Tuesday, October 23, 2018

My Favorite Place: The Metropolitan Museum Medieval Galleries

The image posted above was a drawing done in the Medieval Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It was done as I looked into one of the many lit glass cases of treasures there. It is what they call a roundel, quite small, made of Cloisonné enamel, with gold inlaid lines: the face of St. Pantaleimon, a doctor, a healer, and an inspiring figure in both the East and the West in the 4th Century, A.D. This is one of many beautiful findings in the Medieval gallery, where I have often gone to draw the images I've then painted at home.

The light was dim, the floor a soft amber tone where footsteps did not seem to sound...one enters the past and is greeted by eyes of great softness, eyes and faces carved into marble and limestone, filled with the best of human nature. One mother and child is matched by many another, where the child is confident and comfortable, held by a mother whose face reflects both determinations and caution. And always, between the mother and the child...a great tenderness.

I first felt enamored of these Medieval rooms and their inhabitants as a student at Pratt Institute, when we were sent there on a field trip to draw.  I walked right up to a glass case where resided the loveliest mother and child figure, about 14 inches high, of carved wood, with a coloring described as polychrome...it was so sweet, so perfect, so exceptional. The mother's head was tilted back with a gentle smile as she holds the baby up to look at him, and he is smiling back, and his little hand is under her chin...a tenderness such that I have gone back again and again to see it, as well as to bask in the wonderful humanity that seems to fill all the space.

(I will post a picture of this first-encountered polychrome madonna at the bottom of the post...both the photograph of this actual figure, as well as my decades-old chalk drawing of it.)

But to continue: all of the painted works and the sculptures of stone or wood exude a feeling of patience and forbearance, as though they had some knowledge that difficulties will abound but goodness and good people can redeem all. I think it seemed to them then, and seems to me now, to be something badly needed in a harsh and difficult time.

Here are some more of the Medieval galleries' inhabitants...some are photos from the Met's website, and some are my ink drawings and paintings inspired by them:

And now, my favorite of all the collection: a Madonna and child in lovely blue and red garments, which picture I recently found on the Met website. Below that is a photo of my own olive-green chalk drawing of it, done back in 1958 when I was freshman at Pratt Institute. As was customary in those days, we students carried large (18 x 24) newsprint pads everywhere we went on field trips, and this particular drawing is now hanging here in my living room, framed very kindly by my mother many years ago, which preserved it from disintegrating. The newsprint which once was creamy white has aged to a kind of soft brown but the image prevails and the tender gesture of the baby's hand under the mother's chin and their eyes softly regarding one another also remain.

So here is my favorite:

And here is the olive-green chalk drawing from that early-days trip to the Met Museum and its Medieval gallery...

And here's my signature at the bottom of the picture on now-amber-toned paper.

For anyone who might want to go and see it, here is how to find the "Devotional Statuette of the Virgin and Child" at the Met, and all the information about its origin in France:

Date:                                    ca. 1250-70
Geography:                          Made in Paris, Ile-de-France, France
Culture:                                French
Medium:                              Oak, modern paint
Dimensions:                        15 3/4 x 4 3/4 x 3 1/8 inches
Classification:                      Sculpture-Wood
Credit Line:                          Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Accession Number:              17.190.725

It is on view at The Met Fifth Avenue, in Gallery 304