I have never been someone who has made large artworks. For me above, let’s say, 60cm in any direction and you already have reached one of my larger works. I feel an affinity with smaller artworks, The intensity and intimacy that they offer draws us in in a different way to how larger scale work often tries to dominate us.
The work of the miniaturist portrait painter takes us into this area, but for me at least such portraits have always felt like a compromised, shrunk down version of the work of the full scale portrait artist.
The small format work on show at the Museum Catharijne Convent in Utrecht certainly doesn’t have this problem and it overflows with intensity, craftsmanship and meaning.
The exhibition Magical Miniatures displays in its carefully lit glass cases an array of thick and immaculately bound Medieval manuscripts. Each individual book is of course in itself almost enough for a complete exhibition that once open displays just two carefully chosen pages from the binding that potentially offers so many possibilities more.
The fineness and intricacy is extraordinary, the amount that can be crammed onto a page of perhaps 15x10cm quite mind blowing. You can’t help but wonder about the world from where these books come and the hands that created them. The consistency of the work and the shear quantity make you wonder about the rituals and devotions for the makers. It is highly appropriate to see the books lying open in the halls of a former convent, a building with its own history that has so many parallels with the displays.
The museum in a series of film offer insights into their processes and techniques. These leave you even more baffled by the degree of commitment and knowledge of the working contexts that these unnamed artists found themselves working in. In our world of fast moving imagery and sound bites the contrast could hardly be greater.