Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Medieval Art at the Toledo Museum of Art

A Gothic Wood Carving of a Saint Holding his own Decapitated Head

Medieval times used to be referred to as the Dark Ages because it was believed that very little innovation or progress was made in these times. Further research has long since disproven this thought. The middle ages is divided into three time periods following the fall of Rome: Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic from about 500AD-1400. While Roman art focused on secular generals and realism while the art of the middle ages focused on Religion and the hereafter. Their art was more symbolic than realistic with the influence of religion.

The main art of the middle ages was building churches. Byzantine art had the Hagia Sophia with a large dome. Romanesque churches are short and stocky compared to the later Gothic cathedrals. Without the flying buttresses, pointed arches, and ribbed groin vaults that made Gothic cathedrals possible, the Romanesque churches are made with tall, thick, walls with little to no windows (they would make the structure weaker).

The Romanesque was known for relief sculptures, usually seen at the portals to their doors. They usually depicted the Last Judgement to scare people into
going to church. The Toledo Museum of Art has a wide selection of Romanesque and Gothic art to view.

Here is an example of relief carving done of various monster in a decorative pattern. However the main purpose of all art at this time was to teach religion which is evident in these examples of Christ sculptures.
Gothic art is more naturalistic than Romanesque and the artists try to capture natural folds in clothing. This can be seen in these examples of wood

Gothic art is also known for its stained glass and tapestries. With the technology to know include large windows into their cathedral structures, the Medieval Europeans wanted to lit the light of Christ shine into their church. Even their windows tell religious stories.

Gothic tapestries (the most famous being the Bayeux Tapestry) were a new emerging art form. One of the most popular subjects was the unicorn. While you may be thinking that it seems out of place, the story of the unicorn was symbolic of the resurrected Christ. Also, virgins were used as bait to attract unicorns.

The ceremony of church has highly important and highly decorative. Here are some examples of Medieval altar pieces.

Reliquaries were a way of attracting pilgrims. They would contain clothing or even body parts of the saint to attract viewers to their church. They were contained in very expensive cases, often in the shape of the piece they represented (i.e a skull went into a container shaped like the saint's head). To allow viewers to see the bones, a viewing hole was included.

The Toledo Museum of Art displayed much of their art within a reconstructed Medieval courtyard containing stone arches. This provided a great setting for their medieval art.