Friday, November 27, 2015

A Couple Days in Cologne

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving, y'all!

Using Corine's home in Hausen as a home base, I adventured to Cologne (Köln in German) a couple days in a row earlier this week!  As soon as you step out of the train station in Cologne, you are immediately greeted by the towering cathedral.  The thing is enormous!!  My favorite part of the entire cathedral was the stained glass windows.  So colorful and intricate, and they were glowing beautifully when I visited.  The cathedral was bustling with tourists because the Weinachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) is near the church, and everyone seemed as impressed by the windows and architecture as I was.

The ambulatory is only open to visitors at certain times, and I happen to be there about five minutes before it opened.  So I hung around a bit and then strolled around behind the main altar, peering into each chapel as I went.  Of course much is roped off now, but you can still catch glimpses of the shrines and altars through the gates.

After the cathedral, I walked through the Weinachtsmarkt and enjoyed the familiar sounds of Christmas music-- in English!  I even bought a somewhat expensive latte so I could have the Cologne Christmas Market commemorative mug.  I know.  I'm a sucker.

Aside from the grand cathedral, there are many other churches in Cologne.  It is impossible to visit them all in such a short visit, but I walked to as many as I could muster throughout the day.  One of my favorites was St. Gereon's.  None of the original stained glass remains, but the modern windows are brightly colored and beautiful.  The circular plan with several galleries and niches was definitely an impressive space!

After church surfing, I visited the Schnütgen Museum.  They have a great medieval collection, especially their wooden sculptures and reliquaries!  I also really liked a small beaded container, originally used to hold the Eucharist.  It was kind of crazy and messy, but also wildly detailed and skillfully done!
Wall of bust reliquaries at the Schnutgen
Arm reliquaries at the Schnutgen
Beaded host container at the Schnutgen
I returned home in the evening to a snowy white Hausen!  The next morning, I snapped a couple quick snow pics in front of Corine's house before heading back to Cologne where it was very cold and very wet!

I had an appointment at the Museum for Angewandte Kunst Köln (MAKK) which means Applied Arts Museum of Cologne.  The museum has a few medieval textiles, but they are all in storage now because they are focusing on more modern topics for their current exhibitions.

I got to go up to storage with the conservator to look at a tapestry that I have studied in the past.  The antependium (a horizontally-oriented cloth that hangs in front of an altar) was made and used in Nuremberg during the fifteenth century, and depicts seven virgin martyrs.  It is a gnarly and gruesome image, which makes it totally intriguing for a number of reasons.  The violence depicted far exceeds the textual legends of the saints and other depictions of their martyrdoms.  Not only that, but the tortures are carried out by these eerie disembodied hands!  Totally weird!  But it was awesome to see the tapestry in person after studying it for so long.  Once again, I was amazed by the fine quality and craftsmanship of the weaving.

After taking photos at the MAKK, I had lunch and then visited the old Diocesan Museum of Cologne.  The museum is built on top of some old church ruins of St. Kolumba, and you can go down and walk through the ruins as part of the exhibitions!  A totally cool space.  The museum combines medieval and modern art thematically throughout, which can be a bit exhausting to me.  But it was still a neat collection, and they had a couple nice textiles.
St. Kolumba ruins under the museum
A little old-meets-new in Cologne!
Little corporal cloth in the Diozesanmuseum in Cologne
Lastly, I went back to the Schnütgen to take more photographs-- this time with my tripod and macro lens.  I am always amazed at the level of detail I can see in these photos.  I often notice more in the photos than I did looking at the object!  Mega-thanks to Volker for loaning me his lenses and teaching me how to work my camera and edit my photos!

