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Getty Museum Exhibition Celebrates a Golden Age of European Illuminated Manuscripts

A Treasury of 15th-Century Manuscript Illumination (March 26-July 7, 2002) spotlights a newly acquired miniature of Christ in Majesty

March 11, 2002

Los Angeles--A Treasury of 15th-Century Manuscript Illumination, on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum from March 26 through July 7, 2002, celebrates the art of illumination in Western Europe in the 1400s--an era when the art form enjoyed a golden age. Throughout the century and across Europe, princes created libraries stocked with richly illustrated manuscript copies of historical and spiritual texts. Their courtiers and other nobles followed suit and--along with a newly wealthy middle class--discovered that a beautiful manuscript prayer book enhanced their status.

"The 15th century marked a transition for manuscript illumination," said Thomas Kren, the Museum's curator of manuscripts. "It was a seminal era for the development of independent painting in the new oil technique on wooden panels; and the mid century saw the introduction of the printed book. Despite these new developments, the demand for richly painted books remained strong and the art of illumination thrived."

The exhibition focuses on the art of manuscript illumination in France, Flanders, the German states, and the Italian peninsula and also includes examples from England, Holland, Austria, and Castile. The installation features 26 illuminated manuscripts and leaves and cuttings from the Museum's collection of manuscripts, including the work of Jean Fouquet, Simon Marmion, Georges Trubert, Antoine de Lonhy, Taddeo Crivelli, Girolamo da Cremona, and a host of important anonymous illuminators. Among the highlights is a miniature executed by the workshop of Jan van Eyck.

One of the most influential illuminators active in Paris at the beginning of the century was the anonymous artist known as the Boucicaut Master, who, together with his workshop, illuminated the Getty's magisterial manuscript of Boccaccio's Concerning the Deeds of Illustrious Men and Women, which is on view in the exhibition. In the manuscript's frontispiece, the master ingeniously organizes the story of Adam and Eve around the tall hexagonal walls of the Garden of Eden. The first couple's fall and subsequent fate outside Eden are recorded with the consummate delicacy and grace of the Boucicaut Master's courtly style.

The south of France is represented by a recent addition to the Getty's manuscript holdings: a miniature of Christ in Majesty by Antoine de Lonhy. The artist's rendition of the heavy green cloak gives Christ a monumental presence that is typical of Italian painting of the time, while the blue sky densely arrayed with gold stars is a feature learned from the Parisian art of the Boucicaut Master and his followers. The leaf was the recent, generous gift of James and Margaret Emerson and family in honor of John Sutherland Bonnell, who was pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York from 1935 to 1962.

The court of the Burgundian dukes was an important nexus for manuscript illumination in the second half of the century. Dukes Philip the Good and Charles the Bold--who ruled Burgundy, Holland, Flanders, and parts of northern France--built princely libraries that contributed to the mythic splendor of the court. A prayer book made for Duke Charles and a manuscript of The Visions of the Knight Tondal, illuminated for his duchess Margaret of York--both on view in the exhibition--are highlights of the Getty's collection of Flemish manuscripts.

In the German states, the arts of both painting and manuscript illumination prospered in centers along the Rhine River. Two leaves executed by the Master of Saint Veronica included in the exhibition--one showing Saint Anthony Abbot blessing the animals, the poor, and the sick--are the only surviving illuminations by the leading panel painter of Cologne at the beginning of the century. The brilliant colors, sweet and tender facial expressions, and elegant costumes reflect a style of painting known as the International style, which links centers across Europe in the years around 1400.

The Italian peninsula of the 1400s was a collection of city-states, each with its own proud artistic tradition, and the exhibition includes illuminations made in and around Florence, Siena, Ferrara, Milan, and Mantua. Manuscript illumination at this time enjoyed a foothold in nearly every corner of Europe due in part to the increased movement of artists throughout the continent. Examples in the exhibition represent the greatest flowering of book painting that took place in Holland in the 1400s, as well as examples from England and Castile, where long and distinguished traditions of illumination were coming to an end.

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