Cluny Medieval Museum (Spring 2015)

c museum
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.
c nuns 2c beheading
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.
c reliquary
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.)
c misry 4
c misry 3
c misry 1
c misry 2







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!
c ladyc lion2

Now to close with a carving from a church screen a with an unusual subject: the circumcision of Christ.

c circumcism

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?

imp saurat

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.

imp chaiseimp dragonfly

imp screen


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.

imp blue haze

imp blue haze2

imp sacre coeur2

imp sacre coeur

The Louvre, museum of wonders

louvre archer

On our second day we visited this huge museum twice: in the morning and during their night hours. In between we went to the Cinema Museum which I will write about next week. But first, the Louvre.

Choosing what to see at this vast museum is difficult. We’re not much for paintings so we went to Ancient Babylon. Fantastic choice. Years ago, I had seen the Gates of Ishtar in Berlin and fell in love with the huge beasts in blue and orange. The Louvre extended my love. We spent most of the morning in ancient Syria; the rooms were almost empty.

What is difficult to grasp from the pictures is how enormous the work is.  And of course there were plenty of little articles: details from horse bits, cylinder seals, tiny statues of animals with fantastic horns.louvre door2

louvre doorTwo methods seemed popular: building brick by brick, sort of like a large mosaic, and incised raised images.

Winged horseThis was my hubby’s favorite: the man holding the little lion, after perhaps rescuing it from the snake in his right hand. Notice how his feet are turned in the same direction, like an Egyptian painting.

louvre man lion

Of course we can’t really know what the imagery meant to the people. Take a look at the god carrying the little basket. What was in it? louvre angel


Then we went to Egypt, where it was very crowded. I think perhaps the passion for Egypt began with the Tut exhibits which traveled many countries. It’s familiar. Until Berlin, I had no idea about the art of Babylon. But I recommend it.

louvre paintings

A thing to keep in mind about this museum is that it was first a palace. Starting from the medieval period, kings lived here. Much of the extant building is from the Renaissance , but we went into the basement and saw the powerful pillars that supported the building from medieval times. Just a couple of pix: one of a grand entry with steps that allowed horses to mount and another of a typical space, now filled with paintings. (I suspect the ceiling was not glass originally; probably gilt and ornate like we saw elsewhere in the museum. The glass being good for lighting the art, though.)

louvre stairs









In the evening we went to African Art. Similarly empty. I keep imagining the power of a king who sat on this chair, slightly leaning back with the fierce face between his legs.

louvre chair

I’ll close with this startled, albeit graceful, statue.

louvre statue

Volterra with Etruscans

etruscans 7etruscans 5Late afternoon visit to the Etruscan museum. They were here before the Romans (and gave Tuscany its name.)

A very Giacometti-like statue with a face that belongs in a Tim Burton movie. Little bronze animals. Sarcophogi and artifacts – mirrors, cooking utensils, jewelry. .jars
Humans evidently have always liked to adorn themselves, unlike the animals who seem content with fur and feathers.vase

Etruscan sarcophogusThe tops of the sarcophagi have stunted little bodies with bold heads. The rarity is an old man and woman; most are single.

There is a display pointing out that the sarcophagi are not portraits – the same face is repeated over and over: a young woman or man. Once you realize it, it’s kinda sad.

The under-panel of the sarcophagi are also interesting – there are themes. The Sirens singing, traveling with a covered wagon (sophisticated), fighting – of course, sunflowers, and chariots which look just like those in Ben Hur.etruscans 3
One shows a siren with a sword and 2 dolphins. The little label says in Italian – I didn’t study for nothing – the images mean the trip is dangerous but the outcome happy. (Although how could we know what the Etruscans thought?) etruscans 2
etruscans 6

I am also taken by a very human painting on a plate of a father talking to a son (or that’s how I interpreted it.)

We hiked down to the Etruscan gate that was saved in WWII by villagers who filled it with cobblestones pulled from the streets so the retreating Germans wouldn’t blow it up.

Finally my hubby wanted to climb the bell tower of the church behind our hotel, which had been a monastery.
della robia
The church was locked but when we knocked, a woman let us in. Climbing is too dangerous but she calls her husband to open the side chapels for us – each has a Della Robbia. Fantastic faces. I’m in love.

A note on the hotel: the biggest bathroom and nicest breakfast in Italy. If you are ever lucky enough to get to Volterra I recommend it – Chiostro Delle Monache.

A final reminder. If you click on a little photo you can see it full size. Be warned, they will take a while to load.

Hand-woven Tapestry from Peru

Tapestry allA fantastical Peruvian tapestry.
I’m going to say it’s in the style of “San Pedro de Cajas.” It is definitely padded and woven as tapestries from there are described, but the style looks different than those I found on the web.

As this is Mother’s day, the post is in memory of my fabulous mother, with a shout-out to my mother-in-law who is also fabulous-she raised my lovely husband.

My sisters and I bought the tapestry as a present for Mother’s 60th birthday. My Norwegian sister, Merete, had visited us (with her entire family) in Los Angeles and one day we all went to Olvera Street, which is full of Mexican stores/restaurants/color, where Mother admired one of these tapestries. Her birthday was coming up and Merete said that in Norway that particular milestone is celebrated with a special gift. So we four daughters bought this for Mother.

Mother wasn’t able to hang it right away. She stored it rolled and unfortunately, because it’s made of wool, there was a bit of moth damage. Still, it is beautiful. When Mother died, my husband and I took it and now it hangs in our house evoking terrific memories. Today I’m particularly thinking of Mother with rolled up pant legs strolling along the sand as Merete’s daughters frolic in the California ocean. A bit warmer than that of North sea. I’m also remembering another Norwegian cousin who arrived at our house for a visit, the color of the sun in the tapestry. Too much enjoyment on the beach! I always swore I’d learn Norwegian, but I got side-tracked. Maybe with so many family members there, I should try.
Now take a closer look at some of the details:

A bit about how this was made. It’s an unusual style of weaving, known as padding, in which dyed but unspun wool is stuffed into the warp of the loom, each colored piece arranged one by one, much like brush strokes in an oil painting. Whoever this artist was, he/she had an active imagination and a terrific eye.

Painting of Orange Elephants

Painting of elephantsPainting of Elephants by my Uncle.

My uncle and my daddy were roommates in college; they married sisters, were both architects, and designed and built their family’s homes. Whereas my daddy did photography (see one of his photos here), Uncle Dean was a painter.

As long as he was working, his art interests were curtailed — a matter of time I’d assume — and his projects seemed to be mostly for his family. One Christmas he made a complete set of felt decorations for their tree. I remember them as fantastic, with touches of sequin, but I can no longer describe them.

After he retired, he took up painting full-time, taking classes and joining the Colorado Watercolor Society and having work accepted for their exhibitions. He knew I was interested in art, so when I visited, he’d take me down to the basement where he had his canvases stacked against the wall. One by one he’d take the new ones out, turn them around and we’d talk about the pictures. This one was one of his favorites. The assignment in his class had been to use the color orange. He told me that orange was a very difficult color to integrate into a picture, but he felt he’d done it.

He also taught me about acrylic paints – how they can be used thick, like oil, or thinned and used like watercolor. And he made me see how difficult watercolor is: if the artist wants white in the painting, he must leave blank paper. To have the whole picture in your mind’s eye and to control the paint around white space seems to me impossible.

After Uncle Dean died, my cousin had prints of some of his paintings made. I asked for this one and have always loved it. It hangs in my living room, reminding me of a kind and talented man.