Monday, 10 August 2015

A Númenórean lady...

One of my favourite artists is Hans Memling, best known for his distinctive Madonna's and iconic Last Judgement. The fine altarpiece above is the Donne Triptych, commissioned by a Welsh courtier Sir John Donne (no relation to the John Donne, so far as I know) circa 1478. The affect of Lady Donne's piety (detail below) is ineluctably profound and I have always been most impressed with the conical headdresses in vogue at the time. I would that they still were in vogue to-day and think foul scorn of those silly little lace mantillas women wear in church nowadays (that is when they even bother to cover their heads).

She looks Númenórean to me, in the company of St Catherine. Not of the House of Elros but certainly a high lady. I imagine her walking in the retinue of the King of Númenor to Meneltarma with her illuminated book.

What I'd like to see, because there is so little of it out there, is a Tolkien artist's rendering in a series of paintings or illuminations of the contrast between the high days of Númenórean culture and religion, such as one might imagine Lady Donne in her piety, and the days of the Shadow when men turned to worship of Morgoth. To my mind comes now that moment when Sauron defied the lightning at the pinnacle of the temple, and there are many others; the ships laden with slaves, Tal Elmar's vision of the black sails; the altars of blood sacrifice; the scorched dome of the temple; the tombs of the dead; even the wrath and fear of the old whose time is at hand. The very thing most poignant about Númenor, and this echoes even down to the time of Faramir (c.f the "prayer" before dinner) is the deep impression that it was an holy island, an holy people and an holy civilisation; Mankind brought to the zenith of his art and wisdom and under the Grace of God. Turned sour, of course, by the constant tendency of Man to rebellion, to self-righteousness, to pride and to envy.

1 comment:

  1. Paintings from that era certainly had a high Tolkienian faerie quality to them, didn't they? Little wonder that both 19th-century Romantics and 20th-century fantasists both look back to it.

    Memling is also one of my favourites. His Last Judgment is actually the desktop image on my computer. Another of my favourites from that period is Matthias Grünewald, a print of whose unparalleled crucifixion scene from his monumental Isenheim Altarpiece rests on the wall above my bed. Here's the nativity scene from the same work:

    It looks like a mural that could have adorned the walls of Imladris...

    The whole work is a must-see if you are ever in Alsace.