Posts Tagged 'Art and Nature in the Middle Ages'

Knight Vision

We are in the final two weeks of Art and Nature in the Middle Ages and to celebrate we are sharing insight from stain glass artist Judith Schaechter modern experience with the medium featured in the Winter 2017 issue of Artifacts.

Installation views

Installation views

Art and Nature in the Middle Ages explores medieval works in a variety of media, including beautiful examples of stained glass. This particular art form was perfected during the Middle Ages, and little has changed in the practice of making stained glass in the ensuing centuries. While this once fairly common medium is not widely used by contemporary artists, Philadelphia-based artist Judith Schaechter is known for her work in stained glass. Artifacts asked her why she is drawn to working in this medium and what similarities she sees between modern stained glass works and those created in the Middle Ages.

Stained glass reached its peak in the 12th century and it’s been downhill since then. Perhaps stained glass is an odd medium to choose if one wishes to participate in the world of contemporary fine art, and, indeed, it is! Yet, I found it altogether irresistible.

Although I went to art school to study painting, I knew almost instantly when I tried stained glass that it was what I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life. Why? I felt “in sync” with glass. When I was a painter, I painted fast and furiously, and ultimately threw everything out. This didn’t happen with glass because it was so labor intensive. By the time I managed to do something to the glass, I had developed feelings of attachment and was hardly going to throw it away.

I found the beauty of stained glass to be the perfect counterpoint to ugly and difficult subjects. Although the figures I work with are supposed to be ordinary people doing ordinary things, I see them as having much in common with the old medieval windows of saints and martyrs. They seem to be caught in a transitional moment when despair becomes hope or darkness becomes inspiration. They seem poised between the threshold of everyday reality and epiphany,
caught between tragedy and comedy.

My work is centered on the idea of transforming the wretched into the beautiful—say, unspeakable grief, unbearable sentimentality, or nerve-wracking ambivalence—and representing it in such away that it is inviting and safe to contemplate and captivating to look at. I am at one with those who believe art is a way of feeling one’s feelings in a deeper, more poignant way.

Medieval windows sought to confer inspiration and enlightenment on those who saw them. Beholding a stained glass window can enable, encourage. and literally enact the process of being filled with light. It sounds like some kind of preternatural phenomenon, but it’s a physical fact. While one is busy identifying and empathizing with the image, one also experiences physically the warming, filling sensations of light. It’s so persuasive not because the pictures are convincing narratives but because the colors are overwhelming and the light is sublime—and, by golly, it’s coming from inside you, it’s part of you.

Judith Schaechter has lived and worked in Philadelphia since graduating in 1983 with a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design Glass Program. Her work is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Ar t, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Hermitage, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Corning Museum of Glass, the Renwick Galler y of the Smithsonian Institution, and numerous other public and private collections.

Sounds of the Middle Ages

Take a walk through the DMA’s Art and Nature in the Middle Ages exhibition and you’ll see beautiful paintings and tapestries, pieces of architectural wonder, and some ancient oddities from the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. But looking only gives a bit of the story. What would people back then not only see but hear?

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By way of introduction, let’s start with the architecture. Looking at the capitals that once sat atop soaring Gothic structures is a sight for the eyes. But what would the music be like inside, say, a great cathedral? Here’s a musical example from around the year 1200 that might have been heard inside Notre Dame in Paris one joyous Christmas night. The piece is by the composer Perotin.

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Coming around the corner to the right we see a vibrant painting from about the year 1500 called The Virgin of the Wheat.  The work comes from northern France around Amiens. The Virgin Mary has long been a favorite topic for composers. Here we have one of the most famous examples from this era, Ave Maria, virgo serena by the Franco-Flemish master Josquin des Prez.

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Secular music was an equally important part of life in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The tapestries in this exhibition show everyday scenes of love and romance. Chivalry and knighthood meant not only bravery and codes of conduct but also courtly love. One of the most popular instruments of the time was the lute.

Before the printing press, books were also works of art. Monks created illuminated manuscripts from which they would sing their daily prayers. Smaller versions called Books of Hours would be sold to wealthy people so that they could take part in monastic prayers in their own homes. Pages from the Litany of the Saints can be seen on the interactive tablet in our exhibition. This is what it might have sounded like.

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come into the next room and we see an odd wooden carving called a misericord, or, “act of mercy.” What’s funny about this piece is the carvings depicting, among other things, laughing pigs playing an organ. You’ll also notice a little shelf on top of the piece. So what’s going on here? This is actually from a section of choir stall where monks or choir singers would have to stand for hours at a time during church services. When the seats were flipped up for standing, the little shelf allowed them to discreetly rest their tired rear ends without anyone really noticing.

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Continuing on, we see a small 14th-century carving of the Virgin Mary, whose seat is covered with roses. The rose was a common metaphor for Mary, the rose without thorns. Here we have an English medieval carol, “There is no Rose of such virtue.”

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Finally, we see some interesting metal work. Tabernacles and monstrances were used to house the consecrated bread of the Mass, which Catholics consider to be the actual body of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it was kept in special vessels. One to take note of is the bird, which would have been understood to be the dove of the Holy Spirit. Here is some music from a Mass by the 15th-century composer Ockeghem.

Rather than being a “dark” period, the Middle Ages was actually a vibrant time of creation, both visual and aural. Don’t miss the DMA’s exhibition Art and Nature in the Middle Ages.

Dr. Alfred Calabrese is Director of Music at St. Rita Catholic Church in Dallas and Music Director of the Denton Bach Society.

2016 in a Flash

It’s been a busy year at the DMA. From the opening of Eagle Family Plaza to the hiring of Dr. Agustín Arteaga, the new Eugene McDermott Director, my cameras have not taken a break! Now, I get that this is pictures of the year, but before we get to the photos, let’s run some numbers (Because who doesn’t love math when you’re trying to look at pictures).

Since January 5, 2016, I’ve photographed between 140-150 assignments. After a quick scan of all my folders from 2016 and some elementary-school-level math, my approximate total for photos taken this year is give-or-take 20,000.

With a little help from accounting, factoring that we work about 260 days a year, that’s an average of 77 photos every day. It’s also about 150 gigabytes of data for our computer savvy audience.

Clearly, a small fraction of the frames I take actually end up being used for our publications, ads, blogs, and more, but still, that’s a lot! In those 20,000 photos are celebrities, artists, politicians, dignitaries, and of course our amazing visitors. But, as corny as it may sound, nothing makes my day more than taking a photo of a group of kids creating art in the C3, a new mom holding her baby in the Young Learners gallery, or someone with their eyes glued to a painting in the DMA’s galleries.

These images range from some of the most momentous occasions we’ve had in 2016, to some fun behind-the-scenes moments and even just some of my personal favorites. Either way, I can’t wait for the next 20,000.

Greg Castillo is the Multimedia Producer at the DMA

A Wondrous Woven Magic

Earlier this week, the DMA exhibitions team wrapped up the installation for Art and Nature in the Middle Ages, which opens Sunday, December 4. Here, our team of skilled preparators carefully unfurl a tapestry from the Middle Ages, overseen by conservators and couriers who traveled with the art from the Musée de Cluny in Paris, France. This exhibition contains a variety of different types of objects: liturgical objects in precious metals, capitals and keystones from building structures, large woven tapestries, unbelievably detailed manuscripts including Books of Hours, and fifteen illuminated stained glass windows. It’s only on view in the US here at the DMA. We hope you’ll come see it, and us, soon.

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Skye Malish-Olson is the Exhibition Designer at the DMA. 


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