In pursuit of the mirrors of Derick Baegert

My previous posting, about the mirrors of Palazzo Veccio, has caused somewhat controversial reaction the readers. On one side, it has presented a few interesting mirrors-in-art, and not so very known, which makes them even more interesting. On the other side it was called ‘shallow’, as it was not telling any Grand Story or revealing Big Truth of some sort; too blogish, in other words.

I tend to agree with this judgement, even if there were some ‘traces’ of thoughts there, too (when I was arguing that the mirrors in Italy should be sought not so much in the museums but in all sorts of ‘sites’ – which also means that one should rely more on his boots, than on Google search). But that’s more an observation, and doesn’t count as the Big Truth.

Though I have to admit that personally I like these ‘subjective’, ‘phenomenological’ postings more than the other ones, that could be call ‘analytical’. The former tend to be much more authentic and meaningful, at least for myself (but I would agree that they may be less interesting to read for other readers).

In any case, behind the cut is one of such ‘personal journey’ stories, this time about the triptych I paid a visit to very recently in the German town of Schermbeck.

The story is one of my randevús with mirrors. Under ‘randevús’ I mean not just any encounters with the art works with mirrors on them; going to Rijkmuseum in Amsterdam, one would surely expect to bump into The Milkmaid by Vermeer or the ‘admonishing’ mirrors of Ter Borch. I mean here more special tours, or de-tours I made to see certain examples of mirrors-in-art.

I wrote here about the visit to the National Gallery in London,  to see the Arnolfini Mirror (rather disappointing, at the end), and I also wrote about our trip to Strasbourg where I saw the poliptych by Hans Memling (I wrote a separate posting about this trip in my Russian blog, but here just added few more images to main earlier post about his mirrors).

These two happened to be a bit sad, but I had many much more pleasant experiences, too. The only problem is that I rarely wrote about them (one recent exception is our latest trip to Siena, where I ‘met’ the Vanagloria, but even in this case I only briefly mentioned this work in my posting about the Italian Mirror Puzzle).

Having said all that, my most recent trip to Schermbeck to see the triptych by Derick Baegert was of very different nature, it looked almost like a special operation in its own rights 🙂

I wrote about his ‘mirror’ almost two years ago (see Mirror-like Thingies by the St. Maria’s Pillow), very briefly. Basically, I only suggested that I need to visit this German town and look at this triptych myself, since the copy I had didn’t allow to decided whether it is a mirror at all. The town wasn’t that far from us, but still it took two years to plan the trip.

{Before reading further it can be worth reading (or re-reading this old posting, to see the ‘suspected’ spot in the bedroom of Saint Mary. It’s also worth to remind to Baegert also has another triptych with a mirror in to, though it is believed that the triptych is in fact a copy of the work by Rogier van der Weyden (see Under-twisted Mirror of Derick Baegert)}.

The triptych I was interested this time was in the Evangelical church of Saint George (St. Georgskirche), a relatively small one as I gathered. I wasn’t sure if I could just come there and find it open (and that I will be able to take pictures of the altarpiece), so the plan was to write a letter explaining the purpose of my visit first. Alas, it’s easier to say than done, and it took about a year or so to get my thoughts together. But at the end the letter was sent, the kind invitation was received, and I took off to the small town in the suburbs of Essen. The picture in the beginning of the posting is of this very church.

To find the ‘right’ church happened to be more difficult than I thought (or rather I was too stupid with my preparations). The address used on the website of this church is in fact not of the church itself, but of a certain church administration (I marked with a blue circle on the map below). When I got there, I realised my mistake, but was then directed by a very helpful lady… to the wrong church (it’s in red circle). Basically she sent me to the main Catholic church of the town, while the one I was seeking was evangelical (it’s in green).

At the end it all worked well, the ‘right’ church was found, I was met by a very helpful and kind pastor, who let me in, told about the church and – as much as he knew it – about the triptych by Baegert, and even presented me a book about the history of this church, published few years ago in commemoration of its 500th (!!) anniversary.

Without further delay, let me show the altarpiece of the church as I saw it at that day:

I have to warn that the light in the church was not perfect, and rather complex for shooting: it was in general dark, yet with strong counter-light from the large stained glass windows.  Therefore, all the pictures I took are far from perfect, but still ok for my purposes.

