A selection of NYC-ARTS Greatest Hits: Philippe de Montebello in conversation with Pierre Terjanian, the curator of the exhibition “The Last Knight: The Art, Armor, and Ambition of Maximilian I”; followed by a visit to the Brooklyn studio of Samuel Zygmuntowicz, a modern violin-maker.

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♪♪

Coming up on 'NYC-Arts,' we'd like to share with you some of our favorite segments.

Armor is worn in combat, but it's also the formal dress of the powerful men that are not part of the clergy at the time.

It's an object that projects an image of perfection, like St. George is always represented in armor.

There's something almost holy about the armor.

♪♪ ♪♪

Every violin I make, I keep really exhaustive records on every aspect about it that I can.

If an instrument of mine comes back -- and I really like it; I want to make another one like that -- I have some record of what I did.

Funding for 'NYC-Arts' is made possible by... This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

Additional funding provided by members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

First Republic Bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, 'first' refers to our first priority, the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree?

Be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

Good evening, and welcome to 'NYC-Arts.'

I'm Paula Zahn, at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

It's been my pleasure, along with my colleague, Philippe de Montebello, to bring you the very best of arts and culture in the tri-state area.

Whether it's music, dance, film, theater, the visual arts, classic or contemporary, well-known or newly discovered, 'NYC-Arts' have provided unique access to the people and places that represent the richness of our arts community.

In this program, we'd like to share with you some of our favorite segments.

We hope they are some of your favorites, as well.

♪♪

Good evening, and welcome to 'NYC-Arts.'

I'm Philippe de Montebello, on location at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Now on view is the exhibition 'The Last Knight: The Art, Armor, and Ambition of Maximilian I.'

It is the first major exhibition to focus on the central role that armor played in the life and very grand ambitions of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I.

A walk through the galleries reveals how he used armor to serve his personal and dynastic aspirations during the dawn of the Renaissance.

The most comprehensive loan exhibition of European arms and armor in decades, it brings together more than 180 objects.

These have been selected from 30 public and private collections in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States.

The armors on view are quite sumptuous and highlight his patronage of the greatest European armors of his age.

A self-promoter of the highest order, a ruthless leader, and political mastermind, he used art and armor to forge a heroic image and eternal legacy.

The outstanding armors are shown together with drawings, prints, paintings, sculpture, stained glass, and a tapestry.

Also included is the complete series of 18 sandstone reliefs that Maximilian commissioned to decorate the façade of the celebrated Goldenes Dachl, his official residence in Innsbruck, known for its distinctive golden-tiled roof.

I had the opportunity of speaking with Pierre Terjanian, the curator of this truly remarkable exhibition.

♪♪ ♪♪ Pierre, it's so nice of you to welcome us in this absolutely extraordinary exhibition.

I mean, astonishingly beautiful and, at the same time, revealing of a whole world that is really not familiar today to most people.

So, let's set the stage.

Who exactly is Maximilian I?

Thank you, Philippe.

Maximilian I is one of the European rulers that is well-known in Europe as a colorful figure that ruled over many different parts of Europe.

He started his career in today's Netherlands and, later, became Holy Roman Emperor and, as such, was in charge of composite assemblage of states, mostly German-speaking, but not exclusively.

Resided in Austria.

He was at the hinge of the late Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance, a man who lived in a period of transition that saw massive changes politically but also scientifically and artistically.

What exactly did armor, great armor, mean at that time, in the late 15th, early 16th century?

So, armor is a protective garment made typically of steel or iron.

It's worn in combat, but it's also the formal dress of the powerful men that are not part of the clergy at the time.

It's also an object that projects an image of perfection, like St. George is always represented in armor and the Archangel Michael.

There's something almost holy about the armor.

Wearing armor allows oneself to accomplish things that one might not dare to do without it.

It is also something you see as part of a performance, and the performances are important for Maximilian because he needs to demonstrate that he has leadership qualities that will mobilize people around him, around his cause.

I presume, if you were Maximilian, you hired, you commissioned absolutely the greatest armorers in Europe.

Where were they, and for whom did they work?

Armor could only be had from very specific workshops, and Maximilian arranged special relationships with these armorers, sometimes exclusive arrangements.

So, if you wanted an armor from those workshops, you had to be in Maximilian's good graces.

You need to be connected to him.

