Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu — 3: Silesian Sacral Art 12th-16th Century Painting

A little more brief after the excess of the Sculptures. The Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu collection of 12th-16th Century Silesian Sacral Art paintings is really a good one, just that it pales somewhat when amidst the sculptures, which must be one of the finest collections in Europe. Also, as I’ve seen quite a lot of paintings recently, it’s the oddities that caught my eye.

The Deesis panel by a Silesian Master from around 1420 to start. The other three panels are fairly standard, gilt halos overlapping into a storm of reflective gold, but this last panel, with Jesus in a eye-like slit of rainbow colours is a weird hallucination, its simplicity and sparseness also breaking the quartet’s rhythm. There were a number of Veraicon or Veil of Veronica as well. I’ve seen a couple of these elsewhere, but here there were enough to make it a theme in the work, this repetition of a subject again and again until it dominates.

The Flagellation from the Workshop of the Master of the Years seems to go well with the Wrocław Workshop’s bloody Pietà. Here, Jesus is whipped until his skin forms a regular geometric pattern, diagonal lines of mouth-like wounds crossed by vertical lines of dripping blood. The clothing is more eastern than what I’m used to seeing in Berlin, something I’ve enjoyed on this tour of Museums, the geographic and cultural specifics coming forth in the art.

I really didn’t photograph many paintings though, at least compared to my orgy of sculptures. One that did make me stop is from a Wrocław painter, Portrait of the Bearded Helena Antonia, after 1621. She looked on first glance like a rather regal, possibly arabic man. I read the title, “Bearded Helena” looked again at the clothing, wondered very hard about what I was seeing, came home, found her: “Helena Antonia was a bearded female court dwarf of Maria of Austria, Holy Roman Empress and was a favorite of Margaret of Austria, Queen of Spain, and also a lady-in-waiting for Constance of Austria.” And that’s about all I found on cursory searching. But this is why I love (and despair at) museums, for these recognitions of people who were if not common in art, then at least consistent in the frequency of their appearance, who by the 19th century were almost entirely absent, and only in the past couple of decades is the revisionism of history being undone. It’s also a pretty awesome painting and a very fine beard.

I’m mixing up the collections here. I’ve combined paintings from the Silesian 12th-16th, 17th-19th, and the Polish 16th-19th into one, some of it isn’t even sacral. Mainly because I hadn’t photographed so much of this and wanted to keep things from getting too out of hand. There were a lot of works in the latter two collections I just breezed by, landscapes by the score, important old white men and women (even though usually the women I like to photograph), all that romantic nationalist dross of the late-19th century, at the moment it simply doesn’t interest me; even Baroque art I’m ambivalent about. So, this and the European Art of the 15th-20th Centuries post are flimsy compared to all that sculpture.