Thursday, April 03, 2008

In living color

I'm home from the trip to Germany and the Netherlands, and it was quite productive... barring the usual mishaps with misplaced luggage, changing time zones, and so forth. But I have lots of pictures to show off, and months worth of interesting paternoster-related bits to write about.

Here's my proof that I was actually there: those are my toes you see in this photo of the cast-metal hole covers in the streets of Köln (which is what you call Cologne, Germany when you're speaking German).

Koeln, cast iron crest and my feet

My first appointment was at the Wallraf-Richarz Museum, which has a splendid collection of medieval and Renaissance paintings. I was able to go "back stage" and take close-up photos of a number of paintings that I'd only seen in black and white -- for example, this one:

Anonymous woman by Bruyn

And now I have this:

Anonymous woman by Bruyn: color

I also found time to stop by the Church of St. Andreas, which turns out to be just a couple of blocks from the Kölner Dom (the Cathedral). Actually it was quite easy to walk everywhere in Köln, since essentially everything I wanted was in the center of town, which is quite compact. I spent a few quiet minutes in the crypt of St. Andreas, where Saint Albertus Magnus is buried in a Roman stone sarcophagus, but my main reason for being there was to look at the Rosary Society altarpiece, which has yet another of those scenes of the Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus with a (rather anachronistic) string of rosary beads. Unfortunately I couldn't get good pictures, since while the painting is quite large, it's mounted rather high up on a wall and I couldn't get a good angle. I may try again if I have more time on another visit.

Then I was off to Munich for a few days, where I went off in the wrong direction more than once on the excellent, but slightly confusing tram system (though I always got where I was going, in the end). I was able to look at a couple of interesting rosaries backstage at the Bayerischen Nationalmuseum, but I probably spent more time ogling the very large and fascinating collection of royal knicknacks at the Residenz Museum's Schatzkammer.

The Residenz is the former palace of the rulers of Bavaria, and the Schatzkammer is their collection of "treasures," which include lots of gold, jewels, ingenious things carved of amber and rhinoceros horn, silver and so forth. I spent quite a bit of time trying to get the best photos I could of the twenty or so rosaries on display. Many of them date from later than the periods I'm most interested in, so for the most part they are fairly standard rosaries, and they are interesting mostly for the materials they are made of and the medals and accessories that go along with them. Here are a random few beads from one of the displays:

Residenz-beads

One of the pieces I especially wanted to see was the green emerald rosary I had modeled this one after. It was in the same display case as the beads above, but of course (since I wanted to see it) it was way in the back of the case, making good photography difficult. I was also a bit disappointed to see that it wasn't specially noted or described in any detail, since I think that, if only for sheer ostentation value, a rosary made entirely out of emeralds outshines a lot of the other things in the collection. More than that -- not only was it in the back of the case, it was actually dusty. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Emerald rosary from the Residenz

Back to Köln for Easter weekend, I had a chance to go to the three remaining museums on my list: the Domschatz (Cathedral treasury), the Schnütgen Museum (of which more later) and the former Diocesan Museum, which moved last year into new quarters at the ruined Church of St. Kolumba a few blocks from downtown.

At Kolumba, they are still in the process of moving things from and to storage, so I couldn't make an appointment to see any of their large collection of beads. There were no beads on display either, since this particular museum is now designed as a place for contemplation rather than for historical study, with a lot of open space and about two-thirds modern religous art to one-third historical art. The historical pieces they do have on display are quite spectacular, though, and I was particularly happy to see, in the very last room, another painting that I had only seen in black and white. It's this one, called "Muttergottes in dem Erker" ("the Mother of God in a corner").

Erker black and white

I am not a betting person, but I had made a bet with myself that the beads in this painting would turn out to be red: and sure enough, they are.

Erker in color

Erker-beads

In color, this painting strikes me as an extraordinarily tender and lovely scene.

Pictures from Köln:


In living color
More living color
A Joos van Cleve altarpiece
Details, details

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