17 October 2016

Monday, 17 October 2016 - The Church and Culture

Entering Egino Weinert's studio again, we are immediately surrounded by ecclesiastical peculiarity, with iconography, materials, and usages all tied up with the practise of religion. Specialized language and knowledge seem necessary to appreciate all that surrounds you. I have returned because I want a remembrance of this trip. I started my collection of Weinert art (unknowingly) when Tom Tragardh gave me a small crucifix with the symbols for the Holy Spirit and the Father floating above the corpus, and the Creed embossed on the verso. The cross had been the property of Peggy, a former Maryknoll nun and a good friend of Tom's. I was honored to receive it both to remember her, and to have such a nice piece in my collection. It sits on the altar when I celebrate mass as a remembrance of why I am there. So today I buy two clasps for a cope. One set will go on my green cope, and the other on my white cope, replacing a Celtic piece on the one, and a slowly deteriorating situation on the other.

But there is more. I also purchase an enamel of Our Lady mounted on a bronze backing (above). It is a sample of both aspects of his work. I also purchase a stained glass piece honoring Saint Mark. While I am there it will hang in the vesting sacristy at Saint Mark's Church in Berkeley. When I look in my bag of things there is a small box, with a brass medallion of Saint Mark, the widow Weinert's gift to me. So nice...

We walk over the the Kolumba Museum a museum of the Erzbistums Köln. I will speak of their mission in a second. One is drawn past the first floor exhibition into a courtyard shaded by trees, and bounded on one side by the ruins of Saint Kolumba's Church, which was destroyed in the Second World War. The ruins were first "completed" by having a small chapel built above them, and then later being surrounded by the museum itself. One can walk through the several layers of churches, Carolingian, Romanesque, Gothic and more. 

In the entrance gallery one immediately meets the mission of the museum, to comment on contemporary culture and juxtapose it with older expressions both ecclesiastical and secular. It gives the visitor pause. The Church has over time been slowly separated from its various missions in the world. Healing and hospitals were given over to governments, and lately and sadly to private enterprise. Education became the purview both church and state. What monks laboriously copied over from the ancients, and what late mediaeval scholars discovered from their Arab counterparts, gave rise to the scientism of our own time. These are not losses, but rather the engendering of a secular culture that did not rely on theology to define itself. Perhaps even now it is philosophy that is slipping out of our collective grasp as we listen to the ill-formed ideas of racists and sexists. Thus the robots above give us a clue as we enter the collection. We will need to appreciate dissonance. 

The museum has an excellent collection of Coptic fabrics, including a magnificent Coptic tunic. On this day, these were displayed next to contemporary pieces of jewelry. Sometimes the juxtapositions make theological/philosophical comments just by their appearance together.

Just off a large room containing sculptures that once adorned the Dom, and that have been replaced by restorations, there is a wonderful ivory crucifix from the thirteenth century.  It is local, having been produced in the Rheinland. On the opposite wall hangs a painting by Norbert Schwontkowski (1949-2013), Der Vorabend der Geschichte (The dawn of history). Here are two trees: one bearing the Christ, the other surrounded by monkeys and other animals and inhabited by a snake. (2001 a Space Odyssey immediately comes to mind.) What do these two works have to say to one another, and do they both comment on the human situation?

Of extraordinary interest in an adjoining gallery is a seventeenth century sculpture of the Holy Trinity, produced in the south of Germany, in which the Trinity is seen in the three faces of the figure.  Behind it is a project by Chris Newmin (Berlin) Me in a no-time state. It is a series of five diptychs that juxtapose the works of several painters: Edvard Munch and Henri Matisse, James Ensor and Gustav Klimt; Lovis Corinth and Kasimir Malewitsch, Edgar Degas and Barnett Newman (which appears in the photo above behind the Heilige Dreifaltigkeit, and finally Mark Rothko an Philip Guston.

I finish my tour in a room with a large window that over looks the city with the Dom in the near distance. It is a compelling view. 

It is shared with a grouping, Der Vier Gekrönten, (The four crowned ones). They are a fifteenth century representation of four individuals responsible in the building of the Dom: the Bildhauer, Konrad Kuhn, joined by the work master, stone mason, and the polisher. These represent the technology that developed in the Gothic period that plasticized and transformed the Romanesque into the forms of the medieval period, spanning space at great height, opening up stone walls to windows, and centering whole communities with holy space. It was, in spite of its ecclesiastical purpose, an entré into a more secular and rational world, that valued a wider expanse of knowledge.

I have to include one last photograph of the reading room, which is a comment on the materials that we use to build our cultural monuments. The "library" (that's what I call it), is paneled in matched-grain panels that draw you to the comfortable seating, and the view from the window. I think it is no accident that in the sublime nature of this room, we are drawn to see and observe an office building right across the street. Thus we meet two worlds.

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