Starting today, September 3, The J. Paul Getty Museum is exhibiting its Flemish masterpiece, the "Roman de Gillion de Trazegnies," on view. The illuminated manuscript from Flanders was painted by Lieven van Lathem (1430–1493), one of the most accomplished and sophisticated painter of secular scenes in the golden era of Flemish manuscript illumination. The manuscript formerly belonged to the Dukes of Devonshire and was part of a fabled private art collection.
Purchased in December for 6.2 million, the J. Paul Getty Museum had to wait for a special British export license before the manuscript could be shipped out of the country.
The British ban was to protect art from leaving the country and had been imposed to allow for any British rival to match the $5.87-million sale price. None came forward so the book joined the Getty's manuscript collection, one of the greatest in the United States.
According to the Getty’s press release:
The only documented manuscript by Lieven van Lathem, the Prayer Book of Charles the Bold, is already in the Getty Museum’s permanent collection, having been acquired in 1989. This primary work provides the basis for all other Van Lathem attributions. The Roman de Gillion de Trazegnies is regarded as the artist’s preeminent secular work, and this acquisition represents an unrivalled opportunity to unite masterpieces of both secular and devotional illumination by Van Lathem in a single collection.
The manuscript consists of ”eight brilliantly painted half-page miniatures and forty-four historiated initials” and, as the book was rarely copied. this “romance appears in only three other manuscripts.”
“This newest acquisition to the manuscripts collection by the greatest illuminator of the Flemish High Renaissance adds another masterpiece to the Museum’s growing collection,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “It nicely complements the only documented manuscript by van Lathem, the Prayer Book of Charles the Bold, which was acquired by the Getty in 1989, and which serves as a basis for all other attributions by this artist.”
The Roman de Gillion de Trazegnies focuses on the extraordinary adventures of a nobleman from the family of Trazegnies, whose seat was in Hainaut (present-day Belgium). Part travelogue, part romance, and part epic, the text traces the exciting exploits of Gillion, who journeys to Egypt on pilgrimage, inadvertently becomes a bigamist, and dies in battle as a glorious hero. The tale encompasses the most thrilling elements of its genre—faithful love, nefarious villains, strong family loyalty, and violent battle—with the exotic elements of dangerous travel and Eastern customs adding additional excitement.
From September 3–December 1, 2013, the manuscript will be open to the first image in the book, which shows the author discovering the unusual triple tomb of a knight flanked by two women (Gillion and his wives) in a church, sparking his curiosity and convincing him to write out the tale. From December 3, 2013–March 2, 2014, the manuscript will be open to an illumination of Gillion’s second wife taking leave of her father the sultan, with details such as camels and turbans evoking the glamour of the Egyptian court.
Van Lathem’s distinctive works are known for their graceful, spirited figures, subtle handling of emotion, vivid color palette, and complex compositions filled with incredible details. The Roman de Gillion de Trazegnies contains eight brilliantly painted half-page miniatures and forty-four historiated initials. The work was on loan for the Getty Museum’s 2003 landmark exhibition "Illuminating the Renaissance," in which it was one of the highlights. Following this initial showing, it will be included in future manuscript exhibitions at the Getty Museum.
On View: September 3, 2013–March 2, 2014