Historical Medieval Erotica: A Necessary Alliance

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The Irish Princess: Her father's only daughter. Her country's only hope.

By only the Moorish kingdom of Granada remained unconquered by the Christians. According to her biographer, C. Davies , during her early years Catherine followed her parents, and in particular her mother, in their travels through large parts of Spain and along with her older sisters, Catherine "received an education fitting for one who was intended for marriage with foreign rulers, bearing children for them and thus linking Castile and Aragon to neighbouring powers by ties of blood as well as friendship.

Spain, along with France, were the two major powers in Europe. Henry VII constantly feared an invasion from his powerful neighbour. Ferdinand and Isabella were also concerned about the possible expansionism of France and responded favourably to Henry's suggestion of a possible alliance between the two countries.

In King Ferdinand agreed to send ambassadors to England to discuss political and economic relations. In March , the Spanish ambassador at the English court, Roderigo de Puebla , was instructed to offer Henry a deal. The proposed treaty included the agreement that Henry's eldest son, Arthur , should marry Catherine in return for an undertaking by Henry to declare war on France. Henry enthusiastically "showed off his nineteen-month-old son, first dressed in cloth of gold and then stripped naked, so they could see he had no deformity. Puebla reported that Arthur had "many excellent qualities".

However, they were not happy about sending their daughter to a country whose king might be deposed at any time. As Puebla explained to Henry: "Bearing in mind what happens every day to the kings of England, it is surprising that Ferdinand and Isabella should dare think of giving their daughter at all.

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The Treaty of Medina del Campo was signed on 27th March It established a common policy towards France, reduced tariffs between the two countries and agreed a marriage contract between Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon and also established a dowry for Catherine of , crowns. This was a good deal for Henry. At this time, England and Wales had a combined population of only two and a half million, compared to the seven and a half million of Castile and Aragon, and the fifteen million of France. Ferdinand's motivation was that Spanish merchants wishing to reach the Netherlands, needed the protection of English ports if France was barred to them.

The English also still controlled the port of Calais in northern France. Mary Tudor.

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Henry VIII. Henry VII. Anne Boleyn. Henry VII waited until until he invaded France. After only a few weeks campaigning, he signed a peace agreement and called off his invasion in return for a large payment of money. Ferdinand of Aragon made his own settlement with France, which recognized his gains in the Pyrenees. As David Loades points out: "The marriage of a ruler was the highest level of the matrimonial game, and carried the biggest stakes, but it was not the only level.

Both sons and daughters were pieces to be moved in the diplomatic game, which usually began while they were still in their cradles. A daughter, particularly, might undergo half a dozen betrothals in the interests of shifting policies before her destiny eventually caught up with her. In August , Catherine and Arthur were formally betrothed at the ancient palace of Woodstock. The Spanish ambassador, Roderigo de Puebla , standing proxy for the bride. Catherine arrival was delayed until Prince Arthur was able to consummating the marriage. Catherine was also encouraged to learn French as very few people in the English court spoke Spanish or Latin.

Queen Elizabeth also suggested she accustom herself to drink wine, as the water in England was not drinkable. Catherine and Prince Arthur wrote several letters to each other. In October Arthur wrote to her thanking her for the "sweet letters" she had sent him: "I cannot tell you what an earnest desire I feel to see your Highness, and how vexatious to me is this procrastination about your coming. Let it be hastened, that the love conceived between us and the wished-for joys may reap their proper fruit.

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Catherine left the port of Corunna on 20th July Her party included the Count and Countess de Cabra, a chamberlain, Juan de Diero, Catherine's chaplain, Alessandro Geraldini, three bishops and a host of ladies, gentlemen and servants. It was considered too dangerous to allow Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile to make the journey.

The sea-crossing was terrible: a violent storm blew up in the Bay of Biscay , and the ship was tossed about for several days in rough seas and the captain was forced to return to Spain. It was not until 27th September, that the winds died down and Catherine was able to leave Laredo on the Castilian coast. Catherine arrived at Plymouth on 2nd October Arthur was just fifteen, and Catherine nearly sixteen.

Henry would have been concerned by her size. She was described as "extremely short, even tiny". Henry could not complain as Arthur, now aged fifteen, was very small and undeveloped and was "half a head shorter" than Catherine. He was also described as having an "unhealthy" skin colour. That night, when Arthur lifted Catherine's veil he discovered a girl with "a fair complexion, rich reddish-gold hair that fell below hip-level, and blue-eyes".

Contemporary sources claim that "she was also on the plump side - but then a pleasant roundness in youth was considered to be desirable at this period, a pointer to future fertility". The couple spent the first month of their marriage at Tickenhill Manor. Arthur wrote to Catherine's parents telling them how happy he was and assuring them he would be "a true and loving husband all of his days".

They then moved to Ludlow Castle. Arthur was in poor health and according to William Thomas, Groom of his Privy Chamber, he had been over-exerting himself. He later recalled he "conducted him clad in his night gown unto the Princess's bedchamber door often and sundry times. Alison Weir has argued that Arthur was suffering from consumption: "There was concern about the Prince's delicate health. He seems to have been consumptive, and had grown weaker since the wedding. The King believed, as did most other people, that Arthur had been over-exerting himself in the marriage bed.

Once the marriage was officially completed, some years might pass before the appropriate moment was judged to have arrived. Anxious reports might pass between ambassadors on physical development; royal parents might take advice on their offsprings' readiness for the ordeal. The comments - sometimes remind one of those breeders discussing the mating of thoroughbred stock, and the comparison is indeed not so far off.

The siring of progeny was the essential next step in these royal marriages, so endlessly negotiated. For example, Henry VII's mother, Margaret Beaufort , was only thirteen when she had him and never had any other children in the course of four marriages. On 27th March , Arthur fell seriously ill.

