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As we all adapt to working and living under these new and unusual circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, 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 brief recordings feature stories related to our daily lives—from laundry on the line to a dog at a scholar’s feet. Over the next few weeks, look for new recordings every Tuesday.

This week features manuscripts curator Beth Morrison discussing Simon Bening’s portrait of the author of Livre des faits de Jacques de Lalaing, made about 1530.

To learn more about this artwork, visit:  https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/287388/

A manuscript illumination showing a medieval male scholar at a desk at left with a small brown and white dog sleeping on the floor to the right.

The King of Arms of the Order of the Golden Fleece Writing about Jacques de Lalaing, about 1530, Simon Bening. Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold paint, and ink, 14 5/16 × 10 5/16 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 114 (2016.7), fol. 10. Digital image courtesy of Getty Open Content

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.
BETH MORRISON: Hi, my name is Beth Morrison and I’m head of manuscripts at the Getty Museum. As for everyone else, it’s been a little bit of a transition to working at home and my life seems dominated by endless zoom meetings. But one of the things I really look forward to is the unexpected appearance of people’s pets. They sort of nose in from the side, or jump up on people’s laps, and it reminds me very much of an illumination that I’m working on right now. I’m writing an article about a manuscript that is devoted to the life of a medieval knight names Jacques de Lalaing. And the frontispiece is by an artist named Simon Bening, who was one of the greatest artists of the sixteenth century. And he chooses an author portrait at the beginning of the manuscript which is a picture of the author hard at work at his text, and he’s got a desk, he’s got light at his back so he can see more clearly, he’s writing with his quill pen and he’s got books nearby him in case he needs to check something. And one of the great, charming details is that his pet dog has wandered in to curl up in the sun and take a nap. It’s a fluffy brown and white dog, quite distinctive, and very cute. And it reminds me so much of my own working methodology nowadays. I put my desk at a good place in my house so the sun is at my back so I can see clearly. And my dog comes in, plops down, and decides to take a nap whenever she can because she thinks shelter at home is the greatest thing ever invented; she gets to spend all day with me.
So as I’ve been studying this illumination more and more, I’ve been comparing it to other works by Simon Bening. And I realized that this dog appears multiple times in his works. At the beginning of the 1530s, it’s a little puppy. And then by the end of the decade it’s a full-grown dog. And it kind of made me realize I bet this is Simon Benning’s own dog. And he used the dog as a model whenever he needed to add a sort of everyday touch to his illuminations.
It seems to me that pets are such an important part of our lives, especially now in times of crisis. They provide comfort, they provide inspiration, and just like this artist and this author in the middle ages, I like to have my dog near me. It makes me realize that people in the middle ages are pretty much just like ourselves in terms of how they approach their lives.
CUNO: To view this author portrait by Simon Bening made around 1530, 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...

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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.
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