Thursday, 29 August 2013

A Letter from Germany

Cologne Cathedral
Here we are in Cologne, sampling the local delicacies as you do. I drew the line at pork knuckle but I did give the bratwurst and sauerkraut a go, not to mention the kartofflen. I even drank a local beer, much to my liver's surprise. It hasn't had to cope with alcohol since the Eisenhower adminstration.

Our hotel is right by the cathedral, an enormous edifice. I have seen a cathedral or two but never one as huge as this one - the one in Barcelona may run it a fairly close second. Inside it is not as beautiful as Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk in Antwerp, but it does have some lovely windows and a few other amazing features.

The Schmuck Madonna
My favourite is the Shmuck Madonna. Yes, indeed. The Schmuck Madonna. No typo. She allegedly performs miracles and there were indeed a number of schmucks in her chapel, lighting candles and no doubt placing their orders for the miracle of their choice. Mazel tov. 

Down in the bowels of the earth below the cathedral they have the treasure vault with the usual complement of lavishly bejewelled vestments and regalia and reliquaries. I like a good reliquary.  You wouldn't want to be a bishop in the Middle Ages: no sooner do you breathe your last or they pop you into a cauldron in the back yard and boil you down so they can sell bits of your bones to cathedrals all over the christian world to put in their reliquaries.

In various cathedrals over the years I have seen the Holy Blood on a bit of cloth, bits of the True Cross and little glass vials with drops of the Virgin's milk,  and I have seen various bishops' knuckle bones and leg bones, but Cologne cathedral trumps them all. They have got a thorn from the Crown of Thorns, the head of St Sebastian (Allegedly: can't see that, it is inside a gold reliquary in the shape of a head, yuck!) and the p de resistance, the bones of  all three wise men! Again allegedly: they are in a gold reliquary in a chapel behind bars so you have to take their word for it. Allegedly brought back from Jerusalem by the Crusaders. (Why did the wise men not go home after the Bethlehem Stable Visit? Why were they still there, or at least their bones, 1200 years later when the crusaders showed up? Who gave or sold them to the crusaders?)
The reliquary allegedly containing
the bones of the Three Wise Men
I would like to see them submit all this blood and milk and bones to DNA testing and carbon dating. Never mind the thorn. Saw no tooth fairy, but there was a saint in a stained glass window who bore an amazing resemblance to Santa. Red robe, beard and all. 

Saw pictures of how Cologne looked in 1945 after the RAF had done their worst and it was not a pretty sight. In clearing up and digging foundations for new buildings, they uncovered the foundations of the Roman city. We went to the Roman museum today. It is amazing, the most beautiful mosaic pavements, the statues and stuff, but I was particularly impressed by the jewellery - would not be out of place in a modern jewellery shop.
Roman jewellery

I wish I understood more German or they would deign to label stuff in English too. We got to go underground to see the Roman buildings. High "wow!" factor.

They also found some Frankish graves from the 4th and 5th centuries - Royal graves of the Meringovian lot. Clovis, the one whose sons are drifting away on the raft in that painting in the NSW gallery of Art ... his family. Amazing the stuff they buried with them.

Saw the Wallraff-Richartz Museum, small collection but some lovely stuff by Rembrandt, also a small but excellent Impressionist collection and a scary Edvard Munch - the four little doomed girls on the bridge. Showpiece is a collection of drawings by Goya of bullfights, and a similar series by Picasso, 150 years later. Those two old Spaniards knew their stuff. Absolutely entrancing.
Edvard Munch

I wanted to buy the book of the museum, but it is only in German. Every other museum has their book in a choice of languages! The herrenvolk doesn't bother.

We have bought some cologne - can't come to Cologne and not buy the old 4711! I am not buying a cuckoo clock. Why are they pushing cuckoo clocks? Isn't that Switzerland's job?

Tomorrow we are going to fahrt on the Rhine. A lot of  fahrting goes on in Germany. They Infahrt and Ausfahrt and some places you have to buy a ticket to fahrt.

 Till next time!  

A Kerfuffle in the Poultry Yard

The Poultry Yard by Melchior d'Hondecoeter

is one of my NGV favourites.  I am a sucker for pictures of poultry and whereas I can't afford even a small Hondecoeter, I am lucky enough to own a delightful little chook watercolour by Pat Cox, which gives me a lot of pleasure. However, very few painters are  in the same league as Melchior when it comes to poultry.  He is to feathers what Anthony van Dyck is to silk and satin: nobody does it better.

Many Dutch and Flemish painters of the Golden Age specialised in birds. Dead ones. They turned out endless numbers of still lifes featuring fruit and veg and dead poultry. Dead rabbits too, for good measure. Very realistic job they did, I'm not complaining.

But Melchior d'Hondecoeter, bless him, would have no truck with poultry about to be plucked and casseroled. His birds are not only alive, but by golly, they have a social life! They quarrel, they gossip, they cuddle tenderly, they strut arrogantly.

He liked to place his birds in park-like settings, often with a bit of statuary thrown in. He painted not only domestic fowls and poultry, but exotic birds which the Dutch merchant ships brought back from their new colonies in Africa, America and the East Indies. Peacocks, pelicans and parrots grace his canvases along with geese, hens and fighting cocks.

Hondecoeter was a very successful and prolific artist. His paintings are held in galleries around the world, but the first exhibition of a collection of his work was in 2010 at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, when the Dutch artist Willem de Rooij put together an installation he called "Intolerance, a three-dimensional collage". He juxtaposed 18 of Hondecoeter's bird paintings with a group of 18th century feathered objects from Hawaii: rather creepy masks, robes and heads associated with the religious practices of the indigenous people.  I skimmed lightly over the Hawaiian objects and enjoyed Melchior's birds. 

Next time you are at the NGV, have a look at the kerfuffle in the poultry yard: the hen is clearly giving that duck a piece of her mind!