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29 September 2008
The Cathedral of Modena
|The cornerstone for the Cathedral of Modena was laid on June 6, 1099. When finished, this building was the culmination of unique collaborations for its time, one between the architect and sculptor, another between the lay civic population and the clergy. The decision to replace the existing building was not made by the bishop, as the bishop’s see was vacant at the time. Nor was it made by the nobility Maltida of Tuscany, she is recorded as being pleased the decision was made but having no part in making it. Neither person nor office we could define as the owner was responsible for choosing to renovate the cathedral. It was the customers, the tenants, the common people who demanded this new cathedral. Why did they assert themselves so?|
Society of this time was famously described as being of three classes:
those who toil
those who fight
and those who pray.
Many other historians have noted this left unmentioned those important members of the community, the merchants those who buy and sell and craftsmen, those who work with their hands. True, merchants favor cities, and the various migrations / invasions after the collapse of the Roman Empire were unkind to the cities, so there may have been a substantial drop in commerce and with it the merchants. Yet, trade was never abandoned, so merchants were always there.
The contribution of the local merchant was not forgotten here. On the apse of this cathedral are the “official” measurements of city. In the image (linked) on the left is the brick, next is the ell for bolts of cloth, the perch was used to land & timber, and the coppa or roofing tile that doubled as a 3-liter bucket stave. This harkens back to the role of the basilica in Roman times, as multi-purpose structure – where civil and religious affairs were conducted. So this may be new for its time, but it also an old practice. Nonetheless, the placement of these commercial standards on prominent position is a statement of religious and commercial solidarity. Our goods are sanctified - quality and quantity – guaranteed by God.
The object of attention goes by the official name of the La Porta delle Donzelle, Door of the Maidens; but it known by its colloquial name of La Porta della Pescheria – The door of the Fish Market. This portal is famous for its depiction of the Arthurian cycle, one that may be the first visual depiction of this subject. Furthermore the doorjamb decoration, The Labors of the Months, is one of the earliest examples of this motif. (The Link opens a Flash movie of relief sculptures)
|Obviously it was not intended to teach the peasants their assigned duties, for even illiterate peasants must have known what job needed to done as well as the times and order of these tasks. This must be a re-interpretation of the work, transforming it from a curse to a “mission statement.” Previously punishment from God, now work is the pathway to redemption. (So do more of it!) Even if this is what the church wanted to say, it did not prevent the people from hearing something other than the intended message. If the peasants received this as a celebration of their life, they may have considered this portal as a demonstration of good faith bargaining on the part of the church. Literally set in stone, it is a contract with the labor force.|
|Which brings us back to the Arthurian Cycle the main highlight of this doorway. The archivolt depicts the rescue of Winlogee, the Breton equivalent of Guinevere, from the castle of Mardoc. I am leaving out from where and how did the story come to Modena from this discussion. (Breton knights in Bari) Just let me slip this in, it antedates both the Arthurian epics of Geoffrey of Monmouth and Chrétien de Troyes.|
Why was this scene chosen is my question. The original name implies the archivolt was the focus. Interesting, the plural was employed, only one woman is depicted rescued. In that an interpretation can be made this an exhortation by the church to the nobility to behave a chivalrous manner. Another answer is that a patron named Artuisis contributed enough to have his name recorded in this manner. Why an Italian merchant would choose to be identified with a figure from Breton mythology is not known. (It is not out of place to have a donor recognized, but the allegory is a bit tenuous.) Either answer fits with what we know, these epics were tremendously popular. My favorite description is from Norman Cantor, he described them as spreading like a “medieval plague.” However, too often, we discount the affects of theater outside the church and how those activities impact inside of the church.
That in mind, I see this as a maneuver by the clergy, one with the express purpose of appealing to the peasantry. Arthur’s Christian mission comes much later with Mallory’s compilation, so the story here is a decidedly secular one. In a church that is steeped in tradition and determined to reinforce and exert its moral supremacy, adding popular contemporary subjects to the religious program is not something I expect. As popular as The Simpsons may be, I doubt Homer will be added to the Roman Catholic repertoire. There was a conflict between the clergy and nobility, but the relationships between the urban dwellers and rural framer, between the lay and the clerical were more important and it was to that audience to whom this is directed. If the portal is focused on the satisfying the peasantry, this theme fits perfectly because it gives to them something that has personal fascination.
