Art, Getty Center, J. Paul Getty Museum, Manuscripts and Books

Have You Seen an Illuminated Manuscript Lately?

Display of sacred art at the Getty Center, North Pavilion

The Getty Center is one of few places in the United States where you can see medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts year-round. With three or four exhibitions per year drawn almost exclusively from the permanent collection, in addition to major international loan exhibitions like Imagining the Past in France, 1250–1500 and Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe, we in the Manuscripts Department are constantly busy envisioning new ways to present this art form to as many visitors as possible—and as often as conservation concerns permit these precious books to be on view.

Exhibitions in the manuscripts gallery (North Pavilion, Gallery 105) generally run for only three months because the objects are sensitive to light and the book bindings are strained when left open to the same place for extended periods of time. After an exhibition closes, the gallery is “dark” for two weeks, during which time we rearrange the space and install a new set of objects.

We’re currently in a “dark” period, but we’ve devised a system that allows a manuscript to be on view at all times, even between exhibitions.

Among the beautifully reinstalled galleries for medieval and Renaissance sculpture and decorative arts in the North Pavilion is a space dedicated to sacred art, with one section presenting objects related to the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. No matter when you visit the Getty, you’ll always find a manuscript on view here.

Right now, sharing a case with an extraordinary marble relief showing the Virgin and Child with two saints and an exquisite chalcedony figure group of the Madonna and Child is a manuscript opened to an image that highlights a major moment from the Virgin’s life.

The Coronation of the Virgin / Master of Jacques of Luxembourg

The Coronation of the Virgin, Master of Jacques of Luxembourg, about 1466-1470, tempera colors, gold leaf, gold paint, and ink on parchment. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig IX 11, fol. 73

This illumination depicts the coronation of the Virgin and is from a book of hours, a private prayer book for a pious lay person.

When possible, the manuscript in Gallery 103 has a thematic link to the current exhibition. In The Coronation of the Virgin, God is dressed as a medieval Pope. The theme of deciphering a figure’s identity or profession based on clues from clothing was explored in our recently concluded show Fashion in the Middle Ages.

By next Tuesday, when a new Manuscripts exhibition opens—“In the Beginning Was the Word”: Medieval Gospel Illumination—you can expect to find a different manuscript in the sacred art gallery.

Stop by the Museum by Sunday to see the current book, and return any time during the new exhibition to find out which of the four Gospels recounts the story of The Flight into Egypt, the next scene set to be on view in North Pavilion, Gallery 103. If you haven’t seen an illuminated manuscript in a while, I hope you’ll stop by!

The Flight into Egypt / French

The Flight into Egypt, French, about 1420-1430, tempera colors, gold paint, gold leaf, and silver paint on parchment. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 19, fol. 59

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  1. Posted August 23, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Permalink


  2. Posted August 24, 2011 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    Gosh…these are incredibly beautiful pieces of art that everyone should see before they die!

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      All Hail Tiberius, Least Media-Savvy of the Roman Emperors

      Tiberius was proclaimed Roman emperor on September 17 in AD 14, exactly 2,000 years ago.

      He was also a bit wacko. “He was the least media-savvy emperor you could imagine,” says curator David Saunders, who has been in charge of this bronze portrait of Tiberius which leaves us on September 22. He point to this description found in the writings of Cassius Dio:

      Tiberius was a patrician of good education, but he had a most peculiar nature. He never let what he desired appear in his conversation, and what he said he wanted he usually did not desire at all. On the contrary, his words indicated the exact opposite of his real purpose; he denied all interest in what he longed for, and urged the claims of what he hated. He would exhibit anger over matters that were far from arousing his wrath, and make a show of affability where he was most vexed…In short, he thought it bad policy for the sovereign to reveal his thoughts; this was often the cause, he said, of great failures, whereas by the opposite course, far more and greater successes were attained.

      Moreover, David tells us, “Tiberius’s accession itself was a farrago: Tiberius sort-of feigning reluctance, the Senate bullying him, he being all, ‘Well, if-I-have-to,’ and in the end—according to Suetonius—saying he’ll do it as long as he can retire.”

      Suetonius is full of great, albeit spurious, anecdotes about poor old Tiberius, David reports. “When someone addressed him as ‘My Lord,’ it is said, Tiberius gave warning that no such insult should ever again be thrown at him.”

      Happy accession, My Lord!

      Portrait Head of Tiberius (“The Lansdowne Tiberius”), early 1st century A.D., Roman. The J. Paul Getty Museum

      Statue of Tiberius (detail), Roman, A.D. 37, Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei – Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Laboratorio di Conservazione e Restauro. Currently on view at the Getty Villa following conservation and study.


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