Tuesday, 27 September 2016

History and Legends in Mediaeval Art

What I love about these little illustrations is that they show how mediaeval people believed that everyone in the past dressed and behaved just like they did. Indeed, it is possible to date the illustration by the clothes the warriors and nobles are wearing.

Here is David slaying Goliath and cutting off his head. It gives us a good idea of the equipment a knight of the 12th or 13th century would wear!

Here Delila is cutting off Samson's hair.

This is Noah's Arc. The dove is returning with a branch. The flood is receding, but many of the people in the water are clearly not dead yet!

From the Apocrypha: Judith has just murdered the tyrant Holofernes: a suitably bloodthirsty representation..

This depicts the murder of Julius Caesar.

This is the suicide of Nero. Without the caption underneath, we might well think it was King Saul.

A double suicide this time. Mark Antony stabs himself, whilst Cleopatra is bitten by not one, but two asps.

Finally, here is the Greek poetess Sappho reading her works to her friends.

We shouldn't laugh at the artists' ignorance of the past. We all know now that people in past centuries dressed differently from us, but one of the most difficult tasks of a historian is to explain how people in past centuries didn't necessarily think like us either: they often had wholly different priorities and ethical standards. Many historical novelists and makers of epic films fail lamentably in this respect!

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