Gothic Grandeur: Manuscript Illumination, 1200–1350 at the Getty Museum

A stunning two-part exhibition of manuscript illuminations from 1200-1350 has opened at the Getty Museum in California (USA). Running until 13 May it draws on the Museum’s own collections to show a variety of illustrated books ranging from scholastic university treatises to romances.

Part I of the exhibition will last until February 26 when the pages of the displayed books will be turned to reveal a second tranche of treasures.

An illustrated checklist of the exhibits is available on-line here.
The exhibition includes the recently acquired Abbey Bible, an Italian illuminated manuscript that exemplifies the highest achievements of the Gothic era. The Bible is named after a previous owner, Major John Roland Abbey (1894 – 1969) who was a celebrated English collector of Italian manuscripts. It was bought for an undisclosed sum earlier this year from Ladislaus von Hoffmann’s Washington based Arcana Foundation.

Produced for the use of a Dominican monastery, the Abbey Bible is one of the earliest and finest in a distinguished group of north Italian bibles from the second half of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, most of which have come to be associated with Bologna, one of the major centres for the production of Gothic illuminated bibles. Its illumination is a superb example of the Byzantine style of the eastern Mediterranean that played such a dominant role in Italian painting and manuscript illumination in the second half of the thirteenth century. The marginal vignettes of the Abbey Bible are remarkable for their liveliness and delicacy. Sensitively depicted facial expressions, rare among thirteenth-century bibles, reveal the artist to be a skilled storyteller, and the pages brim with incident and event.

Filled with drolleries, grotesques and dynamic pen flourishes, the Bible was nevertheless intended for serious use and study, as evidenced by the many edits, corrections, and amendments to the text, which suggest a university origin for the manuscript. The book appears to be made for a Dominican monastery and devout Dominicans and Franciscans feature prominently in its imagery.

As part of the exhibition event programme, the English stained glass scholar and manuscript expert, Professor Nigel Morgan, will speak on English Thirteen-Century Illustrated Apocalypses: Context and Readership at the GRI Lecture Hall, Getty Center, on Wednesday January 18, at 3 pm.

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