Cluny Medieval Museum (Spring 2015)

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May 2. This morning after coffee, the medieval Cluny museum, a period of art I love. The museum is in an old “town” house of the Cluny Abbots.

There was a special exhibition of carvings from Swabia in SW Germany (I look it up.) I had to photograph through glass, but couldn’t resist the faces of the nuns or the beautiful gold swirl of the beheading.
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Basement surprise: a Roman bath was discovered and excavated. Since we visited Italy a couple years ago, I didn’t take any pictures. But there were a row of heads taken from Notre Dame during the revolution and discovered in someone’s back yard when he dug.
c boy I’m often surprised by medieval art. The rich people were pooping into the castle walls, but they had beautiful stuff. This boy missing his sword arm and with a dragon(lion?) biting his leg amused me. Sorta like a Hummel… Then there were the reliquaries, fancy containers for bones or teeth or some part of a saint. This reliquary has the three magi marching across its top.
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Before we get to the tapestries, I want to show you some fun carvings from a set of misericords. What? you say. These were little seats like shelves in the choir of the church. Those who had to stand for lengthy prayers could use them to lean on. I always look for them in cathedrals because they are usually carved, and not necessarily with religious motifs. The Cluny has a set (in a very dark room, alas) with carvings of daily work. A baker, a couple being drawn in a cart, churning butter, and the most fun of all, two kids riding stick horses and playing at swords. (Click on the picture if you want to see an enlargement. They are slightly fuzzy. As I said, the room was dark and flash not allowed.)
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c lionThe Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries – also in a dimly lit room to preserve. There are 6 of them. Five represent the senses – taste, smell, etc. The sixth is labeled Mon Seul Desir. Lots of arguments about what that single desire is. I’m going to stick my neck out and say she’s holding a treasure chest, so her desire is money. My interpretation is in no way colored by our own era!
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Now to close with a carving from a church screen a with an unusual subject: the circumcision of Christ.

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Impressionists (Paris, 2015)

imp monetWhile I’m not a big fan of painting – all those heavy women rendered in heavy oil – I love the Impressionists. The first time I saw a major collection was in Paris at the Jeu de Paume (a king’s tennis courts re-purposed for art). So much better in person than in books. I could put my face close to the picture and fall into it. I saw the air, the trees, the sea, the snow. imp archer

The collection has now been moved to the old train station, a wonderful space at least in the center, with its decorated ceilings and arches. The rooms on the sides with the paintings are more jumbled but the art remains entrancing. This shimmering river was new to me. Sadly, I didn’t snap a picture of the label so I’m not sure of the artist. Seurat?

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However, this visit it wasn’t the paintings that caught me; it was the art nouveau exhibit. Beds, vases (see the dragonfly vase below), bookcases and a wonderful piece which was a chaise in a smoking lounge in a billiard parlor.

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Our visit was in the evening and I took a series of pictures out the windows across the Seine as dark came on and lights were lit. You can see Sacre Coeur where we were in the morning in the distance, then I pulled it into closeup.

The magic of Paris.

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Antique Sarreguemines Coffee Set

Coffee setCoffee set marked Flore U&C Sarre- guemines.

The factory supplied most of the original tiles that decorated the walls of the Paris metro and Napoleon commissioned decorative pieces from them for his apartments at Versailles.

I bought the set when I was living in Germany. Did I have a use for it? Hahaha. I was a ballet dancer with a tiny apartment and in Germany at that time, you didn’t visit one another’s apartments, you met at a restaurant or bar. This may have changed, but while I lived there, I never had a visitor in for coffee. In fact, I didn’t drink the stuff; my beverages consisted of carrot juice, apfelsaft (apple juice sold in the canteen for theater staff,) and after performances, red wine at the Italian place where we wound down. But this set had to be mine.

I bought it at my favorite “antique” store where, with the exception of a flokati rug, I had found all the furnishings in my apartment: a painted glass lamp with little crystal beads, a rocking chair, a carved coat rack with a beveled mirror to hang on the wall, a couple of chairs and a solid wooden table that took me almost an hour to drag home. In the midst of my spare décor, the coffee set glowed like an expensive painting.

