Two New Exhibitions Examine the Rich Tradition of
Manuscript Illumination Across Medieval Europe,
From Its Origins in Monasteries to Its Lavish Growth
During the Gothic Period
The Glory of the Gothic Page
At the Getty December 16, 2003-March 7, 2004
Seeking Illumination: Monastic Manuscripts, 800-1200
At the Getty March 23-June 13, 2004
December 18, 2003
Los Angeles—The Getty presents two new exhibitions tracing the rich tradition of manuscript illumination that dominated medieval Europe for over five centuries. The Glory of the Gothic Page, at the Getty Center, December 16, 2003–March 7, 2004, follows the flourishing of the lavish painted page from about 1200 to 1350 when the Gothic style took hold, accompanied by the rise of lofty, spired cathedrals in urban centers; while Seeking Illumination: Monastic Manuscripts, 800–1200, at the Getty Center, March 23–June 13, 2004, explores the emergence of manuscripts from monastic centers across Europe.
Drawn from the Getty's strong collection of illuminated manuscripts, the two exhibitions offer a rare glimpse at a wide range of books produced in a variety of styles reflecting the changing times and environment in which they were created. From austere and geometric flat-patterned designs to elaborate and brilliant decorations, medieval illuminators left their marks on these beautiful handmade works of art.
The Glory of the Gothic Page
The artistic and historic period now known as Europe's Gothic era (from around 1200 to 1350) was marked by immense cultural innovation and refinement. The soaring spires of Gothic cathedrals rose throughout Europe, and in illuminators' workshops a new style of manuscript painting emerged, shimmering with gold leaf and marked by a new sense of naturalism, courtly grace, and beauty. The Glory of the Gothic Page celebrates the achievements of Gothic manuscript illuminators with a display of 21 lavishly decorated books and pages from the 13th and 14th centuries, including 15 manuscript pages that have never before been on view at the Getty Center. The works on display include books of scripture, private devotional manuscripts, law books, and literary texts.
The dramatic economic and social changes during this period, including the rapid growth of cities and the rise of universities, created an unprecedented demand for books, and the making of manuscripts, once confined to monasteries, expanded to secular artists’ workshops. Illuminators of the period developed an extraordinary sense of breadth and volume. The manuscripts they produced reflect a new interest in the appearance of the natural world, feature the addition of whimsical decorations in the margins of the page, and represent an ever-broadening variety of illustrated texts, ranging from university treatises to entertaining romances.
Seeking Illumination: Monastic Manuscripts, 800–1200
Seeking Illumination, which debuts on March 23, 2004, explores an earlier period in illumination when the creation of manuscripts was centered in monasteries. Scribes and illuminators working in medieval monasteries crafted books for aristocrats as well as the monks themselves, developing a range of styles and painted decoration that became characteristic of the time. Their beautifully embellished books circulated throughout medieval Europe until around 1200, when the rise of universities and cities shifted artistic activity to a growing class of secular artisans. This exhibition explores the role of monasteries as the main source of illumination during the Carolingian and Ottonian Empires, which united much of Europe under a single rule, and into the 11th to 12th centuries when sweeping changes took hold of the monastic orders.
During the Carolingian Empire (742–843), monasteries served as centers of scholarship, playing a key role in Charlemagne's efforts to revive the Roman Empire through educational and religious reforms. Illuminators during this time incorporated ornamental patterns from Roman models and revived aspects of classical painting, such as the representation of three-dimensional figures in believable space. The primary focus of monastic scribes and illuminators during the Ottonian Empire (919–1024) was the manufacture of service books for the Mass, which reflected the importance of ceremony in Ottonian culture. Illuminators of the period strove to create art that was symbolic rather than naturalistic, utilizing shining gold backgrounds that alluded to divinity and heavenly light.
The years from 1050 to 1200 encompassed sweeping changes in monasteries across Europe. Some monasteries formed new religious orders, which called for the creation of new manuscripts. Others returned to a stricter practice, leading to an increase in the manufacture of large bibles, which had slowed during the Ottonian period, as monks began to read the scriptures more frequently. The period also marked a return by some monasteries to the austere. Their gospel books accordingly reflected this new simplicity with a lack of gold leaf. The illumination seen in the diverse manuscripts created during this period is generally referred to as Romanesque, with forms that are more compartmentalized and stylized, sometimes featuring bold, geometric shapes.
Note to Editors: Images available upon request.
For more information, the public can call 310-440-7300 or visit www.getty.edu.
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