Sunday, August 30, 2009

Illuminated Manuscripts & History of Publishing.

Hi Peers: Here Comes The History of Publishing!

On 8/2/09, Program Director Arnie Grossblatt, Ph.D., prompted me and others to visit the National Gallery of Art for a close-up look at the history of publishing prior to the invention of printing and dated 12th-16th century France, Germany, Australia, Bohemia, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy. It was titled: "Heavens on Earth: Illuminations from the National Gallery of Art" It ended on that day unfortunately but, for more information, visit

Majority of the samples depict sacred because the books most commonly valued and illuminated at that time were the bibles and lithurgical texts, and used in church services and in daily cycle of prayers offered by communities of monks and nuns. The exhibits featured sacred titles such as: "Adoration of the Magi; The Cruxificion; The Nativity; Madonna & Child; The Annunciation; Christ in Majesty With 12 Apostles; Christ & The Virgin Enthroned; Receiving The Stigmata; Coronation of The Virgin; The Flagellation; The Resurrection", etc. In all, there were probably about 30 pieces although I forgot to count the exact number.

All 51 miniatures and four other volumes on display are from the NGA collection, given by a Lessing J. Rosenwald, between 1946 and 1964, with new and current donors, of course. The pieces are artistically rendered on gold-paper, tempera/egg-yolk-based colors, and combined with text, mostly on single page each and some on two pages, displayed side-by-side.

The exhibits informed us that, in the Middle Ages, many of the largest choir books were meant to be legible (sic) by all members of the choir, and that the most popular illuminated books were private devotional texts called "books of hours", prepared for well-to-do patrons. Secular texts were also illustrated and represented by manuscripts treating Canon-Law, Ancient History, and Civic Statutes.

Attendees such as I gathered that most single-page pieces were cut-out portions of 19th Century private book collections and were later framed as independent works of art, after editing out the initials of the original painter/producer. Accordingly, this practice is now condemned but to date, makes tracing the original context of some of the pieces difficult. It was a notable exhibition in that it indeed provide me with a closer look at the history of publishing.

By: Isiaka Almaroof, LGSW.
Cohort 5.

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