And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

onsdag 26. september 2018

The sausage-maker in Trogir

In the Croatian city of Trogir there is a medieval cathedral with a stupendous and beautifully crafted stone arch. I will tell you more about this in future blogposts, but today I will give you one of my favourite details of this masterpiece of masonry.

The stone arch is the accumulative product of the skills and efforts of several masons over a period of three centuries. But the earliest elements of the arch were put in place by the master mason Radovan, who finished his work in 1240. We know this because an inscription survives from the time of its completion, giving the name of the maker and the year it was finished.

The arch has been the subject of extensive study throughout the twentieth century, and there has been established a consensus concerning the layers of its genesis.

One of the details established as belonging to Radovan's workmanship is a scene depicting some of the labours of the year, namely the making of sausages. Below, we see how skilfully and life-like Radovan rendered this scene, one with which he was most likely very familiar from his own life. We see the sausage-maker in his clogs, minding the stew that will go into the intestines already prepared and drying from being cleaned, hanging above him. Meanwhile, a young boy pours liquid into a bowl. This is most likely pig's blood that will be mixed in with the stew that will go in the sausage.

There are many stunning things about this depiction. For instance, it shows that realism and sophistication were not absent from medieval masonry - a point that should not have to be made, but which bears repeating. Secondly, moreover, this scene is a great reminder that we modern people are not all that different from those of the Middle Ages. Having grown up on a farm, I am well familiar with the making of sausages, and in its basic elements we do this in the same way as the thirteenth-century Dalmatian man who served as Radovan's inspiration for this beautiful carving.

mandag 24. september 2018

A requiem by Cristóbal de Morales

As the autumn takes hold on Denmark and various signs of ending and transition appear in my everyday life, it somehow feels fitting to share with you a mass for the dead by one of my favourite composers, the Spanish Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500-53), whose music is among the most beautiful things in this world.

Cristóbal de Morales, Missa pro defunctis

lørdag 15. september 2018

The World in His Hands - a medieval representation of the earth in Early Modern Denmark

He's got the whole world in his hands
- Traditional

One of the most pernicious misunderstandings about the Middle Ages is the erroneous belief that people then thought the earth was flat. They did not, and we have much textual and artistic evidence to show that both lay and learned of the medieval period would have encountered depictions and formulations of the earth as round several times throughout their lives, be it in manuscripts, in sermons or in church art. The idea that medieval man and woman believed the earth to be flat was propagated by Washington Irving in a novel about Christopher Columbus, where part of the construction of Columbus as a hero of modernity consisted of him knowing that the earth was round. (In actuality, as Umberto Eco has demonstrated in his Book of Legendary Lands, Columbus suggested that the earth was not a perfect sphere but slightly elongated to the West.)
In the Middle Ages, it was well known that the earth is a sphere, and it was often, but far from exclusively, depicted with the three known continents divided by waters in the shape of a T in the middle of the sphere of the earth. From this design, these depictions are now known as T-O maps.

Yesterday I went to Dalum Church in Odense, Denmark, a former Benedictine nunnery established in the twelfth century and converted to a Protestant parish church in the sixteenth century. The pulpit of the church, which appears to be late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, depicts Christ flanked on both sides by the evangelists - a very common pictorial sequence in Protestant pulpits. Interestingly, in his left hand Christ holds the spherical earth, but depicted as as a medieval T-O map. This representation of the earth is very interesting to find at this point in time, since America had long since made its way onto contemporary European maps, and it seems that the craftsman deliberately harkened back to an older model, one of Christ as the redeemer of the world established in late-medieval Renaissance art.

I was very happy to discover this little detail, as it provides yet another example of the sophistication of medieval imagery, and how it has endured even into the modern world.

søndag 9. september 2018

A chant for the birth of the Virgin Mary

Yesterday, September 08, was the feast of the birth of the Virgin Mary, one of the oldest of the several Marian feasts that were implemented at various points throughout the medieval period. The universal importance of Mary in the medieval cult of saints meant that this feast was celebrated throughout Christendom and had a significant repository of liturgical chants.

In this blogpost, I wish to share one of these chants from the Latin calendar which is included in a manuscript fragment housed at the university library of University of Southern Denmark. This fragment, fragment XII of RARA Musik M 4, is most likely of German origin, but of unknown date, and it contains a partly-surviving column from the feast Nativitas Mariae. As part of my research on this fragment, I have transcribed the text of the chant, and this transcription - maintaining the spelling of the manuscript but having dissolved abbreviations - can be found below together with a translation of the text itself (this translation is my own).

Natiuitas tua
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek RARA Musik M 4

Natiuitas tua
(CID: 003852)

Natiuitas tua dei genitrix uirgo gaudium annuntiauit uniuerse mundo ex te enim ortus est sol iustitie christus deus noster qui soluens maledictionem dedit benedictionem et confundens mortem donauit nobis uitam.

Your birth, god-bearer, virgin, announced joy to the whole world, namely that from you is risen the sun of justice, Christ, our god, who loosening the bonds of punishment, giving blessings and dismaying death, gave life to us.