ART REVIEW: "Imagining the Past in France, 1250-1500"-J. Paul Getty Center

A little while ago I had the pleasure of seeing the Getty Center exhibit “Imagining the Past in France, 1250-1500”, a lovely, well organized showing of not only numerous intricate illuminated medieval manuscripts but also other contemporary pieces, from tapestries to floor tiles, all with wonderful stories to tell. These manuscripts depicted not only religious scenes but also historical events and royal deeds and tales of ancient heroes and well-loved myths, all in the most beautiful minute detail. These manuscripts were commissioned by nobles and the wealthy and were highlighted with touches of gold and brilliant colors from crushed precious gems. The layout and presentation of the exhibit was elegant and dimly lit, adding a sense of reverence and majesty to these manuscripts and enhancing the overall experience.


Many of the books of illuminated pages showed scenes from the history of France and are particularly noteworthy for being written in French and not in Latin, as was the tradition with such documents. Among the manuscripts was a scene of King Phillip II receiving a book of the history of his ancestors, which I found particularly interesting—the book and the history were ongoing and being recorded and meant to be passed down. Another illustration, this one from a Bible, showed a bible being given to a king, again exemplifying the importance of books and histories and literature in medieval France. These histories were highly influential and were translated into other languages and spread around Europe, inspiring the creation of illuminated historical manuscripts in other countries. Other themes that were common among the many illuminated pages were the story of the Trojan War, with many illustrations imagining glorious battles. In addition, there were many versions of the stories contained in Genesis, with a highlight being a remarkably detailed depiction of the Fall of Man—each hair, clothing wrinkle and facial expression was described in the minutest detail.

A true highlight of this beautiful exhibit was an incredibly long and detailed scroll, measuring at 35 feet. It told the entire known history of the world—from the Creation to Noah to Charlemagne to the story of the Trojan War. A large series of tapestries, telling the story of Helen of Troy with intricate and lovely weavings, also was a standout piece. Another highlight for me was a particularly singular illustration from a small cycle of the deeds of Alexander the Great that depicted him exploring underwater in a sort of jar with an open bottom. The novelty and originality of both the story and the illustration inspired me to purchase a souvenir shirt with that image following the exhibit! Yet another highlight was a small set of floor tiles that told the story of the ill-fated lovers Tristain and Yseut. As I had recently studied this story, this part of the exhibit was personally interesting and amusing.

Clearly, this exhibit, with its distinct medieval style and emphasis on religious stories, is not for everyone. But for those who love medieval art and history, it is a must see! I recommend it highly!


  1. I am sorry I did not go with you to see this because I think I would appreciate it most through your eyes. However, I have a sense of the beauty of the works because of your vivid descriptions and your obvious enthusiasm for both the art and the history related in the works. Beautifully written!

    Also, 35 feet. Jeez. How long did THAT take?

  3. Thank you for your continuous explorations of the wonderful art & cultural opportunites in Los Angeles. If I personally missed an amazing exhibition or experience I feel that I can see it through your excellent and well crafted editorials. Please keep us informed and apprised. We need a steward such as you!

  4. as usual, your fascination and devotion to representtational art came through--in spAdes. descrriptions of work were evocative and clear, erspecially the huge scroll. who did it and for =whom? great job. second entry equally well done and you seemed to be more infulgent of the avant-garde than you usually are. again, great job.p.s. sentence structure coulduse some work--too long and somertimesd too complex. love grand mere


Post a Comment