• 31 October 2014
  • 11:30 – 12:00 pm
  • British Museum

Sometime toward the close of the fifteenth century a late Romanesque picture book--possibly a prefatory cycle for a Psalter--was reconfigured and refurbished as a devotional miscellany and rosary manual. Its original series of over fifty full-page miniatures provided an expansive visual chronicle of the life of Christ and the Virgin. In the fifteenth century, numerous texts and images were interleaved with and added to the existing illuminations. The picture cycle became a prayer book, the core of which served as a manual designed to lead the reader through the fifty meditations on the life of Christ featured in one of the emerging forms of the rosary prayer. The Getty manuscript's twelfth-century illuminations are probably from the north of England (possibly York or Lincoln) while the style of the fifteenth-century additions suggests East Anglia as the site for the manuscript's transformation.

Rosary prayers were inscribed under both twelfth and fifteenth-century illuminations. The prayers closely follow the meditations on the life of Christ composed by the Carthusian monk Dominic of Prussia sometime between 1409 and 1415. The confraternity of the rosary was founded by Jacob Sprenger in Cologne in 1475 and within seven years had over one hundred thousand members across Europe. Dating to around 1490, Getty Ms. 101 is remarkable for its scope of illumination and the synthesis of text and image. While there are examples of illustrated rosary books dating to this period, they are for the most part printed books and have relatively restricted pictorial programs. The Getty manuscript once contained an astounding fifty rosary images, each showing one scene from the life of Christ and accompanied by a prayer inscribed on the page below.

Almost without fail, the fifteenth-century additions to the vita christi images in this manuscript took the form of numbered rosary prayers. My paper will focus on the exceptions. Specifically, I will discuss the suite of images dealing with the infancy of Christ. This segment of the manuscript is notable for a higher concentration of pictorial edits and textual additions than appear elsewhere in the life of Christ program. Fifteenth-century changes to be discussed include the addition of the manuscript's only hagiographic image (a representation of the child saint Robert of Bury) and captions on several twelfth-century images of King Herod.

This paper will explore the fifteenth-century reinvention of Getty Ms. 101, examining the ways in which changes to the manuscript reflected not only an evolving devotional practice but also tuned the book to its contemporary environment.

About the speaker

  • Head and shoulders portrait of Kristen Collins

    Kristen Collins is Curator of Manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. She has co-curated numerous exhibitions including Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai (2006) and Canterbury and St Albans: Treasures from Church and Cloister (2013). Her recent work in the field of twelfth-century English manuscript illumination will appear in the forthcoming 2017 symposium proceedings volume, St Albans and the Markyate Psalter: Seeing and Reading in Twelfth-Century England, for which she is also co-editor. Recurring themes in both exhibitions and scholarship have been issues of reuse and retrospection in manuscript illumination.