[Fwd: Egyptian art show]

M A Jones mark at SPAMjones118.freeserve.co.uk
Sun Sep 19 16:58:17 MDT 1999

Carrol, I'm sure you had good reasons to visit the Metropolitan, and I am
sure you went there more than twice.

I'm not sure that artisans in High Medieval Europe were as hard done by as
you say (or even that you think they were), but even if they were, art is
art, no? Anyway, a post-post-modernist like Yoshie cannot fail to agree ...
whatever the pain involved (the more the merrier, knowing Yoshie)
art comes first, if you know what I mean...

ps I'm sure you read Henri Focillon while imbibing mother's milk; here's a
bit from vol II of his Art of the West (1939, pp.127-131) anyway...

THE art of northern France was not unaware of Italy, any more than Italy was
unaware of it. In 1298, the French painter Etienne of  Auxerre had been sent
to Rome by Philippe le Bel - on the eve of that jubilee of 1300 which was
the last glorious page in the papal annals prior to the exile in Avignon.
This is a solitary fact, whose consequences we are not in a position to
estimate. But in the next century the miniatures of Jean Pucelle reveal the
existence of a most delicate and sensitive blending of the Parisian and the
Sienese spirit, similar to that which united Andrea Pisano and the French
ivory carvers in an identical feeling for grace of form. In these same
miniatures we may also recognize the extent of the threat which the nuances,
flexions and charms of the new spirit offered to that monumental equilibrium
which we found so precisely defined by the architecture and sculpture of the
thirteenth century, by the stained glass, which introduced its dazzling
majestic figures in the intervals of sky seen between the stonework, and
lastly by man's image in the form in which Giotto had installed it upon the
walls, with due consideration, not only for the inherent plastic dignity of
the forms, but also for the mass and stability of the walls themselves.
What remained in France of the great pictorial tradition which had
determined the appearance of so many walls down to the end of the twelfth
century, and even later-for works like the Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine
at Montmorillon probably belong to the following century, not to mention the
paintings of pure Romanesque style with which certain churches of Mayenne,
Chier and Nièvre were adorned in the same period? Was there not a natural
antipathy between this austere art and the spirit of a time which expressed
itself in the elegant precision of Rayonnant architecture and in a charming,
supple sculpture, of the most refined execution? Were the forms of
wall-painting able to retain some vestige of their long-accustomed grandeur?
Religious art, in the second half of the thirteenth and during the
fourteenth centuries, no longer disposed, as we have seen, of the wide wall
spaces of the preceding period. The apertures had devoured the wall. The
figures were constricted by new frames, by medallions at Petit-Quevilly and
Saint-Emilion, and by quatrefoils in the Sainte-Chapelle, where glass
incrustations superimposed the colour and substance of the windows on the
substance of the wall itself; elsewhere (as in the cathedral of Clermont),
the walls were painted in tempera with retables and triptychs, confining
within precise limits the donations of private persons and the offerings of
confraternities. But what the Church lost represented, to some extent, a
gain for secular art and for such of the ecclesiastical buildings as could
offer an expanse of wall free from the many-hued radiance of the windows. In
feudal architecture, in the lofty halls of the keeps and fortified palaces,
in the greater town houses, there was unlimited scope, if not for great
painting, at least for decoration on a grand scale. It was the work of
obscure artisans, its meagre iconography reduced to a few monotonous and
conventional themes-the old combat of the Siren and the Centaur, a
tournament, or a pair of knights fighting in a forest.1 Compositions such as
those of the castle of Saint-Floret and the house at Herisson, in Allier,
cannot be compared with the great visions of sylvan landscape and the
enchanted hunts which surround the papal wardrobe at Avignon. Nevertheless,
these scenes of decorative chivalry played a part in the history of French
painting, just as they did in the definition of contemporary society. They
looked forward to those painted chambers which enjoyed so great a vogue
under the first Valois monarchs. We have to rely on descriptions and
references in the accounts for our idea of these schemes, which must have
been relatively ambitious; such were the paintings which Evrard d'Orldans
(the sculptor of the Langres Virgin) executed at Confians in 1330 for Mahaut