Based on the description of symptoms by his servants, he appeared to have been suffering from a bronchial or pulmonary condition, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis or some virulent form of influenza. David Starkey has suggested he might have been suffering from testicular cancer. Elizabeth of York died on 11th February As he was 46 years-old and in poor health, this idea was rejected and on 23rd June , he signed a new treaty betrothing Catherine to his surviving son, Henry , then aged twelve. The treaty also contained an agreement that, as the parties were related, the signatories bound themselves to obtain the necessary dispensation from Rome.

At that time, Christians believed it was wrong for a man to marry his brother's wife. It was also agreed that the marriage would take place as soon as Henry completed his fifteenth year. Ferdinand wrote on 23rd August "It is well known in England that the Princess is still a virgin. But as the English are much disposed to cavill, it has seemed to be more prudent to provide for the case as though the marriage had been consummated The right of Succession of any child born to Catherine and Henry depends on the undoubted legitimacy of the treaty.

Catherine was allocated Durham House in London. She was frequently ill, probably with tertian malaria. Catherine moved to Richmond Palace but complained to her father about her poverty and her inability to pay her servants, and her demeaning dependence on Henry's charity. She told her father she had managed to buy only two dresses since she came to England from Spain six years earlier. Catherine was kept apart from Prince Henry, complaining in that she had not seen him for four months, although they were both living in the same palace. King Ferdinand feared that Catherine would not be allowed to marry Henry, who was growing into a handsome prince.

He told him of his startling looks, including his strong athletic limbs "of a gigantic size" was already beginning to arouse the admiration of the Royal Court. Henry VII died on 22nd April, It has been argued that since the age of ten "Henry had looked up to and admired his pretty sister-in-law; and, as he had grown to manhood, and had seen how well Katherine had coped with the adversity and humiliations she had suffered, his admiration had deepened, not to passion - it would never be that - but to love in its most chivalrous form, blended with deep respect. The ceremony was small and private.

Describing the wedding night which followed, liked to boast that he had found his wife a "maiden" virgin. Although years later he would attempt to pass off these boasts as "jests", there seems little doubt that he had made them. According to letters to her father, Catherine was very happy during the first few months of marriage.

She enjoyed wandering in leisurely stages from "palace to palace and park to park". Catherine explained how Henry "diverts himself with jousts, birding, hunting and other innocent and honest pastimes, also in visiting different parts of his kingdom". Their intellectual tastes and educational background were similar and they both rode well and hunted with enthusiasm. In November, , Henry informed Ferdinand of Aragon that his daughter was pregnant: "Your daughter, her Serene Highness the Queen, our dearest consort, has conceived in her womb a living child and is right heavy therewith.

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Her confessor, Fray Diego reported that the miscarriage was kept a secret "that no one knew about it According to Diego the "swelling continued and increased enormously". This was probably the result of infection, but her physician persuaded himself that "the Queen remained pregnant of another child". However, this was untrue.

Queen Catherine was soon pregnant again and a son was born on 1st January, The child was christened Henry, and his proud father took him to Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham to give thanks for the greatest gift that a king could receive. A mighty tournament was staged, not only to celebrate the birth of an heir, but also "to demonstrate that loving accord between Henry and Catherine which promised a bountiful harvest for the future". Henry and Catherine were devastated. The customary wisdom of the time suggested that infant mortality was punishment for sin. He was only years-old and was considered the most attractive young man in Europe.

Sebastian Giustinian , a Venetian diplomat, commented that Henry "is the handsomest potentate I have ever set eyes on" and had "a round face so beautiful that it would become a pretty woman". In a later dispatch he wrote: "Nature could not have done more for him. He is very fair, his whole frame admirably proportioned. It is claimed that Henry resembled his grandfather Edward IV , being measured at a height of 6 feet 2 inches, with a waist of 32 inches. Full of energy and proud of his athleticism, Henry cast himself above all in a military role and had a passion for weapons and fortifications.

A fine horseman and an excellent archer, he was an enthusiast for those two substitutes for war: hunting and the tournament. Catherine on the other hand was years-old and people feared that she would be unable to have anymore children. Henry also became involved with other women.

In he met Bessie Blount. As a young girl she came to the Royal Court as a maid-of-honour to Catherine. It is believed that she became his mistress in about It has been claimed that the fifteen year-old Bessie was a superb dancer and had a pretty voice. Above all, with her high spirits and energies she matched Henry sense of fun. Henry continued to try to produce a male heir. She miscarried in the autumn of , and in December another boy was born, but born dead. On 18th February she gave birth to a daughter, Mary. While Mary was not the desired male heir, she was still a valuable asset in the dynastic marriage and diplomatic power game.

Mary's godfather, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Henry used the two-year-old to seal the new alliance with France embodied in the Treaty of London This was followed by the Treaty of Bruges provided for the future marriage of Mary and Charles , a man sixteen years her senior. Sebastian Giustinian recalls that he saw Henry with Mary during this period: "He drew near, knelt and kissed her hand. Giustinian replied: "Sacred Majesty, the reason is that her destiny does not move her to tears; she will even become Queen of France. In Charles visited England and this afforded him some opportunity to observe his six-year-old cousin.

At one court occasion Mary danced for him. Mary's biographer, Ann Weikel , has pointed out: "Many problems arose during subsequent negotiations in , not the least of them Henry's refusal to allow Mary to leave the realm because she was only eleven. To impress the French envoys Mary again demonstrated her skills in language, music, and dancing, but her small stature made them hesitate about the viability of an immediate marriage. Catherine made sure Mary received a good education. This took the form of supervision and appointment of teachers such as Richard Fetherston rather than direct teaching.

