Národní galerie v Praze – Klášter sv. Anežky České — 2: The Paintings

National Gallery Prague’s mediæval collection in the Convent of St Agnes of Bohemia destroyed me. I had no idea how to deal with almost 400 images, almost all of them I wanted to blog, and none that seemed to fall naturally into a coherent subset. Ignoring all the photos of the captions, and all the closeups of details it seemed best to split the lot in two. So first up was the The Wood Carvings, and here are The Paintings (Madonna of Březnice gets her own post).

I almost didn’t make it past the second room. Nine large square works comprising the Vyšší Brod Altarpiece, with such detail, colour, movement … I spent half and hour there, and somehow convinced myself there wasn’t all that much to see in the further rooms so examined closely Jesus’ wound, blood springing in arcs and oozing like thick flowers around a mouth black and depthless.

St Catherine turned up so frequently, I began to wonder if I’d missed her in Berlin or if this was one of those specific regional subjects. And so much strangeness, such as the one I forgot to photograph the caption, with the woman on the right petting an animal I’m fairly certain is of the cryptozoological type, while her companion on the left is eyeing it and wielding a sword half her height.

As usual, ever since reading Carolyn Walker Bynum I’m enjoying the mediæval blood of Jesus in all its variety. And it gets everywhere, staining Mary’s cowl, elsewhere he looks apologetic while gushing mightily, as though he’s got messy hands and can’t come to the dinner table. Sometimes though the companions at the crucifixion get on their knees and cup the falling blood in their hands.

Also, just a phenomenal amount of women represented. Not just Mary, though she’s around in all her stages. Many saints, some more regular subjects than others: Saints Catherine and Barbara in particular, then many Abbesses and other women. Some works normally filled with male Saints were restaged with female; others had substantial numbers of women. Then there was Saint Mary of Egypt, a truly strange Saint and painting. She was a prostitute who converted to Christianity and decided to spend her life as a hermit in the desert. Her clothes soon fell apart and her body became covered in thick hair (or in this painting just covered by her long head hair), and she carries three loaves of bread which kept her alive for 47 years. There are also many works illustrating female friendship, such as in the St George Altarpiece and the Puchner Ark Altarpiece (where there’s also another St Francis of Assisi).

There’s so many works and closeups that didn’t make it here, and this is only one of three collections I’d like to see before I leave Prague.

After, I wandered in the Abbey itself, empty and restored, reading about Agnes of Bohemia.