Rare Abbey Bible to go on exhibit at Getty Museum

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The Abbey Bible, one of the earliest and finest in a distinguished group of north Italian Bibles from the second half of the 13th and early 14th centuries, will go on display Dec. 13 at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

The museum acquired the rare Gothic-era Bible in September. Named after a previous owner, a celebrated collector of Italian manuscripts, the Bible is said to exemplifies the highest achievements of its era.

"It is extremely rare for a complete Italian volume of this splendid quality to come onto the market," Thomas Kren, acting associate director for collections at the J. Paul Getty Museum, said in a news release. "The Abbey Bible is set apart by its unusually lavish illumination that spills into the margins, often activating the entire page with whimsical figures, biblical narratives, and images of Dominicans and Franciscans in prayer."

Produced for the use of a Dominican monastery, its illumination is said to be a superb example of the Byzantine style of the eastern Mediterranean that played such a dominant role in Italian painting and manuscript illumination in the second half of the 13th century.

A distinguishing feature of the Abbey Bible is its marginal vignettes, which museum curators said are remarkable for their liveliness and delicacy. Sensitively depicted facial expressions, rare among 13th-century Bibles, reveal the artist to be a skilled storyteller, and the pages brim with incident and event.

"There is a restrained elegance and emotional tension within the enclosed initials that works together with the physical exuberance in the margins," said Elizabeth Morrison, acting senior curator of manuscripts. "There's a vitality in these finely painted tiny figures that gloriously flow across the page but are also exceptionally refined."

Although filled with drolleries or grotesques—the decorative thumbnail images in the margins of illuminated manuscripts from that era—and dynamic pen flourishes, the Bible was intended for serious use and study, as evidenced by the many edits, corrections, and amendments to the text, which officials said suggest a university origin for the manuscript.

The Abbey Bible will be featured in the Getty Center through May 13 as part of the "Gothic Grandeur: Manuscript Illumination, 1200–1350" exhibit.

In addition to its spectacular architectural influences, the gothic era also produced the elaborate illuminated manuscripts representative of the Abbey Bible. In addition to the scriptural text, the exhibit will draw from other pieces in the Getty Museum's collections that are characterized by whimsical marginal decorations, vivid narratives and a naturalistic style of painting.

The period also saw an explosion in the variety of illustrated books being produced, ranging from scholastic university treatises to entertaining romances. On Feb. 27, the pages of the manuscripts will be turned to allow visitors to see additional treasures.

The Getty Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and Sunday, and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. It is closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission to the Getty Center is free, but parking is $15 per car, except after 5 p.m. Saturdays when it is free.

Reservations are not required for parking or general admission.

For more information, call (310) 440-7300.


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