Diptychs and Cheese Lords

The coolest thing about this Melming diptych is the reflection in the background, which ties both sides together. Amy and I braved rain and wind yesterday to view Prayers and Portraits: Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych, a new exhibit at the National Gallery. “Netherlandish” in this context refers to the Burgundian Netherlands of the fifteenth century, a somewhat different territorial spread from what we know today as the “Dutch” Netherlands. Diptychs — paired religious paintings on hinges — were favored objects of portable devotion, usually depicting the Virgin and Child or Christ’s Passion, often alongside a portrait of the donor. The exhibit gets especially interesting later in the Renaissance, when mannerist aesthetics gained popularity, so that artists depicted their subjects in poses and settings that the museum literature describes as “histrionic.”

After the exhibit, we watched the Suspicious Cheese Lords sing sacred music of the Flemish Renaissance. As always, the Suspicious Cheese Lords (named for a humorous transliteration of the Tallis motet Suscipe Quaeso Domine) deliver early vocal music flawlessly, every note and every part a deep, multifaceted resonance bubbling up from centuries past. I especially loved their rendition of Nicolas Gombert’s Lugebat David Absalon, which appears to have been based on his secular chanson Je Prens Congie. (I cringed when some n00b in the rear applauded right in the pause between movements. The lesson here is to wait until the music majors clap first, so as to avoid offense to the performer and embarassment to the audience.)