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A very marginal art show

October 4, 2009 |  6:30 am


A blue-hooded jester sticks his fingers in his mouth and pulls his lips wide to reveal a broad, toothy sneer. “You, my dear reader, are a fool,” he seems to say. “And I know a fool when I see one.”

This irreverent illustration is stuck in the lower margin of a page dedicated to Psalm 52 in a medieval psalter wherein a fool pronounces, “There is no God.” The first letter of the passage — a “D” inhabited by an illustration of Christ being dogged by a fool in a mask — updates the Old Testament Psalm to a New Testament meaning, but this special illumination illustration at the bottom seems reserved as a cautionary note to the reader. “Just because one reads the Scripture,” it seems to say, “one is not exempt from foolishness.”

This playful appeal from the illuminator directly to the reader is the surprising revelation of “Out of Bounds: Images in the Margins of Medieval Manuscripts,” a small — one could say marginal — show at the Getty Center that focuses on the collateral delights of some of the world’s loveliest religious tomes and the ways in which medieval manuscript illuminators tucked a surprising level of jest into their holy work.

For more images and a complete story in the Arts & Books section, click here.

-- Susan Emerling

Credit: J. Paul Getty Museum