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Christ Appearing to Saint James the Greater, ca. 1469-1471

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Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum; Used with permission

Lieven van Lathem (Flemish, ca. 1430-1493). Christ Appearing to Saint James the Greater from the Prayer Book of Charles the Bold, ca. 1469-1471. Antwerp. Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold paint, silver paint and ink on parchment. 6.3 x 4.6 cm. 89.ML.

Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum
The Burgundian Duke Philip the Good (r. 1419-1467) and his son, Charles le Téméraire (variously translated as the Bold or the Rash) (r. 1467-1477), employed the talented Lieven van Lathem (act. ca. 1454-before 1493) as a manuscript illuminator in their illustrious late-medieval courts. The artist was heavily influenced by Jan van Eyck (act. by 1422, d. 1441), the consummate early Netherlandish master of realism and detail in the history of fifteenth-century oil painting.

Many of van Lathem's miniatures are characterized by brightly colored naturalistic landscapes. His Christ Appearing to Saint James the Greater (ca. 1469-1471) is a brilliant exercise in disguised symbolism, in which ordinary objects subtly represented something, often religious, to Renaissance man.

James was the brother of Saint John the Evangelist, author of one of the New Testament's four Gospels. In this illumination, Christ instructs the brightly attired apostle to preach His message in Spain. The vessel in which James rests is an iconographic reference to his Iberian journey. Having completed his mission, he traveled to Judea and was eventually decapitated. According to legend, Saint James' severed head was placed in a boat and sent to northwestern Spain, where it was found and buried, making the location of his relics at Santiago de Compostela a revered pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages. The lower portion of the foliated border that surrounds van Lathem's narrative includes a depiction of a lion attacking a soldier. Usually reserved for drolleries (amusing vignettes in manuscript illuminations), the vicious assault portrayed is curiously unrelated to this page's theme.

"Landscape in the Renaissance" is on view from August 1 to October 15, 2006 at The Getty Museum, located at 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90049-1681 (Telephone: 310-440-7300; Website). The museum is open Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM and Friday and Saturday from 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM. Admission is free. Paid parking is based on availability and costs $8.00 per car, cash only.

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From your Guide: Stan Parchin, Senior Correspondent for Museums and Special Exhibitions, is a regular contributor to About Art History and the author of this feature. You may read all of his Special Exhibition and Catalogue Reviews here.
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