When she was sent to Wales to live Catherine wrote to her: "As for your writing in Latin, I am glad that you shall change from me to Master Fetherston, for that shall do you much good to learn by him to write alright. Queen Catherine invited the celebrated Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives to come to England and commissioned him to write a treatise on the general education of women, and an outline of studies for Mary.

Ann Weikel , has pointed out: "Vives delivered a mixed message, for while he advocated the education of women, an advanced idea at that time, he still saw women as the inferior sex. The list of acceptable reading included scripture, the church fathers, but only a few pagan classics, and no medieval romances, because he believed women could be led astray all too easily Vives recommended that Mary read the dialogues of Plato, works that endow women with the same virtues as men and develop a notion of women as guardians or governors Thus while Mary received an exceptional humanist education for a woman of her era, marriage negotiations and court appearances reinforced the conventional belief that her true destiny was to be a royal wife and mother, not a ruler in her own right.

Her views were influenced by those of her mother, Isabella of Castile who had "refused to yield to pressure to alter the Castilian laws that permitted her eldest daughter to succeed her". Whitelock goes onto argue that Catherine was convinced that "female sovereignty was compatible with wifely obedience and there was no good reason why Mary should not succeed her father Catherine was determined to prepare her daughter for rule.

Henry VIII had several mistresses. The most important was Bessie Blount and on 15th June , she gave birth to a son. After the child's birth, the affair ended. This is probably because he had a new girlfriend, Mary Boleyn. The historian, Antonia Fraser , has argued: "The affair repeated the pattern established by Bessie Blount: here once again was a vivacious young girl, an energetic dancer and masker, taking the fancy of a man with an older, more serious-minded wife, no longer interested in such things.

In Anne Boleyn become a maid of honour to Catherine. She was a good musician and a talented singer. She was also extremely intelligent and her time in the French court provided her with a great deal of interesting conversation. Anne was according to contemporary sources not a conventional beauty.

One member of Henry's court wrote that Anne was "not one of the handsomest women in the world" she had a "swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised, and in fact had nothing but the king's great appetite, and her eyes, which are black and beautiful and take great effect". If you find this article useful, please feel free to share on websites like Reddit.

Boleyn's biographer, Eric William Ives , has claimed: "Her complexion was sallow and she was noted only for her magnificent dark hair, her expressive eyes, and her elegant neck The reason why she was such a sensation was not looks but personality and education. Having been brought up in the two leading courts in Europe she had a continental polish which was unique in the provincial court of Henry VIII. She could sing, play instruments, and dance and she led female fashion.

Henry VIII seemed to find her very entertaining and was often seen dancing with her. Hilary Mantel has pointed out: "We don't know exactly when he fell for Anne Boleyn. Her sister Mary had already been his mistress. Perhaps Henry simply didn't have much imagination. The court's erotic life seems knotted, intertwined, almost incestuous; the same faces, the same limbs and organs in different combinations. The king did not have many affairs, or many that we know about. He recognised only one illegitimate child. He valued discretion, deniability.

His mistresses, whoever they were, faded back into private life. But the pattern broke with Anne Boleyn. For several years Henry had been planning to divorce Catherine of Aragon. Now he knew who he wanted to marry - Anne. At the age of thirty-six he fell deeply in love with a woman some sixteen years his junior. In he told her: "Seeing I cannot be present in person with you, I send you the nearest thing to that possible, that is, my picture set in bracelets I send you by this bearer a buck killed late last night by my hand, hoping, when you eat it, you will think of the hunter.

Philippa Jones has suggested in Elizabeth: Virgin Queen? By refusing to become Henry's mistress, Anne caught and retained his interest. Henry might find casual sexual gratification with others, but it was Anne that he truly wanted. All the same it must remain somewhat surprising that sexual passion should have turned a conservative, easy-going, politically cautious ruler into a revolutionary, head-strong, almost reckless tyrant. Nothing else, however, will account for the facts. Anne's biographer, Eric William Ives , has argued: "At first, however, Henry had no thought of marriage. He saw Anne as someone to replace her sister, Mary wife of one of the privy chamber staff, William Carey , who had just ceased to be the royal mistress.

Certainly the physical side of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was already over and, with no male heir, Henry decided by the spring of that he had never validly been married and that his first marriage must be annulled However, Anne continued to refuse his advances, and the king realized that by marrying her he could kill two birds with one stone, possess Anne and gain a new wife. Catherine was in a difficult position. Now aged 43, she found it difficult to compete with Anne. A dumpy little woman with a soft, sweet voice which had never lost its trace of foreign accent, and the imperturbable dignity which comes from generations of pride of caste, she faced the enemy armoured by an utter inward conviction of right and truth, and her own unbreakable will.

Henry VIII later suggested that it was a meeting with the Bishop of Tarbes, one of the French envoys, in , that made him reconsider his marriage to Catherine. Was that marriage valid? The legendary Medici family were self-styled rulers of Florence but not of noble, let alone royal, extraction, and hence the imperative of material ostentation was perhaps less powerful than it might have been, say, for a northern European king, and even inadvisable where the degree of magnificence was widely expected to correspond to social class. For this reason, despite their wealth, painting was arguably a medium in keeping with Medici status.

The second Figure 5 shows the Sienese leader falling from his horse, and the third Figure 6 shows Florentine troops attacking from the rear. These three huge paintings were of a size and subject matter to warrant display in a public place as a commemoration of a famous victory and stimulus to Florentine patriotism.

In fact, paintings of comparable secular subjects had been produced over a century earlier for precisely these motives, so the subject matter in itself does not signify a fundamental innovation. The painter Simone Martini contributed to a series of wall paintings of Sienese castles in the Siena town hall in the s, apparently as a record of the military might of Siena. The San Romano pictures were designed for private viewing, however. The Medici did not commission these battle scenes, however. They were originally owned by a wealthy Florentine family, the Bartolini Salimbeni.

