Helen of Troy in China, English Men in Kimonos: Review

'The Toilet of the Princess'
"The Toilet of the Princess" (1690-1717), attributed to John Vanderbank and produced by the Great Wardrobe tapestry workshop in London. The tapestry, measuring about 13 feet across, is part of "Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800," at the Met. Source: Mrs. George F. Baker, 1953/The Metropolitan Museum of Art via Bloomberg

An intense Shiva devotee gathers offerings of flowers. Rotund yet delicate, he floats through the lush garden like a red balloon.

The 300-year-old hand-painted “Temple Hanging with Hindu Devotee,” comes midway through the Metropolitan Museum’s astounding and luxuriant “Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800.”

Created in India for the Sri Lankan market, the work is among about 160 stunning woven, embroidered, dyed, painted or printed textiles and garments. These are supplemented by paintings, prints, books, carvings and furniture.

The Met exhibition explores cross-cultural influences and dialogue during the golden age of maritime travel along the spice routes.

Easily stored and transported, textiles were used as currency in trade with markets near and far. They became prime carriers of changing taste and fashion, as far-flung cultures absorbed one another’s forms and traditions.

The remarkable tapestry “The Abduction of Helen, From a Set of the Story of Troy” is a 17th-century Chinese embroidery created for the Portuguese market. The hand-painted faces and limbs, embedded among Asian motifs, resemble European fresco.

Elsewhere, Rubens’s chalk drawing of a man in Chinese costume shimmers as if woven out of silk; 17th-century Dutch and English men’s morning gowns resemble Japanese kimonos; and figures from an 18th-century Peruvian Lenten curtain seem lifted from the Giotto Chapel in Padua, Italy.

This enormously accessible and transcendent show will bring out the interior decorator in everyone. Regal yet homey, it celebrates design while revealing that globalization is hardly new.

Hildesheim Treasures

Germany’s Hildesheim Cathedral has a trove of medieval treasures: sculptures, manuscripts, candlesticks, crosses and reliquaries. As the church undergoes a major renovation, many of them can now be seen at the Met.

There is the large, round bronze “Baptismal Font” (c. 1226), a narrative masterwork exploring the theme of water (in the Red Sea, the River Jordan and the Four Rivers of Paradise), as it’s transformed into tree, blanket, flag, column and fire.

Bishop Bernward (960-1022) was among the greatest patrons of art in the Middle Ages -- his commissions include the “Ringelheim Crucifix.”

Almost life-size, the carved-wood corpus is dignified yet full of pathos. Christ’s torso is confrontational -- an architectural facade -- ready to swoop down for the Last Judgment.

The great bronze doors Bernward commissioned are more than 15 feet high. Juxtaposing Old with New Testament scenes, their lithe, linear figures and straightforward story lines resemble modern-day comic strips and set the template for Biblical narrative.

Bernward’s doors could not travel to the Met but a useful video displays some of their glory.

“Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800” and “Medieval Treasures from Hildesheim” run through Jan. 5 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave. Information: +1-212-535-7710; http://www.metmuseum.org.

(Lance Esplund is U.S. art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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