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Art: Life-size in stone

(July 2011) Had he lived in our day and age, he may have been a director of motion pictures – like no other artist, the anonymous master of Naumburg had the gift or skill to perpetuate the character of his sculpted figures by means of a fleeting glance or gesture. Naumburg is presenting an exhibit ongoing until November 2nd showing works by the elusive 13th century sculptor.

His world-famous figures can be admired in the Naumburg Cathedral. They are part of the Unesco World Cultural Heritage. One depicts Uta Margrave of Naumburg, one of the Cathedral’s founders. Perhaps it was the artist’s will to capture the character of this Sunday-child: born of rich parents, always well-to-do, never hungry or seriously ill, dismayed at the worries to which others had succumbed, and, as a result, somewhat aloof as she clutches her veil to her cheek.

The artist never knew Uta, who had passed away some two centuries prior to his calling. Perhaps he crafted the sculpture according to drawings and with a generous dollop of creativity and imagination as a movie director would have captured a character for a meaningful scene: the actor chosen for an important role seem to be brimming with emotion.

The zeitgeist brought a novel component to arts and crafts. Endeavours to reproduce models in their natural beauty and form is mirrored in botanic motifs. First implemented in the French court, this style quickly spread all across Europe via cathedrals now built to dizzying heights.

Each of the coloured figures is chiselled from a single block of Freyburg-muschelkalk – a Schell bearing limestone used to construct most of the cathedral. The stone stems from quarries approximately 10 km from Naumburg. Our pictures show margraves Uta and Ekkehard as well as Reginaldis and Hermann – 4 of the 12 statues adorning the cathedral.

The exhibit presents more than 300 works of art by artists, sculptors and masons as well stained glass works and chosen pieces of calligraphy. Particular emphasis is placed on sculptures form the cathedral in Reims, which inspired our Naumburg master.

Incidentally, not far from Naumburg lies the city of Meissen, a capital of hand painted porcelain and Görlitz in Saxony, currently showing an exhibit on the Via Regia – the ancient commercial trail tying the Netherlands to Poland.

Why did we speculate that our Naumburg master might have been a movie director, had he lived today? His figure of Uta reminded us of a scene from Gilda by Charles Vidor (1946) in which Rita Hayworth – already a superstar. It was her first big cinematographic role and captured her (1. 2) as femme fatale in a single scene.

Exhibit „Der Naumburger Meister“ („Master of Naumburg“)