Saturday, September 9, 2017

Women of Medieval Art at the Getty

A most interesting exhibition is closing soon at the Getty Center in Los Angeles on September 17th.
Titled "Illuminating Women in the Medieval World," makes use of the Getty's expansive collection of illuminated manuscripts and Medieval texts to explore the lives of women long ago. As in today's world, women's lives in the Middle Ages were varied -- reflecting difference in religious, geographic, and financial circumstances.
Saint Anne Teaching the Virgin to Read from a book of hours, about 1430-40, France or England, Master of Sir John Fastolf. Image: The J. Paul Getty Museum

As an art appraiser and art historian I have a particular interest in women in the art world, particularly in California art. This is an interesting and very old account of such an important role women played in the formation of art and storytelling. As the exhibition catalog describes, "this exhibition presents the biblical heroines, female saints, and pious nuns who embodied ideals of proper behavior, as well as figures who strayed from the path of righteousness."*

What is perhaps even more fascinating are the the manuscripts made by women. Some important texts were commissioned by wealthy women patrons and others were painted (illuminated) by women themselves. There was duchess as well as a middle-class woman who commissioned some of the manuscripts. An entire group of nuns at a Medieval monastery commissioned a series of manuscripts for their personal use.

Imagining how difficult it would have been for females to make their way in a the Medieval world is fascinating, much less working in a field dominated by men. This revolutionary exhibition helps us better understand how women working in the shadows achieved remarkable beauty and contributed the history of book production.

*Sciacca, Christina. Illuminating Women in the Medieval World. The J. Paul Getty Museum. 2017.

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