It appears that Lorenzo took advantage of his involvement in the division of the family property in to appropriate the pictures without the consent of at least one of the brothers.

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This in itself testifies to the value Lorenzo placed on adding the paintings to the Medici collection. In , Damiano Bartolini Salimbeni brought an unsuccessful court case to get them back see Gordon, , pp. Originally designed to fill the arch-topped walls of a room, the pictures were in effect vandalised by the Medici, who cut them down at the top and built them up at the corners to make three rectangular paintings that could hang side-by-side, rather like tapestries.

Battle scenes were a favourite subject for northern European tapestries, which may well have been too expensive to be within the grasp of the Bartolini Salimbeni family. The Medici could and did afford expensive tapestries imported from the Netherlands, so the fact that Lorenzo coveted these paintings appears symptomatic of the increasing enthusiasm for painting from the fifteenth century onwards.

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  4. In Italy, at least, the rising prestige of painting was linked to the prestige attached to ancient Greek and Roman culture, evident throughout the medieval period and particularly prominent from the fourteenth century onwards in what has come to be known as the Italian Renaissance. Alberti drew on a variety of ancient Roman and Greek texts to champion painting and painters, including comments by the ancient Roman writer Pliny the Elder 23—79 CE on ancient Greek artists in his Historia naturalis or Natural History 77 CE.

    Alberti was certainly not the first to do so. Alberti pointed out that ancient philosophers and kings had enjoyed painting, including it as part of the liberal education of their children and even practising it themselves Alberti, [], pp. Such arguments served to vindicate painting in the minds of status-conscious patrons; they also struck a blow for the status of painters.

    Traditionally, a division had been drawn between the manual arts or crafts , undertaken to earn a living and depending on practical skill, and the liberal arts pertaining to the leisured classes and studied for their own sake. Self-evidently, the distinction is a false one in that all artists needed to earn a living. To claim that painting was a liberal art narrowed the social gap between artist and patron, however, and put painting on a par with educated activities to do with reading and writing, such as poetry.

    For this too there were antique antecedents. Such comparisons were used to assert the parity of status of painting and poetry, something that neither Horace nor Plutarch is likely to have intended. Alberti himself had received a humanist education based on the study of ancient Greek and Roman culture, and he was not alone in pointing out that painting and drawing had been included in an ancient liberal education. Early fifteenth-century humanist educator Vittorino da Feltre, working at the Gonzaga court in Mantua, employed artists in the programme of liberal education he offered the sons of rulers Warnke, , p.

    It is no accident that some of the most famous paintings of all time were commissioned by regional Italian rulers well versed in such humanist ideas. Just as antiquity provided a model for the status of painting, so it provided a model for the relationship between illustrious patron and artist. Pliny described the esteem in which Alexander the Great held the painter Apelles, visiting his studio, allowing him liberties and even passing on to him his mistress Edwards, , p.

    In , the Italian sculptor Leone Leoni mentions in a letter that the Emperor Charles V visited his studio and spent two to three hours at a time chatting with him Lymberopoulou et al. The familiar relationship between artist and ruler by this date is symptomatic on the one hand of the degree to which antique role models were taken to heart and on the other the degree to which artists had made the transition from jobbing craftsmen to respected court employees. Famously, in , the renowned Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci — was invited to the French court of Francis I ruled —47 , perhaps not so much for the work that he might produce at what was then an advanced age, as out of admiration and presumably for the prestige that the presence of such a renowned figure might endow on the French court.

    The advancement of artistic status is often associated with princely employment, for example by Martin Warnke in his seminal study of the court artist Warnke, , pp. Given the example of Leonardo da Vinci, this appears to make sense. Maintained on a salary, a court artist was no longer a jobbing craftsman constantly on the lookout for work. Potentially, at least, he had access to projects demanding inventiveness and conferring honour, and time to lavish on his art and on study.

    Equally, however, court artists might be required to undertake mundane and routine work which they could not very well refuse. Court salaries were also often in arrears or not paid at all. In the same letter in which Leone Leoni described Charles V chatting with him for two to three hours at a time, he complains of his poverty, while carefully qualifying the complaint by claiming he serves the emperor for honour and cares for studying not moneymaking.

    The lot of the court artist might appear to fulfil aspirations for artistic status, but it certainly had its drawbacks. The pattern of artistic employment in the medieval period and the Renaissance varied. Traditionally, craftsmen working on great churches would be employed in workshops on site, albeit often for some length of time; during the course of their career, such craftsmen might move several times from one project to another.

    Many other artists moved around in search of new opportunities of employment, even to the extent of accompanying a crusade. Artists working for European courts might travel extensively as well, not just within a country but from country to country and court to court: Michael Sittow c. El Greco — moved between three different countries before finding employment not at the royal court in Spain but in the city of Toledo. Botticelli c. On the other hand, Jan van Eyck c.

    Simone Martini epitomises this range. It remains uncertain whether he travelled to Naples to paint the Saint Louis altarpiece for Robert of Anjou sometime around , or whether the commission was placed remotely, and the panel painted in Siena and exported to Naples. For much of his career, before moving to Avignon in the s to work at the papal court, he had an urban workshop in his native Siena, and received commissions from both civic and ecclesiastical authorities. The professional benefits of a permanent workshop are reasonably clear in terms of the supply of artistic materials, the employment of long-term assistants and establishing a client base.

    Whether the advantage lay in urban employment within a guild structure or with employment at a princely court is less clear-cut. While upholding the importance of court employment, Warnke maintains the corollary that the guild structure was stifling to artistic freedom Warnke, , p.

