Although I was unclear about what Swabian Sculptures (sculptures souabes) from the Late Middle Ages actually were, I was still very excited to visit the current exhibition at the Musée du Cluny, because the poster looked epic.
Swabia, it turns out, is an historic region in southwestern Germany between the Black Forest, Lake Constance, and the Alps. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, this area was flourishing with a thriving artistic scene. Wooden altarpieces with mobile wings and ornate sculptures were widely produced. This trade was dealt a heavy blow, however, in around 1525 when the Protestant Reformation brought about iconoclasts who destroyed religious artworks across the region.
The two rooms of this relatively small exhibition are glorious. To paraphrase Shakespeare, though it be but little, it is fierce. The artworks display a high level of virtuosity and expressiveness, with beautiful and gentle figures.
But let's be real for a minute, my favorite parts of the exhibition were the parts that made me smile.
Amidst these masterpieces, there were moments of levity. A glorious group of nuns looking in every which direction. Baby Jesus climbing on Joseph (I think this artist had actually spent time with small children...). A dog demon in a scene of gory Hell. A jovial Jesus giving a blessing that looks like a thumbs-up. Cheeks so rosy they look like rug burns. The puffiest sleeves in the history of sleeves...
Sculptures souabes de la fin du Moyen Âge at the Musée de Cluny (until July 27, 2015)
Address: 6 place Paul Painlevé, 75005 Paris ∣ Métro: Odéon (lines 4 and 10) or Saint-Michel (line 4) ∣ Opening hours: Wednesday to Monday from 9:15am to 5:45pm