of Artois, the paintings by the same artist in the King's castles, and those
which Jean le Hon commissioned from Jean Coste in 1349 for Vaudreuil-a Life
of Caesar. Besides these, we know that at the end
1 On the exceptionally wide range ot snbjects commissioned in England by
Henry III, see T. Borenius, The Cycle of Images in the Palaces and Castles
of Henry III, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, VI, 1943,
of the thirteenth century, Queen Marie of Brabant had her portrait painted
on the walls of the castle of Etampes, in a hunting scene.
This last fact is of some importance, for it makes it easier to understand
the traces of mural style and majestic form which survive in the portrait of
Jean le Bon, whose breadth, solidity and weight may be studied in the
Louvre. This profile is beyond all doubt an excellent likeness, for it
reveals a human being of a particular age, temperament and type and has none
of the conventionality characteristic of mass-produced dynastic portraits.
This scion of Valois, attractive, chivalrous and weak, achieves royalty
through the style of his painter, Girard d'Orldans. The gessoed panel which
bears his image has almost the strength of a monumental support. Here, as in
the tomb-sculpture, the investigation of nature is conducted with a
scrupulous regard for that grandeur and nobility of vision which were part
of the original heritage of French art. Pre-Eyckian painting, on the eve of
the decisive transformation, still occasionally retained this accent, even
if only by virtue of the material of which it was made. The Martyrdom of St.
Denis by Henri Bellechose, in the Louvre, is not merely an enlarged
miniature; it is certainly a subtle and delicate work of art, but it is
still mural in its velvety harmonies and in its balanced forms, vigorously
drawn, which brook no atmospheric effects or openings into distance. But for
this continuity, where should we find the key, in the fifteenth century, to
the monumentality of some of Fouquet's pages?
This was one aspect. But there was another, quite unlike this. Through its
technical multiplicity, painting was drawn into life, into its refinement
and luxury. An overwhelming new fashion was emerging which was soon to
destroy the Middle Ages by replacing the immensity of the churches, the
strong and skilful harmonies precisely rendered in linear compositions,
which remain undisturbed by the abstract light of the grisaille windows, by
a precious image, miraculous in its colouring, a microcosm to be held in the
hand. There exists a group of small French paintings, similar, in format and
purpose, to the ivories which were favoured for private devotions-the Cardon
Virgin, the Virgin of the Carrand collection in the Bargello, the Wilton
Diptych in the National Gallery in London, and, in the Worcester Museum
(U.S.A.), the Virgin with Pierre de Luxembourg, painted in a colour-scale of
red and blue which seems to have been peculiar to the Paris workshops. The
Boston Museum (U.S.A.) has a little Virgin from Avignon, more French than
Sienese-and there are others besides which would need to be assembled,
compared and categorized. Though the Worcester Virgin, on its tiny scale,
still retains something of an older monumental dignity, it is the note of
exquisiteness and a kind of gentility of manners which distinguish most of
these pictures.1 Their style is parallel with that of the manuscripts of the
first three quarters of the fourteenth century. The greatness of Romanesque
painting had impregnated every kind of picture, even down to
book-illumination, with the majesty of the walls. From the thirteenth
century onwards, the art of illumination, like that of enamelled metal-work,
was practised in lay workshops, but though this fact did not fail to affect
the evolution of the style, the influence operated in a contrary sense to
that experienced by the champlevé enamels, which hardened into fixed
formulae - an example of the extremely variable application of sociological
factors to the history of forms. In addition, French miniature painting also
received influences from without. It was in England that the powerful
framework of pre-Romanesque and Romanesque style had first broken down and
been replaced by a new type of humanity, slender and contorted, with tlnn,
flexible limbs. Paris was not unaware of Winchester; leaving violence and
oddity aside, it evolved a similar lay-figure. The schematic people of
Villard de Honnecourt, composed of two triangles with their apexes
touching-this forms the constricted waist, while the shoulders coincide with
the base of the upper triangle-are members of the same family. These
creatures with their threadlike structure are anthropometric abstracts of
the figurines which inhabit the world of the Rayonnant style. It is a more
