Monday, April 19, 2010

Days and hours of work

Speaking of hand skills as we were . . . the ultimate moment in art/design made by hand is at The Morgan Library & Museum where "Demons and Devotion," an exhibit about The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, is on display through May 2. The Master of Catherine of Cleves created other manuscripts, but he's most famous for Catherine's book (I have yet to learn if he had his own real name). The Master must have had infinite patience—or assistants—to make so many pages with such extraordinary detail. The Hours is astonishing, humbling, and inspiring. Each page is full of symbols as well as domestic scenes that paint a clear picture of 15th century life in the Netherlands.

The surprise for me in this charming scene of the Holy Family at Work is the cool baby-walker.

If you can't get to the Morgan, have an online look at curator Roger Wieck's rich and witty interactive tour of The Hours. . . . The section named "Suffrages" contains the most delightful scenes (a fish border painted on silver foil is an early multi-media presentation).

On the page for St. Lawrence, the afore-mentioned fish appear in the border, while a well-prepared saint brings his own grill (actually, the grill is not for the fish but to signify the instrument of St. Lawrence's martyrdom). The video enables you to see the work close up as opposed to leaning over the vitrines and trying not to either break or fog up the display.

Catherine was quite the tough dame; she spent most of her life warring with her husband. Wieck points out that Catherine committed a heraldic no-no when she incorporated her father's—instead of her husband's—crest into one of the illustrations. No one was the boss of her. I wonder how much say The Master of Catherine of Cleves had about his rather major contribution to the book. Of course, the times warranted various strictures and structures aside from the wishes of the "client." My guess is that the Master didn't have a lot of freedom. Was Catherine a demon about her book of devotions?

Curator Wieck is particularly droll when describing the image above. Note the scrolls of sacred conversation.

Images are screenshots from the Morgan's site.


Suzanne Dell'Orto said...

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. And the interactive tour is fantastic. I'm just in love with all the everyday details of the borders.

And yes, I'm wondering about the illuminator/patron relationship myself: how much is from the client and how much was the illuminator allowed to bring to the table?

Beth Tondreau said...

Methinks that back in the 15th century day, the "client" was really a "patron."