LOS ANGELES – The written word was a major art form in the premodern world. Calligraphers filled the pages of manuscripts with scrolling vines and delicate pen flourishes, and illuminators depicted captivating narratives with large letterforms. These decorative embellishments reveal the monetary, cultural, and spiritual value placed on handmade books at the time. Offering an exploration of decorated letters, Artful Words: Calligraphy in Illuminated Manuscripts, provides insight to the artistic trends that shaped calligraphic practice from England to Central Europe and beyond for nearly one thousand years.
Three types of decorated letters were employed in the handwritten book arts of the Middle Ages: ornamented letters, formed by abstract foliate motifs; inhabited letters, in which strokes of the letter are made up of animal, human, or hybrid forms; and historiated initials, in which the letter includes figures or other content related to the text.
The alphabetic adornments in this exhibition appear in manuscripts that range from a Bible and a Qur’an to books of prayer, law, and history. The calligraphers who made them combined script and ornament to embellish pages, while illuminators developed original and complex strategies for fitting miniature stories into individual letters. Several of the manuscripts feature signatures by the scribes, calligraphers, or artists.
“We consume words in a variety of ways—in handwritten, printed, and digital media—decoding messages that are communicated not just by the combination of phrases but also by their design and styling,” said Bryan C. Keene, associate curator of manuscripts. “Among the highlights in the exhibition is a grouping of manuscripts penned by the famous scribe David Aubert for Duchess Margaret of York, as well as a Qur’an paired with an Italian ceramic vase with imitation Arabic script.”
Artful Words: Calligraphy in Illuminated Manuscripts will be on view December 18, 2018, through April 7, 2019 at the J. Paul Getty Museum. The exhibition is curated by Keene and Katherine Sedovic, former graduate intern in the Manuscripts Department. Related programming will include gallery talks, lectures, and more. Additional information can be found at getty.edu/360.
An important milestone has been reached in the Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200. The book which accompanies the project has now been published, in paperback, in English and in French. Medieval Illumination: Manuscript Art in England and France, edited by Kathleen Doyle […]
LOS ANGELES – The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Ca (USA) recently announced the acquisition of the Rothschild Pentateuch, a manuscript of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Torah. Its acquisition, coupled with works already in the Museum’s manuscripts collection, allows the Getty to represent the medieval art of illumination in sacred texts from the three Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Art of Three Faiths: A Torah, a Bible, and a Qur’an, on view August 7, 2018 through February 3, 2019, showcases three spectacular examples of each of these three: a Christian Bible and a Qur’an will be shown alongside the newly acquired Torah.
“This landmark acquisition fulfills one of the Museum’s longstanding goals of adding to our collection a Hebrew manuscript that can stand comparison in quality and importance to our finest illuminated manuscripts of other languages and faiths,” explains Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “It has taken 35 years, but the Rothschild Pentateuch fills this gap more brilliantly than we could ever have imagined. An amazingly rare and beautiful object, richly illuminated with all manner of real and imaginary animals, it also broadens greatly the narratives we are able to tell about life, culture and religion in the Middle Ages. The acquisition will be a highlight of an upcoming exhibition that brings together – for the first time at the Getty – the sacred texts of the three Abrahamic religions, something that I am sure will deepen the experience of these works for many of our visitors, and be a rich subject of study for scholars.”
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam trace their belief in the singular God to a common patriarch, the figure of Abraham. The practitioners of all three religions have been called “people of the book” for their shared belief in the importance of the divine word, rendered in medieval manuscripts in glowing gold and luminous colors on parchment.
The Torah is the central sacred text of Judaism. In the strictest sense, the word refers to the Pentateuch, which contains the books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Illuminated copies of the Hebrew Bible in codex form, rather than Torah scrolls, began to appear in the mid-thirteenth century. In northern Europe, these manuscripts served the needs of members of the Ashkenazi Jewish community who had settled in the area along the Rhine River. Lavishly illustrated Hebrew manuscripts are exceedingly rare, since Jewish artisans were forbidden by law to join painting guilds. Hebrew manuscripts were often written by itinerant Jewish scribes and illuminated by local, sometimes Christian, artists. Illumination of the Hebrew Bible centers on the calligraphic forms of the letters, such as initials, word panels, or decorative frames around blocks of text.
”The three objects on display are exceptionally beautiful artworks that we hope will spark meaningful dialogue among various audiences,” said Elizabeth Morrison, senior curator of Manuscripts at the Getty Museum. “Museums offer more than simply an aesthetic experience. Through exhibitions such as this one, they foster a deeper understanding of history that helps us to reflect on our own shared experiences.”
