The Master of Elsloo: medieval marvel in Limburg.

Medieval exhibitions are quite rare. Exhibitions about medieval sculptures are of the unique kind. The Bonnefanten museum in Maastricht, Limburg (NL) has the honour of showing ‘The Master of Elsloo: from lonely hand to collection of Masters’, and displayed a beautiful group of more than 50 late 15th century and early 16th century sculptures.

The name of ‘Master of Elsloo’ was first published in 1940 by art history student J.J.M. Timmers. Later on, he developed an impressive career as a Professor. In 1936 he had organised an exhibition, which included two sculptures of St. Anne with Virgin and Child. He then noticed similarities in style and techniques, such as the colorful paint, the drapery of the fabric, the position of the child Jesus. He attributed them to one sculptor and named it after the village where the scupltures were originally from: Elsloo.

Statues of St. Anne with Virgin and Child, ©MedievalMonologues

For over three decades Timmers was the only one who published on this subject, before it sparked new interest. Unfortunately, the original patrons are unknown, so this gives us no information at all. Extensive research on the sculptures and woodworking techniques was done and instead of similarities, there where also a lot of small, but distinctive differences found. This ultimately led to the conclusion that ‘The Master of Elsoo’ was in fact a group, or even several groups, of sculptors, and were in business for several generations.

At the Bonnefanten museum you can see the result of the current research project, initiated in 2010 by the Belgian Royal Institution for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA). Next to researching the development of the body of work, using archival and technical research, it also shows you the issues of the national border of Limburg. When first named, the body of work was limited by borders and viewed as part of the history of Limburg. However, those borders didn’t exist in the Middle Ages and is a limited perspective. The research team focussed on the Belgian, French and German influences.

You are led on a tour through the chambers, and are invited to find out who ‘the real master of Elsoo’ was. At the end of the tour you can cast your vote, and perhaps you’ll discover the truth about this mystery.

Corpus of the Crucified Christ of Ellikom, BE (restored), one of 10 of the corpora of the ‘Master of Elsloo’ sculptures. ©MedievalMonologues
Virgin and Child on a Crescent Moon, originally from Bocholt, BE (l.), and Wijlre, NL (r.) ©MedievalMonologues

While trying to unravel the mystery of the sculptors, this all sounds a bit technical and detached. It is certainly most interesting, but for me the best thing to do is to just look at the sculptures. They are of high quality wood and craftmanship, and very well preserved and restored. Most of the paint has been restored in the 19th and 20th century. In the spacious layout of the chambers you have plenty of room to admire all sculptures from up close and from different angles. They often stand alone, just for this reason.

Collection of Saints, from left (upper) to right: St. Catharine, St. Agnes, St. Helena, St. Ursula, St. Michael (without sword), St. Barbara, St. Peter, and St. Catharine ©MedievalMonologues

However, they are also out of context. Originally they were a part of a cloister, an abbey, a church, a chapel, a procession. And I wonder, how did people perceive these colourful sculptures ? Did they see only the saint they were praying to ? Or also the beauty of the sculpture ? Did they touch the sculptures? The exhibition leaves that to your -historical- imagination.

If you want to know more about the Master of Elsloo and medieval sculptures, the exhibition catalogue is a good start. It contains several essays and a complete exhibition catalogue. In general, the province of Limburg has a very rich history and offers many medieval sites, castles, ruines, churches, cathedrals to explore. Catholicism left a clear mark on the beautiful cities and countryside.

>> The exhibition runs untill 16.06.2019 at the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht. Visit the old city centre with beautiful streets and churches. <<

Voting booth and ballot, and exhibition catalogue

Citywalk: Churches of London

There seems to be an abundance of churches in London. The square mile area of the City of London alone counts over 40 churches. As I had planned for a citywalk after visiting the Tower of London, I armed myself with Google Maps and an umbrella to enjoy this friday afternoon.

As the name states, All Hallows at the Tower is a must-see stop right next to the Tower. This small church is one of the oldest in London, it was built in the Ango-Saxon era in 675 on a former Roman site. It has seen many alterations, mainly in the Romanesque style. It suffered quite some destruction in WWII, as many of the churches in this area. A large part of the building has been rebuilt, like the roof.

Old walls and original Anglo-Saxon arch, and new in the interior of All Hallows ©MedievalMonologues
Anglo-Saxon foundation upon a Roman paveway at the crypt ©MedievalMonologues
Upper half of a Celtic cross, found after WWII, dated to 900AD ©MedievalMonologues

Located a little further westward in the City is St. Dunstan-in-the-East and is one of the most beautiful sites, perhaps more so because it is hidden between modern buildings and is a small haven in the bustling City. Built in ca. 1100 as gothic cathedral, it suffered severe damage in the Great Fire of London in 1666. After being almost completely destroyed by bombs in WWII, it is more of a ruin than a church. Only the tower remained intact. Nowadays it has been transformed to a public garden. If I was working in the City, I would be taking lunch here everyday. It is beautiful!


Weathered walls and arches of St. Dunstan-in-the-east ©MedievalMonologues

I had some time to spare before I needed to board the Eurostar back to Holland on Sunday. Since the weather was sunny, I went for a stroll. At an ideal spot for travelers, St. Pancras Old Church is located at a 10 minute walk behind the station. Situated on a small hill in park this little church was basking in the sun. Although it is inconclusive when it was exactly built, it has it’s origins in the dedication to the Roman martyr St. Pancras and was most likely founded before the Norman conquest. As it has been added on, rebuilt and expanded many times, the interior is a bit of an odd collection of styles, but the exterior is most charming.

St. Pancras Old Church ©MedievalMonologues

Off course, today I show you only a few examples. I hope to visit London many times and see more of the churches and cathedrals it has to offer. What surprised me is that many are still active churches in the London communities. People are really proud of the buildings and make good effort to preserve them. They have been there for a 1000 years, and hopefully will still be there in the future.

>> If you are on a budget, citywalks are an ideal way to explore London. There is so much to see! The area of the City of London offers a lot to explore by foot: many churches, St. Paul’s, gardens, Leadenhall Market, Guildhall and Guildhall Museum, the Monument, and the Thames. <<