The Crusader Bible: A Gothic Masterpiece illuminates The Blanton Museum of Art

nicolette mallow

“Crusader Bible: A Gothic Masterpiece” – The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin.

Showcased by The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin, The Crusader Bible: A Gothic Masterpiece is a traveling art gallery highlighting an illuminated Medieval manuscript from the 13th century. Traveling to seven different countries in the world over a timeline of seven centuries, this French Gothic manuscript from the Middle Ages is created by seven anonymous artists. Depicting selected stories from the Old Testament, retold in the era and culture of Medieval period, originally this one-of-a-kind manuscript was designed to be a picture-book without any script. These colorful illustrations were intended to portray biblical stories without any annotations, explaining why each drawing is so very graphic, specific and characteristic. However, as the Crusader Bible journeyed seven times from France to Italy, Poland, Persia, Egypt, England and the United States: alterations were made and inscriptions were added in various languages, including Latin, Persian and Juedo-Persian.

Upon entrance into The Crusader Bible: A Gothic Masterpiece, the rooms of the gallery are glittering with 40 illuminated pages of gold leafs (pure gold that has been hammered down into thin sheets). The gold is still so remarkably shiny that it’s almost hard to believe this manuscript is nearly 1000 years old. Even under dimmed lighting within a museum, the gold leafs on the pages are so prominent and bold that the display cases within the gallery shine similarly to a jewelry display case. Fortunately the Crusader Bible has withstood the tests of time and it comes to no surprise that these handmade manuscripts are very challenging to make, often taking many years to complete. There is a very specific and thorough process to creating illuminated manuscripts, beginning with the preparation of the parchment paper. Parchment paper derives from animal skin and once it’s finished after weeks of preparation. Then scribes would begin inscriptions. Once the scribe had finished their task, the illuminator left its mark on the parchment paper before sending the manuscript over to bindery. An illumniator is the artist whom illuminated the manuscript with silver or gold leafing. They were responsible for lighting up the pages with precious metals.

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Silver, gold and colorful illuminations aren’t the only part of the Crusader Bible that catch the eye. The carbon black inscriptions also carry a dominant presence. Admiring all the various scripts in different languages is quite compelling because it notes the seven foreign locations and cultures the Crusader Bible ventured to. The number seven is believed to be a divine number of truth and mysticism within numerology studies and spiritual texts. Therefore it’s an interesting coincidence that the number seven plays such a predominant and powerful role in the history of the Crusader Bible. Furthermore, the black calligraphy is immaculate in every language and it took scribes endless hours to complete the script; using a quill pen to write the script and a knife to cut away ink errors when necessary. The carbon black ink used by the scribes is referred to as lampblack. And even though most of us cannot read Latin, Persian or Juedo-Persian. With the use of modern technology and an application called Layar, guests can scan the Medieval manuscript and the application translates it for you right that instant.

Additionally, this special exhibit also features European arms and armor, an illustrated book from Persia, and a large display case featuring many of the tools, rocks, metals and pigments used to inscribe, illustrate and illuminate the parchment paper. There is also a video to regard the process from preparing the parchment paper to the final result in bindery. The Crusader Bible: A Gothic Masterpiece will be on display until April 3, 2016. For more information regarding The Blanton Museum of Art and its hours of operation, admission, upcoming exhibitions or membership, please call 512-471-7324 or visit www.blantonmuseum.org.

“The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin presents The Crusader Bible: A Gothic Masterpiece, an exhibition of over forty unbound pages from the one of the most celebrated French illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages. The illuminations include some of the most compelling visualizations of the Old Testament, bringing Bible stories to life through vivid images that reflect medieval culture and the world of the Crusades. Designed to resonate with thirteenth-century French viewers, biblical characters are depicted as battling knights, equipped with contemporary arms and armor, and situated within medieval French towns. Loans from the Metropolitan Museum, including a shirt of mail, sword, prick spur, and war hat, will augment visitors’ understanding of the weaponry featured in the Crusader Bible. On loan from the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, the Crusader Bible features Old Testament scenes in medieval settings, with brilliantly colored illustrations attributed to seven anonymous artists. To provide historical context for the Bible, the presentation features medieval arms and armor from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Also included are sixteenth-century Persian illustrations from the Metropolitan and the Ardashīr-nāma, a seventeenth-century Judeo-Persian manuscript of Old Testament stories from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. The history of the Crusader Bible is fascinating, covering seven centuries and multiple continents. Likely created in Paris during the 1240s for King Louis IX of France— famous for building the Sainte-Chapelle and for leading two crusades— the Bible then passed to the king’s younger brother, Charles of Anjou, who took it to Italy. More than four centuries later, the Archbishop of Cracow acquired and offered it as a diplomatic gift to the great Shah of Persia, ‘Abbas I. By the eighteenth century, the manuscript belonged to an anonymous Persian Jew. After its journey from France to Italy, Poland, and Persia, the Bible traveled to Egypt, England, and finally to the Morgan Library & Museum in the United States. The Crusader Bible, which originally had no text, bears inscriptions in Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian. They function as evidence of its changing ownership throughout the centuries and reflect how each owner used his language to lay claim to the book, appropriating its imagery for assimilation into their respective cultures.”

Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in December 2015.  

‘Natalie Frank: The Brothers Grimm’ exhibition on display at The Blanton Museum of Art

natalie frank

“Six Swans III” – Drawing by Natalie Frank. (Photography by Nicolette Mallow.)

Natalie Frank: The Brother’s Grimm is a current exhibition hosted by The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin. Located within five different rooms that are all interconnected, the gallery is adorned with dozens of gouache and pastel drawings showcasing Frank’s hypnotizing and graphic fairy tale art. Make no mistake; the Brother’s Grimm fairy tales are not reflective of the typical happily-ever-after stories that modern authors portray to our children today. Originally, these fairy tales were written for adults, not adolescents. Therefore, stand warned that Frank’s exquisite drawings are not necessarily child-friendly. Viewers with kids are advised to take a stroll before taking their children through the gallery.

“Looky, look, look at the shoe that she took. There’s blood all over, and the shoe’s too small. She’s not the bride you met at the ball,” (Grimm’s Fairy Tales).

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This fairy tale exhibition is a collection of otherworldly, unforgettable stories written hundreds of years ago. Magical, dark, haunting and spellbinding. The illustrations tell the Brother’s Grimm stories of love, lust, death, tragedy and historical folklore. During an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Frank explains how she “delved deeper into the early, unsanitized editions, she saw why so many of the brothers’ story plots contained brutal violence and elements of shape-shifting magic: Their folk tales were actually being told and retold by women who had to navigate a 19th-century social and political world wherein they held almost no power over their fates. Marriages were typically arranged; death during childbirth was common. Suddenly, the princesses, hags and witches in the Grimm’s’ fairy tales felt grounded and complex to Ms. Frank, and she started making drawings that could reflect these characters’ vulnerabilities and strengths.”

Blood, castles, animals, metamorphosis, nudity, genitalia, nature and the supernatural can all be found in the artwork. The use of imagination within Natalie Frank: The Brothers Grimm is striking, unique, scary and mesmerizing. The imagery is very intense, such as Frank’s drawing “Brier Rose” depicting a woman that almost seems to be drugged or half conscious, missing clothing and unable to resist any advances. A beautiful woman whose story entails a spell-induced, one hundred sleep caused by an evil witch. A young woman whose masked and blindfolded in a blood red veil as a half-man and half-beast creature weighs down upon her as if to approach her in a sexual manner.

These are not images one can easily forget.

Entranced by the images in the artwork, walking through the gallery lures viewers to step out of modern time for a while. To think these stories were told centuries ago, it’s fascinating and a bit disturbing. Frank’s storybook illustrations are also absolutely booming with bold and powerful colors that lighten the heaviness of the stories. The colors are so playful and bright like a children’s room, and yet the symbolism is so dark and grim. The gallery includes almost 20 stories, including the following: Snow White, Brier Rose, The Frog King, Rapunzel, The Juniper Tree, Endpaper, The Devil with The Three Golden Hairs, and Six Swans.

According to The Blanton Museum of Art, “Natalie Frank: The Brothers Grimm, is an exhibition of more than 30 gouache and pastel drawings by artist Natalie Frank, a New York-based Austin native. Organized by The Drawing Center in New York, this presentation explores the nineteenth-century fairy tales of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Drawing upon the history of illustrated books, figuration, and personal and political narrative, Frank’s drawings represent the largest collection of Grimm’s fairy tales ever illustrated by a fine artist.”

The exhibition will be featured at The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin until November 15, 2015. The Blanton Museum of Art is a remarkable university museum full of natural light, tall ceilings, blue tiling, installation pieces, statues and grand stairwells that facilitate the galleries. Over 17,000 works of art have become part of their permanent collection. However, due to the fact this particular gallery in the museum has no windows and flash photography is prohibited: It is strongly advised to visit the exhibition (and Natalie Frank’s website) in order to see her drawings in all their splendor and vivacity. Be sure to also check out storyteller Tom Lee on October 15, 2015 at 6:30 PM at The Blanton Museum of Art to perform selected stories from Frank’s illustrations. For more information regarding the exhibition, the museum or the artist, please visit www.natalie-frank.com or www.blantonmuseum.org.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who in this realm is the fairest of them all? … You, my queen, may have a beauty quite rare, but Snow White is a thousand times more fair,” (Grimm’s Fairy Tales).

natalie frank

“Brier Rose III” – Drawing by Natalie Frank. (Photography by Nicolette Mallow.)

Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in August 2015.