Thursday, March 11, 2010

In Which This Blog Dabbles in Art History

Did you ever have an itch you couldn’t scratch? A “the word is RIGHT on the tip of my tongue” moment? I call them input/output errors. Yeah. Try being like that for four years.

I have a taste for the religious art of the middle ages and Renaissance – undoubtedly a legacy from my long years in the SCA. Awhile back I found an image I really liked, and I borrowed it from the Internet – I had this program that would turn any digital image into a jigsaw puzzle you could do on your computer – but I neglected to write down the artist’s name, or the name of the image either. And since you just copied and pasted the picture into the puzzle program, I didn’t even have an actual digital image on my computer!

So ever since then, I’ve been trying to remember who painted it, since I keep talking about it and I want my victims to be able to see what it looks like!

Now, I figured I remembered enough distinctive things about this painting that I should be able to find it using Google-fu. I knew:

1. It was a painting of the Crucifixion.
2. I’m not a learned art historian, but I’ve done a lot of looking and I can recognize some of the major national styles. My painting was definitely in the Flemish or German style - not Italian at all! Also, it used linear perspective, so it could have been painted no earlier than the early to mid 1400s.
3. The painting – and here’s the unique thing – was set inside the nave of a church. The cross is planted right there on the black-and-white tile, and stretches up until it almost touches the vaulted ceiling.
4. The reason I find this painting so powerful is this: way in the back of the church, you can see a priest celebrating the Mass. He is elevating the Host at the moment of consecration, tying together the sacrifice of the Cross and the sacrifice of the Mass.

You’d think that would be enough detail, but you try looking at all the images you get when you Google “Flemish crucifixion”! Adding phrases like “inside a church” didn’t help at all – I just got a lot of photos taken inside churches.

Of course I wasn’t thinking about my painting and searching for it all the time. I’d forget about it for months and then something would recall it to my mind, or I’d start describing it to somebody, and the hole in my memory would start to itch again.

The reason I’ve told this whole long story is that today, I FOUND IT AGAIN! I was complaining about how I couldn’t find this painting when a colleague suggested I should look through Sister Wendy’s book 1000 Masterpieces that we have in our reference collection. Seemed like a good idea, so this afternoon between answering patrons’ questions I leafed through the book. I should have leafed in reverse order, because I found my painter in the Vs. He is Rogier van der Weyden and my painting is the Seven Sacraments Altarpiece:


I need to share my feeling of utter triumph that I was able, through my vast librarian skills (my painting wasn’t even IN Sister Wendy’s book – I just recognized the style and tried Googling the artist’s name), to come up with the information. If I’d ever seen the side panels I’d probably have found it quicker, since they depict the other six sacraments and that might have given me a hint as to the name. But still!

I confess that part of my motivation in posting this is so that I can never lose it again. As long as my blog shall endure, I have my painting at my fingertips!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a cool librarian moment! :-) Glad you found your painting!