CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Art and science: Joris Hoefnagel and the representation of nature in the Renaissance

Exhibition: 12 October 1999 - 16 January 2000

Museum press release, 7 September 1999, taken from the museum website, 8 February 2009

Exhibition Exploring Representations of Nature on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum

September 7, 1999

LOS ANGELES-From October 12, 1999 to January 16, 2000, the J. Paul Getty Museum will celebrate the naturalistic imagery of Joris Hoefnagel (1542-1601), the last great Flemish manuscript illuminator, in the exhibition Art and Science: Joris Hoefnagel and the Representation of Nature in the Renaissance. In this exhibition, Hoefnagel’s vibrant masterpiece, Mira calligraphiae monumenta, will be placed in its cultural and artistic milieu by showing it with drawings, paintings, printed books, and other illuminated manuscripts focusing on the representation of nature.

Like the natural scientists of his era, Hoefnagel cast a penetrating eye upon nature, exploring details never before recorded. At the same time, he depicted nature from an aesthetic point of view, taking delight in the coloristic intensity of flowers and creating innovative formal relationships among natural specimens. Hoefnagel’s depictions of flora and fauna provide an important link between the tradition of naturalistic borders in illuminated manuscripts and the emerging genre of still-life painting, as well as natural history illustration.

The 30 objects in the exhibition, which date from the 1400s to the 1600s, are drawn from the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities. Mira calligraphiae monumenta, one of the Museum’s greatest treasures, is a virtuoso model book of calligraphy written in 1561-62 by Georg Bocskay for the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I. Three decades later, at the request of Ferdinand’s grandson, Emperor Rudolf II, Hoefnagel illuminated the pages with colorful and witty representations of flowers, fruits, insects, and small animals.

Other works featured in the exhibition include the Spinola Hours of about 1515, whose illuminated borders composed of flowers and insects are a classic expression of the Flemish strewn-pattern border. The exhibition also includes Martin Schongauer’s watercolor and gouache Study of Peonies (1472-73), the earliest surviving nature study from Northern Europe, and Jan Breughel’s painting The Entry of the Animals into Noah’s Ark of 1613, in which Brueghel represented diverse flora and fauna. Among the early printed natural history treatises included in the exhibition is an album of engravings inspired by Hoefnagel’s designs, showing insects and plants, that served as artists’ models.

This exhibition coincides with Adriaen de Vries, Imperial Sculptor, on view in the Museum’s Exhibitions Pavilion from October 12, 1999 to January 9, 2000. Hoefnagel and de Vries both enjoyed the patronage of Emperor Rudolf II, one of the greatest art collectors in the history of Europe.