Published: September 28, 2004
Illuminated manuscripts are a part of The Cleveland Museum of Art’s (CMA) permanent collection and are the focus of a new installation in gallery 216, on view October 10, 2004, to October 2, 2005.
The gallery displays approximately 80 examples of Books of Hours, psalters, missals, breviaries, antiphonals and other manuscripts. The museum’s collection of illuminations beautifully illustrates the history of medieval and Renaissance Europe through one the most intimate art forms – the precursor of the modern book.
Admission to the museum and this installation is free.
“Illuminated manuscripts were the principle vehicle for pictorial expression throughout the Middle Ages and early Renaissance,” proclaimed Stephen N. Fliegel, CMA curator of medieval art. The production of illuminated manuscripts was practiced in every European country in the Middle Ages. Scripture, liturgy, history, literature, law, philosophy and science found its way into these breathtaking masterpieces. It is important to note the prominence of illuminated manuscripts in all aspects of written and visual culture of this time. CMA’s installation illustrates a wide arrangement of books from 1000 AD through early 1600s.
“The Cleveland Museum of Art is fortunate in possessing one of the largest collections of illuminated leaves in the United States,” added Fliegel.
The installation displays several examples of large decorated initials for which Italian illuminators were particularly noted. The Italian leaves are representative of the many regions in Italy including Lombardy, the Veneto, Tuscany and South Italy. Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci’s (Florence, 1339-1399) elegant designs represent the time and detail invested in the production of music manuscripts, often made in six to 12 volumes to cover the entire liturgical year. Initial G[audeamus omnes] from a Gradual: The Court of Heaven (1370-77) is considered to be this artist’s greatest masterpiece. A highly burnished surface of the initial G enthroning Christ’s head establishes the divinity that devotional manuscripts possessed.
An earlier French manuscript, Two Miniatures from a Manuscript of the Apocalypse: The Woman upon the Scarlet Beast and The War in Heaven (about 1295) from the Lorraine region exhibits the great power of illuminations. The last book of the New Testament, St John the Evangelist’s Apocalypse, was the inspiration for this work. Manuscripts found in many areas of Northern Europe utilized St John’s text, which may have reflected the society’s fear that the world was coming to an end. Additional illuminated manuscripts exhibited in the CMA’s collection will continue to articulate the Medieval and early Renaissance traditions in art.
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