Ein bisschen Volkskunst – A Baroque Procession

While compiling the little slideshow of the Jubilee Cook Book I came across another slideshow I had created in 2011 after a visit to Innsbruck and it’s wonderful Museum of Folk Art. Innsbruck was a city of many surprises and treasures that it was always a joy to stop in on our way to and from Salzburg.

Willy Or Won't He

Often when I am in a museum I find myself by-passing something that is a “major” attraction to focus on a more obscure work.  Last month’s visit to the Tiroler Volkskunst Museum was no exception.  They have so many wonderful pieces on display but for some reason one relatively small work caught my attention.

In 1772 in the market town of Tefls – about 40 kms from Innsbruck – the Confraternity of the Scapular celebrated the centenary of the society’s founding in the region.   Though the Vision of the Virgin to Saint Simon Stock is reputed to have happened on July 16, 1251 the laity were not granted the wearing of the miraculous garb until the 1500s. Confraternities sprang up throughout Europe as the pious vowed to faithfully pray to the Madonna and received the small pieces of brown cloth with the promise of salvation that the Virgin had pronounced…

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Ein bisschen Volkskunst – A Baroque Procession

Often when I am in a museum I find myself by-passing something that is a “major” attraction to focus on a more obscure work.  Last month’s visit to the Tiroler Volkskunst Museum was no exception.  They have so many wonderful pieces on display but for some reason one relatively small work caught my attention.

In 1772 in the market town of Tefls – about 40 kms from Innsbruck – the Confraternity of the Scapular celebrated the centenary of the society’s founding in the region.   Though the Vision of the Virgin to Saint Simon Stock is reputed to have happened on July 16, 1251 the laity were not granted the wearing of the miraculous garb until the 1500s. Confraternities sprang up throughout Europe as the pious vowed to faithfully pray to the Madonna and received the small pieces of brown cloth with the promise of salvation that the Virgin had pronounced to St Simon. Though membership in the Confraternity was chiefly from the ruling and merchant classes the poor – as was befitting for the Barefoot Order of the Carmelites – were not excluded from either the benefits of the scapular or the festivities of the celebration.

There would have been any number of events to commemorate the occasion – High Masses, Te Deums, sermons, perhaps even concerts in the homes of the more well-to-do and guild halls – but one event that is carefully documented is a Procession which took place involving the clergy, guilds and people of the surrounding area.  An anonymous artist recorded the procession in detail on a carved wooden plaque and left us a record of a parade typical of the Baroque period.   It was this small oil on wood recording this procession that caught and held my attention.

I took a series of close up photos (without flash and with permission – any reflection is from the overhead lighting) and began to examine the small figures in detail. My curiosity led to an e-mail asking for information about the painting.  I received a very speedy and detailed reply from Herlinde Menardi of the Museum staff; in answer to a further inquiry she went to the added effort of transcribing and translating the Latin-German notations into English. 1000 grazie to Frau Menardi – another reason that the Volkskunst Museum should be proud.

A left click on the photo will lead you to a closer look at this elaborate procession celebrating the centenary of the Confraternity of the Scapular in Telfs. Note that the timing allowed on the slide show doesn’t give sufficient time to read the commentary but it can always be scrolled through manually.

As well as this contemporary record the museum holds a wealth of the standards, lanterns and statues that would have been carried in procession. Finely worked banners – some painted, others embroidered – would flutter in the air, portable tableau (many painted, some in plaster) of scenes from the Gospels or stories of the Saints (particularly local favourites or Guild patrons) were carried on the shoulders of the stout men of the town and statues would be processed among groups sometimes of scrubbed boys and girls under the watchful eye of a nun or priest or guild members in their finest. Ornately carved standards would show the passion of a saint, a miracle of Christ or an event from the Old Testament that would illuminate the role of the church in the life of the populace.

These two processional standards are ornately carved representations of the Trinity – a Risen Christ on the left with the Dove of the Holy Spirit hovering over him, a God the Father again with the Dove on the right. They display the craftsmanship of the local wood carver and the fine painting and gilding of the period.

 Though other saints and worthies representing the various groups would be carried the most important were representations of the Madonna and Child.  The figures’ heads, hands and feet were painted wood and the bodies of canvas stuffed with horsehair.  They would be outfitted in elaborate dresses and robes  – studded with faux gems and heavy with embroidery – to fit the feast being celebrated. In fact in many towns and villages the statute of the Madonna had more changes of clothes than some of the local women!

This parade statue of the Madonna would be clothed in robes – even a wig – befitting the event being celebrated. Robes were of the finest materials and would attest to the weaving skills of the area. Behind the statue are more of the elaborate standards – this pair bearing painted scenes of the life of the Virgin.

The local craftsmen would create elaborate cherub bedecked and baroque curlicued thrones to bear the Madonna and Child.  As the cult of the Virgin Mary gained importance her statue with the Christ Child – though as the cult strengthened he would often take a back seat – would become central to any celebration. Orders and parishes would out do each other in the splendid presentation of the Madonna to indicate both the devotional and material wealth of the parish.  For a Procession such as the one on record the robes would have been the finest – if not by our standards the most tasteful – that could be afforded.

This Madonna and Child are crowned and enthroned on a baroque excess of gilt curlicues and adoring cherubs. Poles – equally carved and adorned – were fitted under the ornate base enabling stout fellows of the region to carry the statue through the town and countryside. Depending on the heaviness of the ferculum as many as 12 men could be needed to bear it on its route.

Though the splendour of the baroque has become little more than memories and curiosities in museums it is still possible in parts of the Tirol to see processions moving from town to town on High and Holy days. Less elaborate than those of their ancestors nonetheless these parades continue to show the devotion and the traditional craftsmanship of the Tirol region.

Again many thanks to Herlinde Menardi for her help with information on this fascinating (for me at least) piece of Tirolean history.

01 Marzo – San David del Galles

Ein bisschen Volkskunst I

The fascinating Tiroler Volkskunst Museum in Innsbruck revealed a glory of items detailing life in the mountains and valleys of the Tirol. Traditions that seem, in many cases, regional but at the same time how people responded to the conditions of their times.

I thought over the next few days I’d post a few of the displays that I personally enjoyed and that made me do a bit of searching and researching.

There are few movies that I find I can go back to time and time again but one of them is Babette’s Feast, Gabriel Axel’s 1987 adaptation of the Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) novella. The story of a small aging religious community in Jutland that is shrinking physically and spiritually and the redemption and love brought to it by a famous French chef is a film I return to at least once a year or when I am feeling in need of confirmation of the goodness of life. When I first saw it in the cinema I recall being a bit repulsed by the scene where the two sisters show Babette how to make “bierbrot” – their main meal of the day. But this method of taking harden bread and reconstituting it in liquid – beer, milk, wine – was practiced in most parts of Europe, even in the finer households.

Bread would be baked two or three times a year and then stored in wood boxes and hung from the ceiling so mice wouldn’t get into it. It would harden and, if kept dry, be good for many months – hardtack was a version familiar to sailors and many early settlers in North America.

The hardened bread would be brought down and broken up on this special bread board: the knife tip was on a pivot and the blade was used to break rather than cut the bread into usable chunks. Then it would be thrown into the pot of simmering liquid to expand and thicken. Certainly in the winter cold of Jutland and in the mountains of the Tirol it would have provided warming nutrition but I still have trouble at even the thought of it.

26 gennaio – San Policarpo