Getty's German Manuscript Was a French National Treasure
|The Angel at the Empty Tomb of Christ, Irmengard Codex, after 1053. Getty Museum. Image courtesy of Dr. Guenther Rare Books AG, Basel|
More details on the Getty's new manuscript purchase have emerged. Designated a French national treasure, the book's sale has led into finger-pointing in France over its "loss" to a foreign buyer.
The manuscript is a very rare Ottonian (German, 11th century) book with 15 full-page illuminations. The Getty has named it the Irmengard Codex, after the medieval noblewoman who commissioned it. When the acquisition was announced last week I did a Google search under that name and came up empty.
It turns out that the manuscript has an online presence under a different name. It's generally been known as the Saint-Mihiel Evangelary.
The book is presumed to have been created at the Benedictine Abbey of Reichenbau, on an island in a lake in southern Germany. For most of its history it has resided in northeastern France, however: at the Abbeys of St. Mansuy de Toul (Meurthe-et-Moselle) and then St. Michel de St. Mihiel (Meuse). In 1830 the manuscript turned up at book dealer's in Meuse. Charles Didiot, a future bishop, bought it and gave it to another clerical relation, Jules Didot. Jules donated it to the then-new Catholic University of Lille in 1881.
|Catholic University of Lille|
In The Art Tribune, Didier Rykner faulted the Archdiocese of Lille for selling at market price rather than for pennies on the euro, to keep it in France: "Temple merchants are no longer outside the Church, they are now in the Church."
To put this in perspective, the BnF has about 145,000 manuscripts of all kinds (v. 200+ for the Getty), and the BnF's exhibits draw about 336,000 a year (v. 1,400,000 for the Getty, both 2019 figures). There's not much doubt that Irmengard's book will make a bigger impact at the Getty and be seen by more people.
|Pre-conservation image of The Ascension of Christ|
|The Ascension of Christ, Irmengard Codex, after 1053. Getty Museum. Image courtesy of Dr. Guenther Rare Books AG, Basel|