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Shrine and Shroud: Textiles in Illuminated Manuscripts At the Getty Center, June 28-October 2, 2005

May 10, 2005

LOS ANGELES—The close relationship between textiles and manuscripts, two of the most venerated items in the medieval world, is examined in Shrine and Shroud: Textiles in Illuminated Manuscripts, at the Getty Center, June 28–October 2, 2005. The exhibition is the first at the Getty Center to focus on this fascinating subject. It explores the great importance textiles held in secular and spiritual life, and their use in manuscripts as protective and decorative elements and as an integral part of the book’s imagery and message.

Shrine and Shroud features 25 manuscript books, leaves, cuttings, and a textile drawn from the Getty’s permanent collection. It examines the use of cloth fragments in the production of manuscripts, the depiction of textiles in manuscript illumination, and the symbolic value of luxurious fabrics in their various roles as shrines, shrouds, curtains, and cloths of honor. The wide use and representation of textiles in manuscripts demonstrate their importance in medieval society.

Textiles were expensive and much sought-after in the Middle Ages. They were  used to transport and handle manuscripts to preserve their delicate metalwork or ivory covers, and textile fragments were sometimes incorporated into bookbindings. In addition, small pieces of cloth were often sewn directly onto the pages as protective “curtains” over miniatures and decorative initials. These prevented wear and damage of the painted areas during reading. Although many of these curtains are now lost, needle holes or remnants of thread in the margins of manuscripts around images indicate their original presence. Curtains could be found in a wide range of illuminated books dating from as early as the ninth century.  

Artists began to incorporate simulations of patterns found on costly fabrics as decorative elements in their illuminations in the early Middle Ages. In Saint John the Evangelist from the Helmarshausen Gospels, the illuminator filled the background of the text page with roundels containing lions shown in profile—a common motif in Byzantine silks, which were prized in western Europe at the time, particularly in Germany, where the manuscript was made. 

Expensive textiles played a central role in religious ritual and royal ceremonies, and were also used as palace decorations. As a result, they became symbols of power, status, holiness, and importance. The association between cloth hangings and kingship was so strong that it became a convention for manuscript illuminators to depict a royal figure in front of a textile. Beginning in the 14th century, these cloths of honor appear in other contexts, such as religious imagery. A textile hung behind figures such as Christ and Mary indicated their elevated status. In the popular medieval devotional image of Veronica’s Veil, as seen in Saint Veronica Displaying the Sudarium, Veronica presents an important cloth relic, which was said to display a miraculous image of Christ’s face. In addition to their ability to cover and protect, textiles could also honor and enshrine. 

Aside from their decorative function, fabrics were often used as curtains to screen doorways and to divide large interior spaces, both in churches and in homes. Because of a curtain’s ability to both conceal and reveal, medieval illuminators adapted this form of textile to convey symbolic and spiritual messages of revelation and epiphany found in biblical stories. In the Annunciation, the long pink curtains that hang from the colonnade are wound around two columns to reveal Mary at the moment she learns that she will give birth to Christ. The drawn-back curtains not only focus attention on Mary but express the symbolic meaning of this Annunciation scene, as Gabriel reveals God’s message to her. This visual combination of both the practical and symbolic nature of textiles is a reflection of their versatile and integral role in many aspects of medieval life.

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

Curator’s Gallery Talk
Wednesdays July 13 and August 17, 2:30 p.m., Museum galleries
Elizabeth Morrison, associate curator of manuscripts, the J. Paul Getty Museum, leads a gallery talk on the exhibition. Meet under the stairs in the Museum Entrance Hall.

Related Publications
Publications are available in the Getty Bookstore, by calling 800-223-3431 or 310-440-7059, or online at

Italian Illuminated Manuscripts in the J. Paul Getty Museum
By Thomas Kren and Kurt Barstow
This 96-page book presents 80 full-color reproductions of masterpieces created by Italian illuminators between the 9th and 16th centuries.
(Paper: $19.95)

A Treasury of Hours: Selections from Illuminated Prayer Books
By Fanny Faÿ-Sallois
Foreword by Dominique Ponnau
This 128-page volume includes 55 color illustrations and explains books of hours to a modern audience with carefully selected pages from over a dozen precious 14th- and 15th-century manuscripts—most of which have never before been published.
(Cloth: $19.95)

Painted Prayers: Books of Hours from the Morgan Library
October 18, 2005–January 8, 2006
This Premiere Presentation features 58 of the Pierpont Morgan Library’s finest manuscripts and printed books produced in France, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain between the 13th and 16th centuries. Included are such masterpieces as the Psalter Hours of Yolande de Soissons, the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, the Hours of Henry VIII, and The Farnese Hours.  Painted Prayers: Books of Hours from the Morgan Library is organized by the Morgan Library, New York.

A Masterpiece Reconstructed: Jean Bourdichon's Hours of Louis XII  (working title)
October 18, 2005–January 8, 2006
The Hours of Louis XII was a large and elegant devotional book illuminated by Jean Bourdichon (French, 1457–1521) for the king of France in 1498, probably in honor of his coronation. By the end of the 17th century, the manuscript was completely dismantled. Within the past few decades, 16 of the lost miniatures and parts of the text have been discovered. For the first time in more than 300 years, this exhibition, co-organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, reunites the text and 15 miniatures from the book.

Note to editors:  Images available on request.

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