The armors are among the few objects from the period that are valuable because of how they are made, rather than because their intrinsic value.

They're made of iron, nothing so valuable in the first place.

But the quality of the workmanship is everything.

And, not unlike haute couture, armor has a sense of style and endows a person wearing it with a presence.

So, Maximilian was eclectic.

He had armor made wherever he fancied, and he happened to have access to the best armorers of the time.

Now, is this a little bit like going to the tailor?

Did he actually go the armorer, be measured by the armorer?

How did that work for an emperor?

In general, the emperor summoned the armorers to come measure him at home.

But he liked visiting with them.

He also liked telling them how the armor should be designed.

He had strong opinions on the matter.

And maybe that's a bit counterintuitive for a head of state to be interested in such things.

But he thought that his ability to have wonderful armors for himself, to appear in them, but also to give them to the people who were in his entourage were one of the measures of his greatness.

As diplomatic gifts?

As diplomatic gifts, but also --

As bribes? As favors?

As tokens of appreciation, as token of appreciation.

So, sometimes, even his usher or his personal secretary got armors as gifts from him, as well as heads of states.

Henry VIII was one of the recipients.

This is an opportunity to speak about the horse that's right next to us.

Is it frequent that the horses themselves had armor, the chamfron for the head and all over, or was that an imperial privilege?

It's a matter of resources.

So, let's say that the ones who can afford it would typically have armor for their horses.

The inexpensive kind was boiled-leather armor.

But a solid-metal horse armor was very expensive, very rare.

Typically, they were smooth and simple.

This one is a complete work in relief.

That is a statement, a powerful statement.

And in its original state, this horse armor was actually completely covered in silver and in gold.

I gather Maximilian was well-known as being a great jouster.

Tell us a little bit about those armors and the meaning, conceivably symbolic meaning, of having these exhibitions, these jousts?

So, Maximilian had to prove himself to gain the support that he needed from the grandees of his lands, the dukes, the counts.

That was his true audience.

And, to do so, he could do so in battle, but people tend to be distracted in combat, and the tournament provided a different arena, where there would be a wider range of people, more socially diverse, gender diverse, all of whom could witness his capabilities.

There's a wide audience.

Tribunes are erected.

Houses are being rented so that people could watch the tournament.

The tournament is part of the celebration of anything important -- religious holidays, civic feasts, inauguration of somebody's reign, a noble wedding, and so forth.

And Maximilian uses the tournament as a way of amplifying his message, which is that he has qualities.

These qualities are both physical.

He's fearsome.

He will run against somebody holding a lance, running the risk of actually being struck on horse, possibly wounded.

He was actually wounded in a tournament many times during his life.

This is a demonstration of his dexterity as a horseman --

And his courage.

And his courage.

But, ultimately, because he had chronicles done in a sort of autobiographical way, telling stories of him fighting against others in the tournament, he has himself depicted as a loser, also.

I think that's very important because then it shows a moral character, the ability to be resilient in the face of adversity, the idea that he has the endurance that is required for somebody who will be facing challenges.

It's not just about being supreme.

It's also about being combative.

One suspects that armors, over time, were split apart.

Parts of it were sold.

How rare is it to have, actually, a full armor?

Those things are among the rarest, especially in the 15th century, when most elements are completely independent from another, and it's very rare indeed to find those 20 to 50 elements that were originally designed to go together as something coherent, to have remained together after centuries.

And that's the case for the one that is in the show here?

It is.

Or is it somewhat made up?

It is not made up.

However, there was some soul-searching because it was kept with other armors with similar features in the same place, and over the centuries those elements got mixed up.

So, our colleagues in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in the 1950s did some test fittings, trying to see which pieces really stylistically and morphologically would connect the best.

The helmet of that armor, however, had been separated from the body since the 18th century, and this is one of the very rare opportunities to see what the overall armor would have looked like with the original helmet, which is now in a private collection, reunited.

That armor was made within months after Maximilian, for the first time, was tried by combat.

He fought the French at Guinegate in 1479.

He was, at the time, 20 years old.

This was his first victory and, therefore, he commissions this extraordinary armor from Germany, and it is the one in which he rides into his lands, visits his subjects.

It was something that was unlike anything that had been seen in the low countries before because, stylistically, it was deeply German, and in sophistication and articulation and from a point of view of style, it was an absolutely superlative armor.

