The shimmer of gold and the brightly colored pages of medieval handmade books inspired some of the most creative artists in Britain in the late nineteenth century. Six illuminated manuscripts (so called because they were often embellished with gold or silver leaf), on loan from the renowned J. Paul Getty Museum collection and included in the exhibition Truth & Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters (on view at the Legion of Honor through September 30), give us a luminous glimpse into this connection that spanned centuries.
The Annunciation, Master of the Llangattock Hours and Willem Vrelant, in the Llangattock Hours, Ghent-Bruges, Belgium, 1450s. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. Ludwig IX 7 (83.ML.103), fol. 53v
Although the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, founded in 1848, was better known for its affinities with artists of the Italian Renaissance, their principles equally drew from fifteenth-century Netherlandish painting, including the Annunciation (1434–1436), by Jan van Eyck (ca. 1390–1441). In this work, Van Eyck depicted an archangel visiting the Virgin Mary to tell her she will bear the son of God, an event similarly pictured in the illuminated manuscript Llangattock Hours (ca. 1450).
Mariana, John Everett Millais, 1851. Oil on panel. Tate, London, accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery, 1999, T)7533
Though its subject is secular, the 1851 painting Mariana, by Pre-Raphaelite cofounder and artist Sir John Everett Millais (1829–1896), aesthetically echoes these two earlier works. Inspired by the character from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, Millais’s Mariana wears a dress in the same vivid blue as Mary’s. Standing with her back arched above a work table, she emits a solitude as palpable as the divine presence by the Virgin’s side. Mariana’s chamber features a Gothicizing stained-glass window that depicts The Annunciation, while the draped cloth on the table and painted walls recall the floral borders of the Getty’s Llangattock Hours. This new medievalism, as scholars refer to it, was in vogue at the time of Millais’s painting.
Initial D: The Nativity; Initial V: A Monk in Prayer from the Ruskin Hours, French, about 1300. Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment, 10 1/8 x 7 1/16 in. (26.4 x 18.3 cm). The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. Ludwig IX 3 (83.ML.99), fol. 76
Living during a period of great mass production, Victorian art critic and collector John Ruskin (1819–1900) turned to the Middle Ages for inspiration. An influence on and champion of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Ruskin once owned an early fourteenth-century French book of hours filled with delicately painted narrative scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary. The manuscript now bears his name as the Ruskin Hours.
Of the False Ideal, in John Ruskin’s Modern Painters, vol. 3, pp. 52-53. The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, ND1135.R8 1903
Ruskin used an image of The Nativity from this medieval devotional manuscript (above left) to illustrate the third volume of Modern Painters (1843–1860). In the five-volume book, Ruskin praised the skill, imagination, and clear narratives of early medieval and Renaissance painting while celebrating the tempera revival of the Pre-Raphaelites and the carefully observed paintings of J. M. W. Turner.