The Wondrous Cosmos in Medieval Manuscripts at The Getty

The Annunciation to the Shepherds; Georges Trubert (French, active Provence, France 1469 - 1508); Provence, France; about 1480–1490; Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold and silver paint, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 11.4 × 8.6 cm (4 1/2 × 3 3/8 in.); 93.ML.6.54v courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles
The Annunciation to the Shepherds; Georges Trubert (French, active Provence, France 1469 - 1508); Provence, France; about 1480–1490; Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold and silver paint, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 11.4 × 8.6 cm (4 1/2 × 3 3/8 in.); 93.ML.6.54v courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles
Astronomical Table with Vovelle; Unknown; Worcester, England; late 14th century, shortly after 1386; Pen and black ink and tempera on parchment bound between pasteboard covered with black morocco; Leaf: 21.3 × 15.2 cm (8 3/8 × 6 in.); 83.MO.136.51

Astronomical Table with Vovelle; Detail – Unknown; Worcester, England; late 14th century, shortly after 1386; Pen and black ink and tempera on parchment bound between pasteboard covered with black morocco; Leaf: 21.3 × 15.2 cm (8 3/8 × 6 in.); 83.MO.136.51, courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Astronomical Table with Vovelle; Unknown; Worcester, England; late 14th century, shortly after 1386; Pen and black ink and tempera on parchment bound between pasteboard covered with black morocco; Leaf: 21.3 × 15.2 cm (8 3/8 × 6 in.); 83.MO.136.51

Astronomical Table with Vovelle; Unknown; Worcester, England; late 14th century, shortly after 1386; Pen and black ink and tempera on parchment bound between pasteboard covered with black morocco; Leaf: 21.3 × 15.2 cm (8 3/8 × 6 in.); 83.MO.136.51, courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

In ancient times the cosmos was conceived as a tightly structured, hierarchical system centred on the earth and human race.

Since then our fascination with the heavens has driven man forward to make outstanding discoveries and to land a man on the moon.

The Wondrous Cosmos in Medieval Manuscripts is a new exhibition on view April 30 – July 28, 2019, at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. 

Curated by Bryan C. Keene, this exhibition invites visitors to explore the complexity of the celestial realm through the art of illuminated manuscripts and printed books.

The exhibition demonstrates the close relationship between astronomy, the study of the physics of cosmic phenomena, and of astrology, which seeks to correlate these celestial events with happenings on earth,” Bryan Keene said, before continuing…

… “although today we might now separate faith from science, or the sciences from the humanities and art; these categories were more closely aligned in the Middle Ages, as seen on the pages of illuminated manuscripts” he said.

The Celestial Virgin and Child; Spitz Master (French, active about 1415 - 1425); Paris, France; about 1420; Tempera colors, gold, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 20.2 × 14.9 cm (7 15/16 × 5 7/8 in.); 94.ML.26.176v courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

The Celestial Virgin and Child; Spitz Master (French, active about 1415 – 1425); Paris, France; about 1420; Tempera colors, gold, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 20.2 × 14.9 cm (7 15/16 × 5 7/8 in.); 94.ML.26.176v courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

In medieval European faith and science traditions at every level, there was a moral lesson and a satisfying metaphor for the grandness of nature, ultimately the force in final control.

The Celestial Virgin and Child; Spitz Master (French, active about 1415 - 1425); Paris, France; about 1420; Tempera colors, gold, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 20.2 × 14.9 cm (7 15/16 × 5 7/8 in.); 94.ML.26.176v courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

The Celestial Virgin and Child; Spitz Master (French, active about 1415 – 1425); Paris, France; about 1420; Tempera colors, gold, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 20.2 × 14.9 cm (7 15/16 × 5 7/8 in.); 94.ML.26.176v courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

It was Roman scholar, philosopher and statesman Aniciius Manlius Severinus Boethius (AD 470 or 275 – 524) who transferred ancient ideas to medieval scholars in Europe. By that time the medieval mind concerned itself with matters of the soul, harmony and music as major aspects of the cosmos. Scientists, theologians and artists were all intrigued and inspired by the notion of shining stars and orbiting planets as well as a belief in angels, demons, and spirits, which meant they emerged as key figures on the pages of illuminated manuscripts.

In writing about the celestial realm of heaven, theologians brought about a dialogue discussing the nature of angels, saints, and ultimately God.

Peoples of various religions believed the radiant sun, the full moon, the twinkling stars, and distant planets held great power over their lives.