As you can see, the wings of the altarpiece are closed – and that was, of course, a total surprise for me; I knew that the altarpieces are sometimes closed, but most often I saw them opened in various churches I visited. I was completely unaware that the churches have to close their altarpieces long before Christmas, and open only for the Christmas mass (or service).

In my case it wasn’t so critical, because my suspected ‘mirror’ was exactly on the back wings, but discover own blissful unawareness was a bit of a pain (and later in that day I did suffer from this lack of knowledge).

Before I will come to the ‘mirror story’, a few corrections to my pervious story. I write there that “during the World War II the church was not affected” [by the bombings].  Well, unfortunately it’s not true.

As I learned, the church is indeed very old (it was founded in 1485, and few years ago indeed celebrated its 500th anniversary, although its current building a bit younger. The original building burned down at some point, and the current one was constructed in the 1670s, and remained more more or less intact till the 1940s. Below is a picture of the church’s interior, from roughly the same place as mine one, but made in 1926:

As you can see, there were two more layers above the altarpiece, including the top one with Oculi Domini (the one I tried to connect the ‘mirrors’ I keep finding – see Chasing the lost meaning of Oculi Domini).

And here is the picture made in 1945:

The church was ‘impacted’ by the bombings, and pretty badly, its tower was beheaded and the roof over the altar also seriously destroyed. But fortunately it wasn’t as bad as in the case of many other towns (e.g., in case of Wessel, the home town of Derick Baegert, where many churches had his works, now either fully lost or partly destroyed, as in the case with the Baegert altarpiece in the Thyssen Museum in Madrid).

I don’t know for sure if they managed to hide the altarpiece before the bombings. Even if this the case, its surface still suffered, as shown by the pictures made soon after the war (and in fact the Annunciation panel suffered most):

At some point the church was reconstructed, and the panels restored, so its 500th anniversary the church met in full splendor. You can compare the above picture with one below to see the difference:

In my view, the restoration of the panels went even a bit too much, they now look too glossy, as they were printed and  mounted just a few weeks ago. The frames do show the age, but the painted surface is a bit overdone, to my taste. I can also confirm it by the amount of efforts I had to do to avoid the glares.

I can show just one example when I completely failed to suppress such glares:

I had to move to the sides of the altarpiece, often way further, to get a more or less matted picture. That’s why many of my pictures look like too skewed. Here, for instance, the fragment showing the angel Gabriel (and the tiny flying Spirit carrying the cross):

One additional value of being there in person was a chance to spot many more interesting details. For example, the same Gabriel happened to have a really large clasp on his cloak, which looks like a small convex mirror: 

The clasp even has its own reflection, of a window frame, a typical motif that we see in many convex mirrors of that time (or mirror-like objects, such as shields). In some way, this clasp is a very accurate representation of how medieval (glass, convex) mirrors may look like. I still don’t know the purpose (and the name) of the red ‘horn’, attached to the angel’s headgear, but it looks as if it is also made of glass.

But let’s have a look at the upper right corner of the altarpiece, where the Mary’s bed is depicted. Last time I tentatively called this round object hanging above her bed a ‘mirror/medallion’.

But now I can confirm that this is not a mirror:

It does indeed looks more like a medal, or medallion of some sort, depicting the Lamb of God, a metaphorical representation of Jesus Christ in Christianity. The three beads that I also spotted last time, but described as the Cross, or Crucifixion, may be a part of the same medallion (attached as a pendant) but can also be a decoration of the baldachin, it’s really difficult to say for sure:

 

Speaking in terms of functions, this medallion may be seen as a mini-icon, similar to what we have seen already, for example, in the Annunciation panel by Jean Hey (also known as the Master of Moulins), c.1490:

Only in this case we see on the medallion the depiction of the Christ himself. But it is hanging in the exact same place, in the head of Mary’s bed. Was it intended for praying? Or was also seen as a guardian of some sort, somewhat similar to the dream-catchers of the native Americans?

I have recently read (or rather looked through, albeit slowly) a large volume of Flemish miniatures (Vlaamse miniaturen 1404-1482), and there I bumped into yet another example of a similar medallion, also depicted in the Mary’s bed (and also in the scene of Annunciation), as the both the above examples:

The leaf is from the Books of Hours (Use of Rome), made in Brugge around 1440. Its illuminations are attributed to the so-called Masters of Golden Foliage.

