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New Acquisition Featured in Exhibition on the Psalms

December 21, 1999

Exhibition Dates: February 1 to April 23, 2000
Exhibition Location: North Pavilion

LOS ANGELES--The Psalms and Their Illustration, on view at the Getty Museum from February 1 to April 23, 2000, celebrates the importance of the psalms in medieval thought and reveals the splendor and variety of the illumination developed to accompany them. The exhibition features 20 illustrated books, leaves, and cuttings dating from the 12th to the 15th century, drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection. The highlight is the Museum’s recently acquired deluxe French Gothic psalter, illuminated by one of the most innovative artists of the Middle Ages.

Originally composed in Hebrew over the course of centuries and assembled for use in Jewish public worship, the 150 psalms of the Bible played a central role in Christian religious life throughout the Middle Ages. The elusive poetry of the psalms attracted both written interpretation and painted decoration. Medieval artists illustrated the psalms in a variety of ways, at times concentrating on the literal meaning of single verses and at times addressing broader themes, such as the role of the psalms in preparing the Christian faithful for the Last Judgment. Since King David was believed in the Middle Ages to have been the author of the psalms, he is often the protagonist of the illustrations.

The Museum’s recently acquired psalter is a private prayer book with the Book of Psalms as its central text. It was illuminated by an anonymous painter who also illuminated a psalter for Queen Ingeborg of France. The master’s image of King David playing the bells within a large initial C heralds the new naturalism of the Gothic style that would be developed in subsequent decades. The figure of David is shown throwing back his head as he turns his attention to the row of bells above him. The subject was inspired by the abundant references to musical instruments in the psalms.

The exhibition also features a French-language Bible, pages from a large-format prayer book designed for viewing by a group of monks in communal worship, and a number of private devotional books. The manuscripts come from throughout Western Europe, including France, Flanders, England, Germany, and Italy. The exhibition includes works by the highly regarded Bruges illuminator Willem Vrelant and the Italian Renaissance artist Giovanni di Paolo.

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