Getty acquires rare, illuminated Bible from 1200s Italy

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The J. Paul Getty Museum has added a prized, 750-year-old Bible from Italy to its noted collection of illuminated medieval manuscripts, and the museum says it will go on display Dec. 13 as a highlight of the upcoming exhibition, “Gothic Grandeur: Manuscript Illumination 1250-1350.”

The Getty’s announcement says that the so-called Abbey Bible, named for a former British owner, was created in the mid-1200s for a Dominican monastery. According to museum officials, it “is one of the earliest and finest” illuminated Bibles to have emerged from Bologna in northern Italy, “one of the major centers” where scribes turned Latin scripture into art.


The work’s hallmarks, per the Getty, include “unusually lavish illumination” encompassing “whimsical figures…drolleries, grotesques and dynamic pen flourishes,” as well as rare images of praying monks.

“Sensitively depicted facial expressions…reveal the artist to be a skilled storyteller, and the pages brim with incident and event,” the Getty says.

The museum wouldn’t say what it spent to acquire the Bible this summer.

In July 2010, Christie’s in London offered it at auction as part of its multi-part sale of the Arcana Collection, a trove of medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts that the British newspaper, the Daily Mail reported had been collected over three decades by an anonymous American businessman.

Christie’s experts had predicted that the Abbey Bible, named for a British major who owned it from 1965 to 1989, could command a high bid of $4 million to $5.6 million, but it went unsold at the auction. According to Christie’s description, the Abbey Bible measures 10.6 inches by 7.8 inches and consists of 514 leaves of vellum; the artistry is found in 125 large, decorated capital letters, and in scenes and decorations painted in the margins of about 80 of the pages. RELATED

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-- Mike Boehm