|Exploring that proposition leads to consideration of entertainment. During this time, entertainment is up close and personal, the custom being troubadours and wandering bands of musicians. Private theater occurred the houses of nobility; the public version was staged in the church squares. It seems worth mentioning that in the latter case, this was one of the few times nobility and peasantry were together, the other one being church. That some churches were at odds with these groups, seeing them as sinful and vulgar who would corrupt the order of the town does not indicate all were as fastidious. Some clerics allowed this entertainment, considering it as a complement of secular to sacred. Looking this sculpture through this tolerant lens, the subject matter is not out of character and perhaps is to be expected. A troupe passing along the road, looking up and seeing a popular story carved in stone would alert them to a possible audience for their talents. Indeed, the purpose of this sculpture may have been to attract such actors and musicians and invite them to stay and entertain the citizens. Attract a crowd, bring people to our market, we care about our customers, especially the ones that bring money.|
24 September 2008
Gesture, Posture, and Activity
If there's one thing students are usually interested in it is their GPA
This is the tympaneum from the abbey church in Nonantola. Despite being located in a rather modest town and a bit off of the beaten track, this was an important monastery at the time of the Investure Crisis. This relief was carved by the workshop of Wiligemo (Wiligemus). It depicts the more traditional theme of Christ in judgment.
16 September 2008
Mark Bauerlein has a written another screed against using electronic media in the education sector. Although I prefer the concrete nature of books and spend hours examining traditional paper maps and cartography, it must be understood communications does not stand still. We (humanity) progressed from the oral tradition, through cuneiform to papyrus, then on to parchment and offset printing, finally arriving at today's magnetic and phosphor ink. The funny thing is that on each step, there was a exponential explosion, a massive increase of production from the previous state. When the printing press was introduced to Italy, the output was not just of words, drawings and maps were well represented. In the future we will see more works that appear solely in the electronic, magnetic and optical form.
12 September 2008
|Baptistery of the Arians 490 CE(?)||Baptistery of the Orthodox 450 CE|
These are images of the respective tondo from each Baptistery. Baptism was (and remains) a sacred rite in the Christian faith and is rife with symbolism.
08 September 2008
Examining the dinar, we see a large picture space, one that provided ample room for names and titles as well inscriptional messages. These qualities made it popular to the rulers because it provided them opportunity to express their political and religious views. On the other hand, it was the volume of dirhams minted that led it to become the primary trade currency of the western Mediterranean. These coins were also were adjusted comply with the popular attitude, just as was the case in the Levant and Egypt. Inscriptions again were the issue. Probably in response to contact with Christian merchants, inscriptions were modified to read Muhammad is our Messenger from Muhammad is the messenger. (My emphasis.) Obviously, the intention was to placate the foreign populations this coin was intended to serve. Not all inscriptions were aimed at solely foreign audiences. One common inscription was the ruling authority’s exhortation that he was the commander of the faithful. Obviously, this was intended for domestic consumption in addition to foreigners. However, we must keep in mind, despite this common wording, the intended communication was not necessarily the same one.
07 September 2008
05 September 2008
Update: Alas, the strangeness continues, it is in Blogger itself.
For The Record: Blogger does something very weird to that particular URL (http://visibleearth.nasa.gov). It chews up the DNS entry and sends it to my ISP. I then must wait 30 minutes for the ISP DNS cache to clear before I can access the site. It's a shame because the site is interesting.
The URL in the link is correct. If the user copies the link location and pastes the link into the navigation bar it works fine. It only fails when a user clicks on the link in a Blogger window, either from this entry or from the sidebar entry. It will also fail if the user requests the link to open in another window or tab. Therefore the link only fails when the DNS request is made going through the Blogger page (and server).
04 September 2008
There's an interesting meme floating around Science Blogs, how to give a talk. There's a nice video too. Although they concentrate on science, this advice fits to any discussion. I suggest you read their entries before continuing here as I refer to some of their do's and don'ts.
I divide it into three sections: Preparation, Visuals, and Delivery. There are two ways to approach it, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde techniques.
Practice before the talk! Recognize that the audience will follow the speaker's eyes. If you're staring at your computer screen, that where the audience's eyes will be too. So your cheat sheet is just a list of ideas which you want to cover. This way you can maintain eye contact with the audience and "float" using your eyes to direct the audience's attention. If you're looking at the screen they're looking at the screen.
Know your audience and prepare accordingly. Too many times I've had guest lecturers come in and talk way over the head of the students. You must use a vocabulary they understand and deliver it in an appropriate manner.
