1 Terrell DG, Short Notes on the Renaissance III Short Notes on the Renaissance III David G Terrell June 2010

The Period Eye In a nutshell, this means you see what you expect to see. I am certain you have seen instances of viewers trying to derive meaning from some piece of modern, abstract art. Each person's answer to “What does that resemble?” or “What does that mean?” is answered by filtering the image through their “period eye.”

For example, what does this mean to you?

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Now, through my period eye, this is what I see:  Against a plain Doric column, marked with an “S” signifying strength, is a level that reminds me that I am traveling upon the level of time towards eternity. Life is fleeting. Be strong. Against the fancy Corinthian column, the “B” for beauty, is a plumb, that reminds me to walk uprightly in my duty to God and Man, living a beautiful life. Between them is a tracing board, that reminds me to plan my life carefully and not drift idly through it. Beneath them is a checkered floor, representing life. As you walk through life, some days are light, and sometimes they are dark. At the base of the ladder, is a dot in a circle, between two lines. I am the dot and the two lines represent St. John the Baptist and St. John the Revelator. The nearby book, also touching the circle is the Holy Scriptures. As long as I keep my life circumscribed by their teachings, it is impossible for me to seriously err in my life. The ladder is Jacob’s ladder, leading up to heaven. The scriptures are the gateway to it. Upon it, from bottom to top, are faith, hope and charity--each identifiable by the items they hold. The ionic column at center rear is marked with “W”, for wisdom. The Square leaning against it reminds me to square my actions as on would measure the squareness of a stone. The compasses laying there whisper that I should circumscribe my desires and keep my passions within due bounds. The rough stone on the left is my soul, in its rough, mortal condition. Upon it are tools that I should figuratively use to shape myself, until I resemble the stone on the right, which is finished and worthy of being part of the temple in the heavens, “not made with hands.” The sun, moon and stars line up with the columns of strength and beauty, and match their meanings, but above wisdom is the eye of God, which reminds me that there are no secrets—that even my private weaknesses and sins are known to God and I should govern my life accordingly. The tessellated border around the whole reminds me that I am surrounded by the golden cord of God's love. Finally, the directions marked around the edges. As I walk into the image I walk from the west, where the sun set as I came into this dark and dreary world, and through the night towards the east, when I shall pass the gates of death into the rising sun of eternal day, in God's presence.

   

3 Terrell DG, Short Notes on the Renaissance III It is meaning, and not just beauty, which is in the eye of the beholder. Each painting is a document to be read by those who know the language.

Comparing Medieval and Renaissance Art Everything I have read about the physical and metaphorical senses in relation to the Renaissance in general and its art, in particular, indicate that illumination was all important and therefore sight was deemed the highest of the senses, literally and figuratively (Aston 1996, 9). Technically. Art of the previous age was steeped in representing religious images. The iconography was static. Overwhelmingly, only real persons of religious or royal significance were depicted and these figures were depicted according to fixed rules that governed their appearance, clothing, trappings and settings—so as to be identifiable to the illiterate. Christ had his halo enhanced with a cross. Moses had his tablets of stone. Peter carried the keys of Christ’s delegated authority. The Renaissance was affected by the only art remaining form the classical period, its sculpture. The figures represented in stone were as varied as the statues themselves. Creatures and peoples unidentifiable from scriptural references appeared in a bewildering display of poses, clothing, emotional demeanor and context. This very quality opened up new possibilities to artists whose standard of excellence had, until then, been in how closely one could duplicate the perfection of accepted form. Their three-dimensional quality amplified the effect as their solidity allowed them to be viewed in the round. Each change of viewing angle provided another mental image. One could ask why artists had not painted from life’s varying angles before the Renaissance. The answer is probably, “Some did.” However, the art that remains from this period was the durable art; paintings on wood panels, frescos, mosaics, illuminated documents, metalwork, stained glass and the like. The more perishable works, such as textiles, are rarer (Huyghe, Larousse Encyclopedia of Byzantine and Medieval Art 1958, 228-322). Stylistically. Renaissance artists were determined to try to recapture the lifelike qualities of classical art, of which much of the medieval world was ignorant. However, the early Renaissance artist lacked the technical capabilities to reproduce the statuary with ease, although they began to learn and realistic sculpture experienced a revival; first in relief; than in figures with heavy, well defined features; and, followed by lighter and more skilled representations. However, the artists also used pictorial representation, the medium at hand, to begin representing the images they saw in the classical sculptures. The painters’ break with the past seemed to be more difficult, perhaps because of its closer relationship with religious art and the supervisory influence of the Church.

