Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Guelph Treasure

Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony in the north, and Bavaria in the south (which included modern Austria and border marches south) was only second, as a german prince, to the emperor Barbarossa (Frederick II). When Henry fell afoul of Frederick II, his lands, power, and wealth were diminished, he went to Normandy. Henry's second wife was sister to Richard, Couer de Lion.

Henry was enfeoffed with Saxony in 1142, and Bavaria 1156. In 1157-8 he founded München (Munich), in 1159 Lübeck in '59. In 1172-3 he travels to Byzantium, and Palestine. Emperor Manuel I Komnenos gave him several items to add to what became known as the Welfenschatz (Guelph Treasure). In 1173 cathedrals are begun in Braunschweig (Brunswick)[it had been a church since 1030 and Countess Gertrude had the first four outstanding objects, three are now in Cleveland], and Lübeck. Henry dies in 1195, and is buried in the cathedral (as are his descendants). The cathedral and collegiate church is consecrated December 29, 1226, and named after Saints Blaise, John the Baptist, and Thomas Becket. The Welf family added items for three centuries. In 1543 the city, and church join the protestant heresy, and has remained lutheran.

In 1930, the deposed and last duke put the remaining items up for sale. Two frankfurters, and a new yorker bought the Welfenschatz for eight million reichsmarks (about five million dollars). Public exhibitions were held in Frankfort, and Berlin. Catholics on trains arrived to view the reliquaries, and saints' relics. Then the show hit New York City. The dealers sold the first six pieces to the Cleveland Art Museum (it has nine? now). Eight pieces were sold to Art Institute of Chicago. Most of the remaining pieces are in the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) -- Staatlichen Museum Berlin, through the involvement of the Prussian Prime Minister, Hermann Göring.

In early 1931 the Welfenschatz was in Cleveland. The three dealers made a gift to the Cleveland Museum of this reliquary for a bone of St. Sebastian. A braunschweiger goldsmith made this final reliquary in 1484. For years it, and some other pieces of the Guelf's, were the first items one saw when entering the Museum. After going through the original entrance there it was, it has lost that pride of place. The museum was closed for nearly three years (2005-8), and it went on tour.
When the museum re-opened it was put in mediæval sculpture on a lower floor. In a large plexiglass cage. The lower floors are beset with new false ceilings, and many inadequate, low lumen lights, or too glaring spot lights. I did not know gray light was possible.The art of western civilisation prior to 1500 is in bad light. The workmen install what they are told to.

Reliquaries are mere containers. They house bits of material that were part of the bodies of saints, or items they touched. One of the relics of the Guelfs had a piece of the true cross. The spiritual value of these relics, were of such great sentimental, and sacramental value, that, extravagance of material to house them was not extravagance. People were awed to be in proximity of a relic, often a bone, of St. Sebastian, or Lawrence, or John the Baptist. Their souls abide in heaven with God, but this portion of them is still here. With the protestant heresies this was challenged, often with complete destruction of the relics, and pillaging, and trafficking in the base materials. One no longer felt devotion to the person, but gold, silver, and minerals were wealth.

I remember going on a grade school outing to the Cleveland Museum. All the children got a kick out of the armour court [which was immediately in the room to the right (east)], and the horse mounted with a fully outfitted knight. I did too, i also was amazed that there was a bone of Saint Sebastian* there. My father told me of such objects, this was supposed to be on, or in the altar of a church. Years later, this thought came to my mind, and i thought people should come on pilgrimage. Some art tourists do act in that sort of manner for certain pieces. This relic of Sebastian, is more important than the gilt silver, and rock crystal around it; and of course the work of the smitty Werner Korff is more important than the drip painting of Pollock, and the schlock and con that is of 'contemporary modern art' that the museum is proud of having, and some people flock to. I was in the museum for the first time in several years, and got there after two o'clock. When we were told they were closing in five minutes, i had just made it to the El Greco Crucifixion. It is one of several he did. Read, or listen to Sr. Wendy Beckett of why it is so marvelous. I had to ask one of the usher/guards how to get back to the garage. He gave me wonderful, detailed instructions; i was confused, he was accurate, “turn left at the ball”. Behind a glass door, there it was: something between a gourd, and a christmas tree ornament, made of wood, and the size of a large easy chair. That had not been there the last time i was. The museum's description of the thing is likewise jargon, and nonsense:
“Organic in form and media, the free-standing sculpture Alien Huddle consists of three inter-connected spheres. Puryear’s craftsmanship employs both the media in service of the form and elevates the properties of the media itself. The arrangement of planks enveloping each sphere heightens the volumetric nature of the sculpture. Trained as a furniture maker, Puryear attached the red cedar planks to the pine core without metal fixtures that would obscure the lush, unfinished wood surface.”
As i had said, it has been sometime since i visited. I would soon like to go again and see what i didn't get to, and review some favorites. I should have the opportunity, unlike that with the many churches closed by Richard Lennon. I can go to Westerville and see the loot and booty of several parish treasures he sold off.
*there is a parish in Akron of Saint Sebastian, but what of i know of it (certainly not then) now, it is better it stays at the museum

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