From the museum’s press release, 12 September 2011
For the first time, the Royal Library of Belgium and the Bibliothèque nationale de France are combining their forces for the organisation of an exhibition of international renown by bringing together their masterpieces from the heydays of Flemish miniature art. The double exhibition, presenting different manuscripts at both locations, will start in Brussels (from September to December 2011) and will continue in Paris (from March to July 2012). In all, more than 140 illuminated manuscripts chosen from the most prestigious treasures will be shown to the public: some have not been exhibited for 50 years, whereas others will be shown for the first time ever. Precious miniatures from the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France will be presented in Brussels and vice versa.
The Temptation of Eve
The image of Eve in the Garden of Eden, inspired by a chapter in Genesis, will be the emblem of the exhibition. This figure of timeless beauty showing the ‘first woman’ in her nakedness at the moment of original sin, comes from a copy of the Livre des sept âges du Monde, written around 1460. It is attributed to the painter and miniaturist Simon Marmion, born in Amiens (ca. 1425-1489), who was rightfully considered the ‘Prince of illuminators’ by his contemporaries.
Flemish miniatures: the flourishing of the manuscript
The 15th century, the Golden Century of Flemish miniature painting, represents a turning point in the history of the handwritten book. The Burgundian Era saw a flourishing without precedent of the art of illumination, of painting in books, in the Southern Low Countries. From the beginning of the reign of John the Fearless (1404) to the death of Mary of Burgundy (1482), rich towns such as Bruges, Ghent, Brussels, Valenciennes, Lille or Tournay became real breeding-grounds for scribes, bookbinders and miniaturists in a production of exceptional quality. Philip the Good and Charles the Bold, Dukes of Burgundy, the members of the Golden Fleece, the nobility, ecclesiastical dignitaries, the rich burghers in the towns, all sought the works of talented miniaturists like Liévin Van Lathem, Simon Marmion, Willem Vrelant, Jehan le Tavernier or the Master of Wavrin, names which in their age were as familiar as Roger Van der Weyden, Memling or the Master of Flémalle. Famous artists who gave the best of themselves illustrating chronicles, epics, chivalrous romances, hunt treatises or devotional texts and producing a series of masterpieces of our cultural heritage in which the artistic quality finds its equal only in its rarity. Never before had miniature art achieved such class.
In Brussels, the exhibition will propose an itinerary through various rooms which will guide the visitor slowly but unmistakably towards the discovery of the precious manuscripts themselves in the Nassau Chapel. The first rooms in the Houyoux Gallery will allow the visitor to fi nd his way in medieval imagery, the typology of the texts and the miniatures, the history of Flemish miniatures, the rôle of the various collaborating artists and of those who paid for them. A real journey deep into the world of 15th-century miniatures. In Paris, the exhibition will be held in the François I Gallery at the François Mitterand building of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. It thus fi nds its place among a series of prestigious exhibitions focusing on medieval manuscripts such as Quand la peinture était dans les livres, Bestiaire médiéval and recently La Légende du roi Arthur. Following the first part in Brussels, the visitor will discover other works that the great miniaturists carried out for the Dukes of Burgundy and their book-loving courtiers. The itinerary here will allow the visitor to approach these exceptional documents very closely and to understand their production and the special characteristics of each artist.
On the occasion of this exhibition, a scholarly catalogue will be published in French, Dutch and English – about 400 pages, 200 full colour illustrations – under the direction of Bernard Bousmanne (Curator of the Manuscripts’ Department, Royal Library of Belgium) and Thierry Delcourt (Director of the Département des Manuscrits, Bibliothèque nationale de France). More than thirty specialists will contribute to this special book.