CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Beeldschone boeken: de Middeleeuwen in goud en inkt

Masterly manuscripts: the Middle Ages in gold and ink Exhibition: 16 May - 23 August 2009

Information from the museum, 5 February 2009

Beautiful minuscule details, glittering gold leaf and a glorious use of color: these are the characteristic features of medieval manuscripts. The exhibition Masterly Manuscripts at Museum Catharijneconvent Utrecht, on show from 16 May to 23 August 2009, gives a wide wide ranging survey of medieval book production in Utrecht in the Middle Ages, with over 100
manuscripts. Masterly Manuscripts was prepared in close collaboration with University Library Utrecht. For this exhibition, a selection was made from the museum’s own rich collection of manuscripts and the unique collection of devotional books from Utrecht monasteries of University Library Utrecht. In addition, important loans were obtained from home and abroad. Most of the manuscripts in the exhibition date from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
These Masterly Manuscripts are both precious and of outstanding artistic quality, making each one a unique work of art.

Made in Utrecht

In the Middle Ages, the city of Utrecht, as an Episcopal see, was the absolute center of culture, politics and religion in the Northern Netherlands. The precious and richly decorated manuscripts produced in this period are among the pinnacles that stand out in the history of art. The presence of wealthy clerics, powerful noblemen and prosperous burghers combined to make a fertile seedbed for the development of an influential production of art. All the “Masterly Manuscripts” were either made in Utrecht or have a special connection with the city. The makers of Utrecht manuscripts enjoyed great renown, not only in the surrounding region but further afield and even beyond the country’s borders. Through them, Utrecht acquired a prominent international position in the world of manuscript production and early book printing.

From handwritten to printed texts

The exhibition Masterly Manuscripts presents a splendid picture of the manuscripts and early printed books that originated in Utrecht in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance (ca. 695 to 1528) from the vantage point of several different themes. The exhibition looks at those who commissioned the manuscripts as well as the monks and craftsmen who produced
them. The production process also receives attention: how many people collaborated on a particular manuscript, how was vellum made, and where were the materials obtained? It will also become apparent that not every book has survived intact. These old manuscripts have suffered from ravages ranging from water damage, ink corrosion and mould to miniatures cut out to be sold separately and the depredations of mice. In addition, the exhibition demonstrates mutual influences between Utrecht manuscripts and books produced in other parts of Europe, as well as the impact of the introduction of book printing in Utrecht in 1473.


The exhibition Masterly Manuscripts is a joint project of Museum Catharijneconvent and Utrecht University Library, which is celebrating its 425th anniversary this year. The show is also part of the international cultural event Holland Art Cities.


Beeldschone boeken: de Middeleeuwen in goud en inkt
Anne Margreet W. As-Vijvers, Saskia van Bergen, Marta Bigus, Bart Jaski, Micha Leeflang, Hans Mulder, Kathryn M. Rudy
Catalogue of an exhibition held in 2009 in Utrecht (Museum Catharijneconvent)
160 pp., with approx. 150 color illustrations, hardbound
ISBN-13: 978-90-400-8581-9