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Masterpiece of Italian Manuscript Illumination on View at the Getty Museum

February 16, 2000

LOS ANGELES-The greatest Italian manuscript in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum is the subject of the loan exhibition The Gualenghi-d’Este Hours: Art and Devotion in Renaissance Ferrara, on view at the Getty Center May 9 through July 30, 2000. The exhibition also features additional manuscripts, paintings, a terracotta sculpture, portrait medals, and a printed book.

The manuscript, known as the Gualenghi-d’Este Hours, was made for two Renaissance aristocrats, Andrea Gualengo and Orsina d’Este, on the occasion of their marriage in 1469. Illuminated by the two most important manuscript illuminators of 15th-century Ferrara, Taddeo Crivelli and Guglielmo Giraldi, the book is a masterpiece of Italian art from a city especially renowned for the high quality and luxury of its book arts.

One of a series of exhibitions presented by the Getty Museum to highlight individual manuscripts of great distinction and explore their unique artistic qualities and historical contexts, The Gualenghi-d’Este Hours presents the manuscript in the company of a number of works of art from the same place and time. It draws on the collections of the Museo Civico of the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara, the British Museum in London, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and many others. Among the highlights of the 24 objects in the exhibition are three panel paintings by the celebrated court painter of Ferrara, Cosmè Tura, a number of medals by the widely acclaimed artist Pisanello, and other manuscripts by Crivelli.

Crivelli, one of the most prestigious manuscript illuminators of the Renaissance, was patronized extensively by the Ferrarese court. His best-known work, the Bible of Borso d’Este, was made for Borso, the Duke of Ferrara, and took a team of illuminators six years to complete at a cost far greater than a frescoed chapel or an altarpiece.

The Gualenghi-d’Este Hours, one of the last manuscripts Crivelli completed, shows the artist at the height of his powers. Executed in an inventive style that is sometimes whimsical, sometimes pious and moving, the illuminations by Crivelli rank as his greatest work on an intimate scale (the manuscript pages measure 4 1/4 x 3 1/8 inches). The colorful full-page miniatures, often depicting saints in prayer and ecstasy and accompanied by delightful border vignettes with flowers and animals, combine the spirituality associated especially with the Middle Ages with the naturalism of the Renaissance. Crivelli’s image of Saint Gregory before an altar with his mouth open as if in song illustrates the powerful emotional effect of the artist’s painting throughout the manuscript. The expressive face of the saint reveals his intense devotion; the twisting banners and knife-like gold rays create a mood of spiritual excitement.

Coinciding with the exhibition is the publication of The Gualenghi-d’Este Hours: Art and Devotion in Renaissance Ferrara, a monograph on the manuscript by Kurt Barstow with full-color reproductions of all of the manuscript’s miniatures. The book is available May 9 in the Museum bookstore (272 pages, 39 color and 89 b/w illustrations) or by mail order (1-800-223-3431) ($95.00).

The Museum has also organized a related exhibition, Italian Manuscript Illumination (May 9-July 30, 2000). This exhibition features 20 Italian manuscripts, leaves, and cuttings from the Museum’s permanent collection, dating from the 12th through the 16th centuries. Included are books made for church services and private devotion, as well as secular works, such as an early 15th-century combat manual and a copy of Julius Caesar’s commentary on the Gallic Wars.

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The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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The J. Paul Getty Museum collects in seven distinct areas, including Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts, and European and American photographs. The Museum's mission is to make the collection meaningful and attractive to a broad audience by presenting and interpreting the works of art through educational programs, special exhibitions, publications, conservation, and research.