Basically, in this chapter we are on a road to the Renaissance. We have just come from the Romanesque period, a time of great pilgrimage that referenced Classical forms in architecture. We have come from the Gothic period, the age of cathedral building meant to house and meet the needs of greater pilgrimage. The Gothic period also brought about a change in art-making, with a noticeable shift to direct observation and natural emotionalism. These periods lead us to this Proto-Renaissance period—one that is continually leaving behind the Italo-Byzantine styles for an even more natural style and emotionalism. Why? What makes this change occur? Art does not exist in a vacuum. It is a reflection of the worldview in which it arises—like literature, politics, religion, the sciences, its forms and styles, its questions and meanings arise in a specific culture. Also, remember that change is a rebellious act; we have to discover what is being rebelled against. This is NOT necessarily a conscious rebellion. Our job is to see why. Why rebel? What’s going on in the age before the Renaissance?Remember that the ideas that gained momentum in the 14th century—humanism, direct observation, greater concern with the solidity of forms, and the interest in illusion—became prominent in the following centuries, during a period known as the Renaissance.
Setting the stage: It’s a sad tale…The Hundred Years War (1337—1453) between France and England is at hand.In 1347, the first bouts of BLACK DEATH hit Western Europe. For three years, until 1350, the bubonic and pneumonic plagues continue to devastate the population, and over the next one hundred years, the plague will return intermittently to kill at will. From 1300 to 1450, the population of Western Europe will decrease by at least one half, and more likely by two thirds. At the time of the Plague, Western Europe is fiercely Christian. How would this kind of natural disaster affect a culture’s worldview?It has happened in our own time. Think back to the 80’s when the AIDS epidemic was just starting. The United States was a very evangelical nation at the time (still is). TV Evangelists becoming popular and churches were growing larger (mega church). And then people of all classes, all races, and all genders start losing loved ones. This nation’s faith was rocked. People began to ask, “How can God let this happen?” So imagine that two-thirds of your town’s population is decimated by disease? What happens to your faith? Two responses can occurcomplete denial of God. The Late Gothic Age is entrenched in Christianity, so complete abandonment of faith is unlikely, so there is a fierce return to God. People start to return to the Church. Their families are missing, and they need comfort, encouragement, and a purpose. Instead they find the GREAT SCHISM. The Church is fighting with itself; popes and papacies are fighting for control. 1309 a French Pope is elected and the papacy moves to Avignon, FranceRome, of course, disagrees, and from 1378—1417, there are two Popes, one in France and one in Italythe church provides little leadership and secular country rulers take sidesThrow into this mix an elevated literacy—individual citizens can now read their own bibles, their own spiritual primers, and they start to see that their spiritual leaders are false, given to human frailties. (Remember TV Evangelists like the Bakers and Jerry Falwell…?!)So what do they do? Where do they turn? They have been let down by God, by the Church, and their families are missing. They only have themselves to rely on. They start to look at life and begin to see it for what it really is, and they begin to trust more than before the individual experience. Abbas always says, “Revolution occurs when reality sets in. When art starts to be more realistic than before, expect a revolution.” The late Gothic Age is the pre-cursor to the revolution that we all know as the Renaissance.
LITERATURE We see it in the literature of the age. Citizens of the 1300’s, the 14th century, begin to accept authors such as Petrarch, Dante, Chaucer, de Pizan, and Boccacio. Dante’s The Divine Comedy (1302-21) is the tale of one man’s spiritual journey through hell, purgatory (he’s a Catholic author), and heaven. As the poem progresses, the poet himself leaves the conditions of despair and grows in wisdom to find his own salvation. Here we see the culture’s need to find salvation in man’s merits of learning, self-reflection and discovery, rather than in the Church and its leaders. Boccacio’sDecameron (1348-51) portrays men and women as they really are in his compilation of 100 stories of love, sex, adventure and trickery told by ten women and men traveling through the Italian countryside to escape the Black Death. “Thus when he wrote about the clergy he showed them to be as susceptible to human appetites and failings as other mortals. His women are not pallid playthings, distant goddesses or steadfast virgins, but flesh-and-blood creatures with intellects, who interact more comfortably and naturally with men and with each other than any women in Western literature had ever done before.” Christine de Pizan, a widow who resorts to becoming an author to make money, writes about the history of famous women and advocates for women’s rights (in a time of arranged marriages and female status as property). And finally, Geoffrey Chaucer, an Englishman, wrote The Canterbury Tales (------) a collection in verse of tales told by people of all different classes—a knight, a university student, a miller, a “woman of Bath.” Each person tells his tale from his own perspective in life, his own social position. PHILOSOPHY We see it in the Philosophy of the age. With the randomness of natural disaster, people began to wonder the ability of human understanding to grapple with the mystery of God and the heavens. William Ockham (1285—1349) writing at a time when theologians were trying to figure out if God could undo the past and if God could get rid of himself, stressed that certainties could be found in human knowledge, which led to the realization that the natural sciences could be discussed without reference to God. He was one of the first encouragers of Empiricism. Marsilius of Padua (1280?—1343?) held that the basis of all power is in the people, namely the whole body of citizens in the state and the whole body of believers in the church. Leaders in the church and state held no legislative power over them and were accountable to them. One of the more radical believers in the Church, his ideas would not fully take hold until the Reformation.
