It’s All About Art

From a NYT piece on a Met exhibit of art from Prague – starting with a bit about Charles IV:

“The addition of holy Roman emperor to his résumé, made him a political superstar. With a handpicked team of artists and architects, imported and local, he turned Prague into a visual showcase, a rival, he hoped, to Paris and Rome. And with holy relics, which he amassed in stupefying numbers and stockpiled in the treasury of the rising St. Vitus Cathedral, he transformed a merchant city into a sacred city, cosmic terrain, a New Jerusalem.

A reliquary is one of the first things you see in the exhibition, a life-size gilded silver bust of St. Ludmila herself, probably commissioned by Charles. Although designed to hold mortal remains, the sculpture speaks of life. With her intelligent eyes and piquant, downturned smile, Ludmila has the companionable look of a favorite aunt, daintily veiled but ready to be amused.

Relatively few silver sculptures on this scale survive. Many were melted down, either for recycling or, in periods of religious reform, as a rebuke to their material extravagance. This piece, one of several here from the St. Vitus treasury, is precious not only as an example of surpassing craftsmanship, but also as a reminder of a time in Western history when art was perceived as spiritually, even physically, instrumental, the potential source of reality-altering energy.

It’s useful to bring an awareness of this phenomenon to the show. Without it, certain objects will stay remote and mute. Not most of them, though. The candid, direct-address glance of an Italianate Madonna speaks eloquently to 21st-century eyes. So, in a different way, does the figure of St. Luke, as bulky as a quarterback but tense with apprehension as he listens to the tiny bull, his muse, whispering in his ear, in a painting by the German-trained artist called Master Theodoric.”

Hm. “A time in Western history when art was perceived as spiritually, even physically, instrumental, the potential source of reality-altering energy.” A double scoop of the 1300s, please.

Comments

  1. Hell yes–maybe with some 1200 sprinkles and why not a pagan Greece cherry on top.

    Unfortunately today, we just don’t have enough time or money to do things like they did in the middle ages…

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