Among the earliest bound and illuminated codices from the Mediterranean world are copies of the Christian Bible written in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Ge’ez, Armenian, and other languages. The first part of the Christian Bible consists of texts from the Hebrew Bible, referred to since the second century by Christian writers as the Old Testament. Medieval Christians understood it not only as a historical document but also as a body of prophecy that specifically foretold the coming of Christ. The New Testament comprises accounts of Christ’s life, the Gospels, letters to churches or individuals from his disciples, such as apostles Peter and Paul, and a text about the end of time known as Apocalypse or Revelation. Illuminated Bibles—handwritten and printed alike—are among the most enduring forms of Christian book art produced during the Middle Ages.
The words that the angel Jibril (Gabriel) recited to the prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah, about 560-632, formed the sacred text of the Qur’an. The opening line, “In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful,” a central tenet of Islam that expresses submission to the will of Allah, is repeated in almost every surah or chapter. Muslims transmitted scripture through oral tradition for the first few centuries, and later recorded it through beautiful and ornate calligraphy. Artists incorporated Quranic verses into books, textiles, coins, ceramics, and architecture, demonstrating reverence for the written word. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Islamic word spanned a vast territory, from the Iberian Peninsula to northern and coastal Africa, across the Mediterranean basin, and as far as Central and Eastern Asia.
Art of Three Faiths: A Torah, a Bible, and a Qur’an is curated by Kristen Collins, Bryan Keene, and Elizabeth Morrison, of the department of Manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum. The exhibition will be on view August 7, 2018 through February 3, 2019.
LOS ANGELES – TheJ. Paul Getty Museum announced the acquisition of the Rothschild Pentateuch, the most spectacular medieval Hebrew manuscript to become available in more than a century. The acquisition was made possible with the generous support of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder.
“The Rothschild Pentateuch will be the greatest High Medieval Hebrew manuscript in the United States, and one of the most important illuminated Hebrew Bibles of any period,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Its richly illuminated pages – a great rarity in the thirteenth century – make it a work of outstanding quality and importance that represents the pinnacle of artistic achievement of its day. It will be one of the most signal treasures of the Department of Manuscripts and indeed of the Getty Museum overall.”
Potts adds: “It is especially gratifying that this landmark acquisition was generously supported by our Trustee Ronald S. Lauder and his wife, Jo Carole.”
Created by an unknown artist and dated 1296, the manuscript’s pages are filled with lively decorative motifs, hybrid animals and humanoid figures, and astonishing examples of micrography–virtuosic displays of tiny calligraphy in elaborate patterns and designs. The vibrant colors and gleaming gold distinguish this manuscript from most medieval Hebrew book production, which followed a largely textual tradition. It stands apart from other medieval examples through the appeal and extent of its illustrated program. The text contains features that indicate it may have been written in France for Jewish emigres who had been expelled from England in 1290. The illumination was likely completed in France or Germany.
The Pentateuch contains the central sacred text of Judaism–the Torah in the strictest sense–comprising theFive Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The manuscript’s lavish illumination divides the text into sections to be read weekly so that the entire Torah would be read over the course of a year. The opening of each of the five books is celebrated with monumental Hebrew initials intertwined with lively marginal figures and, in one case, a full-page illumination.
With its seemingly endless variety of illuminated motifs ranging from the imposing to the whimsical, the Rothschild Pentateuch is a prime example of the heights of originality and magnificence that Hebrew illumination achieved and stands as the most extensive illuminated program of any northern European Hebrew Bible to survive from the Middle Ages.
In a rare deviation from the rest of the manuscript’s aniconic approach, there is one illumination featuring full human figures that was added at a later date. In the second half of the fifteenth century one page was replaced with a new insertion, carefully replicating the text and commentaries. The folio can be identified as the work of Joel ben Simeon, one of the most celebrated Jewish artists known from the period. The replacement miniature represents the sole figural narrative in the Rothschild Pentateuch, but was inspired with the same kind of ingenuity that characterizes the rest of the manuscript.
“This acquisition allows us to represent the three Abrahamic religions of the period, and for the first time brings a medieval Hebrew illuminated manuscript to the Los Angeles area,” says Elizabeth Morrison, senior curator in the Manuscripts Department. “The cohesiveness of the visual program combined with its unbounded ingenuity shows how medieval artisans approached the complex problem of page design and tackled a project as ambitious as the Rothschild Pentateuch.”
The Rothschild Pentateuch was created in 1296 perhaps for a patron originally from England. It was carried through the centuries from France or Germany to Italy and Poland, and was eventually acquired by Baroness Edmond de Rothschild at some point before 1920, and then given after World War II to a German-Jewish family, who later settled in Israel, as a part of an exchange agreement.
Adds Morrison, “The storied voyage of this manuscript follows the history of the Jewish diaspora across time and space. This newest addition to our collection will allow us to present a more inclusive story of the Middle Ages at a time when the Getty is increasingly looking to a global approach in the visual arts.”
