Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Image, Art, and History


It was art that started me on this pursuit, and that has been foundational in developing content.  Because Anne, both of her husbands, and her family were patrons of the arts, it is largely through art that important parts of their lives have been revealed to me. Although I haven’t gone back to the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum is my second home, and in the past few years it has had special exhibitions of illuminated manuscripts and tomb sculpture as well as lectures about them that have been valuable and pertinent. The Cloisters is a repository of works of the period and before, and its lectures have provided information about herbal medicine, dyes, and images in art and tapestry, with insight into patronage and religious views. The JP Morgan Library and Museum had a fabulous exhibition of illuminated manuscripts, including some made for Anne and her family; and I was fortunate to hear the curator himself talk about them, with a group of people fascinated by the Renaissance who had come from Boston for the same exhibitions and lectures I was attending. I was surprised and delighted that my esoteric interests were shared by so many enthusiasts.  


One January Saturday I braved the frigid weather to walk uptown to visit a gallery on Madison Avenue. I’d seen a small item in the paper that they were featuring art of France in 1500. How could I not follow through? Once there, I was immediately warmed by what I found. First of all, there was a beautiful miniature that was framed by the cordelière: the image of twisted ropes that was Anne’s symbol. Everything there was interesting; much of it directly involved characters I already knew. I turned to talk to the man working in the gallery and learned that he was a graduate student studying this artistic period, focusing on Bourdichon, one of the artists whose names I had become familiar with. The gallery director told me that a major show, assembled and curated by the Louvre and the Art Institute of Chicago, would be in Chicago in the Spring, and that there would be a definitive catalog in English about this subject. Fortunately, my brother lives in Chicago, and welcomed me for a wonderful visit with his family.  The nearby Newberry Library supplemented that show with manuscripts and art of the period. I spent a tremendously valuable day at the extraordinary exhibitions, and many hours afterward poring over the catalog, which is the most informative piece I've read, even resolving some of the conflicts of other historians.  It was as though it was all put together for me!

Anne de Bretagne is a legendary figure in Brittany, somewhat less so in the rest of  France. Hotels, streets,  restaurants and  historic sites bear the name of Anne de Bretagne. She is better represented in the arts.  However, the depth of information or explanation is minimal, and some of it is contradictory. Rather than being frustrated by that, I realize that it confirms my original determination that if I want to write about her, I would have to go beyond the accepted facts.
 The most significant recognition of Anne de Bretagne in America and much of the world is for the art and books she commissioned. The Book of Hours of Anne de Bretagne, in the JP Morgan Library Museum in New York, is considered one of the finest of its kind. And the tomb of her parents, which is in the Cathedral of Nantes, is recognized as one of the finest examples of early Renaissance sculpture and funerary art…and was the lure that brought me into her world when I saw a reproduction in the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.

France gave me  some new images of Anne and the people in her world.  At the Chateau de Saint-Malo, there was a very large painting of a procession in which Anne is entering Saint-Malo with the Bishop, showing an impressive retinue. The Château de Saint-Malo was largely built by Anne and her father…but the painting was not mentioned in its flyer or known about by the museum guide. I came upon it after he told me not to bother going there!caption

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