4 Terrell DG, Short Notes on the Renaissance III Giotto’s scenes from the life of St. Francis (c. 1288-1296) seem to mark the initial break with the constrained narrative illustrations that preceded them (Huyghe, Larousse Encyclopedia of Renaissance and Baroque Art 1958, 26-41).

Another example of symbolism In my analysis of the one painting, I mentioned a symbol consisting of a dot, at the center of a circle, around which were two parallel and tangent lines (representing the two Saints John) and surmounted by the scriptures. Here is an eighteenth century example of the symbol:

I was reviewing some of my Renaissance Art books and saw Botticelli’s The Virgin and Child, Berlin, Staadliche Museen. I saw the same symbolism and thought to share.

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Look at the arrangement of the figures and imagine yourself standing before it. Do you see how you are at the center, with the Saints on both sides, and the embodiment of the scriptures before you? I thought this was great!

Literacy then and now Increasing availability of the written word coupled with the increase of literacy meant that ideals and ideas expressed in writing could be disseminated in unchanged forms across larger populations. That some texts would be read aloud to illiterate groups served to further disseminate the content. To me, the major differences between the early modern period and today—the printing press and the internet—lies in two domains: quantity and filtering. Even though the printing press resulted in an enormous increase of written documents, the amount of printed material created and disseminated did not materially exceed the ability of a human being to receive, assimilate and understand it all. Today, the volume has increased, probably by several magnitudes, and the dissemination systems have made possible its near-

6 Terrell DG, Short Notes on the Renaissance III instant delivery to large sections of humanity. The quantity has outstripped the ability of a single person to attend to even a minor fraction of the whole. As a remedy, the existence of automated delivery systems using advanced filtering has created the ability to disseminate tailored subsets of literary content to individuals based upon personal and professional preferences. While this addresses the quantity problem for individuals, it almost guarantees that persons in physical proximity are no longer reading the same content. They therefore have less to talk about; less in common. In consequence, we are seeing the establishment of virtual communities based upon common literary interests; and the lessening of bonds between persons within arm’s reach that arise from the consumption and discussion of shared literary sources.

The Northern Renaissance sui generis The “Northern Renaissance” was different from that experienced in the south of Europe. The differences, according to Zophy, are both Economic and Political (Zophy 2009, 120-121). Economically, the south was a landscape of relatively large urbanized city-states and principalities made their money in financial dealings, manufacturing and trade and who survived eating food imported from agricultural zones scattered around the rim of the Mediterranean— though in his mixing of the facts from various sections of Europe, probably to the complexity of his narrative, Zophy homogenizes the pastoral landscape of Europe so it is difficult to detect the difference (Zophy, 48, 9-11). In contrast, Northern Europe lacked the long urban legacy (and infrastructure) of the Roman Empire. The countryside was a strewn with a multitude of small villages, surrounding small towns emerging from the need to gather for trade, religious ritual, and to support regional artisans. The few cities emerged around seats of secular nobility and religious leaders; and at significant sea and river transportation nodes, such as natural harbors and at the confluence of major rivers. (Zophy, 120-121) Politically, the dynamic interactions between the Italian city-states were very different from the great monarchies that arose at the top of the feudal hierarchies. The sense of subordination in the south was moderated by the client-patronage systems that endured from Roman Times. In the north, the remnants of tribal societies evolved into societies organized around the ideas of limited representation of individual rights in deliberative bodies that provided advice and consent to rulers and, in some cases, selected rulers from groups of noble candidates (Zophy, 121-129).

