As usual, my visit to Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu got out of hand, only saved by flat camera battery and lack of an open café in the building. This is a superb collection, I don’t think I can do it justice; even splitting it over four posts is mostly substituting quantity for quality. If anything, the small, ground floor collection of Silesian Stone Sculpture from the 12th-16th Centuries is the easiest, having thirty or so works, but even that, with the group of large sarcophagus I skimped on, what’s here is barely representative. But firstly,:
- Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu — 1: Silesian Stone Sculpture 12th-16th Centuries
- Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu — 2: Silesian Sacral Art 12th-16th Century Wood Sculpture
- Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu — 3: Silesian Sacral Art 12th-16th Century Painting
- Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu — 4: European Art of the 15th-20th Centuries
So, stone work both sacral and secular. In addition to the large works, there’s also several smaller ones, cartouches, keystones, statues from portals. A couple of these, the Wrocław Workshop’s Figure of a Bishop and Annunciation (?) are some of the oldest mediæval stone work I’ve seen—mediæval here being what museums categorise as covering from around 1200-1500—from the Romanesque period. It could be I’m going to the wrong museums, but pre-Gothic art is quite rare, unless it’s in the Archæological or Ethnological museums, in which case it tends work other than art and sculpture.
Three pieces I particularly liked: two of them being Vir Dolorum (Suffering Christ), the first from the Altar of Wrocław Goldsmiths, both in the former Parish Church of St. Mary Magdalene. The third, a large Pietà, from the BVM Church on Sand Island in Wrocław ~1400, notable for being in limestone with the polychrome still largely intact, which makes it look like the wood sculptures I’m more used to seeing.
Of the two Vir Dolorum, the first also in limestone is a massive piece, very sensitive and detailed, with only traces of the original, vibrant polychrome and gilding remaining. It’s still spectacular despite all the damage. The last one in sandstone and the oldest by around thirty years of the three is a different style entirely. I thought of it as a Caroline Walker Bynum work, as the blood from his wounds hangs like bunches of grapes or pearls from his side and hands, entirely unlike blood. I think this is what I’m finding so interesting in mediæval art at the moment, not so much the endless repetition of a few subjects, but the changing symbolism within—well, also the changing styles and aesthetics over a few hundred years and across different regions in Central Europe. To me, the changing representations of blood signify deep philosophical arguments that are not so different from the ones taking place in the Renaissance or even in the past half-century. It seems to me also, that the subject matter sits behind these signifiers, that is to say, if I walked into a church in 1370 and saw blood represented as these bunches of pearls or not, I would immediately be cognisant of this church’s place in an ongoing debate, and the collectivity of works with a church would serve to summarise and elucidate that.
Out of that one room, up the stairs and into colossal, violent, horrible, beautiful art.