June 17, 2003

Special exhibition explores the elaborate process of book production in the Middle Ages


The Making of a Medieval Book, at the Getty Center, May 20-September 28, 2003

Far from the mass-produced affordable paperbacks of today, medieval books were finely crafted works of art filled with brilliant manuscript paintings. The Making of a Medieval Book, at the Getty Center from May 20 through September 28, 2003, offers insight into the medieval art form and complements one of the most important exhibitions of the year-the Getty Premiere Presentation Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe, which opens in June.

The Making of a Medieval Book is part of the Getty’s popular "Making of" series, which makes art more accessible by helping to explain the elaborate techniques behind various art forms. In The Making of a Medieval Book, visitors are transported back to a book-making workshop in the Middle Ages. With hands-on displays and step-by-step explanations, the exhibition details the various stages involved—from the preparation of parchment from animal skins, to the production of pigments (using materials including saffron and brazilwood) and ink (sometimes made from charred porcelain and burnt cherry pits), to the hand-sewn binding process.

Until about 500 years ago, when the printing press was invented, books were written, decorated, and bound entirely by hand. Wealthy patrons hired the best artists and the most skilled craftspeople to custom-make these precious manuscripts. Although machines and computers have taken over most of the production process today, much of what is familiar to us about the modern book comes from how they were crafted 1000 years ago. In the early Middle Ages, manuscripts were usually made in monasteries. By 1200, production was sometimes colored or gilded. The most luxurious bindings were adorned with precious gems and metalwork of gold and silver.

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Thea M. Page
Getty Communications Dept.

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Grant Program. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs are based at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

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