The Grand Medieval Bestiary: Animals in Illuminated Manuscripts

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9780789211279: The Grand Medieval Bestiary: Animals in Illuminated Manuscripts

As the 587 colorful images in this magnificent volume reveal, animals were a constant and delightful presence in illuminated manuscripts throughout the Middle Ages. Many proto-zoological illustrations, of great charm but variable accuracy, are found in the bestiaries, or compendiums of animal lore, that were exceedingly popular in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. But animals are depicted in every other sort of illuminated manuscript as well, from the eighth-century Echternach Gospels, with its geometrically schematized symbols of the Evangelists, to the early fifteenth-century Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, with its famously naturalistic scenes of peasant and aristocratic life.

In his insightful opening chapters, the noted art historian Christian Heck explains that the prevalence of animals in illuminated manuscripts reflects their importance in medieval thought, an importance due in part to the agricultural society of that age, in which a variety of species and not just docile pets were the daily companions of man. Animals also had a greater symbolic significance than they do today: in popular fables, such as those of Reynard the Fox, they held up a mirror to the follies of mankind, and on the religious plane, they were understood as an integral part of God’s creation, whose attributes and behaviors could be taken as clues to His plan of salvation.

The main part of the book explores the complex and fascinating iconography of the individual creatures most frequently depicted by medieval miniaturists. It is arranged in the manner of a proper bestiary, with essays on one hundred animals alphabetized by their Latin names, from the alauda, or lark, whose morning song was thought to be a hymn to Creation, to the vultur, which enjoyed a certain respect due to its impressive appearance, but whose taste for carrion also made it a symbol of the sinner who indulges in worldly pleasures. The selection includes a number of creatures that would now be considered fantastic, including the griffin, the manticore, and of course the fabled unicorn, tamable only by a gentle maiden.

Not merely a study of art history, The Grand Medieval Bestiary uses a theme of timeless interest to present a panorama of medieval life and thought that will captivate even the most sophisticated modern reader.

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About the Author:

Christian Heck, a senior member of the Institut Universitaire de France and former curator-in-chief of the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar, is an authority on illuminated manuscripts.

Rémy Cordonnier, a researcher at the University of Lille, specializes in medieval iconography.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

Of the many treasure bequeathed to us by the Middle Ages, illuminated manuscripts are among the most precious. We are greatly indebted to the men who spent so much time creating these artifacts—men who prepared the sheets of parchment; who, beginning in the fourteenth century, took equal care crafting fine, solid paper whose very texture was beautiful; who, with infinite patience, copied the lines of script and prepared the successive gatherings that make up these manuscripts; who executed the elements of painted decoration, frames, initials, and compositions, from the most modest inventions to ambitious full-page paintings; who ground and applied the colors and the gold backgrounds that, after many centuries, retain their original radiance who conserved and passed on these books with passion and respect; who made these objects with a piety alert to the power of images but also effectively transformed many of them into sumptuous gifts, destined to improve the lives of those in religious orders or give pleasure to princes and, later, to members of the middle class. These men know full well that they were producing treasures, and indeed it was in treasuries that much of their handiwork would be preserved. We are all heir to the care taken by these men. Our culture differs greatly from theirs; we are in possession of greater knowledge, and our awareness of the world has expanded considerably; the supporters for, indeed the very modes of, writing and reading, as well as textual dissemination, have undergone revolutionary changes that are still underway. But our fascination with these artifacts remains strong, and we can regard the individuals who made them as our brothers. For these manuscripts are objects first, and they affect us through their materials, their weight, the irregular surfaces of their parchment, and the idiosyncracies of their texts, each of which is unique, since their transcription, although a repetitive exercise, was not mechanical and thus was subject to life's vicissitudes. Indeed, it is in this seeming contradiction that the miracle resides: when we open these thick protective bindings, the sheets of animal skin covered with ink and pigment transport us immediately to another world, ushering us into the imaginary realm of a literary, religious, or secular work, initiating us into the life of forms of an artistic creation that waited in silence and darkness to be revealed yet again to the eyes of men. The illuminations reproduced in this book can be fully understood only when situated within their original contexts, but they also live in the present. As anyone who has seen these precious volumes firsthand will tell you, they continue to fascinate.

