National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

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This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery. Please follow the links below for related online resources or visit our current exhibitions schedule.

Image: Initial M: The Annunciation to the Virgin, miniature from a choir book (antiphonal) (Lombardy), 1450/1460 tempera and gold leaf on vellum overall: 58.9 x 42.5 cm (23 3/16 x 16 3/4 in.) Rosenwald Collection, 1948 Rare medieval manuscript illuminations, last exhibited in 1975, are showcased in a stunning installation, Heaven on Earth: Manuscript Illuminations from the National Gallery of Art. The exhibition offers the first in-depth look at these rare medieval manuscript illuminations from 52 single leaves and 4 bound volumes, among them a number of important recent acquisitions, which date from the 12th to the 16th century and were made in France, Germany, Austria, Bohemia, the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy.

Prior to the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, texts were laboriously inscribed by hand on carefully prepared parchment made from the skin of sheep or calves. Artists adorned the most luxurious books with painted decorations, known as "illuminations" because the frequent use of gold leaf made the pages glow. Given the time, effort, and materials required for their production, illuminated manuscripts were extremely precious works of art treasured by their owners.

The majority of the works depict sacred subjects, as the books most commonly illuminated throughout the Middle Ages were bibles and liturgical texts used in church services and in the daily cycle of prayers offered by communities of monks and nuns. In the late Middle Ages the most popular illuminated books were private devotional texts, called "books of hours," prepared for well-to-do patrons. Secular texts were also illustrated and are represented by manuscripts treating canon law, ancient history, and civic statutes.

Organization: Organized by the National Gallery of Art.

Sponsor: The exhibition is supported in part by a generous grant from the Thaw Charitable Trust.

Schedule: National Gallery of Art, March 1–August 16, 2009

Passes: Passes are not required for this exhibition.