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Old 12-29-2009, 07:56 PM
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Why do medieval drawings look the way they do?

I've seen many medieval drawings/paintings/tapestries, and the figures just have a certain look to them.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedi...hDespenser.jpg

The way the faces are -- they don't look fully human at least according to my biased modern eyes. I am not criticizing the style, but is there any explanation to why the medieval people drew like that? It is illogical that people would have looked significantly different, but why do they have that 'look'?

Last edited by No Wikipedia Cites; 12-29-2009 at 07:58 PM.
Old 12-29-2009, 08:32 PM
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Part of it is down to the equipment they used. Most medieval portraits were painted on planks with grainy ochre-based pigments so it took a very skilled artist to get any kind of detail in the picture, and part of it is, crazy as it may sound, proper perspectives hadn't yet been developed. It wasn't until the renaissance that artists developed ways to optically transfer a 3D perspective to a painting, up until then the best they could do was an estimate that usually comes with that "off" look in posture and body proportions.
Old 12-29-2009, 08:40 PM
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Because that was the style of the time.
Old 12-29-2009, 08:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sassyfras View Post
I've seen many medieval drawings/paintings/tapestries, and the figures just have a certain look to them.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedi...hDespenser.jpg
[...]
What a lovely picture. Could you imagine that hanging on your wall?
Old 12-29-2009, 09:20 PM
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Originally Posted by needscoffee View Post
What a lovely picture. Could you imagine that hanging on your wall?
Oh, I see you have a good conversation piece over there Mr. Torquemada!...
Old 12-29-2009, 09:49 PM
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And why does the victum have a kielbasa where his intestines should be? And a Valentine shaped heart? And why is he giving a vaguely, sultry look to the guy with the knife? Do they have something going on after the disembowelment?

The bases of the ladders are too close to the fire, where is OSHA?

So many questions.

Last edited by Dallas Jones; 12-29-2009 at 09:53 PM.
Old 12-30-2009, 12:11 AM
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If I were asking questions about that painting . . . the style would be the last thing I'd be asking about.
Old 12-30-2009, 08:23 AM
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That looks more like a modern picture with artistic license at interrupting a medieval style painting. That lady and guy on the left look like singers from the 1970's or early 1980's. Maybe ABBA. Why do you think that was done by a medieval artist?
Old 12-30-2009, 08:38 AM
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My question wouldn't have been about the faces, it would have been about the freakishly short people. They look like children. Surely Medieval people weren't that short.

I'm thinking maybe it was more like cartoon style, and that photorealism wasn't in vogue because it was too difficult. We often still do it today with CGI. (And, no, Avatar does not look realistic.)
Old 12-30-2009, 08:41 AM
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Originally Posted by Harmonious Discord View Post
Why do you think that was done by a medieval artist?
Probably because Jean Froissart died around 1405.
Old 12-30-2009, 08:49 AM
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I don't really understand the idea that the Medieval artists "weren't able" to draw correct body proportions. The figures carved into Trajan's Column in 113 AD and scenes in countless other reliefs from Roman or Byzantine times show that artists were clearly capable of showing correct and lifelike proportions, if not perspectives, so I don't understand why artists in England and France more than a thousand years later wouldn't have been able to similarly create human figures that looked more realistic. I think it's more likely that it was a stylistic convention of the time than that the painting of Despenser being killed is truly the "best" art that Medieval artists were capable of.
Old 12-30-2009, 08:50 AM
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Back to the original question: my recollection is that it's not until the Renaissance that two things happen:
(1) Corpses are dissected by artists, to study anatomy, the underlying muscle structure, etc.
(2) Perspective is invented, to give a sense of roundness and depth, not just to landscapes but the faces, hands, etc.
Old 12-30-2009, 08:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Telperion View Post
Probably because Jean Froissart died around 1405.
It's linked to a picture with no signature or text. I'm glad you can identify this picture without it.
Old 12-30-2009, 09:02 AM
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Originally Posted by Harmonious Discord View Post
It's linked to a picture with no signature or text. I'm glad you can identify this picture without it.
It's on Wikipedia and says Froissart right in the title, just how difficult do you think that information was to find?
Old 12-30-2009, 09:57 AM
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Originally Posted by Telperion View Post
It's on Wikipedia and says Froissart right in the title, just how difficult do you think that information was to find?
No it's not.
Quote:
Why do medieval drawings look the way they do?
If you refer to the picture link it's an encoded link. Maybe this thread should link to the wiki page then and not just a picture. I've never heard of Froissart and a link to the relevant page would have solved that. Asking whey the OP thought it was a genuine medieval picture is not unreasonable, because it was just a picture. It also does not give credit to the source since only a picture is linked without the credits.
Old 12-30-2009, 10:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Harmonious Discord View Post
No it's not.
Is this a Monty Python sketch?

