Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

The M

I took myself off yesterday to the M Museum in Leuven, hoping to catch the Anjou Bible exhibition (though as it turned out I was a month too late). I did browse in the permanent exhibition, and my eye was very much caught by the wonderfully colourful and heartfelt late nineteenth century rural scenes of Frans Van Leemputten:

The Distribution of Bread in the Village

Candle Procession at Scherpenheuvel (Triptych)

(Both sourced from Wikipedia)

But that wasn't the main attraction for me: I was much more interested in the Mayombé: Masters of Magic exhibition, of ritual artefacts from an area mostly in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. It's rather difficult to catch the sense of these figures in photographs - and certainly I felt almost sorry for them, imprisoned in sterile museum cases rather than in use in their fertile homeland - but this one will do as an illustration:

(Photo by Hugo Martens, taken from here; more here.)

I was fascinated by the nails in each figure, apparently one for each spiritual intervention which involved it, and by the mirrors that many of them have on their bellies. But it was a bit frustrating that we were told of photographs showing some of the various figures actually in use in situ in the late nineteenth century, but not actually shown the photographs (other than a rather rabidly propagandistic film made by missionaries at a later date). And there was little exposition of the wider context of what Belgians were doing there in the first place, a topic that this country still has not really got to grips with.

As for fetishism and veneration of body parts, I was rather stunned to come across these items on display:

(Better picture here, not taken by me.) It's an actual 17th century reliquary with an actual skull in there - quite a small skull, I thought, with no record of whose it might have been.

And in the next case we have this:

An array of human, presumably saintly, bones, laid out on a cushion rather as a posh Belgian restaurant might present the hors d'œuvres or the after-dinner sweets. A display card called on visitors to compare and contrast with the practices of the Mayombé, which I think is fair enough.

Finally I was caught by the expression on the face of this statue of St Hubert:

He looks like he has had enough!

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