Getty Exhibition Explores the Visual Representations of Christ in Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts

LOS ANGELES- Medieval and Renaissance images of Christ provided visual accounts of the historical Christ described in the Gospels and powerful entry points to prayer. Imagining Christ at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, May 6 through July 27, 2008 will display manuscripts from the Getty’s permanent collection that demonstrate the ways in which Christ was understood by the medieval and Renaissance faithful.

Though the study of the complete Bible is fairly common today, the majority of medieval faithful who were not members of the clergy depended largely on church services and private prayer books to access the word of God. Imagining Christ explores how the illuminations in these books demonstrate the multiple, overlapping ways in which Christ was understood to be simultaneously human and divine, the son of God and God, the sacrifice made for humankind, and the divine judge who would come again.

“This exhibition examines the role Christ played in the devotional life of medieval and Renaissance faithful and demonstrates how manuscript images allowed viewers to imaginatively participate in Christ’s life, sacrifice and acts of salvation,” says Kristen Collins, associate curator of manuscripts.

Included in the exhibition is an English Romanesque manuscript acquired in February. The Vita Christi is an exceptionally beautiful manuscript that contains several unusual images of the events of Christ’s life, not often seen in illustrations. This is the first time the manuscript has ever been displayed to the public, since it has previously resided in private collections.

Also included is another recent acquisition, Christ in Majesty, a Limoges relief from around 1188 that is made of gilt copper and champlevé enamel. It is believed to be one of a larger group that likely covered the front of an altar in the Cathedral of Saint Martin in Ourense, Spain. This metal sculpture, which would have emitted a golden glow in the lamplight, would have further evoked the tangible presence of Christ in church.

Imagining Christ also looks closely at the ways in which medieval and Renaissance artists gave tangible form to Christ’s divinity. These artists illustrated Christ as possessing supernatural qualities that demonstrated his power over sickness and death. Unlike Christian saints who left behind bodily relics (such as bones) upon their deaths, Christ’s departure from this earth was marked by his physical absence. For the medieval viewer, an image of Christ’s empty tomb was a sign of his triumph over death.

Many late medieval depictions of Christ focused on his humanity and suffering, encouraging the viewer both to identify with the pain inflicted on his human body, and to actively imitate him. Images that showed the grievous injuries Christ suffered on the cross reflected the increasing interest in establishing a personal connection to the life and suffering of Christ through private contemplation and prayer.

Imagining Christ is curated by Kristen Collins, associate curator in the Department of Manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum.


All events are free unless otherwise noted. Seating reservations are required. For reservations and information, please call (310) 440-7300 or visit

The Face of the Christ
Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, begins with an historical overview of the visual representation of Christ, from its earliest references in the 3rd century to its full realization in the 6th century and into what we recognize today as the iconic image of Jesus. He then review the way in which the iconic faces of Jesus have functioned, both within the societies that created them as well as in societies of today. He concludes by exploring the ways different cultures and people have adapted the iconic image of Christ to their needs.
Thursday, May 8, 2008, 7:00 p.m.
Harold M. William Auditorium

Imagining Christ: Intersections of Art and Theology
Jack Miles, Distinguished Professor at UC Irvine and author of God: A Biography, leads a discussion with artists and scholars about images of Christ and their relationship to art history and theology. Participants include sculptor Simon Toparovsky, who created the life-size bronze crucifix for the main altar of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles, Los Angeles; Father Patrick, director of the traditional icon painting workshop at Saint Gregory of Sinai Monastery; and film critic Eric David.
Sunday, May 25, 2008, 4:00 p.m.
Harold M. Williams Auditorium

Curator’s Gallery Talk
Kristin Collins, associate curator, Department of Manuscripts, the J. Paul Getty Museum, leads a gallery talk on the exhibition.
Thursday, May 22, 2008, 2:30 p.m.

Point-of-View Talks
Father Patrick from Saint Gregory of Sinai Monastery, an icon painter, explores medieval and Renaissance depictions of Christ and the role Christ’s image plays in expressing complex religious concepts. Sign up at the Museum Information Desk beginning at 3 p.m. the day of the talks.
Friday, May 23, 2008, 4:30 and 6:00 p.m.

Imagining Christ: Three Wise Films
Whether allegorical, speculative, or fodder for parody, filmmakers have looked to the Christ story for both inspiration and for a leading protagonist. The three films in this series do not cast a literal Christ but rather have Christ-figures who encounter conteporary parallels. Presented in cooperation with the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Saturday, May 31, 2008
Harold M. Williams Auditorium
Simon of the Desert (Simón del Desierto)
(México, 1965)
Luis Buñuel’s Simon of the Desert is the ascetic St. Simon who stood on a pedestal for six years, six months and six days observing his adulators needs and demand for cheap miracles while simultaneously trying to ward off a very sexy Satan.

Preceded by the short film:
(USA, 1964)
Commissioned for exhibition in the Protestant Council’s Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair, the 22 min. Parable according to Time Magazine, “is basically an art film that got religion.”

Saturday, May 31, 2008, 7:30 p.m.
Harold M. Williams Auditorium
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
(Great Britain, 1979)
Surely the Python’s funniest film, the misbegotten Brian Cohen of Nazareth joins an underground organization seeking to overthrow the Pilate and inadvertently becomes another messiah.

Sunday, June 1, 2008, 4:00 p.m.
Harold M. Williams Auditorium
Jesus of Montreal
(Canada, 1988)
Tasked by a theater-loving priest with “modernizing” the Passion Play, 33 yr-old Daniel resolves to present a historical Jesus, stripped of myth and miracle, whose story miraculously comes to parallel his own.

Publications are available in the Getty Museum Store, by calling (800) 223-3431 or (310) 440-7059, or online at

French Illuminated Manuscripts in the J. Paul Getty Museum
Thomas Kren
This illustrated volume features selections from the Museum’s rich holdings of French manuscripts from the ninth to the eighteenth centuries.
(Paperback, $19.95)

Italian Illuminated Manuscripts in the J. Paul Getty Museum
Thomas Kren and Kurt Barstow
In this book, masterpieces of Italian manuscript illumination from the ninth to the sixteenth centuries are illustrated with full-color reproductions.
(Paperback, $19.95)

Faces of Power and Piety: Medieval Portraiture
August 12-October 26, 2008
This exhibition explores the art of portraiture in illuminated manuscripts, charting a development from the highly stylized portrayals of individuals in the Middle Ages to the emergence in the Renaissance of recognizable portraits in the modern sense. Medieval portraits can be divided into two broad categories: historical portraits of people from the past, and portraits of living people. The great majority of exmaples from both categories depict religious figures, but they also include images of authors, military heroes, and rulers.

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