Here is the full link from the address bar of the linked page.

http:// upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fc/BNMsFr2643FroissartFol97vExecHughDespenser.jpg

Look starting around the 61st character.
Old 12-30-2009, 01:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Argent Towers View Post
I don't really understand the idea that the Medieval artists "weren't able" to draw correct body proportions. The figures carved into Trajan's Column in 113 AD and scenes in countless other reliefs from Roman or Byzantine times...
113 AD is hardly Medieval. The extensive study of the human form in classical times was not passed down effectively to artists more than a thousand years later; it had to be rediscovered and redistributed in the Renaissance.

The figures on the left look short because that's the artist's way of indicating they are farther away. This is a step up in realism from when figures were sized based on their importance.
Old 12-30-2009, 01:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Telperion View Post
Part of it is down to the equipment they used. Most medieval portraits were painted on planks with grainy ochre-based pigments so it took a very skilled artist to get any kind of detail in the picture.
Slight sidetrack. Was this the only kind of material that medieval artists used, or was it just the stuff that was most likely to last 600+ years so we could see it?
Old 12-30-2009, 02:08 PM
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Because being an artist is hard. It is particularly difficult to create realistic representations of three dimensional things in two dimensional formats. Beyond having innate talent and artistic ability it takes the learning of specific sets of skills and techniques to make realistic paintings (and sculptures, etc). Sometimes these skills and techniques can be learned by years and years of trial and error by an exceptionally talented artist with great ingenuity and determination, providing he has the time, money, and resources required to make such advances. Even then a good artist with all those things going for him may only crack into one or two of the dozens of techniques required in making great realistic representations. Usually, however, these techniques are learned from other artists through a long succession of handed down knowledge and careful tutoring and mentoring. Novice artists learn from masters, and fellow artists share with one another what they learned in their own education. Skills, techniques, and technologies are thus added to the repertoire of artists in general as long as information continues to be shared, practiced, and codified.

Sometimes, however, the line of education is broken and the knowledge is lost. This happened in Western Europe during a period sometimes known as the “Dark Ages” when classical Rome collapsed around 400 AD to around 1000 AD when feudal Europe gained full steam. Thus one way of looking at Medieval art is tracking the slow relearning of previously known techniques and technologies in making representational art. They were doing the best they could in the Middle Ages, and consistently making progress. By the time of the Renaissance most of what was lost in Western European art was relearned, and the improvements in technology, communications, and education made possible even further improvements toward making realistic paintings and sculpture. By this time the techniques for creating realistic scenes and figures (such as chiaroscuro, perspective, sfumato, and foreshortening) could be learned by aspiring artists because of a centuries long “conversation” by a long line of serious hard working artists handing down knowledge practical and theoretical. Renaissance artists didn’t just suddenly decide to start painting better portraits, they were using the accumulated knowledge of their teachers mixed with knowledge gleaned from other, previously isolated cultures, mixed with a good measure of their own genius.

Some art historians would also argue that Medieval artists were simply less concerned with realistic representations and more concerned with symbolism, meaning, and storytelling. While I think there is some merit to that, I also believe that any look at a timeline of Medieval art shows a true progression toward better realism and thus shows a cultural desire towards that end.

