Exhibit on Mary of Guelders, the Máxima of the 15th century

Date of news: 15 October 2018

Mary of Guelders’ prayer book is one of the greatest medieval art treasures from the Netherlands. The beautifully illustrated prayer book of this “15th-century Máxima” will be available to view during the exhibit “I, Mary of Guelders”, which opens on Saturday 13 October at the Museum Het Valkhof in Nijmegen. The book was unlocked and conserved by Radboud researcher Johan Oosterman and his colleagues from the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin national library) and the German Rathgen Forschungslabor (Rathgen research laboratory).

It all started in 2015, when Radboud University professor Johan Oosterman decided that Mary of Guelders’ prayer book should be made accessible for researchers and the general public. However, the book, which is part of the collection at the Berlin library, was so fragile that it needed to be restored first. Oosterman started a crowdfunding project and raised 25 thousand euros, which allowed for the prayer book to be restored.


Mary and Máxima: strong role models


What is so special about Mary of Guelders and her prayer book? Maria d’Harcourt (1380-1429) was a French princess, raised among the nobility of the French court. She married Renaud IV, Duke of Guelders and Jülich in 1405. She mastered the language of her new homeland quickly, just like Máxima did six centuries later, and took her role as ruler very seriously.

Johan Oosterman, professor of Medieval Literature and guest curator of the exhibition: “Modern girls do not have to restrict themselves to the last fifty years when looking for role models; they could very well look to Mary of Guelders.” Women might be hidden away in medieval history, but a picture of a powerful, intelligent, and ambitious woman emerges from Oosterman’s research. “Mary of Guelders shows how important the role of women was in the Middle Ages.”

“The prayer book that Mary of Guelders commissioned is invaluable to Dutch art history,” says Oosterman. “It is the most complete prayer book from that time in popular language, and is filled with beautiful miniatures that are influenced by the work of the Limbourg Brothers.”


About the exhibit


In addition to the prayer book, the exhibit features miniatures, manuscripts, paintings, fabrics, jewellery, sculptures, stained glass, sculptures of saints, and an enormous chandelier. Mary’s personal life takes centre stage in the interactive public space Der Vrouwen Camere: her love for beautiful dresses, her parrots, her letters, and the pieces of advice she received from her closest advisor.

Special activities:

20 October: Gregorian choir Voces Caelestes sings music from Mary’s time, interspersed with texts from the prayer book, and they will perform the piece “Tombeau pour Maria van Gelre”, a piece that was specially composed for this exhibition.

26 October: Meet the experts! Experts from Berlin talk about the restoration of the prayer book.

27 October: An evening at the museum about Mary of Guelders’ jewellery and dresses, and the fashion statements of the 15th century.

The exhibition will run from 13 October 2018 to 6 January 2019 in Museum Het Valkhof in Nijmegen.

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