Macro lens with 1:1 adapter-- Beaded host vessel from the Schnutgen Museum
We have spent a couple relaxing days in Hausen now, and it's nice to slow down a bit after over a month of intense traveling and art historicizing!  On Tuesday 1 December, I will take a train up to Wolfenbüttel to begin my ten-month fellowship at the Herzog August Bibliothek.  Looking forward to really unpacking my bags and getting settled in there!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Sweden, Part 2: Uppsala, Linköping, and Vadstena

One day during my week in Sweden, I visited Uppsala.  A scholar from our Extraordinary Scensescapes project lives and works there, and she offered to show me around.  She ordered some medieval manuscripts from the Birgittine monastery in Vadstena (now kept at the university library in Uppsala) for us to look at!  They were incredible.  Looking at manuscripts and other objects made and used by medieval nuns never gets old!  One of the books was actually a 17th-century manuscript that described the monastery at Vadstena, which was useful for illustrations and building plans.  Another was a book that the nuns in Vadstena used after it was written and used elsewhere first.  By the time it arrived in Vadstena, torn pages and parchment holes had been elaborately stitched up using brightly colored thread!  These repairs are so cool!  It basically looks like little doily patches on the pages!!
Seventeenth Century Plan and Description of Vadstena Convent Church
"Vadstena Kloster Kyrka" (Vadstena Convent Church)
Love this little manuscript that has a silk cover for the gold leaf on the 'B'
Written and illuminated by a nun in Vadstena Convent
Stitched parchment hole

After manuscripts, we had lunch with another scholar at Uppsala who works on Birgittine embroideries.  It was a great lunch, and I continue to be amazed and appreciative that established scholars are open and encouraging toward me and my research.  We went to look at Uppsala Cathedral after lunch, and then visited the cathedral treasury.  More great stuff!! And Eva was the perfect guide through Uppsala.  She is really an expert on many of these things, especially the Vadstena manuscripts we looked at!
Uppsala Cathedral
Italian silk copes
Embroidered Mary and Baby Jesus
I also visited a city called Linköping, which has a great cathedral and lovely little museum.  In Linköping I was picked up at the train station by Markus, who is the director of the museums in Linköping and Vadstena.  We looked through the cathedral, now a Lutheran church, and I was able to photograph the textiles in the museum.
Linköping Cathedral
Markus was kind enough to let me stay with him and his family in their magnificent country home!  The Swedish countryside is as charming as you might imagine, and Markus' family was delightful. As I already mentioned, he had horses and a tail-less cat named Sven Erik!  How much better could it possibly be?
Markus' Home
The man, the legend: Sven Erik
The next morning we went to Vadstena.  On our way, we passed the ruins at Alvastra where St. Birgitta of Sweden's husband was buried.  Beautiful church ruins on a lovely day!!

Vadstena is a sweet little town with a beautiful church and medieval monastery.  The old monastery is now home to a great little museum, and I was able to take tons of photos of the textiles there.  Vadstena is the monastery founded by St. Birgitta herself, and is where her shrine is currently located.  Standing on the grounds that Birgitta may have walked was thrilling, and to see the textiles that she so specifically described in her Rule was fascinating!  Once again, I had the best possible guide in Linköping and Vadstena-- Markus had a lot of answers to my questions and even fascinating questions that are as yet unanswered.
Painted vaulting in Vadstena Convent Church
Vadstena Convent Church
The monastery is located directly on Lake Vättern, which is an enormous and very choppy lake.  At sunset (around 3:45pm because Sweden is weird) I went out to photograph the lake and was surprised to see a couple swans right up near the monastery grounds!

Sweden was great, and I especially loved the countryside and Vadstena!  I owe an enormous "tack tack" ("thank you") to all of the people who helped me, let me stay with them, fed me, showed me around, and aided me when I was lost.

Sweden, Part 1: Stockholm

My time in Sweden was outstanding, thanks to the hospitality and generosity of many new friends!  In Stockholm I stayed with Lena, a friend I met during the Extreme Sensescapes conference, and her husband Per.  They were invaluable in showing me the Swedish ropes about transportation, sight-seeing, and (perhaps most importantly) traditional food!

