Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Colmar: Breakfast of Altarpieces

In addition to Strasbourg, Rob had wanted to visit Colmar, less than an hour to the south and also in the Alsace. And due to a fortuitous post from Facebook, I had read that one of The Great Works Of Art Which Never Goes On Tour is located in Colmar. We decided to go find it as soon as we stopped at an unassuming bakery that was stand-up-and-holler good. Yum! There's a reason that the Germans have a saying: "we ate like God in France" -- those little bakers in their houndstooth checked pants knew from eggs. They understood their pastry dough. They got the ratio of cheese to onions to custard just right. I wanted to buy a meringue just to see what a meringue is supposed to taste like. I didn't do it, so I'll have to go back.
 We were there to see the Grunewald altarpiece, which is sort of a lift-the-flap work. Panels upon panels of the annunciation, nativity, saints and resurrection all cover a carved piece underneath. The museum did a magnificent job displaying and explaining the work. Understanding the symbolism always helps me to like something better. Also seeing how a work fits into the longer scheme of history and artistic movements. The annunciation has a curtain that prefigured the Baroque, for example.

 I don't know that it's true, but I think of this as the most famous part of the altarpiece. I also think of it as the birth of the New Age aesthetic.  See that halo? Check out those color ways? I think this is where all of the crystal healing began. It is subtle and not very easy to capture in a photo.
 And then, as so often happens, Rob and I fell in love with one of the pieces of work that was supposed to be an also-ran. This is called Madonna of the Rose Bower I think, by Schongauer. I loved the baby Jesus's face; he has that gathering-storm look with brows drawn together and breath held. It gives the portrait a lot of humanity and a certain amount of suspense.
 The carving of it and the whole setting was incredible too.
 Ironically, The Artwork That Never Moves had been relocated to this Dominican church around the corner from the museum during renovations. It was a great setting for altarpieces and religious art.
 We decided to go see the rest of the museum down the street. It was mostly local artifacts which were interesting, but nothing on the order of the Grunewald.
 We did find this nice Harry Potter-style chest. Useful for locking up your transformations gone wrong.
 Colmar was beautiful. I was also surprised at the number of tourists, and the fact that they were all European tourists. A great number were French and German, often families or grandparents and grandchildren going on educational trips during the summer holiday. I am not certain we saw another American while we were there.
Rob wanted to see a section called Little Venice and I didn't think we'd be able to, but we figured out how to get walking directions on the iPhone and that was a huge timesaver during the trip. So without doing any research or having so much as a map, we got a little taste of Colmar, France. It's another place we'd love to return to.

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