Friday, April 23, 2010

Manhattan Micro-Splendor

The clock is ticking.  The Belles Heures of Jean de Berry, which will never be on full display again, is on view through June 2 at the Met.  The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, which are also quite belles, are on view at the Morgan through May 2.  This means your chance to see two of the finest (possibly the finest) illuminated prayer  books ever made on complete display in one trip to New York expires in just over a week.  Don't say you weren't warned.

If a massive cathedral is testimony to God's grandiloquence, then the transfigured sheepskin of these prayer books reminds us that God boasts microcosmic spledriloquence as well (yes, that word is made up).  The Whitney Biennial was, and I choose this term carefully, okay.  But an honest observer might very well conclude that, without even needing Catherine of Cleves for back up, the two teenagers who painted the Belles Heures run aesthetic circles around their 21st century counterparts.  And please, spare me the "it was a simpler time" schtick.  A quick refresher on the political climate of Jean de Berry, not to mention Catherine, dispels that illusion entirely.  Their times were ugly; their prayers were beautiful.  Grab a complimentary magnifying glass and get on it.