7 Terrell DG, Short Notes on the Renaissance III Zophy also describes the origins of the cultural institutions of Renaissance humanism in Italy. He takes special note of the influence of the classical architecture and documents that surrounded the early humanist thinkers and provided a physical and ideological environment to incubate these new (or renewed?) concepts (Zophy, 71). However, while he acknowledges the unique character of Renaissance in the north, Zophy attributed the differences to emerging nationalism and fails to examine the lack of that same physical and cultural background upon the peoples of northern Europe (Zophy, 152-153). Many northerners had never seen Roman architecture. For many of the scholars, Latin was not just an ancient language; it was a language with fundamental differences in structure and concepts with their vernacular, unlike the close linguistic similarities between the vernaculars of southern Europe and Latin. The concepts were from a different culture and therefore, were likely difficult to understand and were probably implemented through the filter of northern culture and mores. In considering the cultural differences, I am reminded of the cognitive dissonance Martin Luther experienced in 1510, when he visited Rome as a representative of his monastic order. In Bainton’s biography of Luther, he describes the disillusion Luther experienced upon experiencing the “abysmal ignorance, frivolity, and levity of the Italian priests.” (Bainton 1950, 36-38) I believe Italy was completely imbued with a humanist culture by this time. The spirit of rationality, the moderate Italian climate, the political exuberance, and the sense that Rome had always existed created a public character much different than that produced by the stolid, traditional character arising from the colder, rural, tribal forces that created the northern culture.

Motives for Exploration. I found a used copy of Parry on Amazon for $5.95, including shipping. Having the paper in hand is so nice. I was particularly pleased to see Parry mirror my own initial thoughts regarding the motivation for exploration: “acquisitiveness and religious zeal.” (Parry 1981, 19) It was a new idea, however, to see him tie the voyages of exploration conceptually to the crusades, although I can now see why. However, I am not sure that I agree that the motivation behind the exploration was quite so similar with regard to the religious motive. Parry speaks of the conquistadores and explorers to South Asia and beyond as devout men, though he qualifies the claim with a “for the most part.” (21) I believe the quest for land and gain was paramount and that lip service to religion provided a cachet for royal and curial acceptance. Parry spends a good deal of effort telling us about the military and religious zeal of the crusaders, holding it up as something emulated by the explorers However, several… even, many… centuries had elapsed.

8 Terrell DG, Short Notes on the Renaissance III For me, it is if he thinks the motivations that shaped the seventeenth century European man completely informs the actions of those living in the twenty-first. While I think human nature is mostly the same, the very forces that shape the period eye of each generation shaped the subtleties of motivation. Eventually, Parry begins to talk about the budding curiosity of the people of the period. The tales from abroad, coupled with the early mass media, lead to rapid dissemination of naval literature and technology (34). So, I vote for profit as the primary motivator; and rumor-driven curiosity as the recruiting engine.

Inquisition origins “Why did the Inquisition start when it did?” There is a three volume history of the Inquisition in Google Books: Vol 1: http://books.google.com/books?id=wwsNAAAAIAAJ Vol 2: http://books.google.com/books?id=a7sYAAAAYAAJ Vol 3: http://books.google.com/books?id=qQoSrsKwD-4C As the twelfth century ended, the Church was finally secure in Europe. The clergy were securely in control of the laity’s spiritual sphere and exerted significant control over the secular world. However, on the way to creating this dominant oligarchic system, they lost the virtues of humility, charity and ascetic renunciation bequeathed them by the Christian Master. Ambition, immunities, privileges, and temporal acquisitions had changed the clergy. There was a feeling that the body of Christ was divided into sheep and shepherds—and one was being fleeced by the other (Lea 1922, 5). With time, the Church lost its tolerance of the faults of others (expressed in Gal. 6:1-2) in favor of active resistance to those with differing ideals (as expressed in Gal. 1:8, 1 Tim. 1:20). This became universal when Catholicism became the religion of the state (Lea 1922, 209-212). The civilization of the time was more passionate and more exaggerated in its virtues and vices that in our colder, more restrained era (Lea 1922, 234). The exaggeration extended to one’s treatment of enemies and, of those, the heretic was the worst. Christians were taught that …

