Getty Museum hosts exhibition: Imagining the Past in France, 1250—1500

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 A major exhibit featuring over 70 objects celebrating medieval manuscript images will begin tomorrow at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Imagining the Past in France, 1250—1500 will be running from November 16th to February 6th, and will display images from the Middle Ages depicting epic figures such as Hector of Troy, Alexander the Great, and Charlemagne.

Imagining the Past in France is the first major exhibition devoted to the theme of history in manuscripts, focusing on the use of images to enhance and influence the reader’s experience of the text. This monumental exhibition brings together more than 70 objects from the collections of over 25 museums and libraries across Europe and the United States.

“As always with an exhibition of this magnitude, we are greatly indebted to the lenders, in the United States and abroad, who are graciously sharing many of their most treasured history manuscripts, several of which have never before been lent outside of their home countries,” explained Thomas Kren, acting associate director of collections and senior curator of manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “We’re particularly delighted that, through this exhibition, one set of manuscripts will be reunited for the first time since they were separated over 500 years ago.”

Dr. Elizabeth Morrison, curator of manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the exhibition’s curator added, “Imagining the Past will bring together many of the most important history manuscripts in the world by the greatest French illuminators of the Middle Ages, including an extraordinary 13th-century copy of the legend of the Holy Grail—over a foot and a half in height; the Great Chronicles of France made for King Charles V in the 14th-century; and a priceless manuscript of Boccaccio’s Concerning the Fates of Illustrious Men and Women, painted by the greatest illuminator of the mid-15th-century, Jean Fouquet.”

The exhibition will also feature select works of ivory, tapestry, and metalwork that demonstrate how stories from these rare history manuscripts leapt into other artistic forms. Highlights will include a lavish 13th-century book of Arthurian Romances (Morgan Library, New York), a lavish 14th-century copy of the Mirror of History featuring over 700 illuminations (Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, and Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal), and a spectacular 15 th-century manuscript of Boccaccio’s Concerning the Fates of Illustrious Men and Women (Geneva, Bibliothèque de Genève).

The manuscripts and other objects featured in Imagining the Past in France represent an unprecedented gathering of some of the finest historical works produced in medieval France. Immensely successful at the French court and created by the most prominent artists of the day, these pieces served as both sources of adventurous excitement and disseminators of propaganda. In appealing to the authority of the past, they inherently reflected the values and belief systems of the French nation in a way that supported and validated its very existence.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the J. Paul Getty Museum will be hosting the symposium, “The Future of the Past: History in the Medieval Francophone West,” on February 3 – 5, 2011. During the three-day symposium, 17 distinguished speakers will present papers on Latin chronicles and vernacular histories from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, and on the illuminations that grace their pages. They will explore a wide range of topics, from the politics of iconography to the politics of patronage, from the idea of family genealogy to the creation of regional identities, from multilingualism to nationalism.

Symposium speakers and contributors comprise many of the top medieval manuscript and history experts from around the world. Presenters on February 4 at the Getty Center will include: Alison Stones, Professor of Art History, University of Pittsburgh; Elizabeth A. R. Brown, Professor of History, Brooklyn College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York; Charlotte Lacaze, former Schiff-Dupee Associate Professor of Art History and Co-Chair, Department of Art History and Fine Arts at the American University of Paris; Nancy Freeman Regalado, Professor of French and Director, Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program, New York University; Maud Pérez-Simon, PhD, Université Paris III-Sorbonne Nouvelle; Thierry Delcourt, Conservateur général, Départment des manuscrits, Bibliothèque nationale de France; and Marie-Thérèse Gousset, Conservateur, Départment des manuscrits, Bibliothèque nationale de France. For more information about the “Future of the Past” sessions at UCLA, please contact the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, (310) 825-1880 or email cmrs@humnet.ucla.edu

Other events being held during the exhibition include a pair of lectures. On Thursday, November 18th, Anne Hedeman, professor of art history and medieval studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign speaks on “How the French Made History: Manuscripts and Images of the Past in Medieval France,” where she examines how images in French manuscripts made history come alive for their medieval readers. Hedeman explores how artists in the Middle Ages envisioned the past to reveal how pictures could shape understandings of history. On Sunday, January 9, “Imagining the Past in Medieval Manuscripts and Modern Cinema” will feature Elizabeth Morrison and Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan discussing how medieval manuscripts and contemporary movies create visual propaganda in their depictions of history.  The museum will also host demonstrations, curatorial talks and studio courses.

The J. Paul Getty Museum is also publishing a book for this exhibition: Imagining the Past in France: History in Manuscript Painting, 1250–1500 (Getty Publications, $80.00 hardcover, $49.95 paperback) celebrates the vivid historical imagery produced during these years by bringing together some of the finest masterpieces of illumination created in the Middle Ages. It is the first major publication to focus on exploring the ways in which text and illumination worked together to help show medieval readers the role and purpose of history.

Imagining the Past in France presents approximately fifty-five manuscripts from over twenty-five libraries and museums across the United States and Europe, supplemented by medieval objects ranging from tapestries to ivory boxes. Together they show how historical narratives came to play a decisive role at the French court and in the process inspired some of the most original and splendid artworks of the time. Additional contributors to this volume include Élisabeth Antoine, R. Howard Bloch, Keith Busby, Joyce Coleman, Erin K. Donovan, and Gabrielle M. Spiegel.

For more details about the Exhibition, please visit the J. Paul Getty Museum website

Source and Images: J. Paul Getty Museum

Sharan Newman