The Rothschild Pentateuch will make its debut at the Getty Center in Art of Three Faiths: A Torah, a Bible, and a Qur’an on view August 7, 2018 to February 3, 2019, an exhibition showcasing for the first time the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The practitioners of these three faiths have been called people of the book for their shared belief in the importance of divine word, rendered in medieval manuscripts in glowing gold and luminous colors on parchment. Three spectacular examples from the Getty’s permanent collection, including a Christian Bible and a Qur’an together with the newly acquired Torah, will be featured in this spotlight show.
Monsters captivated the imagination of medieval men and women, just as they continue to fascinate us today. Drawing on the Morgan’s superb collection of illuminated manuscripts, this major exhibition, the first of its kind in North America, will explore the complex social role of monsters in the Middle Ages. Medieval Monsters will lead visitors through three sections based on the ways monsters functioned in medieval societies. “Terrors” explores how monsters enhanced the aura of those in power, be they rulers, knights, or saints. A second section on “Aliens” demonstrates how marginalized groups in European societies—such as Jews, Muslims, women, the poor, and the disabled—were further alienated by being figured as monstrous. The final section, “Wonders”, considers a group of strange beauties and frightful anomalies that populated the medieval world. Whether employed in ornamental, entertaining, or contemplative settings, these fantastic beings were meant to inspire a sense of marvel and awe in their viewers.
Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders is generously supported by an anonymous gift in memory of Melvin R. Seiden, The Janine Luke and Melvin R. Seiden Fund for Exhibitions and Publications, the Andrew W. Mellon Research and Publications Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Charles E. Pierce, Jr. Fund for Exhibitions, and Mrs. Alexandre P. Rosenberg.
Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders June 8 through September 23, 2018
ROME – Between 2012 and 2017 the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican Library) joined efforts in a landmark digitization project with the aim of opening up their repositories of ancient texts. More than 1.5 million pages from their remarkable collections have been made freely available online to researchers and to the general public. The initiative was made possible by a £2 million award from The Polonsky Foundation. Dr Leonard Polonsky, who is committed to democratizing access to information, sees the increase of digital access to these two library collections — among the greatest in the world — as a significant step in sharing intellectual resources on a global scale.
To mark the end of the project, a ground-breaking conference on digitization and libraries is being held in Rome on 30 May 2018. The venue is the Conference Centre at the Augustinian Patristic Institute, which is situated just off St Peter’s Square. In the context of the Polonsky project this free conference will look at the future of digitized collections and their funding, with prominent speakers from different libraries and funding bodies across Europe.
The conference will be in English, with simultaneous translation into Italian.
Welcome from Msgr. Cesare Pasini, Prefect, Vatican Apostolic Library
Opening plenary: From Mabillon to Munich Digital: access, technology and scholarship
Anthony Grafton, Princeton University
Session one: Oxford, the Vatican and the Polonsky Project
The Morgan Library & Museum in New York announced the acquisition of an extremely rare manuscript leaf by the finest and most original illuminator of the Dutch Middle Ages, the Master of Catherine of Cleves. The work is from an otherwise lost Book of Hours and is the first to be discovered by the artist since 1980.
The Master of Catherine of Cleves was active in Utrecht, the Netherlands, from around 1430 to 1460. He is named after his masterpiece, the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, which is part of the Morgan’s collections, and only fifteen of his illuminated manuscripts survive. The newly discovered page contains the beginning of the Seven Penitential Psalms, written in Dutch, and the artist framed the text in an elaborate gold and foliate border. Figures depicted in the leaf include the Virgin Mary offering her milk
to St. Bernard, David playing the harp, and two fighting birds.
Beginning April 17th, the illumination will be added to the current exhibition on view at The Morgan, Now and Forever, The Art of Medieval Time, which runs through April 29. The show is curated by Roger S. Wieck, the Morgan’s Melvin R. Seiden Curator and Department Head, who recently discovered the new leaf at a European auction house, which did not recognize that it was the work of the Cleves Master. In 2010, Mr. Wieck organized a critically acclaimed exhibition at the Morgan on the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Visitors will be able to compare the new leaf to the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, two volumes of which are on view in the current exhibition.
“This is an extraordinary addition to the collections of our Department of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts and testimony to the connoisseurship and eagle eye of department head Roger Wieck,” said Morgan Director Colin B. Bailey. “The work of the Master of Catherine of Cleves is exceptionally scarce and any new discovery is an important development for art history. We are delighted that we can share the leaf with the public almost as soon as it arrives at the Morgan, and we are deeply grateful to the anonymous donor to the manuscript department who made the purchase possible.”
The Master of Catherine of Cleves decorated books of private devotion for wealthy and noble families and illustrated liturgical books and Bibles for members of the high-ranking clergy. Stylistically, the new leaf suggests the late phase of the artist’s career. This is evident in the thick, angular drapery, the muscular facial features of the Virgin Mary, and the border design and layout.