Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sacred and Profane Stained Glass from the Cluny

One of the things I admire most about the Middle Ages was that it was a period in which people embraced the connection between the material and the spiritual. But there was a downside to this as well. It was an extremely brutal world! This is particularly evident in the religious art of the period, which can be rather shocking to those of us reared with more Victorian conceptions of what constitutes appropriate decoration for places of worship.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and these examples of 13th century stained glass from the Cluny museum have got to be worth at least that. Unfortunately, a couple are a bit blurry, but I'm sure the sentiment won't be lost.

Here we have a piece of stained glass that illustrates part of the story of Samson. Rather than showing any uplifting picture of Samson tearing down the city gate, or even a picture of Delilah cutting his hair as he sleeps, the artist has chosen to show the act of his eyes being poked out. Rather dramatic!

Here we have a rather blurry (sorry) image of John the Baptist being dispatched. Also Interesting because the artists have chosen to show John the Baptist in (then)contemporary clothing.

Here we have a rather graphic vision of souls being awakened for the last judgement.


Melanie said...

Thanks for posting about Medieval glass. I love it- it inspired me to have a go and make my own leaded stained glass window.

In a time when services were in Latin and the populous in England spoke Middle English, the windows and any other decoration were designed to tell the story and preferably strike the fear of God into unrepentant sinners. I think this is why many illustrations were so graphic by today's standards?

The richness of the colours is amazing. Thanks for the tapestry links. Are you still in Colombia?

skatej said...

Geez...Did they have the rape of the sabine women, too?
Ditto on what melanie said. The church focused on keeping the scripture in latin so those who didn't know the language (even if they could read, which was rare) had to use pictures to understand. A lot of medieval art is really gruesome. I have a vague memory of a painting of someone being may have been a surgical picture. I can't remember. But it showed everything. I also seem to remember seeing a medieval illustration (an engraving perhaps?) of someone throwing up. That was definitely not a church image.

Owlfarmer said...

The reason that the figures are depicted in contemporary dress is that most people (then) had no idea of how John the Baptist or anybody else would have been dressed in their own time. Later, mostly from the Baroque on, after the classical revivals of the Renaissance and more contact with ancient art, we begin to see more paintings and sculpture showing dress more appropriate to the periods depicted.

I had forgotten how blood-and-gutsy medieval art could be; thanks for the reminder. I'll have to find a few good examples to wow my students with (anything to hold their attention!).