Saturday, September 22, 2012


Head of a cleric from a tomb effigy, ca. 1450-60, thought to have come
from the Benedictine abbey of Moyenmoutier.

         I intended to include this poignant carving in my last post, but I was so transported by those Assyrian bas-reliefs that I thought I'd give this face his own post, where I could do him the justice he deserves.
          I first thought this was a death mask, so lifelike and touching is it. It's not, though; it's a carving done by an unknown, possibly itinerant, stone-carver.
          How can someone who was able to work this kind of magic in stone at a time when most stone-carvers worked in a cruder, flatter, more stylized idiom remain anonymous? How can his skills not have been enough in demand for him to be known, at the very least, as "The Master of Wherever-It-Was-That-He-Lived?" How can he have translated the human face so exquisitely into stone and died without leaving us his name or even any idea of where he lived?
          So artists die—unnamed, many of them—but their works live, and they still speak to us half a millennium later. Art matters in this way—it provides a glimpse into history; it tells a story that may otherwise have been lost; it allows us to understand a little better the forces that have created our present.

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