- 20th-century Decorative Art
- Arms and Armour
- Books, Manuscripts and Maps
- Classical Antiquities, Coins and Medals
- Clocks, Barometers and instruments
- Jewellery, Snuff Boxes and Miniatures
- Medieval art
- Modern Art
- Oriental and Asian Art
- Paintings, Drawings and Prints
- Porcelain, Ceramics and Glass
- Tribal and Pre-Columbian Art
- Textiles, Carpets and Tapestries
- Works of Art
Thumbs up for ......
Splendour and Glory of the Middle Ages - a retrospective of works of art from Cologne
Having no formal art historical background I was recently invited to visit an exhibition on Cologne art from the middle ages, a period I know little to nothing about. Being curious by nature I of course accepted the invitation gladly as this form of art is not only appealing to the eye, but also interesting from an art historical perspective, so I found out after the ‘crash course’.
Visitors are welcomed in an immense and spacious hallway which leads you both to the Museum Schnütgen, Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum and the exhibition hall that shows the exhibition ‘Splendour and Glory of the Middle Ages’, our destination of purpose.
After a quick tour through the Museum Schnütgen, which displays masterworks from eight centuries reflecting the spirituality and religiosity of this multifaceted era, we head of for which we came.
The exhibition ‘Splendour and Glory of the Middle Ages’ presents an impressive overview of middle age masterpieces produced in Cologne, spanning from the Romanesque and Gothic periods to the Early Renaissance. The exposition is designed is such a way that it is nearly impossible to miss-out any of the 225 exhibits, of which 160 are on loan from national and international museums, collections and church treasuries.
Being an absolute novice concerning works of art from the middle ages, I was immensely glad that my chaperon of the day was a seasoned and knowledgeable collector who had trouble keeping himself from drooling of envy while viewing the exhibition.
Cologne was one of the largest cities in medieval Europe and the continents pulsating centre for trade and pilgrimage. This also reflected the arts in Cologne. Artistic exchanges with Paris, Prague, the Lowlands and Italy, positively influenced local masters and resulted in the typical stylistic characters of works of art from Cologne.
In the Middle Ages art was not created for its intrinsic value, but moreover for a very specific purpose. During the Romanesque period many convents, monasteries and churches were founded, each with lavish interiors and in the Gothic era the start was made in constructing the great cathedral. In all cases these ambitious projects could not be realised without financial wealthy patrons such as monarchs, clergy, prominent residents, members of the city council, merchant associations, guilds and of course the archbishopric of Cologne. What motivated these affluent millionaires of the Middle Ages ? It is fairly simple, prestige and physical evidence of their faithfulness with the hope for a first-class ticket to the hereafter when the time came.
At that time the arts not only played an important role in the practice of faith, for the pilgrimages and commercial trade, but also in the daily lives of individuals. Besides Rome, Jerusalem and Byzantium (Istanbul), Cologne was one of the four Holy Cities and was called “Rome of the North”. As one might expect the city had become an important destination for pilgrimage. The countless churches, tombs of martyrs, legends of saints and relics, including the famous remains of Magi, St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins, as well as St. Geroen with his 6,600 companions all contributed to Holy status of the city. That Cologne’s saints had a great following is apparent considering that relics were taken to all parts of the world, most of which were sealed in ornate cases created by Cologne’s goldsmiths and carvers.
Back to the exhibition. On view are precious ivory carvings, goldsmiths’ works, refined book illuminations, panel paintings, fine textiles, truly magnificent pieces of stained glass and of course the always impressive wood sculptures.
For bibliophiles the exhibition has quite a lot to offer to. One can physically turn the pages of a facsimile Book of Hours and numerous manuscripts in all forms are presented. Truly magnificent is the binding of the Lebuinus-Codex. The boards of the manuscript, dated between 1000 and 1200, lavishly decorated with a gold plated silver filigree cross with in the centre the dead of Bacchus dating from the 1st B.C. to 3rd A.D. and probably made in central Asia. Four panels finely carved from a walrus tooth depicting the four evangelists Mathew, Marcus, Lucas and John, are a reference to the contents of the Codex. As it is suspected that the four panels were created in Cologne, it is assumed that in the third quarter of the 12th century the boards received their finally richly decorated upholstery.
Coss of Diocese Osnabrück, 1000-1050, Diocesemuseum of Osnabrück
Photo : Diocese of Osnabrück
Stunningly beautiful, to put it mildly, is the opulently decorated 11th century cross with a crucifix on verso, one of the earliest and most valuable works of art from the Cathedral in Osnabruck. Measuring 67 x 60 x 2.4cm the cross absorbs all attention when approaching it due to the great number of valuable gemstones. When laid down the cross resembles the Holy City of Jerusalem from a birds-eye perspective, with the glittering stones narrating the city by night.
In front of it I could not suppress the thought that this work of art reminded me in a certain way of African fetish sculptures. Not with regard to the context in which fetish sculptures were made and adored, but more because attaching foreign objects to sculptures of adoration is common with certain African cultures. Two pieces of jewellery in the form of rings, which are chained to the centre of the cross, appear artistically non-cohesive. Were these rings of wealthy patron of the Cathedral of Osnabruck or of a Pope? Who will say.
Dietkirchen Madonna, ca. 1300
Photo : Wikipedia.org
Not the most important, but certainly not an insignificant work of art from the Gothic period, is without doubt the Dietkirchen Madonna. Measuring an impressive height of 115cm the statue is a fine example of Sedes Sapientia (Seat of Wisdom or Throne of Wisdom) sculpture. The Seat of Wisdom is the devotional title for the Mother of God and is typically for the 11th and 12th century sculptures of the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus on her lap, seated on a throne. The typical facial expression for which Cologne Gothic sculptures are known for, although uncertain probably confirms the origin of the Dietkirchen Madonna.
Ollesheimer Madonna, ca. 1260/1270
Photo : Wikipedia.org
The ‘Splendour and Glory of the Middle Ages’ is more than worthwhile as it gives an impressive overview of Colognes masterpieces produced during the middle ages. The exhibition however lacks one essential work of art which would make the exhibition complete as a retrospective. The Ollesheimer Madonna (ca. 1260/1270), undoubtedly one of the most significant representations of the Gothic period, would have most defiantly complimented the exhibition and re- emphasized the importance of this masterwork of the Holy Virgin. However visitors do not have to despair as the Ollesheimer Madonna can be viewed just down the hall in Museum Schnütgen.
Was it of interest? Why not share it with others!