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    Like the role of court artist, this bears closer scrutiny, however. Although there were a few exceptions, notably the imperial free city of Nuremberg, most cities associated with craft industries established guilds sometime during the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. A guild served three main functions: promoting the social welfare of its members, maintaining the quality of its products and protecting its members from competition. This usually meant defining quite carefully the materials and tools that a guild member was allowed to use to prevent activities that infringed the privileges of other guilds and for which they had not been trained, for example a carpenter producing wood sculpture.

    It is the protection from competition that art historians have seen as eliminating artistic freedom, but it is worth pausing to wonder whether this view owes more to modern free-market economics than to the realities of fifteenth-century craft practices. In practice, it meant that indigenous craftsmen enjoyed preferential membership rates, but in many artistic centres foreign craftsmen were clearly also welcomed so long as their work reflected favourably on the reputation of the guild. The higher dues a foreigner had to pay were arguably a way of ensuring this: in order to pay the dues he or more rarely she needed already to have attained a level of success, suggesting a degree of skill that otherwise could not be verified given that the craftsman had trained elsewhere.

    The protectionism of the Venice guild of stonemasons, which included sculptors, was clearly directed at controlling the influx of itinerant craftsmen and imported works of art for sale; masons wishing to settle and work permanently in the city might do so much more easily Connell, , Chapter 6. It would be a mistake to accept uncritically the notion that one form of training and practice was inherently more advantageous to artists than another, just as it would be wrong to adopt the idea of artistic progress postulated by Vasari in his Lives.

    Instead, we have here sought to indicate the range and richness of visual culture in medieval Christendom and of some of the artistic developments associated with the Renaissance. We now consider the key developments in the history of western art between c. The most important idea for this purpose is the concept of art itself, which came to be defined in the way that we still broadly understand it today over the course of the centuries explored here.

    This concept rests on a distinction between art, on the one hand, and craft, on the other. It assumes that a work of art is to be appreciated and valued for its own sake, whereas other types of artefact serve a social function. A significant step in this direction was made by a group of painters and sculptors who in set up an Accademia del Disegno Academy of Design in Florence in order to distinguish themselves from craftsmen organised in guilds.

    After , academies of art were founded in cities throughout Europe, including Paris and London Most offered training in architecture as well as in painting and sculpture. Other arts, such as landscape gardening, were sometimes included in this category. Architecture was occasionally excluded on the grounds that it was useful as well as beautiful, but the fine arts were usually defined in terms broad enough to encompass it.

    I am simplifying here by focusing on function. Such functions continued to play an important role after , especially in the seventeenth century, when academies were rare outside Italy and many artists still belonged to guilds. The so-called Counter Reformation gave a great boost to Roman Catholic patronage of the arts, as the church sought to renew itself in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation. The commitment to spreading the faith that this organisation embodied helped to shape art not just in Europe but in every part of the world reached by the Catholic Missions, notably Asia and the Americas, throughout the period explored here Figure 7.

    Even in Catholic countries, however, the religious uses of art slowly declined relative to secular ones. As in the Renaissance, artists served the needs of rulers by surrounding them with an aura of splendour and glory. The consolidation of power in the hands of a fairly small number of European monarchs meant that their need for ideological justification was all the greater and so too were the resources they had at their disposal for the purpose.

    Every aspect of its design glorified the king, not least by celebrating the military exploits that made France the dominant power in Europe during his reign Figure 9. Artists continued to be employed by royal and princely courts for the purpose of painting dynastic portraits, producing designs for tapestries and similar tasks into the nineteenth century. Such art is bourgeois in so far as it owed its existence to the growing importance of trade and industry in Europe since the late medieval period, which gave rise to an increasingly large and influential middle class. Exemplary in this respect is seventeenth-century Dutch painting, the distinctive features and sheer profusion of which were both made possible by a large population of relatively affluent city-dwellers.

    In other countries, the commercialisation of society and the urban development that went with it tended to take place more slowly. Britain, however, rapidly caught up with the Netherlands; by , London was being transformed into a modern city characterised by novel uses of space as well as by new building types. Here too, artists produced images that were affordable and appealing to a middle-class audience; notable in this respect was William Hogarth — , who began his career working in the comparatively cheap medium of engraving.

    Even his famous set of paintings Marriage A-la-Mode , which satirises the manners and morals of fashionable society, was primarily intended as a model for prints to be made after them Figure What this meant in practice is best demonstrated by the case of easel painting, which had become the dominant pictorial form by Unlike an altarpiece or a fresco, this kind of picture has no fixed place; instead, its frame serves to separate it from its surroundings, allowing it to be hung in almost any setting.

    In taking the form of a commodity, easel painting accords with the commercial priorities of bourgeois society, even though what appears within the frame may be far removed from these priorities an open landscape, for example: see Figure Autonomous art does not promote Christian beliefs and practices, as religious art traditionally did, but rather is treated by art lovers as itself the source of a special kind of experience, a rarefied or even spiritual pleasure. What this boils down to is that art increasingly functioned during this period as a cult in its own right, one in which the artist of genius replaces God the creator as the source of meaning and value.

    This exalted conception of art consolidated the separation between the artist and the craftsman, which had motivated the foundation of the Florentine Academy some two centuries earlier. Nevertheless, throughout the period from to , artists, and of course architects, continued to carry out a wide range of social functions. They might design a trade card to advertise a shop Figure 13 , for example, or a tomb to commemorate the dead.

    On the one hand, it was an amateur pastime pursued by both men and women Figure On the other hand, professional draughtsmen produced visual records for commercial, military and scientific purposes Bermingham, Among the various approaches that have been applied to the study of art produced between c.

