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In the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, there is a wonderful icon that depicts the Madonna and Child, and on her chest hangs an icon with the image of an adult Christ. So, while the icon is drawn with meticulous naturalism and in a fairly small size, the naked chest of the Virgin Mary grows out of her shoulder.
Artists have always, throughout history, been able to make realistic-look at the musculature of animals in rock art. If Neanderthals could draw the profile of a bison with all its inherent realism on a cave ceiling by torchlight, then it would be foolish to say that at another remote moment in history, with a developed cultural tradition, a food surplus and excellent tools, there was no person in all of Europe who could do the same.
It's just that artists have chosen to do most of their history differently. This is proved by countless examples when in the same period, in the same environment, some works were made naturalistically, and some deliberately stylized, depending on the context: if we are talking about the Middle Ages, compare the image of the tetrarchy under Diocletian and the bust of Diocletian himself.
Therefore, the question of the primitiveness of Medieval art is not a problem of the Middle Ages. This is a problem of stereotypes that were invented in the 18th century, and inherited by modern man in the darkness and illegibility of it.
The Middle Ages were not a cultural pit, during which the entire population of Europe, thirty million people, not only decided to forget how to draw, but also lost the ability to compare what was drawn with nature. History has known periods of great upheaval and loss of infrastructure – but this does not mean that the cognitive level of the population falls to the point of incapacity for the arts. In Greece, it was once so bad that they even forgot how to properly burn pots – this did not prevent them from putting together the Iliad and Odyssey at the same time.
Just the art of antiquity, the art of the Middle Ages and the art of the Renaissance were engaged in fundamentally different things. For the man of the Middle Ages, reality was symbolic — all objects and all phenomena had value not for their mundane qualities, but for the qualities above, their immovable essence-which cannot be depicted, which can only be pointed out. This primacy of the spiritual over the mundane was also reflected in the primacy of the symbolic over the naturalistic. Symbolic was better, more accurate, more correct, more realistic. If you were to ask a Medieval artist why he doesn't depict it as it is, he would say that he depicts it exactly as it is.
This is partly a Christian theme, and partly a legacy of Platonism. In part, it's just art's penchant for stylization, because that's how art works.
That is why both in painting and architecture, a great emphasis was often placed on secondary elements of design: knitting, arabesques, calligraphy, etc. If you look at medieval manuscripts like the Book of Kells, you can hardly accuse them of being sloppy: letters and lettering can be written out with incredible complexity, and usually required the work of several craftsmen, and this is not counting calligraphers – when it comes to depicting a person, it was only important to indicate who this person was and how important he was, but not to give him
It is enough to designate the king with a crown. Even the most important king is one of dozens of kings before him and dozens of kings after. Nothing but the crown defines it. So why should he be naturalistic?
In addition, in addition to the uselessness of naturalism, sometimes inappropriateness also came into play. Why, in fact, should we not see naturalism as the arrogance of an individual view that thinks it has found out everything? The eye cannot see undistorted, distortion is inherent in the very principle of linear perspective. Oriental painting is an excellent example of the possession of linear perspective, but the preference for axonometric perspective is based on ideological considerations: because the table does not shorten away from you just because you can see it that way.
In other words, art never attacks realism just because it is suddenly available. It is always available. Its development depends on the pressure of the rest of the culture, and when necessary, artists easily master it within one generation-whether in Greek sculpture, in Europe,or in China. The rest of the time, artists do something else.�
In Europe, it was a symbolic description of the world, where things are composed relative to each other not by optical, but by internal qualities. For its time, this was realism.
The fact is that all the skills and abilities of ancient artists, after the fall of the Roman Empire, were lost. For a long time there was a tradition of continuity in the craft. Greek and Egyptian artists (incredible Fayum portraits )passed on their skills to Roman artists. Very often this was not done voluntarily – they were turned into slaves and sold. In particular, after the fall of Carthage, hundreds of local artists and sculptors were sold into slavery and served by rich Roman pitchforks. But since the 5th century AD, the so-called “dark ages” began. Roman rule ended and the Great Migration of Peoples began. Tribes and entire peoples, no longer held back by the Roman administration, were on the move and set out to find better lands to live in. This is how modern Europe began to take shape. So from the small village of Lutetia, today's Paris turned out. But there were also sad consequences of this relocation. Teachers died without leaving their students behind. There was no one to pass on the knowledge. New religion Christianity was gaining strength and it came to the point that only in monasteries there were literate people, and the rest of the European people practically lost writing. In the same centuries, all sorts of magical and esoteric “sciences”, astrology, alchemy, witchcraft, witchcraft and other fortune-telling on coffee grounds acquired special power. Artists and sculptors rediscovered all the techniques. They re-learned how to draw and mix colors, rediscovered the laws of perspective and composition, and re-studied anatomy and the golden ratio. But it was only by the 15th century that the full volume of ancient knowledge could be restored. That's when the Revival started! In the meantime, in the Middle Ages, artists filled their paintings with not very skillfully executed skinny sexless creatures that only vaguely resembled humans. They just couldn't do it any other way!
You will be surprised, but medieval art is not limited to book miniatures (which are also very technical). Stained glass windows, lettering, frescoes, church utensils and plastic decor were on top. I am silent about the architecture and decor of expensive weapons. Many of the things that were done then cannot be repeated today.
Search Google for early Norman swords — one of the first ones in the search results is made so thin and intricate that they can't make a full-fledged replica from it. Its pommel is assembled from several parts that form a cavity filled with lead for perfect balance. All this is luxuriously decorated with notches, etching and appliques. And this is somewhere in the 9th-11th centuries, so that you understand.
Look at a medieval wooden sculpture, for example. It's anything but primitive. Well, or the most obvious monuments of the Middle Ages — Catholic cathedrals. Are they primitive? On the contrary, they are incredibly complex (and beautiful).
Rather, we project a Renaissance view of the Middle Ages as the Dark Ages, and we prefer not to notice what does not fit into this framework. The attached image shows a sculpture from about 1275-1300.
The history of art is 6 thousand years old, starting from the civilizations of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Like any branch of human activity, it evolves and develops. In the Middle Ages, until the Renaissance, perspective was not discovered, it was discovered by Giotto in 1341.
Antiquity, in turn, is the prototype of the Renaissance. The Dark Ages, as I dare remind you from the school history course, began after the conquest of the Roman Empire by barbarian tribes (ancient Germans) in the 5th century AD. They captured civilized Rome and from the 5th century to the 7th century there was no art in principle, only a book church miniature. There was no architecture. Architecture is revived only to the Romanesque, and then the Gothic, followed by the Renaissance. These are the consequences of barbaric conquest for art and the civilized life of a person. As a result, there was no culture in Europe in the 4th century.
I hope my answer was useful to you!
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