Sunday, October 31, 2021

10/4/21: Ancient Egyptian Coffin at Appenzell's Folk Art Museum!

Even though I had visited a Swiss folk art museum in the small community of Stein the previous day, I was curious how the far larger town of Appenzell presented the same genre of naïve art at its Appenzell Museum.

In 1991, Appenzell residents participating in the open-air cantonal assembly known as Landsgemeinde approved a Cultural Center to include a museum, public library, and archives. When the museum opened in 1995, the collection's focus was on gathering together things that were "beautiful" and/or "valuable" in addition to artistic and cultural items that were no longer being used in local churches and chapels. As objects of daily life weren't considered worth collecting, there were few in the museum. The museum was located in the former Town Hall and a resident's home which had been built immediately after the disastrous fire of 1560.

19th and early 20th-century Appenzell peasant art was a unique type of painting that was mainly done by peasants for peasants. Furniture painting had been common but Conrad Starck, considered to be the founder of Appenzell's naïve peasant art, made the transition from painting furniture to painting farming scenes and a craftsman's daily life beginning in 1765.

Rustic paintings on wood with dairy herdsmen motifs enjoyed great popularity from 1865 to 1900.

The museum had an extensive collection of hand embroidery which became popular around 1820 when local people in the Appenzell region became increasingly involved in the trading of embroidery products. I was amazed to learn that about one-third of the working population (not sure if that meant adults or euphemistically included child labor) was fully or partly employed in the embroidery trade from near the end of the 19th-century to the outbreak of WW I. 

Due to its reputation, there was a strong market for embroidery from the Appenzell region or canton. Traders opened up markets for the embroidery when they traveled to some of the poshest spas in Germany and Austria which were popular for royalty. Aristocrats enjoyed having their linen hand-embroidered with magnificent coats-of-arms and drawings of castles and stately homes.

Just as we had learned at the Lace Museum in Bruges, Belgium, the demand for hand embroidered items fell with a change in fashion, and when other educational and career options opened up for women.

I wonder how embroidery connoisseurs would compare Belgian lace to its Swiss counterpart.

I certainly hadn't seen any inclusion of instruments of torture and penal punishment at Stein's folk art museum so was curious about those in the Appenzell one!

The items were often used in preliminary proceedings and for punishment. Torture was allowed to be used until 1849 in Appenzell while some cantons had done away with it earlier and still others sanctioned it for many more decades. Earlier legal analysts felt that the use of torture drove out the 'devils' that made it impossible for suspects to speak the truth. Torture was carried out in the Town Hall's Supreme Court, not a place I would ever associate with torture.

I admired the museum's decision to include items from a dark period in the canton's history and not just sweep them under a rug as if they hadn't been used to mete out justice. 

Though not exactly torture, staying in these tiny prison cells might be considered 'tortuous.'

Minting of coins: The one and only time coins were minted in the Appenzell region was for the five-year period stretching from 1737-1742 by a private firm in Luzern. But, since the Swiss Confederation Assembly had already forbidden the private minting of money, other cantons wouldn't accept the new Appenzell coins. That forced the local government to stop minting coins. 

The Appenzell coins are considered some of the most artistic examples of 18th-century minting because the engraving was done by one of the most advanced die cutters of his era.

The living room on display was a compilation of items from around Appenzell, with the caisson ceiling coming from the Town Hall's small meeting room and the furniture from the former rectory.

The Brothers Tobler Marionette Theater was designed and constructed by the two youngest sons of painter Victor Tobler, 1846-1915. The brothers staged productions in it at their parents' home in Munich from 1897-1900 with two friends.

Religious art: Religious and secular spheres were so closely linked in the Appenzell region they were effectively one and the same until the cantonal constitution of 1872 brought about some separation between the church and the state. We had seen how significant the Catholic Church still was with the prominence of the parish church, St. Mauritius, towering above the town of Appenzell. These works came from the parish church after some works of art were taken down when prevailing styles of the time changed favor.

Cantonal banner & coat-of-arms: Appenzell's most important symbol was the bear who represents the entire canton on all flags, seals, shields, and stained-glass windows. As I had shown in the prior post, the bear marches upright against a white field baring his teeth and threatening his paws.

In addition to its own flags, there were 23 captured banners which, until 1822, were hung in the p6arish church as offerings to God and St. Mauritius, the local patron saint. The banners came from the Appenzell Wars of Liberation in 1403-1407 through to the wars against the Turks in 1600. These captured flags were replicas created on canvas from 1640-1643.

It felt like we had just walked into a coppersmith workshop and not a museum set when we viewed the everyday items and tools that had belonged to local coppersmith Paul Brander. It was a wonderful tribute to the man who died just days before the museum's opening ceremony after he had ensured his collection was set up properly.

Burial traditions: The Appenzell Museum had its first exhibition dedicated to Signs of Faith in 1886. A special custom in the region was the Rebretter or burial boards used for laying out corpses. Following the burial, the board was hand-painted with a greater or lesser degree of artistic skill with the name and date of birth of the dead person. The board would be placed in front of the decedent's home as protection against demons. 

Handicrafts from convents: In a small attic were high-quality handicrafts made from various materials going back to the 17th century in the four convents in the Appenzell region. One of their specialties during he second half of the 19th century was making the memorial boards. 

The absolutely strangest we could possibly have seen in the museum was, without a doubt, a richly decorated Egyptian wooden coffin! The approximately 3,000-year-old coffin dated back to the great era of coffin painters around 1,000 years before Christ and probably belonged to a member of the priesthood hierarchy of Amun God of Hebes. Apart from the bottom of the lid and case, the coffin was painted all over with figures, ornaments, and hieroglyphs applied onto a thick layer of stucco.

I was so curious how an Egyptian wooden coffin found its way to the Appenzell Museum of all places. In 1891,153 coffins, numerous urns, figurines, and other gifts were discovered hidden in front of the Hatscheput Temple in the west bank of the River Thebes. As a gesture of goodwill to friendly governments, the Viceroy of Egypt decided to donate some of the artifacts to various museums in Europe and the United States because of the size of the find. Switzerland received 4 coffins and 46 funerary figurines.

In 1894, the newly-founded Historical Antiquarian Society in Appenzell was one of the Swiss institutions that asked the federal government for a share of these gifts and subsequently received one. 

I admit to having been more than a little skeptical of seeing a second Swiss folk art museum in as many days but the selection of items at the Appenzell Museum was different enough to make it far more interesting than I expected! I particularly enjoyed seeing the burial boards and the coffin as the latter was about the last thing one could expect to see in Appenzell.

Next post: Hiking at last in the Swiss Alps.

Posted on Halloween, 2021, from the Tuscan hill town of Montepulciano. I hope you're having a fun and not a spooky holiday!

No comments:

Post a Comment