Friday, March 1, 2013

The beauty of illuminated letters

One of my favorite trips is to visit the Getty museums, either the Getty Center or the Getty Villa. A few years ago, I was allowed to take pictures of the illuminated manuscripts they had on exhibition, and currently, they have another one.
From the newsletter, I´m sharing the explanation about two letters and the repurposing of one of them:

Initial I: A Martyr Saint, cutting from an antiphonal, Lippo Vanni, about 1350-75

For hundreds of years, medieval manuscripts have been bought and sold, gifted and stolen, preserved and rearranged, loved and forgotten, hidden and displayed. They were cut into pieces, hung on walls, and glued into albums. They have survived wars, fires, floods, religious conflict, political tumult, the invention of printing, and changes in taste.

At times valued for their beauty, for their spiritual significance, or simply for the strength of their parchment pages, the books, leaves, and cuttings in this exhibition have been transformed again and again to suit the changing expectations of their various audiences and owners. By revealing the ways in which manuscripts have been repurposed both conceptually and physically, this exhibition explores their long and eventful history since the Middle Ages.

In this image, a male figure forms the letter I. His exact identity is unknown, but the presence of multiple instruments of torture identify him as a martyr. Notice the two large stones on his head, a sword through his neck, and a grill and fire at his feet. It was a common practice in the 19th century for collectors to trim away all traces of surrounding text in illuminated manuscripts, as here. Collectors mounted such cuttings into albums, allowing the viewer to concentrate solely on the imagery. - 
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The Ascension of Christ, Lorenzo Monaco, designer; completed by Zanobi di Benedetto Strozzi, illuminator; and Battista di Biagio Sanguini, illuminator, Italian, Florence, designed about 1410; completed about 1431

As centuries passed, medieval manuscripts were sometimes refashioned to serve a different purpose. Cut from books whose liturgical or devotional use might have become outmoded, pictures were presented in a new format to fulfill a more current function. In the 19th century, collectors hung illuminated initials on the walls. These were no longer presented as letter forms beginning a word, but were instead valued for their aesthetic qualities.

At the center of this initial V, the apostles watch in wonder as Christ rises to heaven after his resurrection. The image was removed from a large choir book made for the Florentine monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli, where the leaf's designer, Lorenzo Monaco, was also a monk. - 
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