On a personal note I actually prefer the character, symbolism, storytelling, and simplicity of Medieval art over Renaissance art. The Medieval section is the first and sometimes only section I visit at art museums. And you can bet damn well if I owned that Froissart I'd display it prominently (though it isn't a painting so it wouldn't really be hung on a wall).
Old 12-30-2009, 02:14 PM
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Another questions: Who was the victim supposed to be, and is this the earliest depiction of someone "hung down to his knees"? No wonder everyone's pointing.
Old 12-30-2009, 02:25 PM
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Originally Posted by panache45 View Post
Another questions: Who was the victim supposed to be, and is this the earliest depiction of someone "hung down to his knees"? No wonder everyone's pointing.
Hugh Despenser, 1st Lord Despenser
Old 12-30-2009, 03:14 PM
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Originally Posted by panache45 View Post
Another questions: Who was the victim supposed to be, and is this the earliest depiction of someone "hung down to his knees"? No wonder everyone's pointing.
That does look like his cock, but it's really just an illusion formed by the streak of blood down his thigh. You can see if you look closely that it's not actually a long penis hanging down.
Old 12-30-2009, 03:17 PM
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Originally Posted by Harmonious Discord View Post
No it's not.


If you refer to the picture link it's an encoded link. Maybe this thread should link to the wiki page then and not just a picture. I've never heard of Froissart and a link to the relevant page would have solved that. Asking whey the OP thought it was a genuine medieval picture is not unreasonable, because it was just a picture. It also does not give credit to the source since only a picture is linked without the credits.
Here's the wiki link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Froissart

but according to wiki the painting was not done by Froissart but by Loiset Lyédet in the 1470s to accompany writings by Froissart.

Quote:
The text of Froissart's Chronicles is preserved in more than 100 illuminated manuscripts, illustrated by a variety of miniaturists. One of the most lavishly illuminated copies was commissioned by Louis of Gruuthuse, a Flemish nobleman, in the 1470s. The four volumes of this copy (BNF, Fr 2643; BNF, Fr 2644; BNF, Fr 2645; BNF, Fr 2646) contain 112 miniatures painted by the best Brugeois artists of the day, among them Loiset Lyédet, to whom the miniatures in the first two volumes are attributed.
Old 12-30-2009, 03:18 PM
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Just in case the fire doesn't kill you, we're gonna pull out a few feet of your intestine, too.
Old 12-30-2009, 03:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Argent Towers View Post
That does look like his cock, but it's really just an illusion formed by the streak of blood down his thigh. You can see if you look closely that it's not actually a long penis hanging down.
As a matter of fact, that's already been removed:
Quote:
Originally Posted by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Despenser_the_Younger#Trial_and_Execution
He was then hanged from a gallows 50 ft (15 m) high, but cut down before he could choke to death, and was tied to a ladder, in full view of the crowd. The executioner climbed up beside him, and sliced off his penis and testicles which were burnt before him, while he was still alive and conscious; (although castration was not formally part of the sentence imposed on Despenser, it was typically practised on convicted traitors). Subsequently, the executioner slit open his abdomen, and slowly pulled out, and cut out, his entrails and, finally, his heart, which were likewise thrown into the fire. The executioner would have sought to keep him alive as long as possible, while disembowelling him. The burning of his entrails would, in all likelihood, have been the last sight that he witnessed. Just before he died, it is recorded that he let out a "ghastly inhuman howl," much to the delight and merriment of the spectators. Finally, his corpse was beheaded, his body cut into four pieces, and his head was mounted on the gates of London.
Old 12-30-2009, 03:36 PM
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The use of the word "miniatures" makes me wonder how big this and similar painting were. Small size limits the detail an artist can include for things like faces.
Old 12-30-2009, 03:47 PM
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Originally Posted by ghardester View Post
And why does the victum have a kielbasa where his intestines should be? And a Valentine shaped heart? And why is he giving a vaguely, sultry look to the guy with the knife? Do they have something going on after the disembowelment?

The bases of the ladders are too close to the fire, where is OSHA?

So many questions.
Not to mention: does he have a stick up his perineum or is he *really* HUNG? (I don't think that's quite what they meant by "hanged, drawn and quartered" ).