In the immense repertory of themes and forms developed in these illuminations, animals are present on every register. Whether they are faithful servants and benevolent companions, subjects of humorous fable or parody, wild animals that represent danger or evil, or strange creatures from afar, real or imaginary, their place on these pages is as important as the place accorded them in the life and culture of the period. Even in the most abstract and conceptual of these texts, animals are imminent presences; in a manuscript of Aristotle's Metaphysics, we encounter at the bottom of one page a fox crouching to make itself inconspicuous before pouncing on a rooster who, oblivious to the danger, perches cockily on a vegetal scroll. Animals were elemental resources of country life, the peasant's primary assets, but they were also the delight of great lords, for whom the cherished pastime of hunting doubled as an education in the use of arms. In his Livre de la chasse (late fifteenth century), Gaston Phebus, count of Foix, wrote that a hunting dog was "like a human being" insofar as it was capable of learning and could offer its master boundless loyalty and love. The proximity between humans and animals is pervasive in the iconography of the calendars at the beginning of many manuscripts, which evoked the cycle of works and days and served as guides to religious festivals.

In the sumptuous calendar illuminations dating from the early fifteenth century in the Tres Riches Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, animals appear on almost every page, always appropriate to the context. For the month of January, the thematic framework is the lifestyle of lords and princes: in a large room where the duke is shown celebrating New Year's Day, a tapestry to the rear depicts mounted knights in battle; the canopy and hangings of a dais of honor visible above the fireplace incorporate the bears and swans that were among the duke's emblems, which reappear at either end of the large gold nef on the banquet table; two small dogs wander freely among the plates on the immaculate white tablecloth, while in the foreground a servant feeds a white greyhound sporting a luxurious collar. On the page devoted to February, peasant life is evoked by a depiction of family members warming themselves before a fireplace in the presence of the household cat; in the wintry landscape outside, wild birds pick at seeds by an open barn in which sheep huddle together, not far from a row of snow-capped beehives, while in the distance a donkey carries a load of firewood. In March, dogs guard a heard of sheep at pasture while a pair of oxen draw a plow. In the background of the composition for April, we see fishermen tending their nets on a lake. May is devoted to the hunt, which is conducted on richly caparisoned steeds. In July, the hay is reaped with the scythe, and the sheep are shorn. August is celebrated with another image of mounted hunters, this time with a complement of trained falcons. In September and October, oxen and horses are shown working in the fields. November brings pigs foraging for acorns in the woods under oak trees. And in December, a wild boar falls to a pack of dogs, beneath the watchful eyes of the huntsmen. But in this period the animal kingdom was not limited to beasts subject to domestication by peasants or the mastery of lords; it also included a host of imaginary creatures of legend.

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Christian Heck; Rémy Cordonnier
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Descrizione libro Abbeville Press, 2012. Hardcover. Condizione libro: New. Condizione sovraccoperta: New. 1st Edition. First Edition, First Printing (Full Number Line). Not price-clipped ($185.00 price intact on slipcase). Published by Abbeville, 2012. Red cloth boards with dust jacket in pictorial slipcase. Gold top stain and sewn-in satin bookmark. Book is brand new. Comes with original clamshell packing carton. A wonderful copy of this hard to find title. Profusely illustrated. 619 pages. ISBN: 978-0-7892-1127-9. 100% positive feedback. 30 day money back guarantee. NEXT DAY SHIPPING! Excellent customer service. Please email with any questions or if you would like a photo. All books packed carefully and ships with free delivery confirmation/tracking. All books come with free bookmarks. Ships from Southampton, New York. Codice libro della libreria ABE-1495146290221

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