Upon my arrival in Stockholm, we enjoyed a lovely fika (pronounced FEE-kah, meaning coffee and snack) with Lena's mother who also happened to be in town.  Then we had a scenic walk through gardens and parks and greenhouses, followed by lunch in a cafe there.  We met an excited boston terrier named Boris wearing a pea-green cable-knit sweater!

Julros-- Christmas Rose
Boris the Boston Terrier in a Cable-knit Sweater
Then Lena and I visited a large outdoor Swedish heritage museum called Skansen.  Great scenery, history, and even animals!  Luckily, Lena is as ridiculous about cute little animals as I am, so we squealed and giggled together while the Lynx cubs played together in the leaves and again when the otter yawned and curled up for a nap.
You know I can't turn down an opportunity like this!
Historic Swedish Bakery!
In the evening, we made gingerbread cookies (thin and crunchy, the Swedish way) and Swedish meat(less) balls!  We had the meat(less) balls in a traditional manner, served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam-- Super delicious!!!

Lena, her mother, and Per--Some of my Swedish family!
The next day, I visited the Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) in the morning.  They had a super exhibit about "folk art" painted furniture from the eighteenth century!  The building was incredible as well-- inside and outside.  They had some great exhibitions about Nordic crafts and culture, so I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Nordiska Museet
Nordiska Museet
Exhibition at the Nordiska Museet
After the Nordiska Museet, I met up with Lena and we went to the Vasa Museum.  The museum houses a 17th-century Swedish ship in remarkable condition!  Nearly 98% of the ship is original, with elaborate carvings and enormous masts.  The entire museum was incredible, and Lena and I continually remarked on how fascinating and well-designed the museum was.

The Vasa!
Up on the highest viewing deck at the Vasa Museum!
After the Vasa, we headed home to make another traditional Swedish dinner and saffron buns!  Saffron buns are a traditional bread for this time of year, and they smell outstanding and taste even better!  As someone who rarely cooks and even more rarely bakes, it was neat to make them from scratch-- using fresh yeast and everything!!  Yum!!!

But I also did work in Stockholm!  I visited the Historiska Museet (Historical Museum) to see their awesome collection of medieval Birgittine textiles.  The embroideries there are so finely made!  Most are silk embroideries using split stitch, stem stitch, and couching methods, and they beaded with lots of pearls and metal paillettes!  Totally stunning!
I'm so thoughtful.
Detail of an embroidered reliquary
Detail of a bishop's mitre
After some excursions outside Stockholm, I returned and explored Gamla Stan for a day before returning to Germany.  Gamla Stan is the "old town" of Stockholm, home to quaint (and touristy) shopping districts and fabulous churches.  I bought some kitchsy Swedish souvenirs and visited the Storkyrkan (pronounced stor-SHEER-kahn), one of the largest and oldest churches in Stockholm.  I got lucky when I visited, because the church choir and orchestra of Stockholm happened to be there rehearsing for their upcoming performance of Mozart's Requiem!  They were incredible, and I sat in a pew and listened with my eyes closed for a long time, thinking about how lucky I am to experience such moments in this life.

St. George and the Dragon at the Storkyrkan
Swedish is a wacky language, where nothing sounds like it looks and everyone speaks with such a lovely inflection and melody.  Lucky for me, nearly all Swedes speak perfect English!  So the time I got on a bus going the opposite direction from what I intended, the bus driver was able to explain that to me...  Just as I was beginning to worry that I was riding the wrong direction through a strange and foreign city, I saw a seagull flying in the open space between the bustling high-rise buildings of Stockholm.  Some of you know my relationship with Jonathan Livingston Seagull and the fact that I suspect my Uncle J's spirit flies over the world as a gull now, flying as fast as thought, and making sure all is well.  In that moment, a deep peace came over me, and I knew the bus would make a loop and drop me back off where I belonged.  Life is good.