It was one of those weekday mornings in early spring when Marjorie and I could wander from chapel to chapter house with only security guards for company.

“I’ll be in the gift shop,” she said as I walked around the courtyard one last time, trailed by the light scent of citrus trees that leaned into the sunlight, leaves pressed against the glass. I kept my face down, watching the stone columns extend long shadows across the path, their grotesque faces dissolving at my feet. Just as I passed the tapestry room, a dense, almost putrid smell hit me.

It didn’t have the sharp alcohol touch of cheap perfume but was cloying and fleshy, like the exhalations of saints or the liquid distilled from their relics. Branches crackled under my feet and I could hear barking in the distance. I started backing up, looking for the courtyard, until I hit a low fence half-submerged in the millefleur overgrowth.

My hand brushed against the flimsy, splintered wood, leaving traces of red I thought was my own blood. But they tasted sweet and tart, like pomegranate juice.

One by one, I picked up a blue damask collar, silver chain, and pair of rusted iron letters left scattered in a patch of moss. I had just managed to make out “A” and “E” when I heard intense sniffing and looked up to find those same initials embroidered on the collar of a greyhound, all slender limbs and bared teeth.

At the sound of a horn, I started running. After every thorned bush I brushed out of my way and every berry that exploded underfoot, I expected to reach a clearing that looked down into the Hudson valley. By the time I reached the marble fountain and plunged my face and hands into the clear water, my skin was covered in a thick, viscous crust, the merciless onslaught of a thousand flowers.

“Now! Take the beast now!”

Before I shielded my eyes, blinded for a moment by the sun’s reflection on a spear pointed in my direction, I caught a glimpse of yellow silk stockings streaked with mud and a plumed hat missing half of its feathers.

“Walter! There you are,” Marjorie said. She was picking up a stack of postcards from the hardwood floor. “Look at what a mess you’ve made. Why are you running around like a wild animal? And what’s that?” She reached up and picked out a spiny branch of hawthorne from my sleeve.

Royal Blue

There’s something about the combination of lapis lazuli blue and crimson that transports you back to medieval court life. 

• This Hunting Tapestry dates back to the early part of the 16th century and comes from a workshop in the southern Netherlands during the height of the tapestry industry coming out of Brussels. Commissions were shipped to the French and British courts, and patrons could buy the designs so the tapestry was exclusive. But most of the time the workshop reproduced the same design multiple times, like the popular theme of hunting and hawking. The Brussels weavers developed a technique that allowed them to create a painterly surface with cloth, which you can see here in the folds of clothing. The scene has elements spread out over the entire composition because you never know which part would be obscured by furniture. The courts would move frequently and tapestries were the quickest way to brighten up and insulate a gloomy castle. This hunting expedition has an array of forest creatures inside a picket fence, which resembles the one in the famous unicorn tapestry. Pomegranate trees grow everywhere, linking hunting with fertility and marriage.

• The Valentino Fall 2013 Collection included juxtaposed monastic dresses and coats with floral prints fit for a medieval tapestry.

• Brianna Hardy’s Cuff is a dense arrangement of crystals, lapis lazuli, and beads that shimmer in crimson and blue.

• Lefteris Drakakis’ Earrings hold coral and lapis lazuli donut beads on hammered silver hoops.

• Bob Borter’s Earrings are made of amethyst, lapis lazuli, and oxidized silver in a natural, muted finish.

• John Sanger’s Snuffbox has a lid made of lapis lazuli and engraved with a medieval lion design.

• Guy & Irina’s Pendant has a sea of lapis lazuli on one side and a sterling silver flower on the other.

• Galit Barak’s Ring frames lapis lazuli in crocheted gold wire.

• Lori S.’s Necklace suspends lapis ovals from a silver ball chain.

• Ania Perrone’s Necklace combines strings of red coral beads with a rectangular lapis lazuli stone.


Today we’re visiting the golden extravagance of the Byzantine Empire and combining jewelry from the period with contemporary interpretations.

• The Dolce & Gabbana Fall 2013 Collection drew inspiration and iconography from Sicily’s Monreale Cathedral, which has some of the best Byzantine mosaics in the world.

• Even the ancient Romans liked vintage! This Brooch dates back to 600 A.D. but the onyx cameo and glass cabochon gems come from an even earlier time.

• This Cross dates back to 1100 A.D. and is particularly fine example of Byzantine work in cloisonné enamel.

• Sofia’s Ring frames a golden yellow citrine stone in an intricate sterling silver cage.

• This Pendant by Iladesign surrounds a Byzantine-inspired gold cross with a string of fresh water pearls.

• Jean’s Cross is made of solid gold with a faceted ruby in the center.

• Mark Milanich’s Ring is a more modern and minimal take on Byzantine design with a red-orange carnelian cabochon set in gold bezel and surrounded by sterling silver.

These Earrings by CultureTaste have a gold cross laid inside sterling silver ovals decorated with floral motifs.

• Nassim Nouri’s Necklace is a Byzantine-inspired cross made of brown resin, glass beads, and botanical metal charms.

• Udi G.’s Pendant frames an ancient gold coin in sterling silver bezel.

• Lisajoy Sachs’ Ring has a yellow sapphire and six small rubies set in recycled fine silver.

Wood Carving

A piece of natural wood is the most transparent canvas for showing an artist’s skill. Here are various examples of carving wood as a mix of craftsmanship and art. Some works are carved meticulously, others left in their natural state, and one isn’t wood at all.

• These Cubes by McNabb & Co. transfer intricate digital images onto maple wood using laser engraving technology.