(on preview, I see I'm not the first one to make this observation).

Last edited by Mama Zappa; 12-30-2009 at 03:48 PM.
Old 12-30-2009, 04:21 PM
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I like this part from the link:
Quote:
Nevertheless, the execution has been criticized by some historians as inhumane, and it is unlikely that a similar practice would win the approbation of the British public today.
Unlikely?
Old 12-30-2009, 04:28 PM
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'Miniature' in a manuscript has nothing necessarily to do with the size. The modern meaning actually derives from this use, since they weren't as large as a painting but still could fill a page.

This page shows it with a little bit more of the page around it, although at a truly tiny size.
Old 12-30-2009, 04:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Morbo View Post
I like this part from the link:

Unlikely?

That was my favorite part too.

ETA
I should have previewed. This part: " it is unlikely that a similar practice would win the approbation of the British public today."

Last edited by maladroit; 12-30-2009 at 04:32 PM.
Old 12-30-2009, 04:42 PM
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Forgot to mention the actual size dimensions - per Wikipedia, this manuscript is ~44x33 cm in size; this one looks about half that size.

Compare this work by a contemporary of Liedet's - do the faces look poorly done there?
Old 12-30-2009, 04:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Argent Towers View Post
That does look like his cock, but it's really just an illusion formed by the streak of blood down his thigh. You can see if you look closely that it's not actually a long penis hanging down.
Damn, you're right. And I was mentally changing his name to "Huge Dispenser."
Old 12-30-2009, 05:06 PM
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Originally Posted by panamajack View Post
Compare this work by a contemporary of Liedet's - do the faces look poorly done there?
Some of them, a bit; others, not so much (e.g. the guy in the blue robe on the right). The human forms are still awkward and the perspective still shaky, ISTM (the characters in the foreground are too short; maybe they're kids?). Anyway, still has that "look" sassyfras questioned, I think, though perhaps a bit of an upgrade.
Old 12-30-2009, 06:05 PM
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Originally Posted by panamajack View Post
Compare this work by a contemporary of Liedet's - do the faces look poorly done there?
That image, by the way, is a depiction of a horrific incident called the Bal des Ardentes which happened to Charles VI of France and some of his friends. They had put on a masquerade party to celebrate someone's wedding, which involved the king and several French nobles dressing up as "wild men." As is written, they were dressed "in costumes of linen cloth sewn onto their bodies and soaked in resinous wax or pitch to hold a covering of frazzled hemp, so that they appeared shaggy & hairy from head to foot". The king's brother had the bright idea of approaching the costumed men with a lit torch "to discover the identity of the masqueraders." He wound up setting them all on fire, and four of them burned to death. The king managed to survive - a woman threw a gown on him, putting out the flames.

Man, the things people will do in the name of partying.
Old 12-30-2009, 06:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Argent Towers View Post
That image, by the way, is a depiction of a horrific incident called the Bal des Ardentes which happened to Charles VI of France and some of his friends. They had put on a masquerade party to celebrate someone's wedding, which involved the king and several French nobles dressing up as "wild men." As is written, they were dressed "in costumes of linen cloth sewn onto their bodies and soaked in resinous wax or pitch to hold a covering of frazzled hemp, so that they appeared shaggy & hairy from head to foot". The king's brother had the bright idea of approaching the costumed men with a lit torch "to discover the identity of the masqueraders." He wound up setting them all on fire, and four of them burned to death. The king managed to survive - a woman threw a gown on him, putting out the flames.

Man, the things people will do in the name of partying.
Terrific story. I'm telling that to everyone who says history is boring from now on.
Old 12-30-2009, 06:44 PM
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Anyone who says that "history is boring" is an idiot, or more likely, the victim of a school system which unfortunately does not teach history in an engaging way. It's a shame that anyone would say history is boring, since technically everything that has ever happened is history.
Old 12-31-2009, 12:00 PM
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Hugh Despenser, 1st Lord Despenser
I guess they were planning to use his head as a Pez Despenser.
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