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Michael Brudon




Location: South Pacific
Joined: 21 Dec 2013

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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr, 2016 1:18 am    Post subject: why are people in medieval artistry so stylised?         Reply with quote

Portraits, tapestries, drawings etc. What was the aversion against reproducing realistic pictures of faces for so many centuries? Even into the reanaissance there is the style of portraits that makes everyone look semi-related. I know the answer is probably to do with art and fashion but surely more artists between the 11th and 16th century were capable and interested in precise line drawings. These people could produce cathedral schematics and geometrically carve stone after all. And surely some king was actually interested in having his face look exactly like his face for historical purposes, lol.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr, 2016 5:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This question is probably unanswerable because we can never really know, not being medieval people. However, it is possible to hazard a guess as to what might have happened.

My guess is that the skills of realistic portraiture and proper perspective faded during the gradual decay of the Western Roman Empire. Why these skills faded may not ever be known, but it could be that with the increasing fragmentation of Europe in the early Middle Ages, and perhaps the lack of teacher to student transmission of skill and artistic technique, realistic art gradually vanished. During much of the Middle Ages, people may have neither had the technical ability to draw realistically, nor the concern for reviving this lost skill. As astonishing as this might sound, consider that in modern times we have lost many traditional skills or even ways of life that are beneficial or healthful, and have had little or no cognizance of the importance or value of these skills or ways of life (although this is starting to change, but that would take me off-topic). Strictly speaking there is no need for art to be highly realistic; the assumption that representations must be a close facsimile to life may simply not have been shared by medieval people. Because it's so ingrained into modern people as an unconscious assumption- artistic representations of people should be as life-like as possible- we forget that this is, in fact, just an assumption, not an axiom.

Thus, without the technical ability, nor even necessarily the awareness they had lost a skill of value, and perhaps lacking the assumption that art should or must be realistic, medieval people were content for centuries with their art as it was. They might have realized that their attempts to say render a siege with adequate depth and perspective did not match reality, and that their human figures were similarly simplistic, but there wasn't the technical ability nor the impetus to do much about it. It makes sense that the Renaissance, which fetishised Roman culture, would be the era when Roman art forms-here meaning realistic art- would be revived.

That's not to say that there were never attempts at realism during the Middle Ages. The Cappenberg Bust of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa attests to a willingness to try to create more realistic art- even if it tried to recreate him in a Classical Imperial fashion that may not have perfectly matched his actual appearance. Similarly, Villard de Honnecourt in the 13th century was aware of the difference between art at his time and ancient Roman art, and even tried to sketch figures in a Roman style. Most modern people would view his attempt as a failure, but one can see that he did try, and that the intent was there. By and large, however, realism in art just wasn't important enough to push for its redevelopment in the Middle Ages.
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Pieter B.





Joined: 16 Feb 2014
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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr, 2016 5:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:


That's not to say that there were never attempts at realism during the Middle Ages. The Cappenberg Bust of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa attests to a willingness to try to create more realistic art- even if it tried to recreate him in a Classical Imperial fashion that may not have perfectly matched his actual appearance. Similarly, Villard de Honnecourt in the 13th century was aware of the difference between art at his time and ancient Roman art, and even tried to sketch figures in a Roman style. Most modern people would view his attempt as a failure, but one can see that he did try, and that the intent was there. By and large, however, realism in art just wasn't important enough to push for its redevelopment in the Middle Ages.



I suppose this painting by Jeroen Bosch supports that view, by this time livelike realism and environmental perspective were possible yet many painters did not initially chose to incorporate such realism.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_by_Bosch_High_Resolution.jpg


Another thing I observed in the paintings of van Eyck is that while ordinary people are painted with incredible realism the Angels and other holy figures are not. In fact that Angels in van Eycks paintings just appear to be a little off, it really evokes some kind of uncanny valley response from the modern viewer. I can not conclude otherwise than that this was his intention and possible the mainstream artistic convention of the time.
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Michael Brudon




Location: South Pacific
Joined: 21 Dec 2013

Posts: 107

PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr, 2016 7:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the replies. It has always intrigued me.
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