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Getty Exhibition Highlights Manuscripts from One of the Greatest Epochs of Central European Art
Court workshop of Duke Ludwig I of Liegnitz and Brieg (Polish, 1634-1398), Saint Hedwig of Silesia with Duke Ludwig of Liegnitz and Brieg and Duchess Agnes, 1353. Tempera colors, colored washes, and ink on parchment. Leaf: 34.1 X 24.8 cm. 83.MN.126.12v The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. Ludwig XI 7, fol. 12v.
LOS ANGELES, CA.- Manuscript illumination flourished during the Middle Ages as one of the great artistic traditions of German and Central European art. On view at the J. Paul Getty Museum, February 24 through May 24, 2009, German and Central European Manuscript Illumination features manuscripts and leaves from the Museum’s collection and highlights masterworks from the Carolingian, Ottonian, Romanesque, and Gothic eras of the Middle Ages.

"This exhibition illustrates the startling artistic achievements of one of the greatest epochs of German and Central European art," explains Thomas Kren, senior curator of manuscripts. "From the Carolingian book production workshops in ninth-century monasteries to Renaissance illuminators' ateliers in sixteenth-century towns, manuscript illumination remained a fresh and vital art form, continuously renewing itself in different locations in the German-speaking regions of central Europe."

Manuscripts began with the flowering of book production under the Frankish king Charlemagne during his rule from 768 to 814. He introduced an ongoing scholarly program of reform in culture and learning which enabled scriptoria (book production centers) to flourish during the Carolingian era. Ottonian emperors (ruled 919–1024) also were great patrons of manuscript illumination and the monastic centers that produced them. This later period saw an ever-increasing demand for lavishly illuminated books for the ruling class and high-ranking ecclesiastics. The Mainz sacramentary (image shown on the left), an Ottonian manuscript displayed in this exhibition, has key portions of the text written in gold against a background of rich burgundy to emphasize its sacred character.

Romanesque illumination flourished in Germany in the late 1000s and 1100s. New artistic centers emerged, producing manuscripts typically decorated with geometric forms arranged in bright, intricate patterns. Displayed in this exhibition is the Stammheim Missal (image shown on the right), a masterpiece of German Romanesque art that epitomizes this style in the vibrant color and intricate geometric patterns of its miniatures.

In the 1200s, the Romanesque aesthetic gave way to the Gothic style, characterized by figure types and settings grounded in the observation of human form, volume, and movement. By the 1300s, secular artists and artisans started to produce books for the church and lay people.

This exhibition also demonstrates how––even after the invention of the printed book in the fifteenth century––manuscript illumination continued to flourish. The inclusion of an illuminated printed book and select paintings in this exhibition underscores the relationship between manuscript illumination and a rapidly changing artistic and intellectual culture at the end of the period.

German and Central European Manuscript Illumination is curated by Thomas Kren, senior curator of manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

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