Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Virtual medieval France

Posted By on Tue, May 18, 2010 at 1:51 PM

Mourner number 52, drying his eyes with his cloak

Many of us have heard of the terracotta army from China, but now it's time to meet the Mourners, 80 tomb sculptures from the Court of Burgundy. Each individual figure was carved from alabaster around 1443 and circle the tombs of Philip of Bold and John the Fearless in a procession of grief.

The Mourners are part of the permanent collection at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, but since their exhibit is under renovation, a portion of the group is on tour through the U.S. They are currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the beginning of their two-year journey.

The closest they come to here is the Dallas Museum of Art, but the beauty part is this website: themourners.org, a lovely catalog of all 80 figures in photographs so that you can get a 360-degree view of each one, with 5x zoom. The site also has plans for high-resolution files, with double the number of views of each piece and 6x zoom. Here’s a sample view of one hi-res file (warning, the file is 14 MB, so give it some time). Be sure to follow the site’s suggestion and view the statuette in full screen mode — it's a closer view than you'd get at the museum.

A close-up of Mourner 52

According to themourners.org, staff from multiple museums and organizations worked together to photograph each mourner over a four-day period, taking more than 14,000 shots.

As far as mourning goes, I personally find it one of the most touching emotions recorded in art. When done just right — you feel like you're right there in the work. It’s something you know when you see. For instance, a popular example is Giotto’s Lamentation. The tragic faces that pattern through the work are so arresting, you feel like you know the mourners of Christ.

I also love the center panel of Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece. This painting depicts the Crucifixion, and here, it is gruesome and hellish. The background is pitch black and desolate, Jesus’ corpse-like body is green and covered in scabs. (The altarpiece was devoted to a hospital for those with skin ailments.) His emaciated face is contorted with anguish.

This altarpiece definitely has a gross factor, unlike the fine mourners, which are clean and collected, though still overcome with despair. Whether or not any of the actual members of the Burgundian court felt that way, doesn't really matter. For more information, check out this article from the New York Times.

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