Renaissance art goes green in two exhibits at the Getty Museum

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LOS ANGELES — Think of an illuminated manuscript and a few stock images come to mind: ornate capital letters, high-browed pale ladies, haloed babies and lines of Latin words in Gothic script.

But two current shows at the Getty Center, this city’s white Legoland of a hilltop museum, ask viewers to look beyond those conventions to the backgrounds of illustrated religious manuscripts. There, curators hope, they will find a lushly imagined world of blooming gardens, fecund valleys, babbling rivers and frolicking animals, all designed to convey a religious message as important to the creators as that of the text.

“The goal of these artists was to promote a deeper meditation,” said Alexandra Kaczenski, co-curator of one of the exhibitions. “The hope was that these images would promote an emotional connection in the viewer that would be the equivalent of being there when Christ was crucified.”

That’s a tall order, but judging by the works in the two shows — “Sacred Landscapes: Nature in Renaissance Manuscripts” and “Giovanni Bellini: Landscapes of Faith in Renaissance Venice” — it was one artists in Italy, France, Germany and England took seriously.

It is also a message today’s people of faith will recognize — that God’s creation is worth exploring and preserving.

“We hope these beautiful works will show contemporary viewers that our ancestors had a strong connection with the natural world,” Kaczenski said. “For a Christian audience these works connect directly to their faith and practice, but for secular viewers or those of other faiths these works still offer moments of quiet contemplation and awe. We hope that by viewing these verdant or wild scenes anyone might have the same transcendent experience.”

The two exhibitions are in adjacent galleries. Both showcase works from the period between 1450 and 1550 and all feature biblical subject matter.

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