Louvre Pays Homage to Precious Miniatures

October 3, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

Preserved illustrations currently on display at the Louvre, France, give insight into the life of the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance. 'The Building of a Cathedral,' by Jean Fouquet (ca. 1420, ca. 1481). Illumination on parchment, 15 x 11 in., ca. 1465. National Library of France. (Artrenewal.org)
Preserved illustrations currently on display at the Louvre, France, give insight into the life of the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance. 'The Building of a Cathedral,' by Jean Fouquet (ca. 1420, ca. 1481). Illumination on parchment, 15 x 11 in., ca. 1465. National Library of France. (Artrenewal.org)
Magnificent Italian, French, Flemish, and Germanic illuminations of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, originating from historical, literary, or liturgical manuscripts, are currently on display at the Louvre in Paris. Today, they are presented not as illustrations but as works of art.

The National Library of France, like other libraries in the world, has preserved unique collections in their entirety. The Louvre has likewise collected unique illuminations over the years with the aim of presenting the precious value of these miniatures to the public, displaying artistic works of high quality, and paying the homage they deserve.

Curcuma and Saffron

The painters put in a lot of effort to produce these illuminations, which had to illustrate a specific text. While some fulfill this demand, others reveal such a quality and perfection that the relation to the text seems nearly arbitrary.

The representations were produced on sheets of parchment. The painters used colors and pigments from saffron flowers and curcuma roots, sea shells, liver, even urine. The artists mixed them with a stabilizer, generally egg white.

Often the artists enriched their works of ornaments with silver and gold, which added to the value and prestige of the work. The minute drawings were drawn with a feather quill or with very fine brushes.

Henri Loyrette, president and director of the Louvre, wrote in a statement that the awareness of the paintings’ aesthetic value caused a phenomenon of torn sheets and vandalism to meet the growing demands of the art market—without consideration of the books. This happened mainly from the 18th century on.

Meanwhile, the same awareness also caused an inverse phenomenon, namely that the collectors did everything to preserve these precious gems.

Among the presented works one will find masterpieces by Jean Fouquet (ca. 1420–ca. 1481), Simon Bening (1483–1561), and Lorenzo Monaco (ca. 1370–ca. 1424).

Fouquet is considered to be one of the most important painters of the beginning of the Renaissance. He introduced into the Gothic art of France elements of perspective influenced by the Flemish art at that time. Bening was a distinguished illustrator at the Ghent-Bruges school in Flanders in the 16th century. Monaco, a painter of the Florence school at the end of the 14th century, was a student of the famous painter Fra Angelico (ca. 1395–1455).

The exhibit Medieval and Renaissance Illuminations is on display at the Louvre until Oct. 10.