kls_eloise (kls_eloise) wrote,

Manuscripts, Sculptures, and Fabric, Oh My!

A couple of weeks ago I made two trips into New York City right on top of each other. I go into NYC for the museums fairly regularly, but by that I mean that I go in two or three times a year. Twice in four days is unheard of. Originally vynehorn  and Jane (who has a livejournal and REALLY needs to tell us what her username is) and I were going to go down to NYC to the Morgan Library to see the Jane Austen exhibit, and then wander the garment district in search of a shop as good as the “wall of linen” was. It broke my heart when B4U Fabrics closed. Okay, to be honest, they were going to see the Jane Austen exhibit and I was going to drool over the unbound Hours of Catherine of Cleves for as long as they were occupied. 

Then the weather forecast for the weekend turned to cold and rain, and we decided to take a (literal) raincheck. That turned out to be the right choice, because I spent the weekend trying to throw up my toenails. Let’s hear it for the norovirus. We rescheduled for March 27, the day dawned clear and cool, and off we went.

 We went to the Morgan Library first to see Catherine of Cleves. It’s a spectacular exhibit. For those who don’t know it, it is a 15th century Dutch book of hours made for Catherine, Duchess of Guelders. Both volumes have been unbound, and all of the major miniatures are on display. It’s gorgeous, and much like the Lutrell Psalter, there are many daily life illustrations. As books of hours go, it is fairly rich is illustrations of clothing and household goods that could plausibly be looked at for documentation. Not to mention it’s really purty. And orange. Very, very orange. The Master of Catherine of Cleves liked orange. I’m not sure if it was his favorite color, or he got a deal on a job lot, but… wow. We’re not talking burnt sienna, or rust, or reddish yellow here. We’re talking about international orange. Warning sign orange. Oh-dear-God-take-the-batteries-out-my-eyes-my-eyes-IT-BURNS orange. It’s a really cool, kind of funky manuscript, and well, well worth seeing. If you go to www.morganlibrary.org they’ve got a great online catalog of the exhibit. They’ve also got a gorgeous exhibition catalog that my sweetie bought me for my birthday ‘cause he loves me best. But seriously – if you can get there, it runs through May 2 and it’s worth the trip.

After the Morgan we headed over to the garment district and just roamed in and out of stores looking for linen. Being broke (having hit the Morgan bookstore,) I was naturally finding many beautiful wools that I really wanted. Perhaps next time. We struck gold at Neon Fabrics, which had a lovely selection despite the name. Still not as good as the old wall of linen, but good enough to tempt me to buy yet another length of lovely blue linen that I certainly did not *need.* After that we hit Hamed Fabrics. They were very sparkly when you looked in the front window, but had some nice linens upstairs. I got a length of teal that felt like it had been sized to within an inch of its life because the color was so perfect. I’ve run it through the wash once, and think I need to send it around again. It’s not the best quality, but that’s okay.

At that point, we decided to try to make the 3:07 train. vynehorn claims that she’s out of condition. She lies. Like a rug. Let’s be clear – I haven’t had any aerobic type exercise since before Charlotte was born, so I’m no longer fat and out of shape, I’m fat and REALLY out of shape. I almost had a stroke. For what it’s worth, Jane was having trouble keeping up too. Obviously I need her to run me around more often – it would be good for me. We made it by the skin of our teeth, but the train was extremely crowded, and we wouldn’t have been able to find three seats together. The nail in the coffin was that there really wasn’t time to hit the rest rooms first, and that is always preferable. So we decided to get a snack and catch the 4:07 instead. It was the right choice. It was a very productive, very fun day. Sue and Jane are wonderful museum companions.

By the way – the lemon bars at the bakery in Grand Central’s food court are absolutely delightful.

Three days later on Tuesday, Bob and I dropped off Charlotte with my parents and caught the train down to NYC to meet Jan and family at the Morgan. Yes, same exhibit. But this time I was going to get to see it with another scribe, so we could go all geeky over style and technique. It’s an entirely different focus. Another difference was the weather. That Tuesday was the beginning of the storms that kicked the shit out of the northeast. As we rode the train down, I was looking at a few places where the water was already right up to the train tracks and wondering if we were going to get home.

We killed a little time in Grand Central, because it was raining sideways outside, and I wanted to be sure that the Morgan had opened the doors when we got there. It worked out well, because I finally scored a subway map. When we headed out the weather was fairly evil, but I had timed it right and we didn’t have to wait outside. The next set of circumstances amused me.

Jan and company weren’t there yet. The Morgan has an airlock vestibule between the street and the lobby, and it is fairly sizeable with a bench at each end. It’s a great place to wait for the rest of your party. When we arrived, there was a lady sitting on one of the benches either listening to music or playing on her phone, or something of that ilk. I went over, sat down, and worked on getting my stuff sorted out while we waited for Jan. I’d say that we hung out for twenty minutes or so. During that twenty minutes, I witnessed how very, very sheep like people can be. Several parties of multiple people arrived, and stood around in the vestibule. I wasn’t really paying attention, but suddenly at one point I realized that there were about ten people in three different groups (not counting the iPod lady and Bob and I) standing around in the vestibule. I looked at Bob and said “I think that they think the museum isn’t open because we’re sitting here.” Now, the hours are inscribed on the door right next to them. No one had actually tried the door, but they were all looking at their watches. I had a brief urge to say something, and then decided that I wanted to see how it all turned out.

