3 Romance and Reality


 "Medieval man could see things very clearly, but he believed that these appearances should be considered as nothing more than symbols or tokens of an ideal order, which was the only true reality." p. 61

               Piazza del Duomo, Pisa

This chapter explores chivalry, the cult of the virgin, and the life of St Francis. The buildings include Basilica of San Francesco and the Arena Chapel. The art works include the unicorn tapestry in the Cluny and the Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. The Basilica at Assisi is not my favorite building (looks like a fort, is dark inside, and the frescos attributed to Giotto are probably not by him). I did an entire program for a college book publisher on the Arena Chapel and have no interest in revisiting that.  The Riches Heures is well presented in Wikipedia. So about all that is left for me is to link to the three sites below and to make a few trivial  comments.

Once we were visiting the Piazza del Duomo in Pisa and there was a pick-up soccer game going on by the cemetery, so we sat down on the grass to watch. There were about a dozen or so guys and one girl playing goalie. Even though the girl was out of her class all of the guys treated her differentially. After a while another young man walked out into the game and approached the girl. The game stopped. She reached into her pocket and gave the  guy a small packet and he gave her some money. The differential treatment was given 'cause she had the stash.

arena chapel

The Arena Chapel at Padua.

 As Clark said of Giotto, "We know absolutely nothing about him until the year 1304, when he decorated a small, plain building in Padua know as the Arena Chapel, and made it, to anyone who cares for painting one of  the holy places of the world."

The first time in Padua I visited the Arena Chapel (a.k.a. The Scrovegni Chapel) out of a sense of duty rather than any aesthetic excitement. Then when I finally came out of the chapel my knees were so weak I had to sit down. Christianity is all about internal individual hydraulics as compared to the Greek temple that offered a public shared experience. At the time of that visit, I had not attended a church service in years, but the art of the chapel touch my inner Christian child, much to my surprise.

the cloisters ny The Cloisters, NY

The Hunt of the Unicorn in the Cloisters, NY.

When we visited the Cloisters in New York, one of the guards came up and began to tell me all about the symbolism of the tapestries. I am sure he was an uneducated man, but his enthusiasm was wonderful. I asked him how he learned so much and he said a German visitor had told him all about the art. I can only remember only one other guard who showed much interest in the art as art and that was at the Gardner Museum in Boston. I was telling Victoria that a painting attributed to a famous artist was probably a fake. The female guard overheard my comments and came to rescue not the painting but the painting's attribute. She said I was wrong and proudly pointed to the signature.

         The Musée national du Moyen Âge in the Hôtel de Cluny

We were on one of the upper floors of the Cluny, which dates to the 15th century, and there were musicians somewhere down below playing period instruments and the music came wafting up and echoing off the stone walls and we were momentarily transported back a few centuries.

The Lady and the Unicorn in the Musée de Cluny, Paris


4 Man - the Measure of all Things                                       Contents