Maximilian even struggled to pay for it.

It's really a spectacular piece, as are so many objects in this exhibition, what would almost, in many instances, speak of these elements as pieces of sculpture.

So, that's the very first reason that I became interested in arms and armor, and in armor in particular.

It's this ability to transform the body of the wearer.

It's the fact that the best armorers of their day were capable of endowing something that weighed 60 pounds or more with grace, with elegance.

They were fashion elements that dictated what the overall architecture might look like.

But then, the way you can protect the head, there are many different ways, and the armors always were drawn for the princely patrons, to create something that was aesthetically pleasing and captivating, and we're trying here to show the diverse options that were available to somebody who had the means to require the finest armor during the period.

And there is one very famous armor that has disappeared, and it is only known through one representation, which is an extraordinary painting by Cranach in the exhibition.

This is the devotional picture.

It's elements of an altar piece, one of the wings.

It represents the Roman legionnaire, St. Maurice, who was a legionnaire based in Africa.

And the armor, however, is a portrait of an object that really existed.

It's an armor made of solid silver.

It was decorated with gems and pearls, also with gilding.

And it was Maximilian's?

It was Maximilian's.

Maximilian, however, chronically ran out of money fighting the Venetians, the Turks, the French, and others, sometimes his own subjects.

He never fully paid for that armor, so it stayed with the armorer, and in 1519 Charles V redeemed it, apparently wore it for his coronation as king of the Romans, and then gave it as a gift to a cardinal, and that cardinal turned it into reliquary, as a container for bones of St. Maurice, and it was displayed in a church.

Lucas Cranach had the mission to create images of the saint, based on the armor that was associated with it, and the cardinal ran into financial difficulties and, within 20 years, the armor was melting down, and the jewels scattered.

There's an astonishing picture at the end of the exhibition, which is the portrait of Maximilian in death.

What is the significance of this?

This is the first representation, as far as I know in Western art, of a sovereign as a dead mortal, as a dead person.

It must have been commissioned by Maximilian, who had a lot of original ideas.

It's showing him as a humble mortal.

We know from his last will and testament that he asked for his body to be beaten with rods, and for his teeth to be knocked out.

The idea was that he was a sinner and that, by showing humility in how his body had to be treated after his death, he was showing his contrition, his penance, his willingness to acknowledge his sins, and asked to be forgiven.

Why is the show called 'The Last Knight'? Why is Maximilian called 'The Last Knight'?

So, it's certainly not a name he would have wanted for himself.

Maximilian thought of himself as the first among many, and the premier of many kinds.

He certainly wanted to be a knight, and 'The Last Knight' is a term that came from the 19th century for romantic writing, where Maximilian was viewed as a romantic figure.

Virtually all of Maximilian's descendants had the more bureaucratic approach to power and to the rule, and so in that sense, Maximilian was viewed by his own kin as the last of a kind, as somebody who had secured for them influence and prestige, very much through his martial deeds and his martial image.

This is an exhibition full of great art and sculpture in the form of armor, of history, of pageantry.

It really has everything for everyone, and we're so grateful to you for creating the exhibition for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and thank you for explaining it so cogently.

Thank you, Philippe.

Thank you so much.

Thank you.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

Next, 'NYC-Arts' visits the Brooklyn studio of a modern violin maker to discover the unique skills and delicate process involved in creating an outstanding violin.

Regarded as one of the greatest contemporary makers, Samuel Zygmuntowicz discovered his craft as a teenager and went on to study at the Violin Making School of America in Salt Lake City.

Ever since then, he has spent his career creating violins for some of the world's most talented musicians.

♪♪ ♪♪

I was interested in sculpture and art from as little as I can remember.

I was always doing sculpture.

I think I was good at it, and everyone assumed that I'd be a professional artist.

When I was 13, I read a book about a violin maker, and I kind of got interested in instrument making.

It uses all the attributes of art, but it's for a practical purpose, and it has a really clear metric.

It either performs well as a violin for the musician, or it doesn't.

It's dependent on knowledge and skill.

If someone comes to me to have a violin made, there is, kind of, a process where I want to understand, first of all, why did they come to me?

Presumably, they've heard instruments of mine.

I want to see their violin.

I have to understand what they want.

