Courtauld Gallery opens lluminating Objects exhibition

The Courtauld Gallery presents lluminating Objects an exhibition on view 1 May to 22 July 2013.

The third display in the Illuminating Objects programme at The Courtauld Gallery focuses on the German miniature picture Bibles, Dess Alten Testaments Mittler: Dess Neuen Testaments Mittler. Produced by two sisters from Augsburg in the late 17th century, Johanna Christina (or Christiana) Küsel (also known as Kuslin) drew the designs and Maria Magdalena engraved them. Most 17th century ‘thumb’ bibles were for children but the Küsel books, with their intricate engravings, were most likely for use in private devotion. The research has been undertaken by Josephine Neil, who is taking her PhD in Theology and the Arts at King’s College London. This is probably the first time that the miniature Bible picture books, acquired by Thomas Gambier Parry near Nuremberg in 1851, have ever been on public display.

The sisters belonged to a family of printmakers: their grandfather was Matthaeus Merian, whose most famous engravings were for a history of the Bible published in Frankfurt in 1625, the Icones Biblicae. Christiana and Magdalena based their engravings on their grandfather’s compositions, adapting them to suit the scale and purpose of their miniature books.

Artists had to work with the religious constraints imposed by the Reformation. The theological context of the miniature picture Bibles stems from Luther’s teaching, still prevalent in Augsburg more than a hundred years after his death in 1546. The Küsel sisters demonstrate the divide between the sinful exploits and human failings of the Old Testament and the promise of redemption inherent in the New.

In addition to the books going on view, visitors to the website will be able to ‘turn’ some of the pages