Monday, August 15, 2016

Arthuriana in Medieval Art (Notes:22)

Unrealistic! When was the last time you were questing and stumbled upon some women in the woods? What? Just yesterday while playing Pokemon Go!? Oh, okay then. I guess this image was just ahead of its time, then.



Italy has the oldest Arthurian artwork depicting a scene where Guinevere is abducted. It is located in the cathedral of Modina. Done in High Relief, the scene depicts three knights charging at a castle to save the noblewoman. Artus, Sir. Edir, and a third unnamed knight. To the side other groups of knights fight each other with another group watching those who fight. What is interesting about the artwork in this cathedral is that the building itself was built possibly around the early eleventh century, which means that since Geoffrey of Monmouth’s text was written later, then legends of King Arthur had to have been in circulation for quite some time in an oral format before Geoffrey’s book; this may explain why Geoffrey’s text was so popular.

Because there are literally thousands of images from manuscripts detailing scenes from Arthurian tales, prof. Armstrong has restricted her session to detailing only those images which would have appeared in public places, such as cathedrals.

In an Italian Norman cathedral, in Toronto, we see completely original Arthurian imagery: a figure holding a crown, wearing a scepter, which is named as King Arthur, though the scene itself is unknown (Arthur is hunting a large cat).

Other Arthurian images can be found in Spain at Saint. James church where an image from the Tristin-Arthurian mythos can be found. The image is that of Tristin setting out for his journey to heal his wound after receiving it in battle during his fight with the enemy representative. It shows a man lying in a boat with no sails or oars, a common image type meant to illuminate the powerlessness of humanity in relation to the Gods. We know this because the hero figure is holding a sword with a notch in the blade.

Most Arthurian pieces of Art, however, are not found in churches but rather pieces privately commissioned by the nobility. Tapestries, jewelry boxes, boxes and more all would bear motifs from Arthurian legends. In one of the most famous pieces called the Cloisters Tapestry. Bearing an image of one of the three worthies, this piece was originally composed of three tapestries each 21 by 16 feet. Today only two are on display and comprise a gorgeous design connoting the imagery of stained glass windows.

Other artwork includes a life sized, painted, statue of King Arthur depicting him as one of the nine worthies. Another, on a capital of a pillar, we see Lancelot crossing a sword bridge as written in his seminal representation, the Knight of the Cart. The ‘Casket with Scenes of Romances’ depicts this same scene, and is fairly self-explanatory as to what that is all about; dating to the 14th century France, it depicts many images from all traditions. A few miles away from Gluasterberry, at a Welsh cathedral, we see Marzicords (a hinged wooden seat found in medieval cathedrals), show Arthurian scenes; Ivan has his horse cut in two by a descending port collis. Chester, Lincoln, and New College Oxford have similar scenes carved on Marzicords; another scene, the 'Trist Beneth the Tree,' is also popular throughout artistry. The image captures the romance of the love triangle between Mark, Isolde, and Tristan; Mark is shown to be up in a tree, hidden, and staring down at Tristan and Isolde who don’t know he is there as he watches them embrace next to a river or face as Mark’s face is reflected in the water. 

At some point, a massive wooden table was commissioned to likely celebrate the wedding of a royal individual; this table was purely for decorative use and appears to date from the 1300s. Centuries after it was considered to be the actual rountable of King Arthur until carbon dating, in the 1970s, determined it to be from the 13th century. Another standout feature which would stand-out about this table is that though around 24 people could sit around it comfortably, that number is a far cry from the 150 knights which sat around King Arthur’s table at the time of the legend’s popularity height in the 15th century. What is interesting about this table is how it was used to promote a particular agenda: for example, in 1485, after the end of the War of the Roses, it was repainted to connect the Tudor royalty to the Arthurian legend. In 1522 the table was again repainted by Henry the 8th to have his own image painted into the table to promote a false connection.

Supposedly, in Dover castle, there was entire chambers dedicated to Arthurian themes; an Arthur’s hall and Guinevere chamber are said to have existed, among other private residence were sometimes decorated with scenes from the Arthurian tradition. Unfortunately, however, these have been lost to time.

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