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Royal Academy of Arts

The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe
Until 22 February 2004 (closed 24 + 25 December)

Some of the most exquisite but least known works of the Renaissance are captured in the pages of hand painted books. This exhibition offers the first comprehensive overview of the greatest epoch in Flemish illumination, which enjoyed a final flourish during the Renaissance. In a unique collaboration between the Royal Academy, The British Library and the J. Paul Getty Museum, the exhibition will bring together some 140 of the most beautiful and significant illuminated manuscripts, including books that have rarely been seen before and discoveries of recent years.

Illuminating the Renaissance focuses on the most important artists of the era working in Flanders between 1470 and 1560. Simon Marmion, Simon Bening and other, often anonymous painters, achieved astonishing innovations in the handling of colour, light, texture and space. Their naturalistic style, opulent use of colour and gold leaf, and the skilful illusionism of their decorative borders, transformed the illustrated page and raised the art of book painting to new levels of sophistication.

Varying in size from tiny prayer books, measuring only a few centimetres, to a monumental genealogy, the objects on display will show the extraordinary breadth and richness of manuscript illumination. Lavish designs bring to life a variety of devotional and secular books. These range from the imagined courtly world of historical tales and chivalric romance, to poetic landscapes and intimate and expressive religious scenes, all exquisitely realised with astounding detail. The exhibition will also offer an exceptional opportunity to see manuscript illumination within the broader context of painting on panel, with masterpieces by Renaissance artists such as Gerard David and Pieter Bruegel the Elder on display.

As the Flemish developed a reputation for creating the finest illuminated manuscripts, their work was collected by the most powerful and wealthy rulers of Europe, for whom a well-stocked library and the possession of the most luxurious prayer books were a mark of taste and wealth. The art of book illumination flourished as a result of discriminating patrons who included members of not only the Burgundian court, but also those of England, Germany, Spain and Portugal. They greatly admired Flemish illustrators, whose polished and refined style vividly captured the extravagant life at court. These precious treasures, whose sumptuous colours and scintillating detail were once the preserve of the wealthy elite, will now be seen in public.

Highlights include an unprecedented number of loans from The British Library, some of the finest manuscripts in existence from the J. Paul Getty Museum, and many treasures from British and European libraries, including Philip the Good's copy of the Chroniques de Hainaut, with its celebrated frontispiece attributed to Rogier van der Weyden, from the Bibliothèque Royale, Brussels. Illuminating the Renaissance will present a rare opportunity to see some of the most magnificent manuscripts in existence.

Illuminating the Renaissance will be as revealing as the RA’s groundbreaking exhibition The Painted Page: Italian Renaissance Book Illumination, 1450-1550 (1994-95), which explored the achievements of Italian manuscript painters during the Renaissance.

The exhibits will be presented in a sequence of dramatically lit showcases to display the manuscripts to their best advantage and to highlight their immaculate condition. Unlike paintings, manuscripts have generally been preserved from light. They have never needed to be retouched, varnished or cleaned, so the jewel-like colours and gold leaf used to illuminate these books are as intense as they were five centuries ago. Some of the books will be presented unbound so viewers will enjoy the rare opportunity of viewing complete picture cycles. Related paintings and drawings will also be displayed alongside.

The exhibition has been organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, The British Library and the J. Paul Getty Museum. The exhibition has been curated by Dr Thomas Kren, Curator of Manuscripts, J. Paul Getty Museum, and Dr Scot McKendrick, Head of Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts, The British Library, with Cecilia Treves, Exhibitions curator, Royal Academy.

A comprehensive and richly illustrated catalogue has been published in conjunction with the exhibition in Los Angeles and London. Edited by Thomas Kren and Scot McKendrick, the catalogue includes some 230 colour illustrations and is the first to be published on this subject.

To enable viewers to fully appreciate the manuscripts on display and to draw out the cultural and artistic ideas behind their creation, an audioguide will be included in the price of the exhibition ticket. The audioguide, produced by Antenna Audio, will provide a comprehensive guide to the exhibition.

J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles 17 June – 7 September 2003
Royal Academy of Arts, London 29 November 2003 – 22 February 2004

Press View: Thursday 27 November 2003, 10am – 2pm
Open to public Saturday 29 November 2003 – Sunday 22 February 2004
(closed 24 + 25 December)
10am – 6pm daily (last admission 5.30pm)
Late night opening: Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm)

Admission prices include exhibition audioguide:
£8.00 full charge; £7.00 groups of 10 or more; 60 years+ and registered disabled; £6.00 NUS; £3.00 12-18 years; £2.00 9-11 years

Tickets are available daily at the RA. To book tickets in advance please tel: 0870 126 1739 or visit Groups of 10+ are asked to book in advance on tel: 020 7300 5995; fax: 020 7300 5781 or email:

The Royal Academy, The British Library and the J. Paul Getty Museum will all have web resources to accompany the exhibition. Please visit the following sites for more information:

Publicity images for Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe can be obtained from PA Picselect, the Press Association’s image service for press use. Please register at and once registered go to the Royal Academy folder in the Arts section of PA Picselect.

To obtain transparencies please contact the RA Press Office on tel: 020 7300 5615.

For public information, please print 020 7300 8000 or
Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London WIJ 0BD 13/8/03

Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House
London W1J OBD
Tel: 020 7300 8000
Fax: 020 7300 8001


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