I went to see the Arms of Imperial Austria exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art recently. Some exhibits are just so big, you lose focus. The Met or the Boston Museum of Fine Arts are too bloody big, it’s just too much to process all in one day, it needs to be broken down into smaller chunks. Or, sometimes, I follow the Bryson protocol.
Developed by Bill Bryson, it helps me focus. Some person in authority, I don’t know who*, has decided that because I am such a splendid fellow and for my all around magnificence, I get to go through an exhibit and pick the one thing that I want to take home with me. The only caveat is I have to justify my choice, and my reason has to be more than “it’s the most valuable thing I can carry away.” If I really need help narrowing things down, the piece in question has to fit in my house.
Well, in this exhibit, there were some things I could discard right away. I wasn’t interested in 15th century portraiture. I wasn’t interested in the armour with the iconography that emphasized the Church Militant, and that recurrent motif of the Knight being bled on by the crucified Christ was a bit much.
I really like Maximillian armour, with the curves and the flutes that mimic drapery in steel. That’s kind of cool. The horse garniture was also really rather nice, particularly with the little chimneys for the horse’s ears. I thought that was a nice touch.
The exhibit with multiple suits of armour arrayed together, as if in battle or on parade really made the exhibit.
The term “armoury” is tossed around a lot, but usually the words “National Guard” are in front of it. This exhibit brought home that an armoury is the place where suits of armour and other munitions were made, repaired, and stored until times of need. I liked the contrast between the black-and-white garnitures, with alternating rows of highly polished steel. Again, that display would take up most of my living room and would be too tall for my basement. I could, in a pinch, dry my clothes on the pikes, halberds, and other spiky things—but that wouldn’t be good for the metal or the wood, and might lead to rust stains on my clothes.
The 1500-1600’s were a time of great technological change as well as the age of discovery. I was quite taken with the wheel-lock firearms. The rich materials and inlay work on some of those on display were really quite fine. Some of the animal motifs reminded me of Celtic designs, though the Celtic tribes had not been in the area of Graz for over a thousand years.
So, the piece that I would take home would be one of the fine, inlaid, wheellock firearms, particularly the one with the ivory inlays. The pair of pistols with the deep, dark, ebony veneer was also particularly attractive.
*Gratuitous Gilbert and Sullivan reference. Sorry.