Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Favorite Women of Art #13--Uta of Naumburg Cathedral (1200s)One of the central reference volumes in my library is a two volume textbook from 1962 put out by a trio of professors at St Louis University and enigmatically titled A History of Western Civilization. I have had it forever. I think must have been one of my father's textbooks from college (He went to Villanova, which, like St Louis U, is a Catholic university; in those days Catholic schools did not need to look outside the faith any more for reference books than they did for students). This book is pretty good on the general set-up of history, is weaker on maps, and is inspired in its choices of illustrations and quotations with which the book is peppered. Uta appears in Chapter 21 "The Medieval Empire in the West: Failure of the Imperial Dream", which is introduced by a fairly pedestrian quote from Liutprand of Cremona on Otto the Great. Her picture is just kind of stuck in, with the dry caption of "A Margrave of Meissen and His Wife" (She is depicted with her husband as a unit on the actual church) and a general reference to the lifelike realism of Gothic art. I don't read this chapter very much, I admit, so when I was flipping through the book recently and came upon this striking lady, who is what we all imagine the ladies of the middle ages to look like though reason tells us that they were almost certainly all hideous, I knew she had to go on my list. I did not realize that she was actually something of an icon, and that all the heavy hitters and Alpha art lovers and Germans who don't believe anyone who hasn't grown up in the German culture and language can understand the meanings of their art have already long weighed in on this lady's merits and significance. Supposedly even the Nazis had to get involved and declare her one of the embodiments of all that is most exalted in Aryan womanhood and civilization, which seems to have made her a little more dangerous, even given her something of the air of a bad girl in some corners of the art and history establishments.

So in the end it was one of those situations where my hopes got raised when I thought she was kind of my own private discovery but when I realized she had not gone unnoticed and that the big players were all jostling for position near her in hopes of being the one to conquer something in that frigid and beautiful exterior I had to kind of pull back and wonder what I was thinking. Besides, I needed a entry, preferably a short one, before the weekend.

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