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Medieval Objects From Different Viewpoints
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Medieval Objects From Different Viewpoints

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Medieval Objects From Different Viewpoints Medieval Objects From Different Viewpoints Presentation Transcript

  • Medieval Objects From Different Viewpoints
    • All of the following excerpts can be found in our publication, Perspectives on Medieval Art: Learning Through Looking , which you can purchase here .
  • Two of the enduring legacies of the Middle Ages are symbolism and stereotyping. They both continue to define our society today, for better or worse. Image: Lee Lorenz. Cartoon from The New Yorker , April 9, 2009. Image copyright © The New Yorker . View slide
    • Our world today continues to be filled with symbols and stereotypes: as we are fascinated by the former we do not seem to be able to get rid of the latter. Together, they define a rich visual world whose decoding needs help. The help this volume offers, the help that I believe all of us need, is a better understanding of the culture and art of the Middle Ages. It is an understanding of our historical legacy, ultimately leading to a better understanding of our society today. And connecting that apparently remote period of history with our lives today, realizing how much of who we are today was shaped by whom we fought back then, makes the period come to light. In order to promote knowledge of the Middle Ages, and in particular of their art, without being apologetic, those of us who labor in this field need to do a better job at inspiring, at making the medieval world appear more alive, more interesting, more relevant. [from Ena Heller’s essay]
    View slide
  • To understand the Middle Ages, we need to take a step back from our society filled with written and visual messages. Image: Giotto di Bondone. Padua, Italy, Scrovengi Chapel. Scala/Art Resource, NY.
    • Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of medieval life for the contemporary student to appreciate is a medieval person’s daily interaction with images. In an age with no television, no internet, no printed materials like billboards or direct mail, the average person in the Middle Ages saw imagery much less frequently than we do today. Imagery did not dot the landscape, was not delivered to your door, and was beyond most people’s means to acquire. Access to it was therefore controlled, one needed to seek it out, to visit a place where images were. And the most likely place where the average medieval person would have encountered imagery was in a church.
    • [from Tricia Pongracz’s essay]
  • How did images function in the Middle Age, then? Were they “Bibles for the Illiterate”? Image : Baroncelli Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence. Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz-Max-Planck-Institut
    • Although theologians through the centuries have argued that visual art could serve as a “Bible for the illiterate,” in reality a church’s collection of artworks and holy objects was less aimed at instruction than at inspiration, and would have induced awe and gratitude in princes as much as in unlettered paupers. Unlike many modern church-goers, medieval worshipers came not to be edified, but to praise God and beg divine mercy. Even if they had come to “read” the pictures, most of those images would have been so high or hidden that an ordinary person would have had difficult discerning what they were. Rather viewers were simply surrounded by beauty, bathed by the dappled colored light from the stained-glass windows, and conscious of how space and liturgy together generated their feelings of fear, pity, love, or consolation, depending on the action, time, or their own spiritual state.
    • [from Robin Jensen’s essay]
  • Our understanding of the Middle Ages is still filled with mis- and pre-conceptions. Image: Man-at-arms mounting his horse. Miniature from Jean de Meung, L’Arte de Chevalrie, 1284-ca. 1325. London, British Library. MS.2430, fol.2v.
    • The origins of the well-known phrase “knight in shining armor” - as far as we can tell - are probably not medieval but date back at least to the seventeenth century, although it only rose to unfortunate fame during the Victorian age. Popular and valued for its romantic appeal ever since, the phrase is nevertheless misleading since it implies, and thus helps to perpetuate, many of the myths and misconceptions surrounding the knight, arms and armor. Among the most popular and prevalent examples are notions that:
    • Only knights wore armor - Wrong
    • Armor was so expensive, only princes and the high nobility could afford it - Wrong
    • If armor is (highly) decorated, it is for ceremonial use, not for war - Wrong
    • Armor is extremely heavy and renders its wearer virtually immobile (and, by implication, anyone wearing armor had to have almost super-human strength) - Wrong
    • Knights had to be hoisted into their saddles with cranes - Wrong
    • It took years to make a single armor - Wrong
    • Wearing armor makes it difficult to go to the toilet - Wrong
    • The military salute originated from the raising of a visor - Very doubtful
    • Women never fought or wore armor - Not entirely true
    • Only knights were allowed to carry swords - Not entirely true
    • Armor became obsolete because of firearms - Not true without qualification
    • [from Dirk Breiding’s essay]
  • Do museums help us teach the Middle Ages?
