About the Exhibit
The Bavarian State Library (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek) was proud to present Christmas Illuminated as an inaugural temporary exhibition at Museum of the Bible. This exhibition featured magnificent German, Flemish, French and Italian manuscripts from the 14th to 16th centuries, illustrating the Christmas story from the annunciation to the flight to Egypt.
Presentations of Christmas first appeared in the fourth century, shortly after this celebration was introduced by the Roman Church. From the outset, Christian theology was occupied above all with the question about the Son of God born as a child, and particularly with the birth of Jesus in the abject conditions of a stable close to Bethlehem that is reported in the Gospel of Luke as the location of the event. Not until the late Middle Ages did artistic depictions begin to suggest the familiar atmosphere with which we associate Christmas celebrations today. Artists transferred the event of God’s incarnation into the environs of the affluent European city-states, and they placed their conceptualizations of nature into surroundings not unlike our own. Even today, a great number of greeting cards sent out at Christmas show miniatures from the 15th and early 16th centuries, displaying the illustrations from old German, Dutch, Flemish, French, and Italian manuscripts.
The exhibition presented the Christmas story as observed in European book illumination of specifically these regions and this era. Altogether, 12 originals were exhibited. They belonged to the most beautiful and valuable codices of this epoch held by the Bavarian State Library.
The first object on display, the missal of Pierre d‘Estaing , integrates the events associated with the cycle of Christmas celebrations into the entire course of Jesus’s life. Even before the annunciation to Mary, the inspiration of the Old Testament prophets by God the Father is depicted. This miniature illustrates God’s council of redemption. Only that inspiration could facilitate the messianic prophecies that the church applied to Jesus. Illustrations of other manuscripts were also exhibited: the annunciation to Mary, the visitation, the search for an inn, the birth of Jesus, the proclamation to the shepherds, the adoration of the shepherds as well as those by the magi, the circumcision of Jesus, and the flight to Egypt.
These major works of art history from 1374 to around 1530, some of the Bavarian State Library’s most important European manuscripts of the late medieval/early modern era, were presented for the first time together at Museum of the Bible with a focus on Christmas scenes.