Below is am enlarged fragment of the leaf where we again see a icon of a kind in the bed of Mary, depicting  the face of Christ. In the description of the leaf this object is called ‘small painting’  (un petite tableau).

 

So far I found only one example of a somewhat similar object that would be depicted outside explicitly religions scene. Below is another miniature, but it depicts secular figures, not sacral personas. The Queen Anne de Bretagne, who was the wife of Luis XII, is shown here writing a letter to her husband, apparently n her own bedroom and in the presence of the maids.

The miniature is from the Books of Hours which was believed to be illustrated by Jean Perréal, the famous French portraitist and illuminator who managed to work for three French kings in a row. But now researchers tend to attribute it to another miniaturist painter, Jean Bourdichon. The book is dated circa c.1490, but sometimes later, around 1510.

As far as I can say, what is hanging in the bed of the Queen is also a ‘icon’ of some sort, composed of two pieces. In one of them (left wing) I can recognize the figures of Mary and Child, while the right one is less clear. I assume it also contains a figure with a nimbus, perhaps also Christ, as all the examples earlier:

 

If I go back to the medallion of Derick Baegert, we can clearly see how it is mounted in the bed. The object hangs on a hook, very simple but apparently very solid – which in turn helps to suggest that the piece is relatively heave, and most likely made of metal. But I wouldn’t bet heavily on that, it could be also made out of gilded wood.

Last time I also speculated about an object hanging on a wall near the bed:

I suggested that it is also an icon of some sort, depicting perhaps some symbols and a text. The pictures I made this time still do not let me identify this object with more certainty (and at the end it could be also painted not very sharply).  I see similar objects on some of the religious paintings, but I still search for the exact name (and the meaning) of these things.

[Here perhaps would be worth to put an example or two of such things; can’t find them quickly in my already very large collection of ‘mirrors in art’, sorry.]

 

And it’s not only me who doesn’t know the names of these things. The pastor himself didn’t know them either (whether it would be a ‘mirror’ , or a ‘medallion’, or an ‘icon’. I have shown to him on my iPad a few examples of these mirror-things I gathered (basically, the beginning of my presentation about Oculus Domini), but it didn’t help much.

However, as I already wrote earlier, he kindly presented me with a book about this church, and also pointed to the paragraph describing this object; here it is in German:

My version of translation is as follows: “In this Case we see the Bed of Mary in her Bedroom, and above it hans a round Plate that depicts Christ as the Lamb God, with the Cross”.

As we see, the object is defined rather generically, as Plate, or perhaps Platter. The expression I usually use, the Round Thingy, was not actually that bad!

It was a very moving experience, even despite that I have learnt from the pastor that the altarpiece is currently considered the work of the Baegert’s workshop, rather than of himself. Oh, well, I guess he did contribute some efforts in the work too.

On a first sight this altarpiece indeed seems to be inferior to other works of the master, for example, the Dortmund altarpiece. I will copy below the central panel of this work, just for comparison:

However, whether it is the Baegert himself or some of his pupils, it doesn’t change much in the importance of this painting for my saga, of mirrors-in-art, since it establishes a clear link between the Mirror Thingies and religions paintings/icons.

***

To not to be seen ‘too mirror-biased’, I will show other panels of the alaterpiece, too.

The second outer panel depicts the never-ending fight of Saint George, the saint patron of the church, with a Dragon:

There is another art work related to this theme in the church, quite a large sculptural relief on one of its walls, above the balcony:

 

As I said, the paster was so kind to me that he even opened the altar’s wings, and I was able to see, and to take a few pictures of the inner panels. Wow!

When seeing how I struggle with the light, the pastor even let me come up to the balcony, so I was able to take few pictures from above. Below is the left panel, with the scenes of capturing Christ, Pilat washing his hands and flagellation:

 

The central panel depicts Cavalry, including the Crucifixion:

 

And then the right panel shows the resurrection and even the ascension, as far as I can gather.

 

 

I can assume that Baegert, if he was involved in making these panels at all, put somewhat more efforts into the inner panels than into the outer ones. The inner panels present much more detailed scenes, and in many aspects are comparable with the panels of the Dortmund altarpiece.

Needless to say, I was very satisfied with this particular ‘mirror re-union’, and once again many thanks to the pastor who helped to make it!

 

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