Getty Museum acquires 13th century Bible

The J. Paul Getty Museum has acquired the Abbey Bible, a 13th-century Italian book that is considered to be an important example of Gothic era illuminated manuscripts. The medieval Bible is named for a previous owner, who was a celebrated collector of Italian manuscripts.

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 centers 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.


“It is extremely rare for a complete Italian volume of this splendid quality to come onto the market. The Abbey Bible is set apart by its unusually lavish illumination that spills into the margins, often activating the entire page with whimsical figures, Biblical narratives, and images of Dominicans and Franciscans in prayer,” said Thomas Kren, acting associate director for collections at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

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.


“There is a restrained elegance and emotional tension within the enclosed initials that works together with the physical exuberance in the margins,” adds Elizabeth Morrison, acting senior curator of manuscripts. “There’s a vitality in these finely painted tiny figures that gloriously flow across the page but are also exceptionally refined.”

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 appear prominently in its imagery.

The Bible adds to the growing strength of the Getty Museum’s Italian manuscript holdings, which include important illuminated works by Niccolò da Bologna, Taddeo Crivelli, and Giovanni di Paolo. It also complements the Museum’s Italian paintings collection, specifically Madonna and Child by the Master of Saint Cecilia, ca. 1290-95 and splendid works by fourteenth-century masters including Bernardo Daddi, Simone Martini, and Pacino di Bonaguida.

The Bible will go on view on December 13, 2011, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, as part of the exhibition Gothic Grandeur: Manuscript Illumination, 1200-1350.


See also “In the Beginning Was the Word”: Medieval Gospel Illumination exhibition at The Getty

Source: Getty Museum