Bringing Medieval Music and Beauty to Seoul

July 29, 2022
Bringing Medieval Music and Beauty to Seoul

For this post in Korean, click here.

After expanding from London to include fairs in both New York and Los Angeles, the first ever Frieze Art Fair in Asia is due to open Seoul in September.. This contemporary art fair will present some of the most impressive and groundbreaking art produced across the globe. Similar to Frieze London, which is accompanied by Frieze Masters showcasing the history of art from which contemporary artists have developed and with which they remain in dialogue, Frieze Seoul also includes a smaller Masters section. Alongside the impressive repertoire of contemporary pieces, 18 galleries will exhibit historic works of art. One of these galleries is Dr Jörn Günther Rare Books. 

Our collection covers hundreds of years of medieval and Renaissance book illustration. While wall paintings have faded or been overpainted and altarpieces have been reused, the gilded pages in pre-modern books have maintained their luster, protected from the elements and sometimes forgotten in vast libraries. Manuscripts decoration and illumination represented an unparalleled repository of medieval art; the greatest artists of these past generations worked on impressive commissions for noble houses and elite religious patrons. 


Yet, these great works can often seem inaccessible to modern audiences, partly because the text is usually written in Latin using a script that is difficult to read, but also because the Christian iconography can be difficult to parse. There are however features of these books and the art included in them that transcend regions, cultures and even time: enjoyment of beauty and music are just two examples. 


The French thirteen century Missal that we are bringing to Seoul is an extraordinary example of the merging of these two ideals. Containing all the sung and spoken parts of the Christian Mass, this was a practical book. It is unusual to see one so heavily decorated. The astonishing detail of this book can be seen more clearly when the pages are turned in this video: 

Similarly, our pre-occupation with physical beauty is not an invention of the modern period but something also evident in medieval manuscript illumination. The portraits included in this personal prayer book decorated by the Master of Spencer 6, of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene (here seen holding the jar of ointment with which she cleaned Christ’s feet), both show the idealized beauty of the time. 

These books, in their own ways, all represent tangible links to our a past and demonstrate values and interests that cross cultural and geographical borders. 



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Sara Öberg Strådal

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