• Eric Standley’s Either Or Arch is composed of one hundred layers of paper, laser cut to surpass the stained glass and architecture of great cathedrals.

• This High-Backed Chair dates to the late fifteenth century and depicts the Tree of Jesse. The Chartres Cathedral has the oldest example of the subject in stained glass.

• Dimitar Manev’s Carved Panel is inspired by the organic shapes and natural imagery of Renaissance Bulgarian woodwork.

• Amy’s Wood Bowl is lightly carved with a quilted pattern on the front and a spiral on the back.

• Steve’s Vase and Bowl are made of cherry burl harvested in the forests of Wisconsin. Both have a natural, uneven edge and allow the organic patterns of the wood to show through. The raw forms are reminiscent of the rust-red landscape of the Southwest.

• Mariya’s Crucifix is hand-carved from pear wood, which gives it a smooth honey-colored surface.

• Samvel Baghramyan’s Jewelry Box is covered with hand-carved Armenian decorative elements.

• Robert McGowen’s Vase fits together pieces of maple and cherry wood into a smooth yet slightly varied surface that shimmers in the light.

• Kaloyan Kaloyanov’s Wall Carving is a fluid composition of fishes made from cedar wood.


• Fra Angelico’s Annunciatory Angel hovers between saintly and sumptuous, with robes that appear to be made of pink velvet and wings layered like peacock feathers.

• The Jaharis Lectionary includes four portraits of evangelists framed by a thick, detailed border similar to cloisonné enamel ware.

• The Annunciation from a Book of Hours was meant for private hands, and judging by the amount of gold leaf on a single page, these hands must have had the gold to pay for it.

• This manuscript leaf illustrates the English psalter Agony in the Garden and dates back to 1270.

• This Book Cover Plaque is one of the first examples of the champlevé technique perfected by the renowned Limoges enamelers. Enamel on copper is as vivid today as it was in the twelfth century.

Second Skin

• This seventeenth century Steel Helmet has detailed, decorative panels across its surface.

• Oscar de la Renta’s Spring 2013 Collection broke a line of evening gowns with this lightweight suit made from semi-transparent, sequined mesh.

• Kim’s Body Armor Necklace balances a sliver of chain mail with milky white moonstones.

• Bryony’s Armor Ring resembles a sterling silver shield framing a piece of multi-faceted pyrite.

• This net of sensors called the RISR gives you immediate feedback on your posture and analyzes the body language of people around you.

• Catherine’s Hoodie mimics the structure and silhouette of medieval armor in soft wool.

• Gareth Pugh’s Spring Summer Collection gave body armor a softer edge with curving, silvery silhouettes. He replaced a runway show with this film, which sets the clothes in motion to a military techno beat.

• ILDVED’s Battle Earrings suspend two viking shields made of brass from sterling silver loops.

• Thomas created this Armor sculpture by welding together plates of steel to reflect the rich surfaces of worn armor.

• This Head Defense for a horse dates back to fifteenth to seventeenth century Tibet. Between the ironwork lie decorative panels tinged with gold.

Constellation Decoration

• The bull inhabits a page from an anthology of Persian poetry, painted in ink, watercolor, and gold in the fourteenth century. The story follows a figure as the Moon entering the houses of the Zodiac. Iranian artists and astronomers derived representations of the signs from ancient Greek symbols.

• Linda Kozloff-Turner will customize the Zodiac Ring to your sign with the appropriate metal and stone combination, arranged in the pattern of that constellation.

• Sue Nixon’s Aries Zodiac Pillow is part of her collection of pillows with applique signs.

• Naomi Tratar’s Zodiac Necklace features a sterling silver pendant with the Aries symbol and fiery red stone.

• The bowl with Zodiac signs, painted in thirteenth century Iran, depicts figures, calligraphy, and the twelve signs of the Zodiac circling around the edge. Many objects of the medieval Islamic world were covered with astrological symbols, which were thought to give the objects the qualities associated with each sign.

• Kelka’s Zodiac Earrings suspend a striking silhouette of the Capricorn symbol from long gold loops.

• Jamie’s Celestial Variation Cuff has unique abstract designs of planetary systems etched into copper.

• Susan Sarantos’ Taurus Necklace hangs a pendant with the sign’s symbol from a sterling silver chain.


Adagio’s Zodiac Tea Collection gives each sign its own unique blend. Our favorites are the Cancer and Capricorn teas.

Medieval Marginalia

Among the Biblical scenes and religious iconography of the Middle Ages, there are some rather fantastical creatures on the pages of illuminated manuscripts and in church windows. The juxtaposition of saints with winged serpents seems contradictory, and art historians have yet to come up with a concrete explanation for their popularity and inclusion. These seemingly secular tidbits have no literal connection to the scenes they were meant to offset, making their existence all the more puzzling.

Some think they were light-hearted diversions from the imaginations of bored monks or window makers, but this seems to be an oversimplification that doesn’t account for their widespread presence. Most people were illiterate and associated religion with visuals more than text, so every detail of medieval art seems highly relevant. On the other hand, taking a more analytical approach and searching for hidden symbolism and social commentary is fruitless, because there is no evidence for how the medieval audience had reacted to hybrid creatures and monsters. Instead, the art historian Andrew Otwell suggests that “they are not meaningless, or merely entertaining, but by themselves they do not contain complete meaning.”

More about stained glass creatures: http://www.vidimus.org/panelOfMonths.html

More about medieval marginalia: http://www.heyotwell.com/work/arthistory/marginalia.html
(stained glass from Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford)