Saturday, 20 July 2013

History Now! and the Middle Ages

All this wandering about in African images was tempered this week by a series of visits I made during our family holiday. First we went to Pembrokeshire and between healthy outdoor activities we visited St David's Cathedral on the West coast.

This is the nave, which gives you an idea of the ancientness of it.
It is the oldest part still standing and is 12th century ie the middle of the middle ages.
The oak ceiling was added in 16th century, and looks pretty fresh. 

A photo of the floor tiles that particularly caught my eye can be found by clicking on this link. 
(My version of the same photo is below but much poorer quality).

The simple natural colours and stylishly controlled leaf patterns appeal. As does the way they have been all put together higgledy-piggeldy here. Perhaps they are familiar because of the use of similar images and styles by Laura Ashley in my 1970s childhood. Or just because such things are all over England and Wales in one degree of decay or other. It was refreshing to be looking at images so familiar and resonant for me personally. I began to wonder whether references to an ancient version of my own culture would be considered cheating for this part of the course.
Medieval floor tiles from Winchester Cathedral, showing the lovely colours
if not the sophisticated designs of the St David's tiles.

This is the grotesque carved into a misericord on the altar.
This was a narrow shelf placed to allow a priest some rest during celebrations of mass.
A bit like what they provide in some fast food restaurants.

There were also some faces around the roof supports of the Bishop's Palace next door to the cathedral.
The faces  were grotesque on the outsides of the walls, and calm and pleasant on the inside.

Some images from the tourist information boards at the Bishop's Palace at St David's
I loved the simple style, the representation of ordinary everyday things, and the vine leaf decorative swirls. The illuminated letter in the middle is from the Treaty of Medicine by Aldebrande of Florence, dated 1365 at the British Library

A week later we visited the marvellous History Now! festival for historical reenactors organised by English Heritage. Most of the participants were dressed in historically accurate costume, and much of that was from the middle ages. I did some sketches and found out a lot about fashion trends from the mid- middle ages. Interestingly, early middle ages were decorated more like Viking clothes, but by 12th century wealthy women were wearing girdles, and had long trumpet sleeves, often with a contrasting colour inside.

Images from History Live! 2013
There are lots of people dressed in clothes that would have been expected in the Middle Ages.  The ladies are wearing linen veils, simple overdresses with hand-made chord girdles over white dresses. Men (and boys) wore woollen tunics. The man in purple has unusually rich clothes, purple signifying royalty, and appears to be dressed as a crusader (13th century). The soldiers at the top were demonstrating how to use a sword, and are wearing chain mail over quilted garments to protect them from harm. They seemed to be a lot later in history than the soldiers at the bottom left, who  are dressed as Saxons fighting for King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The doorway is just an attractive door I saw in Bristol.

This glassware was from a stall at History Live! selling replicas of glass from various periods of history.
I was surprised and delighted with the variety. I thought the spiral beaker was particularly
fine and interesting, and would be comfortable to drink from. 

Seeing these things, and feeling the calm but busy atmosphere of the Cathedral and Bishop's Palace led me to do some sketchbook studies of Middle ages designs, and an investigation of embroidery from that same period of around the 12th century (see Opus Anglicorum entry).

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