Friday, June 24, 2011

Grisly Relics, Gorgeous Art

The wonderfully ghoulish "Treasures of Heaven: Saints, relics and devotion in medieval Europe" in the British Museum Round Reading Room is a spaciously installed group of sometimes ravishingly beautiful Christian objects of devotion—sculptural metalwork, precious gems, enamels, paintings and carvings—and most of them conceal bits of rotted wood or decomposed flesh.

n his introductory catalog essay Arnold Angenendt makes explicit the assumption that led early Christians to venerate their dead co-religionists' "nails and hair, their teeth, and above all their skulls": "the dead are not actually dead." He notes: "The Early Christians remembered and preserved only Jesus's words and miracles"; relic worship marked a return to pagan practices. The missing link with this actual, gorgeous exhibition, however, is the concept of the effect of magic on the primitive mind.

Click here to read this article from the Wall Street Journal