nervous, more active and frailer race than its predecessor. It is very
graceful in the Sainte-Chapelle gospels, the Psalter of St. Louis in the
Bibliotheque Nationale (about 1256) and in secular manuscripts such as the
Chanson de Guileiclin de Soignes, decorated about 1285 for Marie of Brabant.
In the Breviary of ChAlons-sur-Marne (Bibliotheque de l'Arsenal), painted
prior to the canoniza-tion of St. Louis in 1297, there is a Christ in
Majesty of paradoxical proportions-taller, despite his seated position, than
a tall standing figure-who is the most typical specimen of this morphology.
The art of St. Louis' day retained these supple figures within light yet
solid frames. The book continued to be architectural-not only by reason of i
ts noble margins, like jambs and lintels of white stone, or of the regular
courses of script, or the delicate network of the initial letters, enclosing
brilliant colours, like the leads of the windows, on a ground of gold
burnished with a wolf's fang, but also because the miniature itself (like
the reliquaries and the furniture) was an archi-tect's composition, by
virtue of the colonnettes and arcades which frame it; it belongs to the
monumental Gothic manner in its flower-strewn backgrounds,
5The history of French panel painting in the fourteenth century is treated
in C. Sterling, La peinture francaise: les primitifs, Paris, 5935, and by
the same author, under his war pseudonym, C. Jacques, Le peintures du
moyen-age, Paris, a942. G. Ring, A Century of French Painting, 1400-1500,
London, 1400-1500, covers the end of the fourteenth century, from c. 1390.
penetrated by no hint of perspective, and in its colour-harmony, dominated,
as in the windows, by blues and reds. Indeed, a literal transcription of a
window may be found in the composition of medallions and half-medallions of
the Jesse tree in the Psalter of St. Louis and Blanche of Castile
(Bibliotheque de l'Arsenal). Sometimes, however, the frames are of an
entirely different kind, introducing into the fall flower of the
thirteenth-century style compositional ideas of much earlier date; in the
angles of the borders the old interlace animal sometimes reappears and coils
himself into strange shapes, as if the Middle Ages were maintaining contact,
through such minor reminiscences, with the forms from which they sprang.
Master Honore, whom we find established in Paris in 1288, in the
illuminators' quarter, the Rue Boutebrie, and who in 1296 decorated a
Psalter for Philippe le Bel, was for long an exponent of this typically
Parisian and royal manner, which initiated some lasting features of the
Paris school. Jacques Maciot and Jean Pucelle made no abrupt break wkh it.
The manuscripts of the early years of the fourteenth century, such as the
Cite' de Then of 1317, continue the same tradition. But a new spirit appears
in the Bible of Robert of Billying (1327) and especially in the Belleville
Breviary (before1347). Jean I'Ucelle's figures are more comely,  123 more
sensitive, and combine to form more flexible harmonies. In the margins he
installs a show of finely wrought ornamental blossoms, which are in part
herbaceous border and in part masterpieces of metalwork; on the horizontal
bars from which these hang, like iron shop-signs, he sets whimsical
figurines, which prove that he knew not only the Sienese, but also the
English and their grotesques. They stand out from a background of plain
parchment, beside an oratory or a little tree. This invasion of the margins,
this vignette-style, is reminiscent of the illustrations of the Romantic

----- Original Message -----
From: Carrol Cox <cbcox at ilstu.edu>
To: <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Sent: Sunday, September 19, 1999 9:43 PM
Subject: Re: [Fwd: Egyptian art show]

> M A Jones wrote:
> > I find Gerald Van totally persuasive. What's yr problem with the great
> > Ruskin, Yoshie my darling?
> My wife and I have visited the Metropolitan twice -- and both times she
> cringed at the entrance: all those objects which had been plundered 4 or
> 5 times on their route to the Met and had been the result of brutal
> exploitation to begin with. There are medieval columns with the carver's
> name carved on them -- which is nice I suppose: until one begins to
> think of the enormous surplus ripped from the peasantry to feed,
> clothe, etc. the actual laborers. And nothing we know about medieval
> life suggests those laborers were treated very nicely. And it is such
> a surplus one sees in the pyramids, and no conceivable "work of art"
> can hide that surplus or where it came from.
> Hatred of modern exploiters does not require sentimentality over pre-
> capitalist exploitation and oppression.
> Carrol

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