Thursday, December 10, 2009

Metropolitan Museum of Art reopens the Late Gothic Hall

The Late Gothic Hall at The Cloisters museum and gardens — The Metropolitan Museum of Art's branch in northern Manhattan for medieval art — has reopened this week after an extensive five-year renovation.

Returning to public view for the first time in a generation following a thorough campaign of conservation will be a monumental early 16th-century Netherlandish tapestry from Burgos Cathedral in Spain.

Another highlight of the new installation is the recently conserved stone tracery of four large, 15th-century windows from the Dominican monastery in Sens, a town in Burgundy, France. They have been fitted with clear glass in a leaded diamond pattern.

The Late Gothic Hall, which is distinguished by its high timber ceiling, will also contain many of the finest 15th-century works in The Cloisters' collection, including statues by the renowned German sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider and richly painted and gilded altarpieces from Spain.

The renovation of the gallery also includes new cases, new lighting, and replastered walls that return the gallery to its original stone color. The Late Gothic Hall is the last of the major galleries on the main level at The Cloisters to undergo renovation in the last decade.

Peter Barnet, the Museum's Michel David-Weill Curator in Charge of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, commented: "Because of its proximity to the Main Hall, the Late Gothic Gallery is one of the first galleries many of our visitors enter. As the winter holiday season approaches, we are delighted to return this space—one of the largest galleries at the museum—to full use as a display area for some of our many masterworks from the 15th and 16th century. And, as the subject matter in the Burgos Tapestry celebrates the birth of Jesus, the timing could not have been better."

The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has other exhibits which will appeal to medievalists. Nearly a dozen examples of early Jewish art — dating from the first through the seventh century C.E. — are on view in the south gallery of the Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries for Byzantine art and the Medieval Europe Gallery.

The earliest works in the display are coins on loan from The American Numismatic Society. A silver tetradrachm—minted for the Second Jewish War against Rome—is a Roman coin that was overstruck in 133 C.E. in Roman Palestine (modern Israel). The coin depicts the façade of the Temple in Jerusalem. A copper sestertius—minted in 71 C.E. in Rome records the violent destruction of the Second Temple in the previous year.

From the collection of the Metropolitan comes a rare, fragmentary example of Jewish gold glass. It is one of many bases of glass vessels with designs worked in gold foil that have been found in catacombs, the underground burial chambers used by all religions in the late Roman and early Byzantine era.

The Museum's collection of these works, mostly from Rome, includes a variety of images. The Jewish gold glass shows an open Torah ark with rolled scrolls on shelves flanked by the ritual implements of the temple in the upper zone and a banquet scene, with a fish on a tripod table in front of a cushion below.

Other glass vessels with Jewish images—including a menorah (candelabra), shofar (ram's horn), lulav (palm branch), and incense shovel—that were made in the mid-fifth to mid-seventh century C.E. in Jerusalem are also on display. They too may have been used in burials. Also on view is a clay lamp from the Byzantine period bearing Jewish symbols. A rare example of this type, it is particularly appropriate for display during Hannukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.

The Museum is also hosting an exhibition on Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156-1868. It brings together 214 masterpieces, including 34 National Treasures, 64 Important Cultural Properties, and six Important Art objects, a number of which have never traveled outside Japan.

Featuring the finest examples of armor, swords, sword fittings and mountings, archery and equestrian equipment, banners, surcoats, and related accessories of rank, as well as painted screens and scrolls depicting samurai warriors, the exhibition will explore the greatest achievements of this unique facet of Japanese art.

Masterpieces on view will include an exceptional 12th-century blade called Ôkanehira that is known as the greatest of all Japanese swords, and a striking armor with helmet—adorned by a crescent more than 30 inches long—worn by Date Masamune, one of Japan's legendary warriors.

Drawn exclusively from more than 60 public and private collections in Japan, this is the most comprehensive exhibition of Japanese arms and armor ever to take place in the world.

Morihiro Ogawa, the exhibition's curator, and Special Consultant for Japanese Arms and Armor in the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Arms and Armor, stated: "Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156-1868 has been more than 10 years in the making. Extended negotiations have resulted in an assemblage that would be difficult to experience even in Japan.

"The exhibition will include many works that are seen rarely and others that have never been shown beyond the Shinto shrines and a temple. We are particularly honored by the exceptional support offered by those responsible for the administration of cultural properties for lending us 34 National Treasures, more than triple the number ever before allowed to leave Japan for a single loan exhibition.

"I sincerely hope that this exhibition will bring to the public a new awareness of the samurai culture that is often misunderstood as a mere martial art."

The Art of the Samurai exhibition runs until January 10, 2010. Click here to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.