Museum Home Past Exhibitions Fit for a King: Courtly Manuscripts, 1380–1450

June 29–August 29, 2004 at the Getty Center

St. Christopher / Spitz Master
Saint Christopher Carrying the Christ Child, Spitz Master, about 1420
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European rulers of the Middle Ages used books to exchange ideas and to display their wealth and importance. This exhibition showcases manuscripts made for the rich and powerful of Europe between 1380 and 1450.

Artists and books traveled across Europe in this period, influencing one another and giving rise to a common style. Called International Gothic, this style is characterized by elegant figures and costumes, naturalistic landscapes, and richly patterned surfaces.

Saint Christopher carries the Christ child across a raging river to safety in this colorful illustration from Paris. The image precedes a prayer meant to be read on the saint's feast day. The central figures are set against a lush seascape under a starry sky. The background is filled with details such as ships, fishermen, and sheep grazing on a hill.

St. George / M Guillebert de Mets
Saint George and the Dragon, Master of Guillebert de Mets, about 1450–1455

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Centers of Production

European political power around 1400 lay in the hands of several royal courts. These courts were in close contact thanks to political alliances and marriages between members of different ruling families. Illuminators traveled among the courts, studying the techniques and ideas of other artists.

This manuscript was probably made in the court of Ghent, in Flanders (modern-day Belgium). It shows Saint George taming a dragon that was said to have terrorized a city in northern Africa. He charges forward, blue cape flying, to rescue the king's daughter from the beast. The rich colors and softly modeled figures show the influence of French manuscripts.

Alchandreus / Virgil Master
Alchandreus Presents His Work to a King, Virgil Master, about 1405
Recent Acquisition

In this lavish scene, the philosopher Alchandreus presents his text on astronomy to a king, probably Alexander the Great. The philosopher's subdued green robe contrasts with the luxurious blues and reds of the courtiers' garments.

This manuscript was made in Paris, which was a powerful center of artistic production for courtly commissions in the 1300s and 1400s. The red, blue, and gold ivy-leaf pattern in the margins is typical of French manuscripts of the period.

St. Anthony Abbot / M Saint Veronica
Saint Anthony Abbot, Master of Saint Veronica, about 1400–1410
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Elegant figures, rich patterns, and naturalistic details are common motifs of the International Gothic style. Artists often created figures with elongated proportions, elegant gestures, and expensive, brightly colored costumes. Dense patterns cover the fabrics and backgrounds, and landscapes brim with plants and animals.

Saint Anthony stands on a podium blessing a large group of people and animals. He wears the uniform of the Hospitallers, an order of monks founded in his name and dedicated to caring for the sick. The artist placed the animals at the front of the scene to call attention to the detail of their fur, hair, and feathers.

Roman de la Rose / Unknown
Idleness Opening the Door for the Lover, Paris, about 1405
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This illustration comes from the Romance of the Rose, a French text originally written in the 13th century and popular for centuries among the French nobility. The poem tells the story of a lover who pursues a rose locked in a castle. His pursuit of the flower is an allegory of the quest for love. In this 15th-century copy of the text, the figures wear contemporary aristocratic garments with flowing contours that emphasize their graceful poses and gestures.

St. Paul / Pisanello
Initial S: The Conversion of Saint Paul, Attributed to Pisanello and the Master of Antiphonal Q of San Giorgio Maggiore, about 1440–1450
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Members of the European courts were key patrons of illuminated manuscripts throughout the Middle Ages. They commissioned books, such as prayer books, histories, and romances, that would display their wealth and fulfill their devotional and intellectual needs. Images of donors in the manuscripts, along with records of artists' clients, provide clues to the identity of these courtly patrons.

In the lower part of this initial S, Saint Paul tumbles from his horse at the moment he is converted to Christianity. At the top, an imposing man in a red turban wears red, white, and green, the heraldic colors of the powerful Gonzaga and d'Este families. The man is probably a member of one of these families and the patron of this work.

Patron Presented / Wkshp, Boucicaut M
A Patron Presented to the Virgin and Child, Workshop of the Boucicaut Master, about 1415–1420
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The female figure in red kneeling before the Virgin and Christ is probably the patron of this manuscript. She wears the outfit of a middle-class woman, which suggests that wealthy members of the middle class also commissioned manuscripts.

Fifteenth-century books of hours were written mostly in Latin, but they often included some prayers in the local language. This image appears before a prayer to the Virgin written in the patron's native French. This may have been a particularly important prayer for her that required close reading.