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Sunday, September 6, 2009

On Medieval Influences: Observing the Hours and Pat Hardie's work

Not too long ago, I fulfilled a promise to a friend of mine to go to the Cloisters. What a wonderful place with gorgeous gardens and superb medieval art. The Cloisters was constructed of bits and pieces of five different French cloisters, with other elements from other religious houses put in. It stands upper Manhattan in the Fort Tryon area. You can find information and some of the pieces here:

The Cloisters

I have always been inspired by medieval art, or at least since I was in 4th or 5th grade. While there, I took many pictures of the building, the grounds and the artifacts adding them to my collection of images from which to draw inspiration for quilts.

I stupidly didn't shoot the label for this piece at left, which I usually to do identify the pieces. However, I love the image of Jesus as the sun..

Not too long ago, Pat Hardie posted some pieces she had done to the Quilt art message board . I was very happy to look at her pieces as they are quite wonderful. Pat is a member of the Merrickville Artist's Group which is located in Merrickville, Ontario, Canada, just outside of Ottawa. Like many of us, she engages in several different artistic endeavors including fiber, photography and ceramics.

Most of her recent work has been associated with making pieces for her son's wedding. I really had to giggle as she experienced what one of my friends is currently experiencing. As the "children" prepare for their wedding, they keep on coming up with new things that "mom" can make for them. One of the pieces is a box in which to contain wedding cards.

I was really taken with Pat's Wedding House which you can see here on her portfolio. I fond of it for a couple of reasons. I'm not sure if she realized it, but the Wedding House's form is a common one used for medieval reliquaries which housed bones and artifacts associated with saints. Here are a few which take the same shape of Pat's piece reliquaries .

While reliquaries often take the "house" form, thought to be derived from the shape of early churches (also known as "casket form" which may be more to the point), they don't have to. Here are three reliquaries from unknown female saints at the Cloisters:

The round pendants or brooches on the first two are actually little windows so you can see the bit of bone from the saint.

Another one which is at the Cloisters is this one which is in the shape of the Saint's arm. Here, it is raised in benediction.

In the spring, I had been working on a reliquary to go with a rendition of the Magnificat. Like so many of my pieces, this is sitting on the UFO pile (or maybe it is a in progress) until I can solve some of the construction problems. Pat's is really interesting because she made it so that it can be "unzipped" and flatten to be hung on the wall.

The other thing which I was taken with on this piece is that she used images from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc du Berry. Click on the link and you can see many of the images from the original.

Les Tres Riches Heures is a "Book of Hours." These were medieval devotional books done for the very wealthy. They were illuminated manuscripts which often portrayed everyday life as they were not sacred texts (as in portions of the bible), but meant to cause the owner to reflect and observe the religious hours.

While several book of hours exist, either in complete form or in divided pages, probably Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc du Berry and another commissioned by the Duc du Berry, Les Belles Heures are probably the best known.

During the medieval period, many settlements were snuggled up against the walls of a religious house, or within the walls of a nobleman's fortifications which usually had a chapel or church associated with it. While for the most part, the common man's life was agriculturally based and therefore had no need of knowing the hours of the day but was more of a seasonally driven life.

There were no clocks for the common man. The religious houses did employ a variety of time-keeping devices largely to observe the hours of prayer. The day was divided up into matins (night prayers, sometimes referred to as vigils or nocturns); Lauds (the dawn prayer); Prime (early morning, or 6:00 am); Terce or the third hour (9 am); sext (the sixth hour or 12:00 noon); none (the 9th hour or 3:00 pm) vespers, or evening prayer (at dusk, or when the lamps would be lighted); and compline or the night prayer (just before retiring). These hours were rung by the church bells to let the faithful know and to call those within close distance to the church to come for the office (and of course the Religious).

If they were not able to attend the prayer service, they would observe a prayer in the field or where ever they were, taking a few moments from a busy day to give thanks, or whatever their thoughts may be.

I think that this practice is a great one, and one I'd like to practice. Just taking a few moments to center ones self and have quiet in a life most often beset with ideas, thoughts, business, requirements, and duties. I doubt I would ever have the strength to actually observe these, but still I think we could all benefit from this type of observation...whatever religion or spiritual beliefs (or not) you might have.

So, take a look at Pat's work and give just a little breath of thanks for the day.

And thank you for reading!

For more on Books of Hours:


LaughingLG said...

Lisa, I'm so jealous. Being a medievalist, I love the cloisters. I'm always surprised when even learned people don't know what reliquaries are. Thanks for the photos. Next time you go, take me!!

Michigoose said...

Reliquaries I knew about...but seeing the liturgical combs sent me running to do some research.

I hate it when the labels on things just say what it is and what the materials are!

Do you suppose the arm reliquary is giving the peace sign rather than a benediction? :) I'll be sure to drag you along the next time I go.