Mysteries of the Female Figure, Part 3 The Middle Ages

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I had the opportunity to visit the Cluny Medieval Museum, which I had never been to. It was a wonderful experience to see the different art work of that era (650-1400 c.e.) as I feel like this is a somewhat forgotten aspect of art history. The craftsmanship and talent of the Middle-ages surprised me greatly, changing my outlook on the so called “Dark Ages” completely.

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What fascinated me the most were the massive tapestry panels. The sheer size of them alone is awe-inspiring. But they are so rich in detail and pattern that one truly has to wonder about the time and care an artist puts into these beautiful fabric masterpieces.

DSCN1071This elaborate scene showed the baptism of a French prince and showed the divine blessing on his future reign. I found it fascinating as nearly every person of the prince’s entourage was female. Beautiful noble women dressed in their finest, surround and supporting the future sovereign. Each lady has a small caption, naming each also. The occurrence of text and words in tapestries was unknown to me and I found it a little out of place but of great historical importance. It leaves little room for misinterpretations. The scene takes place in an elaborate background, nature, especially flowers and plants had great symbolic values and you can find them in nearly every piece.DSCN1072

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Another slightly surprising thing I found at Cluny was this strange pose of the Madonna. I’d never seen them in this tilted pose, holding the baby on their hip with such a pronounced curve. Usually Madonnas are much more stiff and standing straight. But I feel like this pose made her seem more human and approachable. Religious art was THE most important theme to be found here. The sheer quantity was staggering. 9 out of ten pieces, if not more, were depicting some kind of Christian scene, character or event.

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The wood carving ability of medieval artisans should definitely be mentioned. This piece struck a chord with me. Saint Madeleine’s statue was slightly smaller than true size, but her presence compensated for it. Her dress was a complicated mess of folds and creases and it was hard to believe she was made of wood at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The most famous series of tapestries is beyond a doubt the Unicorn collection. It is a five piece series, each showing a noble maiden in a fantastic, imaginary place filled with plants, flowers and small animals. Each scene presents her with a lion and a white unicorn and each represents a different sense. This one here, shows the sense of sight, symbolized with the mirror. It was interesting to see the different representations of these senses throughout the room. And for once, to not have a major Christian theme in these pieces.

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Ancient Egypt in the LOUVRE, Part 1

While in Paris I was on a secret mission for my art history class back home. I was to find an ancient civilization and do a project relating to their art. There was never any question about which Ancient Culture I would choose to do this project on. For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with Ancient Egypt. But I wanted to find an uncommon approach to this culture, and so I wanted to stay away from any funerary art and not focus on the extensive mortuary culture. Luckily, the Louvre offered great inspiration. Walking through the ancient Egyptian section of the museum, I was surprised to find preserved furniture, baskets and fabrics. It’s a miracle that fragments of these have still survived today. It sparked my interest and I wanted to learn more about the regular everyday life of these people. I saw many beautiful objects that gave a glimpse of what ancient Egyptian life was like. So in this presentation I would like to show pictures of some of these items and share a few of my own thoughts. (By the way I took all the pictures myself so some are a bit blurry and there were a few reflections too.)

Life on the River Nile

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The Nile was of great importance to the Egyptians. It flooded the fields, leaving behind fertile silt, making agriculture flourish. But it was also the main transportation and communication route. This wonderfully preserved model boat was quite impressive to see,  the delicate ties and trellis survived over two millennia.

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Another aspect of the Nile river was the wealth of fish it offered. In the left picture, we see a bas-releif of an Egyptian casting the nets. We can also see an ancient net. It is not a reconstructed piece, but an actual 3,000 net and hooks found in a tomb. The fact that something so fragile survived truly impressed me.

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Here, on the right, is a splendid painted bas-releif. It’s a little tricky to see, especially with the reflection of the glass. But here is a scene with a plethora of fish and aquatic animals in the process of being fished. The colors made this piece quite interesting, despite the damage.

What is in a name?

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This Figure is quite well known, the “Venus of Willendorf”. It is the most commonly used symbol of prehistoric carvings and sculpture, I’ve seen in several classes throughout the years, museums and documentaries show something similar when explaining art in the pre-history times. So I was not surprised to find a section on her in my current Art History text book. However the story attached to the photo was slightly different this time.

When the statue was first discovered, archeologists had been finding quite a few of these female figurines through out Europe. They called them “Venus” statues. This particular one was found near Wallendorf, Germany and is thought to have been carved around 26,000 years ago. Because one scientist referred to these as Venus statues, the interpretations of what they might symbolize was warped.

Venus was the Roman goddess of love, beauty and fertility, using her name for these statues implied that they had a religious connotation of some kind, and representing the ideal of womanhood. For years, these figures were thought to be fertility figurines, representing the Mother goddess figure, even though there was no proof. I remember this being the theory I was taught in junior high.

However, new research has moved away from this bias and tried to determine the truth without being swayed by an artificial name. There were two theories in the book that I found particularly compelling. The leading Theory (Clive Gamble), states that these figurines were a form of non verbal communication, some kind of peace token between two tribes that wouldn’t know how to communicate with speech. As symbols these figures would have provided reassurance about shared values about the body, or technique and the small size of these figurines (about 4 inches tall) would have demanded a face to face, close contact in order to exchange them.

The other theory expressed here (from Leroy McDermott) focuses on the exaggerated form of these female figures. they have bulbous extreme proportions and very few have any feet. He argues that the perspective was that of a pregnant woman looking down on herself. This was quite an exciting theory since this would show the origins of female art and offer an intriguing insight of women as artists, in charge of how they were represented.

Quite fascinating when we think about the power of a Name, what it means to us and what it then becomes because of it.
It is a Human Universal trait to name (people, places, things), to attribute a sound (audible symbol) to represent something else. But it’s in the interpretations that every culture differs.

An Incredible Book

This National Geographic documentary retraces the history of an incredible manuscript of the 14th century, created by a single man to encompass all of human knowledge. It also contains illustrations of the devil and how to on exorcism, medical cures and botany.

Its a splendid work of art and a great snapshot of the time it was created, but even more interesting his how such a book has survived over 600 years.

Can we say that any of our modern day books will survive that long?

What about e-books? Does having the text of a novel make it enough? Do we loose anything in forfeiting a physical form of a book?