second quarter 12th century
Made in Cluny, Burgundy, France
11 1/2 x 22 x 7 3/4 in. (29.2 x 55.9 x 19.7 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1980
On the principal face of this double-sided horizontal frieze is a series of four raised, beaded arches, surmounted by a dense cityscape. The arches frame large rosettes surrounded by drilled, beaded borders, and the spandrels of each arch terminate in suspended foliate and beaded tongues. The miniature buildings above the arcade include apsidal chapels, towers, and arcaded structures, all with tile roofs and walls of coursed masonry clearly indicated. On the reverse side is a simplified frieze of coupled rosettes over a horizontal molding.The architectural function of this frieze cannot be established decisively. The existence of other double-sided carvings of arcades of similar dimension, design, and technique, dispersed in various collections, suggests that, together, they comprised a long, continuous frieze, intended to be seen from both sides. A small fragment in the Busch-Reisinger Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1), and two complete and impressive sections in the Glencairn Museum in Byrn Athyn, Pennsylvania, (2) all originally formed part of the same decorative system. It has been proposed that the present example belonged to the gallery of a house in Cluny (4). However, the arcades that exist on the houses are of a much larger scale and simplified design, and none displays miniature architectural panoramas. The Musée Ochier frieze may have been recycled from another context, perhaps from the Abbey of Cluny (Cluny III) itself, which was the largest and most ambitious building enterprise in medieval Europe. Recent analysis of the limestone by means of neutron activation has demonstrated a close correspondence of trace elements among samples taken from these friezes, the spandrel segment, other sculptural elements from Cluny III, and the window frame from a Gothic house in Cluny (5). Therefore, it is equally possible that the Cloisters' frieze is from one of the monastic buildings of Cluny III, the schematic representation of architectural vignettes having been intended to approximate a panorama of Cluny III. A date in the second quarter of the twelfth century is likely on the basis of the similar conception of the visionary cityscape of the Gates of Heaven on the Last Judgment portal at Autun Cathedral, where the same technique of carving details may be observed.
[ Demotte Inc. , Paris and New York] ; Raymond Pitcairn 1885–1966 , Bryn Athyn, PA. (until 1966) ; Glencairn Museum , Bryn Athyn, PA. (sold 1980)
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