Yes, because I’m mean.

Another group arrived, and joined the herd. The a few minutes after that, another group of three came in. That gentleman stood and looked around, looked at his watch, reached over, opened the door and walked into the museum. There was a moment as everyone else stared in disbelief and said things to each other along the lines of “I can’t believe the doors were open the whole time,” and the whole flock of them streamed inside. iPod lady and Bob and I remained behind to wait for our respective reasons.


It’s much more fun for me to see exhibitions like this with another scribe along. They understand the urge to sell one’s reference books, throw away the paintbrushes, and take up a life appropriate to one’s lack of talent. Ours was a much more technical walk through than I had with vynehorn and Jane.

After we had finished our appreciation of the many uses of the color orange, we caught the subway uptown to the Met. There were two exhibitions to catch there: “The Mourners: Medieval Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy” and “The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry.” We hit the Mourners first, because I had not anticipated what the Met would be like during school break and on Passover week. I have NEVER seen it like that, and we were waiting for the line to get into the cafeteria to stand in line for food to diminish. I wasn’t expecting much from this exhibit, to be honest. It was something that I was going to go look at because it was here at the same time as the exhibit on the Belle, so I may as well. It was *fantastic.* The detail in the sculpture was absolutely amazing. Belt findings, pouches, pattens, buttons, etc. – all were carefully picked out. I was just blown away. There is a very cool website here where you can look at them in 360° from three different angles. It’s well worth seeing in person, and runs until the 23rd of May. Go see it if you can. I made two full loops around, and I’m going to order the exhibition catalog as soon as my plastic has recovered from some other recent indiscretions.

The real jewel of the day though, was the Belle Heures. I’ve seen it before, because it is held by the Cloisters and is generally on display in the Treasury there. The last time we went to the Cloisters it was not out, to my great disappointment, and now I know why – it was in London at the time. They have unbound it, and every miniature is on display. This exhibit is an exercise in visual overload – by the end all I could really register was “oooo – sparkly.” Sad, that. One of the first things we realized going in was that the Limbourg brothers were beyond anal when they laid out this manuscript. One of the peculiarities of vellum when used for writing is that it is very transparent compared to paper of the same weight. So whatever you write or paint on one side shows through as a shadow to the other side. The Macclesfield Psalter solved this problem by matching the illumination from recto to verso so that the illumination covered the same area and the text block was in the same place. That manuscript has a very heavy, block like style of illumination. The Belles has those airy gold ivy leaf borders on every page, with very regimented rectangular miniatures in places, either full or partial page. The Met has most of the pages exhibited vertically between two pieces of glass. I noticed, and Jan helped me confirm, that all of the illumination lines up from recto to verso. Every fine-line vine, every tiny ivy leaf, every pen work stem MATCHES THE ONE ON THE OTHER SIDE. That’s insane. Completely, mind-blowingly insane. This is not the sort of thing that you pick up on looking at pictures in a book. You have to be there with an unbound, backlit page to notice – because you have to notice what you’re NOT seeing. People, if you’re in the SCA and anywhere near NYC, you HAVE to go see this manuscript. I think it’s safe to say that it will not all be on display again in our lifetimes. I don’t know why they unbound it, but it’s not something that happens often, and this is the most beautiful manuscript I have ever seen. I’ve been going to special exhibitions of manuscripts at the NY museums for twenty year. I’ve been to London and seen the Lindisfarne Gospels, I’ve been to Dublin and seen the Book of Kells. I’ve seen the Hours of Catherine of Cleves and the Hours of Jeanne D’evereaux unbound, and I’ve seen countless other manuscripts of every size from every European country. I have never seen anything this beautiful. It makes me want to weep and never paint again because I will never do anything like that. Intellectually I understand that these men were professional artists working to please a very sophisticated patron, and were also quite frankly geniuses. I can stand in front of a miniature and point out the bits that are obviously apprentice or journeyman’s work and show you that it’s not perfect. But despite those things, it still knocks me down and steals my lunch money.

The exhibit runs through June 13. Oh yeah – I’m going back.

They tossed us out of the museum because they were closing, which is why I didn’t have a chance to buy the catalog for The Mourners, and we made our way back to Grand Central. It was a long train ride home after all that overload, and I was dozing in and out for most of it. Charlotte was just in the process of melting down when we got to my parents, but she let us have dinner before she got completely nasty and it was a long, quiet ride home.

Wednesday I pretty much spent staring blankly at my computer screen, because I was still in museum overload. That doesn’t happen very often. I’d say I got my money’s worth

Tags: museums, sca

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