    Art historians who employ this type of approach view the period in terms of a succession of styles: from the Baroque in the seventeenth century, by way of the Rococo in the first half of the eighteenth and Neo-classicism towards the end of the century, to Romanticism in the early nineteenth century. Popular surveys and textbooks continue to be published with titles such as Baroque and Rococo or Neoclassicism , but many scholars have become reluctant to use such labels to sum up the art of a whole epoch.

    Recent publications of this kind tend instead to have titles such as Art of the Seventeenth Century or Art in Europe — ; their authors often begin by explaining the limitations of the concept of style as applied to the art of the period in question Harris, , p. Nevertheless, style labels still appear in even the most serious and scholarly works, suggesting that they may have their uses after all. For this reason, it is necessary to examine the ways in which they have been defined in order to assess their relevance to artistic developments in the two and a half centuries explored here.

    First of all, it needs to be acknowledged that most of these labels date from long after the phenomena to which they are applied. More recent accounts of the Baroque, by contrast, take account of its sacral and courtly functions, applying the label especially to works that sought to make an overwhelming effect on their beholders in order to impress them with the power and glory both of the sacred mysteries and of earthly authority Snodin and Llewellyn, ; for a recent attempt to rethink the whole category of the Baroque, see Hills, The exemplary instance is papal Rome from the s onwards, but the quintessential Baroque painter is the Flemish and also Catholic artist Peter Paul Rubens — , whose many works include twenty-one vast canvases illustrating the life of the French queen Marie de Medici Figure The use of style labels such as the Baroque can thus be justified so long as they are employed to analyse the formal means used by artists to achieve specific effects in particular historical circumstances.

    It remains problematic when what began as a rhetorical device for disparaging certain artists and works is transformed into an ostensibly neutral category applied in a broad-brush way. In the case of the Baroque, this does not matter very much any more; Borromini, for example, is now generally admired for precisely the tendencies for which he was vilified in the late eighteenth century.

    It is still a live issue, however, in the case of the Rococo, a term that originated at around the same date. It is said that students of the Neo-classical painter Jacques-Louis David — coined the word a conflation of rocaille , meaning a kind of ornamental rock and shellwork, and barocco , that is, Baroque just before in order to castigate whatever they associated with the fashionable taste of the court society that had been swept away by the French Revolution.

    It is now used to designate the erotic, playful and decorative style that developed in France during the first half of the eighteenth century. For recent works that offer a properly historicised account of the Rococo, see Sheriff, ; Scott, ; Hyde, Take Britain, for example, which defined itself during this period as a Protestant nation by contrast to its Catholic neighbours and took pride in the tradition of political liberty that set it apart from the absolutist regimes on the Continent, above all France.

    For these and other reasons, the Baroque made comparatively little impact in this country. This point applies especially to architecture; the classical vocabulary of columns, arches, domes and pediments derived from ancient Greek and Roman buildings was used for virtually all important architectural projects during this period, with only rare exceptions until well after see Arciszweska and McKellar, ; Bergdoll, However, painting and sculpture were also profoundly indebted to the legacy of classical antiquity, even during the heyday of the Baroque and Rococo.

    Both of these sources, but especially antique sculpture, were central to the curriculum of art academies. The label itself was not coined until the end of the nineteenth century and only gained its current meaning in the twentieth Irwin, , p. It is used to distinguish late eighteenth-century classicism from earlier versions, such as the work of Raphael or that of the seventeenth-century French painter Nicolas Poussin — Like many other style labels, it originally had a pejorative function, serving to characterise the works of art to which it was applied as derivative and inauthentic.

    This idea defines Romanticism; it follows from it that there could be no single Romantic style exemplified by one major artist, as Neo-classicism in painting is embodied by David. In the case of sculpture, moreover, classical forms might be infused with a distinctively romantic intensity and inwardness. The word also differs from other style labels in having been current at the time, even if its major figures did not necessarily identify with it Honour, , p. Art historians who employ this kind of approach take account both of the institutional and commercial conditions in which works of art were produced and consumed and of the broader cultural, social, economic and political conditions of the period.

    It is now recognised that artistic practice within a period is invariably more diverse and complex than a style-based art history admits. In exploring artistic developments in the centuries with which we are concerned here, the first structure or institution to consider is that of patronage. As in the Renaissance, many artists worked for patrons, who commissioned them to execute works of art in accordance with their requirements. Patronage played an important role throughout the period, most obviously in the case of large-scale projects for a specific location that could not be undertaken without a commission.

    Landscape gardening is another case in point. An artist greatly in demand such as the sculptor Antonio Canova — would also tend to work on commission; in his case, the grandest patrons from across Europe sometimes waited for years to receive a statue by the master, even though he maintained as both Bernini and Rubens also did a large workshop to assist him in his labours.

    Nevertheless, the period after saw a shift away from patronage towards the open market. In the event, the resolutely human terms in which the painter depicted the subject and the unidealised treatment of the figures scandalised the monks responsible for the church. Thus a functional religious artefact was transformed into a secular artwork, acclaimed as a masterpiece by a famous artist and sold to a princely collector, for whom the possession of such a work was a matter of personal prestige. The comparable transformation of courtly art in response to the market can be illustrated by reference to another picture immediately displaced from the location for which it was painted.

    In , the Flemish-born artist Antoine Watteau — painted a large canvas as a shop sign for his friend, the Parisian art dealer Edme Gersaint Figure As these two examples demonstrate, more market-oriented structures and practices emerged in countries such as Italy and France from the end of the Renaissance onwards see Haskell, ; Pomian, ; Posner, ; North and Ormrod, However, the tendency towards commercialisation is even more striking elsewhere: for example, in the growth of large-scale speculative building in late seventeenth-century London.