9 Terrell DG, Short Notes on the Renaissance III … however loving and charitable he might otherwise be, was taught and believed that compassion for the sufferings of the heretic was not only a weakness but a sin. As well might he sympathize with Satan and his demons writhing in the endless torment of hell. If a just and omnipotent God wreaked divine vengeance on those of his creatures who offended him, it was not for man to question the righteousness of his ways, but humbly to imitate his example and rejoice when the opportunity to do so was vouchsafed to him. The stern moralists of the age held it to be a Christian duty to find pleasure in contemplating the anguish of the sinner. Gregory the Great, five centuries before, had argued that the bliss of the elect in heaven would not be perfect unless they were able to look across the abyss and enjoy the agonies of their brethren in eternal fire. This idea was a popular one and was not allowed to grow obsolete. [emphasis added] (Lea 1922, 240241) The original edicts creating the institution of the Holy Office were based on the Lateran Council and enacted between 1220 and 1239. In 1233, Pope Gregory made the Dominicans responsible for persecuting heresy. By the 1250s, the power of the Inquisition had expanded to supersede secular law. They had practically unlimited power and almost no oversight. They could, by 1261, even absolve each other from excommunication for any cause. By 1500, the papal Inquisition had spread tribunals over all of Europe (Lea 1922, 321). Though mainly active in Spain and Portugal, the institution was well placed to respond to a papal call to service once the Protestant ideas began expanding beyond Germany (Zophy 2009, 126).

Why so busy? After learning about "the period eye," I went ahead and bought Baxandall's book. It arrived last night and I had the chance to start it this morning, before work. It is very, very interesting and seems to be on track to answer questions like yours. Most interestingly, thus far, is the author’s fist chapter description of the period art as a strict commercial enterprise. Patrons “asked for, paid for, and found a use for” a painting. Ready-made art was limited to simple religious art for the common to grace their family shrines. The pictures were painted to specification, and not necessarily to the artists’ liking. It was apparently different from the romantic notions in which an artist paints their inner vision and then looks for a buyer (Baxandall 1988, 1-3). If you watch the Home and Garden Channel, you have seen how people with money can make decorating decisions that represent taste crises of biblical proportions. I am assured that modernity does not have a monopoly on tacky.

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David G Terrell Herndon, Virginia

Aston, Margaret (ed). The Renaissance Complete. London: Thames & Hudson, 1996. Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1950. Baxandall, Michael. Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-century Italy. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988. Huyghe, Rene (gen. ed.). Larousse Encyclopedia of Byzantine and Medieval Art. Translated by Emily Evershed, Dennis Gilbert, Hugh Newbury, Ilse Shreier and Wendela Schumann. New York: Excalibur Books, 1958. —. Larousse Encyclopedia of Renaissance and Baroque Art. Translated by Emily Evershed, Hugh Newbury, Ralph de Saram and Katherine Watson. New York: Excalibur Books, 1958. Lea, Henry C. A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages. Google Books (http://books.google.com/books?id=wwsNAAAAIAAJ). Vol. I. III vols. London: Macmillian, 1922. Parry, John H. The Age of Reconnaissance. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981. Zophy, Jonathan W. A Short History of the Renaissance and Reformation Europe. 4th Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009.

© David G. Terrell, 2009-2011, except where otherwise noted, content is licensed under a Creative Commons AttributionNoncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. For permission to reprint under terms outside the license, contact davidterrell80@hotmail.com.

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