The Annunciation to the Shepherds; Georges Trubert (French, active Provence, France 1469 - 1508); Provence, France; about 1480–1490; Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold and silver paint, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 11.4 × 8.6 cm (4 1/2 × 3 3/8 in.); 93.ML.6.54v courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

The Annunciation to the Shepherds; Georges Trubert (French, active Provence, France 1469 – 1508); Provence, France; about 1480–1490; Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold and silver paint, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 11.4 × 8.6 cm (4 1/2 × 3 3/8 in.); 93.ML.6.54v courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

The Annunciation to the Shepherds; Georges Trubert (French, active Provence, France 1469 - 1508); Provence, France; about 1480–1490; Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold and silver paint, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 11.4 × 8.6 cm (4 1/2 × 3 3/8 in.); 93.ML.6.54v courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Centre, Los Angeles

The Annunciation to the Shepherds; Georges Trubert (French, active Provence, France 1469 – 1508); Provence, France; about 1480–1490; Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold and silver paint, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 11.4 × 8.6 cm (4 1/2 × 3 3/8 in.); 93.ML.6.54v courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Centre, Los Angeles

Then there were the four seasons, the senses, the spirits, demonic forces and deceased souls, all of whom it was believed, would be able to traverse the veil between heaven and earth.

Order was found in the composition of the four elements, earth, air, fire and water all of which controlled the visible world of nature.

During the eleventh century books about the practice of medicine by important Muslim physicians like Ibn Sina (980-1037 CE) and al-Razi (864-930 CE) were translated into Latin and brought into European universities established by the Christian church.

They included an understanding of hygiene and importance of cleanliness, which meant separate wards for different diseases.

Hospitals in Spain set up by Andalusian physicians included gardens full of herbs and running water as part of natural therapies.  Doctors had a concern and care for their patients, treating them with great kindness and dignity.

The Fall of the Rebel Angels; Unknown; Avignon (probably), France; about 1430; Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold paint, and pen and ink on parchment; Leaf: 24.8 × 17.9 cm (9 3/4 × 7 1/16 in.); 83.MQ.170.3v courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

The Fall of the Rebel Angels; Unknown; Avignon (probably), France; about 1430; Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold paint, and pen and ink on parchment; Leaf: 24.8 × 17.9 cm (9 3/4 × 7 1/16 in.); 83.MQ.170.3v courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Out of the carnage and chaos of the Crusades to the Holy Land all was not loss and destruction. Crusaders brought back to Europe and England positive influences, including enlightened thought in theology and spirituality.

There was a great deal of influence on and the illumination of manuscripts and they became a graphic expression of the priceless jewel contained in the Scripture of God’s revelation to man. They ensured it was considered highly appropriate to embellish books containing his words, with gems, gold and precious substances.

This also allowed for an additional, worthy thought, that of aesthetic pleasure.

Comets; Unknown; Ulm, Germany; shortly after 1464; Watercolor and ink on paper bound between original wood boards covered with original pigskin; Leaf: 30.6 × 22.1 cm (12 1/16 × 8 11/16 in.); 83.MO.137.63 courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Comets; Unknown; Ulm, Germany; shortly after 1464; Watercolor and ink on paper bound between original wood boards covered with original pigskin; Leaf: 30.6 × 22.1 cm (12 1/16 × 8 11/16 in.); 83.MO.137.63 courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

During the twelfth century advances in philosophy and science imposed themselves, and the nature of the individual was held up to scrutiny. This period known as the “Twelfth Century Awakening” refers to an outpouring of extraordinary intellectual inquiry and discovery, which happened through the powerful Islamic influence on thought.

The advent of the belief in one God had changed a great deal and he came along with the idea he was architect of the Universe and therefore, ruled nature.

Muslim polymath and creative genius Ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari whose inventions range from clocks and water wheels to automata (robots) was a celebrated mystic-philosopher. He gave expression to Islamic thought when studying traditional Islamic sciences at Sevilla.

His historical meeting with the Aristotelian philosopher Ibn Rushd in the city of Cordoba, reverberated with symbolism. An early Islamic astrolabe was a complex navigational instrument, which determined the direction of Mecca, and hence the direction of prayer.

The Fall of the Rebel Angels; Unknown; Avignon (probably), France; about 1430; Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold paint, and pen and ink on parchment; Leaf: 24.8 × 17.9 cm (9 3/4 × 7 1/16 in.); 83.MQ.170.3v courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

The Fall of the Rebel Angels; Unknown; Avignon (probably), France; about 1430; Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold paint, and pen and ink on parchment; Leaf: 24.8 × 17.9 cm (9 3/4 × 7 1/16 in.); 83.MQ.170.3v courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

This outstanding exhibition is only one of many at the Getty Center in the city of Angels, and I must say I would love to visit there one day in the not too distant future. Their resources are simply amazing.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2019

The Wondrous Cosmos in Medieval Manuscripts

April 30 – July 28, 2019

J. Paul Getty Museum
Getty Center, Los Angeles.

Related programming will include:

– Drinking in the Past: Wine and Astrology from the Middle Ages to Today, a lecture and tasting program with curator Bryan C. Keene and certified sommelier Mark Keene that explores the relationship between the history of wine and astrology, on Saturday, June 1 and Sunday, June 2 (tickets $65 including appetizers and wine tasting).

– Creation and Cosmos in the Twelfth Century: Hildegard’s Cosmic Egg, on Sunday, June 23. Join Margot Fassler, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, on a journey through the stages of creation according to the Book of Genesis and a 12th-century, egg-shaped model of the universe as envisioned by the German nun, visionary, and scientist Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179).

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