Often when we think about the Middle Ages, it’s sort of this rarefied, distant time that we have no connection to. Probably know you picture gallant knights sitting astride brilliant destriers galloping through a sea of plagues, ignorance, and filth. And you can hardly be blamed for that, when everything from the movies you watch to your high school history teacher has told you that.
But Middle Ages are also responsible for inventing difficult techniques of making art and crafts. One of them is glassmaking. Forgotten for centuries, glassmaking became again very popular in the 19th century, when the stained glass was decorating new and old churches. But Middle Ages craftsmen and artisans experimented also on another level – even goblets and optical lenses were created. The production of glass relied on the mastery of technique, and as techniques improved, more glass objects could be manufactured. The mastery of this craft led to the creation of objects with amazingly innovative forms as well as a huge variety of objects for different use.
Until January 8th, The Musée de Cluny in Paris explores ten centuries of technical and artistic developments in glassmaking, which testify to the incredible creative wealth of the Middle Ages. In the fifth century, master glassworkers perfected the technique of stained glass, and glass took its place in society. 150 works from the Middle Ages illustrate the fascination with glass, its symbolism and its role in accompanying scientific discoveries. The visitor will discover various works of glass, in parallel to works of art such as illuminations, paintings or engravings, all highlighting the use of glass during the medieval period.
For example, this ring is one of the rare examples of cloisonné enamel of the Ottonian or Salian period. It is composed of a circular bezel set with an enameled disk, shank, and little spheres placed on the shank and shoulders’ circumference. The shank is filigreed and adorned with triangular motifs. The analysis suggests that the ring was made of elements used before as different artifacts. The enamel might have been a small circular medallion used in a gold religious artwork.
On the exhibition you can also see this beautiful painting-reliquary. The enameled plate represents Jesus Christ on the Cross whose thin and subtly engraved figure is somewhat reminiscent of the works of the prominent Parisian illuminator Jean Pucelle. The analogy, reflected in the extraordinary quality of the basse-taille technique and the plant motifs engraved beneath the blue enamel in the background, enables dating back to the mid-15th century. The relics of the True Cross and the Passion were probably kept in this reliquary, which suggests that the sponsor had connections with the royal environment.
So if you’re lucky to visit Paris until January don’t forget to visit Musee du Cluny to see the exhibition “Glass, the inventive Middle Ages” and it’s marvelous permanent collection!