Work on pronunciation. I have extreme difficulty saying the word "ubiquitous," and will excise it from my lectures. If you have the same problem, do as I do, simply break open the thesaurus and find another word. Watch your speech patterns, and work to eliminate "OK," "you know," and other figures of colloquial speech. ("You understand" is a good substitute for "you know.")
Don't! Wing it and you'll sound like a pro! Don't read a book or this post, just play it by ear. Hopefully you have a tin ear.
Ignore the knowledge level of the audience. Assume they know everything you know, have read every book you've read, come from the same neighborhood you lived, visited all the sites you've been to, and generally don't need to attend this talk. Introduce subjects without background information, the more complex the better. Best of all use a foreign language, especially obscure dialects.
Don't practice saying difficult words then mispronounce them throughout the entire talk. Better yet, use multiple mispronunciations. Better yet, use trite phrases repeatedly, Better yet, mispronounce repeated trite phrases. Better yet...
Use a sane color combination. I dislike bright white screens so my backgrounds are colors. However, I also use text boxes so that I can have sufficient contrast. Don't use complementary colors, they hurt the eyes as much as bright white. Standard fonts - Serif for titles and headings, sans serif for text. No more than 5 lines per slide if you're in a big hall (75 people?) as students in the back won't see it.
Few if any animations. They're OK if you want to introduce comic relief or make an impact, but must be used like you would cayenne pepper - with great care!
Provide sources or names the audience will recognize. Don't read every source, just let them know where they can find the information you're delivering. Most Art History types will recognize Vasari as the author of "Lives of the Artists," a few will know Panofsky, and fewer still understand Mieke Bal.
Comic sans!! Use obscure fonts, especially script, gothic / olde English and italic versions of them. Wing Dings can really liven up a slide. Write your PowerPoint slides on a Mac then present it on a Windows PC. Be sure to use Mac only fonts like Linotype or Helvetica. Use lots of bullets too! Pack that slide so full that even you can't read it!
Animate to the point that the computer crashes. If you don't know how, then indiscriminate use of bold can stand in for annoying animation. However, NOthing beaTs wierD CapitZation and, stRAnge(!?!) pUncTuati0n to make.it.illegible.
Cite obscure, preferably nonstandard publications and sources. It's difficult in the education setting but if you can violate copyright and trademark law, so much the better. If you can't do that, then don't give attributes, make them guess where to find it.
Prepare the audience. Tell them when questions should be proffered. Can they just "popcorn" them, should they raise their hand, should they write them down and ask at the end. Otherwise you'll have dead silence and a distracted audience.
Don't surprise the audience and stay on topic. Surprises tend to overshadow all other content, rambling confuses them. My first slide after the title one is "4 things you will know after this lecture." At the end of the lecture, I bring up each of the things on separate slides to drive home the point(s) of the lecture. I always draw test and essay questions from that pool of those things. I try to keep it down to 4 things because I work with lower division undergraduates (freshman and sophomores). See the point about knowing the audience.
Our department's mantra is that slides used in the lectures should be the visual argument, and your voice is the textual one. That said - don't read the slide! One exception - if you have a long quote which you want to read. I read Procopius' description of Theodora, a racy and slanderous passage from Secret History, and it always excites the students.
Don't tell the audience when to ask questions and then they do, go ballistic! Belittle their knowledge level or opinion. Make them as uncomfortable as possible - frightened is the best possible position. If you're packing heat make sure they know you're not only willing to use it, you're likely to use it! Extra points if you can get them to leave puddles in their chairs.
Contradict your visuals. If the slide is blue, tell them it's green. Doing this gives you the chance to go ballistic when they question your text. This goes in the behavior category but what do you know, where did you learn this, you wanna get up here and taLK@!@ How abOut you just leave now cause yOu're faIling thIs class Now!
02 September 2008
This is, according to R.S. Loomis, the first instance of the Arthurian legend. It is believed that Wiligemo and Lanfranco were exposed to this story by the Crusaders departing from Bari, Italy. At the time, the two were working on the Cathedral of Bari and later worked here in Modena. My argument is the position and placement of this sculpture was deliberate action by the town to celebrate the peasant. Visible to the local market and main road bisecting this town, this was a billboard of sorts. Any wandering troubadours would see it, and so recognize Modena as a place where their performances would be welcome. Come the time for the Carnival, I'll explore this theme and idea further.