    This model of artistic practice went hand in hand with the rise of art dealers and other features of the modern art world, such as public auctions and sale catalogues see Montias, ; North, ; Montias, In important respects, the Dutch case remains idiosyncratic, but nevertheless the genres of painting that dominated in this context — that is, portraiture, landscape, scenes of everyday life and still life — soon became the most popular and successful elsewhere in Europe too. Exemplary in this respect is the work of Rembrandt; it was thanks above all to his exceptionally broad and hence highly distinctive handling of paint that he came to be generally regarded as the greatest of all post-Renaissance artists by the mid nineteenth century see Figure As a result of these developments, painting increasingly tended to overshadow other art forms, especially tapestry, which lost its previous high status with the decline of courtly art.

    However, Neo-classicism in general and the career of Canova in particular temporarily boosted the status of sculpture around Potts, ; Lichtenstein, A pioneering role in this respect was played by London as a consequence of the limited power of the monarch, which meant that the court dominated culture much less than it did in France at the same time. Public interest in art grew rapidly during the eighteenth century, aided by an expanding print culture, which allowed the circulation of high-art images to an ever larger audience see Pears, ; Clayton, In both London and Paris, large audiences also attended the exhibitions that began to be held during the middle decades of the century.

    The first public museums were established around the same time. With the establishment of the art museum, the autonomy of art gained its defining institution. In a museum, a work of art could be viewed purely for its own sake, without reference to its traditional functions.

    For present purposes, however, what is important about these two paintings is the way that they depended on the institutions of the public sphere. Rather than being commissioned by a patron, each was intended first and foremost for display at the official art exhibition in Paris known as the Salon. It should also be noted that such ambitious and challenging works were very much the exception, even in France and much more so in other countries where the state did not support living artists in the same way. Most of them earned a living by catering to the demands of the market, typically by specialising in a particular genre, such as portraiture.

    In this respect, the first half of the nineteenth century is continuous with the previous two centuries, during which high-status works by celebrated artists also constituted only a small part of the broad field of visual culture. During this period, art changed out of all recognition. At the beginning of our period, the various academies still held sway in Europe. Artists continued to learn their craft by drawing from plaster casts before progressing to the figure, and the trip to Rome remained a cultural rite of passage.

    It is true that the hierarchy of the genres was breaking down and the classical ideal was becoming less convincing. In , the French poet Charles Baudelaire —67 poured scorn on the new medium of photography. Many of his contemporaries went a step further, believing that paintings and sculptures of contemporary women posed as classical nymphs were equally preposterous. Nevertheless, what counted as art in much of the nineteenth century remained pretty stable.

    Whether in sculpture, painting, drawing or printmaking, artworks represented recognisable subjects in a credible human-centred space. To be sure, subjects became less high-flown, compositional effects often deliberately jarring and surface handling more explicit. In contrast, art in the first part of the twentieth century underwent a rapid gear change. Art historians agree that during this time artists began to radically revise picture making and sculpture. Painters flattened out pictorial space, broke with conventional viewpoints and discarded local colour.

    From the early twentieth century, painters began to experiment with non-local colour. Sculptors began to leave the surface of their works in a rough, seemingly unfinished state; they increasingly created partial figures and abandoned plinths or, alternatively, inflated the scale of their bases. Architects abandoned revivalist styles and rich ornamentation. In fifteen years some artists would take this problem — the recognition that making art involved attention to its own formal conditions that are not reducible to representing external things — through Cubism to a fully abstract art.

    Each changing of the guard is perceived as an advance and almost a necessary next step on the road to some preset goal. This rapid turnover of small groups and personal idioms can seem bewildering and, in fact, this is a minimal version of this story. Whether they sought new expressive resources, novel ways of conveying experience or innovative techniques for representing the modern world, modern artists turned their backs on the tried and tested forms of mimetic resemblance.

    But what counted as art changed too. Bits of the everyday world began to be incorporated into artworks — as collage or montage in two-dimensional art forms; in construction and assemblage in three-dimensional ones. The inclusion of found materials played a fundamental role in modern art. The use of modern materials and technologies — steel, concrete, photography — did something similar.

    Some artists abandoned easel painting or sculpture to make direct interventions in the world through the production of usable things, whether chairs or illustrated news magazines. Broadly speaking, there are two different ways of thinking about modern art, or two different versions of the story. One way is to view art as something that can be practised and thought of as an activity radically separate from everyday life or worldly concerns.

    One particularly influential version of this story suggests that modern art should be viewed as a process by which features extraneous to a particular branch of art would be progressively eliminated, and painters or sculptors would come to concentrate on problems specific to their domain.

    Another way of thinking about modern art is to view it as responding to the modern world, and to see modern artists immersing themselves in the conflicts and challenges of society. That is to say, some modern artists sought ways of conveying the changing experiences generated in Europe by the twin processes of commercialisation the commodification of everyday life and urbanisation. Barr — This version of modernism is itself complex. The argument presumes that art is self-contained and artists are seen to grapple with technical problems of painting and sculpture, and the point of reference is to artworks that have gone before.

    The excitement of their art seems to lie most of all in its pure preoccupation with the invention and arrangement of spaces, surfaces, colours, etc. For painting, this meant turning away from illusion and story-telling to concentrate on the features that were fundamental to the practice — producing aesthetic effects by placing marks on a flat, bounded surface.

    For sculpture, it entailed arranging or assembling forms in space. In a series of occasional pieces, Greenberg produced an account of the coming to consciousness of artists or art in which this fundamental recognition of the nature of painting was brought to fruition. For him modern art began with Edouard Manet —83 , who was the first to recognise or emphasise the contradiction between illusion and the flat support of the canvas. It important to understand that the account of autonomous art, however internalist it may seem, developed as a response to the social and political conditions of modern societies.

