A common secular theme in medieval artifacts, often in beautifully wrought ivory cases for whatnots and mirrors. Knights attack the castle of love, defended by maidens who have only buckets of roses with which to repel the attackers. Sometimes Cupid lends a hand…to whom? The knights use the usual run of siege tactics, and sometimes a trebuchet is present.
For a change of pace, the two left-hand panels on the case below show the story of that lovable old coot, Aristotle, tutor of Alexander the Great, being humiliated by Phyllis. The ones on the right tell the tale of Pyramus an Thisbe, from Ovid, and known to most through its later incarnations, such as Romeo and Juliet and The Fantasticks.
More siege craft and love below.
Another visit to The Cloisters, the museum at my doorstep. Above, the face of a full-length figure from a portal, clearly showing the stylistic influence of Chartres. (It would have been painted.) The naturalism is clear, but it’s a far cry still from the naturalizing style of the Italian Renaissance which shows up in a panel from Milan that is included in the collection: Medieval by chronology, but not style.
These faces, blurred because I obeyed the injunction against the use of flash, see more like collective dream images of what a king and queen should look like.
Some capital ideas, showing just how much drama can be squeezed into a small space at the top of an arcade column. The ape-man theme, wrought in precious metal, is in evidence elsewhere in the museum as well.
This tomb effigy shows the ideal of the Christian knight. His feet rest on a crouching lion, indicating his strength and courage. Many tomb effigies have such animal features, often small dogs, which I believe indicate the person’s faithfulness or loyalty.
No visit here is complete without a glimpse of the End of Days, provided in The Treasury, where an illuminated manuscript of The Apocalypse is on display.
A strange grotesque in the margin seems to be the equivalent of Monty Python’s “and now this…“
This volume from a Spanish translation of Saint Augustine’s City of God is what got me started reading that very long book.
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.
In keeping with my plan to visit the Metropolitan Museum once a month, I spent an hour at The Cloisters today. This is the uptown branch of the Met that houses a large collection of medieval objects in a building resembling a monastery, and with multiple courtyards and interiors of European abbeys that were transported here and reconstructed. It sits in the midst of a park on highlands overlooking the Hudson River Palisades and northeast Manhattan, and it is the only museum in Manhattan where I can drive up and park at the front door anytime I want. The trip from my home takes about fifteen minutes.
I like to visit museums for short periods, or exhaustion sets in. Since I can go often, I can look at a few things each time and leave the rest for later. Some of favorites that I viewed today:
A couple of weeks ago, I dipped into the Met for a quick visit, and came upon this figure of Aaron, from the Cathedral of Noyon. I was struck by its monumental aspect, its mesmerizing representation of the fabric wrapped tightly around the figure, and the serene expression on Aaron’s face. His brother, originally disposed opposite him on the cathedral facade, hasn’t fared so well with time.