Are they a soloist, or are they a very aggressive, strong player?

Are they someone who is a more subtle player, softer?

Then I will go back to my shop, and then it's up to me to decide what I will make for them that will serve their needs.

All around me here, there's my wood stock, or some of my wood stock, and it's kind of like a collection of wine or something.

It comes from all over Europe, and I've been buying wood from the beginning in my career.

It has to sit for a long time, but then I can go through that, and I pick wood based not just visually but on its density, its stiffness, how I think it will behave in this model.

First, I have to make what's called the rib structure, which is the sides, and those are bent out of very thin wood around a form, which I've designed.

From the ribs, from the sides I've made, I will then create the outline of the instrument.

Saw out the top and the back.

While the ribs are bent, the top and the back, even though they have an arch, that's carved in because it's a compound arching in the direction, whereas the woods are just bent.

The arching is critical to the tone color.

Probably the most important part of the violin is the front, the top.

That's the part that vibrates the most, and that's made out of spruce, which is, of the European woods, it's the wood that is strongest per unit of weight.

What's challenging is, while I'm making it, I'm relating to it in a visual and a tactile way, but when it's working as a violin, it's going to be vibrating in a way that, you know, is not visible to the eye but that is very real.

It's like a long chess game.

I won't know if I've made the right calls until the instrument's been strung up and been played for a while.

It crosses a line from being something that you've just made, like the sound when you'd make a chest of drawers or build a house, to being something that is vibrating in response to human interaction.

♪♪ It's not alive, exactly, but it's like it's alive.

♪♪ ♪♪ Every violin I make, I keep really exhaustive records on every aspect about it that I can.

You know, wood choice, model, arching, thicknesses, weights, tap tones, varnishes, space-bar dimensions.

If an instrument of mine comes back -- and I really like it; I want to make another one like that -- I have some record of what I did.

On the other hand, if someone comes in and it's, like, 'Well, you know, it's just not as open as it should be,' or 'It's not as focused,' I can look at my notes, and I can see well, I may have been a little conservative on that one.

I might have a little room to take a little wood out, or that one might be a little too flexible.

Maybe I should put in a little reinforcement.

You never really understand something until you have to explain it to somebody else.

So, it puts me on the spot all the time when I teach.

Most of the great shops, historically, including Stradivari, were studios.

They weren't a single, lone artist.

People working collaboratively will, ultimately, work at a higher level of development than a single craftsperson or a single artist.

You could say, on the one hand, I'm training my competition.

On the other hand, I feel that it's a tribute to the system that I practice.

I'm not a magician.

I build things based on with a method and based on skill, and if I can convey that, then it's sort of you could say proof of concept.

Art never exists in a vacuum.

What are the sources of knowledge that go into it?

What are the quality of the people that enter the field?

And then it's pulled forward by the demands of the clientele or the audience.

I've had wonderful opportunities working with great musicians.

I got contacted by Isaac Stern to make a copy of his Guarneri del Gesu.

To actually meet Isaac Stern, for me, it was, like, I don't know, meeting the pope or something, and he's legendary.

When the instrument was finally done, I brought it to Mr. Stern, who was incredibly gracious.

When Mr. Stern passed away, the two instruments that I'd made for him were part of his estate, and they were auctioned off.

That violin was recently sold to Chad Hoopes, who is a wonderful soloist in his 20s, and I think it's a really fitting place for it, and I think Mr. Stern would be very pleased.

♪♪ It was an odd feeling to see that my work has now left my purview.

It has now entered the world where it lives its own life, and it has its own history, and I feel like I've seen my own work go from, you know, a decent alternative for a musician to being something that is sought after and that has a place in the history of violin making.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

I'm Paula Zahn at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

Thanks so much for joining us.

Good night.

To enjoy more of your favorite segments on 'NYC-Arts,' visit our website at NYC-Arts.org.

♪♪ Leonard, what a privilege to be able to sit down and talk with you.

I love being here with you, too, Paula.

Where are we?

We're at a moment to take nothing for granted.

Well, it's a pleasure to be with Marci Reaven, the curator of this exhibition full of hope.

We are in the midst of some of the greatest sculptures by the iconic names.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

Funding for 'NYC-Arts' is made possible by... This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

Additional funding provided by members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

First Republic Bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, 'first' refers to our first priority, the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree?

Be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.