Master of the Murano Gradual (Italian, active 15th century), Initial D: Saint Lawrence, miniature from a choir book (gradual) (Venice), 1440/1450, Tempera and gold leaf on vellum, overall: 14.9 x 12.5 cm, Rosenwald Collection, 1948.
Master of the Codex Rossiano, Initial V: TheDeath of Saint Benedict, miniature froma choir book (antiphonal) (Siena?), c. 1380-1400, Tempera and gold leaf on vellum, overall: 29.3 x 23.9 cm, Rosenwald Collection, 1946.
Giulio Clovio (Croatia, 1498-1578), The Lamentation, (Separate miniature, not from a book)(Rome), c. 1550, Gouache and gold leaf on vellum, overall: 21.6 x 14.5 cm, Patrons' Permanent Fund, 2006.
4th and Constitution Avenue NW
Heaven on Earth: Manuscript Illuminations from the National
Gallery of Art
March 1-August 2, 2009
Rare medieval manuscript illuminations, last exhibited in 1975, will be showcased in a stunning installation, Heaven on Earth: Manuscript Illuminations from the National Gallery of Art. Fifty-two single leaves and four bound volumes, among them a number of important recent acquisitions, date from the 12th to the 16th century and were made in France, Germany, Austria, Bohemia, the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy. Comprehensive wall texts will include new scholarly information, uncovered since the last time these works were exhibited.
Heaven on Earth offers the first in-depth look at these rare works of art in Washington since the 1975 exhibition Medieval and Renaissance Miniatures from the National Gallery of Art, the initial showing of the 49 leaves and cuttings from the illuminated manuscripts in the Rosenwald Collection. To accompany the 1975 exhibition, the Gallery published an extensive catalogue (now out of print) that set a new standard for scholarly accomplishment in the study of medieval manuscript illumination. Although the catalogue authors greatly advanced knowledge of the Rosenwald miniatures, now much more is known about the often anonymous artists or the places and dates of the manuscripts' origin.
In the last three decades, interest in illuminated manuscripts has grown, resulting in an abundance of authoritative publications. Manuscript collections in the United States and Europe, previously unknown, inaccessible, or unpublished are now readily available for study in a wide range of fully illustrated books and articles, leading to new attributions. This wealth of new information has enabled the Gallery to reexamine its miniatures in the vastly enriched context of recently discovered and related works of art and to answer many of the questions left unresolved in 1975.
An important recent acquisition, The Three Maries at the Tomb with the Angel of the Resurrection (1274/1280) by The Master of Imola, also Sienese, was instrumental in leading Tuttle to the conclusion that another work in the Gallery’s collection, The Nativity with Six Dominican Monks (1265/1274) was by the same artist. The Gallery’s scientific laboratories cooperated closely with Tuttle in analyzing these works.
Prior to the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, texts were laboriously inscribed by hand on carefully prepared parchment made from the skin of sheep or calves. Artists adorned the most luxurious books with painted decorations, known as "illuminations" because the frequent use of gold leaf made the pages glow. GIven the time, effort, and materials required for their production, illuminated manuscripts were extremely precious works of art treasured by their owners.
The majority of the works in the exhibition depict a range of sacred subjects, as the books most commonly illuminated throughout the Middle Ages were bibles and liturgical texts used in church services and in the daily cycle of prayers offered by communities of monks and nuns. In the late Middle Ages the most popular illuminated books were private devotional texts, called books of hours, prepared for well-to-do patrons. Secular texts were also illustrated and are represented in the exhibition by manuscripts treating canon law, ancient history, and civic statutes, as seen in the exhibition in The Meeting of Achilles and Hector, from Histoire Ancienne Jusqu' à César (c. 1450).
Most of the miniatures in this exhibition are single leaves or cuttings that have been removed from manuscripts. In the 19th century collectors often cut illustrated pages or illuminated initials out of manuscripts to frame them as independent works of art. That practice is now condemned. Once outside the protection of their books, illuminations are increasingly subject to damage and loss, and their original contexts become difficult to trace.
The exhibition curator is Virginia Grace Tuttle, associate curator of old master prints, National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Master of Imola, The Nativity with Six Dominican Monks, leaf from a choir book (gradual) (Bologna), c. 1275, Tempera and gold leaf on vellum, overall: 46.8 x 36 cm, Rosenwald Collection, 1946.
Workshop of Pacino di Bonaguida (Italian, active 1302-c. 1340), Christ in Majesty with Twelve Apostles, miniature from the Laudario of the Compagnia di Sant'Agnese (Florence), c. 1340, Tempera and gold leaf on vellum, overall: 27.7 x 20.6 cm, Rosenwald Collection, 1952.