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Issue Date: September 2010 Issue

Treasured Beliefs

The Cleveland Museum of Art focuses on religious relics in its newest exhibit.
Rebecca Meiser
Griff Mann, the chief curator of the Cleveland Museum of Art, settles himself into a neon orange plastic chair in the institution's educational wing. It's a seat he knows quite well. Eighteen years ago, after graduating from Williams College in Massachusetts, Mann worked as an intern in the museum's educational department.

"In some ways, coming back here feels like a homecoming," he says. "In other ways, it feels like I'm working in an entirely new place."

When Mann arrived here in 1992, the museum was in the midst of a three-year project to revamp its Italian Renaissance art collection. When he returned in 2008, the museum was in the midst of overhauling its entire structure. Mann likes the idea of change. "It's a chance to rethink collections and the stories they tell," he says.

One of the stories he's most excited for museum visitors to learn about is that of medieval art. "This is a period of time where the concept of art didn't really exist," Mann explains. "Art was embedded in the fiber of society in a way that is hard for us to comprehend."

Viewers can see a visual representation of this concept when Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe opens Oct. 17. All the pieces in the collection are carefully crafted with intricate detailing and stunning jeweled adornments — yet none of these pieces were constructed as mere acts of beauty. They were all built to glorify the holy sacraments they contained — including the ashes, bones and body parts of Christian saints.

The work, says Mann, was meant to connect people between our world and the underworld.


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