So many different kinds of lines

This sounds like a fantastic exhibition. I love the more casual draftsmanship of this detail from one of the drawings on display at the Met’s Pen and Parchement blog: the Evangelist Mathew, from the 11th-century Arenberg Gospels.


The exhibition is a knockout, at once sumptuous and restrained. The entire show fits into three galleries, but what galleries they are! Holcomb has gathered books and manuscripts from museums, libraries, and religious institutions in Europe and the United States. And it is in these bound volumes that the signal graphic achievements of the Middle Ages are to be found. Everybody, of course, knows the illuminated manuscripts of those centuries, with their dazzlingly colored pages, finished to a jewel-like shimmer. Holcomb’s great idea has been to set those works aside for the time being, and focus instead on what have traditionally perhaps been regarded as humbler fare. These are the pictures done with black or brown or sometimes colored ink, many of which have, at least at first glance, a more casual, more informal character. Such works, she argues, put us in touch with the medieval artist’s most immediate impressions and responses. I think she is absolutely right. There is an easygoing, wonderfully lowdown quality about a lot of the work in this show. We have gotten beyond the delicious formality of the illuminated manuscript. We are seeing artists in a variety of moods, sometimes ruminative or contemplative, at other times more intuitive, more playful. Even when the artists are doing something wonderfully elegant, it is an off-the-cuff elegance, an improvisational elegance. There are so many different kinds of lines to be seen in this show, from skeletal and attenuated to athletic and even frenetic. We see flashes of humor and wit, but also agitation, anxiety, and melancholy.

from “Anonymous No More,” by Jed Perl, The New Republic, 28 July 2009, reviewing “Pen and Parchment: Drawing in the Middle Ages,” at the Metropolitan Museum, New York City, through 23 August 2009 :: via 3quarksdaily

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