Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Exhibition of Medieval Art in Cologne

Last week I had a chance to see the exhibition "Glanz und Grösse des Mittelalters" at the Schnütgen Museum in Cologne (Splendour and Glory of the Middle Ages). The new building of the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum provides a spacious and modern exhibition space right next door to the historic building of the Schnütgen (the former St. Cecilia church) for such exhibitions (this is in fact the first such show). The rich collection of the Schnütgen Museum provides a great overview of medieval art in Cologne and the Rhineland - the aim of the present exhibition was to gather other highlights stemming from Cologne but kept in various collections worldwide. The resulting exhibition and the accompanying catalogue does provide a great overview of medieval sculpture and decorative arts in Cologne, and includes a number of important paintings and illuminated manuscripts as well (although naturally it cannot match the complete overview of medieval painting in Cologne provided on the lower floor of the nearby Wallraf-Richartz Museum).

Over a decade ago, a select number of medieval objects from the Schnütgen toured the US at the exhibition Fragmented Devotion (at the McMullen Museum of Art of Boston College). Now objects from American collections in New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington, Cleveland, Chicago and Los Angeles are shown alongside of loans from various European museums. The Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest lent two spectacular late Gothic statues of the Virgin Mary and St John, which are now joined with the crucified Christ, once again forming the original group once standing at the abbey church of Grosskönigsdorf. As I was not able to take photos in the exhibition, I am illustrating this with a photo I found on Wikipedia:

Museum Schnütgen - Glanz und Größe des Mittelalters-5138
Crucifixion group from Grosskönigsdorf by Master Tilman, 1480/90

The life-size figures were carved by master Tilman - who has a sizeable oeuvre in the area - around 1480/90. It was interesting to see the group united - the sculptures in Budapest preserved much of their polychromy, while the Christ figure still in Grosskönigsdorf has been stripped of its paint layer. The two saints appeared on the art market after the dissolution of the monastery, and were purchased from a Munich art dealer in 1916. Why and how the central figure remained in its original place, is not known. Here is a link to the object description on the Museum of Fine Arts website.

© Christian Museum, Esztergom
Other photos of the exhibition can be seen on the German language Wikipedia page on the Schnütgen Museum. This being a blog on medieval Hungary, I would like to introduce a few more medieval objects from Cologne in Hungarian collections - none of which made the journey back to Cologne this time. The first piece I would like to mention comes, in fact, from the collection of Alexander Schnütgen. This small ivory box from the 12th century (pictured to the left) is today in the Christian Museum of Esztergom - it was bought by archbishop János Simor in 1884. 

© Christian Museum, Esztergom
The Schnütgen collection to a large degree provided the model when the Christian Museum of Esztergom was founded in 1875. Schnütgen by that time was a devoted collector of ecclesiastical art - although he only donated his collection (the basis of the later museum) to the town of Cologne in 1906. 

Other objects, including a 12th century wooden sculpture of a female saint (Mary Magdalene?) were also purchased by archbishop Simor from Schnütgen, and are today in Esztergom. The statue, unfortunately, got damaged in the fired which broke out at the Christian Museum in 1905 - but is still a beautiful example of Romanesque wooden sculpture from Cologne, the subject of a section at the Splendour and Glory exhibition.

© Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest

The Museum of Applied Arts also holds a late 12th century ivory-covered reliquary box made in Cologne. The piece comes from the 19th century collection of Miklós Jankovich, with the false provenance of the abbey church of St. Denis. The piece was last shown at the exhibition surveying the Jankovich-collection, held at the Hungarian National Gallery in 2002.

Finally, at least one late medieval painting should be mentioned from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts. Painted by the Master of the St. Bartholomew Altarpiece, who was active in Cologne at the end of the 15th century, the small panel depicts the Holy Family, and also comes from the Jankovich-collection. This concludes my brief survey of medieval objects in Hungarian collections originating from Cologne - you may want to read more about Hungarian museums with medieval holdings.

© Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest


  1. Finally a blog about the Medieval period that's worth reading!! Following =D