April 28, 2013
… spot the Crucifixion? The rules are quite simple, really: All you need is a late medieval wall painting, like this one here…
… and a guidebook claiming that there’s a Crucifixion scene depicted in said painting. And then you just keep staring at the picture until you can finally make out the faded remains of the scene:
Want to have another go? Try this one:
To help you out a bit, here’s a more detailed image of the painting’s central portion where, after adding lots and lots of contrast in Photoshop, the crucified body of Christ is slightly more discernible and even the silhouette of Jerusalem becomes visible in the background:
It’s a fun game, isn’t it? Only, for some people, including myself, it’s actually part of our job and in many cases it’s only the smallest of steps from fun to frustration. I mean, I really like wall paintings, and I love studying them, a lot more than for instance manuscript illuminations with their fresh, well-preserved colours… But still, the state of preservation some of those murals are in can often be a real
Admittedly, the two paintings shown above are extreme examples, not least because both of them are located on the outside of their respective buildings and have therefore been exposed to sun, wind and rain for ages. But even inside, the situation isn’t always that much better:
Well, it’s not that I’m complaining… But I thought it would be fun to share these images here. Fun as well as educational. The thing is that, when we think of art history, we usually think of well-preserved, high-end works by the likes of Giotto, Michelangelo or Tintoretto. The fact of the matter is, however, that more often than not, what art historians actually deal with are badly preserved, low-key works by anonymous or little-known masters that rarely make it into the textbooks or even onto art historical blogs…
To this effect, I’ll leave you with another “gem” from Austria’s rich heritage of medieval wall paintings:
April 19, 2013
A week or so ago, Dennis Aubrey over at Via Lucis - that amazing blog dedicated to photography of (mostly) Romanesque architecture in France – posted an entry about the sculptural decoration of the 12th century facade of the Prieuré Sainte Gemme. Aptly titled Curious Corbels, the post features some of those highly imaginative carvings – from realistic human heads to rather cartoonish figures, ferocious beasts and demons – so typical for the Romanesque era.
This reminded me that for quite some time now I have been meaning to do a post about the only still extant set of Romanesque carvings here in Vienna, i.e. the decorations on the main gate of the Stephansdom [St. Stephen's Cathedral], the so-called Riesentor [Giant Gate]:
This richly decorated portal was begun c. 1237 and completed about fifteen years later, at a time when the Romanesque style had already begun to give way to the Gothic. However, its sculptures and ornaments are still firmly rooted in the Romanesque tradition. Thus, the tympanum shows Christ in Majesty flanked by two angels – unfortunately, though, this piece is not easy to capture on photo because it’s half-hidden by a close meshed the anti-pigeon-net:
Surrounding the tympanum is a series of archivolts with richly carved mouldings (which, actually, I have already mentioned and shown in one of my earlier posts). At the foot of the archivolts one finds the figures of the twelve apostles, and below that an amazing frieze of weird and fantastic creatures:
It is this frieze which interests me here and which, on the verge of the Gothic, shows the imagination of Romanesque sculptors and masons in all its bizarre glory one last time.
There are, of course, some relatively ‘normal’ human figures, even though most of them are confronted by fierce creatures such as this disproportionately large lion:
Lions, as is well known, were a favourite subject in high medieval sculpture and, right enough, here’s another one:
Next in line: dragons…
… and, presumably, an ape:
It’s hard to say what exactly the creature in the next photo is meant to represent. Personally, I’d refer to it as a demon, but it’s hard to say really…
It’s easier to identify the two gentlemen in the next picture: a cripple and the head of a man grasping his beard. It is equally difficult, though, to determine what their meaning is supposed to be.
Most scholars believe that the weird imagery in this frieze is meant to symbolize the moral perils of earthly existence, the confrontation of mankind with the snares of the devil. I must say, it’s hard to argue with that when looking at figures like these two…
… probably two of the most striking figures in all medieval art and definitely two of my personal favourites!