Met moments: a medieval limestone relief, and a polycandela

April 21, 2011 at 12:50 pm (Art)

Have I ever before been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and not gone up to the second floor to view the European paintings?

Well, gosh. What happened?

Blame it on this;

Limestone relief of the betrayal and arrest of Jesus. French, from Amiens Cathedral, Picardy, ca. 1264-1288

Have I seen in before? Probably. Have I looked at it? Probably not. The bodies crowded in on one another, the sense of a life-and-death struggle – and the grim fulfillment of  the prophecy -“One of you will betray me…”

It does seem to me now that the art of the Middle Ages holds the key to the true life of the spirit, a life that lingers after the body has gone.

*********************************

This object is called a polycandela. It is just what it sounds like: a device for holding several candles. (You could think of it as an ancient chandelier.) It’s in a case displaying Byzantine art and artifacts from between 500 and 700 AD. These display cases line a corridor that leads to the stunning medieval art, the (absolutely gorgeous) French decorative arts, and even more spectacularly, the Robert Lehman Collection. I can’t recall if I have ever stopped to examine their contents.

Here’s a description of the effect created by the polycandela which may have been used to illuminate in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, then Constantinople. This quote, dated 563 AD, is attributed to Paul the Silentiary:

“Thus is everything clothed in beauty … no words are sufficient to describe the illumination in the evening: you might say that some nocturnal sun filled the majestic church with light.”

2 Comments

  1. Marina Bonomi said,

    ‘It does seem to me now that the art of the Middle Ages holds the key to the true life of the spirit, a life that lingers after the body has gone.’

    Thank you, just thank you for this.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Marina, You are more than welcome, and thank you for your comment. This short post has touched people in a way that I did not anticipate, and I am moved by this reaction.

      Another thing I believe is that once you begin a restless spiritual quest, that quest becomes unending. The process itself carries the soul forward into a new life.

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