    Dictatorial regimes turned their backs on ambitious art and curried favour with the masses by promoting a bowdlerised or debased form of realism that was easy to comprehend. Seemingly distinct from art made by dictatorial fiat, the visual culture of liberal capitalism pursued instant, canned entertainment that would appeal to the broadest number of paying customers. This pre-packaged emotional distraction was geared to easy, unchallenging consumption.

    Kitsch traded on sentimentality, common-sense values and flashy surface effects. The two sides of this pincer attack ghettoised the values associated with art. Advanced art, in this argument, like all human values, faced an imminent danger. Greenberg argued that, in response to the impoverished culture of both modern capitalist democracy and dictatorship, artists withdrew to create novel and challenging artworks that maintained the possibility for critical experience and attention.

    He claimed that this was the only way that art could be kept alive in modern society. The period from around onwards has been tumultuous: it has been regularly punctuated by revolutions, wars and civil wars, and has witnessed the rise of nation states, the growth and spread of capitalism, imperialism and colonialism, and decolonisation. Sometimes artists tried to keep their distance from the historical whirlwind, at other moments they flung themselves into the eye of the storm. Even the most abstract developments and autonomous trends can be thought of as embedded in this historical process.

    Modern artists could be cast in opposition to repressive societies, or mass visual culture in the west, by focusing on themes of personal liberty and individual defiance. The New York School championed by Greenberg coincided with this political situation and with the high point of US mass cultural dominance — advertising, Hollywood cinema, popular music and the rest.

    In many ways, the work of this group of abstract painters presents the test case for assessing the claim that modern art offers a critical alternative to commercial visual culture. It could seem a plausible argument, but the increasing absorption of modern art into middle-class museum culture casts an increasing doubt over these claims. At the same time, the figurative art that was supposed to have been left in the hands of the dictators continued to be made in a wide variety of forms.

    He produced a powerful synthetic account of developments or changes in art, but it was always a selective narrative. Even in the case of the paradigmatic example of Cubism, it is possible to see other concerns. The new art that developed with Gustave Courbet —77 , Manet and the Impressionists entailed a self-conscious break with the art of the past. These modern artists took seriously the representation of their own time.

    In place of allegorical figures in togas or scenes from the Bible, modern artists concerned themselves with the things around them. Show me an angel and I will paint one. The formal or technical means employed in modern art are jarring and unsettling, and this has to be a fundamental part of the story.

    A tension between the means and the topics depicted, between surface and subject, is central to what this art was. Principally, these artists sought the signs of change and novelty — multiple details and scenarios that made up contemporary life. Even when restricted to the European tradition, this marginalised much of the most significant art made in interwar Europe — Dada, Constructivism and Surrealism Greenberg, From their position in western Europe, the Dadaists mounted an assault on the irrationalism and violence of militarism and the repressive character of capitalist culture; in collages, montages, assemblages and performances, they created visual juxtapositions aimed at shocking the middle-class audience and intended to reveal connections hidden behind everyday appearances see Figure The material for this was drawn from mass-circulation magazines, newspapers and other printed ephemera.

    The Constructivists participated in the process of building a new society in the USSR, turning to the creation of utilitarian objects or, at least, prototypes for them. The Surrealists combined ideas from psychoanalysis and Marxism in an attempt to unleash those forces repressed by mainstream society; the dream imagery is most familiar, but experiments with found objects and collage were also prominent.

    These avant-garde groups tried to produce more than refined aesthetic experiences for a restricted audience; they proffered their skills to help to change the world. In this work the cross-over to visual culture is evident; communication media and design played an important role. Avant-garde artists began to design book covers, posters, fabrics, clothing, interiors, monuments and other useful things.


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    They also began to merge with journalism by producing photographs and undertaking layout work. In avant-garde circles, architects, photographers and artists mixed and exchanged ideas. For those committed to autonomy of art, this kind of activity constitutes a denial of the shaping conditions of art and betrayal of art for propaganda, but the avant-garde were attempting something else — they sought a new social role for art.

    One way to explore this debate is by switching from painting and sculpture to architecture and design. Marcel Duchamp — , who is now seen as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, occupies an important place in this alternative story. Duchamp started out as a Cubist, but broke with the idea of art as a matter of special visual experience and turned his attention to puns and perceptual or conceptual conundrums Duchamp, These activities brought him into the orbit of Dada in Paris and New York, but this was probably nothing more than a convenient alliance.

    Duchamp played games with words and investigated the associations of ordinary objects. From , Duchamp began singling out ordinary objects, such as a bottle rack, for his own attention and amusement and that of a few friends. Sometimes he altered these things in some small way, adding words and a title or joining them with something else in a way that shifted their meaning; with Bicycle Wheel , he attached an inverted bike wheel to a wooden stool — he seems to have been particularly interested in the shadow play this object created.

    Duchamp was interested in interrogating the mass-produced objects created by his society and the common-sense definitions and values that such things accrued. Mischievously, he probed the definitions and values of his culture for a small group of like-minded friends. Nevertheless, artists in the late s and the s became fascinated with this legacy and began to think of art as something the artist selected or posited, rather than something he or she composed or made.

    According to this idea, the artist could designate anything as art; what was important was the way that this decision allowed things to be perceived in a new light. With the break-up of the hegemony of the New York School, artists began to look at those features of modern art that had been left out of the formalist story.

    During this period, Duchamp came to replace Picasso or Matisse as the touchstone for young artists, but he was just one tributary of what became a torrent. Perhaps most significantly, painting and anything we might straightforwardly recognise as sculpture began to take a back seat. A host of experimental forms and new media came to prominence: performance art, video, works made directly in or out of the landscape, installations, photography and a host of other forms and practices.

    In these locations, people only recently out of the fields encountered the shocks and pleasures of grand-metropolitan cities. This situation applies first of all to Paris see Clark, ; Harvey, ; Prendergast,

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