With all due respect, the paltriness of the so-called Colmar Treasure, now on view at the Cloisters, is a lachrymose little testament. On loan from the Musée de Cluny in Paris, the “treasure” refers to the remains of valuables (coins, jewels, and things) hidden away by the Jewish residents of Colmar. The speculation is that the owners did so before their Christian neighbors slaughtered the Jewish community en masse in response to the Black Death plague in 1348.
Usually for the blog, I try to photograph my own impressions at a museum or gallery. But these objects were just too small, lost in the display cases, for me to get a good shot. So I found these professional photos online. The miracle of the medium is that, on the one hand, the objects photograph nicely, but, for all that, the photographs are misleading. In the photograph the objects lose something of the sadness that confronts the viewer. The photographic medium conveys a dignity to the objects belied that do not match their physical appearance.
This author of this article here at the Times of Israel quotes Barbara Drake Boehm, a senior curator at the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, “I think the power of this material is its personal nature. It’s appropriately deemed a treasure, not because of the nature of the gold or the size of the gems, but because it’s an unexpected testament to lives lived and lost. Its poignancy is because of its personal scale.”
True as all this may be, it is also true that these telling little Diaspora objects do not stand up very well to the medieval magnificence of the Christian art and design that absorbs them at the Cloisters, or to the Christian objects brought in by the curators to contextualize the appearance of the exhibition of this “treasure.” It’s not simply that the objects get lost. Not powerful, the objects themselves are just so sad and small. What else could the curators have done? One wants to see more, but this is what’s left.
For a professional review here on Twitter of the exhibition, here’s a thread by Sonja Drimmer.