by Lori Cruz
French manuscripts from as far back as the eighth century are on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu until July 7.
The Getty Museum purchased 144 manuscripts beginning in 1983 and will continue to acquire those of exceptional merit for future display.
“Ten Centuries of French Illumination” contains approximately 50 manuscripts from the Medieval and Renaissance periods.
Most of the manuscripts depict scenes from the Old Testament and from other religious texts and are often tightly associated with the Catholic Church and were often produced in monasteries.
The art of illumination encompasses the hand-painted leafs of pages that accompany the written words.
The manuscripts are all handwritten in calligraphy in Italian Gothic. The first letter of the script is often enlarged, sometimes taking up the entire page, and a picture is illustrated within that letter.
The coloring of the pictures are vibrant and ornate in a myriad of oranges, reds, fuscias, emerald greens and blues. Some of the manuscripts leafs are bordered or decorated in gold, silver and other precious metals.
The manuscripts are written on parchment paper, or vellum, which was prepared from calf, sheep or goat skin.
“The Adoration of the Magi,” circa 1475, by Georges Trubert, is a four-inch illumination depicting the visitation of the three wise men to the stable where Jesus Christ was born.
This tiny piece of art is consistent of fifteenth century manuscript illumination that distinguishes the painted picture from the surface of the page.
Jacques Bailly’s “Pour la cornette de monseigneur le Dauphin” (“For the cornet of the Dauphins”) is a colorful leaf from a manuscript owned by Louis XIV, and is dated 1663.
“Soldier leading a prisoner from a walled city” is an especially interesting illumination that vibrantly depicts a prisoner being led to an unknown place by a large group of soldiers and commoners. The detailed effort, which adds a look of resignation on the prisoner’s face, is haunting. This work lacks attribution and its connotation is unknown because there is no manuscript with which it belongs. This is believed to have been painted in Paris around 1460.
The illuminations show a high level of painstaking details and and a commitment to quality that is easily visible.
The grounds of the Getty (which alone are well worth the drive) are designed as a replica of the architecture and groundskeeping of ancient Rome. The willowy scenery that encompasses the museum seems far removed from the city.
Some qualities of the museum that Getty strove to be reminiscent of Rome are the Doric columns, the marbled floors, and an herb garden that contains over 100 exotic herbs, including over 10 different variations of the herb thyme.
Along with the manuscripts and the gardens, the museum offers the Getty Kouros (which are replicas of Roman statues) and works from Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, Reubens and countless other fine artists.
Admission to the Getty is free, but reservations are required for parking. Reservations can be made by calling (310) 458-2033.