Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Katherine H. Tachau, "God's Compas and Vana Curiositas", Art Bulletin 80 (1998), 7-33


Somehow it seems unconventional to review an article but some articles are really every bit as stimulating and informative as plenty of books around now, so I've decided to review briefly Katherine H. Tachau's wonderful article entitled "God's Compass and Vana Curiositas: Scientific Study in the Old French Bible Moralisée", Art Bulletin 80 (1998), 7-33.

Her view is that the Bibles moralisées appeared during a time of intense intellectual ferment in Paris at the beginning of the thirteenth century, and that to some (like Peter the Chanter), this appeared as an age of spiritual crisis. Her view is that "as a genre, the Bibles moralisées were created, affected, even motivated, by scholarly clergy who shared the latter Weltanschauung, and that they designed the Bibles moralisées to instruct not other scholars but royalty, especially the French kings" (p. 7). The article proceeds to read several fascinating folia of some thirteenth-century Bibles moralisées and discusses, in particlar, the way that pagan Eastern thought was represented in the form of astrologers, and are constantly seen as challenging and encroaching upon the divine sciences. The mechanism of reading these double images is fascinating, with the unmoralized 'original' representation sitting in a roundel above its moralized version, all sitting beside the text. Learning how to read these images is, in a very real way, learning how to read many medieval texts. She concludes: "Seen in that early thirteenth-century Parisian context, the depiction of the compass-wielding God in the first image of the Old French Bible moralisée would not have conveyed to its educated or royal viewers any approbation of the scientific study of the material world. Rather, the painting voices first of all the biblical exegetes' conviction that only God - not astronomers or philosophers - encompasses the entire created order" (p. 27). There is much else to be said about this learned article, but let your own curiosity dictate some attention to it. You will not regret it.

3 comments:

darragh said...

Is the person depicted meant to represent Christ or God the Father?

Miglior acque said...

I think God the Father; the iconography doesn't usually have a Christ figure in this pose, as far as I know. He does look 'youthful' though, I admit. Look at all that gorgeous super-duper expensive purple though. It probably cost more that the whole rest of the manuscript to produce!

hesitant hack said...

Here'siconography for ya...

IM me. I'm back from the old sod.

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