Write What You See

March 12, 2018


John of Patmos is sleeping before he writes his Revelation:

Who’s that writin’? John the Revelator 
Who’s that writin’? John the Revelator 
Who’s that writin’? John the Revelator 
Wrote the book of the seven seals…

…as Son House would sing.  An angel tells him to write what he sees in his dream in a book.  An early use of speech bubbles.  The illustrations of his book, at least in the edition that is preserved in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum at the Cloisters, and known as The Cloisters Apocalypse, begin with events before the crucifixion of Jesus.  In the image below, the top panel shows the Massacre of the Innocents, and the bottom shows The Flight into Egypt.

flight cloisters

A few feet to the left of the case displaying this manuscript was another with the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, opened to show, how thoughtful!, The Flight into Egypt.  No leading angel in the older one, but the newer, about 100 years after the Apocalypse manuscript, keeps the figure of Joseph in his pose of looking back to see that everything is okay.

flight risk

Belles Heures

March 27, 2010

Yesterday evening, I took a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the new exhibit of the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry.

I find it hard not to confuse this manuscript with the perhaps more famous, Très Riches Heures, which is known for its beautiful scenes illustrating the progression of the seasons on a medieval estate.  This manuscript, also a prayer book, features illuminations of The Passion, St. Jerome, and St. Catherine, who refused to be broken, on the wheel or otherwise.

The manuscript has been disassembled for restoration, and before putting it back together, it is being exhibited as individual pages, so you can see both sides in upright glass holders – magnifying glasses are available!  Soon, it will return to its bound state, and visitors will be able to view only two pages, chosen by the curator, at time.

Aside from the dazzling ornamentation of the pages, the pictures are alternately dramatic, poignant, and even humorous.  Viewing them all is totally exhausting, and of course, they were not meant to be viewed this way at all.  The books were meditative/prayer aids, intended to be read one page at a time, a few each day, year after year.

Among my favorite images, with links:

A lovely image showing a crescent moon, and an almost 3-D effect of some angels in reddish hues.

St. Jerome tempted by some dancing girls.

A fanatical Christian, accosted by a loose woman who fondles his thigh.  Rather than be seduced, he bites off his tongue so that the pain will drive away temptation.

St. Jerome listening to a scholar discourse on the classics.  Jerome was torn by his love of Greek and Latin literature and its conflicts with his Christian faith.

St. Jerome is tricked by his colleagues into wearing a woman’s dress.  He is so absorbed in meditation, he puts it on without realizing that his fellow monks have switched his clothing.

There is also a current exhibit of a series of small statues in alabaster depicting a procession of mourners at the funerals of two Burgundian noblemen, the same ones who commissioned the books of hours, I believe.  This figures are placed around the base of two elaborate raised platforms, inside a series of ornately carved gothic niches.

They are displayed in two parallel rows on a simple base in the Metropolitan while their home museum in France is restored.  This means that they are visible completely in the round.  They display a wide variety of costumes and physical manifestations of their grief, all with great realism.  You can view each figure at this link.  The figures have been digitally scanned in the round, so you can actually rotate each virtual figure in your web brower – fantastic!

After leaving the museum, I took a bus downtown to Penn Station, and stopped to look at the new pedestrian mall that has taken over Broadway around 34th street.  Even on a cold night, it is wonderful.  To stand in the middle of a street in Manhattan, with the view that affords, and not have to dodge traffic!

A view of a mysterious moon near the Deco spire of the Empire State Building from the Broadway mall.

Nowadays, we have our own form of illuminations, as followers of Walter Benjamin might say.  A store window advertisement got a felicitous double effect from the reflection in the back of a chromium chair.  And a snap of a hard working artist, creating the dazzling festivals of desire along the street scape.

T0urists doing what they do, recording their ephemeral presence in my phenomenal world.

Catherine’s Hours

February 12, 2010

The Morgan Library and Museum is having a wonderful exhibit of the illuminated manuscripts from Anne of Cleve’s Book of Hours [online fascimile here].  For those who feel we need to regain our sense of sin, this image at the left might be welcome.  A hellmouth within a hellmouth, within a castle of the dead – and not a pretty sight.

Most of the images are not so gruesome; some are familiar scenes from the New Testament, a few from the Old, and there are many “suffrages,” prayers directed at specific saints whose images are provided.    Below is an image of Saint Lawrence.  Commentary from the museum points out the puckish humor of the artist:

St. Lawrence is framed by a border of eels and fish, beautifully executed in gold and silver foil. The saint holds his attribute, the gridiron upon which he was fried to death. The artist made a playful parallel between Lawrence’s method of martyrdom and the way fish are cooked

The Morgan is currently showing another exhibit called Rome after Raphael – outside of the Cleves exhibit is a space that opens to both of them in which documents and manuscripts relevant to both were displayed.  On my way out, I stopped to take a look at some fine specimens of papal indulgences.