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Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art (Essays in Art and Culture) Kindle Edition
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What do they all mean - the apes, the dragons, pot-bellied heads, and somersaulting jongleurs to be find protruding from the edges of medieval buildings and in the margins of illuminated manuscripts? Michael Camille explores that riotous realm of marginal art so often explained away as mere decorations or amusing doodles. He shows that the true nexus of innovation in the art of the time is not to be found where so many have sought it - within the heavily conventionalized centre - but on the edge, where resistance to medieval social constraints flourished.
Medieval image-makers focused attention on the underside of society, the excluded and the ejected. These peasants, servants, prostitutes and beggars all found there place, along with knights and clerics, engaged in impudent antics in the margins of prayer-books or, as gargoyles, on the outside of churches. Camille brings us to an understanding of how marginality functioned in medieval culture and shows us just how scandalous, subversive and amazing the art of the time could be.
This review gives the reader a flavor of two general types of marginalia. The first, and most interesting to me personally, are those that make the scribe come alive as a human being:
"I am very cold"
"The parchment is hairy"
"The ink is thin"
"That's a hard page, and a weary work to read it"
"Let the reader's voice honor the writer's pen"
"Thank God it will soon be dark"
"Oh, my hand"
"Now I've written the whole thing: for Christ's sake give me a drink."
The second category are very risque drawings (and comments thereon) of sexual relations between men and women, among various animals, and scatological subjects, enough to make even the young Mozart blush perhaps (he was addicted to jokes on that subject).
Camille argues that those images do not violate the sacred text, odd as that seems to this reader, because the monks's world was so rigidly structured that "resisting, ridiculing, overturning and inventing was not only possible, it was limitless.... We should not see medieval culture exclusively in terms of binary oppositions -- sacred/profane, for example, or spiritual/worldly. Travesty, profanation, and sacrilege are essential to the continuity of the sacred in society."
Fascinating insights into a world that seems so remote to me -- but comes alive in two very special ways.
Robert C. Ross
Revised January 2015