Medieval Europe: Early and Late Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages and the Romanesque Tradition
I. The Syncretism that Created Medieval ("middle age") European Culture:
A. Germanic - Roman.
B. Northern Europe - Southern Europe.
C. Tribal - Cosmopolitan.
D. Heroic Deeds- Philosophical Thought.
E. Pagan - Christian.
II. Contributions of Northern European Cultures.
A. Fealty (Feudalism).
B. Marital Standards (Chivalry: Fidelity and/or Courtly Love).
C. Heroism (Chivalry-- Loyalty to King and Country).
D. Zoomorphic Forms (Metalwork, Woodwork).
E. Illumination (Manuscripts).
III. Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance.
A. Charlemagne (742-814 CE) Charles the Great.
1. United the various tribes and factions of Europe under the banner of one Holy Roman Empire.
2. Crowned as the first Holy Roman Emperor in 800 CE.
3. Responsible for the Carolingian Renaissance-- from the Latin Carolus Magnus which means Charles the Great, or the French Charlemagne.
a. Revitalization of arts, architecture, education, literacy, monastic development; example: minuscule handwriting. Literacy of Charlemagne himself?
A. Upon Charlemagne's death in 814 CE, the resulting fragmentation of the Empire led to the development of a social-political-economic system known as feudalism.
1. People of all levels attached themselves to a lord-- an aristocratic landowner who was a part of the military nobility, usually a mounted, i.e., horseback, soldier. In French, a chevalier; in English, a knight..
2. The attached persons (vassals) would work the land, offer military service to the lord, in exchange for security and eventual land ownership. Recall Germanic fealty.
B. The decline of feudalism: see Crusades, below; many nobles and landowners who went to fight were killed. Many of those who worked for them migrated to towns, creating a new urban culture.
A. The Rule of St. Benedict.
B. The Monastery of St. Gall.
C. Centers of education.
VI. Medieval Literature.
A. The chanson de geste (song of heroic deeds).
1. The Song of Roland.
a. Two dimensional portrayal of Muslims and Christians.
B. Courtly Love and the Medieval Romance.
1. Lancelot, by Chretien de Troyes.
2. The Nightingale, by Marie de France.
1. Mystery Plays (the entire Biblical cycle).
a. From ministerium, referring to the guilds who were responsible for producing the plays.
2. Miracle Plays ( New Testament stories of Jesus).
3. Morality Plays (allegorical lessons for salvation).
VII. The Christian Crusades (four successive waves: 11th-13th centuries CE).
A. Initially, to rescue Jerusalem from the Muslims in Turkey who were threatening the Byzantine Empire (i.e., the Eastern church).
B. Religious venture-turned-economic venture: merchants, financiers (particularly those in Italian city-states such as Florence, Genoa, Venice) encouraged the crusaders to become middle men in trade with the East.
C. Trade between East and West was revived.
D. Western exposure to Islamic knowledge (mathematics, science, philosophy, etc.).
E. The recovery and transfer of sacred relics to the West.
F. All of this cultural exchange- financial, intellectual, spiritual- set the ground work for what major European cultural phenomenon?
VIII. Religion and the Medieval Mind.
A. Memento Mori: the threat of condemnation; the promise of salvation.
B. The centrality of the sacraments.
C. The reverence for sacred relics.
IX. The Romanesque Pilgrimage/Reliquary Church (11th - 12th centuries).
A. The pilgrimage routes.
B. The need for architectural expansion.
C. The Romanesque: characteristics.
1. The barrel-vaulted nave: wider is better.
2. Heavily-buttressed walls.
3. Due to #2, very small windows, very little light.
D. Socio-economic effects.
1. Increased mobility/multi-cultural exposure.
2. The growth of townships around monastic sites.
3. Rapid increase in the size and number of churches.
4. The growth of ecclesial influence.
5. Economic revitalization.
Late Middle Ages and the Gothic Tradition: A Shift Toward Reason and Secularization
X. The Gothic Cathedral (12th - 13th centuries).
A. Gothic: originally a disparaging term applied by later neoclassical (18th century) artists who regarded this architectural style as heavy, dark and grotesque.
B. The first Gothic architecture: the rennovation of the Church of St. Denis, orchestrated by the Abbot of St. Denis, Suger (Soo-zhay) ca. 1140 CE..
C. The pointed arch allowed one to build higher with less buttressing necessary on the outer walls. Hence the use of flying buttresses.
D. The weight was held by ribs; hence the term ribbed vaulting.
E. Walls seemed to disappear, replaced by tall, seemingly weightless, stained glass windows (light as divine substance in medieval philosophy).
F. The Gothic cathedral: a metaphor for the synthesis of faith and reason.
G. While the Romanesque pilgrimage church was rural, the Gothic church and/or cathedral was urban; it was the center of the life of the community, and a source of civic pride.
XI. Scholasticism: Approaching Theology Through Reason.
A. St. Anselm (1033-1109) and his Ontological Argument for the Existence of God: a logical approach attempting to prove divine existence as inherently self-evident to us (the flaw: analytical analysis is not the same as empirical analysis). Anselm is Platonic.
B. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274): Thomas worked from the premise that we need but draw logical conclusions from our own empirical observation and sensory experience. E.g., it is logical that God exists because we see the empirical evidence of divine intelligence all around us (the flaw: a "first cause" cannot be seen but only inferred). Thomas is Aristotelian.
XII. Devotional Realism/Naturalism in Painting
A. Giotto (1267-1336): his images are substantial, three dimensional and natural in appearance, as opposed to the elongated, iconic look of earlier devotional work (e.g., Cimabue).
B. The Limbourg Brothers: their Book of Hours (painted 1413-16), traditionally a prayer book with religious artistic themes, presented everyday, secular activities on its monthly pages.
XIII. Realism in Literature
A. Boccaccio's Decameron: a collection of 100 tales related over a 10 day period.
1. A response to the Black Death, which had wiped out nearly half of Europe's population. Recall the Danse Macabre (the dance of death): death chose its victims without concern for social class or morality. Therefore even the church, already suspect, could offer no protection.
2. Written in the vernacular; in this case, Italian.
3. A celebration of the human; it focuses not upon virtue and heroic deeds but upon the wit, cleverness and shrewdness of its heroes. They are survivors.
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