So in the midst of this philosophical and literary climate, there is the realm of art. Referred to as Proto-Renaissance, the title suggests a transitional art. This is where we are coming from visually:Page from an illuminated Manuscript, the York Psalter, c. 1170, Flat FiguresLack of dimensional spaceDrapery created through lines Gold BackgroundsLack of backgrounds in general (the space is not of this world)Religious narratives far more important that the styleComposition is linear c. Amesbury Psalter, 1240s, Illumination on parchment, All Souls College, Oxford1. Flat figures2. Lack of perspective3. Lack of expression, lack of individual expressions as distinct from others’ expressions
Many art historians place the beginning of the Renaissance at the presence of Saint Francis. Saint Francis was born Francesco Bernardone (ca. 1181—1226) to a wealthy merchant family in Assisi. At 21, he is a soldier in the battle with Padua, and is imprisoned in Perugia for one year before his father ransoms him. In 1204 he lies sick at home and heads off to battle Apulia in 1205. En route, he experiences a religious conversion and returns home a day after leaving. He finds a church outside of Assisi and falls before a crucifix, which speaks to him and says, “Francis, go repair my house, which, as you see, is falling completely to ruin.” He rebuilds the church, but also feels called to a life of poverty and mendicancy (begging for alms to survive). He commits to mortification of the flesh (fasting, celibacy), prayer and meditation, and compassion for all of life (human and animal). In 1225 he writes the Canticle of the Sun in which he address “brother sun and sister moon,” expressing a special connection to natural beauty. In 1224, two years before his death, he receives the stigmata in his hands and feet and side. Why is the life of Saint Francis so important to art historians?Influences natural observation and perspective directed toward natureHe teaches that God can be seen through all that the Creator had madeHis preaching depended on simple metaphors and references to the natural world, making religion more accessible to the common personThe simplicity of Francis’ religious visions “raised expectations that religious stories and doctrines could be represented vividly and personally”Through the stigmata, Francis is a representation of Christ on Earth, a concrete image, an expressed representation of the divine—IMAGE became privileged, not just a tool for devotion but an expression of the divine—“True love had now transformed his lover into his image…With him he bore a representation of Christ crucified which was not the work of an artist in wood or stone, but had been reproduced in the members of his body by the hand of the living God.” From LegendaMaior by St. Bonaveture So it is through the life of Saint Francis and the narratives of his life, codified soon after his death, that the Church can teach the lessons of Christianity.
14th Century Art in EuropeThe Proto-Renaissance1300—1399 CE
Guiding Question/s What precipitates a cultural revolution? Widespread epidemics An fractured Church/Papacy What societal shifts bring about social, religious, and artistic changes? Questioning of the Church Pronounced emphasis on observation
Guiding Events and Figures These may be political, scientific, literary, philosophical, religious Black Death Epidemic outbreaks of Bubonic Plague ravage Europe Great Schism Two Popes rival for power Saint Francis A mendicant Franciscan monk Popularity of Passion Plays Traveling actors performing scenes from the Passion of Christ
Reflections of the Age LITERATURE PHILOSOPHY Dante’s Divine Comedy William Ockham Written in the Italian vernacular (not Latin) Emphasizes the study of natural sciences without Boccacio’s Decameron reference to God Fictionalizes travels to Famous for Ockham’s escape the Black Beath Razor Scathing criticism of the Church hierarchy Marcilius of Padua Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales Theologian who stresses Fictionalizes the Medieval the power of the Church lies phenomenon of pilgrimage within the people, not in the for relics hierarchy of clergy
This is where we arecoming from Figures lack volume, Figures lack expression and individuality No dimensional space Gold backgrounds Landscapes abstracted Drapery created through linesReligious Narrative privileged over style
Saint FrancisSignals a Change in CultureReligious Reformer andFounder of theFranciscan Order ofMendicant FriarsPreaches that God canbe seen in theobservable, natural worldReceives the Stigmata (aconcrete representationof the divine), and soimage starts to beprivileged over narrative
In subsequent presentations, you willlearn more about: Giotto’s Move Toward Naturalism Medieval Traditions in Isolated Italian towns like Siena and Orvieto Art that serves a secular agenda through civic architecture The effects of Bubonic PlagueThese presentations will prepare you toincorporate the information in theassignments and assessments for theweek