon, in the first decade of the 13th century, at the dawn of the Gothic era in French painting. The psalter contains 344 pages and measures 12- 1/2 inches tall. It was acquired privately.

Commenting on the significance of the acquisition, Deborah Gribbon, Deputy Director and Chief Curator, said, "The psalter from Noyon is a key addition. As a monument of Gothic painting, it will be a cornerstone of the collection." Thomas Kren, curator of manuscripts, said, "This acquisition strengthens our medieval holdings overall. Joining other major works such as the Stammheim Missal, the Helmarshausen Gospels, the Hedwig codex, and the Spinola Hours, it establishes the Museum further as a major repository of medieval art."

The style of its illuminations represents a turning point in the history of European painting, when artists left behind abstract and highly stylized painting in favor of a more realistic representation of the visible world. The anonymous painter of the miniatures, known to specialists as the Master of the Ingeborg Psalter, is not only a seminal artistic figure but one of the great painters of the Middle Ages. His figures show an astonishing monumentality. What is new in this artist’s work and essential to the emerging Gothic style are the three-dimensional quality of the figures, their heroic proportions, and their expressive movements. In these qualities the figures of the Avranches Psalter anticipate the famous portal sculptures of Reims Cathedral, another great monument of French Gothic art.

Examples of this style in painting are exceedingly rare. The Getty’s new acquisition is one of only two major examples of the work of the Master of the Ingeborg Psalter. The other, made for Queen Ingeborg of France, is in the Musée Condé in Chantilly, France.

The psalter will be placed on view at the Getty Museum at the Getty Center in February 2000 as the centerpiece of an exhibition on the psalms and their illustration, drawn entirely from the Museum’s rich collection of 164 illuminated manuscripts. Each year the Museum mounts four exhibitions of manuscripts from the permanent collection, highlighting the great artistic achievements of medieval painting and presenting the works from diverse perspectives that illustrate their artistic and cultural significance. The Getty has the most ambitious program in America for showing the art of manuscript painting of medieval and Renaissance Europe.

The Getty’s collection of illuminated manuscripts was begun in 1983 with the purchase of the collection of Peter and Irene Ludwig of Aachen, Germany, then the finest private collection of illumination. With masterworks dating from the 9th to the 16th century, the Ludwigs’ manuscripts had particular strength in Flemish and German schools.

John Walsh, the Museum’s director, commented, "Ever since the Ludwig purchase, we have been looking for French Gothic manuscripts. This has become very, very difficult, given their rarity, and it would be impossible to find anything more important than the Avranches Psalter. We're overjoyed to have it."

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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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