Press release


March 9 - July 4, 1999

Nearly 300 outstanding examples of medieval art — all drawn from the superb holdings of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and all acquired during the last two decades — will be moved from their customary settings this spring for Mirror of the Medieval World, an important new exhibition of the art of the Middle Ages. Organized thematically, the exhibition will feature several unexpected groupings of works of art created between the fourth and the 16th century, inviting visitors to reassess familiar works and to draw stylistic comparisons among objects created for purposes as diverse as personal adornment, the activities of daily life, and liturgical rites.

Since 1979, several hundred works of art were acquired by the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Medieval Art and by The Cloisters, the branch museum of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in northern Manhattan devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. Nearly all of these important acquisitions will be brought together from both locations in Mirror of the Medieval World, opening in the Museum's main building at Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street.

The exhibition is made possible by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation.

More About the Exhibition
Included in the exhibition are outstanding works in all media and from all periods covered by the Museum's Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. Highlights include Bronze Age jewelry of dramatic simplicity, ornate Byzantine silver and enamels, precious Anglo-Saxon brooches featuring filigree and cloisonne inlay, boldly illuminated Spanish Romanesque manuscript pages, two engaging aquamanilia (water vessels used when washing the hands) in the forms of a rooster and a lion, and a serenely smiling Gothic stone head. The end of the Middle Ages will be represented by panels of stained glass, a sublime boxwood statuette of the Virgin and Child attributed to Nikolaus Gerhaert von Leiden, an expressive sculpture of the Saint Anthony Abbot subduing a demon, and a magnificent tapestry fragment depicting a fabulous lionlike beast. Work will be explained in relation to the acquisition process and the underlying importance of the object to the Museum.

The Standing Virgin and Child, for instance, is one of only eight works in wood that are attributed to Nikolaus Gerhaert von Leiden, the finest and most influential sculptor of the mid- to late 15th century, a pivotal period in the development of late Gothic sculpture in northern Europe. Measuring just over 13 inches in height, this exquisite statuette evokes a sense of drama and monumentality. An outstanding example of the work of a key artist of the late Middle Ages, this work — which was purchased by the Museum in 1996 — is an important addition to the Metropolitan's most significant holdings of late Gothic art.

The works on view in Mirror of the Medieval World will be presented thematically, beginning with an introduction to the context, forms, and techniques of the Middle Ages. Works featuring plant, animal, and equestrian imagery will be displayed next, followed by a section on depictions of the human figure (including representations of Christ, the Virgin and Child, angels, and saints). A grouping of objects that reference architecture will serve as a transition into the following two areas, where ecclesiastical furnishings as well as objects of private devotion are shown. The final four sections will focus on worldly concerns such as jewelry, an array of vessels of various kinds and diverse materials, the themes of romance and vanity, and games.

"This milestone exhibition is the most appropriate tribute I can imagine to William D. Wixom upon his retirement as Chairman of the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters," commented Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum. "Every object acquired during Bill's tenure is a masterpiece in its own right. By displaying these treasures together, we are celebrating the major achievement of his career — the dramatic expansion of the Museum's superb medieval collection, the finest in the Western Hemisphere. Mirror of the Medieval World will also serve to welcome and introduce Peter Barnet, the newly elected Michel David-Weill Curator in Charge of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. Peter brings vast energy, impressive scholarship, and curatorial expertise to his post."

The exhibition is organized by William D. Wixom and Peter Barnet. Conservation is by Edmund P. Dandridge, Conservator; Jack Soultanian Jr., Conservator; and Kathrin Colburn, Associate Conservator.

A variety of educational programs and resources, including a subscription lecture series, will be available in conjunction with the exhibition.

A fully illustrated catalogue also accompanies the exhibition, featuring contributions by William D. Wixom; Peter Barnet; Helen C. Evans, Associate Curator of Medieval Art; Timothy B. Husband, Curator at The Cloisters; Charles T. Little, Curator of Medieval Art; Barbara Drake Boehm, Curator of Medieval Art; Katharine R. Brown, Senior Research Associate, Medieval Art; and Mary B. Shepard, Museum Educator at The Cloisters, among others. The catalogue is published by the Metropolitan Museum and will be available in both softcover ($45) and clothbound ($60) editions in the Museum's Bookshop. Distributed by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., the catalogue also will be available at bookstores nationwide.

This publication is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

January 11, 1999

Press resources