Arbtirary thoughts on nearly everything from a modernist poet, structural mathematician and functional programmer.

Monday, January 7, 2008

On Medieval Paintings

Heather Bamford writes a blog that I sporadically check. In her most recent post, she asks a series of questions that essentially amount to "How can surreal sources present reality to us, and how can we use these to understand the real nature of the world?" Unfortunately, I can understand only the English in the post, but I will try to respond anyway.

The answer, I think, lies in the emotional and subjective nature of human experience. We are not rational creatures, and we do not have an objective tie to the world we live in. While most people will see a very similar world, each person's experience of this world is affected by past experiences. Thus, to answer her actual question: the images in the LA help us to understand the medieval psyche and medieval perspective. Through these pictures, we can begin to understand how the world impressed medieval persons.

Flos Duellatorum
(or Fior di Battaglia) proves to be a similarly surreal instruction manual. In answer to a somewhat rhetorical question posed by Heather in an earlier post, the text has corresponding illustrations (not the other way around). In Fiore's manual at least, the illustrations seem to be for the purpose of refreshing a a knowledgeable student's memory, providing key points for comparison; The student is expected to fill in the missing parts based on the text and prior knowledge. There are, of course, differences between the LA and FD, but the art, and the relation of the art to the text seem to be similar. Perhaps my untrained eye sees non-perspective illustrations and expects them to be related; I do not count this possibility out.

The next research question, then, would be "why do medieval artists see the world as they do?" What about the pictured positions, people, locations, etc. makes them more important than others?

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