Graphic Cabinet 5: Private and Public Devotion in Medieval Europe

  • Exhib_slideshow_cabinet5

    St. John the Baptist with the Lamb of Christ, From a Book of Hours, France, ca. 1455, Gold leaf and tempera on vellum, Purchase. C. Montague Cooke Jr. Fund, 1961 (14641)

January 12, 2010 - May 09, 2010
Gallery 9

Exhibition Overview

This fifth installment of Graphic Cabinet, an ongoing series of focused exhibitions showcasing highlights from the Academy’s collection of work on paper, is an opportunity to see some of the museum’s modest yet rich selection of medieval illuminated manuscripts and stained glass. Private and Public Devotion in Medieval Europe will explore how these objects were used as part of everyday religious practice.

European medieval art is predominantly about the study of religious images from a monumental to a more intimate scale. The two mediums represented in Gallery 9 are examples taken from both ends. Manuscripts themselves vary greatly in purpose. The large-scale multivolume codices and choir books were used by large groups of people whereas the smaller books were personalized and intended for a specific person. Stained glass, originally part of a larger window, situated in a cathedral or church would have been viewed by everyone who entered the space, thus enriching the public’s devotional experience.

But how visible were the stained-glass windows, really? It is easy to overlook the scale of architecture. Though not its only purpose, one aspect of stained glass was to create ambiance. The effect of light permeating colored glass was quintessential in Gothic cathedral architecture, and a visual phenomenon that influenced early manuscript illustrations. The use of gold leaf is thought to mimic the effect of light passing through glass. Even the saturated colors and shapes such as the medallion and quatrefoil used in manuscript pages mirror that of stained glass windows. The artists who worked on these two mediums were closely linked, effectively uniting private and personal devotional objects. 
- Rui Sasaki, Assistant Curator Special Projects