Subscribe to Art + Ideas:

We’ve asked curators from the Getty Museum and Getty Research Institute to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. These recordings feature stories related to our daily lives.

This week, curator Bryan Keene sees a common motif from illuminated manuscripts in a paper chain craft that he makes with his children. To learn more about this artwork, visit: https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/103069/.

Over the next few weeks, look for new recordings every Tuesday.

Listen to the full series of short reflections here.

Transcript

JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. As we all adapt to working and living under these new and unusual circumstances, we’ve asked curators from the Getty Museum and Getty Research Institute to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. We’ll be releasing new recordings on Tuesdays over the next few weeks. I hope you’ll find these stories about our daily lives—from laundry on the line to a dog at a scholar’s feet—thought provoking, illuminating, and entertaining.
BRYAN KEENE: Hello, my name is Bryan Keene and I am a curator of manuscripts at the Getty Museum. Growing up, my family used to make brightly colored chains out of paper to commemorate a holiday, birthday, or other special occasion. Each day in anticipation of the big event, we would tear off a link, knowing that we were one day closer to seeing our friends and family and to celebrating together.
Now, my husband and I are working from home with our two small children, ages 3 and 5 and we’ve had to celebrate all of those special occasions while in quarantine. Once the severity of the current pandemic became clear, we decided to reverse this art-making project: every day for the last eleven weeks and counting, we’ve added a link to a chain. Our daughter helps to determine the pattern of color or design for the current week and our son practices writing words of things that we’re thankful for or memories from the day.
I look at our chain as a reminder of the pervasive interlace and knot patterns found in decorated books—from Ireland to Italy and from Egypt, Ethiopia, Armenia, Persia, and beyond.
One of the earliest codices under my care was written and likely decorated by a monk called Sigenulfus in the year 1153. He was part of the Benedictine community in Montecassino, which is about 90 miles southeast of Rome
The bright red, yellow, blue, and green interlace on this page is characteristic of manuscripts from Montecassino, as are the countless hidden creatures. As I look closely, I see small white dogs who wrestle amid scrolling vines, while blue-faced monsters appear and lurk at either end of the lower portion of the shape. There are tons of figures hidden throughout. The shimmer of gold catches my eye as I struggle to find a spot to fix my gaze. And at the center, a bleary-eyed face stares out at me. I think we’ve all felt this way in the previous weeks.
These decorations surround the letter M, which opens a prayer asking for mercy. The last line on the page asks that we be cleansed with hyssop or a salve, and that our spirits be renewed.
Having spent a lot of time in monastic communities for study, I feel something familiar about the current moment, at least in terms of the reduction in daily activities, the number of people we encounter, and the feeling that each day is surprisingly similar to the previous one.
So we’ll continue to add to our chain, inspired by this captivating illumination. And I hope that you’re able to find quiet and meditation at this time, until that wonderful day when we can all spend time together looking at works of art in museums again.
CUNO: To view this illuminated Initial M, likely written and decorated by Sigenulfus in Montecassino, Italy in the year 1153, click the link in this episode’s description or look for it on getty.edu/art/collection.

JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. As we all adapt to working and living under these new and unusual circumstances, we’ve asked curators from the Getty Museum and Getty Research Institute to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about righ...

Logo for Art Plus Ideas podcast
This post is part of Art + Ideas, a podcast in which Getty president Jim Cuno talks with artists, writers, curators, and scholars about their work.
See all posts in this series »