When I moved back to the States, the husband of a dancer friend was being transferred to NYC and he offered to ship some items home for me. I sent the coat rack, the flokati (which has long since become scraggly and been abandoned), and this set. The lamp, a true antique, I opted to keep with me as carry on. Unfortunately, I had a plane change.

The second airline insisted the package was too big. I tried to explain it was an antique but to no avail. The box that came off the baggage carousel tinkled and was full of painted glass shards. Only the beading was intact. I have wondered if I had been then as I am now, I could have saved it. Dancers are trained to listen to authority – the teacher, the choreographer, the stage manager, the coach. It has taken some time to become a person with my own authority.

Writing this, I feel such regret for that lost lamp. It was precious because it lit a special time of my life. From the 6th grade on, I had been determined to be ballerina, never mind my short legs. After years of struggle, I won a place in a good company. After every performance, I went home and turned on that light. Under it, I examined my battered feet, ate my skimpy meals or read. I was happy!

I have no such close connection to the coffee set but its beauty continues to holds me.

Antique Piecrust Table – Guest Post

The piecrust table is so named because of the little rim around the edge. They have 3 legs which make them an ideal table for serving tea or playing games because they never wobble. (Remember your geometry – 3 points make a plane…) Many of these tables, which became popular in the 18th century, are single, not double like this one, and the top can be tilted so as to move the table out of the way against a wall.

This table belonged to Denise’s grandmother on her mother’s side. She says it was always in the house where her grandmother lived, whether apartment or mobile home. Here’s a memory about her grandmother:

Grandma came over every week, sat at the kitchen table and gave herself a manicure with pepper red polish. I was little and laid on the counter while mother washed my hair. And my sister had to sit in her chair and practice reading “Why Johnny can’t read.” She’d sound out “mmmmoooo.” Grandma was very stylish, always in a snug bodice, tight waist, strappy high heel sandals and glasses with rhinestones. At one point she was dating “Howard.” She dropped by on her way to Los Vegas. Independent, she went to Hawaii and Acapulco by herself. I remember she kept a bowl of matches on top of the fridge. When the grandchildren visited, they got to choose what they wanted for dinner. I chose fishsticks or chef boyardee.

One time when I was there, my great granddaddy came over. He sat in the bean bag chair with an ash tray and said, “We’re going watch the fights. I’ll give you a nickel to bet – don’t tell your mother.”

To those of you who have been following this blog, we will return to the European journey sometime in the future – still to come Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark and Norway. I just needed a break and thought perhaps you did too.

Bone Dish from Antietam – Guest Post

Simple white bone dish, designed to sit next to a plate and hold bones once the meat was eaten. No marking on the bottom.

This dish comes from Don and his daughter, Denise. Don begins the story:

My mother had a great-uncle who had been a child during the Civil War. He told stories of sitting up on a hill, watching the battle of Antietam. [ed: Fought on September 17, 1862, it was the first major battle on Union soil and the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with casualties totalling about 23,000.] Obviously this made a big impression on him because when he grew up, he made a living scouring the battle site for souvenirs and selling them in a little shop.

We went to visit him when I was young and he gave this dish to Mother. He said that it had been left behind on the battlefield. Not much use for a bone dish in battle, so the family speculates that it was used in blood-letting, still a medical practice at that time. Or held under the chin for shaving.

Now the story takes a slight detour. Evidently this uncle had a near brush with death by lightning. A ball of fire came in through an open window and rushed through a room where he was standing. Denise remembers her grandmother always insisted that the windows be closed if there was a storm, allegedly because of this uncle’s experience.

The dish came to Denise as a memento when her grandmother died. It now has a place of honor in her master bath. Its curve fits right along the sink where it makes a fine soap dish.

Restored Pie Cabinet – Guest Post

Pie Cabinet brought back to life. Richard writes: My great grandmother’s pie cabinet, used to store paint and chemicals by my grandmother in her basement. Repaired and restored in my garage for our china cabinet. One of the shelves had to be replaced because it was ruined.

[ED: Research says the pie cabinet was likely introduced to the United States by the German people who immigrated to Pennsylvania, better known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. This makes sense because Richard’s ancestors were German. The pie safe was generally kept away from the wood stove so that the food could remain as cool as possible. This one has lost the usual punched tin that would have been in the doors. The narrow slits on the side were probably screened. That way the pies and other food stayed ventilated but pests (except for children) couldn’t get in.]