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Medieval Church Treasures from Hildesheim Featured in Fall Exhibition at Metropolitan Museum
September 17, 2013–January 5, 2014

Medieval Treasures from Hildesheim

Exhibition location: Wrightsman Exhibition Gallery, Main Floor, Gallery 521
Press preview: Monday, September 16, 10:00 a.m.-noon

Germany’s Hildesheim Cathedral in Lower Saxony has one of the most complete surviving ensembles of ecclesiastical furnishings and treasures in Europe, including many medieval masterpieces made between about 1000 and 1250. The cathedral was designated a UNESCO world cultural heritage site in 1985. Major renovations that are currently underway provide the opportunity for Medieval Treasures from Hildesheim—an extraordinary selection of about 50 medieval church treasures, most of which have never been shown outside Europe—to travel to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they will be on view beginning September 17. 

The exhibition is made possible by the Michel David-Weill Fund. 

The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Exhibition Overview

The first section of the exhibition will focus primarily on the legacy of Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim (960–1022), one of the greatest patrons of the arts in the Middle Ages. During his time, Hildesheim was a center for bronze-making and other artistic activities. In addition to the famous monumental bronze doors and the column in Hildesheim Cathedral that cannot travel, Bernward commissioned many smaller precious works of art, mostly for his Benedictine monastic foundation. These include the Golden Madonna, a silver crucifix, a pair of richly decorated silver candlesticks, and sumptuously illuminated manuscripts, all of which will be included in the exhibition. The monumental lifesize wood carving known as the Ringelheim crucifix is one of the earliest surviving three-dimensional sculptures of the Middle Ages. It will provide a focal point for the gallery, which will contain one of the most impressive groups of 11th-century works of art ever seen in North America.

The exhibition will also examine the continuing artistic production of Hildesheim in the high Middle Ages. Opulent jeweled crosses, as well as reliquaries and portable altars decorated with enamel and ivory will be featured. The late-12th-century Saint Oswald reliquary surmounted by a silver-gilt bust of the saint and decorated with finely drawn niello plaques is a highlight as are the three gilt-bronze liturgical fans with openwork decoration and cabochon stones, each over 16 inches in diameter.

Hildesheim re-emerged as a major center for bronze casting in the early 13th century. The cathedral’s monumental bronze baptismal font dating to about 1226—which will be displayed nearby, in the Medieval Sculpture Hall— is one of the most important works to survive from the Middle Ages. The basin and its lid rest on free-standing kneeling figures of the four Rivers of Paradise and the complete ensemble measures six feet in height. Richly decorated in relief, the basin depicts the Baptism of Christ and the Virgin Enthroned flanked by scenes from the Hebrew Bible that were understood in the Middle Ages to prefigure the Baptism of Christ. The lid has four additional scenes in relief, and ancillary figures and lengthy inscriptions further enrich the font. Also on view in the exhibition will be other important examples of bronzework from that time:  a cast bronze eagle lectern, a lion aquamanile, a candlestick, and a crozier (a religious staff of office, in the shape of a shepherd's crook). 

Publication and Related Programs

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue written by scholars on the Museum’s staff in collaboration with scholars in France and Germany. The first comprehensive overview of the Hildesheim collection in English, the book has been edited by Peter Barnet, Senior Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters; and Michael Brandt, Director, and Gerhard Lutz, Curator, Hildesheim Cathedral Museum. It is published by the Metropolitan Museum and distributed by Yale University Press, and will be available in the Museum’s book shops ($24.95, hardcover).

The catalogue is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Among the education programs organized in conjunction with the exhibition will be a series of gallery talks and a How Did They Do That? weekend program for all ages. On October 6, a Sunday at the Met program includes the showing of a film on the creation of a bronze aquamanile, followed by a discussion by Peter Dandridge, Conservator, Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation at the Metropolitan Museum, and Ubaldo Vitale, renowned metalsmith and 2011 MacArthur Foundation Fellow. The conversation will focus on the baptismal font, eagle lectern, and other major cast works from Hildesheim within the context of medieval metal casting. 

One view within the exhibition will be a slide presentation on the monuments of Hildesheim. It will feature images of works that could not travel.

The exhibition is organized by Peter Barnet, Michael Brandt, and Gerhard Lutz. Exhibition design is by Michael Langley, Exhibition Design Manager; graphics are by Morton Lebigre, Associate Graphic Designer; and lighting is by Clint Ross Coller and Richard Lichte, Lighting Design Managers, all of the Museum’s Design Department.

It will be featured on the website of the Metropolitan Museum (www.metmuseum.org).

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September 9, 2013

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