Exhibition and Congress: Love & Devotion. The Gruuthuse Manuscript

The Gruuthuse Museum is a city palace in Bruges, built in the 15th century. Its most famous resident was Lodewijk van Gruuthuse (approx. 1427-1492), warrior, counsellor and chamberlain of the Dukes of Burgundy. He owned an extensive library containing more than one hundred illuminated or illustrated manuscripts. It is assumed that the Gruuthuse Manuscript also belonged to his bibliographic collection.

The highlight of the exhibition Love & Devotion is obviously the Gruuthuse Manuscript. However, the work is also the ideal starting point from which to create an image of life in late medieval Bruges, which at that time was an international trading post.

The key motifs are the themes found in the manuscript itself: music, love, ‘const' (art), companionship and devotion. Not only do they provide a picture of the rich content of the manuscript, they also tell us more about the cultural, social and religious climate of the time.

About 200 objects from the period around 1400 and equivalent pieces of contemporary visual art bring the texts to life: sculptures, manuscripts, jewellery, decorative and household objects, archaeological relics and archive material.

The Gruuthuse Manuscript is of course unique, but as an anthology manuscript it is part of a wider European tradition. For that reason the exhibition is bringing together the most important Middle Dutch anthology manuscripts, in addition to examples from the French and German traditions.

The song lyrics in the manuscript are partly accompanied by simplified musical notation. Most songs tell of the courtly or formal love as was usual in the court, sometimes arising from a certain occasion such as New Year, the month of May or a farewell. The texts regularly report that love brings luck if it is reciprocated. The manuscript also contains non-courtly songs about betrayal, adultery and sex. They are meant to be amusing, but give a flavour of what sort of behaviour was deemed objectionable.

The Gruuthuse Manuscript contains not only prayers, but also a number of poems and songs in which religion plays a prominent role. There are also many references to the devotional context in Bruges: to the veneration of the Virgin Mary and of other saints, to brotherhoods and pilgrimages.

Scholarly congress The Gruuthuse Manuscript. Literature, music and devotion around 1400. This congress takes the exhibition's themes (music, love, ‘const', companionship and devotion) as the basis for an international and multidisciplinary approach to (city) culture in northwest Europe at the beginning of the 15th century.

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(News item 5 March 2013)