Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Scenes from the Life of Christ and the Virgin

Warsaw’s National Museum (Muzeum Narodowe) has an impressive collection of ‘medieval’ art, most notably some dramatic and occasionally gruesome wooden sculptures, my favourites being a set of scenes from the Childhood of the Virgin (early C16) full of expressive faces and a joyful Coronation of the Virgin (c1370), both from Silesia. Among the paintings there is polyptych from Legnica by Nikolaj Obilman (1466) showing Scenes from the Life of Christ and the Virgin in which landscape elements are prominent. 

 Who was Obilman? He was active in Wroclaw - beyond that I know nothing. A bit of googling fails to yield anything about him and sadly no image of the polyptych I can link to. Nobody online seems too bothered about 15th century Silesian artists... well, here’s my little contribution for what it’s worth. When I encountered the Obilman polyptych, I immediately thought ‘landscape’ because the dominant colour was green. But the fields on which the action takes place are no more than a vivid ground to set off the figures. There are strange little rocks and cloud-shaped bushes spaced over the grass like a rather unimaginative piece of wallpaper. The compositions are tapestry-like and the fields have a very artificial feel to them.  

Does this mean the landscapes are unimportant - green space left by an artist without the resources to provide a more interesting or realistic foreground? Or are they a decorative device to attract the eye without distracting it from the stories of Christ and the Virgin? All I can say now is that they made an impression on me, although without a reproduction available I am already struggling to remember exactly what the paintings looked like.

Postscript 2017

Wikimedia Commons now does have images available and I have included one below.  There is also a short article about Obilman on the Polish version of Wikipedia explaining that he lived in Wroclaw.  Indeed the Silesian Museum of Fine Arts in Wrocław owned these pictures from 1925 until the end of the war, when they moved to Warsaw.

Nikolaus Obilman, Christ in the Garden, 1466


Bart said...

On this site there is one little picture of a painting by Obilman where at least the colour reminds of your describtion.

Plinius said...

Thanks, bart. The photos on this site look a bit yellow - Obilman's greens are more beautiful. But I think you can see what I mean from this little image.