Illuminated pages "looking at the innards of a bejeweled watch"

Single illuminated pages from medieval manuscripts often end up as single exhibits in museums, or worse, stuck in a drawer, unviewed and unappreciated, but a new exhibit Heaven on Earth: Manuscript Illuminations From the National Gallery of Art showcases these single pieces as the gems they are. Paul Richard of The Washington Post has a review.

From the article:

Behind all these initials and multicolored Bible scenes and fanciful embellishments, one can sense the oiled hum of efficient institutions (the monastery, the cathedral, the royal house, the guild) showing off their glory, importance and prestige.

These pages are like reliquaries, those golden jeweled boxes with small rock-crystal windows in which the Church preserved the fingernails of saints. The flawless hides, the thin sheets of gold glued to them, the pure blue of the Virgin's robe (from powdered lapis lazuli imported from Afghanistan) and the sheer quality of the painting weren't just signs of wealth, they were signs of veneration. What was written on the vellum -- the law, the founding documents, the revealed word of God -- was more valuable by far.

Th exhibit will be on display at the national Gallery of Art until August 2, 2009.