    • The Cloisters collection may not have encyclopedic architectural examples, but the museum’s installation allows a direct physical contact with the objects. No high-definition image affords us the multi-sensory experience by walking in the Cuxa Cloister to understand the scale of the architecture, the presence of different rooms behind the windows; we hear the birds chirping, and feel the wind breezing by. Suddenly we understand why monks would leave their parchment leaves to dry in the cloister, why novices needed to be refrained from running in the corridor, how burials could be accommodated in the cloister arcade, and why such a courtyard was regarded the nucleus of monastic life. It is the opportunity to see, hear, smell, and move within the spaces that make learning about medieval architecture a “different” experience at The Cloisters.
    • [from Nancy Wu’s essay]
  • Eucharistic Dove. France (Limoges). Ca. 1210-30
    • This Eucharistic dove was made in Limoges, France sometime in the early 13th century; its breast and head are etched, its wings and tail are engraved and enameled to give the appearance of plumage, but in un-dove like colors (red, green, yellow, and blue). Chains attached to a small plate under its feet probably allowed it to be suspended from the stone canopy (baldachin) over a church altar and a hinged lid on its back opened to allow access to its hollow interior. This cavity served as a repository (or ciborium) for Eucharistic wafers that had been consecrated during the liturgy but not consumed by the faithful.
    • Although modern museum-goers might be unaware of this object’s special significance, 13th Christian worshipers would have as they genuflected in its direction as they entered the church. They did this because they deemed the consecrated wafers it contained as worthy of adoration. These small fragments of bread had been transformed into the flesh of Christ during the prayer known as the Great Thanksgiving, when the presiding priest invited the Holy Spirit to come upon the elements and repeated Jesus’ words at the Last Supper (“This is my body, which will be given for you”). Placed inside the dove’s body, they were an ongoing mode of the Divine presence to the faithful.
    • [from Robin Jensen’s essay]
  • Chalice. Italy (Siena). Ca. 1375
    • The Walters’ vessel conforms to a chalice type that had become well established in Siena during the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Indeed, a specifically Sienese innovation to the essential format of the Eucharistic chalice was the decision to move away from a hemispherical cup with mounted handles, to a longer, attenuated cup with flaring lip and conical silhouette. Scholars have attributed the first appearance of this particular chalice type to the workshop of the thirteenth-century Sienese goldsmith Pacino di Valentino. As they moved away from an older chalice format with mounted handles, Valentino’s successors developed further innovations, adding successive layers of decorative embellishments. This new type of chalice would dominate Sienese goldsmith production for the next several centuries, establishing a signature product that was eventually disseminated throughout Italy.
    • The Walters’ chalice was consequently produced at a moment when Sienese goldsmiths had established a reputation for exquisite workmanship. A large part of this reputation was built on their perfection of an enamel technique ideally suited to the application of delicate, pictorial decoration. The bassetaille enameling technique developed in Siena exploited the translucency of thin coats of brightly painted enamels applied over the bright, reflective surface of engraved silver plaques.
    • [from C. Griffith Mann’s essay]
    • The chalices made for the western Latin Church underscore the clericalization of the Eucharist outlined above. Their small size and finely detailed and diminutive ornamentation indicate that they were intended to be used by a limited group—the ordained clergy. The chalices were not intended for reception by the laity. By the thirteenth century, this was the exclusive preserve of the clergy. The chalices, such as the ones exhibited in Realms of Faith , are exquisitely decorated and their elevation, after the priest’s words of consecration, would be the highpoint of the ritual: Christ, our sacrifice, is present on the altar. This epiphany was a principal aspect of the ritual in the Latin Church, and the people, who ordinarily would not receive the sacred species, would still be able to communicate spiritually, which, they had come to understand, was the higher form of connection with God.
    • [from Xavier Seubert’s essay]
    Chalice. Italy (Siena). Ca. 1375
  • Paten, Byzantine Empire
    • By the end of the fourth century both Byzantine clergy and laity were receiving communion at the Divine Liturgy under the two forms of bread and wine, although this practice falls into desuetude for various reasons in different periods. The enormous paten or plate illustrated here testifies to a large number of Eucharistic recipients and also to the fact that leavened bread, which takes up far more room than the unleavened host of the west, was used. Leavened bread is a fermented, raised bread and is much larger than the unleavened and flat wafer, which was used in the Latin Rite. [from Xavier Seubert’s essay]
  • Reliquary. France (Limoges). Ca. 1230-50 (legs and crest added ca. 1900)
    • The great Abbot Suger, bishop and abbot of Saint-Denis (1081–1155), provides an example of such a theological reading of Eucharistic vessels when he explains the connection between the sacred vessel and the worshipper, since both are considered in relation to God; just as it seems fitting to him that the precious vessels be crafted of “whatever is most valuable among created things be set out with continual reverence and full devotion to receive the blood of Jesus Christ,” in the same way the worshipper in the liturgy “should also serve God…in all internal purity and in all external nobility.” [from Mary Moorman’s essay]