Art, Exhibitions and Installations, J. Paul Getty Museum, Manuscripts and Books

The Manuscript Files: A Medieval Holiday Message

On the opening page of the Abbey Bible, the first image we encounter is this roundel containing a scene of the Nativity of Christ.

A nativity scene in the Abbey Bible / Italian

Detail of a nativity scene in Initial D: Saint Jerome with Scenes of the Life of Christ in the Abbey Bible, Italian (probably Bologna), about 1250–1262. Tempera and gold leaf on parchment, each page 10 9/16 x 7 3/4 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 107.3v

According to Christian tradition, late in her pregnancy Mary traveled with Joseph to Bethlehem for a census, where they were turned away from the inn because there was no room. In the image, we see a red ox and a blue ass watching over a humble manger in a cave. It is only too easy to imagine the couple’s plight based on such images: a young woman forced to give birth in an unfamiliar place without help, her husband worried that he has provided inadequately for his family, and their overwhelming happiness when the baby is born healthy.

It might seem surprising to begin the first page of the Bible, which discusses the creation of the world, with images from Christ’s story, but medieval Christians saw in the beginning of Christ’s life on earth the promise of redemption from the original sin of Adam and Eve.

Today, in the midst of the holiday season, with New Year’s rapidly approaching, this image reminds me of the importance of providing shelter to the homeless, the joy of family and children, and the promise that every January 1st holds of a new beginning for everyone.

The Abbey Bible open to folios 3v and 4 in the gallery of "Gothic Grandeur" at the Getty Center

The Abbey Bible open to folios 3v and 4 in the gallery of "Gothic Grandeur." The roundel with the nativity scene appears at the far lower left.

The Manuscript Files is an occasional column featuring details from manuscripts in the exhibition Gothic Grandeur: Manuscript Illumination, 1200–1350, on view in two rotations at the Getty Center through May 13, 2012.

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One Comment

  1. louise smith
    Posted December 24, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    WOW !!!! what i wouldn’t give to live out there and be able to see this exhibit!
    i am a calligrapher (not a pro) but have always enjoyed studying the history of writing and just love seeing all things handwritten– thanks to all of you for taking care of all this and displaying it –esp in such a careful manner– bravo!!!

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      gettypubs:

      COBALT

      The histories of many colors are amazing, but cobalt may well have the most brilliant of them all. From the Ming Dynasty to Renaissance Italy, cobalt was a popular glaze for porcelain and other ceramics. Cobalt ink is invisible unless exposed to flame, which turns it a vivid green. In the 17th century, this quality made Europeans believe it was witchcraft, but decades later it was used as a neat trick on fire screens. It wasn’t until 1802 that painters added cobalt to their palette. 

      It is this little tidbit from cobalt’s history that saved master forger Han van Meergeren’s skin after WWII, when he was tried for collaborating with the Nazis. Want to find out how some art history sleuthing and smart science got him a not guilty verdict? Hint: Don’t try to forge a Vermeer with cobalt! 

      Read all about it in The Brilliant History of Color in Art!

      Images, clockwise:

      Glazed earthenware dish with a marchant ship, Italy, about 1510. 

      Glazed earthenware tile floor, Spain, about 1425-50.

      Porcelain lidded vase, China, about 1662-1772.

      All objects from the J. Paul Getty Museum. 

      12/18/14

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