Illuminata: Farmer Jón Bjarnason, Mankind and more Wisdom
Icelandic art history is often presented in a way that leads us to think that it essentially began around the year 1900, when Thórarinn B. Thorláksson held his first exhibition of paintings in Reykjavik. This implies that almost no visual material of any artistic value exists from previous centuries, at least none worth examiningation. This is of course an over-simplification and entirely incorrect, because Icelandic art history is as old as the nation itself; illuminations in medieval manuscripts are only one part of the heritage that bears witness to show this, but in this field a lot of work in the field needs to be done in further research.
Illuminata is the name given to the project that was established for the purpose of creating a database of information about visual art in Icelandic manuscripts. The project is supported by people interested in the field, the Arni Magnusson Institute in Iceland and the Reykjavik Art Museum. The aim of the project is to examine and photograph Icelandic manuscripts for the purpose of enabling an easier access than before for artists, scholars, students and the general public to the little known aspects of Icelandic art history that is to be reserved in the manuscripts.
Illuminata has from the beginning intended to exhibit selected material that comes to light from the research of the manuscripts. This exhibition is the first step on this road, and contains a fraction of the visual material that has been discovered. The idea is to make the database of visual materials that is being gathered from this research available to the public by next autumn, and then increase it as the work progresses.
In this exhibition there are photographs of works by Farmer Jón Bjarnason and a number of other illuminators. These are divided into a few categories that are explained further in the exhibition halls.
The illuminations by Farmer Jon would now be defined as "naive", and in light of that many consider them more interesting as entertainment or evidence of the time when they were created rather than as works of artistic value. On the other hand there is an air of sweetness and artistic integrity in all the illuminations of Farmer Jon that is likely to touch Icelanders in a certain way at the beginning of the 21st century.
Ásrún Kristjánsdóttir,curator Illuminata project leader.