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Getty Buys Lieven van Lathem Manuscript

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The Getty Museum just placed a winning bid of 3.85 million pounds ($6.19 million) at Sotheby’s for a manuscript of The Deeds of Sir Gillion de Trazegnies in the Middle East with illuminations by Lieven van Lathem. The book was in the Chatsworth collection of the Dukes of Devonshire as early as 1817 when a cataloger wrote, “the reader sighs to take leave of such a volume.” The Getty press release is here, and the Sotheby’s site has zoomable images of the major illuminations.

As a tale of chivalry, The Deeds of Sir Gillion was never that popular. Only a few copies exist. But “the eight miniatures and forty-four historiated initials that Lieven van Lathem produced for Louis of Gruuthuse’s copy of the romance of Gillion de Trazegnies constitute his most ambitious narrative cycle,” wrote Scot McKendrick. “The beauty of this sequence of illustrations and the subtlety in the handling of narrative, mood, and human emotion have few parallels among contemporary manuscripts.”

The Getty manuscript, of 237 leaves each 14 inches high, was created for Louis de Gruuthuse, courtier to Philip the Good, after 1464. The scribe and conceivably the ghost-author was David Aubert. Chatsworth lent Deeds of Sir Gillion to the Getty’s 2003 Flemish manuscript show, “Illuminating the Renaissance.”

Van Lathem was a pioneer of naturalism. His miniature of a sea battle has transparent water with ripples and spray. Facial expressions are usually well-observed (above, detail of a half-page miniature, “The Author Hears the Story of Gillion de Trazegnies.”)

Patron Louis Gruuthuse’s personal emblem was a firing cannon. That inspired a border decoration; in another a lion in a hemet holds a banner with a cannon and Gruuthuse’s motto Plus est en vous (“There is more in you.”) The borders are no less clever than the main images. The Sotheby’s catalog promises “4 realistic apes (one playing with a kitten, one playing a lyre, one in a hood aping a medieval doctor holding up a urine flask, and the last blowing a pair of bellows up a bear-cub’s bottom).”

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